2020 Review Thingo

2020 Review Thingo

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!

A country field with a metal gate. Attached to it is a handmade sign that reads: Please Leave This Gate Open During A Pandemic Thx

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.

What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before. Photo of burned hot cross buns, a soft coral pink dahlia, and a page of a notebook with pub quiz answers on it

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!

January sunshine in Milan

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.

Swims of 2020

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.

Do the cookie scoot

b) Learning the shortcut for bringing up the emoji keyboard on a Mac. Control + Command + Space bar!

Frequently Used Emojis, 31 December 2020
Frequently Used Emojis, 31 December 2020

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.

Home office renovation

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!

Learning Finnish with Duolingo

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!

Swimming beanie

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! 💗

The Mysterious Caramilk

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.

Cats of Brutalism

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.

Snacking Cakes

16. What was your favourite film?
Newer: Parasite
Older: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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!

Birthday tea

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…

Ziggy in 2020

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 😍

Biscoff brownies and homemade sourdough bread

The End.

What does it mean to be actively anti-racist?

On anti-racism

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”
– Angela Davis

I first heard this quote last year in Ravideep Kaur’s anti-racism course The Awakening. More recently, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the massive rise in awareness and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve been thinking again about what it means to be actively anti-racist. In every sphere of life–from work, community, relationships, hobbies–there are so many places to keep listening, learning, unlearning, and taking action.

What I learned from Ravideep is that we need to start with ourselves. It’s about becoming conscious of all the ways racism underscores the world we live in, and understanding how I’ve benefited from the system as a white person. It’s about getting still and quiet with all those uncomfortable feelings. It’s not a self-improvement project, but rather a lifelong commitment and practice that’s always evolving.

This post may seem out of the blue after twenty years of just wanging on about my travels, ups and downs, dogs and cats and marriage banter. But I feel if I’m going to hang out in a corner of the internet for this long, I need to be clear about my values and what I deeply care about. How else will anyone know what kind of place they’ve landed on when they stop by?

Any discomfort I’ve felt about getting the words wrong is nothing compared to what’s at stake for others right now. So I want to be clear that I support Black Lives Matter and that I’m committed to keep on deepening my efforts to be actively anti-racist.

While I’m here, I wanted to share some resources that I’ve found hugely helpful.

Leesa Renee Hall - Inner Field Trip™

Leesa Reneée Hall’s Inner Field Trip™
I’m currently taking Leesa Renée Hall’s Inner Field Trip™ which is available to her Patreon supporters. It’s a 10-day virtual journey that uses reflective writing prompts to explore unconscious biases and hidden prejudices. She writes: “The goal of embarking on an Inner Field Trip™ is to navigate to the deep, dark crevices of your inner being to find your Inner Oppressor – that part of you that wants you to conform to the dominant culture so you stay safe, avoid rejection, and are seen”.

Today is Day 7 and it is mega-powerful stuff. The prompts are like laser beams. They prod at all the uncomfortable places. By sitting for twenty minutes, writing stream-of-consciousness style, you end up diving deep and uncovering all the muck that can get in the way. So far we have written on topics like Black women and leadership, weaponised kindness, perfectionism, and deconstructing our privileged identities. Fellow field trippers share their reflections on the Patreon site, which adds to the whole experience and always gets me thinking from different angles. You can find out more on Leesa’s website and Instagram.

How to be anti-racist in your freelance creative business - by Esme Filsinger

How to be anti-racist in your freelance creative business by Esme Filsinger
Esme writes: “So what can you do as a freelancer to be more inclusive, and to elevate the narratives of people of colour without engaging in tokenism? Well my friends, there is plenty.”

This blog post has thoughtful and actionable ideas and how to go about them – without centering oneself, and with the knowledge that it will be messy and imperfect. It helped me see my responsibilities and opportunities to do better as a freelancer. Thank you, Esme!

(P.S. Esme is a coach who helps creative freelancers find sustainability, and she offers coaching sessions around developing inclusivity in your business.)

Body Kindness Podcast 150: Racism Explains the Origins of Fat Phobia and Diet Culture, with Sabrina Strings PhD, Author of Fearing the Black Body

Body Kindness Episode 150: Racism Explains the Origins of Fat Phobia and Diet Culture, with Sabrina Strings PhD, Author of Fearing the Black Body
Through working behind the scenes on Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness podcast this past five years, I’ve heard from so many different voices in the realms of diet culture, health, and eating disorders. One powerful episode was last year’s interview with Dr Sabrina Strings. Sabrina talked to Rebecca about the connections between racism and the origins of fat phobia, and the control of women’s bodies historically and through today’s diet culture.

Having long written in public about my own Body and Eating Stuff (catchy title eh?), I’m learning about the wider picture beyond my own experience; all the layers and connections. How did this diet culture come to be? Who gets access to help for their eating disorders and who doesn’t? There’s so much to unpack. This conversation is great, as is Dr String’s book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia.

Anti Racism Daily - Nicole Cardoza

Nicole Cardoza’s Anti Racism Daily
These daily emails are intended “to keep your anti-racism practice persistent and consistent”. Nicole shares anti-racism education and tangible actions in each edition. You can support the massive amount of work that goes into this project with a one-off donation or a Patreon subscription.

The Awakening: Why I AM Talking to White People About Race - by Ravideep Kaur

The Awakening by Ravideep Kaur
I want to mention this course again because it is a fantastic place to learn. Ravideep lives and breathes her work with wisdom, depth, and heart. She writes: “I have dedicated my life to this work and genuinely believe that this work has the potential to make the world a better place for both my children and other children of colour.”

You can feel that dedication blazing in every single word of the course. Ravideep’s unique approach combines anti-racism education with mindfulness techniques and meditations. So throughout The Awakening you learn about overt and covert types of racism, privilege, language, power and more – from a place of staying present, reflecting, and “sitting with the discomfort” as she words it. If you’re looking for a teacher to go deep with your anti-racism education, Ravideep truly rocks.

Photo by Jithin Kumar on Unsplash

Ziggy in her tub

Ziggy now appears on Google Street View. It’s all because of this cat tree… We’d noticed for awhile that Ziggy liked to climb high, so we decided to get her a tree. Admittedly I didn’t research for long. I ordered the Fluffy II because it was reasonably priced and 163cm tall. I guesstimated since it […]

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