A clothing experiment

In summer 2021, and after giving away literally a third of my clothing, a friend and I made a pact not to buy any clothes (other than regularly replaced essentials like socks and tights) for six months. Six months seemed like a reasonable amount of time to adjust to my smaller wardrobe – and to what was missing, particularly as I got used to working onsite after 18 months at home. At the end of six months, and as I expected, I wasn’t actually missing much. I needed to replace a few things that were literally falling apart, and I needed better slacks for work.

Here’s what I have purchased or obtained:

  1. One pair of dreamy slacks that I paid my friend to make just for me. I needed black slacks but impulsively chose a grassy green and it was absolutely the right choice.
  2. Two pairs of leggings, both too sporty for work and not sporty enough for running (grr!).
  3. Two pairs of pajamas, replacing one pair that fell apart.
  4. Four pairs running socks, replacing (under lifetime warranty!) two pairs that fell apart.
  5. One pair Converse for biking, replacing another pair that fell apart.
  6. Two pairs of bike shorts.
  7. Two promotional t-shirts.
  8. Three nursing bras.
  9. Two pairs period underwear, absolutely worth it.
  10. Three pairs running shoes (I go through two pairs per year).

On the whole, I’ve found this to be a super interesting experiment made slightly more complicated by our washer/dryer dying a slow death at the beginning of the year. (As it turns out, the “right size” for a wardrobe when you work from home and have in-unit laundry is somewhat different than the “right size” for a wardrobe when you have a (very short) bike commute to the office, and when you can’t do laundry every day.) I continue to find things that no longer fit or serve me, and continue to pass those on when I can. I would like another dreamy pair of slacks, but am happy to wait for my friend to have capacity to make them. I’m grateful for the abundance that allows me to lean towards minimalism, and I’m grateful for the capacity to continue noticing.

2021 in meme

  1. What did you do in 2021 that you’d never done before?
    Lost a sibling; started a flossing habit; biked a metric century; biked to Indiana; caught a mouse with my own hands; eliminated dairy from my diet for an extended time; solo parented for a weekend; actively sought out professional mentorship; took both kids ice skating; dropped a kid off for day camp; met with a flying consul.
  2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    My word for 2021 was NOTICE. I did a lot of noticing!
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    No
  4. Did anyone close to you die?
    My brother Eric died a week before his 25th birthday.
  5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
    I biked to Indiana a number of times.
  6. What would you like to have in 2022 that you lacked in 2021?
    Childcare.
  7. What date from 2021 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
    February 22. While making dinner (red curry with butternut squash) the evening of the 21st, I got a call from my sister. Our brother was dead. They found him at home. I somehow got through the rest of the evening, including calling my parents, largely in a state of shock.
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    This was probably the best year I’ve had at my job but also the hardest.
  9. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    We thankfully avoided COVID for all of 2021 despite close family exposures. I was diagnosed with (more) osteoarthritis in my foot in September which a couple of months of PT helped address.
  10. What was the best thing you bought?
    I intentionally didn’t buy clothes for 6 months which was pretty terrific and helped shift my awareness of consumption a bit. I bought panniers for my bike that were instrumental in supporting bike adventures and facilitating grocery runs. Right now I’m appreciating my adjustable kettlebells for home workouts.
  11. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    Everyone who got vaccinated even if they were afraid to do so. Everyone who put their community ahead of their individual desires.
  12. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    Everyone who had the option to get vaccinated but didn’t. Everyone who participated in the Capitol invasion. Everyone who tried to interfere with other people making responsible choices for their health and the health of our communities. A whole lot of white people.
  13. Where did most of your money go?
    Food and rent.
  14. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Beans. Biking.
  15. What song will always remind you of 2021?
  1. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    i. happier or sadder?
    Sadder
    ii. richer or poorer?
    Richer
  2. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    Running, traveling, spending time with other people.
  3. What do you wish you’d done less of?
    Making complex choices about COVID risks. Worrying about COVID. Reading about COVID.
  4. How did you spend Christmas?
    In Rockford with my family. We got a hotel room for the night and it made a world of difference in terms of stress. I made Roberto The Soup for Christmas Eve dinner, and Mark and I made breakfast tacos for Christmas Day. My sister’s kids were under the weather earlier in the week, so we didn’t get to spend much time with them, but it was wonderful to all be together. We got to have a bit of outside time in the afternoon, including uncovering a nest of mice in the treehouse, but left in time to be home for dinner. It was wonderful to have the time together, particularly during the first holiday season after Eric’s death.
  5. Did you fall in love in 2021?
    I fell in love with my bike all over again. Also beans.
  6. What was the best thing you ate?
    I went all in on beans.
  7. What was your favorite TV program?
    The Expanse.
  8. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    No, pretty much the same jerks year after year.
  9. What was the best book you read?
    On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was probably the best, but I was full on obsessed with The Book of Eels, so it gets a mention as well.
  10. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    The Hackers Soundtrack is as good as I remembered.
  11. What did you want and get?
    Hundreds of miles on my bike. Really great tan lines. Trips to the beach with the kids. HUGS. Several glorious restaurant meals. More than one professional haircut. A new friend or two.
  12. What did you want and not get?
    Mostly travel, but also peace of mind.
  13. What was your favorite film of the year?
    Dune, which I’m so glad I was able to see in the theater.
  14. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I turned 41. The small kid and I went out in the snow to pick up an early morning birthday coffee. I felt depressed about having a midwinter, mid-pandemic birthday when I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything or see anyone. I think we ordered pizza and I made cocktails. I don’t think we had cake. The next morning we drove up north to pick up pastries from Sauce and Bread. We took a snowy walk in Roseland Cemetery and saw a bunch of deer. I made ramen for dinner.

    Since plans on my actual birthday weren’t possible, we had lunch at Reggie’s On The Beach for my half birthday. No friends or cocktails, but I’ll take it.
  1. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    More travel. More hugs.
  2. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2021?
    Jean shorts and my David Rose-esque star sweater for the 2nd year in a row.
  3. What kept you sane?
    Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Kim and Angie, KZ, Jenny and Iona, my 5 year journal.
  4. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Who has time for that?
  5. What political issue stirred you the most?
    I had the opportunity to participate in the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater workshop which was absolutely transformational for me. Every day offers an ongoing recommitment to undoing white supremacy, past and present.
  6. Who did you miss?
    Everyone

Monday

I am back in the office today, working onsite for the first time since mid-December. I expected to work from home for a couple of days before winter break, but then on the first day of that break, a work from home period was announced for after that break, and then on the last day of that period, I came down with something (not COVID), and now here we are, a week later, finally back in the office. What does it all mean.

Does it all mean anything? Probably not. Today around lunchtime was the longest I had been away from my (still nursing) toddler since mid-December. On the one hand, my head is clearer and I have been better able to focus than for most of the days when work from home was punctuated with joyful (and other) screams, with tiny hands at the door, with “MAMA YOU DONE WORKIN'” as a statement rather than a question.

On the other, when I read this comic, I cried because how many more times will that toddler run to me, call for me, fall asleep curled up in my arms? It’s not that long ago – and yet it is a distant memory – that the big kid did those things, and now, like the child in the comic, he mostly walks on his own and is starting to keep his own counsel, to open up to us separately and selectively, to keep his hands in his own pockets more often than he slips them into ours.

The last two years have been largely devoid of landmarks, mostly just a series of days spent mostly together. We haven’t gone anywhere. We have rarely seen anyone. We have had some small adventures, most of them within a few miles of home. We are all older than when this began, and some of us are taller.

But as is the way of getting older and taller, it doesn’t happen all at once, just an ongoing processional of cells dividing, finding their place, and dying, making microscopic adjustments until one day your pants are too short, or your hair is a different color, or faces once familiar have new features all of their own.

Which I guess is what this means: that for awhile, I was home, and then I wasn’t, and then I was again, and now I’m not. And like many parents that were home, and now are not, it means that I won’t be there for the screaming and the blanket forts and the constant demands for snacks, but it also means that I won’t be there for the moment of disappointment when the exciting program is canceled, or for the moment of mastery when the right combination of stacked things produces access to the forbidden shelf, or for the last time quiet time turns into an unexpected nap, and it’s the accumulation of those moments that make a life.

I find myself floating these days.

I don’t know how to describe it, really.

This week marks 9 years in my job, and last week 9 years in this city. But also it feels like it hasn’t been that long, like the years I spent in previous places stretched longer, despite the fact that this year has lasted approximately 4000 days. Maybe it’s that places that aren’t the four walls of my apartment feel shiny and new with the prospect of After coming into view?

I read Hilary Mantel’s memoir this week. She talks about having almost synesthesic memories of her childhood. Is that it? I put on an album from college and I can almost feel places I haven’t seen in decades. I sleep and people from my past visit, not to play a main role, but ambiently there. I wake up, drift off again, and they’re still there, as if on the other side of a room in a crowded party. (Remember parties?)

There has to be a reason why I’m drawn to Mantel, to Olivia Laing, to Virginia Woolf. Looping and returning. Is it anxiety brain?

There’s also electronic music. And running. And my bike. The same thing, over and over, building, falling back, uncovering, visiting and revisiting.

Looping and returning, spuriously anchored. Who am I, really, these days? And what comes after the After, assuming the After actually comes?

February mornings

I sit down at my desk and rub lavender cream into my cold and washing-chapped hands, taking a few deep breaths as if I were settling into a massage at a spa, rather than my workspace in the big kid’s bedroom. I open the shades all the way to maximize natural light. I listen to The Daily while checking my email, and try to make that the only news I consume during the work day.

I have exercised on my lunch hour for the last decade, but it’s even more essential in February, in part because by 11:30, I am FREEZING and need to sweat and/or shower to get my heart rate up. So that happens, either a bundled-up run or a YouTube workout with extra toddler weight.

For lunch, a quick egg, caper, and herb flatbread. Or an assortment of snacks: celery, olives, a wedge of whatever cheese we have this week, homemade sourdough with hummus or peanut butter, chocolate chips and almonds in a little cup. Another cup of coffee for the afternoon, and milk for the toddler before his nap.

After 326 days, it almost feels like these mornings will be forever, but I’m starting to believe that they will not, and so I’m trying to embrace the small moments while I can.

2020 in meme

  1. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?
    Lived through a global pandemic; witnessed civil rights protests; wore a face mask; had my nose swabbed a bunch of times; worked from home for months on end; joined a CSA and a bean club; caught a mouse; hung blinds; biked with both kids; cut my own hair.
  2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    Unusually for me, I didn’t really set resolutions, and I certainly didn’t worry about keeping them.
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    Wonderful friends had babies that I have yet to meet.
  4. Did anyone close to you die?
    We are extremely fortunate to not have lost anyone close to us in 2020.
  5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
    Remember visiting new places? We barely left the city.
  6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?
    Peace of mind and two COVID vaccine shots in my arm.
  7. What date from 2020 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
    March 12 was the last day Before for us.
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Maintaining my sanity and doing my best to stay present through a rollercoaster of a year.
  9. What was your biggest failure?
    I am striking this question in order to frame experiences as growth rather than failure.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hip in March. I wiped out and got road rash while running in a cemetery and then twisted the shit out of my foot at the end of the summer and had to take 3+ weeks off running. I badly skinned my knee on Thanksgiving. Nothing major, all frustrating.
  11. What was the best thing you bought?
    Rancho Gordo beans and our new couch.
  12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    Front line workers of all sorts.
  13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    Most elected officials’, same as in previous years.
  14. Where did most of your money go?
    Food and rent.
  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Ologies. Elizabeth Warren. Sourdough.
  16. What song will always remind you of 2020?
    How about podcasts? I discovered and BINGED Ologies.
  17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    i. happier or sadder?
    Sadder
    ii. richer or poorer?
    Richer
  18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    SPEND TIME WITH OTHER PEOPLE
  19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
    Worrying about money, dealing with moving and apartment disasters.
  20. How did you spend Christmas?
    At home, taking things slow. We spread the gifts and the video chats throughout the day so there was never a point when everyone got overwhelmed or overstimulated. The small kid spent several hours playing with his garbage truck. I made an overly fussy vegducken for dinner.
  21. Did you fall in love in 2020?
    No
  22. (Adding a new question in place of one that no longer applies!) What was the best thing you ate?
    I did a tremendous amount of cooking and baking this year. Off the top of my head, the butternut squash and sweetcorn erriseri was a particular winner. The big kid would likely vote for spaghetti squash and mushroom (soccer) balls. The small kid might vote for the fruit dump truck that I made for his birthday.
  23. What was your favorite TV program?
    The Expanse
  24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    The same Trump administration suspects.
  25. What was the best book you read?
    Island on Fire was the most engrossing
  26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    See #16
  27. What did you want and get?
    I got to see my parents and my sister and a few friends all too briefly. We went on many family bike rides, and I got to have WAY more time with my kids than I ever could have imagined going into the year.
  28. What did you want and not get?
    So, so many things.
  29. What was your favorite film of the year?
    I finished zero movies in 2020.
  30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I turned 40. We took the kids to the Chicago Children’s Museum. We had donuts from Do-Rite and ramen at Ramen-San. I went for an afternoon run by the lake. My mom came in for the weekend and babysat so that we could go out for brunch and drinks. We had dinner with her at Greek Islands, and a quiet dinner at home. All of this seems unimaginable now!
  31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Not being in a pandemic.
  32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?
    Jean shorts and my David Rose-esque star sweater
  33. What kept you sane?
    Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Karen, Kim and Angie, Anne and KZ, long walks
  34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Who has time for that?
  35. What political issue stirred you the most?
    I felt pulled in a million directions, but focused my energy on unlearning white supremacy and writing get out the vote postcards.
  36. Who did you miss?
    Everyone

A Brief List of Media I Would Like to Binge

One of the things I miss about my life before kids was being able to, say, read a book in one sitting, or binge watch a TV show over a couple of sick days, or maybe, dare I say it, watch an entire movie! Without thinking too much about it, here are a few things I would like to lose a number of hours absorbing:

  1. The Mirror and the Light — I had never before preordered a book, but I preordered the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy and expected to devour it when it appeared in my Kindle app in March. Almost nine months (and a full dang pandemic) later, I have only made it 19% through the book. If I ever finish, I also want to rewatch the Wolf Hall miniseries.
  2. Battlestar Galactica — N and I have watched the entire show together twice, most recently finishing it while in the hospital with the small kid. I love it unabashedly. I would take Caprica as a consolation prize.
  3. Fringe — I love this show so much and think of it often, especially since a number of its character actors often show up in other shows and in ways that are jarring given their roles on Fringe.
  4. Ologies is absolutely delightful and I learn something new every time I listen. I binged about two years of the show while doing a lot of rote data work over the summer, but can’t do it justice while actually focusing on anything else.
  5. The stack of Flow magazines on the credenza from my grandparents’ house.

Quarantine Moment #1

Classical Baby was on in the background while I made dinner (BBQ tempeh, red cabbage, corn bread) last night. My kids love the show, one seemingly mostly for the music, the other seemingly mostly for the animation. A study in contrasts, those two.

I found myself unexpectedly a little teary during Appalachian Spring and couldn’t immediately put my finger on why as I’m not the biggest fan of classical music in general or of Copland specifically – until I remembered that viral Toronto Symphony Orchestra at home video from the early, early moments of All Of This.

Listening to the song – and, now, watching the performance again after so many months – I found myself grateful to be reminded what it felt like at the beginning, when we could hope for a quick resolution, that if we all just pulled together, we could make it through.

Outside.

I haven’t written here in a long time, in a large part because I haven’t been sure what to say, or if I even had anything worth saying. This year has been a series of profound sea changes. What could I possibly say that is of value and that hasn’t been said better elsewhere? But I suppose this space has only occasionally been about Saying Big Things, and so I will endeavor to carry on Saying Mostly Small Things, as small things are the stuff that most days and weeks and years and lives are made of.

The change of seasons has been difficult around here. It hasn’t been cold enough to wrap our heads around winter, but it hasn’t been warm enough to keep playing outside either. I am mourning the outside plans that were possible in warm(er) weather. My kids are bouncing off the walls. We continue to be grateful for an empty apartment below us.

We took advantage of the long weekend to visit two new-to-us parks on the south side – part of my ongoing agenda to get out into nature without having to go to the north side or the western suburbs. We spent a grey morning at Steelworkers Park exploring the tall grasses and watching cranes in the harbor and fishermen on the channel. The park was smaller than I expected, but plenty big enough to wear the small kid out.

We also visited Big Marsh Park. It took us a bit to find the spaces that weren’t dedicated to biking, but once we did, the kids had a great time digging holes and climbing on tree stumps and just generally being kids, free of the now-normal worries about masks or social distancing. We watched an eagle swoop over the water and wished we’d brought the big kid’s birthday binoculars.

And so we continue on with Small Things: card games and alphabet songs, coffee and cinnamon buns, masked trips to the library, another season away from the ones we love.

A Place to Start

My book club read Antoine de St Exupéry’s Night Flight this month, and as I hurried to finish the book last night, I was struck by this quote:

Even though human life may be the most precious thing on earth, we always behave as if there were something of higher value than human life.”

The narrator was talking about a pilot, lost to the skies, the value of his life – or any individual life – held in balance opposite the value of his cargo – but this reflection runs parallel to so much of what’s happening in our country this week – a vocal, visible, occasionally violent acknowledgement that for far too long, Black lives have been treated as less valuable than property (unless those Black lives actually were property).

A place to start is by saying the words: Black Lives Matter.

As a white person raised in a white family in a white neighborhood, a white church, and white schools, it is safe to say that I have a lifetime of deeply ingrained white supremacy to unlearn. In America, but particularly as a white people in America, white supremacy is inseparable from the streets we walk, the food we eat, the laws we follow, the air we breathe. There is nothing that we do that is not informed by white supremacy, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can start the difficult and necessary work of becoming anti-racist.

A place to start is by saying the words: I am racist. I want to become anti-racist.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably been overwhelmed with information about things to do, books to read, or places to give. Here are a few things that have been meaningful for me:

Finally, in the interest of sharing information with people who want it (vs people who I think might want it), I’m going to try putting together a little newsletter with links and things. Perhaps you’ll join me?