Light, please!

A time capsule from two years ago, this picture still perfectly represents what can be so beautiful about the winter: steel blue skies, a hazy sunshine, the light reflecting on snow, and instantly lifted spirits. Sadly, we’ve had very little of this over the last few weeks.

This post is an attempt to remind myself (as well as you, kind readers) of the things that can help with low spirits when things are weighing heavily on us. All of us are fighting our own demons in the crazy times we live in, right? Struggling through the second lockdown, it’s more important than ever to try and be kind, to ourselves as well as to each other. Not an easy task when you feel so down you feel you have no fucks to give. But it is my true belief that the thing that will get all of us back on track again eventually is the qualities that make us human. Compassion, patience, sense of humor, appreciation of beauty.

Personally, I really like a clean apartment. It is truly uplifting to me to sit down at a free of dust desk, sleep in fresh sheets, and see the wood of my kitchen counters shine. Last Saturday was a day for deep cleaning, and it left me exhausted but very, very satisfied. I’d show you if everything still was the way my cleaning crew and I made it look, but you can probably guess that life got in the way of that! Anyway, it’s one thing that helps me, if only temporarily, to feel better.

Making something pretty is also a good thing. I had some time over the weekend, and finished another pair of knit socks for myself:

It’s no fancy quality yarn, just a ball of sock yarn I found at the supermarket, but I like the shades of green play, and they make me happy, and keep my feet warm.

On Sunday, we met an old friend for a walk. It was her birthday, we brought a thermos, and she brought cake (very good, but for later, because it needed to be eaten in a civilized manner, using plates and forks), and we spent a good hour walking and catching up. Sadly, our dogs don’t get along all that well – as you know, Charlie is small, and he has a hard time trusting larger dogs – and hers is a beautiful, statuesque Lab and Hovawart mix. She’s a sweetheart, as is her Dog Mom. We need to do more of that in the future, before all of this Covid business makes me forget I have real life friends!

Another source of happiness is food, of course. The newest addition to our repertoire is home made Vietnamese summer rolls – a thing I would probably not have attempted if not for my daughter’s sweet friend V. whose family apparently makes them at home on the regular. She told us about it, and we tried, and it wasn’t hard at all. You need a few ingredients from the Asian grocery store, but then you’re good to go – as you may be well aware but I was not, so you get to read all about it ;-).

You need rice paper sheets (which you dip in water very briefly at the table, lay flat on your plate and fill to your liking, wrapping them as you would a burrito), as well as any ingredient you’d like to have in there (the traditional at my favorite Vietnamese place being mint leaves, cilantro, lettuce, chives or green onions, cucumber, sprouts, and glass noodles, with a choice of chicken, prawns or tofu). We added peppers, avocado and extra lemon.

For the Satay sauce, you can be lazy and buy a mix, but it’s pretty easy to make at home. You need fresh lemon grass, ginger and garlic, which you chop, coconut milk, a good scoop of your favorite peanut butter, salt and pepper, some chili, if you like, a pinch of sugar and a dash of fish sauce, maybe some lemon to taste. Heat these ingredients slowly in a pan and cook for a few minutes. Then let sit for a while so the flavors can steep. For eating, you can reheat it, or serve it as it is. (Caveat: This is the way I make it – there may be other, better, more traditional recipes. I just go by my palate, and try to copy the best satay sauces I’ve had.)

The good thing about this dish is that everyone gets to make their own food at the table, and you can put ingredients in there to your personal preference … a laid-back, fun and healthy way to eat. Also, even my pickiest customer enjoys making her own special roll (always a plus), which contains carrot, cucumber and glass noodles, as well as, astonishingly, pan-fried tofu with ginger and garlic! If you prefer your dip more on the lean side, you can substitute the satay with the typical lime, fish sauce and chili pepper concoction served at Vietnamese restaurants.

Next, and very importantly, hot drinks. There are people in the world who don’t like tea. I know and love some of them, but to say I understand it would be a lie. My love for tea began as a kid in the Eighties, when flavored Chinese teas and green teas became popular. My parents were coffee drinkers and didn’t care much for tea, but at my friend B’s house, I fell in love with the magic of tea leaves, learned about steeping, and enjoyed many many different varieties. Her mom had this carefully curated mail order catalog she’d buy her tea from (Millenials: There was no Internet, then! Companies would send out printed brochures and you’d order by filling in what you wanted on a card, and send that in, and then your order would come in the mail. Quaint, right?) Anyway, we were always excited when the deliveries came. Over many steaming cups of black and green, flavored and plain, we became educated, adventurous, and also, in my case, hooked for life ;-).

I never start my day without drinking tea, which I always have long before I even think about food. It wakes up my soul, caresses my flavor buds, and makes me happy, every single day. My choice of morning tea is a very light Darjeeling first flush, delightfully flowery but not too playful – a serious and delicious tea. With breakfast, I have coffee to kick-start me off into my work day, but later in the day, it’s back to tea for me. We have many different flavors because everyone has their favorites (Husband: citrusy ginger mixes, Me: black tea, sometimes with fruity flavors, jasmine blossoms and chamomile, Son: Not picky except for his morning mint tea with orange peel, Daughter: sweet chai, with chocolate or cinnamon flavor). The herbal mixes we have come in assorted colorful boxes with poetic names. We also have a decent Earl Grey for when we feel traditional in the afternoons. I like it with a slice of fresh lemon rather than milk. For after dinner, I’ve gotten used to a boxed variety containing chamomile, verveine and lavender, appropriately named ‚Sweet dreams‘. It doesn’t actually make me sleepy, but it gives me comfort.

I’m not very big on eating chocolate, usually, but I do enjoy an occasional cup of hot chocolate – as a warming, sweet, comforting drink after a walk in the cold, or when working late. I’m sure it’s just as bad for me as a bar of chocolate would be, but sometimes, it’s just what I need, and I enjoy it with no regrets.

As I do fresh fruit. These global days, everything is readily available at all times, even in countries like ours, very far away from the equator where produce grow all year round. We try and stay within reasonable seasonal limits (for our neck of the woods). I never buy strawberries during the winter, for instance, just as I’d never get asparagus before March. But oranges, mango, cantaloupes and such I do buy on the regular during the dark months, and they brighten many breakfast plates, desserts and salads at our house.

All of that just because we don’t get enough sunshine? Well, I suppose it could be worse. In Nordic countries, the suicide rate is quite high over the winter, as is periodic drinking. With a bit too much sugar, we’re way better off, all in all, I think. Depression has spiked over Corona, and only recently, I read that it was even more so over the winter months. It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, most appropriately acronymed SAD, and apparently, 6 out of 100 people suffer from it. Symptoms vary from depression to trouble sleeping, feeling unworthy and listless, and in extreme cases, even suicidal. It’s certainly a dangerous condition to have during lockdown, because the system-inherent isolation will affect SAD patients even more than it would everybody else. So, if you haven’t heard from a friend in a while, try and get in touch, because now is the time it really counts, and a phone call, email or text can go a long way with a depressed person.

Checking out today with an uplifting song from the past. I’m aware the artists had issues with the song being so successful, as it wasn’t really their usual jam. Nevertheless, I as a fan feel entitled to still love it now, just as I loved it when we were kids dancing to it at the club when it was Indie night. Enjoy, and let us all hope for some much needed lux in the near future!

It’s Not About You

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Depression sucks for everyone involved. The patient is suffering, and if they’re not careful, friends and family will exhaust themselves in vain attempts to ‚do something‘. Trying to cheer the other person up, attempting to make them feel better and look on the bright side – it can get frustrating because that’s just not how it works.

When one of my closest friends got sick, my own approach (after silently freaking out for a while) was to detach myself enough to be able to be or do what she needed. It took 3 very long weeks of allowing her space to find out for herself what the heck that even was. I found a way of letting her know I was thinking of her without pressuring her, but the incommunicado was not easy for me. What helped me was to tell myself every day that it wasn’t about me. In the meantime, I learned that there will be good days, and there will be very bad days. It gets more complicated the more you love the depressed person, because you’ll see them fall apart, and there won’t be a damn thing you can do but listen, hold them, be there and pray they’ll eventually find it in themselves to climb out of that bottomless pit.

In the beginning, it was such a paradigm shift to understand that what is troubling her has absolutely nothing to do with me, or with what I did or didn’t do. This is probably even more difficult if you’re a spouse or a parent, because these relationships are more codependent than a friendship by definition. Not that friendships never are, and not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. Depending on friends is what they’re there for, thick and thin, good times or bad. Right now, my job is to be there for my friend while being mindful of my own needs at the same time. And while it seems illogical to detach yourself in order to stay close, it seems to me that that’s one of the few things that can work.

I’m not entirely new to this. An ex-boyfriend of mine was both depressed and drinking. Our relationship was an absolute train wreck, but at the time, I genuinely believed he needed me, so narcissistic of me. In the end it was him who ended it, which, from today’s perspective, was the sanest thing he could have done. It broke my heart, but it was clear we really had nowhere to go – and I wasn’t even helping him with his issues. He did what he needed to do.

Then, there was a friend who became depressed over the course of a brief marriage that ultimately failed. There was really not a lot I could offer but a couch, a friendly ear and encouragement to seek professional help. She did, and she got better, and she learned to be happy again. But it took me years to accept that there was nothing else I could have done, and to be OK with that.

Interestingly, it was only recently that I understood the difference between feeling empathy for someone and trying to absorb their pain. It’s probably the secret weapon that enables therapists to do their jobs without going crazy themselves. This may be a bunch of BS from a professional standpoint, but for the current situation with my friend, it’s my strategy for standing by her to feel her sorrow but not own it.

Sorry for dumping this heavy business on you, stitch readers. I know you probably came to see some crafts projects, or check for new recipes.

If any of you know more about depression though, please let me know, I’m sure I still have a lot to learn. I read that doing crafts is being offered as a part of therapy in psych wards – guess we’ve come full circle there. Anyway, here’s my current WIPs:

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Birthday socks for my friend C., mom to my Most Excellent Godson R., in a lovely shade of soft pink called ‚Winter Sorbet‘ – poetic name, right?

The Dotty Granny Blanket may or may not, depending on my stamina, become a cushion instead. It’s a lenghty process, making all those pretty dotty granny squares. We’ll see.

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The one above is definitely a cushion front – a color explosion in rows of half double crochet, complete with bobbles that add to the Seventies lava lamp feel of the piece ;-).
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The back will look like this – a deep shade of blood red, also in HDC but without bobbles.

That’s all I got for today. Thank you for dropping by and reading.