Ireland entered a controversial 6-week “soft” lockdown today. Schools, manufacturing plants, and construction sites, which have been hot spots in the past, will remain open, but non-essential retail, hair salons, and indoor restaurant dining are closed. We also can’t have visitors inside our homes or travel outside of a 5K radius again. The radical move comes from lawmakers who hope to have the numbers of COVID cases under better control in time for Christmas. This comes as the days are quickly getting shorter and daylight savings time starts this weekend, causing the sun to set even earlier in the day.
I usually love autumn, but this year I’m feeling particularly homesick. So many people here say they love autumn in Ireland and talk about how beautiful the leaves are as they change colors, but they’ve never seen autumn in New England. We missed it last year, and knowing that we’ll miss that plus the holidays this year makes me a little more sensitive to the longing. In addition to the leaves, I miss all the autumn foods. I managed to find a can of pumpkin to make pumpkin bread, but there’s no option for making apple cider, or my beloved cider doughnuts. To my readers in New England, please enjoy at least one cider doughnut for me.
Anyway, in my continuing effort to write more often and about less serious topics, here are 5 things I’ve been digging this month.
This Article: “Notice You’re Alright Right Now” by Rick Hanson
This timely article, written by neuropsychologist and bestselling author Rick Hanson, discusses the body’s natural tendency toward apprehensiveness, vigilance, and a general unsettled feeling. The tension in our brains can expand to tension in our shoulders, our necks, our jaws. It can have long-term negative implications on our ability to relax and exacerbate anxiety and depression. When those worries live in an environment where they’re allowed to grow unchecked, they turn up the intensity, telling us that we’re never really safe no matter where we go or what we do.
Hanson’s solution to breaking the cycle of fear? Check in with ourselves several times a day. Ask ourselves, “In this moment, [am I] basically OK? Is breathing OK? Is [my] heart beating? Is [my] mind working?” The vast majority of the time the answers to these questions will be yes. While this doesn’t alter the external situation causing fear, it does soften how we react to it, and keeps our attention in the present.
It’s easy to see how unchecked internalized fear can thrive in the age of coronavirus. We live in a time when an invisible, deadly threat to our health can strike during the most mundane scenarios. At the same time we’re all trying to figure out how to live our lives while keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. Every ordinary activity requires additional thought, decision-making, and planning. It’s no wonder that so many of us, myself included, are experiencing vigilance fatigue.
Hanson’s post was the perfect reminder to try and stay in my own present bodily experience, no matter how scary the world feels right now. In the present moment my mantra is, “I’m alright right now.”
This Song: “Do What You Can” by Bon Jovi
Concerts and touring are at a complete standstill, but musicians have still been writing new songs. Music has often been on the cutting edge of current affairs, voicing the feelings of regular people, or giving fans something to contemplate. The daily news cycle of late provides no shortage of inspiration to songwriters.
Earlier this month Bon Jovi released their 15th studio album called 2020. As the title indicates, the songs on the album were heavily influenced by events from the recent past: the murder of George Floyd, the 2019 shooting in Dayton, Ohio, the struggles of migrants trying to find a better life, the struggles veterans face when returning home, and of course, the pandemic. Jon Bon Jovi is quick to clarify that the album is not political, but simply calls himself, “a witness to history,” adding, “I believe the greatest gift of an artist is the ability to use their voice to speak to issues that move us.”
The album’s most recent single, “Do What You Can,” is about trying to get by during COVID. The band was personally affected when two band members contracted the virus, putting their tour and album release date on hold. During that time, Jon Bon Jovi turned his attention to his community food kitchen in New Jersey, where demand was rapidly increasing. The song’s chorus, “When you can’t do what you do, you do what you can,” came from the caption on a picture Jon Bon Jovi’s wife Dorothea posted on social media of him washing dishes.
Is the song a little on the nose? Yes. Did I cry when I first heard the song and then again when I found the music video for this post? Yup. Is it the catchy musical hug from Jon Bon Jovi I needed to make 2020 a little less terrible? Absolutely.
This Recipe: Crisp Gnocchi With Brussels Sprouts and Brown Butter
What could be better than comfort food that feels fancy and comes together in under 30 minutes?
This recipe only contains three ingredients I wouldn’t normally have on hand (Brussels sprouts, lemon, and gnocchi), all of which can last about a week without going bad, just in case I don’t get around to making it right away. The browned butter, lemon zest, and good Parmesan make this simple recipe feel more like a gourmet meal than a standard quick weeknight meal.
- More oil: I recommend using 2-3 T of oil while cooking the gnocchi. The first time I made this using the 1T of oil the recipe calls for, the gnocchi stuck to the bottom of the pan.
- Less heat: Make sure to use medium heat, not medium-high heat when cooking the brussels and gnocchi to also prevent sticking.
- Easier zest: The second time I made this recipe, I used a micro-plane to zest the lemon instead of going through the trouble of shaving large pieces off the lemon and then chopping them, as the recipe instructs. This resulted in a more lemony taste than the first version, but I still thought it was delicious. If you’re not a big fan of lemons but want to use a microplane for the zest, just use less than the recipe calls for.
This Book – Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
From the New York Times bestselling author of Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell brings us Utopia Avenue, a novel about a fictional British band during the 1960s and their rise to success. The band, called Utopia Avenue, is comprised of four individual musicians who are strangers brought together by a producer. A band members narrates each chapter, named for a song that the events in the chapter inspired. Each band member has a distinct voice and their own set of external struggles and internal demons to quell.
Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I’ve always been fascinated by this time period in history, and love the soundtrack that accompanies it, but I wasn’t too familiar with what was happening in Britain at that time. I enjoyed the cameos from real-life legends like Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Mama Cass, John Lennon, and Brian Jones. I appreciated the distinct voices of each of the band members’ chapters, and enjoyed their unique story lines. Clocking in at over 500 pages, I finished it much more quickly than I expected, getting sucked in after a bit of a slow start.
While I did enjoy the book, I have a few criticisms:
Elf’s character: The only main female character is also the flattest. Her main story lines revolve around typical female character problems: love, career, family, and the struggle to find balance between them all. Meanwhile, the male characters face larger, less stereotypical obstacles. I enjoyed the writing around the cast of characters in Elf’s life, her personality, and interactions with the other band members. In this way she feels like a completely realistic character, but her motivations and plot fell flat. One aspect of her character that had the potential for complexity is her sexuality. Unfortunately this is only casually addressed and seems to be resolved with the snap of a finger. I’ll chock that up to the fact that she was written by a straight white male author.
The ending: Rarely does the ending of a book stick in my craw for days afterward, but this book did that to me. I understand that the endings to books, TV shows, and movies would be boring if they always ended the way we expected them to, but for a book that’s over 500 pages long, I didn’t expect the ending to feel like such a throw away. It seemed like Mitchell had a deadline to meet and needed to wrap up the novel as quickly and cleanly as possible. That being said, the ending didn’t ruin the the book for me. I haven’t read Mitchell’s other novels, but I’ve heard unsatisfying endings are common in his writing. Even knowing that, I would still read another book he’s written. I will just be a bit more wary as I come to the end.
If you check out any of the items I suggested above, or are already familiar with them, let me know what you think in the comments! Until next time, make sure you vote, stay safe, wear a mask, and mind yourself.