St. James Place

December 2020 Update

posted in: Drawing, Goals, Photography, Reading, Writing | 0

The year ended the same way most of the year transpired, with a fairly quiet month. It’s hard to believe we’re now past the 9 month mark of self-isolation. As with many people, I’m glad to see 2020 end. I don’t usually put much stock in the changing of a year, but this year, it feels significant even if just symbolically so.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m very thankful that Holly and I have been able to work from home during the pandemic. And thankful that she and I get along so well that being home together so much has never been an issue. If fact, we have both loved the extra time together.

In my Reaching 6 months of Self-Isolation post, I speculated that our lives wouldn’t begin to feel anything like normal again until 2022. That still seems about right.

Although the vaccine has started being distributed, it seems like it won’t be widely available for those of us in non-essential and non-risk categories until late spring or early summer. Even that feels optimistic given the problems that have already materialized.

I’m guessing we won’t be physically back to work until late in the summer. Holly and I are the cautious type so I’m assuming we’ll be slow to incorporate normal activities. So, if all goes well, 2022 seems a reasonable guess as to when we’ll be fully comfortable going out and doing things. It will be a transition as we slowly re-introduce visiting people, going to the farmers’ market, eating out, visiting museums, and going to the movies (if that’s even still a thing).

We’ve done well during our 9 months of self-isolating. Winter will be difficult since we won’t be able to get outside as often, but at least we’re past the solstice and are gaining daylight. Winter will be easier to endure knowing there will be a vaccine waiting for us on the other side. Although it will be disappointing not being able to go out as often during the winter, I am quite glad we won’t be coerced into going out in the bad weather in order to get to work.

December was a quiet month because of self-isolating but that doesn’t mean it was entirely uneventful.

Holly’s birthday occurs during the first half of the month so we took a long weekend to celebrate. We have developed a tradition of going out to dinner one night and out to brunch sometime over the weekend, and then we would each cook the other a dinner and a brunch.

Since we’re not partaking in any of the outdoor dining options, we ordered delivery instead. On the Friday night, we ordered from Vedge which specializes in dishes built around seasonal vegetables.

On Saturday, we ordered brunch from The Gold Standard, which had been one of our great discoveries during the pandemic. It’s a fairly new place, and we hadn’t been there or ordered from them until a few months ago and have really enjoyed everything we’ve had. We’re looking forward to actually going there someday.

Friday morning, I made a porridge with quinoa, amaranth, raisins, and banana chips, and I made a vegetable lasagna on Saturday night.

The second half of December featured our winter break. One of the things I like about working in an academic library is that we shut down between Christmas and the New Year so we get over a week off. Since we haven’t been using much of our vacation time, we decided to extend the break by a few days and had 16 days off which was a welcome relief after such a busy and stressful year.

Our winter break usually serves as a kind of second Staycation. Of course, this year that didn’t mean the usual going out to eat and seeing movies (or, really, doing much of anything). We cooked a lot and ordered out but otherwise mostly just hung out at home, which, actually, was rather pleasant and relaxing.

Obviously, Christmas and the New Year were part of that.

We usually have some kind of seafood dish for Christmas Eve to approximate the Italian-American tradition of the 7 fishes. There are only 2 of us, so 7 fishes would be a bit much. This year, we returned to a Cioppino recipe we’ve made before with shrimp, clams, crab, cod, and salmon.

For Christmas day, we had a wonderful sweet potato millet porridge for brunch and a delicious ravioli with red gravy similar to the one we made last year.

Having quiet holidays with just the 2 of us has been nice. Ever since my mom died at the end of 2017, we haven’t established any new traditions so there really wasn’t any big event we felt like we missed.

Last year, we had done a few things with my brother. The weekend before Christmas, we saw a holiday show at the Kimmel Center with the Philadelphia Orchestra and then went out to dinner.

We had him over to our place for Christmas dinner (the aforementioned ravioli and red gravy), and he stayed overnight at a nearby Air BnB so we had breakfast together the next morning. I imagine future Christmases looking more like that.

We took a walk to The Miracle of South 13th Street which has become a bit of a tradition the last few years. However, the decorations this year were scaled back so it didn’t have quite the same festive vibes as usual.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were likewise pretty quiet. Just more cooking, eating, and savoring the last days of our winter break.

We continued enjoying the last few episodes of the TV shows we started watching during the fall: The Queen’s Gambit, The Mandalorian, and His Dark Materials. I’m on the fence about how much I liked The Mandalorian, but I really enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit. Once I got over some grievances about changes from the books, I did end up loving His Dark Materials and can’t wait for the next season, although I’m a little suspicious about how well they can cover The Amber Spyglass, which is longer than either of the first 2 books, in 1 season.

We also continued watching the weekly Philadelphia Orchestra performances.

The December program featured:

  • December 3: Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4
  • December 10: Missy Mazzoli’s Ecstatic Science and Ludwig van Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and his Piano Concerto No. 3
  • December 17: Englebert Humperdinck’s “Crackle Waltz” from Hansel and Gretel; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Selections from The Nutcracker; and a selection of Christmas favorites.

Photography

Although we had fewer daylight hours and the weather wasn’t that great, we were able to get out for a few walks. Since most of those were on film, I don’t have those photos ready to go yet, although one of my posts from the month was from a December walk: Yashica Mat-124G with Ilford XPS Super.

My other photo posts from December were pictures from November:

I might have had more December photos on the way except one of my cameras started having issue while I was out shooting. The shutter on my Olympus Pen-EE started sticking which, needless to say, was disappointing. It now joins my Flexaret Automat and my Pentacon six TL in my camera graveyard. Most optimistically, a waiting room as I hold out hope for getting these working again, but I’m not sure how that’s going to happen.

One day, we took a short walk around out neighborhood. I wasn’t necessarily intending to take any photos, but I had my Olympus TG-5 with me, so I did take a few. Since I didn’t take that many pictures, I hadn’t posted them here before.

One big bit of news is that Holly gave me a light box for Christmas! I have tried it out and plan to post separately about that in the near future.

Despite the pandemic, I was able to take a lot of pictures in 2020. Not as many as in 2019 but close. I took 2,523 (1,018 on film) in 2019 and 2,139 (805 on film) in 2020.

I don’t have any specific photography goals for 2021. I just want to be able to go places and take pictures outside our apartment and immediate neighborhood!


Drawing and Graphic Design

I finally finished watching The Lettering Seminar, although I didn’t do any of the exercises after getting stymied trying to use Adobe Illustrator’s pen tool. I’ve been meaning to spend more time practicing but haven’t gotten around to it. Once I get more comfortable with it, I hope to return to my Keep Cool But Care project.

I also finished a tracing and drawing project involving a wine label.

I feel like I did draw more in 2020 than in 2019 although that’s more difficult to gauge. I did post more drawing photos to Flickr in 2020 (36) than in 2019 (24) so that’s something to go by.

I have been drawing sporadically over the past few year but would like to get to it more consistently in 2021.


Writing

My biggest success of December and of 2020 has been my work on this blog. I set out wanting to post more often here and have done so. Although I didn’t commit to any set schedule, I did post here consistently. I posted 6 times in December and 61 times during the course of the year. Last year, I had only 20 posts.

Despite not making any attempts to promote this blog, my visits increased throughout the year, due, I’m assuming, just to the fact that there was a steady flow of new content. I broke 500 site visits for the first time in December. I had 3,787 visits in 2020 compared with 1,063 visits in 2019.

This Creative Midlife 2020 Site Visits
This Creative Midlife 2020 Site Visits

My other writing didn’t fare as well.

I had hoped to work more on my short stories than I ended up doing. I did finish 5 stories, 4 of which, however, I actually began in 2019. I was inconsistent about submitting them and did not have any of my stories get published. I also revised one older story and had some false starts on other ideas.

My 2020 writing goals were:

  • More posts to This Creative Midlife
  • A refreshed and thoughtful approach to my short stories

I think for 2021, I’m going to basically stick to variations on these.

I have really enjoyed working on this blog and want to keep up my good pace with posting. I would like greater variety in my posts as the majority of them on 2020 had to do with photography. For whatever reason, I tend to only write about my other interests in these monthly updates.


Reading

Short Stories

I read 2 short stories during December which I liked, both from The New Yorker: Dietrologia by Paul Theroux and Our Lady of the Quarry by Mariana Enriquez

I found it interesting to read a new Paul Theroux story since I had read (and loved) The Mosquito Coast a few months ago.

Despite not being much of a magic realism fan, I did enjoy Our Lady of the Quarry.

I wanted to read more short stories last year and note the ones I liked. I ended up with a list of 57 (see below). I’m not inclined to say I necessarily want to read more short stories, but I would like to make an effort to read more diversely as most of these (35) were from current issues of The New Yorker.

Short Stories Read in 2020

So far in 2020, I’ve read 57 stories that I have enjoyed.

Books

I finished 2 books in December: Joseph Heller’s Something Happened and Herbert Read’s A Concise History of Modern Painting.

I absolutely loved Something Happened. Dare I say that it has made Catch-22 my second favorite Heller book? I was amazed by how Heller was able to create a fairly horrible main character yet make him sympathetic at the same time. In satirizing the business world of mid-century United States, he makes Bob Slocum seem a victim of a toxic society acting out against his own best interests. At times, it was a bit hard to stomach but well worth it in the long run.

Prior to this, the only other Heller I had read was Closing Time which I was not particularly enamored with. Now, I’m curious to read more Heller.

A Concise History of Modern Painting was good but a little dry and academic for something that was supposedly geared to non-experts. It was originally written in 1959 and updated in 1968 and 1974. It also has a last chapter added in 1986 written by 2 other people. Despite these updates, the book shows its age since it lacks a historical perspective on many of the works and movements and also has very little discussion about female artists or artists of color.

Many of the included illustrations were not of the paintings discussed in the book, although they were often by the same artists. I’m guessing this was probably due to copyright issues, but it would have been helpful to have more images from the paintings being discussed.

It was quite a good reading year. I didn’t read as many books as last year, but last year’s list was padded with some short books and graphic novels. I feel like I’ve read more during the pandemic which isn’t surprising.

December 2020 Reading Update
December 2020 Reading Update

Books Read in 2020

I read 40 books in 2020:


This Creative Midlife Posts in 2020

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