Song Sparrow

I had a mystery bird at my feeder, and it turned out to be a song sparrow. Identifying it online was a bit of a challenge, because the population of song sparrows up here tend to much darker than usual. They’re really striking little things.

I’m already waiting for spring, so my little sparrow got a pomegranate branch to sit on. We’ve had our snow now, and I’m ready for all the plants to wake up again.

A song sparrow sitting on a blooming pomegranate branch drawn in colored pencil

Winter Blooms

This winter in Seattle can’t seem to make up its mind. No snow quite yet, but plenty of drizzle. They’ve been predicting it for a few days, though, so maybe we’ll have gotten some noticeable flakes by the time this posts. That’d be fun.

With the colder weather rolling in, I’m super happy to have the third season of Anne with an E to watch, because it definitely picked up in the second season. Not that I didn’t like the first season, but I really love the diversity of characters they introduced as they went along. It feels like they’ve very much kept the spirit of the books and just broadened the scope of it.

And, in keeping with that spirit, here are some very romantical winter flowers that I discovered in the arboretum. Turns out they have a whole garden devoted to things that bloom in the colder months, and it is gorgeous. It smells amazing, too.

Daphne flowers. I thought they were a type of jasmine at first, because the scent was so sweet and strong, but they’re a whole different plant that I now really want for my own garden.

Daphne flowers

Hellebore

Pink camellias, I’m pretty sure

More pink camellias

Yellow witch hazel flowers. They smelled divine.

Yellow witch hazel with lots of frilly lichen

More yellow witch hazel and a path through the bushes

Orange witch hazel flowers

Some sort of interesting bulbous flower bud on bare branches. Possibly an edgeworthia, but I’m not sure.

A still pond full of algae and floating plants

A pair of mallard ducks in a different pond

Some new buds forming on a mossy branch in front of ferns

Let’s Go Round the Sun Again, One Step at a Time

Like most milestones that humans care about, the new year is pretty arbitrary, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to wipe our mental slates clean and look forward with a little extra hope.

A lot of people are probably already finding their new year’s resolutions to be a heavy burden, because we’re usually encouraged to set our sights way too high when crafting goals. If you picked something that’s making you miserable and burning you out, I hope you’ll consider stepping it down to a more reasonable level now rather than just dropping it when you run out of energy entirely. That’s not failure, it’s just good planning.

Restrictive diets don’t tend to work for the vast majority of people, but adding an extra vegetable source to one meal a day is pretty doable for many, and that can help build a long term habit that supports individual health. So can adding five or ten minutes of stretching or meditation at a convenient time of the day rather than committing to spend an hour at the gym five times a week when you haven’t gone in months or years. It doesn’t mean you can’t increase your goals as you go along, but keeping the increments ridiculously tiny means that it’s almost impossible to let yourself down. Small wins make a huge difference in confidence and self-image, while repeated failures are disheartening and typically lead to completely abandoning all effort.

This stuff is even more important to consider if you live with mental illness or are neurodivergent. There’s a huge amount of pressure to use that yearly boost of energy to DO ALL THE THINGS and be… better. And it works, but only for a few days, and then our actual limits come down even harder on us because we burn out all of our reserves. And then all that hope turns into just another thing that we feel bad about failing to live up to, and none of us needs more of that. Not a one. We need a bunch of little successes a hell of a lot more than we need a handful of new regrets.

So, please, give yourself the gift of some really small but consistent wins this year.

Some humble, slightly random suggestions for new moderated goals:

  • Go to bed just ten minutes earlier than you have been
  • Set your alarm for ten minutes earlier (but only if you went to bed earlier. Sleep is so important.)
  • Switch just your afternoon tea or coffee to decaf
  • Add a veggie you don’t hate to one meal a day
  • Stretch for a couple of minutes every morning
  • Walk around your block once a day at a convenient time
  • Write 50 words on a project every day, or even less if that’s too much
  • Spend fifteen minutes doodling if you’ve been missing your art
  • Spend ten minutes gardening and then go inside if it’s cold or raining
  • Clean or organize one part of your space for ten minutes and then let yourself stop for the day
  • Read a page or two of a book you’re interested in every day
  • Catch yourself when you start thinking negative things about yourself and practice redirecting to something more neutral whenever you can. Neutral is a much more achievable starter goal than positivity, and it’s still an improvement.

Adding something small to your day tends to be easier than eliminating something, and in the long run it can have the same effect by slowly edging out whatever it is that you think you should reduce. If you’re interested, the book Mini Habits by Stephen Guise is a pretty helpful guide for setting consistently achievable goals and he also explains why they work so well.

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Last Nature Walk of 2019

My sister and I managed to fit in a nice little hike at Foothills Park before she had to catch her flight. It’s possible that I’ll get a little more hiking done before the end of the year, but this was definitely a very nice walk to cap off the decade with. We met a surprising number of cute critters, and even saw a bobcat, although he was too far away to photograph.

Arboreal salamander. These guys have quite a set of jaws on them for salamanders, although I’ve never personally been bitten by one. They’re usually pretty chill, in my experience.

California slender salamander

California slender salamander

Little white mushrooms in grass

A baby california slender salamander in their classic defensive/resting pose

California newt hanging out on a log

Feather millipede refusing to pose for the camera

Camel cricket

Oak branches against a blue sky

Trees being majestic and stuff

Steller’s Jay Drawing

My office window looks right out on the tree that holds our bird feeder, so when I’m working I also get to watch the little house finches and juncos squabble and flit around. They’re all really cute, but these jays are probably my favorite birds that visit the yard. They’re all attitude and their little crests are just excellent. Plus, they sound like angry robots when they yell, which is very endearing.

A pen and ink drawing of a steller’s jay sitting on a thin pine branch

Too Late

My family used to go to church when I was a little kid. I have a whole bunch of thoughts about christianity as a whole, but they’re not particularly relevant here because the main thing that colors my memory of that church has nothing to do with religion. It’s the fact that we were consistently late in arriving. We usually snuck in through the back door, having missed the first quarter or half of the service, to sit on the edge of a big fireplace at the back of the hall until the singing started so we could scoot along the rows of folding chairs without disrupting things too much.

We were late for school, too. Pretty much every day. One time I arrived without shoes, somehow. I don’t actually remember how that was resolved. I was a daydreamy unmedicated kid with ADHD attending an elementary school that had a small farm, so I was also late getting back from lunch every day. Sometimes I had a few mosquito fish from the pond cupped in my hands that I wanted to arrange in a vase in the classroom. I’m not sure why the supervision in that school was so lax that I could get away with that, but it happened more than once. When I got to middle school, I got lost in the library during breaks and missed classes. In high school, I was dropped off late and went straight to the library, instead of to a class where I would once again be informed that I had interrupted the lesson. As if I didn’t know. As if there was anything I could actually do about it.

Being on time, or (even more unfathomable) being early, were just things that happened to other people. Better people, probably.

I had become completely familiar with the embarrassing, out of place feeling of lateness, but it never felt fine. It was just inevitable. I got used to the fact that, no matter how frantically the adults in my life tried, we did not arrive anywhere on time. The same thing happened when I tried, and then there was disappointment on top of the embarrassment. Lateness permeated my life to the point that it became part of my identity pretty early on. I was just a late person. It went along nicely with the constant reminders from authority figures that I was too bright to be struggling with my schoolwork, so I must just be lazy.

I still feel uneasy about arriving early, even though I know there’s literally no downside to it. It’s too alien. It feels like a trap.

The weird thing is, now that I’m on medication, my brain just plain tracks time better. I don’t sit down to glance at my phone and lose an entire hour or more. I lose fifteen minutes instead, look up in a panic assuming that I’ve already missed whatever appointment I was supposed to be getting ready for, and realize that I’m actually right on time as long as I leave right away. There are a lot of things like that, where I used to think I just lacked discipline and skills, mostly because everyone assured me that was the case, but it turns out that altering my brain chemistry to be a little more functional suddenly allows me to access discipline and skills that I’ve had all along.

Now, I’m not just fighting my ADHD anymore, I’m fighting my own identity. I’m a late person, who’s always late. Except I’m often not particularly late anymore. I’m on time for appointments, or a few minutes early. When I am late, it’s usually for things that are emotionally important to me. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I think it does come down to this identity thing. The closer the thing is to my heart, the more it means to me, the more my expectation is that I’ll muck it up. That I won’t get there, and that I’ll let someone down, even if that person is just me. Especially if that person is just me.

I was late finishing this blog post even though I had already planned it out and written a draft for it because showing up to an appointment I make with myself is pretty much the hardest kind of accountability for me. But, it’s only a few hours late, and it’s pretty much finished now. I have confidence at this point that I’ll continue getting better at timekeeping and planning and getting to places when I say I will, even when that place is my desk and the person I’m meeting is me. I’ve got the tools, and I’m motivated, and in spite of what I was told so frequently, I’m not actually lazy. Pretty much no one is.

(Fairness note: My parents had four kids with various shades of ADHD to wrangle, and that shit is genetically inherited. It is not surprising that we were late for everything. It’s actually fairly surprising that we ever got anywhere at all.)

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Red vine leaves carpet a cement wall behind a long grass-seed stem on a sunny autumn day