It didn’t just feel like a really dark and gloomy winter. It was a very dark and gloomy winter.
CTV news recently reported:
“If you found yourself pining for some sunshine in Ontario in recent months, it’s likely because the province just lived through one of the darkest winter seasons in nearly a century.
According to solar energy data by The European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting (ECMRF), parts of Ontario saw lower levels of solar energy between December 2022 and February 2023 than previously recorded in the last 83 years, or since 1940.”
This weekend when a major snow storm was predicted where I live we just got what the weather folk called a “sustained dreary rain event.”
All of this news about how dark it’s been actually made me feel better about it all. As one Facebook friend wrote, “It’s strangely validating to learn that it really WAS unusually dark and gloomy, not just an artefact of our collective mental state.”
This year I did use my sad lamp regularly. I have one at the office and one at home. I did run off to a sunshine-y place in January. I love Arizona. And I confess I was focused more on knee replacement recovery than anything else. Still, winter was long and it was dark. Today it’s officially over.
You’ll see that there aren’t actually 24 here. That’s because most of the 24 were about the fall but they seemed more September and October to me. By November most of our coloured leaves have fallen. It’s all stick trees against the grey sky with cold rain here. I’ve never been to Norway but I like the idea of visiting Norway. I’m intrigued by the idea that November reminds someone of Norway.
December is all seasonal celebrations, concerts, family, holidays, gifts and joy. It feels very cozy and I love the music.
While January is cold and snowy here there’s often a lot of bright sun beaming off the bright white snow. Also the days are getting noticeably longer. Usually I head south in January and get some winter bicycling in.
February and March can seem long I know but again there’s sun and I’ve got spring in my sights.
But November? The leaves are gone. It’s not yet snowy, mostly grey and cold and rainy. It’s dark when I go to work and dark when I come home. There aren’t even any good holidays in November. I’m Canadian, remember. We did Thanksgiving in October.
November is objectively the darkest and worst month of the year. I need a way to redeem November. I should be able to find something good about November. But what?
Your suggestions and ideas about redeeming November are welcome. And while I appreciate that some people can lean into the misery and kind of revel in the worst month of the year gloom, that’s not me. I need ways of making it through November, and for this year, I need ways that don’t involve more outside exercise. As I rehab my knee that isn’t going to happen. I need to know what you like about November. What’s November’s good side? Somebody has to like November, right?
My friend Todd and I have been chatting and blogging back and forth about preparing for winter. Here’s his latest, a Week 1 post. Todd’s focus is on fitness, a shared passion, and spending time outside. I’m usually in agreement with that too. I feel better when I’m outside even in the winter months. Outdoor physical activity that combines those two things is the best.
One thing I noted is that this year will be different for me. With my newly replaced knee I won’t be doing very much outside riding once winter gets here. It may be that winter gets here before I even get to ride a real bike. Normally I ride bikes outside year round but not this year.
So what’s my fall/winter fitness plan look like?
🍁Zwift is an obvious thing. I miss riding in Watopia.
🍁 I’ve also joined a fancy gym for aquafit, hot yoga, and some time in the weight room, possibly also the hot tub. As I noted in my September check in gyms with wood paneling and juice bars aren’t usually places I call home, I’m going to try to enjoy the luxury while I rehab my knee.
🍁 I’m going to try to gradually up my walking game. It’s been a few years. The success of that plan will depend on how well and quickly my left knee recovers from surgery and how well my right knee holds up while waiting for round two of knee replacement. If I succeed Cheddar will be a happy dog!
🍁Warm weather riding remains a possibility. It will depend on how quickly I can get back on the bike and ride.
🍁I’m going to try and keep our living space warm and cozy and inviting for floor physio and for home yoga.
I’m going to miss riding outside between now and spring but rehabbing my left knee and getting my right knee ready for surgery (prehab!) has got to be a priority.
They tell you that recovery from total knee replacement is a long haul of physio and rehab.
I’m here to say it’s just dawning on me how true that is. It’s not that I didn’t believe it before. I did. But now I’m feeling it too. That knowledge is real in a way that it wasn’t before.
There were big gains in weeks one, two, and three. Not so much this week. This week I might have overdone it. Too many tiny walks? Too much mobility work? Possibly going to a Tafelmusik concert in Toronto might have been too much. But the music was beautiful and I had a lovely visit with my daughter so that was all good.
I had hoped to report that I could turn the pedals over on my bike my now, but I can’t, yet. And yes, I know there are no fixed timelines for these things and that people regain mobility as different rates. Still, in my head it seemed reasonable to be back on the trainer in a month and I’m not there yet. I mean, I’m there, but I’m not making full rotations of the pedals just yet.
Weirdly, I am so close when I do it backwards. Weirdly backwards everything is easier. I’ve been doing walking backwards without crutches drills for physio and I don’t limp walking backwards.
Why is pedaling backwards easier? Here is one explanation:
“Pedaling backwards after knee surgery is often easier because of the hamstring activation. When you pedal an exercise bike forward the quadriceps is likely more active and the hamstring is likely less active. By pedaling backward after knee replacement surgery your hamstring is pulling the lower leg back which often improves knee flexion.”
The other hard thing is simply pain. I’m surprised that a month out things still hurt this much. I take pain relief medication regularly, not the narcotic stuff–the narcotic pain meds ended more than a week ago. But I’m still waking at night with pain some of the time and by end of the day things hurt a lot.
It’s also fall of course, not my favorite season, and I’ve been brainstorming ways of coping given that my options are somewhat limited this year. My friend Todd is similarly scheming and I’m enjoying reading about his plans even if I’m jealous that they include running.
What am I up to that’s positive?
🍁Well, I’m seeing more of friends and family. I’m out and about more than I was.
🍁Today I get to start driving again. Cars aren’t my favorite things but it will be nice to be independently mobile.
🍁I’ve joined a new gym that has aquafit classes and I’m looking forward to that over the winter. Aquafit isn’t my favorite thing but it’s a thing my healing knee can do once the incision heals fully . And I do love being in the water.
🍁This week the blog’s Catherine Womack comes to visit. She’s giving a talk at Guelph’s Philosophy department called “Epidemiology Food Fight: a fat feminist takes on values in nutrition science.” That’s October 6th, 430 pm.
🍁I’ve dug out my light alarm clock.
🍁I’m very happy to be planning my return to work. I miss the university. I love fall semester even though I’m not a fan of fall overall.
🍁I’m thinking I might start my November gratitude practise early this year and make it a fall thing, beginning October 1. Gratitude is good in its own right and it makes me feel better. Right now I’m thankful that I got to have knee replacement surgery and that I have lots of support through the healing process.
A friend posted recently that he’s struggling with the feeling of fall in the air. Cooler days and less sunlight have him thinking of fleeing for parts south starting in October, returning in April. He asked for advice. What do his friends do to make winter less terrible, more bearable?
I’ve been writing about September sadness for awhile now. And I’ve also written about some of the solutions I’ve found. See here and here.
For me, as it starts to feel more like fall out there, I’ve been having those thoughts too. Thursday’s forecast is for a high of 15 and an overnight low of 4. That’s the official first day of fall so it seems appropriate.
Here’s four things I’ve been thinking about.
First, I try not to avoid anticipatory upset. This is the sunny part of fall. There’s still lots of time for getting outside. It’s beautiful colours and not yet really short days. There’s a lot to appreciate about early pre-November fall and I’m trying to be here for it.
Second, I’m leaning into the fall sadness a bit. It’s not a horrible emotion. Maybe it’s okay to make room for a season that’s a little bit sad. If summer is all bright light and sunshine and laughter, maybe it’s okay that fall feels different.
Third, and while it seems obvious, can sometimes feel challenging, get outside. Enjoy the daylight we do have. I’m hoping my new knee and I can go for lunch hour walks. It’s okay to work in the evening and enjoy the outdoors while there’s light.
Fourth, I’m also looking for things to do that aren’t options in the busy summer. That might be language learning, reading fiction, meditation, cooking, and writing.
There are lots of things I could write about today. I’ve spent a fair bit of time pondering my choice of topics.
I was going to write about my annual thyroid cancer check up. It’s today. And if all goes well it’s my last annual check up. (Fingers crossed.) After today they’re every five years. My birthday last week was also mammogram day. It’s as if September weren’t a busy enough month for an academic. It’s also cancer screening season for me.
I thought about writing whether Tracy and I want to write a turning 60 book, to follow up our turning 50 project, Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey. We’re having dinner together tonight and no doubt the subject will come up
Let’s see. It’s also blog birthday season. As Tracy posted, happy 9th birthday blog! We’re nearly at 5000 posts too. That’s hard to believe. This post is 4990!
And the blog’s birthday and my birthday, not surprisingly given how the blog got started, are pretty close together. Another possible topic, what does 57 mean anyway?
Here’s a photo from my birthday bike ride!
At this time of year I often write about back to school and trying to stay physically active as work gets busier and busier. This year, unlike last, I’m back in my office. I’m not yet back at the gym.
I’m having big busy days filled with work and people. So many people! I gave a lecture to O-Week students (photo on the right) and hung out with incoming College of Arts students at our Food Truck lunch meet and greet (photo on the left.)
I also biked around meeting parents and students on move-in day. (Round photo at the bottom.)
I’m back in the office now, wearing (mostly) real clothes. I looked at my clothes the other day and wondered why there were so many pairs of yoga pants. Who needs five pairs of yoga pants? Oh right, work from home and the pandemic. I could write about wearing clothes again. I’m working my way back to real shoes but I am not there yet.
In recent years I’ve been suffering a bit from seasonal sadness and trying to tell myself new stories about fall and winter, leaning into the time of cold and dark. I’ve been trying to extend outdoor activities into the fall. We’re going canoe camping again one more time this fall. And we are also looking at more fall gravel riding plans. So there’s that.
I’m a bit nervous that the no travel thing is continuing and it looks like this will be another year in which I don’t get to go somewhere warm with my bike for the winter. I miss the southern US! I miss Florida and Arizona for winter cycling.
In the end, I just want to let you know how much we’ve been enjoying our time in Prince Edward County and likely will continue that into the autumn too.
How’s your September starting out as we move into the fall?
A few of my friends do a November gratitude thing. They consciously acknowledge and share each day some things for which they are grateful. I figure it can’t hurt and it might help. I’ve been enjoying reading their gratitude posts. So far I’ve noticed that turning my mind each day to the good bits makes me smile, and even on bad days, there’s always something I’m grateful about.
Here’s a few of my first posts:
“Today I’m grateful for teamwork and getting things done. This weekend we managed to cover the boat in shrink wrap for the winter and move the shed so my mother could have more light in her window. Thanks Jeff and Sarah for working to keep boats and houses in order.”
“November is gratitude month and today I am grateful for working with very smart and hard working colleagues, for Sarah who made dinner while I zoomed the day away, and also for a mother who came home from the doctors with oat cakes.”
“Continuing with theme of gratitude, tonight I am thankful for my smart, generous, creative and caring graduate students, for warm sunny fall days for outdoor in-person office hours, and for the technology that allows us to meet as a group safely online. “
“Gratitude is more than simply saying “thank you.” Gratitude’s amazing powers have the ability to shift us from focusing on the negative to appreciating what is positive in our lives. Everything in our lives has the ability to improve when we are grateful. Research has shown that gratitude can enhance our moods, decrease stress and drastically improve our overall level of health and wellbeing. On average, grateful people tend to have fewer stress-related illnesses and experience less depression and lowered blood pressure, they are more physically fit, they are happier, have a higher income, more satisfying personal and professional relationships and will be better liked. “
It seems everybody has good things to say about gratitude.
It’s good for everyone, it seems. Well, almost everyone.
“There are some notable exceptions to the generally positive results in research on gratitude. One study found that middle-aged divorced women who kept gratitude journals were no more satisfied with their lives than those who did not. Another study found that children and adolescents who wrote and delivered a thank-you letter to someone who made a difference in their lives may have made the other person happier — but did not improve their own well-being. This finding suggests that gratitude is an attainment associated with emotional maturity.”
Have you tried a gratitude habit/practice before? What do you think? Did it improve your mood/well-being?
Nat’s post about walking in the rain prompted me to take action. Now, I’m no Nat. I meet my very modest step goal most days but I try not to care. My Garmin watch gives me fireworks when I’ve met my step goal and I smile at this little mini celebration but when it asks me to increase my goal, I decline.
About eight months ago I wrote a post about the wonders of walking that asked what if you can’t walk. I can walk but not very far with my damaged, waiting to be totally replaced, knee. There are still reasons to walk, even it hurts, and lots of studies show that walking won’t make the situation worse.
So I do walk a fair bit still thanks to Cheddar the dog but increasing my step count isn’t among my fitness goals.
But Nat’s post inspired me in another direction, the direction of dry feet and dressing for the weather. Like Nat, I’m well kitted out for winter. I have all the gear I need to stay warm on my fat bike, on snow shoes, or while walking Cheddar in January. But rainy weather? Not so much.
I don’t mind winter when it’s here. In January the days are getting longer, there’s snow to play in, and often there’s sun. But November? Ugh. Dark, cold and often rainy, November is my toughest month. I’m on record as hating November.
Given the pandemic, I don’t need any extra anger or resentment in my life. I need to make friends with November. First step, getting better rain gear. I’ve got an excellent rain coat that I bought while on sabbatical in New Zealand. But I don’t have good rain boots. My calves are too wide for traditional knee high rain boots.
The boots needed to be bright and cheerful, because November. And short, because calves.
Here was my short list of choices:
In the end I chose the Pride boots. I thought seriously about the pink fishing boots but they aren’t available in my size.
But I need to tell you a thing I love about the Pride boots. They’re available in two different kinds of sizes, wide and narrower. Not men’s and women’s.
I’ve written before about gendered sizing, about lady backpacks and women’s bikes, and why they drive me up the wall. Why not just wide shoulders, or long torso? Why tie things to gender even they’re not about gender at all? If some men fit women’s boots and some women need men’s boots, then it isn’t really about gender, is it?
Thks. Hunter boots for getting it right.
Now, assuming they fit, these boots likely aren’t enough to make me love November when it gets here. But I just have tolerate November and likely I will tolerate it better with dry feet.
Thanks for the prompt Nat.
Enjoy your walks with Michel and Lucy. Cheddar and I will be thinking of you!