Hibernation Alert

tabby cat peeking out from beneath a blue and white woven blanket

I’m indulging myself with a post on a topic I like to call, “Weird things about me it’s useful to know.” I’ve been clicking “follow” and “friend request” on social media quite a bit of late, so it might be relevant.

Today’s topic: seasonal hibernation.

From mid-November through mid-March-ish I become a sleepy, grumpy cat who lacks the strength needed to maintain a Public Face and handle Other People. I don’t actually sleep more, but I have to warn y’all, I do pull away from the everyday world.

A similar retreat predictably happens in early summer, so it isn’t a light-related thing. Nor is it a bad thing. It’s simply a cycle I’ve noticed. I have energy phases. Not ups & downs so much as shifts between outward-tolerance and inward focus.

This inward phase starts around Halloween, and I’m in full retreat-to-the-den mode now.

This is blog-worthy for two reasons.

1. Buffering.  I never want friends to feel neglected, but my emotional tank drains and freezes. Simple activities that come more easily during other months (never easily, let’s face it, I’m profoundly introverted and let’s not even mention the anxiety) take me ten times longer to accomplish and take ALL my energy.

I’m talking little things like reaching out and making phone calls or sending messages. Things like responding to emails, texts, or social media. Important, adulting, professional things. Necessary-to-modern life things. Yeah.

Conservation gets me through. I limit or put off outside obligations until the season turns and I come ’round face to the world again, about the time crocuses open to greet the returning sun. This allows me to devote my small energies to stuff like washing, dressing, creative projects and research. I do my best research in January. ADHD hyperfocus FTW.

Also I ramp up activities like baking (SO MUCH BAKING) blogging like this, decorating my space with sparkly brightnesss & color & coziness, and so on. Nesting, denning, hibernating things. Wrapped-up-in-me things.

Is it selfish of me to go dark in The Giving & Socializing Season? Yeah, I’ll cop to that, but self-care isn’t only a buzzword.  Gotta put on my oxygen mask if I’m to be any good to others…

…because the OTHER thing I’ve noticed is that if I fight this deep-rooted need for quiet downtime, if I pour energy into Pretending Normal and Performing Enjoyment through the gray of winter, an emotional crash-and-burn of epic proportions WILL follow.

NO THANK YOU.

Which brings us to the second reason I’m bothering writing about this:

2. Boundaries. Guilt trips do not motivate me, but every so often someone treats clearly-defined requests for space as a challenge to be overcome with shaming, or they interpret low enthusiasm for their <insert personal topic here> as a value judgment or a failure to care enough about them. Friendship bridges have burned over this.

I’m hoping this forthright admission now will prevent misconceptions later. So.  If you didn’t know this about me, now you do.

Important caveats:

A. My online presence may appear to contradict what I’m saying here. That’s not ideal, but that’s a professional obligation as well as a personal pleasure, so I ALWAYS scrape up new posts and (nearly always) manage to reply to direct contact. (NOT FB Messenger. Sorrynotsorry.)  I lean hard on memes, GIFS, and my habit of sharing random sock & lunch pics. (BECAUSE WHY NOT? I LIKE FUN SOX.)

B. Needing to be quiet and unsocial is NOT the same as wanting to be alone.  Even when I am a sleepy, grumpy cat, I love being around people doing things.  From a corner. Watching.

Having good friends in my Nice Quiet Space, hanging out doing their own Nice Quiet Things. (Or Nice Loud Things, as long as I don’t have to be loud too) is the absolute BEST. I mean, then I can feed people, and that energizes me. Super-best is when they invite themselves over so I don’t have to spend energy to reach out.

But I will invite as much as I can, and I will NEVER be hurt by declined invitations. I grok needing bubble time.  Second best is when I get invited to other spaces by people who make it explicitly clear it’s okay for me to lurk in corners and not stay long.

C. Communication is the most stressful part. I do a fairly good job of faking people skills, but it’s ALWAYS an exhausting job that requires constant mental processing and accessing memorized talking templates while monitoring a bunch of verbal and non-verbal feedback loops to assess efficacy. Example below:

 “Did I react appropriately to that exchange of information, why did they shake their head at what I said, what does that expression mean, they said a nice thing but the tone doesn’t match,  why is that posture vibe scraping my nerves, was that a rude comment, was I too loud, too abrupt, what does that smile mean in this situation…aaaggghhh!!!”

Yes, that is what conversations are like for me. Yes, every conversation. Even ones I enjoy with people I love. Multiple channels running all the time, and a lot of saved verbal scripts used. So I guess that’s a whole ‘nother Weird Karen Thing. Point is, it’s never an easy haul, and in the cold midwinter I don’t have the mental muscle to power through much of it.

ANYway.

That’s all there is for now. Next post will be about baking again. Or maybe about more weird stuff. Time will tell.

Happy hibernation, everyone.

tabby cat peeking out from beneath a blue and white woven blanket
Image by Melanie von Gunten from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

It’s nippy out there.

The air temp was up to a balmy -15 °F when I took my walk today. That’s before wind chill. The wind chill has been at “OH HELL NO” since last night. -15 marked the high point between -24 last night, and -23 projected for tonight. -50 wind chill anyone?

Yes, I went outside in that kind of cold. Yes, on purpose. Yes, without a job location I had to travel to reach, or a pet who needs walking, or any other external justification.

Why? Why not? Being able to do things like stroll around in the killing cold by choice remind me how lucky and rich I am, relatively speaking, and how grateful I am for so much in my life.

Also, if I don’t get my body moving and keep moving at a steady pace for at least 30 min a day, I hurt, but I could do enough walking indoors to cope. Not easily, and going around and around inside the house is boring as hell, but hey. I have done it.

But given the choice between boring laps and going out into the deep freeze? No contest.

It was a fantastic hike and meditative too. I spent the time focusing on my breathing rhythm, maintaining awareness of my body’s position, location, and surroundings (the whole world changes in incredible, beautiful ways when it’s super-cold)

..at least, that’s what I was doing when I wasn’t concentrating on ways to keep my glasses from frosting over.

I’d been out about a half-mile when I realized why I was enjoying myself so much. Dealing with weather like this is a lot like swimming. You’re deliberately exposing your body to a medium that will kill you if you’re immersed in it too long, but with the right gear, training, and effort, the experience can bring you a satisfying thrill.

When it comes to gear, I have tons. Decades worth. I ruthlessly toss or donate clothes that wear out/don’t get worn, but cold weather kit keeps well. And scarves? Well. Textiles are my dragon hoard.

My winter coat is literally designed for Antarctica– it came from someone who went on a cruise trip with a company that uses old Russian icebreakers. It has a patch on it and everything.

My closet is packed with thick, plushy hoodies & warm socks and so on. I am spoiled for choice.  I not only have sleek, soft long underwear comfort-rated to sub-zero, I have fleecy versions I can layer over it and under my outerwear.

Hats? Ear protection? insulated gloves with mitten covers? Scarves and ear bands to keep everything but the eyes safe from wind chill? YUP.

And boots with thick soles to keep my toesies in a dry, temperature-controlled environment are my year-round standard.

Basically, I was all set for today.  Note, please, none of my stuff is new. A purple wool scarf my friend Jody found for me and the sparkly red scarf gifted to me by my other friend Tess are the  youngest pieces in the ensemble. Some of the long underwear is old enough to drive, and I think the coat is old enough to vote.

But it’s all good gear, so when I wrap up to go out in the killing cold, I am covered top to toe in cuddlesome coziness and feel super-rich and thankful for every protective piece.

I’ve had training too. Nothing rigorous, just enough to make me comfortable navigating a populated neighborhood.  There were many lessons in cold weather survival in my youth, plus I’ve done a lot of independent study since then. (hello, I’m a writer)  Knowing when to stop is a key skill, and listening to my body saying “enough!” is a thing I have learned well.

Once I find some goggles (frosty eyeglasses are a real PITA) I will be able to easily handle hikes on days far colder than this one. Goggles have been on a vague quest list for years now. Since Polar Vortexes are likely to be a recurring issue, I think I will make a point of hunting some down before next winter.

Because it really was a lovely walk today, and I want to do more.

By the way, if anyone is wondering, no,  I wasn’t the only one out there. I wasn’t even the only person out here without a dog on a leash. I spotted one hardy soul out running, and no one was even chasing them.

Was there a point to this post? I don’t know. But we’ve reached the end of it.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Warm Winter Comforts

This post is all about the delicious excuses I use to keep my oven working hard when it’s super-cold outside. To be precise, it’s about oatcakes & “oven omelets.” First, the oats.

Over the years an uncounted number of people have asked for my oatcake recipe. (Uncounted not meaning it was a large number necessarily, just that I never counted them.) Despite all the requests, I never shared a recipe…because I didn’t have a recipe.

The first batch was a total experiment, plopping plain cooked oatmeal onto cookie sheets. It did not work well, but I added a bit of this & that until I came up with something like a cross between muffin & pancake batter that produced tasty but unpredictable results.

The ultimate goal was oatmeal goodness in a crunchy cracker form. The reality never came out the same way twice. Always tasty, never predictable. The sheer number of uncontrollable variables, from the temperature of the cooked oatmeal to the ambient humidity, all factored in. I don’t commit recipe unless I can reproduce the results. I couldn’t do that with oatcakes.

<cue dramatic music> Until now! Success is mine at last. Fringe benefit of the perfected oatcake recipe is that it skips the one real PITA step in the process. (making the oatmeal first.)  But before I get to that recipe, let me rhapsodize a bit about the second oven-worker I’ve recently come across: baked omelets.

They’re not true omelets because they aren’t folded, they don’t qualify as frittatas because there’s no stovetop step, and they lack crusts, so aren’t quiches. They are without doubt delicious, easy, and only improve with reheating like a casserole. And as I’m married to someone who is pre-diabetic and needs more high-protein/low carb foods on the menus, I am beyond pleased to have discovered them.

And how did that discovery happen? Well. Let me tell you. It started with the big ol’ batch of eggs I bought for Christmas baking. Two dozen, because I needed 14. A little finger counting  gets us to the 10 extra eggs I had on hand when I began seeking “oven-on” possibilities.

I immediately thought of quiche & frittatas, but they’re a lot of work (multiple steps, lots of prep bowls & pans to wash)  and I’m lazy when it comes to food. Oven omelets are the best of all lazy worlds. Below you’ll find the recipe I use.

Quantities are based on the baking dishes I use (two mini loaf bakers) but eggs are very forgiving. The original recipes I immediately changed to suit myself came from AllRecipes & Genius Kitchen. The differences between them illustrated how flexible you can be with ingredient quantities. You can successfully bump the amount up or down by several eggs as long as you approximately boost or trim down the other ingredients. So if you want to make a big batch, or a thicker result, use more. Want a batch sized for one? That’s doable too.

Oven Eggs:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • anoint baking dish(es) with non-stick spray
  • In a bowl, whisk together until slightly frothy:
    6 eggs
    1/2 c milk
    salt & pepper
    other herbs & spices of choice
  • Stir in: 1/2 to 1c cheeses
  • Add 1/2-1c of whatever other additions you want.
  • Pour mixture into baking dish(es)
  • Bake for…well, it depends.
    45 min for an 8×8 pan
    35 min for my two small loaf pans
    20-30 min for muffin tin snack-sized servings
    –or “until a knife inserted at the center comes out clean”

Side note: I like my eggs cooked to death (on the dry side) so I cook them even longer, until the edges brown.

I’ve made these with ham & shredded cheddar, Mexican style (shredded colby-jack cheese, garlic & onion powder & salsa as additions) and Mediterranean (feta, basil, thyme, paprika & arrabbiata spaghetti sauce) and both versions came out great.

And now, back to the oatcakes. Important caveat: I make mine with old-fashioned steel-cut oats. The old-fashioned or quick rolled oats work fine too, but the texture will be different.

4-12 hours before starting, put 1c dry oats & 2 c milk in a container to soak. Those’ll keep in the fridge for up to a week as long as the milk is fresh. With traditional steel-cut oats, the mixture will remain very milky. That’s okay.

When it’s time to make the oatcakes:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
line baking sheets with parchment paper (or use non-stick sheets)

  • In a mixing bowl, sift together:
    1 c flour
    2 tsp baking powder
    1/2 tsp salt
  • add in
    the oats
    a splash of vegetable oil — up to 1/4 c.
  • Stir until very well mixed
  • Drop dollops of batter onto baking sheets. (Isn’t dollop a wonderful word?) ANYway. Leave 1/2″ or more between dollops. The batter is thin, which makes spooning it difficult. A 1/4 cup measure works well for me as a scoop.
  • Bake for ~45 minutes, or until tops are dry & edges are starting to brown.

So that’s it. A couple of batches of oatcakes & eggs will keep the oven busy for half a day.  If you start a batch of fruit bread rising or peel some apples while the other things are cooking, then you can add another hour of delicious-smelling heat to the house by baking apples or breakfast rolls.

The bestest of all best things about these foods is that making them is also writing-friendly. Unlike cookies with 10 minute bake times or stovetop foods that demand constant attention, these are all about quick preps, simple cleanup, and long baking times. All that means less distraction from putting words to page.

And that’s an important thing for me.

 


I write books. Some people say they’re good. (I’m one of those people.)  You can find the books here and there, and paperbacks are available to order from any bookseller.