Welcome to the last day (and the last post) of 2020. Phew. We made it, guys. That’s a thing to be grateful for every year, but even more so this year. This year has been a doozy, to put it very lightly. It’s been full of challenges, changes, lessons, reflections, worry, and a lot of time at home with my dog and mug after mug of tea. If you’ve been reading Humblebee & Me for a while you’ll know I share this entry towards the end of every year (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019). It’s one of my favourites; I jump into this document all year as I have relevant thoughts and reflections, but tend to do the most work on it in the last six or so weeks of the year. Beyond the exercise in remembering and distilling lessons and experiences, I also love the comments on these posts, where you guys share what you learned in the past year. It’s really lovely. Thank you for joining me, once again, for things I learned—this time, in 2020.

Things I Learned in 2020'

I usually stud this entry with photos from my travels that year. That’s obviously not an option this year, so I’ve opted for favourite photos from fondly remembered trips in previous years.

Different people handle grief and massive change very differently.

Start your day off with the biggest things on your to-do list; the things you’re most likely to procrastinate on, especially if you’re tired. If you don’t want to do it at 9am you really won’t want to do it at 4:30pm!

Rubber gloves for dishwashing are worth the extra 3 seconds of hassle to put them on and take them off.

There will always be someone out there who is way better at what you do than you are. They’ll make it look so easy it’s frustrating. Be inspired by that, not threatened.

A constant stream of bad/uncertain news is utterly exhausting.

It is normal and totally ok to not function at 100% in the midst of something awful and overwhelming. Be kind to yourself.

Bidets are fantastic.

People will act in strange and semi-unpredictable ways when scared.

Be wary of becoming close with people who are always entangled in drama. If it happens that much, they probably get some sort of enjoyment from it, and if that’s the case you’ll probably get dragged into it at some point in time.

I wasn’t washing my hands as thoroughly or frequently as I should’ve been.

I have been spoiled my entire life with ready access to everything and anything I could ever need to survive.

I’m not very good at dog grooming. (End-of-year edit: I’ve gotten better!)

Jealously is a hell of a drug.

Fever-Tree makes a very nice ginger beer. Try adding it to a Manhattan for a lovely cocktail!

I don’t even like running errands but within two weeks of not being able to run them at my leisure, I really missed them.

If you’ve looked everywhere and can’t find an answer, you might be asking the wrong question, or your question might be stacked on top of some incorrect assumptions that are leading you astray.

Similarly—if you’ve looked everywhere and can’t find THE answer, it may well be that there is no one answer. The thing might be much more complicated than you originally thought.

A really neatly packaged, easy-to-tell story is rarely completely true. Real life contains a lot of complicated nuances that rarely crop up in movie plots.

Be aware that technology is designed to learn your habits and make it easier for you to engrain those habits even more deeply in your life. Visit a time-wasting website once, and your browser will remember it and will suggest it every time you type something even vaguely related into the address bar. Install an app and you will be peppered with notifications to pull you back in. Functions that can seem designed to make your life easier can help build habits that will steal hours and hours of your life and attention. Clear your cookies and browser history. Disable notifications. Uninstall apps you don’t need. Don’t give technology undue sway in your life.

If somebody wants to think ill of you, they will, and it is highly likely that all attempts to change their mind will be viewed through a negative lens, just making them dislike you even more… so don’t bother. Let ’em hate you. It’s their ulcer.

Just try it. Seriously. Research is good up to a point, but you will drive yourself crazy with un-ending, untested hypotheticals. Just DO it. No matter what happens, you will’ve learned something!

Signing out of social media accounts is great. It really highlights just how often I end up brainlessly scrolling through a feed on Twitter or Facebook or whatever—if I’m logged out of the account I can’t just dive in and start doom-scrolling. The log-in screen is all “Hey! You are at Facebook! You must do a thing before you can doom scroll!”. And that interruption is almost always enough for me to realize that I’d rather not doom scroll at all and then I go do something else.

Also—if you aren’t in the habit already, start turning off your technology. Make it a bit harder to do “just one more thing” when you’re done with it for the day.

The Queen’s Gambit was/is fantastic and you should watch it if you haven’t already.

Behave as if all your internet interactions with strangers could go public. Do not be baited into bad behaviour that could be de-contexted and wielded against you.

An unsolicited opinion from an expert is still an unsolicited opinion and is not guaranteed a good response.

King-sized duvets are not square and will fit very poorly in the duvet cover if not properly oriented.

Figuring something out on your own doesn’t mean you were the first to do so, or that you own that discovery/bit of information/etc. For about five seconds I thought I invented vests (hmm, jackets without sleeves would be really useful!) 😂  Nope, not (just) my idea!

Develop an eye for what’s Photoshopped & filtered and what isn’t; you can drive yourself crazy striving for ideals that don’t exist.

I upgraded to a Japanese bread knife and WOW, what an improvement. I can actually slice my home-baked bread instead of just roughly bludgeoning off smashed lumps!

Pre-emptive Beano is usually a good idea.

If you look for betrayal everywhere, you’ll find it. Not necessarily because it’s there, but because you’re hyper-aware of anything that could possibly be misconstrued as betrayal and then you just… run with it. Don’t do that. It’ll make you miserable and ruin your relationships.

Gratitude. Especially for seemingly mundane things—not because they’re more worthy of it, but because they’re easier to take for granted. Can you currently breathe out of both nostrils? Hooray! Your back doesn’t hurt? Fantastic! Don’t have a headache or a pit of anxiety rotting away in your gut? SCORE!

Some people can respond with wild aggression and insults upon learning you don’t agree with them. That’s generally on them (though also don’t be a dick when disagreeing with people). A rather gentle example: someone on YouTube called me something very unbecoming when they thought it I pronounced “shea” incorrectly (they thought “shEEE” butter instead of “shAY butter”). Like… what? You watch a video and think someone pronounced something improperly and your first reaction is to swear at them and insult them?! Good heavens.

Your attention is incredibly valuable. Protect it. Budget it. Yes, your time is important, but I’d say your attention and focus is the prized element of your time—spending time on something without paying attention is fairly worthless (just imagine a first date where your date is technically spending time with you, but their attention is entirely devoted to their smartphone! That would be a horrible date.) Are the things you are devoting your time to worthy of your attention? You only have so much mental bandwidth; what do you want it consumed by? Be picky.

On attention: try the attention equivalent of an elimination diet. In an elimination diet, you eliminate foods that could be problematic, and then gradually re-introduce them after a while and see if you notice any negative symptoms. In an attention elimination diet, stop paying attention to certain things and see if you feel better after giving it a week or so. A few suggestions for elimination: doom-scrolling on social media feeds, reading the news all day, compulsively checking social media feeds, constantly monitoring “likes” on Instagram, smartwatches + their non-stop monitoring of your activity levels, binge-watching TV, notifications and red badges (disable them), drama-ridden Facebook groups, and chaotic group chats.

The number of people who think I should just “shut up and DIY” and have no opinions or principles (beyond the ones they have, at least) is a bit upsetting.

If you are constantly worried you are going to inadvertently enrage a friend with some sort of benign, non-malicious action—if you’re always walking on eggshells and bracing for a breakdown—that person is not a friend. At best, they’re kind of a jerk, and at worst, they’re straight-up abusive.

When it comes to things you use/consume all the dang time, find yourself a holy grail and commit. Save that money and mental energy. If you know you love your tea or your olive oil or whatever, just use that. You don’t have to try every single tea in the world first.

If you’re baking sourdough bread (or any really wet bread dough), use any sort of gluten-free flour (corn, rice, buckwheat, etc.) to dust the banneton/baking pan. The lack of gluten makes a MASSIVE difference when it comes to preventing sticking.

Dusting is a very under-rated chore/house-tidying thing.

Be kind to yourself.

Disappointments are funny things. They utterly suck when you’re in the middle of coping with a heartbreak/upset/betrayal/generally crap situation, but when you come out of the other side of it you feel so dang powerful and strong, and that’s kind of nice.

Practice your ability to focus. I’ve realized mine has deteriorated significantly in this world of notifications and pocket computers. As a child, I could read a book for hours on end… now, after a few pages, my brain starts scrambling around for something new and shiny. No, brain. We are reading a book. Sit down and focus.

If someone you don’t know is taking the time to answer your questions for free, don’t try to brow-beat them into giving you the answer you want.

A weekly small farm share is way too much food for me. And I still throw out far too much food 🙁

I can pull off a turtleneck sort of top, but it has to be a mock-turtleneck, not a full-on fold-over one. I’ve found a few great vintage ones at thrift shops!

Some days are just going to be crappy “put your head down and bear it” kind of days. Blech.

I suppose there is some sort of good in a global pandemic throwing the important things in life into sharp focus… but that good really starts to fade into the background after a month, let alone the better part of a year (or more…).

This year has been (and continues to be) utterly exhausting.

I have a strangely strong, negative reaction to being addressed as “ma’am”, “sweetie”, and “dear” on the internet.

I am constantly surprised by how much I miss the world; how a single photograph or quote can stir up a memory that has me longing to be with friends or out exploring the world. I know it’s not forever, but it’s certainly been long enough.

Be aware of what you do to distract yourself—and when. Our world is full of instantly available distractions—websites, apps, games, chats, etc. and it’s incredibly easy to hop from a valuable task to a distracting one with a few keystrokes on the slightest whim. What do you turn to, and when? How often do you seek out distraction? What sorts of emotions and situations send you off to look for distractions?

Social media is socializing/relationship-maintaining junk food. I realized this year that the constant “hum” of social media feeds leaves me feeling tired from “socializing” without actually engaging in anything meaningful with anyone I actually care about. Social media makes it easy to think you are maintaining your relationships with a “like”, but much like eating a bag of chips and a fistful (or six) of jujubes for dinner, it’s ultimately unsatisfying even if you end up feeling full at the time. Do not let your relationships devolve into a state of social-media induced scurvy. Reach out directly to the people you love.

Mute and block are wonderful, powerful tools. Don’t be afraid to use them where needed. You are nobody’s punching bag.

When you’re watching a medical drama, the opening scene often features some random person who discovers another random person in medical distress. They call 911, the paramedics show up and whisk the distressed individual off to the hospital, and we never hear about the “discovered and called 911” person again. I was that person for the first time this year, and being that person is traumatic.

Grammarly is easily confused by formulating terminology. It is also very easily impressed by my supposedly extensive vocabulary, but I think that’s just because most people don’t type terms like Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, Glyceryl Stearate (and) PEG-100 Stearate, or Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate very often.

New challenges (or levels of a challenge) require new adaptations. I thought I’d done a decent job getting a handle on my emotional/stress eating over the last decade or so, but this year has surpassed whatever handle I thought I had.

It would also appear that I have a bit of a stress/pressure shopping problem. Something about having 10kg of dried chickpeas makes me feel safe(r) and with this year my brain wants to extend that to everything. Eyeshadow! Coconut milk! Socks! Etc. Not toilet paper, though, ha (see my previous remark on the wonder of bidets).

In light of 2020’s stress-buying realization, I’m going to attempt a bit of a low-buy/no-buy for 2021. I’m curious to see just how far my pantry stores can & will go. Wish me luck!

An idea is only as valuable as your ability to realize it—to put in the effort. To make it real. A thousand brilliant ideas are worth nothing if they never become more than an idea. The effort is where the work (and the value is). Once you get into the execution part there is a ton of latitude to do things well or not, to enlist help or to strike out on your own, and of course one must recognize the privilege of having the time and resources to pursue something at all. It’s not always fair. Many people have the same ideas, and some will always be better executed than others—but any execution is better than none. There’s no use saying “I had the idea for Facebook before Mark Zuckerburg did” if you didn’t do anything with that idea.

It is vital to learn how to break things down into manageable chunks, especially when learning something new. You have to be able to dis-assemble massive questions down into things that are graspable—answerable. I get a lot of questions from new makers that are huge; variations on a theme of “I have no idea where to start, here are a few disconnected things I’ve heard/that interest me, please fill in all the gaps in my knowledge.” Questions that would take hours to begin to answer. Just reading questions like that is exhausting, and I’m sure the asker is already exhausted from trying to find “the” answer to such a massive inquiry. It’s too big—too much. Learn to shrink it; to focus. I know we all have to start somewhere: make that starting point accessible.

Here are some great books I read this year:

I’ve been finding quite a lot of comfort in reading fictional series set in the 1920s this year. Something about knowing these characters just (hypothetically) came through WWI and the 1918 flu pandemic and are still living lovely, normal lives with parties and friends and travel… it’s very re-assuring. The two series I’ve been enjoying are Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood and Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline WinspearMiss Fisher’s has also been made into a TV series that’s really fun!

And here are some very worth-the-read articles:

Ok, those are my 2020 lessons—what are yours? ❤️