How do you beat the winter blues in a tough year?
As we careen through the final month of this unprecedented year, we have endured nearly nine months of a global health crisis, much of it in the undesirable position of “leader” in terms of infection rates and deaths. It is clear that this health pandemic has brought into stark relief the deep, systemic inequities in our society – realities that 2020 has no longer allowed to be tucked away in a corner or under the surface. And now it’s winter, which brings the least hospitable weather to most of the country, combined with the danger of sharing tight, indoor spaces, which has meant another round of stay-at-home orders for many areas.
In light of all of this, it seems almost futile to try to beat the winter blues: can’t we just hibernate until there is a widely-available vaccine? For those of you without young children – or those with special needs – you may certainly consider that option. But I encourage everyone to try their best to maintain their mental and physical health this winter.
While you might typically have a touch of the aptly-named SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) – I know I do – the layers of challenges this year mean you should take extra care to not ignore your mental health. As Michele Norris reminds us in the Michelle Obama podcast: “don’t reach for normal, reach for better.”
There is no question that staying active became a more personal pursuit in 2020. When you strip away the fancy gym memberships, the huge road races, and many types of sports leagues and tournaments, you are left with your own body and your own space. If you haven’t already, it’s time to make the most of it.
Walk. Run. Replace the chain and fill the tires on your old bike. With shorter – and colder – days, make this kind of activity your work-from-home lunch break. If the weather is really inhospitable, project classes on YouTube into your living room or bedroom. Try resistance bands, jump ropes, or other space-saving, low-tech fitness equipment. And find a way to keep yourself accountable. For me, I have simply committed to doing *something* everyday. A walk, a recorded workout, or outdoor fitness class. And I’m looking forward to trying something new in 2021: Zoom hula lessons.
When circumstances allow, you can stay connected while staying active – the best of both worlds. Schedule a phone chat with a different friend each day, and each of you walk in your own neighborhood. Zoom into fitness classes with a workout buddy, to increase accountability. Or use shared fitness apps to cheer each other on remotely.
But also maintain connections in other ways: rekindle phone relationships, schedule weekly or monthly Zoom check-ins, find a pen pal – or two – in your social circle. Cook the same recipe in different homes and eat together. Stage a multi-home family cookie decorating contest and let the Internet decide the winner. And for local friends and family, don’t underestimate the magic that is the pandemic porch drop off: a loaf of pumpkin bread, a bouquet of flowers, a bottle of wine – or another little pick-me-up.
As an autism mom, I am asked constantly how I manage to stay upbeat – even more so during this year of layered health and social crises. There are really two answers to this. One is simply that it is easier to manage life if you stay positive. I have recently started listening to Bill Gates and Rashida Jones ask Big Questions, and I have learned that Bill Gates also maintains a strongly optimistic view.
The second is grounded in my decades of experience living and working with those in much more challenging circumstances. I have worked with thousands of teenagers over the years, and every one of them has a story.
Some are battling cancer, others are battling the demons in their own minds. Many of them are showing up for class despite a host of forces conspiring against them – “sleeping” in loud, shared spaces, working to support their families and then staying up later to do homework, food insecurity. Others are bearing the weight of complex family dynamics, choosing unsafe habits – and substances – to numb the pain of divorcing parents, estranged siblings, or dying grandparents.
In other words, life happens. And in the end, you can play the cards you are dealt, or you can fold. And while I tend to lose a LOT of card games, I’m certainly not choosing to walk away from my hand in life. Autism is hard. Severe autism can make you want to cry and laugh and scream all at once, but in the end, it is also what makes our life ours.
The best way to not dwell on your own challenges? Focus on someone else’s. There is no shortage of opportunity to do this now. You can donate food, warm clothing, holiday gifts. You can spend time making phone calls or writing postcards for causes that are important to you. You can speak out and speak up to support anti-racist and anti-biased work. And practicing and acknowledging gratitude actually can benefit you even more than those you are helping – a truly win-win situation.
Don’t underestimate the power of food – real food, the cooking, the eating, the sharing of time and space – to change your outlook. Think lasagna, meatballs, or this tasty chickpea curry (highly recommend adding some chopped new potatoes). More time at home means it’s easier to put something in your slow cooker or instapot and keep an eye on it. Like these meltingly tender short ribs, served over some simply mashed potatoes.
Instapot Short Ribs
- Mini Instant Pot
- 1 Tbs. canola oil
- 2 lb. small bone-in beef short ribs
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 1-2 jalapeno or other chile
- 2 medium cloves garlic quartered
- 1 3- inch piece peeled fresh ginger thinly sliced
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup lime marmalade (or other non-berry jam, such as peach, apricot, or orange)
- 1 cup lower-salt chicken broth
- 2 Tbs. soy sauce
- 1 Tbs. white wine vinegar
- 2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh basil leaves; plus small leaves for garnish optional
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat the Mini-Instant Pot to the “Saute” option.
- Season your short ribs with salt and pepper. Sear them in the Instant Pot for 7-8 minutes per side. Do this in batches, depending on the size of your short ribs.
- In the meantime, chop the onion and chiles.
- Remove seared meat to a plate to rest.
- Check your pot, if you have a lot of more oil than about 1 tbsp (accumulated from the meathen pour it out.
- Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the chiles, garlic, ginger, thyme, allspice, and nutmeg; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the marmalade and stir until melted.
- Add the chicken broth and soy sauce, scraping the bottom of the pan to deglaze it.
- Nestle the short ribs back into the liquid.
- Seal the Instant Pot, ensuring that the venting switch is set on to the "Sealing" position. Press the "Stew" option and set the manual time to 50 minutes on high pressure.
- Once the timer beeps, allow the Instant pot to go into the “Keep Warm” function for 15 minutes. Carefully, switch the venting tab to the “Venting” position and only once all the steam has been released go ahead and carefully remove the lid of the pot.
- Using tongs, remove the meat from the Instant Pot, skim the sauce with a spoon concentrating on only removing the fat. Add the vinegar, and turn back onto the "Saute" option. Allow to boil until it has reached a glaze consistency.
- Stir in the basil and cook for 1 minute to let the flavors meld. Season to taste with salt and pepper, pour the sauce over the short ribs, garnish with small basil leaves, if using, and serve.