Culture · Pandemic · Teaching

all for want of a puzzle

Well, team, here we are. Two months yesterday I got an email saying, “Pack up your laptop and essentials. You’ll be teaching from home next week.” Two months since life was something I recognized, and two months since Corona was just a crappy beer I didn’t like.

The past two months have been just plain hard, and being trapped on Emily Island has been no picnic, believe you me. Feeling off, being out-of-sorts, muddling along, and being a bit down have been common themes of “the new normal.”

I cried a lot. I was angry a lot. I wandered around aimlessly a lot. And I kept coming full circle, thinking, Why? I have no right to feel this way. So many other folks are so much worse off than I am. How can I possibly be so mad about the fact I am out of parsley? And yes, while this was true, knowing it did nothing to ebb the vague, gnawing sadness that seemed to color everything, or prevent me from feelings of cavernous loss. There are few things worse, I think, than mourning something you can’t quite put your finger on. It was terrible.

Then about two weeks ago, a horrible, cataclysmic thing happened that brought everything to a head:

Two puzzles I ordered on Amazon in the last week in March and which I had been awaiting for a month were delivered to the wrong city.

I know, you’re thinking, “Well, that isn’t so bad. I thought someone lost their job or died or something.” But let me tell you. In that moment, those puzzles were everything. I was so upset, I couldn’t see straight. In the span of about two hours, I found out that you can’t call Amazon right now (there is no one answering their help line), I couldn’t email them because coming from an “independent seller” I had to contact this party myself, and the tracking numbers told me that the puzzles were simultaneously on my doorstep, on their way to Madison, and still somewhere in Indiana (depending on which device I was on at the time). I was basically up a creek without a paddle. And I was furious.

After a rather…hm, shall we say…spirited exchange with the Vulcan in which he got a crash course in a good way not to try to console me (poor man), I was sitting on the sofa, sobbing about these puzzles and feeling really quite silly (which made me even more angry), and I was struck by a sudden epiphany. My meltdown was (shock of shocks) not really about my puzzles.

I was, at my core, upset, because I am terrible at everything my job is currently asking of me. I hate writing and replying to emails. I don’t know how to “digitally connect” with my students to make them engage and do what they need to. I don’t like staring at a screen for hours on end. I dislike not being able to interpret the subtext of what my students are saying in between the lines, because I cannot see their faces. No part of me is excited by the idea of being a part of (much less being in charge of) a virtual choir. I don’t like Adobe. I don’t spend much time on social media. I don’t like being in meetings when people I only know on a professional basis ask me how I am doing. Literally, I am good at no part of my job right now. And do you know what I did about that?

I mourned. I sat around and was sad for two days. I did nothing. I didn’t cook. I did the absolute minimum that everyone expected of me. I did nothing except eat tortilla chips and watch 5 1/2 seasons of M*A*S*H while I put together the giant, 2,000 piece puzzle the Vulcan brought me (the last one in the whole of Target because he is a good, kind, and also a very wise man). And I let myself be really upset. I sat around and thought about how sad I was. I reflected on the relationships I had with students which were just starting to blossom and which now will not be. I mourned the fact that I am not the kind of teacher who turns her house into a magical, virtual classroom, and I mourned that I didn’t feel bad about the fact I didn’t want to be. I. was. sad.

And let me tell you something. Allowing myself to go to the dark place–not to try to “keep moving,” or tell myself that other people were worse off than me, or force myself to be this person I am not–was unspeakably freeing. In acknowledging all of what I am not and cannot, I was able to accept that yes–this is okay. The things I am make my good at my job. And this is not my job. This is a crisis management version of my job. I am just surviving. And that is okay. It is okay that right now, I am doing my best and it isn’t the most amazing.

And after this mourning, this two day period where the Vulcan said he kept waking up in the wee hours with the M*A*S*H theme song in his head, I started to feel better. (I also finished the puzzle, so there was that). I started to want to do my best, even though I know it isn’t nearly as great as people who were born for this. I put away the tortilla chips and signed myself up for Noom (which is awesome, by the way). I made a color-coded calendar in my work planner. I put on my running shoes and went for a run. (It was slow and terrible, but I did it!) I signed up for a half marathon in August. I started baking things. I went and saw my family socially-distantly. And I started to feel like me again. And it is so exciting, I can hardly stand it.

And all of this got me to reflect on the nature of things. I was at a Bible study once, and it was talking about the importance of mourning and lament in the Bible. I didn’t really get it at the time. “Lament” seemed like a very remote word from my 21st century life. But I get it now. Lamenting has helped me move forward.

We are, as a society, not the best at mourning. We’re good at wallowing, at blame, and at anger, but not necessarily mourning. When people are sad, there are a million things to distract you, to fix you, to remind you that you’re better off than some other poor slub. And yes, there are times when we just have to go nose-to-the-grindstone and get things done because we have to. And in this rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been on in the past six weeks, I’ve done all of these things. (I went a bit Amazon crazy that second week of quarantine…) But I didn’t really start to feel myself coming out of the fog until I just took the time and acknowledged the sadness and the loss. I didn’t belittle it for being kind of lame, because it didn’t change how I was feeling.

And I can’t help but think that right now, everyone is mourning something. Some of them are big, “real” things (like death, for instance, or life milestones that have been taken away–weddings postponed, graduations cancelled), but some are little things that nonetheless remind us that we are not now who we once were. Baseball didn’t begin in April. Spring concerts didn’t happen. Wandering around the store without an agenda is now a thing of the past. Hugs you don’t get. Faces you don’t see. There is a whole lot of loss around for a culture of people who don’t do mourning. I think we may have to learn how to do it.

And if you are, might I recommend tortilla chips and M*A*S*H?

Happy or sad, stay well, my friends. I’ll see you tomorrow!

Emily

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” –Matthew 5:3

Kitchenware · Pandemic

beautiful, beautiful

You may not know this about me, but I have very strong feelings about coffee mugs. I rail against generic mugs that can be owned by anyone. I am a firm believer in Mug Individuality. A coffee mug is like the sticker collection of every child of the ’90’s (like myself.) It’s a place to show off your chosen weirdness, nerd-dom, and inside joke in a socially acceptable context that still allows you to be cool (’90’s, sticker-collecting me)/recognized as a responsible adult (grown-up me.) I love people rocking all their dorky TV show mugs, the sarcastic witticism mugs, and the weird, unicorn glitter mugs used by macho daddies because they were gifts lovingly chosen by four-year-old-daughters.

Second in the Mug Consideration (and sometimes squeaking into first place, depending on the day), is Holdiness Factor, pronounced HOLD-ee-nehss. (That’s not a word you say? Au contraire. It is. I made it up. You know who else made up words? Shakespeare). Holdiness is an absolute must. Mugs need to be able to cradle cold fingers and make you feel safe and comfortable. All mugs must be tested for Holdiness Factor before being allowed into my kitchen cabinet. (I have finite space, so competition is fierce.)

Then there are a few other, less exciting considerations, such as mug size (I don’t like giant mugs because the coffee gets cold before I can drink it and then I feel cheated), thickness of the ceramic for optimal coffee cooling ratio given the temperature of our house, and finally, day of the week. Yes, I have certain mugs that are designated in my mind as “work day mugs,” and other mugs that are “weekend mugs.” Some even skirt that “it’s a work day but I’m not at work/I’m on vacation” mug line.

I bring this up because tomorrow, my co-teacher and I will have our first digital “coffee hour” with our students–just a time for them to drop in and talk and for us to talk to them. An opportunity for us to do what high school music directors do best–be the emotional supports. We are the de facto grown-up ears and eyes to give advice when it’s uncool to ask your parents, and to tell you that the right thing that you know you should do, even though it’s hard, really is the right thing to do. It’s the nature of music, really. In such an intensely personal discipline, the success of which is fundamentally dependent on your ability to express the wordless places of the human experience, you connect with your students in a really personal place.

So tomorrow, I step back into this part of my job that is more important now than ever. And I’ve given a lot of thought to which mug I’m going to pick for coffee tomorrow. (If I hadn’t just dedicated three paragraphs to the importance of coffee mugs, this may have even come as a surprise to you.) Every time I open my cabinet, I toss around which mug I want to be holding when I talk to my kiddos–what message I will send, even if no one know it but me.

I think I’ve settled on my choice, and it’s kind of surprising to me. If you’d asked me a year ago, “It’s a pandemic. You need to have a coffee cup to represent yourself. What do you choose?” I would not have chosen the one that I’m choosing today. The mug I picked is not an old, thrift store gem. It’s not my hygge favorite. It’s not a pithy Golden Girls homage. It’s a random mug I won in a drawing a college friend did on Facebook that arrived in a USPS box on my doorstep on what turned out to be the last day of Old Normal. At the time, I threw it in my cabinet on probation, because I didn’t think it was going to make the cut to stay in my mug collection.

But then the world fell apart, and I have found myself drawn to its clean white lines and simple message: “Beautiful, Beautiful.” At the risk of being cliché, it’s kind of true. The world is suddenly a really scary, dangerous place for everyone–not just people in the developing world, or people who are poor, or people who are old, or people who are on the fringes–for everyone.

There are lots of stories about terrible things happening–people not listening to sound but unpopular advice, people putting financial gain before what is right–but these people have always and will always exist. The crisis just makes their true colors apparent. But more than that, greater than that, are the stories of the thousands and thousands of people who are stepping up and standing in the gap–crafters taking up their sewing machines and turning their fabric stashes into cloth face masks for hospitals and care centers all over the country. Companies that make vacuums, cars, and jet engines suddenly turning all their research and production power to developing and mass producing ventilators and respirators. Churches and convention centers opening their doors and becoming field hospitals. And then there are the true heroes–doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, truckers, delivery drivers, and mailmen and -women–the people who walk into the storm for us all. It is overwhelming sometimes when you reflect on all the good that is happening in this sea of danger.

As that great philosopher of our time, and my personal hero, Mr. Rogers once said,

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are so many helpers–so many caring people in the world.”

Because there are. Our present crisis proves it. There are so many helpers. And it is:

See you tomorrow!

Emily

Goals · Pandemic

i will try again tomorrow

Today is the last day of my spring break. Tomorrow, I go back “to school,” which is, of course, a completely amorphous term at present, but there it is, nonetheless. Tomorrow, the Vulcan, deemed “essential” by our statewide Safer at Home order, will have to go back to work, which means he can potentially come into contact with all sorts of people who may or may not be sick. Tomorrow, life is supposed to “get back to normal,” even though I think we all agree Normal is pretty conclusively in the rearview.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about how to navigate this Land of New Normal, and how/what my “schedule” should look like/feel like in a world where time (as in Big Hand, Little Hand time) has a vague meaning at best. I have given up using my Old Normal planner because looking at my calendar with all the X’s through events that have been cancelled, and staring at my day-timer and thinking things like, “Well, I could grade from 10-11. Or should I go for a run, and then grade from 1-3? Or maybe spread it out–45 minutes in the morning and 45 in the afternoon?” is downright depressing.

I think the hardest thing about New Normal is that there isn’t a normal yet. In two weeks, we’ve gone from business as usual to statewide “shelter-in-place” orders. Every day is completely different. I’m still grappling with what I actually have control of, if controlling that thing actually matters, and if so, how can it help me or anyone else?

A couple of things that are helping me (today, anyway):

  1. “Look Like You Tried.” For the past two weeks, I think most of America has been on my “I’m not leaving my house, so why bother?” train. I haven’t worn so many sweatshirts in a row since I was in college and, let me tell you, make-up is something other people do. But the last few days, this mindset has been getting me down–I don’t feel great, and the mirror confirms it. So last night, I went through all the steps of my Old Normal skin care regimen. This morning, I pulled out some of my “cute” winter-break style comfy clothes–bulky scarf, fun earrings. Don’t get me wrong–I’m still wearing fleece leggings, but I feel presentable. I would run to the store (I mean, in a world where I could do that) in what I’m wearing and I wouldn’t be ashamed to be recognized. And, even with just myself and the Vulcan at home, I do find I feel better.
  2. “A Plan Doesn’t Have to Be Scheduling Out Every Minute.” Like I said. Time doesn’t mean what it meant two weeks ago. But not having a schedule doesn’t mean not having a plan. This morning, I dug out a planner I tried and gave up on because it was lacking calendar and day-timer features Old Normal required. This planner IS, however, just about perfect for New Normal. Spot for a to-do list, place to list important times (like my one Zoom meeting and my yoga class), ways to track food, water–a place to make notes of plans for exercise and self-care. Basically, everything I need for a day in the life of New Normal. This can be my plan–it has flexibility that New Normal affords as Old Normal didn’t/couldn’t. I feel like I’m accomplishing without drowning in the unrealistic expectations of Pinterest-perfect folks who want to plan out literally every minute of the live-long day. (And if you are intrigued, this is the planner I have. It’s kind of perfect for right now…)
  3. “Things are scary and hard. And I can’t change that.” I’ve written this post about fifteen different times in different ways today. A major feature? Tomorrow is frightening. The numbers of ill are climbing with alarming (though not unexpected) speed. People I love—my husband, my father, my brothers–are all essential workers who will have to go into the world tomorrow with this reality. There is nothing I can do to keep them safe. Except pray. And use my CDC-approved, DIY disinfectant liberally. And stay home myself, to try to protect other people’s parents, spouses, and siblings the way I hope they are protecting mine. When things get scary, it is hard to “Act Normal.” Sometimes, just hanging in there is the best I can do, and that is okay.

So, now I am in the New Normal. I will get up tomorrow and I will get ready. Because I will try. I will do my best. A while back, I wrote down this quote when I was going through a particularly rough patch, but it seems especially appropriate now:

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Mary Anne Radmacher

Have courage. I’ll see you tomorrow!

Emily

Baking · Food · How-To Tuesday · Pandemic

cinnamon rolls

Well, it’s How-To Tuesday! And after waking up before six worrying about things I have absolutely no control over, I decided to dive into my trusty List O’ Things To Do for some inspiration, and thought, what could possibly be better than trying my hand at cinnamon rolls?

I have been trolling around the InterWebs searching out a recipe that didn’t require me to have cream cheese for the frosting, as that was not an ingredient that made the Quarantine Grocery List cut. (Five bags of tortilla chips, however, did. What does this say about me?) I ended up settling on this cinnamon roll recipe from delishrecipes.net because it met my “no cream cheese” criteria and didn’t require an unreasonable amount of butter. (My father says there is no such thing as an unreasonable amount of butter

Now, before I go any farther, it is absolutely imperative that you understand that I am an obsessive Great British Bake-Off fan. It is my go-to show, and I’ve seen the whole series to date I-don’t-know-how-many times. (The Vulcan does not share this passion, much to my never-ending sorrow.) So I went into this Cinnamon Roll Challenge with a couple of objectives:

  1. Take photos of different steps in my process, because that is what you are supposed to do, I guess, when you make a recipe and post it on your blog. (Please see: every food blog ever.)
  2. Pretend I am on G.B.B.O. while doing it. (OBVIOUSLY.)

As everyone knows, the first step in creating your food blog post requires you to take a photo of your ingredients like so…

Also, I have to point out my flour and sugar jars are vintage West Bend Bread Co. I love them.

It’s worth pointing out that I forgot I was supposed to do the ingredient shot with every stage of the recipe and only took the picture of the dough ingredients. Notice my open butter box and the fact that, while I remembered to put a bowl in the shot (which I did mostly because I am fiercely proud of my vintage Pyrex,) I neglected to include a spoon… Additionally, I hope you appreciate my attractive, stylized backdrop featuring my knives and chopsticks. It lends that certain je ne sais quoi.

I admit nothing…

Then I combined ingredients to make the dough. It should be said that, if this were G.B.B.O. I would most certainly be the contestant who comes in last in the technical because I failed to read the ingredients accurately…as in, I accidentally put the egg in with ingredients that had to be heated in the microwave. This may or may not have resulted tiny bits of slightly cooked egg being sprinkled throughout my batter.

You may notice the handy use of my wooden ruler, retrieved from my desk drawer to make sure I rolled out the dough to the right size…

Because I’m so nice, I did my sleeping husband a huge favor by foregoing the dough hook on my KitchenAid and instead hand-kneading for a few minutes. I may have imagined the G.B.B.O. music in the background while I did this, except I don’t look nearly as expert at it as anyone who’s ever been on the show. (I did reflect that, between baking and yoga, by the time I get out of the quarantine, I’m going to have some serious muscles.) Then I had to roll it out to a 12″x16″ rectangle. I learned it is very hard to roll out something that looks like a rectangle with a rolling pin, but that there are few things on this earth that butter and sugar can’t fix (particularly when it’s slathered all over the top of something.)

The rolling up process was more stressful than necessary, due in no small part to the fact that I’ve watched way too many people get in trouble with Paul Hollywood for not rolling things tightly enough and leaving big gaps. Admittedly, my primary audience (the Vulcan) is not nearly as exacting, but it’s the spirit of the thing! I cut the roll into something more appropriated cinnamon roll-sized using string (another neat trick I picked up from watching the show,) covered them with foil, and put the pan in the oven to prove. This is the bit I’m worst at, because it’s just sitting around and waiting and doing really un-fun things, like cleaning up after oneself (which I did,) and possibly eating some tortilla chips while I waited, because that’s what responsible grown-ups do.

The baking itself (I did use the steam bath mentioned at the bottom of the recipe–I was taking no chances with possible dried out cinnamon rolls) was the easiest bit. The Vulcan (with his usual uncanny timing) managed to wake up just as they were coming out of the oven to fulfill his duties as official household taste-tester. Because he is a wise man, he gave them his (somewhat sleepy-eyed) seal of approval. I have to say I think they’re pretty good, myself.

So if you’ve got some time to kill (and since we’re all in some level of social quarantine, who doesn’t have some time to kill) might I highly recommend the cinnamon rolls? Not only were they not overly complicated, people think you’re a genius. If my social media feeds are any indication, everyone is making bread. Be the original in the group and make something delicious and decadent! (Just make sure not to put your egg in with the ingredients that need to be heated in the microwave…) Happy baking!

See you tommorow!

Emily

Music Monday · Pandemic

music, hope, and mr. rogers

Today, we got our official “stay home” order from our governor. As of tomorrow, only essential functionaries are free to move on their way. The rest of the state is (in so many words) self-quarantining to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our area.

So this evening, the Vulcan and I went for a walk through our neighborhood, and I saw sign after sign of businesses advertising their curbside menus and even more signs explaining they were closing for the duration of the quarantine. It was such a poignant snapshot for me of what this outbreak means to so many. Not only are folks having to make decisions that affect the health of themselves and their loved ones, they are also being asked to make decisions about the small businesses into which so much blood, sweat and tears have been poured. Businesses that make our neighborhood “ours,” and build a community.

By the time we got home, I felt overwhelmed and defeated. We have tried to support our local businesses–to buy their goods, buy gift cards, to show our support. Our neighbors have done likewise, but is this enough? With a bailout package at the national level that will, most certainly, focus on large corporations, will our leaders see the essential value of our small Mom-and-Pop shops, our little grocery stores, and microbreweries? Will they help us?

Help sometimes comes from unexpected places.

After I begged out of the McMillions documentary about the McDonald’s Monopoly fraud, the Vulcan dug out the episode of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood from our VHR, when Mr. Rogers goes to visit concert pianist André Watt. I was amazed by how much time was devoted to Watt simply playing–making glorious and masterful music–far longer than I would expect even my middle or high schools to listen to music with no agenda but to listen.

And how glad I was that this was Fred Rogers’ expectation for his young audience in 1987, because in 2020, grown-up Emily needed to be wrapped in the warm, comforting blanket of a Chopin étude, a Schubert prelude, and a little piece by Franz Liszt called In a Dream, all in the hands of a master for whom every note is laced with emotion and beauty. It lifted my heart.

In a world that has so much that is not, beauty matters. Music matters. Pausing and breathing it in matters, because it brings hope. I believe God created it to touch us in the deep reaches of the soul that nothing else can touch. Which is why beauty still matters. Music matters. Hope matters.

Happy Music Monday.

See you tomorrow!

Emily

Life generally...

things to do (other than disinfect the world)

This is it! My giant list of things to do that don’t include trying to a.) construct some sort of Marie Antoinette-style skirt to keep other humans six feet away from me at all times; b.) figure out how to create an Eric Whitacre-style virtual choir (If you do not know what I am talking about, you need to watch it immediately, and don’t come back until it’s done); and/or c.) consume all the candy and bread currently in our house.

  1. Successfully bake a Victoria Sponge as an homage to my favorite show EVER, “The Great British Bake-Off.” (I have made several attempts previously–all total failures. Paul and Mary would be horrified.)
  2. Storyboard all the way through the novel currently referred to in my hard drive as “Kate”–a book I began 8 years ago, and made the mistake of letting people read before it was finished…
  3. Finish writing above manuscript
  4. Sew new cushion covers for my dad’s sailboat. Fabric has been sitting in my house for the past nine-ish months…oops…
  5. Memorize some of my favorite Psalms
  6. Get back into yoga, so I can do a tricep push-up without wanting to die.
  7. Make chalk. Write positive messages to my neighbors on our sidewalk.
  8. Pack a picnic lunch. Walk somewhere to eat it while appreciating social-distancing.
  9. Actually make my China years t-shirt quilt (I’ve been holding onto the t-shirt squares since I got back stateside seven years ago…?)
  10. Read Robert Frost
  11. Learn to make bagels
  12. Order prints of all the photos I like from the last (shameful wince) 11 months. Put them in our photo album.
  13. Memorize some Shakespeare sonnets (I don’t know which ones yet.)
  14. Read all the awesome books I checked out from our library before it closed.
  15. Write a thank you letter to the authors whose work I love to read.
  16. Learn Italian! Rosetta Stone and all those other programs were LITERALLY invented for this moment!
  17. Take time to do wood-shedding in the long list of arias I need to learn, so when I get to work with my (amazing) teacher again, we can work on the fine-tuning and music making.
  18. Write letters to the people who I love who are far away from me right now.
  19. Knit a project to get yarn out of my stash.
  20. Defeat the gnats in my house.
  21. Learn to bake cinnamon rolls.
  22. Write in this blog.
  23. Marie Kondo my closet–if I don’t want to wear a t-shirt after two months in my house, I never will.
  24. Sit on my front porch and read a book. Fresh air is good for everyone.
  25. Listen–really listen–to great pieces of music. I’m talking “put on the album, lay on the floor and let the music overwhelm you” kind of listen. (I was inspired by this L.A. Times article.) Titles on the list: Eroica, St. Matthew Passion, Brandenburg Concerti, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Mahler 2 (Resurrection), Sea Symphony, and literally ALL the Mozart. Probably Chopin and Debussy, too. I’ve never spent much time with Debussy. If I need a break from the classical world, I’ll move onto Broadway (Big Phish, Les Miserables, Jekyll and Hyde…) If you have suggestions, include them below! I’m always on the prowl for new music.
  26. Finish the paint-by-number I bought last summer.

It’s a start. I expect this list will grow and change with time (as do all things.) But what a grand opportunity we are given–so much time for focused attention to the “extras” which really are, at their core, the things that make us most human.

So make your own list. Use this time to do the things you love.

See you tomorrow!

Emily

Home Fry Friday · Pandemic

revelation: drink your dang water

So, yesterday was rough. It was gray and rainy–that kind of day when the sun never really rises, you just get stuck in an unending, dismal twilight. The Vulcan and I officially cancelled our planned vacation to Florida (which I think we both knew, but were holding on to that vain hope that maybe it would somehow be magically possible,) I struggled with the whole idea of having to spend my whole day in front of a screen, because this is what my job is now. (The Vulcan has a job where he sits at a computer every day. I now know I couldn’t do this and am so impressed he can manage it.)

I spent an unhealthy amount of time wandered back and forth in my house and felt directionless. I started a lot of different T.V. shows that I decided I didn’t want to watch after five minutes. I spent a lot of time stewing about people who don’t take all of this seriously thereby extending the amount of time I’m going to have to live like this. I ate a lot of jellybeans.

It wasn’t pretty.

Today is a new day, though. Yesterday showed me some things. I learned that taking care of myself looks different than it did two weeks ago. I know, I know, that’s a “Thanks for that, Captain Obvious,” moment, but I mean in small ways that apparently affect me more profoundly than previously reckoned. Let me give you some examples.

REVELATION 1: ADAPTING MY THE SCHEDULE TO WHAT NATURALLY SUITS ME. When I wake up, do my little morning routine, I’m full of vim and vigor for projecting and challenges. Ideas are abundant. I am hopeful and ready to try new things and adapting seems easy and exciting. At 8:00 am, I view COVID-19 as a challenge that I can help solve. I am motivated to contribute, do my part, and be resourceful. Doing projects, coming up with creative teaching strategies, making music, all of these are things I am ready to tackle. By mid- to late-afternoon, I fizzle. The problems seem bigger and more insurmountable, and I just want to curl up in a ball and wake up when it’s summer. So, I think for me, getting up and “doing the things” in the morning is the answer. In the afternoon, when I’m not as “uppity,” it’s a better time to sit in front of a screen, listen to student recordings, and write lesson plans. Being a music educator is basically being part pirate. I need to make the system work for me.

REVELATION 2: NEWSFLASH–SOCIAL MEDIA IS (STILL) A TOXIC PLACE TO LIVE. I need to avoid screens when I don’t NEED to be on them. In “regular times,” I am rarely on social media of any persuasion (except Pinterest. I loooove me some Pinterest.) But in the past week, Facebook and Twitter have being lifelines as my colleagues across the country and I grapple with teaching our kiddos from laptops, and my neighborhood community attempts to mobilize to help our local businesses and at risk neighbors. I have gotten great stuff this way, but, you guys, social media is depressing! Like, “I-don’t-know-how-so-many-of-you-do-this-all-the-time-on-purpose” depressing. Some folks are really petty and unnecessarily belittling, and the general news all over is doom and gloom. (Yes, I know we have a real reason for doom and gloom, but I can get that in 5 minutes. I don’t need to keep going and slide further down the spiral.) The problems feel bigger when you’re wandering Twitter or Facebook or Insta. Bigger and scarier and more overwhelming. I’ve got to go back to “former times,” and check myself here.

REVELATION 3: DRINK YOUR DANG WATER. Hear me out. When I am doing my job the “regular way,” I drink about a gallon of water a day. Since being homebound, I have been positively beside myself with all of the beverages I can have whenever I want to. A second pot of coffee? Why not? Perhaps tea? Sure! Maybe a late afternoon glass of wine for no reason? I’m not going anywhere, so what the hey! I have been drinking woefully small amounts of water. Water is really important to the body in all sorts of ways, and dehydration is actually a major cause of feelings of lethargy and generic “yuckiness.” It also helps keeps your lips from getting chapped. And it helps your body fight germ-y baddies. So why am I not doing this? GOOD QUESTION. I don’t know. Well, I do know, I’m like the kid the day after Halloween who has to get sick on candy before realizing maybe a turkey sandwich isn’t such a bad plan after all…

REVELATION 4: IT’S TIME TO GET CREATIVE WITH HOW WE DO EXERCISE, TEAM. In “normal times,” what does working out look like? Well, if you’re like me, it means you walk 12,000-15,000 steps helping educate the next generation, then you go to the gym to run three or four times a week. I am now in a world where everything I need is within approximately 50 steps of everything else I need. Gyms are closed. I can’t run outside because it’s raining. I have spent the past week wallowing in the fact that I can’t work out the regular way (because, you know, everything ELSE is totally unchanged.) But enough is enough! Yesterday, friend turned me on to a local yoga studio that is live streaming some classes for free. I pulled out my (very dusty) yoga mat this morning and “went to yoga class.” It kicked my butt! I am sweaty and my triceps are currently on fire, but I. FEEL. GREAT. I am so happy right now. It is great. I am going to go to class everyday, for sure! I would encourage you to do the same! Find your own “virtual class” and attend. Check the local businesses in your area–I bet many places are doing similar things!(But if you want to “join me,” you can find the schedule on Helium Hot Yoga’s page.)

REVELATION 5: SUPPORT A LOCAL BUSINESS ON HOME FRY FRIDAY! It IS Home Fry Friday, guys, I haven’t forgotten! As I’m sure many of you know, small, locally owned businesses are in real trouble in the light of this pandemic. I hurt for these businesses, because these are the people who are really part of our communities–they’re the ones who support local little league teams and pour their profits back into the places we love. Today, a local restaurant’s fish fry (if you guys are not for Wisconsin, it is hard to understand, but fish fry is a BIG. DEAL. HERE) is donating 50% of its profits to support their employees whose hours have been cut because of gathering restrictions. 50% even when I’m sure they are concerned about paying bills, too! These are the owners of our small businesses. They deserve our support! So, take a look around–make a list of places that have gone delivery–we have one that I stuck on our fridge courtesy of a Facebook post in my neighborhood group. If you have a salaried job and are not laid off yourself, consider ordering out once a week to support the places you love. Buy a gift card so they can use the money you put down now to pay the bills until life gets back to normal. Do what you can, even if it seems tiny or unimportant. If everyone does a little thing, it amounts to a big, huge thing. I know I’ll be venturing out to get a fish fry for lunch today.

Remember, a thing, no matter how imperfectly done, will also be better than doing nothing at all.

And drink your dang water, for Pete’s sake!

See you tomorrow!

Emily

Pandemic · Thankfulness Thursday

This is happening for real, you guys

So, this is happening, guys. We are currently on March 739, and this is happening. COVID-19 is dangerous, real, and here. We are living in a reality none of us imagined three weeks ago.

I am a teacher, and this time a million years ago, when the world was young and it was my birthday, (last week Wednesday) I was just about to hear one of my colleagues who is involved with tech for our district say, “I was just in a meeting about how our district can go to fully virtual learning. They think the Corona Virus thing might require us to shut down school.”

Like I said. A million years ago. LAST WEEK.

Fast forward from the 11th to the 19th of March. A LOT has happened. Schools are closed. All major sports shut down. Everyone learned what the phrase “social distancing” meant. We all discovered that grocery store employees, custodial staff, semi truck drivers, and anyone who delivers for Amazon are LITERALLY the most important people in America…and that no one cares about the newest iPhone when you have toilet paper concerns. I went from sightreading new repertoire with my choirs in our choir room to hatching a scheme to teach choral music while I sit at my dining room table with my computer.

It’s been a heck of a week. And it’s tough. I am now trying not to eat the universe out of boredom. I miss my students so much more than I thought I would after only one day of virtual learning. I am trying to come up with some sort of schedule so that I construct a new “normal” for the next (apparently) several months of my life, when the systems I’ve used for the past 36 years will not be allowed…

I have already learned stuff about myself. I now know that I am a person who likes to have structure if for no other reason that I enjoy flying in the face of it. I’ve also discovered I am apparently an extremely social person, which I didn’t ever realize before because I usually teach all day and by the time I ditch my teacher gear I’m human-ed out. I also have some gnats living in one of my potted plants and they are driving me INSANE.

SO. Where does this leave me? It leaves me needing to make structure and schedule for myself. Also to figure out how to kill gnats using what supplies are currently in my house.

I need to develop some sort of daily routine to follow. Right now, my routine is this: Get up. Brush teeth. Get dressed. Make coffee. Disinfect all flat surfaces, light switches, cabinet handles and door knobs. …That takes about twenty minutes, which leaves me about, oh, 14 hours or so to kick around in.

School helps. I will continue to teach my students and plan with my colleagues. But it doesn’t take the same amount time of my REAL job. There’s still a massive amount of free time in my life.

One thing I’m going to do is start a giant list of projects that I can tap into when I’m bored (It’s Day 3 of work-at-home social distancing and already I’m getting bored with Netflix, and if I keep comfort eating like this, I will be 400 pounds when this is all over. Giant list of projects it is. I will actually now COMPLETE the multiple projects that are sitting in corners all over my house!

I’m also going to rock my teacher need for nerdy alliterations and give myself a “goal” for each day. I can do projects that fit into this category, but also just things that make me happy. Here is my weekly schedule:

  • Music Monday: Yes. I know I’m a music educator so everyday is music day for me. But I want this to be really intentional music. Like–stream a concert. Record music to share.
  • How-To Tuesday: You know what makes me really grateful? Last year’s polar vortex. I spent the days locked in my house when it was -50+ learning how to make BREAD. I have this skill now, which means I don’t have to worry about trying to freeze loaves of WonderBread. All I need is flour and yeast! There are so many DIY skills that I can hone right now because, well, I’ll have to. Sewing, knitting, cookery, baking…Sharing the skill is real!
  • Writing Wednesday: Remember how I’m supposed to be finishing all these books I’m working on so my friends don’t come after me with pitchforks? I am officially out of excuses. I have huge chunks of time to actually get this done.
  • Thankfulness Thursday: Yeah, I know. It sounds corny, and there is a lot that’s not great about right now. But GUYS–there is so much good happening. So many people are stepping up to the plate and doing amazing and selfless things. It’s so easy to be weighted down with the negative. We cannot lose hope. We must celebrate the best things that make us human.
  • Home Fry Friday: My husband, the Vulcan, and I have been talking like this a lot this as things have been shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are fortunate to have salaried jobs, but we are trying to be really intentional about putting money into our local community to help the shops, restaurants, and businesses in our neighborhood weather this storm. Major chains will make it because they have cash reserves as big corporations do. Little businesses run on tight margins and closure is a real threat. I do not want this to happen. There are lots of little ways to help your home fries! (Plus, it means I get to say the phrase ‘home fry,’ which literally makes me giggle every. single. time.)

And I’m going to document it all here. Hopefully we will connect through this. We are all in the same boat now. We must weather these uncharted waters together. And since it’s Thankfulness Thursday, I am thankful for all that is good. My home. My extraordinary colleagues. My family. This computer that connects me to the world around me.

So stay safe. Be well. Wash your hands often, and be kind to those around you.

See you tomorrow!

Emily

Life generally...

A Little Bit is Better than Nothing

In case you haven’t caught on yet, I am not a naturally very disciplined person. I am a perfectionistic dreamer who has the ability to focus in on something to the exclusion of everything else until it is finished (or I lose interest, whichever comes first.) This is a great trait when you are 20 and in the middle of your undergrad, not so great when you are 35 with a career and a hubby at home…

I am trying to be better. This past summer, I discovered the FlyLady (she is marvelous, and you should check her out over at FlyLady.net!) She is a wonderful woman who helps recovering perfectionists like myself declutter their lives and living spaces for the long haul. One of the things she says frequently in her writing is that you are NOT behind–just jump right in right now!

So, as 2020 is officially underway, I am trying to embrace this mentality. It is the “Even a little bit is better than none at all.” This is not an easy lesson for the recovering perfectionist–we thrive on the “It will be PERFECT, or I will not do it!” line of thought. This line of thought is also why I paid good money for a blog that I never used. It wouldn’t be perfect, so I just…didn’t.

But because a little bit is better than nothing, I’m trying! I am practicing voice twenty minutes, five days a week–because it is better than nothing. I am running four times a week, even if it’s just a little way–because it is better than nothing. I am doing ten minutes of cleaning in my house every day (Thanks, FlyLady!)–because it is better than nothing. And I am going to drop a blog entry into this site to keep track of my progress–because it is better than nothing.

2020 has officially become the Year of A Little is Better Than Nothing!

Join me! You can do it–because a little bit IS better than nothing!

Goals · Simplicity

bag cleaning

So, the Hubs and I are taking a vacation in a few days, and I snagged some great deal tickets. The caveat? No overhead-bin-sized carry-on. So that means we’re paying for one checked bag and splitting it. It also means I had to find something that could hold my computer, a notebook, novel, water bottle, and wallet, and still fit under the seat.

So, I did a little research (read: a three minute search of Google followed by a 90 second search on Amazon), and found a bag that fits the bill. It is immensely exciting to me, in part because it is a fabulous mustard color and can work as a backpack OR a handbag, and in part because I love that it can fit all the things I need so neatly. It requires me to edit where I may be inclined to go with the “Bring ALL The Things” strategy. And once I’ve gone through the trouble, I’m always happier for it. I guarantee I will not miss whatever I didn’t pack. And I will not hold up the TSA line trying to find my ID, which will make my fellow travelers grateful.

Bags are like life, I reckon. How often in life do we carry around extra things we might need? How often do we stuff things into because it might be helpful? If there is one thing I am learning, it is this: If you don’t fiercely edit your life, you will find it has turned into your overstuffed carry-on–crammed with old receipts you can’t read, bandages without the wrappers, empty lipstick tubes, a pulverized package of fruit snacks, and a vintage edition of Scrabble (because that sounded like a good idea at two in the morning…)

I am challenging myself to prune down the bag of my expectations and commitments so that I am free to do the things I want to do and be fully present with the people I love. I find myself asking…

Am I holding on to my (usually bad) past? This is not strongly me, but I have known so many amazing people who are trapped by this that I can’t not say it. We are not life experts, and yes, sometimes we do stupid stuff. Sometimes, we do really stupid stuff. But me lamenting my old stupid stuff is not helping me move past my stupid stuff. My obsession with how awful it is/was is chaining me to my stupid stuff. Let it go. Seek forgiveness if you need to seek it. Acknowledge it happened with yourself. Forgive yourself. Commit to being better. Change what you can change, then turn your eyes to the eastern horizon!

Am I filling my life too full of good things? Hear me out on this one before you freak out and close this tab. There are lots of glorious things to do in the world. Things that are genuinely wonderful and do enormous good. Now listen to these next words very carefully: YOU CANNOT DO ALL OF THEM. You do not have all the gifts. You do not have all the resources (of money or time.) Last time I checked, I wasn’t Jesus. It is not my job to save the world. It is my job to find the little corner of the world where I CAN help and do some good and do it well. Saying no to something is not a crime.

Do I get to the end of my day and realize I literally cannot remember a single thing I did, person I talked to, or event that happened? I get it. Life happens. We all have seasons where life is frantic and frazzled. This month has been like this for me. However, as a general rule, I am a big believer in quality over quantity. Do a little less. Invest a little more time/effort in a few fewer things so you can really experience and enjoy them. I am working really hard of this one right now and I really think it makes a difference!

Have you ever “cleaned out your bag?” Do you have any tricks or tips that have helped you? If you haven’t, you CAN! I believe in you–just take a baby-step!