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!

Goals

a single step

BY nature, I fall into the “highly creative and equally disorganized” category. I was the child who was never reading any fewer than five books at a time–allowing me to leave a book in all my usual ports of call and thereby never be caught without. This trait has followed me into adulthood. Left to my own devices, I would happily exist in a spinning vortex of dozens of craft projects, novels, and recipes at various stages of “done-ness,” awaiting me to return to them at my leisure.

This is not a trait that is smiled upon in modern American culture. And so, to combat this societal expectation (and to make sure I remember to do things like make dinner and drink enough water), I have become a huge fan of the list. I have lived most of my adult life followed by a trail of little Post-It notes and scraps of paper to keep me from forgetting important things (like when it’s time to pay the electric bill and what I need to pack for vacation.) My lists get the job done, but they don’t exactly embrace the streamlined simplicity I aspire to (being a big one for lists makes me, by proxy, a big fan of goals.)

And then, I discovered the Mountain Journal.

The Mountain Journal, which came to me via my friend’s husband who has been doing them for years (because he’s one of those people who likes math and numbers and other scary things like that…), is designed to break down the big goals that all of us have (Example: I want to lose twenty pounds) into smaller steps (I am going watch what I eat this week) and even smaller steps (I am not going to snack after dinner today), with the idea that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. (Thanks, Lao Tzu, for that little spark of genius.)

After a few stuttering starts, I started using this Mountain Journal, and let me tell you, this little baby is the best thing…possibly ever. I am a big picture dreamer, which enables me to imagine great, sweeping changes in my life, my classroom, my everything. I struggle with breaking these giant goals into things that I can accomplish today. My Mountain Journal lets me harness my sweeping War and Peace-style dreams into actual writing-paragraph-and-sentence-accomplishments. And then I can see my progress. The little to-do boxes get checked off, and once a week I get to reflect on how things went last week, what I’m thankful for, and what my goals are for next week.

It. Is. Amazing. And you know what? It actually works! The fact I’m writing this post is proof of it! For the past 18 months, I kept thinking, “You know, I really should start my blog up again.” But it never happened. But then I made writing more one of my New Year’s Resolutions. I broke it down in my Mountain Journal to actually writing a first draft of a novel this year and restarting my blog. So then I saved up and bought a new (working!) computer. Then I reworked my blog format. Then I wrote a post. And here I am.

To, for all my fellow big picture folks out there, don’t be disheartened! That big goal you’ve been dreaming CAN be accomplished. But you have to start the road with a little baby goal. You can do it! Take a single step!

Do you have mountains you’ve scaled with baby steps? I would love to hear about your inspirations!

Simplicity

Simplicity and Kindness

So…let’s just say it’s been a while and leave it at that.  Short version, I took two years off from “Life as Usual” to meet a guy, fall in love, plan a wedding, get married, and get used to living with someone who literally never goes away and with whom you do not share any DNA which requires you to care about them. So, yeah…2018 was kind of a busy year for me.

2019 as a year has also started off with a lot of changes, but different than last year. Last year was full of changes because, well, God and life happened. I was just sort of along for the ride. But this year has been full of changes because I decided to make them.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions as a general rule. In part, because I’m a teacher–my “new year” starts in September every year, and by the time January rolls around, whatever I’ve done, good or bad, I’m committed until June.  But recently I’ve been getting on the bandwagon of making sure I’m taking care of myself (physically, spiritually, emotionally) so that I can do all the things, all the jobs and roles I have in life–teacher, daughter, wife (wow, that still is weird to write!), Christian, friend.

So, this year, for the first time every in my entire life, I sat down in the first week of January and made New Year’s Resolutions.  And as I read back over them, I realized that most of my resolutions centered around two things: simplifying and kindness. Start using non-toxic cleaning products. Prioritize my quiet time. Be polite and helpful even when other people aren’t. Stay away from artificial dyes and ingredients. Reach out to friends who are hard to get a hold of.

And over two months in, I can tell you, that they go together a great deal more than I would have ever guessed! Do all of these “simplifying” things has left me with the emotional time and energy to be kind. I am willing to help because I don’t deeply resent this further drain on my resources.  It’s crazy!

So, as I finally come back to this blog after…hm…a bit, that is my goal. To document this process and journey (and some of the neat-o stuff I learn and do along the way!) Because life is too precious to waste in the swamplands of cluttered existence.  In all its ways.

Are you on this journey, too? Do you have any great insights or dreams for a life like this? I would love to hear about them below in the comments!

Life generally...

Packing list for a writer’s weekend

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be washing the last of my dishes, packing up my battered purple carry-on, and heading off into the wild blue yonder for a spring break “gift to me,” a three-day “write-in” retreat.  I’ve rented a cute little cottage with a comfy bed, a fireplace, a little kitchen, and a table that looks out of a big bay window.  (In case you don’t follow the line of thought here, this will be my writing command center for the weekend.)

I cannot wait.  Writing is something I really enjoy, but unlike music (a passion as fundamental to my spirit as breathing,) it is something that often gets put on the back-burner.  Other things–laundry, errands, rehearsal, friends, exhaustion–take precedent over my fictional endeavors.  So those rare times I manage to carve out a few hours to work, I spend the time daydreaming, or paying bills, or whatever.

But not this weekend! I’m going to a place where mobile reception is spotty at best, and there is no one I know for several hundred miles, armed with several projects at different stages and a determination to make progress in something. 

So, because really I am thinking about this, and my mind is a thousand miles from this blog tonight, I thought I’d take you through a little “greatest hits” version of my packing list–it really embodies the essence of what I hope this weekend to be.

  1. Slummy clothes.  I am taking nothing but leggings and old sweatshirts and oversized, old sweaters.  It is all the essence of comfort.  I aspire to change from pajamas into (essentially) other pajamas.
  2. Fuzzy socks.  As I have very few plans to venture into the cruel outside world (save maybe a walk to get the creative juices going, as it were,) socks that are basically slippers are a must.  My poor feet suffer through “work shoes” for most of their existence.  They will be free for these next few days!
  3. My computer.  Obviously.  I have this rocking writer’s program called Scrivener.  If you are a writer and you have not downloaded it, DO IT NOW.  It is such a slick program. It is worth every penny of the $40 or whatever I paid for it!
  4. Pink pocket notebook with gold embossed “Awesome Ideas” on the cover.  This may seem a bit more out there, but I subscribe strongly to pen-and-ink lists.  This little baby has got the running record of different writing projects I can work on if I get frustrated with what I’m on.  Sick of trying to get through that one dialogue? Do a plot map of that new idea!  Totally over trying to think yourself out of that corner you wrote yourself into?  Brainstorm landscapes for that fantasy you’ve been “meaning to get back to!” And so on.  You get the idea.
  5. “The Writer’s Journey,” by Christopher Vogler.  This book was recommended to me by a great writer, and it is the single best thing I have read about how to structure fiction writing.  It is genius.  I love it.  I need it to reference.
  6. Other reading. And by that, I mean real reading.  During the school year, I read, but it’s largely the kind of fluff one reads on a plane when you don’t really have to focus. I want to read other authors who really knew how to write–to inspire and feed the writer’s soul.  There’s no place better to learn than at the foot of the masters.
  7. Walking shoes (and I guess I’d include my puffy vest here, too).  Sometimes, you just need to take a good walk and let yourself think without distraction. (Isn’t that an odd thought?)
  8. Coffee.  Do I even need to explain this one?
  9. A heart that’s ready to write.  This has not been me for ten months, but it is finally me now.  I am hungry to write.  I am hungry to start trying to get things down on paper (er…on the screen?) I want to be creative in the way that writing so uniquely is.

I am so ready for this! I can’t wait to get there and get started and get frustrated and get over it! There is no way to write a novel, I have heard, except to make yourself write.  Well, chalk that one up for me, anyway!

 

 

 

Life generally... · Teaching

One Day More

Tomorrow is the last day of school before we begin our (well-deserved, in my mind) spring break.  Only one more day of waking up, one more day of kiddos climbing the walls because they, too, know that break is almost here.  Only one day more!

After the kids got on the buses and the hallways were clear, I treated (tormented?) my colleagues with a chorus of One Day More, the Act I finale of the musical Les Misérables, because I am a choir teacher, so this is what I do.

I love the night before the Last Day Before Break.  I love it because I feel like I can stay up later than I should because I’ll have time to catch up on missing sleep.  And even though things come up and it always ends too quickly, the night before, the whole glorious nine days of sweet freedom stretch before you like a pristine, snowy morning.  There is time for everything to get done on the night before.  It’s magical.

On Saturday, I head off for three days in a cabin for my “Light A Fire Under It, Already, Girl” write-in.  I am going incommunicado and it’s going to be marvelous.  Time to focus on things that I’m always “too busy” for.  I am excited for the chance to breath and step away–something I don’t do often enough.  Excited for time to reflect and thing.  Excited for the change of pace.

Half of the joy of things like vacations and breaks and mini-vacays is the anticipation of it.  The final countdown until you board the flight, get in the car, or turn off the alarm.  I love to revel in it, and sometimes I feel like my instant-gratification life robs me of the chance.  But nothing can take away the excitement surrounding a day like tomorrow–

One more dawn! One more day! One Day More! (It’s not exactly the French Revolution, but I teach middle school so it very well could be!  Haha!)