Embracing each day

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Silence and Clouds by x1klima, CC BY-ND 2.0

March 2020 – a month for which no one will ever be nostalgic.

After all the years it took me to learn to really slow down and not wish for the next, presumably better stage, my thoughts whisper that a year from now, there will be less uncertainty.  A year from now, we will know how we all come out of this pandemic. But each day is still precious.  Each day, though it brings tragedy and stresses of all kinds to many of our global community, also brings hope, creativity, and love to much of the world.

For me, it’s not the social distancing and staying home that has made this month feel like a year, but the combination of constant change and continuing threat.  The thoughts I try to avoid: will I see my parents again? how will we support our friends who sustain losses, when the best we can do is teleconference? how on earth can we support the health care workers, who are generally always overstretched? There are many painful questions.  I’m sure that you know them, too.

No one knows the answers to the big questions.  The entire world is experiencing the human and economic results of the pandemic.  These months will be in the history books.  Our children will tell their children and grandchildren about it.

I don’t think there was any time in my life prior to right now that it was an advantage to be a complete introvert.  My forever best friend is as extroverted as I am introverted.  To me, it always looked so easy for her to do so many things that were difficult to me, like speaking to anyone in a room full of people (now I usually give myself permission to not talk much if there are more than 6 people).  While the stay-home order gives me a time to recharge, she has that harried, unsettled feeling that I get after times without enough quiet space.

But that introversion also makes me prone to ruminating, particularly in the middle of the night.  To fight that, I keep busy and try to make myself too tired to wake up at 2AM.  Working at home is efficient in terms of time (no commute) but leads to a lot less walking during the day, so my evenings are devoted to moving.  I anticipate many projects being completed around the house in the coming weeks, possibly even the one I’ve been avoiding for nearly a year, which is painting the kitchen ceiling after patching up the damage from a pressure cooker incident.  I just finished a task I’ve long had on the back burner – assembling all important information in one place so that Thom and Mari could easily access it.

I call family and friends, email, and text, trying to focus on the positive and entertaining, like the crocus that are blooming in the front lawn, the beautiful, gigantic spring snowflakes that fell this morning, and how our dog tucked herself under a blanket yesterday to hide from the thunderstorm.  I’ve been writing real letters, on paper, hoping to give a distant loved one a smile. The daylight hours are expanding and warming, and soon evening biking, walking, and gardening will become routine.

How do you embrace the gift of each day during this difficult time?

Weekend Cooking: Friday Night Pizza

IMG_2287Friday night has been pizza night for a while.  It is a treat for everyone at the end of the week – including the cook (me), due to the fast prep time and lack of required decisions.  Although my favorite meal is a giant salad topped with delicious things, pizza is much easier to make – and no one ever complains.

I mix a yeast dough Thursday night or Friday morning; if the former, then it overnights in the fridge.  I like to add a generous amount of rosemary (it becomes much less like little sticks in the wet, long-fermenting dough) as well as some quick steel cut oats.

With the dough made, homemade pizza is done in about 30 minutes – much faster than delivery, takeout, or driving to and waiting in line at a store. And the cost can’t be beat – a very large pizza with an entire bag of fresh spinach comes to about $6.   Did I mention that between dough and cheese is one of the ways the rest of the house will eat leafy greens without complaining?

Coronavirus fatigue; can we have a different plot?

It’s been 8 days since my last workplace commute, 8 days of the three of us together alone all the time.  I haven’t been sleeping well; every time I awake, whether it’s morning or the middle of the night, I have that feeling of something looming, and I remember that life is completely different now, with more changes to come at an unknown time.  It’s not a dream – we really are all living the plot of a dystopian novel.

There have been positives. I’ve been taking long, unrushed walks with our dog.  Mari, Thom, and I have played some games that were gathering dust.  I accomplished some yard work and housework, both of which are more attractive than finishing the income taxes or painting the kitchen ceiling.  I am spending less time than literally ever before on errands and commuting; the latter has given me about 6 hours per week. A tank of gas is going to last a long time; we won’t need new tires anytime soon, and the 15-year old car will keep going longer.

My work-from-home situation is temporary, and returning comes with another set of anxieties.  Mari will be spending her 17th birthday with her parents, without her friends, and she’s bummed about that.  I’d had many ideas for activities that we could do to celebrate her birthday, but now I need to brainstorm again.  I am concerned about my parents, who live 2000 miles away, with few friends or contacts in a small town.  Should they become ill, it will be difficult for me to assist them.  I worry about the virus finding its way through our door, or those of my friends and colleagues.  I worry about the effect this will have on the businesses that have made Minnesota’s economy so resilient in the past.  I worry about the workers who will become ill and possibly infect their families.  I worry that this virus might orphan some children.  I worry about everyone losing their savings.

There are more worries, but I know everyone else has them too.

To think, last year we were all complaining about the brutal winter we had weathered!

Here’s what I am going to do to try to counteract the worries: my daily commute time will become meditation and journaling time.

What are you doing to stay balanced?

 

 

 

 

Self-Isolation Projects

IMG_2301Recently, a friend was bored while recovering from surgery and asked me for ideas of what she could do. I am revisiting this list now to have ideas for our household in the coming weeks, when we will be limiting activities outside the house.

Go outside. Sunshine and exercise maintain body and soul.  Watch sunrises and sunsets, look at the constellations, observe wildlife, identify birds, notice when the first flowers and insects of the season appear, have a family campfire.  Walk, hike, bike, skate.

Do something with your hands and let your thoughts run. You’ll probably come up with lots of things you’d like to do with available time. (Make bread or a finely chopped salad. Knit or crochet. Bead. Whittle. Etc.)

Make lists – things to do with family or for yourself; places you want to go, whether near or far; tasks to do inside and outside the home; ideas for meals; books to read…

Look at family photos together.

Learn a new skill or hobby – or resume one that has fallen by the wayside. If trying something new, just get supplies for one project.

Refresh a skill that has long gone unused, such as the calculus learned in college. Or expand on a skill, such as learning a new programming or world language.

Play an instrument, or start learning a new one.

Journal. Write letters to friends. Write letters to family. Email is fine – but try communicating in complete sentences outside of texting!

Plan a vacation for the future – just plan, no commitments here. Plan where and what you’ll do and where you’ll stay.  Half the fun is in the planning and looking ahead. (Mari had to do this two years ago for an economics class and still talks about it!)

Think about life goals, what you want to accomplish, how to prioritize. Choose one goal and really plan it (look up SMART goals).

Write elected officials in the state or federal legislature about topics that are important to you.

Organize closets and drawers, garage, basement, etc. Declutter: if there’s something in the house that doesn’t get used during a time like this, it may never get used.

Find some new music that you enjoy.  Listen to it while doing chores.

Seed the vegetable garden as soon as the ground thaws – brassicas, lettuce, and spinach don’t mind the cold soil.

Write the story of your childhood for your kids. They might not appreciate it now, but they will love it when they are older.  Collect stories from the other adults in your family, too.

Make photo books for yourself, or for your kids or friends.

If you make gifts for your loved ones, get a jump start on upcoming gifting events.

Clean and sharpen garden tools. For that matter, sharpen the kitchen knives, too.

Read a book. Read poetry.  Read.

Complete the online Census form.

Learn to do something on the computer that’s generally useful, such as image or video editing.

Play a game, maybe one of those board games that never comes off the shelf because it takes too long.

Finish the taxes.

Get from the library some kids’ nonfiction books on topics that interest you – they are quick reads and you can learn a lot.  Get a big stack of books, in general.

Walk, and walk some more.  Walk meditatively at whatever pace you like.  Notice all that you sense: sounds, smells, sights.  Enjoy the birds – they are miraculous, truly.

Your turn!  What are some of the things that you never have time for?

Vacation

I have a goal for the next few days, and that is to achieve a mental state of being miles from anywhere. It would probably be impossible for me to do that at home. We’re at our friends’ cabin, a few hours from the Cities and nearly deserted in winter, which is therefore my favorite time to visit. This morning’s treats have been waking after an unusually undisturbed sleep, watching the sun rise over the frozen, snow-covered lake, walking the dog and hearing a bird that I couldn’t identify, and now smelling bread baking… and I’ve only been up for an hour. Since I’m the only morning person here, I have at least a couple more hours of silence to enjoy.

I unplugged the wifi last night at our family’s designated screen-off time and will leave us disconnected until someone complains (at which time this will be posted). Cell phone service is spotty here, a situation which Mari might feel is disastrous but which I would welcome even under normal circumstances, and which is particularly refreshing after a week of being on edge, waiting for announcements from every entity and agency and trying to strategize for the truly unpredictable future.

I scheduled these few vacation days quite some time ago, thinking that this would be a calm time at work, but now would like to be there for the planning that is taking place. It will be ok. At work and at home, everyone will have to use their best talents in these coming months, more so than usual. This is an interesting time for Mari to be experiencing as a teen; it may shape her future, her career choice, and even her everyday reality for the next year.

For today, I have freshly baked bread, the moving shadows of pine trees on snow, a softly snoring dog at my feet, cozy pajamas and no need to change, a stack of books, and a notebook for thoughts. Today is vacation.

Simple Choices This Week

Somehow turning the decade to 2020 gives me the feeling that a lot of time has passed… suddenly.  Everything feels like a long time ago.  This is compounded by the fact that I recently turned 50.  As someone who tends to be very commonsense and logical, and who also spends a lot of time doing math, I don’t have any particular feelings about the number 50, but it has made me think more deeply about many things, including years past and years remaining.

While my family followed what was to teenager me an excruciatingly simple lifestyle, it wasn’t until I was out of university and on my own for a few years, working in a very fast-paced industry, that I began to explore simplicity on my own.  I’ve honed various aspects of frugality and simplicity for the past 25 years or so.

In every simple living community or book I’ve observed or read, I’ve seen discussions of “how is simple living different from frugality” or “how is simple living different from minimalism?”  The conversation always meanders through various ideas and opinions before someone reminds everyone that simple living is about choices – making choices to have choices.

This week, some of the choices I’ve made to make life simpler are

  • I’ve been more deliberate about practicing the 1980s style of smartphone use proposed by Cal Newport in Digital Minimalism, which is to turn on the ringer and leave it near the front door.   That is to say, I’m treating it as a phone instead of an appendage.
  • I dug in and began the unpleasant pre-work that I’ve been avoiding for months for our 2019 taxes.  It took about 3 hours and now I don’t have to dread it anymore.  “Just begin” nearly always gets me through things like that.
  • I cooked ahead last weekend for scheduled long work days.  It made those evenings much more relaxed.
  • I skipped Mari’s band concert after a long day at work.  It was the first performance I’ve missed in 8 years of band and orchestra.  This particular concert is held annually in the high school gym, which has dreadful acoustics, and parents sit on the (extremely uncomfortable) bleachers.  The ratio of time that Mari played to time I would have spent to be there was about 1:8.
  • I contemplated making a baby blanket for an acquaintance’s baby shower, and then bought some favorite board books to share instead.  The yarn or fabric would have cost the same as the books, and not everyone values handmade items.  I’ve made many crocheted baby blankets and patchwork baby quilts over the years, and generally enjoy turning out a pretty present, but this month I decided that I had other time priorities.

What made your life simpler this week?

 

 

 

20 Minutes of Silence

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I sat with a pencil and scrap of paper in a silent room and waited.  All week I had that feeling of jammed thoughts and ideas… they just couldn’t come out in the daily hubbub.  And no matter how many times I demonstrate to myself that I don’t need a huge slab of time for the mental productivity to begin, I continue to wait for an unplanned day or afternoon, an event that probably will never come.

Since I was quite young, no matter how long the journey, I always packed a book to read, paper, and pen (my mental image: 10-year old me and a stack of books in the backseat of the car on the 10-minute drive to the grocery store).  I still do, because even though most of my actual writing takes place on a computer, it nearly always begins on paper, as a captured thought or some random scribbles that were part of my problem-solving process.

Today, my default when given a small block of time is to spend it swiping on a smartphone.  I’m aware of it, but I still do it, and I see countless other people do the same every day.  What I know is that this never gives me a feeling of time wealth.  Most of the time I don’t learn anything new or useful, and those minutes just disappear from my allotted lifetime, completely insignificant.

But one morning last week, I sat with pencil and paper instead, even though I had only about 18 minutes.  There was nothing initially… maybe a minute of sitting, poised to write.  Then I began with the usual lists.. nothing interesting, but useful in planning my week: the meal plan, the tasks and schedules, the shopping list.  The simple act of writing turned on my brain like a switch, and ideas began to flow.

I am posting this to remind myself to let the silence in.  The thoughts swirl all day, every day, and I know that I lose most of them.  Monkey mind is a specialty of mine.  Picking up the pencil invites creativity to visit, and that can happen anywhere I might have turned to the phone.