Hey, Kool & the Gang…

Finding anything to celebrate during the time of coronavirus is a daunting task. We have to dig for reasons to live it up. Sometimes, we have to dig pretty deep. Oh, yes, we are celebrating birthdays. We even had a Zoom birthday party for MBH.

A Zoom birthday extravaganza was, to say the least, interesting. We did a joint party with my sister-in-law, who shares the same birth date with MBH. We sent lots of invitations to the July 3rd fete. Her friends showed. Ours didn’t – just a few die-hard celebrants from our side. Not sure how to interpret that except to say most of our friends were spending the evening watching the newly released Hamilton on Disney+. Uh-hmmm….

What do we do? I’ve submitted a hugely detailed request, with promises of COVID testing prior to the event, just to get to spend a holiday with Alex. I have high hopes. I’d wrap myself in cling wrap for 14 days if it offered me the opportunity to get a Mom hug from my kiddo!

So, here’s the deal… When all else fails, we celebrate the most mundane things. Something new premiering on Netflix? What shall we plan for dinner that evening? What wine goes with a new season of Call the Midwife? We found seven seasons of MasterChef Australia – one of my favorite cooking shows – on Tubi. MBH bought me a MasterChef apron with my name embroidered on it. Party! (Ok… maybe not party, but cooking!)

During baseball season (we didn’t go to the playoffs – from where we sit, baseball season is over!), we occasionally had hotdogs for supper, wore our baseball caps, and hollered along with the cut outs filling the stadium seats. That worked. We celebrated World Communion Sunday last week and enjoyed sharing that with congregants around the country.

Most days, we rely on a friend’s daily Facebook post telling us what national day it might be and we get daily emails from the National Day Calendar. Some days, it’s a stretch, but hey, in times such as these, we take what we can get.

Did you know that today is National Inner Beauty Day? I might be glib enough to comment that I can get behind that because if we’re considering inner beauty, I’m not required to put on a bra and shoes. The truth is, National Inner Beauty Day raises awareness about the survivors of human trafficking. So, I’ll ditch the joke, expand my knowledge, and make a donation to an organization like Saving Innocence, committed to serving and supporting child victims of human trafficking.

Some days really are ‘make you laugh’ days. Did you know that Saturday is National Cupcake Decorating Day? Hey, I can don my new apron and put myself in a Great British Baking Show frame of mind and let the frosting fly!

September 29 was National Coffee Day. No need for a celebration around here. As far as MBH is concerned, every day is National Coffee Day. The 24th was National Punctuation Day. Again, shouldn’t every day be about using good punctuation and punctuation awareness?

MBH and I took a weekend getaway to celebrate our first meeting, 18 years ago. Eighteen years may not make the big list, but we had a lovely time, rested somewhere besides our usual family room, and did a little out of the ordinary cooking. We created a celebration, just when we needed it.

Here’s my advice: Find something to celebrate and then go for it. We need a little joy and laughter in these times, even if it has to be manufactured within the confines of our own walls. Plan a shindig. Invite your friends to a Zoom party. Cook a new recipe, complete with decadent dessert. Check your TV listings and find something new to watch and plan an evening around it. If you haven’t watched Enola Holmes on Netflix, it’s great fun and requires very little brain power. You might just whip up a Yorkshire pudding to go along with it.

Let your imagination fly. The sky is truly the limit. But find something to celebrate and then do it!

Be careful… be well… be safe,

Can I just crawl into a hole…

You might have missed it. It was in the January 16th publication of The Atlantic. A lot has happened around here since January and January was at least 735 months ago, right? Anyway, I confess I missed it, too, so I’m cutting you some slack here. The article says: Human Hibernation is a Real Possibility.

Where do I sign up? Seriously, I think I’d just as soon hibernate about now. Wake me up on January 21. Yeah, I’ll miss Thanksgiving and Christmas, but I don’t need the extra calories. I’d also miss my birthday, but at my age, I’ve had enough and I can afford to miss a few.

Between the news, the virus, the news, the changing weather, the news, the election, and the news, I would be content to skip it all until further notice. (I confess, it’s getting harder and harder to watch the news and I’m a news junky!) I’d just as soon let it go for a while. Not gonna happen.

So, hibernation is sounding better and better, right? The Atlantic article says, “A small group of scientists is taking human hibernation extremely seriously. They are studying the basic mechanisms with an eye to all kinds of applications, such as preserving pulseless trauma victims while critical injuries are repaired, deep-space travel, and altering metabolic rates to help people lose weight.” I have a pulse, so no application there. No critical injuries, unless you count the fact that my baseball team didn’t make the playoffs. I have no plans for deep-space travel, but I wouldn’t mind going. I always wanted to be an astronaut! The weight loss thing is interesting. I might go for that. I mean, if you can skip the chaos of the world and lose weight, how cool would that be?

Ok… so, while human hibernation is being studied, it’s not a viable option at this time. That means weight loss is going to be up to me (and I just got a new cookbook in the mail yesterday!), as well as structuring a life that reduces the other insanity inducing stressors.

So, priority #1 is reducing my stressors. I can start with turning the news off. Ok, that’s not going to happen, but I can turn it off earlier. I can catch the morning news then stop for a block of time – a large block of time. I have plenty of work to do so I could just concentrate on that. And, trust me, I am working on it all. I could grab a book to read, but I read so much for work, slotting in a nice chunk of fiction doesn’t always happen. The shift between non-fiction reading to fiction reading is a huge leap for me. My brain doesn’t make the jump easily.

I could cook. I enjoy cooking and there is that newly arrived cookbook, but see the previous information on weight loss. Just sayin’…

So, here’s the deal… since I’m not up for cleaning out closets (no matter how much they need cleaning out), I’m left with finding something new and different, or old and familiar, to watch on TV.

A year ago, while in Ireland, we discovered MasterChef Australia. Everybody on the trip enjoyed it. I loved it. It was fun. I learned a lot. Well, a week or so ago, I Googled “where to watch streaming MasterChef Australia.” Low and behold, there are seven seasons on the streaming service Tubi. There was a Tubi app on our smart TV (and my TV is a lot smarter than I am) so I clicked the app and there it was. Zippity doo dah! Last night, we finished watching the first season – all 72 episodes. (Okay… I confess… I nodded off during a few somewhere in the middle. I never did see Josh get tossed from the MasterChef kitchen, but no big deal.) When we first started watching it, MBH dipped into his hand held Google machine and shared all sorts of trivia. He found out who won, but didn’t tell me. Earlier this week, I thought I’d check out the possibility of a MasterChef cookbook (yes, the aforementioned cookbook that arrived in yesterday’s mail) and accidentally discovered who did win. I was thrilled. She was the short, Rubenesque mom who was an amazing home cook who was growing into a real chef. She was my favorite from the beginning. (We short, Rubenesque moms have to stick together!) Even knowing who was going to win, I admit I shed a few tears of joy as we watched the final episode, filmed some 11 years ago. It was exciting. And I can’t wait to dig into my cookbook, filled with many of the recipes we saw over the course of the season 1 experience. Plus, it’s chock full of cooking tips, like how to fillet a fish (can’t I buy it that way) and choosing the right kitchen gear (can’t imagine there’s something I don’t already have).

I’m sure we’ll get stuck in for season 2 before too long, but we might binge something else for a few days. I know we want to watch “Enola Holmes,” (Netflix) about Sherlock’s younger sister. It stars Millie Bobbie Brown who knocked our socks off in Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” We watched the trailer and it looks like great fun. I watched a few episodes of “Mindhunter” (Netflix) and it’s got possibilities. There are episodes of “Call the Midwife” that we haven’t seen and (so far) two new episodes of “The Great British Baking Show,” the queen of cooking shows in my book! Netflix is dropping one episode of GBBS each week and I’d prefer to have them get a little pile up so we can watch more than one episode at a whack.

Our list of things to watch also includes several cooking Master Classes, Ron Howard’s class on directing, Judy Blume’s class on writing. I still have part of last season of Doctor Who to watch. And there are six more seasons of MasterChef Australia just sitting here, calling out to me. I have a handful of movies that have been in my que for a while and I just haven’t gotten around to them. I’m almost done with all 11 seasons of Frasier – my go to bedtime watching so I can fall asleep with a chuckle on my brain.

Everyone is getting through COVID the best they can. Since hibernation might be possible, but not yet practical, I’ll shelve that idea and see what else I can do.

Got any ideas? Please refrain from telling me to clean out those closets!

Be kind to yourself… be careful… be well… be safe.

Wilderness & Walls… (semi-disclaimer)

In my business, I’m fully aware that we all spend time in the wilderness. We may call it something different, but I pretty much stick to the idea and the imagery of the wilderness. Yeah, I think about Jesus in the wilderness after his baptism – the whole 40 days and the devil thing, but I also think about the times Jesus went in the wilderness just to get away and to pray. For me, the wilderness is a place where life tosses me when it doesn’t want to deal with me. It’s dark and lonely and pretty crappy on just about all counts. But after lots of frequent flyer miles for all the trips I’ve made to and from the wilderness, I have finally come to know a few things.

First, it’s never as dark as I think. Leonard Cohen reminded us that there is always a crack for the light to seep in. While it usually takes me a few days to realize I’ve been once again catapulted into the wilderness, as soon as I do grasp my shifted locale, I start looking for the crack. I don’t have to immediately get to the point where the light flows in. As long as I know where that crack is, I’m good. Then I can concentrate on treading water while I try to figure out why I’m there. (There is always a reason.) And I can float for a good while, just knowing that there is that sliver of light dispelling the darkness, even in incremental amounts.

The second thing I know is this: I always survive those trips to the wilderness. I have always managed to emerge – sooner or later. I confess later is tough, but I know the exit door will, at some point, present itself. After a longer time on this earth than I have left, I know that the wilderness isn’t permanent.

The last lesson for me in those treks to the wilderness is the real knowledge that I always return knowing more than I did when I landed there. The wilderness may be like an exacting school master, but it teaches nonetheless. Good thing I can tread water, with an eye on the light-filling crack, while learning something as I go. That’s a win hat trick in my book. Unfortunately, winning isn’t usually part of the wilderness lexicon. When you’re in the wilderness, you tend to think more in terms of losing.

And that totally sucks.

This stupid pandemic – and I know it’s serious, but I’m going to call it stupid because it makes me feel better – this stupid pandemic is like a bullet train expedition straight to the heart of the wilderness. Unfortunately, there was no welcome committee and it actually took me a while to realize I was back in the Land of Odd – like maybe five months. And, as I wrote a while back, it surprised me when I realized I had landed in the wilderness yet again. I thought I had my act together, was coping like a super-hero, being supportive to those around me, and doing everything but outlining the great American novel while I cooked and worked. But last month, I learned how wrong I was when I fell apart in one day.

And, like the super hero I think I am, I kept wondering why! (I forget sometimes that I’m actually human. The universe revels in reminding me.) Last night, I found out why

There’s a Zen proverb that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Well, I must have been ready last night because I scrolled upon a really interesting thing on Facebook that sent me to Twitter and the tumblers all fell into place.

So, here’s the deal… A thread on Twitter started with this post: The 6 month mark in any sustained crisis is always difficult. We have all adjusted to this “new normal”, but might now feel like we’re running out of steam. Yet, at best, we are only 1/3 the way through this marathon. How can we keep going? That was my question – how do we keep going? How do we find the crack with the light seeping through? What now?

Here’s the rest of Dr. Ahmad’s eye-opening post and my annotation. It is worth the read, especially if you find yourself in the wilderness, head-butting a wall.

Ok… can we just all agree that it feels good for someone to tell us something is normal right about now? Am I alone in feeling somewhat comforted that this is right on schedule? (A crappy schedule, but a schedule nonetheless.) Good! And, boy, do I want to get away. I’ll bet you do, too.

I need to hear someone tell me that there is life on the other side. I don’t expect it to be our previous life. I expect it to be better, actually, but I know that will depend on my working on it. And, oh, yeah… .that long, dark tunnel leads right into my wilderness.

Our next major adaptation phase? Haven’t we adapted enough already? I have no adaptation coupons left to give! And thanks for the reminder that winter is coming. UGH. But, what I have to remember here is what I learned in the wilderness. I have more strength / survival skills / adaptability tools than I realize. I have done this in the past and I can do it again. It won’t be easy, but I can do this. I need to print a sign that says, “You’ve survived 24,357 days thus far. You can do this!” (If you’re doing the math right now, you need new distractions!)

I know it’s hard to learn from the advice of others, but let’s just all agree that we’ll heed Dr. Ahmad’s words here: Stop banging your head against the wall! We’ve been banging away because we thought this stupid wall was unique and ours alone. But it’s not. We are not alone in looking at our walls. And, it will come down, though 4-6 weeks feels like a lifetime. (It’s not a lifetime, it just feels like it. This is our little kid brain kicking in and at my age, I’m going to let my little kid brain enjoy some time in the sun.) And, look at her other advice – if we can maintain our current “must do” things and are kind to those around us, we’re acing this course in life! Zippity doo dah! I want a gold star.

Oh, brother – a whole bunch of us are feeling that our creativity is totally shot – kaput – AWOL. I think I’ll choose to feel like it’s just managed to get away when I couldn’t. Maybe, when it comes back, it will be super charged. There’s a hopeful thought. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I think I spent two nights working on my old novel. I spent another two nights working on that book I started in the fall about finding the Holy in the Ordinary. I should maybe get back to that because I could use some Holy right about now. I did manage to get the podcast I had been planning for a year up and running. Maybe I should just be satisfied with that. I’m 2/3 of the way through Advent planning. In my business, that’s a good thing and has me ahead of the game. Ok… maybe that is the definition of “roll with it” and I’m rolling along!

And, I returned to blogging again! I’m picking up steam in this rolling along thing. I wonder if I can buy gold stars on Amazon?

Our mental shore leave is happening – end of the baseball season game watching, MasterChef catching up and tomorrow, Great British Baking Show is due to drop on Netflix. Those things help my mental health. So does turning off the news, which I can do for a few hours at a time. My saving grace these days seems to be falling asleep watching old episodes of “Frasier.” It does the heart good to laugh at the very end of the day.

(I know this is long, but we’re almost done. And I might have some gold stars for ya!)

So there’s the end of Dr. Ahmad’s pretty darned good advice. What we are dealing with is normal(ish). We’re all hitting those brick walls. Our energy and creativity will return. We have made it this far and all indications are, we can make it to the other side, even though we’re not sure how far away the other side just might be. Just reading these things last night gave me a big boost of hope. I’ll take those boosts whenever they come. And, hey, I already know how to breath!

Thank you, Dr. Ahmad, for everything you wrote. Thank you for sharing from your life and your heart. You are the teacher I needed right now.

Hang in there, Gentle Readers. If you’ve made it this far, you might want to check out this good article about couples who are coping through these months, hitting their own walls. Just a thought.

Be good to yourself… Be careful… Be well… Be safe,

What’s important… Really

As we keep finding our way in this pandemic dark, we notice our language shifting, our gatherings transformed, our calendars written in pencil, and our expectations in some sort of limbo. We can fight against it or we can learn to live with it, making the best of a really crappy situation. (Ha… as I write this I question if we actually can make “the best” of it all. The truth is, for most of us, we probably can, if we try.)

When we woke up on New Year’s Day, we thought we were facing a new decade. Never in our wildest dreams did we envision anything like the last six months we’ve lived through. “Pandemic” wasn’t in my daily vocabulary. While I might have a Zoom meeting or two (more about that later), it wasn’t a multi-weekly thing. Schools and churches locked their doors and sought alternative ways to gather. Restaurants closed and learned to shift to a carry-out model. Bars closed and liquor stores implemented delivery options. Weddings got postponed, birthdays happened on Zoom, and annual celebrations took on a different shape. It all became our pandemic new normal.

All these lists could go on and on. They do, within my brain. But the list I keep looking for is the one where I have weeded out my mind – identifying the things that are really important, absolutely critical in creating a true “better normal” – what I think we should all be seeking. My hope is to keep the essential and meaningful stuff and push all the other stuff way down the list.

So, here’s the beginning of the list of “the truly important” that I’m noticing, in no particular order.

  1. Where possible, face-to-face time with people we love is critical. I am thankful for the simple fact that I not only love, but really like MBH. I enjoy spending time with him, even when we both fall asleep in our respective chairs watching the baseball game each evening. He makes me laugh. He listens to my fears and worries and joys and challenges and the occasional rant that refuses to be contained. He laughs at my jokes – no mean feat for a man of his humor-making skills. He makes me a pot of tea every morning and often delivers that first cup. He embraces my cooking skills, loves steak as much as I do, and is willing to make that occasional trip to the store for things we can’t get via Instacart. He hates wearing a mask, but he does it because he loves me and cares about others. He never (seemingly) tires of my endless questions about baseball, answering most with ease and looking up the ones he doesn’t know. And, he gives really good hugs – something that is in short supply these days.
  2. Where daily face-to-face is not possible, occasional, physically distant meeting is critical, in certain situations and following the rules. I haven’t hugged my son in months and I hate that. I also totally get that it’s important that he maintains the protocols that his service provider agency have in place. I’m thankful for every single one of those protocols as they have kept him and his staff safe and healthy. Every Wednesday afternoon, we stop by his house. MBH and I sit on the porch while he stands in his doorway and we manage to have a sighting of one another and a non-tech visit. Some days it’s incredibly hard. We snuck in an elbow bump one day. (Don’t tell on us.) We wear our masks. His house manager ordered porch furniture so we can actually sit down while we have these brief visits. That helps these old bones. We have missed our usual Thursday suppers and Sunday lunches together. I miss the way he makes me laugh and his wacky conversations and watching him interact with amazingly patient and kind wait staff around our community. I am profoundly thankful that those agency protocols have allowed him to still get his usual deluxe grilled cheese on Thursdays and whatever strikes his fancy (and I have provided a gift card) for Sunday lunch – and the incredible staff that makes gathering those take-out meals possible. But I need a mom-hug something fierce. I have high hopes for the offer we have made for sharing Thanksgiving together. John and I have offered to get tested the week before Thanksgiving, isolating from that point on, and then bringing Thanksgiving dinner to Alex’s house, for him, his housemate, and their staff. And if that flies with the people who make those decisions, I’m going to hug my kiddo throughout dinner!
  3. Friends are a lifeline and I am thankful for every single one – especially my RevGal pals who gather with me, via Zoom, for a Thursday evening happy hour. While I miss sitting down to supper with my local friends, I am thankful for the opportunity to virtually spend time with friends – especially friends who share my vocation and the issues inherent therein. Having the opportunity to vent and laugh and brainstorm with a group of people I trust is critical for my mental health. When we are living into our better normal, that piece will remain. (But I hope to be able to sit down, across the table, with those local friends, too.)
  4. The internet is also a lifeline. (I am also thankful we switched to a more reliable internet provider a year before this whole thing hit.) Thanks to the internet, we have watched live baseball games for years. That’s an important thing in our house. But our streaming lives have expanded exponentially. These days, we watch Netflix, Prime, Disney+, Tubi, PBS Masterpiece and Living, Acorn, Britbox, Broadway HD, and a host of things via YouTube. We take MasterClasses. We catch concerts. We’ve toured museums. I’m sorry it has taken the pandemic to make us think outside the (cable) box, but these opportunities will remain in our better normal toolkit. They are definitely worth it and are becoming more and more essential as we roll along. Along with that, I am thankful that my ministry hasn’t been affected by the pandemic. We have always “done church” via the internet. We have learned to stretch a little more, for sure. And, honestly, one of the silver linings of this whole thing is that colleagues who were forced to jump into virtual worship, and weren’t sure it could be real worship have reached out for hints and tips, and are finally aware of just how real it all can be. To whoever invented the internet, thank you!
  5. Toilet paper is also essential. In the first weeks, actually months, of this pandemic, toilet paper was in short supply. We now have people in this country for whom their entire inheritance will consist of cases and cases of toilet paper as their elders seriously over did the shopping thing and have hoarded several lifetime supplies. We were fortunate to have 2-3 large packs when this whole thing started. When we were able to pick up another pack, we did. We have never had to deal with a shortage in our house, but our supply has never been more than 4-5 packs. That works for me. We’ll never let ourselves get to that last pack, but neither will we store a backlog greater than what we have now. To those who will inherit that lifetime supply… sorry.
  6. Escape – or the opportunity for escape – especially at the drop of a hat – just might be essential, too. While we’ve done curbside pick up from a handful of our favorite local eateries, I do miss going out to a restaurant and enjoying a quiet dinner with lovely wait staff and the knowledge that someone else will do all the clean up. I miss knowing when that “Oh, I need to run out and get” moment hits, I can just get in the car and go. There are a handful of things that one really needs to see / feel before purchasing. In all honesty, not everything can be purchased from Amazon, WalMart.com, or JoAnn’s Fabrics & Crafts. The truth is, I never shop at WalMart, but I will buy a few things that are not found elsewhere or too expensive, these days, from WalMart. Twice, we’ve escaped town and gone about 2 hours away, staying in the same hotel. The hotel we like has a kitchen and I don’t mind cooking, so we’ve taken all our own food, with one quick Instacart order when we decided to extend our stay and needed a little more food. So, here’s the deal… these are the kinds of things I really do evaluate. I’m probably okay without eating out. I enjoy cooking and I don’t mind getting carry-out from our small handful of local eateries we enjoy and support. In truth, between Amazon and other online stores, I have been able to get everything I needed and a handful of things I wanted (and probably didn’t need). The only issue is having things when I want them, instead of waiting on the UPS guy to arrive. But getting away is something that’s hard to give up. We tend to travel a lot, even if it’s a trip to see my 99 year old mom in Texas – refer to items #1 & #2 and that whole being with people you love thing. We feel good about the place we’ve traveled to those two times and would go back. The issue, right now, is that it’s a college town and their COVID numbers have skyrocketed. Stay tuned!

Maybe the opposite list, those things we tended to do that really aren’t important and I don’t miss, is the next one to concentrate on. We’ll see, though I think I’ve already identified the shopping around town thing. And, maybe the restaurant thing. We’re the kind of folks who don’t go to the movies much, so that’s not a big thing. We do enjoy theater and concerts, but don’t go much, and we’ve gotten streaming options of both of those.

I’ll spend some time thinking on these things and confab with MBH and see what he comes up with – though that whole escape thing is really big for him. I’m thinking just going for a drive one day – a mini-road trip – might be a great idea.

In the meantime, it’s Wednesday so it’s the mid-week drive through purchase and then a little porch sitting with Alex, possibly followed by a carry-out supper. It’s escape day!

Be careful… be well… be safe,

Traybakes and Fougasse and Tatin, Oh my…

So, here’s the deal… I cooked for 20 years. Then I stopped for about another 20, making only the necessities. Nothing fancy. We ate out a lot. Then, we went to Ireland for sabbatical and I cooked again. The goal was to work – lots of reading and writing – so going out to eat wasn’t on the agenda. Besides, I don’t drive around Ireland at night. We bought a crock pot while there and pretty much did the crock pot thing. We came home and did the crock pot thing at home and I sort of cooked for a while. Then we went back to Ireland, with cousins, who were low carbing (which we had considered doing again). They, like us, really understand the meaning of vacation. It’s not about going and going and going. It’s about relaxing and seeing a sight, oh, maybe every couple of days. It’s about having days (and even weeks) when you don’t do a whole lot at all, but enjoy the sunsets over the Atlantic, build the occasional fire, play Farkle, and watch really unusual Irish and British TV shows.

All the stuff I left behind! The landlord said the cleaning lady could have it all. Lucky girl!

That trip, I bought more than a crock pot. I bought a crock pot and a food chopper and mixing bowls and chopping boards and the most lovely set of knives. Unfortunately, I had to leave it all behind in Ireland. But while we were there, I cooked and cooked and cooked. And, I fell in love with cooking again.

I cooked a lot of chicken breasts each week and then we had chicken for (the best ever) chicken salad, crack chicken casserole, chicken cordon bleu. I made my own alfredo sauce and marinara sauce and we had spaghetti, lasagna, pizza. I even learned to make frittatas, for a quick and easy breakfast; keto garlic bread; and keto Irish soda bread – to die for Irish soda bread. I made soups, grape jam (you can’t buy grape jam in Ireland), taco seasoning.

And I had a blast! And I came home cooking again.

We also found Australia Master Chef to watch and I loved every minute. We came home and started watching The Great British Baking Show and Time to Eat and a handful of other cooking shows. And I discovered – I need cooking shows, especially cooking competition shows. They’re fun. You laugh a lot and you learn a lot. I’m so excited that a new season of The Great British Baking Show is about to drop in a week or two. And we have another season of The Big Family Cooking Showdown to watch later this week.

What is it about cooking shows that makes us fall in love with sitting in front of our TVs, with our phones in hand so we can Google to know what the difference is between a Swiss meringue, an Italian meringue, and a French meringue? I don’t know, but we do. Or at least I do. And I’m not going to apologize for it.

In a time of pandemic, we are all looking for escape TV to get us away from the news and fires and the hurricanes. I recommend a couple of hours of a cooking show. Maybe you’ll be inspired to cook. Maybe you’ll be inspired to call a great restaurant for take out. I promise you’ll laugh, catch your breath, and learn a few things. Your spirit will soar and you’ll be ready to tackle the world again – though you tummy might be growling!

Be careful… Be safe… Be well,

How we’re doing… really…

The Kaiser Family Foundation released an interesting report last month about the effects of COVID-19 on our mental health. The information is good…the results of their data not so much, and it’s not at all surprising. Basically, the report says that the number of people dealing with mental health issues is up to 53% of those polled (in July), as opposed to 32% who reported the same in March. So, are 21% more of us losing it? I don’t know. I’m not a psychiatrist or a data analyst. I am a minister, so I hear stuff from parishioners and colleagues and family and friends. I’m also a person, you know, like a normal(ish) person, so I know what I feel.

More and more people have reported disruptions in their sleep routines, with some even reporting nightmares. Friends and colleagues spent the spring trying to balance working from home with their kids trying to juggle virtual learning. Many are continuing this chaotic homelife. I even spent a few months on a Thursday evening Zoom Happy Hour with three dear friends. I don’t drink much, so haven’t had much in the last month or so, but I’m still enjoying the visiting, for sure, and the laughter a lot!

From the time we were sent crashing into an unknown pandemic and all it has to offer, people have reacted in a variety of ways. And many of those ways are not pretty.

MBH is used to coming and going as he pleases, rarely giving a thought to anything greater than whether or not he needed to go and wanted to go. His mornings began at our neighborhood coffee place and time spent with his playgroup. For months, that all came to a screaming halt and I watched my best friend spiral into a situational depression I hope to never see again. Thankfully, his play group began to gather in a parking lot, complete with lawn chairs, a cuppa joe, and the required laughter to get his blood pumping. His mood picked up, we started talking again, and remembered how to laugh.

I’ve coasted through the first months with the required amount of worry and the whole “mom holding it all together for everybody else” routine we all know so well. I seem to have fallen apart in the last month. It started with a day when I woke up just off center and couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong and moved to the point where I was feeling like I was living at the end of a bungee cord, racing between highs and lows and just being exhausted all the time. I spilled all that to MBH just the other night and it was like a tonic, just getting it out there and sharing all the unknown feelings I was feeling with another living human being. (It didn’t hurt that he loves me and is quick to ask how he can help. Not sure he can help beyond just listening without judgment or fixes.)

Maybe that’s the best medicine for all of us – finding someone who will listen, really listen, without trying to fix it. What we need most times is someone who will just sit with us in our pain and let us get it out into the world so it doesn’t keep growing (and worsening) inside of us, festering like a disease. I know it worked for me. And I know I will end up there again.

This thing is far from over. We’re all longing for “normal” and just coming to terms with the fact that “normal” is most likely gone. We’re going to have to hit the reset button and figure out where we go from here. We’re going to have to build our “new normal” and, if we’re wise, don’t just shoot for “normal,” but reach for “better.”

Be bold. Be creative. Break the rules. Not the mask rules, but the rules that say you have to do “this” exactly “that” way, on “this” timeline or you’re not being normal. Create a world that works for you without harming others. And, if at all possible, don’t do it alone. You may be isolated, but reach out to friends or family, whether via phone or computer or whatever. (And if you have another “whatever” then please let me know.)

Do what you can, when you can. There’s not a list somewhere that during the pandemic, you must accomplish these things. You create your own list. I advise you do it in pencil and don’t apologize when you have to erase something or schedule it differently.

And know this – there will be bad days. Roll with them. Seek help. Talk to someone who will listen. Eat ice cream. Find something that makes you laugh. If you’re in a house with others in your bubble, hug often and laugh frequently. Even if you’re just laughing at how stupid life can be these days. If you are alone, find an alone friend and build a bubble. Both isolate for 14 days and then meet up. You’re not alone in all that you’re feeling.

Hang in there… be careful… be well… be safe.

Farewell, sincerely, COVID…

There was an article in today’s WaPo about things that might possibly have disappeared from our lives forever, due to the risks of coronavirus. Several, I had already considered. A few hadn’t even occurred to me, mostly because I’m an old broad. A few we are glad to see go. The Post lists them as “9 every day experiences.” I’m not sure whose day they’re talking about – certainly not mine.

Here’s the rundown.

Buffets: Okay. No great surprise me. Buffets have always made me a little nervous, even with the sneeze guards they have in place. And buffets serve one purpose only – making you eat more than you would on any given day (maybe week). Oh, yeah, there’s the “I don’t have to cook or do the dishes” thing, but I can get over that. The truth is, there’s only one buffet we ever go to and it’s the place where we pig out for Thanksgiving. We won’t be doing that this year. Not sure what we will be doing. My guess it, buffets will convert to cafeteria style serving, where an employee serves your food. That will be the end of piling catfish four inches high on one plate and getting your sides on another.

Dancing with Strangers: I enjoy dancing. We don’t do it, but I haven’t danced with a stranger since I was in my 20s. I suppose this might be an issue for the youngsters, but I’m an oldster and my only requirement is to yell, “Get off my lawn!”

Blowing out birthday candles: Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I blew out a birthday cake candle! When we celebrated MBH’s birthday in July, with a Zoom Birthday Party, I did put a candle on his cupcake and he blew it out. Hard to believe that may be the last candle extinguishing in our lives. If I’d known, I’d have worn a tiara or something. Wait, I did wear a tiara. Maybe I’ve done all that is appropriate to wish that tradition goodbye. After all, according to WaPo, blowing out birthday candles is basically spitting on your friends. Enough said.

One-night stands: What can I say? Well, I could say a lot, but I’m not going to. I’m old. Night stands are next to your bed and hold a lamp or an alarm clock. I know that’s not the case for some folks. One-night stands have always been ripe for disaster. In the time of coronavirus, it’s even worse. Maybe it’s the mother in me, or the preacher in me, but I want to say, “Don’t go there. Be safe.”

Karaoke: We’ve all heard about not singing in church. This is the same principle. If droplets can spread 6 feet or so when we’re just chatting with someone, they can spread as much as 26+ feet when people are singing. Add to that crowds in a bar and a mic that doesn’t get cleaned. And bad singers. Did I mention bad singers?

Free samples at the grocery store: I know people who used to have their Saturday lunch during a stroll through Sam’s Club eating free samples. I remember trying to explain to Alex why we were not going to eat samples while out shopping. Sorry that some folks are going to have to make alternative lunch plans, but moms the world over will be glad to see this one go.

Cash: Have we seen the end of a cash currency and the birth of paying with everything by phone app? I doubt it. I don’t think cash will ever go away. Old folks don’t do phone apps and some folks don’t have mobile devices. Youngsters pay for everything with their phones. I confess, I tend to be a cash person, zipping through the ATM on a bi-weekly basis. And, after an ATM visit, I break out the Purell before putting my money away and driving off.

Ball pits: So, COVID is the death knell to those gigantic pits with a bazillion plastic balls at the end of a slide at McD’s. Ok… even the old broad won’t be sorry about this, but the mom in me remembers the hours of joy a good ball pit brought to Alex. Sorry, young moms. Not everything can remain. Such is life!

Asking a stranger to take our photo: Hmm… not sure how I feel about this one. I’m generally not one to hand my phone to another person, but once in a while, you want a photo of your whole gang and nobody has a selfie stick that long. So, here’s the deal… learn how to use the timer on your phone. Get one of those cool little phone stands that’s the size of a credit card you can carry in your wallet and you’ll be good to go. Nobody outside your bubble will be touching your phone. (And, hey, clean your phone regularly anyway, ya hear?)

Well, there’s the WaPo list. I’d probably add a few more, but that’s another thought for another day. And another blog. The truth is, normal is most likely gone. In a way, that’s okay. If there’s one thing the pandemic has hopefully taught us, it’s that we need to take a long look at our day-to-day and realize what’s important and what’s not in our lives. The time has come to ditch the useless stuff and concentrate on the important stuff. For me, the important stuff includes time with friends and family.

Be careful… Be well… Be safe.

What the heck?…

Can somebody tell me how it got to be September? Seriously! Like just 423 years ago it was only March. And now, according to the calendar on my phone, (I’m really glad I didn’t invest in a paper calendar for 2020 or it would be wasted!) it’s now September.

My mom brain is saying we didn’t have a summer because we didn’t take our annual trek to see Grama and the cousins. My baseball brain is feeling like it’s early June because we’re only about six weeks into baseball season. My allergy brain is just sneezing because that’s what it does. And someone on Facebook reminded me that it’s only four months until Christmas.

STOP ALREADY! Let’s reset the calendar to June 3. I’ll wish my cousin Happy Birthday. I’ll start shopping for Father’s Day. I’ll begin to pack for the annual Annual Meeting and Conference Trip where I’ll get to see my friends. I’ll begin planning MBH’s birthday party.

But I can’t do that, can I? And so, I’m reduced to a couple of things and the biggest of these is pondering time.

In my last blog, I wrote about considering if I still had time in my remaining life where I could dream. Today I’m wondering where the last months have gone and how they moved so quickly with so little to show for themselves.

I can’t answer any of those questions and what I need to do, more than anything else, is admit that it’s okay if I can’t.

Time truly is what it is. We have a finite amount. Most of it is mundane and filled with busy-ness. Some of it is painful and will be filled with heartache. But some of it – some tiny bit of it, no doubt – will be wonderful and amazing and spectacular and remarkable. I’d be wise to be ready for it and not miss it.

So what if I didn’t learn a new language on Babel during the pandemic. I did learn to speak my husband’s love language more clearly. So what if I didn’t take up a new instrument during the Covid crisis. I saw some great musicals on Broadway HD and watched a handful of Jimmy Buffet concerts. So what if I didn’t go minimalist and clean out all the closets during lockdown. I did make my friends laugh with our LockdownLaughter (imaginary) adventure photos on Facebook. So what if I didn’t get tone and fit and buff during the time of coronavirus. I perfected the art of cooking a really good steak. And I mean, REALLY good!

So, it’s September. Big deal. If I can’t remember June and July, so what? I can look forward to September and the months that will follow. I can tell my cousin I love her, whether it’s her birthday or not. I can make every day Father’s Day and birthdays, though that will require more cards than I can lay my hands on. I can continue to relish Zoom Happy Hour with my friends and be thankful that they make me laugh and think, often at the same time.

So, here’s the deal. Yeah, time has kinda passed us all by, but I’m going to cut myself some slack. I invite you to do the same.

Be careful… Be safe… Be well… and be kind to yourself.

Goals and Dreams…

So, here’s the deal… my nephew commented on MBH’s blog last week and said, “It’s good to have goals.” Yeah, it is good to have goals. We all have goals. I want to get up in the morning. That’s a really good goal. That’s a goal I fully intend to reach. Are ya with me here?

But, life is more than goals. Life is also dreams and they are different – very different. At least in my head they are. From where I sit, goals are short term or long term things you work toward. Dreams are life changes of significant proportions.

Maybe I want to be a writer. I could set a goal of writing 1000 words a day. In order to meet that goal, I have to order my days so there is set aside, intentional time for writing. But maybe my dream is a published book. That’s different than a goal. That dream is a life changing event or achievement. Those goals might get me there. In fact, I’d have to consistently meet those goals in order to even get close to achieving my dream.

Years ago, I set the goal of appearing in a play at our community theater. I was fortunate in that I got cast in the first play for which I auditioned. I have a knack with accents and pulled off just the right sound for the director’s idea of an 80 year old Jewish grandmother. It was so much fun. I auditioned for a few shows after that, getting a couple, losing more. That’s okay. That’s the way it goes. Not all goals are met, though the goal I set for wanting to play Ouiser in Steel Magnolias was met and I loved every minute of that role. For me, that was a dream role.

Then I found myself with a dream about the theater… I wanted to do a play with my husband. We had both auditioned for a show in which we’d be playing spouses. He was cast. I wasn’t. The director just thought we didn’t look like we’d be a married couple. Seriously? He’s an incredibly gifted actor who for decades has put that college degree to work. I enjoyed watching him and quickly forgot I had even auditioned. One day, the phone rang and it was the gentleman who had directed me in that first show. He wanted me to do his next play and, he wanted MBH to play my husband in the show. YES! It was a tough play – Edward Albee’s Seascape. MBH & I were it for Act I so it took a great deal of energy. Performed on a raked stage, it was physically draining. Performing with two people dressed as lizards was a hoot! We retired after that show.

Here’s my question: Do I have the time left to let my soul dream? I’m wondering, as I get older, is it harder to dream dreams? Is it easier to just deal with short term goals?

I hope not. I want to dream dreams still. I don’t want to think I will never dream again. I hold pretty fast to the words of the prophet Joel, quoted by St. Peter in his biggest sermon, that says, “In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters; Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams.”
(Acts 2:17). Throughout time, we have considered ourselves living in the end times. It’s a convenient literary device. Regardless – I want to be one of the old people who still dream dreams.

So, my “to do” list is getting a review as I try to decide what’s a goal and what’s a dream. Face it, if it’s on a “to do” list, it’s a goal. I have bylaws to write, meeting notes to type up, emails to send, Amazon orders to make. I’m not even sure those would make it to the level of goals. I guess “to do” lists are a step below even goals.

But I realized, there’s not a place where I keep track of my dreams. Maybe there should be. I have dreams, some long held, that will never be achieved. I will never sing with a full orchestra. Of course, I don’t sing at all anymore, so that’s understandable. I will never learn to play the violin, mostly because I’m too cheap to buy a violin. I do have an uncategorized thing – pulling out the watercolors and doing some art for Advent – that I think is really more of a goal than a dream, though painting again just might slip over into the dream department.

They make dream journals. They are typically for recording your night time adventures, but I could repurpose one to record my life dreams. Perhaps that’s what I need. At the very least, I could grab one of the blank spiral notebooks off the stack in the next room, write “DREAMS” on the cover with a Sharpie, and be in business.

Of this I am sure: We should never stop dreaming. I think that while, as we get older, our dreams evolve, and we should realize that some dreams may never be achieved, we should dream them nonetheless.

Someone I care a great deal about said to me a while back, “I’ve given up dreaming. All my old dreams died. Why bother?” That may be one of the most mournful things I’ve ever heard. And it adds something to my dream list: Help the people you love to have the courage to dream. No matter their history. No matter their age. No matter their anything. Don’t let them stop dreaming.

I’m adding this to my goal list: Never stop dreaming.

Be careful… Be well… Be safe,

Heads or Tails…

Nothing is simple in the time of coronavirus. Even the ordinary, day-to-day stuff is complicated and fraught with unanswerable questions. Decisions seem to rest on the flip of a coin!

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get to Texas for my mom’s 100th birthday and Christmas. When your mom is approaching 100, you know that every holiday could be the last holiday. There’s a line in a Christmas episode of Doctor Who where the dead, but appearing in a dream Danny Pink says to Clara: “Do you know why people get together at Christmas? Because every time they do it might be the last time. Every Christmas is last Christmas.”

That’s a hard, cold truth right there and we shouldn’t be frivolous with it. In fact, we should treat all family / friend gatherings and holidays like that. Cherish every single moment. Put your differences aside and hold tight. Just sayin’…

So, here’s the deal… I want to see my mom on her birthday. I promised her, in April, after an aborted trip to visit, that I would be there, we would be there for her birthday. Can’t break a promise to my 100 year old mother. That simply wouldn’t do.

Here’s the other deal… Alex, our 35 year old son with autism, looks forward to two trips to Texas every year: a summer visit where a few cousins are present and we eat wonderful meals, and a Christmas visit where more cousins are present and we eat wonderful meals with extraordinary desserts. And presents!

After a serious time of isolation, Alex accepted the fact that we couldn’t go to Texas this summer. I don’t think he’d give up two trips just because of some stupid virus. Every time I talk to my mom, she says, “I’ve been trying to figure out how to get you here.”

So have I, Mother. So have I. And it’s playing fast and loose with my sanity!

Truthfully, flying makes me a little nervous these days, though it seems that airlines are doing an exceptional job of cleaning and following significant guidelines to reduce risks. I’m not so sure about airports. Traveling by car has certain perks, though unknown hotels can be a little frightening and then there’s the whole “we have to eat” thing.

I did what any “this is driving me crazy” mom would do…. phone a friend. Well, instant message a friend who happens to be a flight attendant for our preferred airlines – Southwest. She generously shared that she was not yet back at work, after having contracted COVID-19 in March, like so many flight attendants. But she also shared that she and her daughter had flown recently, with significant precautions – gloves, masks, face shields. I’ll add to that snacks and disinfectant wipes. (I could feel MBH’s eyes rolling when I shared this, but he’ll do it because he cares about the health of us all. I care about him, too!)

Ok… that gave me hope that there might be a way to make this trip that usually takes anywhere from 5 to 8 hours (depending on layovers) of airports and airplanes, into three full and exhausting days of driving across country with an antsy kid with autism who will go stir crazy no matter how many movies I load on his Kindle and iPad and how many snacks I take with us.

Anyway… Southwest finally got to me yesterday with their offer of $39 per leg. I had gotten a couple of emails from them and then my brother forwarded the same email to me. BIG hint! That would mean we could head to and from Texas for right at $300 each. THAT is a bargain. So, I swallowed my fear and booked flights to get us to Texas the day before Mother’s 100th, to leave the Monday after Christmas.

Sixteen days in Texas. I might be crazy. (Okay… there’s no “might” to it. I am crazy.) Actually, we plan to head back that way after Christmas to enjoy January in a warmer climate and spend more time with family – enjoying Mother’s company and giving my brothers and sisters-in-law a little break. (And, giving Mother a chance to spend my birthday with me!) We’ll drive for that trip so we have our car handy and some flexibility of travel, giving us the chance to really watch the map when making travel plans in winter. And, if we want, to stay even longer. (OMG, we’re turning into those people who go south for the winter! Snowbirds!)

Truth be known, we may end up driving the first trip, too, depending on what COVID is doing in December. Thankfully, if we have to cancel, Southwest will allow us to cancel the flights without penalty and use the credits later. It’s all a coin flip here, but we’ll plan with hope. We’ll raise a prayer and cross our fingers and find a way to bring back one normal thing to this crazy year.

And, I can scratch one thing off my list. That’s always a good thing.

Be careful, be well, be safe!