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March 2020

What a Month!

Oh, March!
Talk about going out like a lion!  
Let's end this very . . . trying . . . month with some thoughts on my One Little Word this year.

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I'll begin with a little trip down memory lane . . . to my 18th birthday . . . way back in 1977.

For my birthday that year (my senior year in high school), I received a gift (I think it was from my sister, although it might have been from my mom) that I had been coveting for some months.  It was what I called at the time . . . an "empty book" --   just a  plain bound book full of blank pages.  

I know that sounds silly these days -- because you can go to any brick-and-mortar book or stationery store - or anywhere online - and find dozens upon dozens of "empty books."  But back in 1977, you couldn't.  You could buy diaries (by year, and often with a lock) (and I did have a new one of those every year), but blank journals just weren't A Thing yet.  

When I first saw one (I think at our local Hallmark store), I was entranced!  I had to have it!

I still have it. . . 

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It's nearly full.  

I used it to collect "sayings" (as I called them then).  And poems.  I drew in it a bit.  Practiced calligraphy.  There are LOTS of song lyrics in there!  Sometimes friends wrote things they thought I might like in my "empty book" (with my permission).  Unfortnately, I didn't always attribute the "sayings" or poems to their authors.  And I didn't date any of my entries.  But I know I started right out in March 1977 . . . and put the book away about the same time I graduated from college.  (There are no dates, but just based on the types of things I was writing down, I can tell what was going on in my life:  new love, break-ups, betrayals, growing up, discovering my own life.)

Anyway.

Here's the first page . . . the very first things I captured in my "empty book" back in March 1977 . . . 

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Now.

Let's take a closer look at the sideways writing on the right-hand side of that page . . . 

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"Don't push the river . . . it flows by itself."

You can probably HEAR my kids rolling their eyes out there right this moment.  Because this has been a constant mantra in my life  . . . well . . . since 1977 (at least).  And my kids heard it PLENTY as they were going through rough patches in their lives growing up.  Although I didn't attribute the quote to anyone at all, it turns out it's from Frederick S. Perls, who is the father of Gestalt therapy.  (Who knew?)

When I chose FLOW as my word for 2020, my first thought was, of course, "don't push the river . . . it flows by itself."

Pretty much a lifetime mantra for me.
How could I have known that it would be more important than ever for me this year?

These March days have been all about me . . . trying to push the river.  Wanting to control things I can't control.  Worrying.  Stressing.  Struggling.

It's time to quit pushing.
And let it flow.

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What have you learned from your word this month?

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Also -- thank you so much for all the wonderful birthday wishes yesterday!  You all made my self-isolating, social-distancing birthday so much nicer!  (What would I do without this commUNITY???)  


Another Monday

. . . but this one has a bit of extra-cream.  (Because it's my birthday!)  Time to . . . 

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"Worry is like a rocking chair:  It gives you something to do, but never gets you anywhere."
        --- Erma Bombeck

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I don't know about you, but I spend way too much time these days . . . rocking.  

I really need to GET OUT of the rocking chair.

Over the weekend, I discovered this great list of 20 Questions to Help with COVID-19 Anxiety put together by author Kathleen Smith.  (Her book is called Everything Isn't Terrible.)  (I haven't read it.)  (Maybe I should.)

Anyway, take a look at the list of questions.  Maybe they'll help you, too.

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Speaking of masks . . . 

This piece from the Washington Post provides a very interesting perspective on the wearing of masks in public . . . by everyone . . . in the time of coronavirus.  It makes a lot of sense.  Now I'm going to sit at my sewing machine later today and sew more masks!  (Maybe I'll even figure out a way to distribute them to my neighbors.  Because I'm willing to try just about anything to stop the spread of this thing.)

And another thing -- Alabama Chanin has turned to manufacturing healthcare masks (and no -- they are neither stenciled nor embellished).  You can support their efforts with a donation -- or you can order a batch for your family or community.

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If you're looking for something to listen to . . .  that won't make you feel more anxious than you already do . . . have I got a podcast for you!  Check out Brené Brown's new podcast Unlocking Us.  It is smart, interesting, and oh-so-soothing for your soul.  Highly, highly recommended.  

(If you listen, let me know what you think!)

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In the Did You Know department . . . Last week, the National Emergency Library opened!  This digital collection of 1.4 MILLION books (!) "supports emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed."

You can click on the link above to go directly to the library, or you can read about the library itself in this article from The New Yorker.

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And . . . that's it for me on this Monday!

Here's a parting thought for you. . . 

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Things look bleak . . . partly because they ARE bleak.  But also because we're looking at numbers without real context -- and most of us do not know how to interpret this kind of data.  Try not to get fixated on the numbers.  (This is what I tell myself when I wake up in the middle of the night.  Do.Not.Fixate.On.The.Numbers.)

Stay well.
Wash your hands.
Flatten the curve.


Solace

In uncertain times, I look for solace in beautiful things.  

Art.
Music.
Nature.
Words.  

Here is a poem I read this week that brought me comfort . . . and a reminder to live in mindful presence.

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Instructions
Sheri Hostetler

Give up the world; give up self; finally, give up God.
Find God in rhododendrons and rocks,
passers-by, your cat.
Pare your beliefs, your Absolutes.
Make it simple; make it clean.
No carry-on luggage allowed.
Examine all you have
with a loving and critical eye, then
throw away some more.
Repeat. Repeat.
Keep this and only this:
    what your heart beats loudly for
    what feels heavy and full in your gut.
There will only be one or two
things you will keep,
and they will fit lightly
in your pocket.

==

May your weekend be filled with peace, and may you find the solace you need.

 


Out of the Fog

I don't know about you, but I have been living in (what I've taken to calling) my "pandemic trance."  

Just kind of . . . almost floating . . . through my days.  
Feeling disconnected.  
Going through the motions.  
Not much focus.  
(Concentration?  What concentration?)  
Nothing that I thought would interest me right now interests me right now.

(I'm sure this is grief.)  
(I'll write about that another day.)  

Time seems to have folded, somehow.  I always used to feel that the saying "the days are long but the years are short" resonated perfectly with my perception of time.  Now, that seems completely upside down!  My days fly by, but the weeks just creep along!

Yesterday, Tom reminded me that we've only been at this social distancing/self-isolation thing . . . for two weeks!  It feels like so much longer than two weeks.  And yet, my days - filled with nothing much, really - are zooming past.  Flying by, really.  So. Weird.  So very weird.

Anyway.

I'm ready to come out of my "pandemic trance." 

I'm sick of living this way.  (I'm talking about what's going on in my head; not the social distancing thing.  I'm In It To Win It when it comes to the social distancing.)  I need to take charge of my life again.  I need to fight my way out of the fog.

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So yesterday I started looking at "tools" that might help me plan my days and structure my time in more productive ways.

First, I reminded myself of Elise Joy's 3-simple-things method.  It's not complicated - basically coming up with 3 simple things you want to do each day.  (And I mean SIMPLE things - unload the dishwasher, put away the laundry, make dinner.  That kind of simple.)  I used to do my own version of this when Erin was a newborn.  And again when I was in chemo.  It works -- because it helps you create a "normal" structure in days that no longer seem "normal" or structured.  It helps you get the little things done . . . which may lead to getting the bigger things done.

Next, I looked for some bigger-and-bolder tools for de-fogging my brain and (maybe) becoming a productive human again.  

I found this:  The Sequester Checklist from Black Cardigan Edit.  It's a daily planner page specifically designed to help users find forward movement in these challenging times.  It's definitely more . . . laid out and prescriptive than what I'd usually go in for, but I think it might really be a helpful tool for me right now.

And I also found this:  A "daily page" format from artist Nicole J. Georges.  (If you follow the link, it will take you to the artist's Patreon page.  You'll need to scroll down to the heading "Recent Posts by Nicole J. Georges" and click on the drawing, then click on the side arrow for page 2.  Kinda complicated, but worth it.)  If you don't want to follow the link, her illustrated "daily page" has the following sections:

  • 5 things I'm grateful for
  • What is out of my control today
  • What is in my control today
  • What will I do for my body today
  • How will I connect with other humans
  • Can I help someone or be of service today? How?
  • What 3 songs will you listen to today?
  • Draw a quiet time.
  • Free square (basically, anything else you'd like to say)

I like the planning/journaling combo in Nicole's "daily page."  It's a little more ... free-flowing, and I think it could work for me.

So.

There are 3 things (see what I did there?) that I think might help me . . . find a way out of my fog.  Maybe . . . they'll help you, too?

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Be sure to hop over to Carole's for more Three on Thursday posts today.  AND . . . make sure to visit Bonny, too -- because she is collecting happiness!

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And from the Look for JOY desk today . . . 

Be sure to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium!  The actual aquarium is closed, of course, but you can treat yourself to their Live Cams.  Jellyfish!  Rolling ocean waves!  OTTERS!  

 


Starting and Stopping

I have started . . . and then stopped . . . writing about 3 blog posts today.

Thoughts are swirling.
I thought they were fully-formed and ready for blogging.
But, apparently, they are not.

So, here.  Look at my knitting.

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Endless stockinette is working for me right now.  
(And that's a rolled-up front there.  Not a sleeve.)

How are you getting through this day?


Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading

I really thought that I'd be spending more of my time these days reading.  

I mean, I AM reading.  But I'm also struggling with concentration, so reading has been more challenging than I expected.  In fact, my reading has slowed down considerably in the last couple of weeks.  

I'm sure this will change, but in the meantime, now that we've turned the corner on a new season (welcome, spring!), I want to share my Top Five: Best of My Winter Reading list with you.

Here goes. . . 

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I read Jacqueline Woodson's Red at the Bone just as winter was beginning -- and what a treat! I am always in awe of an author who can convey SO MUCH in such a compact package. Beautifully written, lyrical, spare . . . full of emotion and history and heart . . . and not even 200 pages. How does she do it??? I loved this book so very much.  And now, it's on the Women's Prize long list for this year.  

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Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Polish writer Olga Tokarozuk (and wonderfully translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) was a delightful diversion for me last January as I recovered from the flu.  Full of quirky characters, there is something for everyone:  a little mystery, a good deal of humor, touching relationships -- with some mushrooming, William Blake and plenty of astrology to keep things interesting. There is plenty to ponder, as well -- and especially our relationship with animals, nature, and hunting.

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For me, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo is practically perfect in every way. It's an absolute treat! The writing is fresh and vibrant; the structure is imaginative and clever.  The author presents a parade of characters that intersect through the course of the book -- sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes not.  I loved discovering the connections between the characters, and I liked nothing so much as catching a little glimpse of one character in the background of another character's story.  This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2019 (shared with Margaret Atwood's The Testament), and is also on the Women's Prize long list this year.

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I read 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in the Strange World by Elif Shafak in mid-February.  Initially drawn to this book by its unique title and beautiful cover, I found this to be a surprisingly uplifting story filled with compassion, generosity, and humanity.  This is a book with perfect pacing -- it's almost like the author is casting a fishing line . . . reeling her readers in, and drawing us ever closer as the story progresses.  The stories in this book are sad, yes, but at its heart, this is a loving tribute to friendship and the power of love.

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I finished Niall Williams' This is Happiness recently -- just as the coronavirus madness was exploding into our lives, and just before the spring equinox. On the back of my copy of this book (from the library), there was a blurb from the Financial Times stating that Niall Williams’s prose is “life-affirming and written with a turn of phrase that makes the reader want to underline something on every page.” Oh, how true! There are so many, many wonderful nuggets of language, clever turns of phrase, witty laugh-out-loud words, and deep wisdom in this book!  It's warm, whimsical, rather sorrowful but filled with hope – this is the kind of book that touches the soul and reminds you of what it means to be human.  And it's a perfect, gentle read for our time . . . right now.

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How about you?
What books would make it to your Top Five list of winter reading?

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If you want to see what I'm reading now, or check out my recent reviews on Goodreads, just check out the sidebar here on my blog.  You can find me here on Goodreads.  And you can read my other Top Five lists by clicking the links below:

Top Five: Best of My Fall Reading

Top Five: Best of My Summer Reading

 




 


Another Week . . .

Another Monday!  Time to . . . 

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" Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all."
        --- Dale Carnegie

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This week, I'm sharing a guide to Coronavirus-related words from Merriam-Webster.  This guide will help you decipher the terminology you've likely been hearing regarding the Coronavirus . . . and will help you understand the difference between an outbreak, an epidemic, and a pandemic (among other things).

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I'm sure that, like me, you are coronavirus-news'd out!  But this is interesting, and maybe worth the read.  (I live with a scientist, and he is interested in a slightly different angle on this pandemic thing.)  This interview (from Wired) with epidemiologist Larry Brilliant talks about what we can expect from this pandemic, and why testing is so important.

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This touching poem, penned by Brother Richard Hendrick, a Capuchin Franciscan living in Ireland, made the rounds last week.  I'm sharing it anyway . . . because even if you've already seen it, it's really worth another read.

Lockdown
by Brother Richard Hendrick

Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
But,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise
You can hear the birds again.
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet
The sky is no longer thick with fumes
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi
people are singing to each other
across the empty squares,
keeping their windows open
so that those who are alone
may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland
is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today a young woman I know
is busy spreading fliers with her number
through the neighbourhood
so that the elders may have someone to call on.
Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples
are preparing to welcome
and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting.
All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
All over the world people are waking up to a new reality.
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
To Love.
So we pray and we remember that
Yes there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation.
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying.
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness.
But there does not have to be disease of the soul.
Yes there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Today, breathe.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
The birds are singing again.
The sky is clearing.
Spring is coming.
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul.
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,
Sing.

==

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Yesterday, I went for a long walk with JoJo and along the way, we came upon this stretch of sidewalk in my neighborhood:

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It filled me with joy!  What a happy surprise.  (And as I circled back on the other side of the road, I saw another walker feeling similar joy as she discovered the happy chalk messages.)  It made me think . . . to look for some chalk and create my own messages of hope on the sidewalk near my house . . . to bring cheer to my neighbors as they walk by.  

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And here is something to make you chuckle.  This guy in Great Britain - a sports announcer - is "sports-narrating" events from  everyday life (now that there are no sporting events to announce) and posting them on his Twitter account.  I don't do the Twitters, but I could still click in and watch these videos.  They are quite fun.  Give it a try when you feel you need a moment of levity today.

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And you may remember last March when Tom and I went to the Butterflies are Blooming exhibit at the Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids for my birthday?  Well. . . the butterflies are back . . . but no one can visit them this year.  Meijer Gardens has a live butterfly stream on YouTube, though.  I'll be checking in from time to time to see what's going on.

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And that's it for this Monday.

Stay well.
Stay home.
Flatten the curve.


Fridays Are For Sewing

Usually, I hold Friday afternoons open in my schedule for sewing.  I really like to sew -- but I don't always get to it regularly like I do with my knitting.  So this Friday sewing thing generally works well for me.

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And this afternoon?  I'll be sewing, for sure.  
But my plans about WHAT I'll be sewing, exactly?  That's changed!

Throughout the week, I've seen posts here and there . . . about sewing your own face masks.  (Sewing In the Time of Coronavirus.)  Initially, I thought it was just one of those sign-of-the-times things.  Y'know . . . clever people with too much time on their hands.  Because that can't possible work very well.

Can it???

Well.  Turns out . . . it can!  Especially when there are no other options and the world is suffering a serious shortage of medical supplies.

I spent some (probably too much) time this morning researching the home-sewn-DIY-face-mask issue, and found that:

1 - Indeed, this is A Thing.

2 - There is some research that shows they are reasonably effective (when there are no official alternatives), especially if made in certain materials.

3 - And there are plenty of free patterns, tips, and tutorials out there.

So this afternoon, I'm going to dig through my (quite ample) fabric stash and try to make a few of these!  I'll start with a few for my family.  If it goes well, I may try to crank them out to donate on a larger scale.  I'll keep you posted!

Happy Friday (that doesn't feel at all like a Friday), everyone!

Stay well.
Stay at home.
Flatten the curve.

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A helpful tip from CoronaLisa (I crack myself up. . . ):  Stocking Your Pantry, the Smart Way from the New York Times.

 


Move It!

Back in "olden times" (you know . . . last Thursday), I was a gym-rat.  Really.  Like . . . pretty much every day to the gym.  I did kickboxing classes and spin classes and yoga and strength training.  I worked every week with my trainer, Jeremy.  I worked hard.  I sweat a lot.  

And, hoo-boy, do I miss it!

But, like all of us, I'm adjusting to a different life these days.  I have a little home-gym with plenty of equipment.  I have some online workouts I can do, and Jeremy is putting together some workouts for me based on the equipment that I DO have.  It'll be okay.  It's not the same, of course.  And I don't really feel like (or even like) working out at home.  

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But it's important.  Because we need to keep moving!  Especially now.

Here are three things to keep in mind . . . about Staying Fit in the Time of Coronavirus:

1 - Move every day.  Even just a little bit.  It helps you get in better physical shape, of course, but it also helps improve your state of mind, sharpens your focus, AND . . . it helps you STAY healthy.  Yep.  Exercise helps your immune system work better!  (Because who couldn't use an immune system boost right about now, right???)

2 - Get outside.  When I was a little girl, and my sister and I got to be too much for our mom inside, she would send us out - telling us, "Go outside and knock the stink off you!"  She didn't really think we were smelly, of course.  She just knew a change in scenery would be good for ALL of us.  It's (for the most part) decent weather out there now -- so get outside!  Get some fresh air!  Knock the stink off you!

3 - Try something new.  A lot of us are stuck at home now; can't get to a gym even if we wanted to.  A lot of fitness-based places are turning to the internet to offer new and free ways of exercising.  My own gym is rolling out online workouts for members, for example.  Maybe yours is, too?  And Peloton is offering a 90-day FREE offer for it's workout app!  No worries if you don't have a Peloton bike or treadmill (I don't have either) -- Peloton includes excellent strength training, meditation, and yoga classes, too!  (I signed up this morning.)  And Yoga Girl (Rachel Brathen) is offering a 30-day FREE yoga challenge/community connection program to help get folks through these challenging days.  This is a great time to try something different and shake up (or even start) your fitness program.

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Get moving!
(Because you can only binge-watch Netflix shows for so long.)

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And . . . from today's Find the Joy department . . . here are links to some museums currently offering virtual tours:

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam

The Guggenheim in NYCity

MoMa in NYCity

The National Gallery in London

(These are just a few of the amazing links available through Google Arts & Culture.  Check it out!)

 

 

 


Busy Hands

"Busy hands and idle minds have knitted many a sweater; busy minds and idle hands have knitted many a brow."
        --- Maryrose Wood in The Unseen Guest

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When you last heard from me about my knitting, I was knitting a sweater.  It was a lovely pattern, with a lovely yarn, but a color that was . . . well.  Not what I expected.  I knit on anyway.  But it was not bringing me ANY joy in this Time of Coronavirus.

And that was about the same time I read this post and I saw this sweater and knew that I could find joy in a quick, comforting, wrap-up, homebound kind of knit.  Especially - ESPECIALLY - in a cheering, happy color.

So I put away the depressing brown-or-maybe-teal-and-kinda-camo sweater (for now), and started knitting with some lovely blue yarn in a shade called "delphinium."  

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Joy.
In these unraveling days.

How about YOU?  Are you keeping your hands busy and your mind idle?

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And today in the Look for Joy department . . . we've got a list of concerts you can stream!  (Thanks, NPR . . . for this list.)