All We Can Do

It’s day 43 of staying at home. I’m one of those with the privilege of working from home in this time when many are unemployed or working on the front lines. My heart is with those who are suffering. 

In the first week, I was determined to “make the most” of the extra time at home. I wrote out a daily routine to make sure I didn’t waste the opportunity to be productive. I made a list of projects to accomplish and hobbies to practice. 

I tried to maintain control in an uncontrollable situation. 

I crashed. My body told me it was time for a break.

We’re living through a trauma. The body’s natural reaction is a fight or flight response, but that’s not possible during a global pandemic. So…the body goes into protective mode and cannot function at highest capacity. 

This is not business as usual in a new setting. This is something altogether different. We cannot expect our minds and bodies to function normally. Even though I’m relatively safe in my home with a paycheck, my mind and body are stressed. Stressed about loved ones who are vulnerable, stressed about friends losing money, stressed about essential workers, stressed about what the future may look like…etc. 

So I gave myself a break. I spent two days with no expectations, no schedules. I watched movies, played video games, and slept more than usual. I fully expected to emerge ready to jump back into what I’d been doing. Instead, I came out of the break with the realization that I needed to make some adjustments. I wrote a list of things I must do, a list of optional activities, and a list of things to avoid.

I’ll include the lists at the end of the post, but I want to spend a bit of space writing about what the change has meant to me. 

This time at home is not a vacation or the extended productivity time you’ve always wished for. It’s a time of protection and survival. As someone who is still working full-time, I have to remember that my mind still needs to rest during time off as it did when I went into the office. 

Our society has taught us to believe that free time must be filled and justified with activities and projects. In reality, during the week my only “extra” free time during this season is the commute I’d usually spend getting to an activity. I still have those activities virtually, which takes time and brainpower. My weekends have more time because I’m not running errands or going on day-trips. I’m tempted to fill that time with projects and busywork. But you know what? Slowing down is not a crime or a failure. Sometimes it’s what you need. 

In the slowing down, I’ve come to cherish the peace and gentleness that comes from it. Not just peace and gentleness expressed to others, but the peace and gentleness I allow in myself. My mind won’t allow the copious amounts of reading I usually rely on for relaxation, so rather than forcing it, I’ve decided to let my mind tell me when it’s ready. I still read…but a chapter here and there rather than hundreds of pages. My usual tendency would be to try to increase my reading until I was back to “normal,” but not this time. I don’t need to “fix” anything because I’m not broken. 

I love that my friends have time for chats. We talk about our neighborhood walks and funny little things that we never really bothered to tell each other in the time before pandemic. The random bits of our lives are now worth sharing. Then again, they were always worth it…but we decided not to bother.

I love that bubble baths are now more than an occasional treat. 

I love that technology allows me to play games with my siblings even though we’re in three different states. 

I love learning that I’m perfectly content spending hours with myself. Y’all know I’m an introvert, but I’m not accustomed to long periods of solitude.

There are plenty of things that frustrate and discourage me – things are not rosy. But there is so much to love at the same time. 

When we come out of this time, I hope we don’t write up summaries of all we accomplished. I hope we talk about how we loved one another. I hope we share the joys we found. I hope we continue to cherish the random, small bits of life that were once things we hurried past. 

Must Do: May Do: Avoid:
Nourish body and soul Hobbies/Crafts Fixating on bad news
Stay in contact with people Reading Comparison
Take vitamins Home organization Focusing on the “cannots” of this time
Meaningful movement a few times per week. (but don’t try to become a marathon runner)    
Share joyful and encouraging content you find    

Like Holding Sand in the Ocean…

The title of this post is my attempt to describe the way I feel when I’m overwhelmed with life. I’m not talking about being overwhelmed with a busy schedule or an influx of tasks. There are times when it is hard to find motivation to function. My coping tendency is to isolate and vegetate – not great solutions.

In recent years, I’ve recognized January/February as a typical timeframe for the appearance of this overwhelm. I could blame it on the weather or the abundance of free time I seem to have during those months, but regardless of the cause, it’s an experience I do not enjoy. Once I saw a pattern, I developed a plan to combat reoccurrence. So, this year I’m trying a few things to battle the “winter blues” and continue thriving:

  • Be intentional with free time
    • The hours between work and bedtime seem to multiply in the winter, and my mind likes to run marathons if left idle for long stretches of time. This year I am attempting to schedule tasks and errands throughout each week to make sure I have a goal to accomplish every day. For example: rather than cramming all my chores into one day, I’ll wash clothes on Monday, fold them on Tuesday, go grocery shopping on Wednesday, etc. It seems simple, but assigning tasks to specific days encourages me to avoid wallowing in a dark room with Netflix.

  • Take on a new project
    • I like to be crafty. I often knit in the winter, but this year I’m trying diamond art instead. It’s similar to paint by numbers, but you place acrylic gemstones instead of paint. When I’m finished I’ll have a nice image to frame. I work on it while I’m watching a show or listening to an audio book, and it keeps my mind from wandering.

  • Yoga
    • I’m striving for a peaceful demeanor, so I chose a fitness practice that emphasizes calm. I try to complete three sessions a week.

  • Pick small things on my “someday” list and do them
    • I love to cook, especially in the winter. I have a family recipe for tomato sauce and meatballs that I’ve wanted to attempt for a few years. It’s an all-day process so I kept saying I’d do it sometime in the future. This time I set a date and invited good friends to share a meal. I was tired by the time we sat down to eat, but the food was delicious and the company made it all worth it.

  • Make plans to see people
    • It sounds silly, but scheduling time with friends and loved ones is one of my best practices. There are plenty of spontaneous events, but putting coffee meetups or shopping trips on the calendar helps me break up my workweeks and ensures that I’ll spend time with people who care.

So far I’ve been successful with these practices, and it seems to be making the winter more pleasant. January feels forever long, but I think everyone feels that way this year? Are you trying new things to make winter fun?

Puddle-Wonderful Spring

Bonus cool points if you know the reference in the title of this post. 🙂

No matter how hard I try, every year there’s a posting gap on this site after my February 27th post.  This time it was only a month so I guess that’s progress. You’d probably think it’s because the post about my grandma takes a lot out of me and robs me of the ability to write. In actuality, I’ve been writing quite a bit…but in a notebook rather than on the internet. Emerging from the end of February is an awakening of sorts for me every year.

In the spring, I take time to enjoy the life I have. Choosing to spend my free time with friends or exploring new things is fulfilling. I pick up a book before I pick up a screen. It is freeing to enjoy the sunshine and laugh with people who matter to me.  I didn’t give up social media for Lent or even intend to step back from it, but focusing on other parts of life resulted in a natural reduction.

It’s important to remember that digital quietness does not equal dormancy. I have many projects in the works and goals I’m working toward. There are also posts for this site waiting in the wings…they’re just not quite ready yet. For now, you get this little update.

Do you have any traditions or routines you pick up in the spring?

Until my next post, on nice weather days you’ll probably find me outside somewhere soaking up the sunshine.

Reflecting on a Habit

My planner for 2018 included monthly, weekly, and daily pages. I used the monthly and weekly spreads for actual planning and decided to use the daily pages for journaling. My method was more “document what you did and who you did it with” rather than “this is how I’m feeling or what I’m thinking.” It started as a goal to improve my cursive handwriting. I wrote the majority of my entries in cursive…but my handwriting is no better than it was a year ago. Still, I enjoyed having a reason to write in cursive. I still use the second grade rules, so my script is very generic and rigid. No one will ever hire me as a calligrapher!

Sample pages from my year of journaling.

 I missed less than ten days of journaling for the entire year. I’ve written in journals throughout my life, but this was the first time for a daily practice. At times, it felt like a chore that I was just doing to fulfill a commitment, and some of the entries were very bland.

But you know what? When I switched planners in 2019 to one without daily pages, I realized I missed journaling. It was neat to look back on all the things I did in a year, and to look at all the days spent with various people. The practice forced me to examine my days and find something to document. Every day I found something to say.

I’m not journaling daily in 2019, but I am making an effort to write notes on my weekly pages when I spend time with people or when interesting things happen. I had a very complete picture of my 2018 experiences – many things I would have forgotten by year-end if I hadn’t written them down. The process helped me reflect with gratefulness on things I would normally forget. My year was full of people, places, and memories I loved. Maybe someday, decades from now, someone will find my planner documenting an ordinary life in 2018…and get a glimpse of my world.

Are you trying something new in 2019?  Do you have a practice/habit that surprised you with its usefulness?