A Day in the Life of COVID-Summer Vacation

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We made it.

I just have to declare this fact because, to be honest with you, there have been days over the last few months that I didn’t think I’d ever get to write those words. Back in March when I first heard the words “Novel Coronavirus” (Are we talking about a fictional book? A Mexican beer? A seasonal cold?) I had no idea how much our lives would change in such a short amount of time.

The whole world flipped on its head overnight: school became home and the classroom teacher became me. School this year had its challenges–and its rewards–and then some more challenges to round things out. But we made it. We survived the first wave of Epidemic Crisis Schooling that the world has ever endured, and I’m pretty sure we can survive anything now.

Except maybe summer vacation.

Because if you’re anything like me, you’re just as confused about “summer” as you were about “E-learning”. Quite simply, summer in the time of COVID is about the most stressful, labor-intensive, hair-pulling period of relaxation I’ve ever experienced. For those of you not lucky enough to have young children at home with you this summer, allow me to give you a glimpse into a typical day of summer vacation 2020:

Tuesday, June

7:40  You wake up to the sounds of your 4 year old screaming your name from down the hall. She’s not hurt or incapable of moving out of bed on her own. No, she just wants you to remember who’s boss in this family.

7:45  You bring the screaming child downstairs and find the older boys already awake and playing video games. They ask you if they can have your real American dollars to buy video-game-nonsense-dollars so their avatar can wear a shirt with a “sick flame” on it. You politely decline. For the 10 millionth time this week.

7:55  Start making breakfast and realize there are no clean dishes. Start emptying the dishwasher that you ran overnight (this is the first of up to 3 loads of dishes you will run through your dishwasher today with all of these people home eating food 24/24 hours of every day).

8:00  An alert pops up on your phone that today is supposed to be the first day of that super awesome summer camp you signed your kids up for 12 months ago. Of course the camp has been cancelled, so you delete the calendar entry and replace it with the sobbing emoji.

8:15  Return to the breakfast situation. It’s been nearly 2 weeks since the last time you picked up a curbside grocery order. Prepare the best available option: granola bars AND fruit leather, because you like well-balanced meals.

8:30  Announce breakfast and turn off all screens in the house. Earn the title “Meanest Mom Ever”.

9:00  After breakfast you ask the kids what they’d like to do today. The boys want to stay home and play video games so they can whine at you about buying video game dollars. The girl wants to go to a princess party just like Cinderella. In your head you debate your options because after 4 months of house arrest with these kids, you just need to get out of here. Compromise and tell the kids we’re going to find a quiet park where we can be outside and physically distanced from other people. “It will be fun!” you say, “It will be our own little adventure!”

9:30  Pull up Google Maps on your phone and look for green spaces (usually parks) that you’ve never heard of (maybe nobody else has heard of them either). Pick a promising green patch in the middle of nowhere and pack some snacks for the adventure.

10:00  Before you leave the house, tell the kids to bring a face covering with them since we’re going into public. One child comes downstairs wearing underwear on his head.

10:30  Pull up to the “park” you found on Google Maps and realize it’s mostly just some bushes on the side of a road. Consider your options and decide check it out anyway. After about 20 minutes of the kids throwing rocks into the bushes and one kid falling into some blackberry brambles, decide to call it a day.

11:00  On your way home you drive past one of the kids’ favorite parks. They haven’t been to this park in nearly a year and they all beg for you to stop for just a little bit. Since the first stop was such a bust you decide to give the park a try.

11:05  Before you get out of the car, remind the children that they must stay at least 6 feet apart from all other people, wear their masks, not touch anything, and basically try their very hardest to not enjoy themselves. Remind the children that the playground is closed so we can’t play on it anyway. We’re just here to look and reminisce, and then back into the car we go. They agree to abide by the law of the land as they pile out of the car.

11:10  You walk into the park and notice that the playground is no longer roped off. You weren’t prepared for this. We already had the “we don’t touch anything” talk in the car, and now this playground is just sitting there like a siren in the wild beckoning to eager children. Thankfully the kids haven’t noticed the playground yet, so you stop in your tracks and point wildly into the sky: “KIDS, LOOK!!!! A BALD EAGLE! NO, MAYBE IT’S A DRAGON! OR A UNICORN! QUICK! LOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!”. As the children avert their gaze heavenward, you huddle them together and usher them back toward the parking lot. The middle child swears he saw the dragon.

11:15  When you get back to your car there is another family unloading right next to your car. Fortunately/unfortunately they are friends from school. Fortunately, because THEY’RE REAL LIVE FRIENDS!!!!!! Unfortunately, because OH MY GOSH WHAT DO WE DO?!?!  Humans! Gah! The kids all want to hug and play and just be kids. You glance at the other mom and reach an unspoken understanding: We’ve all been quarantined for so long that it’s in our health interest at this point to allow the children a few minutes to catch up. Relish the quick reunion while you pray under your breath that nobody present is an asymptomatic COVID carrier.

12:00  Upon returning home from the morning’s adventure (AKA the most excitement we’ve had in half a year!) set to work preparing lunch. The kids decide on Unicorn mac-n-cheese (the girl wants it because it’s magical, the boys want it because they want to bite the heads off the unicorns).

12:30   After lunch, send the kids outside to play in the back yard. Return a couple of emails and check the “news” to see updates on which of the 10 Plagues of Egypt we can expect next.

1:30  Call the kids back inside and tell them that we have a fun game to play this afternoon. The game is called “Living With COVID Challenge”. Here’s how you play: everyone gets a face mask and they have to wear it while completing “challenges” such as reading aloud, taking a math test, writing a letter to a friend, or “shopping” in our pretend store. The goal is to leave your mask on for the entire challenge without touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. Players can earn bonus points for washing their hands, checking their friend’s temperature with a temporal thermometer, wearing gloves while disinfecting a surface with non-toxic cleaner, or engineering a plexiglass shield.

You make it exactly 2.6 seconds before all 3 children fail the challenge.

Consider writing (another) email with the updated results of your at-home challenge to the members of the school board that will be making the “safe return to school” plan for this fall.

2:00  The kids say it’s too hot outside and they want to go swimming. A quick Google search shows you that every public pool within a 100-mile radius is closed, the nearest lake is full of toxic algae, and the nearest river is still full from spring melt-off and has a no-swimming advisory. Tell the kids to put on their swimsuits anyway, because we’re swimming in the upstairs bathroom “Bathtub Pool”!

2:45  Check on the kids in their bathtub pool and realize that 90% of the water has now migrated from the bathtub to the bathroom floor/walls/ceiling. As your blood starts to boil, notice that you already have “month-3 of summer vacation patience” rather than the actual “week-1 of summer vacation patience” that should be accompanying this moment.

3:00  After you mop up all of the water from Bathtub Pool, tell the kids that it’s reading time. Since you’re pretty sure the only learning your children accomplished in the last 4 months involved Roblox obby hacks, you count this daily reading time as sacred.

3:15  Since your husband is still working from home in his basement “home office” cave, you sneak out of the house for a quick solo walk while the kids are busy reading. These 20 minutes walking around your own neighborhood are the highlight of your day.  5 minutes into your walk a cyclist passes you on the road. It’s not until the cyclist is out of view around a corner that you realize you’ve been unconsciously holding your breath since you saw the other human approaching your air space.

4:00  Bake something. Because COVID.

5:00  Start preparing dinner. Again. For the 4,376th day in a row.

6:30  After dinner, have “family movie night”…also for the 4,376th day in a row. Whisper a silent prayer for the timely providence of Disney+ during a worldwide epidemic.

8:00  Tuck the little one into bed. You tried to order her new bedroom furniture 4 months ago for her birthday, but so far only her mattress has arrived because everything else is backordered indefinitely due to the COVID shutdowns. So, actually, just tuck her into mattress instead of tucking her into bed.

8:30 Despite their pleas to stay up later, tuck the older kids into bed because you are D.O.N.E. DONE. Promise them chocolates in the morning if they just stay in their rooms and don’t bother you for the rest of the night. If quarantine has taught you one thing, it’s the power of bribery. And chocolate.

9:00  Go downstairs and immediately notice the filth that is covering  every square inch of your house. Debate cleaning it up while the kids are tucked away in their bedrooms, but decide against it. After all, we need to save some fun for tomorrow’s COVID-Summer adventure!

***

Happy summer, everyone–stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane!

My Quarantine Bookshelf

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I’ve always loved reading. I am the kid who (literally) had my 10th birthday party at a bookstore (As you can now tell–if you didn’t know it already–I was the cool kid in the class). Since we’ve been in quarantine, though, I’ve picked up reading again with a voracity that I haven’t known in years. Basically I’ve taken this quarantine lockdown as my own personal Silent Reading Mandate. My bedside table is covered in stacks of books that I’m actually reading. It’s fantastic.

In a time like this when we are physically confined, reading is the ultimate escape. Since the COVID lockdown officially began about two months ago, I’ve been using books as a way to take mental vacations every single day. I’ve trekked through the Swiss Alps, gone backstage at San Francisco comedy clubs, spent time on the beaches of the San Juan Islands, experienced Gold Rush California, and taken an ancient pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome. All from a safe social distance, of course.

If you’re looking for some inspiration for your own virtual retreat, here is what I’ve been reading:

Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire: The Guide to Being Glorious YouFierce Free and Full of Fire by Jen Hatmaker
Oh, how I love Jen Hatmaker. She writes from the heart with humor and grace and moxie–it’s the perfect combination. Some of my fondest book memories involve Jen Hatmaker, including the time I drove across the state of California with an infant to hear her speak…only to get stuck in California traffic and nearly miss the whole conference (All’s well that ends well, though, because my sob story landed me a private audience with Jen–see, we’re buddies–and a book signing while she held my baby).

This book was released mid-quarantine and, truly, it is the perfect quarantine read. It’s inspiring and heartfelt and makes me want to implement positive changes in my life RIGHT NOW (well, as soon as I can pull myself out of my yoga pants-induced stupor fueled by home-baked sourdough bread).

Rick Steves Switzerland (Tenth Edition) by Avalon Travel
I’ve had this book sitting on my nightstand for half a year as we planned our epic trip to Switzerland scheduled for earlier this month. As we all know now, that trip never happened (Still heartbroken. Still complaining about it. Not over it.). I’ve kept the book on my nightstand because I still like to dream…and what better place to dream of than idyllic mountain villages covered in cheese and chocolate?

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life by [Ali Wong]Dear Girls by Ali Wong
This was a lucky last-minute find at the library right before the world shut down. I heard a rumor–with about 2 hours notice–that our library might be closing with no scheduled re-opening date. I dropped everything, threw the kids in the car, and proceeded to check out nearly 200 books from the library to hold us over through whatever impending disaster might be looming on the horizon. I had been waiting for this book from the library for several months, but my number still hadn’t come up in the queue. I happened to find it in the (aptly named) “Lucky Day Collection”–basically, it’s a high-demand book that you can check out on the spot, but you only get it for 2 weeks and then you have to give some other lucky library patron their chance at winning the book. It’s like winning the lottery and Christmas all at once. This is why I love libraries.

Anywho…the book is written by Asian-American comedian Ali Wong (If you haven’t already, stop what you’re doing and go watch her Netflix specials. You’re welcome.). Each chapter is written as a letter to her two young daughters (to read when they’re much, MUCH older). It’s hilarious but quite raunchy, so read it if you want to take down your filters and just laugh.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by [Kelli Estes]The Girl Who Wrote In Silk by Kelli Estes
OK, funny story with this one. My sister’s mother in law sent me a book a few months ago written by the same author as this book–she had bought it when she was here visiting from California, and she liked that it was written by a Washington-native author who shared her same last name. Long story short, I found out that the author actually lives in the same town as me, and now we’re Facebook friends (Hi, Kelli!). So, of course, I had to read her other books!

This book is set in the same locations–Seattle and the Orcas Island in the San Juans–in two separate time periods (the present day and 1886). The novel follows a young woman who discovers an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in her deceased aunt’s house. As she begins to unravel the story that is being told in the embroidery, she sees how closely her life is intertwined with that of the artist who created it, a young Chinese-American woman who lived a century before and was escaping the prejudice and violence against the Chinese people in that time period. It’s a beautiful story about doing what is right in the face of adversity, and the power that our own stories hold.

American Disruptor: The Scandalous Life of Leland Stanford by Roland De Wolk
This was actually one of Jon’s birthday gifts that I stole from him before he even got a chance to read it. This book is a biography of Leland Stanford, the founder of Stanford University–and it doesn’t hold back any of the ugly truth of who this self-made man was.

When Jon was in grad school at Stanford I spent quite a bit of time learning about the Stanford family so I knew the basics of who they were and how they started the school, but I was curious to know the gritty details. This book goes into backstory of Stanford’s life all the way back to his middle-class birth and upbringing in the early 1800’s in upstate New York, follows him through his apathy and absolute failures throughout life that moved him continuously westward, and sheds light on the cheating and stealing that made him one of the wealthiest Americans of all time. Through all of his failures–and an incredibly devastating tragedy–however, he went on to found one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. It was an interesting read and an enlightening history lesson. (Side note: I’m glad I will never have to meet Leland Stanford in real life.)

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don't KnowTalking To Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
I’ve read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books and they’re always thought-provoking and help me to see things from a totally different perspective. This book about how we interact with strangers–and how our biases, our assumptions, and our desires play out in those interactions–makes you see social interaction in a totally new light. Right now is quite interesting timing to read a book on social interactions, especially as nearly all of our social interactions have become virtual. This book has given new meaning to “stranger danger”. I just may never speak to a real-life stranger again.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a FaithA Pilgrimage To Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan
This is the memoir of a man who takes an ancient pilgrimage on the Via Francigena, a thousand-mile trek through the theological cradle of Christianity. He begins in Canterbury, England before passing through France, crossing the Swiss alps, and continuing south to the Vatican in Rome. While on the journey he grapples with his own troubled past with the Catholic church and searches for meaning in a world that is often difficult and full of pain.

I love books like this where I get to be a bug-on-the-shoulder and get a free ride through someone else’s adventure. I loved seeing the ancient castles of England, the beautiful scenery of the French countryside, the majesty of the Swiss Alps. I indulged in patisserie in Arras, took a tour through ancient wine cellars in Châlons-en-Champagne, and tasted sumptuous testaroli in Pontremoli. All this, and I never even had to pay for a plane ticket or suffer through blisters on my toes.

*** Bonus Children’s Books ***
I’ve chosen to include a couple of children’s books for good measure because I spend at least an hour a day reading to my children (Again: grateful I checked out those 100 books from the library right before lockdown went into effect…).

Emily’s Idea by Christine Evans
I just have to include this beautiful book on my list because my dear friend Christine wrote it and I think it’s a masterpiece. The book was released during the quarantine, too, making it an appropriate addition to anyone’s quarantine reading list.

This story follows a little girl (Emily, based upon Christine’s real-life daughter Emily) who has a wonderful idea that spreads around her community and around the world. The message is inspiring for kids and their grown-ups alike, and there’s even a template in the back of the book to make your own paper doll chain (Hello, quarantine Arts & Crafts!).

Indescribable: 100 Devotions For Kids About God and Science by Louie Giglio
Every morning since quarantine began I’ve been sitting down with my kids and doing a 10 minute Bible time. This regular Bible time has been grounding for me (and, hopefully, also for my kids) in a time when everything feels so up in the air.

I started going through this devotional with my kids a few weeks ago and we’ve all enjoyed it. Each story ties in a Bible verse, some cool “weird science” phenomenon from the real world, and a way to connect the lesson to your life today.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading for the last couple months of lockdown. I’d love to hear what’s been on your quarantine bookshelf so I can get some more ideas. Happy reading!

Fortunately This Will All Be Over Some Day

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Today marks 6 weeks since our school district announced they would be closing for in-person classes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Six long weeks that have essentially thrust me into a time warp. From that fateful day onward, our world began to slowly (and then quite rapidly) shut down around us–and what a whirlwind it has been!

I have started a routine with my kids each morning where we write down the day’s date together–not so much because I care what day it is, but because if I don’t write it down I fear we will never find our way out of the COVID-chasm again. You could ask me a question such as what I had for breakfast this morning or what day/week/month the International Olympic Committee announced their deferment of this summer’s games, and I would simply look at you with the same dumbfounded look. I just don’t know. We have entered a supernatural realm where time nor space nor work nor former purpose seems to hold any significant meaning. For better or worse: The world has changed.

And, speaking of “for better or worse”, I like to play a little game when life becomes tragically hilarious as it has at this moment. The game is called “Fortunately/Unfortunately” and it goes a bit like this:

Fortunately the world is still spinning.

Unfortunately everything in the world has had to shut down.

Fortunately, my 3 adorable/precious/loved/needy/not-yet-self-sufficient children still have school.

Unfortunately, all of their schooling has moved out of the classroom and onto “the cloud”.

Fortunately, “the cloud” is not an actual cloud, because all of the airlines are shut down and it would be quite difficult to reach the clouds by our own might.

Unfortunately, this means my children are doing school at home. Yes, even the preschooler.

Fortunately, we have internet access and computers and *me* to oversee the daily learning/weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Unfortunately, even teachers working in one of the most tech-savvy pockets of one of the most industrialized nations on earth run into tech issues during remote learning. And Zoom is full of perverts.

Fortunately, my son is too preoccupied with turning his computer background into a mythical Pokémon creature during his Zoom lessons or typing “toot” in the private chat bar to notice any of the tech glitches that may or may not occur during this time.

Unfortunately, he still has to learn the material presented during lessons. Even if they’re on a cloud.

Fortunately, his mom has basically given up on hardcore academics at this point and is pretty well appeased by “good enough”.

Unfortunately, school is not our only preoccupation.

Fortunately, baking and consuming massive amounts of empty carbohydrates is not a difficult task to pull off.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the new jeans that I bought back in February will fit me any more.

Fortunately, I haven’t even tried them on since February (#yogapantsforthewin). Ignorance is bliss.

Unfortunately, diet and exercise is still important. Even when you’re in lockdown.

Fortunately, I have a 100% legitimate excuse for not making it to the gym.

Unfortunately, the gym being closed is not a legitimate excuse for sloth.

Fortunately, my husband is a born-again Cross-Fit converter and we have enough gym equipment in our basement to make Gold’s Gym shudder behind their no-cancellation-policy long-term contracts.

Unfortunately, simply possessing gym equipment does not somehow make you magically fit.

Fortunately, my friend makes Facebook Live videos of her workouts so I can join with her to sweat it out.

Unfortunately, my kids and dog always want to join in my workout fun (Sidenote: The best part of working out is that you do it without your kids and dog.).

Fortunately, I have learned that I can sit my kids in front of a screen for an hour, slip outside with my yoga mat, and nobody ever even realizes I’ve tried to do something without them.

Unfortunately, no good thing lasts forever, and eventually you have to return to the screen zombies.

Fortunately, my children are totally fine with me turning off screens and they never throw a fit or scream or stomp or cry when screen time is over.

Unfortunately, this is a true story. Children losing screen time without losing their minds is a paradox that does not exist in reality.

Fortunately, our TV is password protected and I’m now strengthened from my invigorating bout of exercise. Off go the screens!

Unfortunately, now I have to make dinner. The children are not pleased. They are *just a colossal smidge* tired and cranky and demanding my attention, even though I’ve basically done nothing today except give them my attention.

Fortunately, I have a fridge full of food because I just picked up my once-weekly grocery order last night.

Unfortunately, I have to cook all of the food. Again. For the “Every meal of every day”th time since this lockdown began.

Fortunately, as with all things in my life at this point in time, my acceptance of mediocrity has reached an all-time high. Hot dogs and chips it is.

Unfortunately, this dinner is lacking a bit of pizzazz.

Fortunately, there are several dozen wineries in my town that are now offering free at-home no-contact delivery. Which brings me to my next question: Which pairs better with fire-roasted frankfurters and crispy tortilla strips: Syrah or Zinfandel?

Unfortunately, after dinner we still have to kill a few hours until bedtime.

Fortunately, family movie night has become a nightly occurrence.

Unfortunately, even with Disney+, Netflix, Hulu, Plex, PrimeVideo, and a collection of old DVD’s there is nothing to watch.

Fortunately, all of the movies my kids had been anticipating being released in the theaters are now being directly released to home streaming.

Unfortunately, the new Trolls movie costs $19.99. To rent.

Fortunately, it’s still light enough outside in the evening that you can just send the kids outside to play instead.

Unfortunately, your kids seem bent on climbing high trees and jumping off of moving objects. You remind them that they may NOT, for any reason, break a limb right now.

Fortunately, your kid who broke his arm in September and had to wear a cast up to his armpit for the first 6 weeks of first grade understands the severity of the situation. He implores his siblings to comply. Kind of.

Unfortunately, we have spent most of the evening arguing over unwatched movies and safe outdoor playtime tactics, and now it is time for bed.

Fortunately, it is time for the kids to go to bed.

Unfortunately, the kids will not stay in bed forever.

Fortunately, we are putting the kids to bed. Right now.

Unfortunately, the kids getting to bed can not happen soon enough.

Fortunately, both parents are equally motivated to get the kids to bed and we move them through the bedtime routine in double time.

Unfortunately, one kid has a wiggly tooth (WHY AT BEDTIME MUST YOU HAVE A WIGGLY TOOTH?!?!?!) and another kid has somehow outgrown all of their pajamas.

Fortunately, the tooth fairy can still make house calls during quarantine and Amazon carries pajamas.

Unfortunately, everything I order on Amazon is now taking approximately 23 years to arrive.

Fortunately, we’ve sorted out both the tooth and the pajamas, and the kids are finally in bed.

Unfortunately, we have to do this all over again tomorrow.

Fortunately, we have another tomorrow. Another chance to do life a bit differently, to take a step back, to lower our standards, and to try something new. Tomorrow is a gift, and even this will all be over some day.

 

 

 

 

Pacing

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Let me set the scene.

The year was 2009. Jon and I were a young married couple with no kids. I had just started my third teaching job (at my third school) in three years, and I desperately needed something bigger than myself or my classroom to fill my mind and my energy. Jon was in grad school at Stanford, which meant he was away in classes or studying for approximately 23 hours a day. And, because I was young and foolish, I decided it was the perfect time in life to run a marathon.

About a year earlier, right after we’d moved to Palo Alto, I had joined a weekly running club. This tight-knit group of people made up of grad students, Silicon Valley techies, and millionaire housewives became my second family during those long (and often lonely) years of grad-student-wife-ing and young teacher-ing. Somewhere along the countless hours and miles I spent running with these friends I realized that I actually had it in me to train for and run a marathon. It had always been a goal of mine and I figured “If not now, when?”. I roped one of my run club friends into coaching me for my first marathon, and I signed up for a December race. Done deal.

When race day came, I was ready. I had trained hard, I had a few of my run club friends by my side, and I knew I could do it. And I did. I ran the crap out of that marathon, and I finished 1 second faster than my goal time in 4 hours 29 minutes and 59 seconds. Running that marathon taught me a lot about myself which alone could warrant several blog posts, or maybe even a memoir (The title would probably be something along the lines of “Consume Enough Electrolytes During A Marathon or You’ll End Up In The Hospital The Next Day With a Kidney Infection”). But running the marathon also taught me something else of importance to my bigger life story: Pacing.

Pacing is essentially finding your groove and pushing yourself just the right amount so you can make it for the long haul. Pacing is consistency. Pacing is making smart choices early on so you can make it to the finish line.

At this point in the global Coronavirus pandemic, I think we’ve all realized that we’re going to be in this thing for the long-haul. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And since we’re in a marathon, pacing will be essential. If we over-exert ourselves too much now, in the early stages of the race, we’ll never cross the finish line in one piece. Based on what I know about marathon pacing, this is how I plan on pacing myself through the months ahead as we cope with the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Pacing Miles 0-3: Adrenaline Rush
The first few miles of a race are a blur of excitement. People line the streets cheering, the running pack is thick, and the miles fly by. Without even thinking about it, you are carried through the first few miles on a burst of adrenaline.

We have already been through the Coronavirus adrenaline rush. Everything changed so rapidly that the last three weeks are simply a blur of confusion and exhaustion. The mad rush to the store to stock up on supplies, the flurry of cancelled activities, the swift paring down of my world. I don’t know what day or week or month it is any more. I just know that the world is fundamentally different Now from how it was Before.

Pacing Miles 4-10: Finding Your Stride
After the initial rush in a race, you start to find your stride. You remember your training and you start to find a steady pace that you can maintain. In the running world, we often call this “conversation pace”: the pace at which you can still coherently have a conversation with someone running next to you–not so fast that you’re breathless and jumbled, but not so slow that you’ve lost sight of your end goal.

I think this is where we’re at currently in the Coronavirus Marathon. We need to remember our training: What is most important to me right now? Maybe it’s maintaining a routine and a schedule with your family. Maybe it’s returning to academics after a prolonged break. Maybe it’s setting reminders on your phone to drink enough water and exercise every day. Maybe it’s purposefully setting aside a block of time each day to do something that you want to do, not that you need to do. Maybe it’s logging off of social media for a time. Maybe it’s cooking comfort food. Whatever it is, I need to find a pattern for living that will be sustainable Now, for as long as this lasts.

Pacing Miles 11-20: Pull Deep
Most marathon training regimens include at least a dozen “long runs” that take you up to about 20 miles before your race. These long runs are training for the distance you’ll have to cover–not only physically (Can my body do this?), but also mentally and emotionally (Can I make myself do this even when I want to quit?).

We didn’t have much warning that we would be entering this Coronavirus marathon. Sure there were stories coming out of countries on the other side of the world, but that was There and I live Here. Had I known I’d soon be entering a marathon, I would have used those early months to practice some of my “long runs”: I would have stocked up on a 3-month supply of essential food and household items. I would have spent as much in-person time as I possibly could with the friends and family I wouldn’t be able to see for months on end. I would have gone to all of my favorite places and done all of my favorite things. But, alas, I did not.

Instead, I’m going to have to pull deep to make it through this long stretch of social distancing and physical isolation. Along the way I’ll probably get painful “blisters”–trying times and plenty of “I Quit” days. I’ll feel lost and unequipped because, well, I’m lost and unequipped. NOBODY in the history of the world has ever had to do what we are attempting to do right now to the scale at which we are attempting to do it. There is no course map or proven best practice. So I will have to rely on those ahead of me and those above me to help me make wise choices along the way. This is the long run, and it won’t always be easy.

Pacing Miles 20-26: Hitting The Wall
There is a point in every distance race that runners know well: The Wall. This is the point where–despite your training and adrenaline and preparation–you just hit the point where everything sucks. Your feet don’t want to move. Your lungs don’t want to breathe. Your legs feel like lead. Your mind starts playing tricks on you. You think you can’t go on. And yet you do.

I imagine at some point during this Coronavirus marathon I will hit the wall. There will be some straw that will break my camel’s back. Maybe it will be some flippant thing someone says or some stupid Facebook post or my inability to find some item I’m craving at the grocery store. I don’t know what it will be, but there will be some point where I get to the point where I’m just done.

And that, my friends, is the point where you just start chanting the mantra (out loud if you need to): Breathe. One foot in front of the other. You can do this. You will do this.

And once you push through the wall, you have nearly made it.

Pacing Mile 26 – Mile 26.2: Strong Finish
The last 0.2 miles of the marathon are by far the hardest “miles” of the race. Often times you can literally see the finish line, yet somehow it feels so. Far. Away. And this is where you quit relying on yourself or your own abilities, and you just finish as strong as you can.

In my Coronavirus marathon, I will need to seek help outside of myself if I want to finish strong. Keeping myself and my family healthy, helping my kids learn and keep up with school, maintaining joy, developing patience, finding hope each day–I can’t do all of that on my own. Nor should I. So during those .2 miles that feel like a lifetime, I will lean heavy on my faith, God’s Word, and His promises. And that, my friends, is the strongest finish I can hope to find.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” Hebrews 12:1-2

So let us run hard, friends. Let us set an example for our children, our friends, and our neighbors about how this race should be run. And when the going gets tough–as it surely will–keep your eye on the prize. No race lasts forever.

The 5 Stages of Coronavirus Grief

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Yesterday marked one month since the first case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Coronavirus, was confirmed in the United States. This confirmed case was reported in Kirkland, Washington, just 3 miles away from our home. From that moment forward, our world started slowly–and then very rapidly–coming to a halt. Coronavirus had come to our community (How dare it?!) and our lives began to change day by day, moment by moment.

First the schools started to close. And then all of the schools closed. Then we started E-learning. And then E-learning was shut down and our beloved teachers were effectively given a government-mandated gag order. Then the restaurants started shutting down. And then all of the restaurants shut down. And then all of the parks closed. And then all of the gyms and the movie theaters and the dentists and doctors offices closed.

Little by little our big, open world began to shrink until all that was left was our own homes. And that is where we find ourselves today. Many parts of the country–and the world–are in a literal lockdown to try and stop the spread of this virus. This virus that, three short months ago, nobody had ever even heard of. And it’s all just so…crazy. Never in a million years would any of us have predicted something like this could happen, let alone that it actually would happen. To us. Here. Right now.

With all of this change, I’ve definitely done some grieving. I’ve grieved over the communities around the world that have been shattered by sickness and death. I’ve grieved over the European vacation that we had to cancel.  I’ve grieved over the friends and family that I desperately want to see but am not allowed to be in contact with. I’ve grieved over the pace and routine of life that I used to have. I’ve grieved over an unknown future.

As I was thinking about this grief, it reminded me of the 5 stages of grief that psychologists use to describe the stages we go through while mourning. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the stages fit quite well with what I’m experiencing right now with my own Coronavirus Grief.

  1. Denial and Isolation
    The first stage is to deny the reality of the situation: “This isn’t happening, this can’t be happening.”When we first started seeing news clips about this strange new virus that had surfaced in China, it felt very distant. And even when the news moved much closer to home (the first couple dozen confirmed US COVID-19 cases, and deaths, all happened right there in our community), it still felt like something beyond me. It felt like something happening to others, but it wouldn’t actually touch my life in any tangible way. I was happy enough to ignore it and try to move on with my life.
  2. Anger
    But before long, the Coronavirus did start to touch my life in tangible ways. And I didn’t like it. At all. When my kids’ schools started closing and the very-important-things I did in my life all started getting cancelled I was mad. The injustice! I resented the virus, a thing that does not care one iota how I feel about it. And then I would feel guilty for being angry about my very-important-things being cancelled when there were much bigger problems in the world…and that would make me feel even more angry.
  3. Bargaining
    So as I continued my journey of feeling helpless and powerless I attempted to regain control through my actions. If only I could organize our days at home better the time would pass more easily. If only I could write letters to our political leaders, they would give us access to our education again or impose orders that would keep people safer and healthier. If only I could do something different, something more,  then things would all be better.
  4. Depression
    But things have not gotten better, at least not here. We’ve had neighbors die. Our healthcare workers are being forced to reuse personal protective equipment because they don’t have enough supplies to tend to the large number of patients. Our friends and family members are becoming unemployed. We miss people and places and just a basic sense of freedom. And all of these things are, well, sad. The loss we are experiencing day-in and day-out is a heavy burden to carry. It. Is. Hard.
  5. Acceptance
    Despite it all, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Eventually, and after much exasperation, I have come to realize that there is, in fact, nothing I could do to change these circumstances. I am not responsible for what has happened, I am not responsible for the actions of other people, I am not responsible for the policies that are put into place during these times.I am responsible for one thing, and one thing only: me. And that, I can change for the better. I can choose to find joy each day. I can choose to help others. I can choose to do what I think is right. I can choose to throw out the rule book and eat ice cream for breakfast. I can pray. I can choose love and hope in the midst of pain and confusion. And in the end, I know that this will make a difference. Probably not for the world, but for my world.So that is where I’m at today, approximately one month in to our foray of worldwide pandemics. I will continue to look for the good, to love mine the best that I can, and eat lots of home-baked carbs along the way (Trust me, the carbs help.).

    And some day–maybe 3 weeks from now, or maybe a year from now–we will come out of this thing. We will come out as changed people, because grief never allows us to remain the same. We will look back at what we have overcome and how we persevered, and we will be better for it.

    We’ve got this, friends! I can’t wait to see you on the other side, better than ever.

 

 

Diary From Ground Zero: A Day In The Epicenter Of The Coronavirus Apocalypse

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So, you may have heard of this little thing called the Coronavirus. Like an Instagram darling, Coronavirus is this little-known “virus next door” that made a big stage debut a couple of months ago and now, overnight, it’s famous. And like any good Influencer, Coronavirus is changing the way the world acts and thinks and eats and shops and dresses.

Unfortunately for me, I happen to be living right smack dab in the center of the USA Coronavirus Special. In the past week, our community became the host of not only the first confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in the United States, but also the first fatalities. Not exactly the kind of bragging rights you want for your hometown (Who’s doing the PR for this thing, anyway?!).

It’s been a wild ride so far, and I have a feeling things are going to get even crazier before this whole thing packs up and moves on (It will pack up and move on eventually, won’t it?). And just in case you’re so lucky as to not be living in Coronavirus Ground Zero, here’s a little glimpse into what a day in the epicenter is actually like:

2:00 AM 
Startle awake because you hear your child coughing. Lie in bed intently listening to her coughs and try to decipher if they sound “wheezy” or “wet”. Determine that the coughs are most certainly wet, and thank the stars for the first time that something is moist.

5:00 AM 
Wake up early so you can get a head start on the day before your kids are up. Open a fresh tube of Lysol wipes and wipe down every hard surface in your home. And, since she’s constantly touched by your children, wipe down the dog for good measure.

7:00 AM
Your children wake up and come downstairs. After you feed them a hearty breakfast, draw up their morning baths. Just to be safe, replace the water with Purell hand sanitizer. Hey, good clean fun!

8:30 AM
Get shoes and backpacks for school. Wrap the children in Saran Wrap and cover the exposed skin on their faces with N95 masks.

9:00 AM
After dropping off the children at school, drive to the grocery store to stock up for…something. Everyone else is doing it, so this definitely seems like the next right choice.

9:10 AM
Get stuck in a traffic jam trying to get into the grocery store parking lot. Listen to R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It while your car idles.

9:40 AM
Finally find a parking space after driving in circles, arcs, and even rhombuses through the parking lot. Congratulate yourself because you haven’t practiced this much Geometry since 8th grade math!

9:45 AM
Enter the grocery store and get to work shopping. Well, at least you would get to work shopping if there was anything left to shop for. Go down the bread aisle: empty. Go down the bottled water aisle: empty. Go down the hand sanitizer/disinfectant/soap aisle: empty. Go down the toilet paper aisle: empty (WHY?!?! What is this virus doing to our bowels that I don’t know about?! I blame #fakenews. Or maybe we need all the toilet paper so we can collect toilet paper rolls to do crafts when we’re all locked down in quarantine? Or maybe if I wrap myself up in toilet paper like a mummy the virus will take one look at me and take a hike? Whatever the non-reason, decide that you definitely need more TP in your life.).

10:45 AM
Leave the grocery store empty-handed and defeated…well, mostly defeated (they still had wine).

11:00 AM
Contemplate your options for the afternoon. Do you A) Risk going out into public again and possibly catching/carrying/transferring a disease of mass destruction, or B) Go home and start digging your safety bunker in the backyard. Decide it’s not worth the risk and head home to open that first bottle of wine.

12:30 PM
Get a robo-call from your kids’ school informing you that all day tomorrow the entire school district is shutting down for a staff training on how to “conduct learning outside the four walls of the school building”. Translation: For an extended period of time and with an unknown end-date, I’m going to have my constantly bickering kids darling children home with me wreaking havoc learning under the abundant patience of my love.

1:00 PM
Scan your only reliable news resource (Facebook) for the latest updates on the spread of Coronavirus in your community. Based on the plethora of information, decide that you are most certainly going to die and/or be totally fine.

2:00 PM
Wash your hands for the 2,378th time today. Notice that your skin is red and dry and about to fall off your body in a burning pile of over-scrubbed detritus. Scrub them harder.

3:00 PM
Go to the school to pick up your children. Avoid these moms in the school pick-up area: The Prepper (and her flippant “I told you so!” comments), The Hypochodirac (you’ll know her because she’ll be wearing microporous coveralls and a gas mask), The Hippie (she’ll smell like patchouli and be slinging essential oils and elderberry syrup out of the back of her Subaru), and The Politician (at least she’ll know which political party is responsible for this whole mess).

4:00 PM
Get the kids home from school and unpack their backpacks. Find a pile of used tissue, two half-eaten sandwiches, and a wad of already-chewed gum. Marvel at how no children under the age of 15 have contracted Coronavirus yet.

5:00 PM
Cook dinner. Choose between frozen foods and non-perishables from the pantry since the grocery store was out of literally everything. Decide on freshly breaded chicken cutlets hand-shaped into whimsical shapes (frozen dino nuggets) and organic pasta with a rich, creamy cheese sauce (mac ‘n cheese). Arrange a plate of crudité (carrot sticks) to round out your gourmet Apocalyptic meal.

6:30 PM
For your post-dinner entertainment, have a friendly family competition with “minute to win it” games. Include classics like Who Can Wash Their Hands The Longest and How Do We Unlock Mommy’s Cellphone To Call 911 If You Find Her Unresponsive. The prize is a nice, big squirt of hand sanitizer (Spoiler alert: everyone wins!!!).

7:30 PM
Put the kids to bed early so you can collect yourself and plan for a previously unscheduled day off of school. Do the calculations and realize that–between holidays and snow days and flood days and teacher grading days and school conferences–your children have actually only gone to school 3.2 days thus far in the school year.

8:00 PM
Pour yourself a glass of wine. After all, alcohol is a disinfectant.

9:00 PM
Update your will on lastminutelawyers.com. Make sure to equally distribute your treasure trove of toilet paper and hand sanitizer among your children.

10:00 PM
Congratulate yourself, because YOU MADE IT! You have survived another day in the Coronavirus Hot Zone without so much as a sniffle. Reward yourself by going to Amazon and ordering yourself a trophy (manufactured in a virus-free factory in China). Scroll past the $200 bottles of hand sanitizer and $500 disposable paper masks before you checkout. Upon checkout, note that your order is estimated to arrive on March 5…2022. Give yourself a mental trophy instead.

10:30 PM
Call it a night…and don’t let the Coronavirus bugs bite!

Whether you live here in Ground Zero or you have your day coming… may the odds be ever in our favor!

 

 

10 Lessons I’ve Learned From Being Broken

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In order to appreciate what I’m about to tell you, you have to understand how I got here.  Some of you already know this story, so bee patient (pun intended…you’ll see why!).

Back in July I did something that I rarely do: I weeded my garden. I deeply regret my poor decision to partake in this activity, and I have already promised myself never to do it again. Under the best of circumstances, weeding is a mundane and terrible task. On this particular occasion, however, my garden weeding actually changed the course of my life.

I had been weeding the flower beds in front of our house and I was nearing the end of the final bed when I decided to pull up a clump of dead/dying flowers/weeds (Don’t ask me what the plant actually was because I know next to nothing about plants. It was ugly, though, so I decided it had to go.). I was in the zone (which is code for I was trying to get this horrendous chore over with as quickly as possible), so without thinking–or even really looking–I stepped into the garden bed, reached both hands down to the base of the plant, and pulled as hard as I could.

Now, usually what you would expect to happen next is that I pulled up the plant and went on my merry-little-weeding-way.

But that didn’t happen.

Not exactly.

You see, when I pulled up the plant it did dislodge from the ground. That part was fine. What wasn’t fine was what else I dislodged from the ground when I pulled that plant with all my might. Specifically, an entire nest of (very disgruntled) ground wasps.

Before I even knew what was happening I had an entire colony of wasps attacking me (Which I really can’t blame them for because I would do the same thing if a giant came and pulled up my whole home with all of my buddies in it.). The wasps started stinging me and chasing me and stinging me again. And again. And again.

So I did what any rational adult would do in this situation: I ran flailing through the yard yelling obscenities while I stripped off all of my clothing. My children, who had been playing nonchalantly in the yard, were witness to the whole wasp escapade. I’m pretty sure we’ll now have to take them to therapy for PTSD after what they witnessed on that fateful day. Thankfully we captured the whole thing on our surveillance cameras, so if paying for the therapy becomes a burden I can always submit the videos to AFV and use the prize money to pay off our bills.

All said and done, I had been stung close to 20 times. My entire body swelled up for a week and I developed a close relationship with Calamine Lotion and ice packs.  But I’m a fighter, and I pulled through The Wasp-pocalypse of 2019. I am a survivor.

Which brings me to my present predicament. You see, when I was flailing my body through my front yard trying to ward off the wasps I actually did some damage…to myself. Somewhere between karate chopping the evil bugs and twisting out of my t-shirt I managed to pull some muscles in my back.

I’ve had back injuries before (basically non-stop since babies decided to inhabit my womb and pull all of my joints out of place), but this time was different. My back pains before had come and gone with enough time and rest, but this bugger wasn’t ready to move on.

By October, 3 months after the Wasp-pocalypse, I was still experiencing chronic back pain. It hurt to stand. It hurt to sit. It hurt to move. Heck, it even hurt to think about moving. I’d tried resting and stretching and thinking good thoughts, but nothing was helping.

So, finally, I decided to take action. 3 weeks ago I started Physical Therapy (PT) to *hopefully* build back up some strength and get along with my life. My PT journey has been fun so far, mostly because literally every person in my family (Mom, Dad, sisters, even a cousin) are PT’s and I finally get to see things from the other side of the workout room.

But it’s also been hard. And uncomfortable. And not always fun. It’s a lot of work building yourself back up when you’ve been broken. Through my being broken I’ve learned a few things about myself and the process of building myself back up. Wisdom I will now share with you, my friends:

  1. Give Myself Permission For Healing
    This was the hardest thing for a long time. I’m so used to taking care of others and attending to their needs that it was difficult to allow myself the time and space for my own healing. I figured if I brushed my own needs aside for long enough, eventually they’d take care of themselves. Not true, and not what’s best for me.
  2. Admit I Need Help
    I tried (haphazardly) doing things on my own. And when that wasn’t enough, I had to humble myself enough to ask for help. In my case, this was professional help from PT’s who have spent 5 or more years of their lives learning how to put broken people like me back together.
  3. Patience
    Healing takes time. I’m definitely a subscriber to the immediate gratification model, so this one is difficult for me. But I’m learning. I’m learning to do what I can do now, with the hope that a payoff will be coming. Some day.
  4. Don’t Sweat the Setbacks
    One of the activities I want to return to is running. I’m a former marathon runner who literally can’t even make it a mile before I’m doubled over in pain. So when my PT told me to try incorporating a bit of running again I decided to go jog a few miles. Not a good idea. In fact, a very bad idea.By the time I’d hobbled back home I was in so much pain I didn’t know if my back was even still attached to my body. But I didn’t let that deter me from trying again. After resting for a couple of days I tried again, this time just running for 1-2 minutes at a time and then walking. And do you know what?! It worked! It still hurt and it was still incredibly discouraging to see the failings of my body, but I made it. And I’ll keep trying until I finally get it.
  5. Allow Myself Rest
    Oh, this one is the actual WORST! Sometimes I view rest as a 4-letter word in my mind, and it is so so hard for me. On an intellectual level, though, I know that rest is one of the parts of my program that I need in order to heal. So I do the most Type-A thing you could do and I literally schedule rest into my calendar. I even have an alarm on my phone. In fact, as I write this post I’m sitting on a chair propped up by pillows with an ice pack on my back…hey, whatever works!
  6. Be Kind To Myself
    This process has not been easy or pretty and nothing is happening on the timeline that I would like it to, but I’m trying to think positive. I’m being my own cheerleader and I’m encouraging myself. A huge part of healing is mental, and I’m going to use that to my advantage.
  7. Consistence + Persistence
    I have to do my exercises every. Single. Day. If I slack for a day, the losses start to compound very quickly…and the only person this hurts is myself. Consistency.And consistency requires persistence, even when it’s not easy or convenient. Sometimes this means I have a preschooler stretched out on my yoga mat with me during my exercise block. Sometimes this means sacrificing 2 of my 4 “solo hours” a week while all 3 kids are in school at the same time to go to my PT appointments. Sometimes this means saying no to an activity that I want to do because I know that it wouldn’t help with my healing right now. Healing requires persistence, one small decision at a time.
  8. Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself
    May the truth set you free.
  9. Accept That Things May Never Be The Same
    As much as I want things to be “back to normal” I’m quite aware that I may never be able to return to some activities or perform at the level that I once did. Whatever my new normal is, however, I can adapt and embrace it for what it is.
  10. Find Joy In The Process
    I’ve tried to find small ways to make this awkward process more enjoyable. I watch cheesy TV shows while I do my exercises (Did you know that Randy on Say Yes To The Dress is finally designing his own bridal gown collection?!). I pretend that I’m at the spa while I’m getting (incredibly painful) deep tissue massages at PT.  Heck, I just think about the ridiculous way I got myself into this predicament and I can’t help but laugh. And when all else fails, I remind myself of why I’m doing this, and it makes it all worth it.

Whatever brokenness you’re healing from–be it a wasp-related injury or something more profound–I wish you the best on your journey. Be persistent, be kind and, above all, find joy in the process.

The Ultimate Veteran

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Today is Veterans Day, a day that has always held a lot of significance for me. Both of my grandfathers were veterans, and I deeply respect the sacrifice that they made on my behalf.

I took my kids to a Veterans Day parade this morning, and as we were waiting for the festivities to begin I opened the Facebook app on my phone. As I scrolled through my news feed I came across a photo of my friend, K, dressed in full combat gear. The photo was taken several years ago when she was deployed as an active duty Marine, and the caption read simply: “Freedom isn’t free.”

I clicked on the photo and, when I did, an arrow popped up at the top of the page beckoning me to delve into the Social Media abyss. Out of curiosity, I clicked the arrow and it took me to the next photo on K’s Facebook feed, a photo of K snuggled up with her three young children. As I toggled back and forth between those two photos–K in combat gear, and K cuddling her babies–I was struck by the depth of those words: Freedom isn’t free.

As I pondered this, I realized a few things about freedom.

First, Freedom always has a price, and that price comes in the form of extreme sacrifice. The depth of sacrifice that is required to leave home and comfort and safety is absolutely unfathomable to me. My veteran grandfathers still bore the literal scars of battle 70 years after they’d returned home. And they were the lucky ones. Many pay the ultimate price of freedom with their very lives. Freedom is costly in every sense of the word.

Secondly, in order to truly be freedom it must be all-encompassing. Freedom is not for the Us or the Them, it is for the everyone. K is a veteran, and she knows the price of freedom first-hand. With boots on the ground and flesh in the game, she literally fought for freedom. She fought for the freedom of people she knew and people she would never meet. She fought for the freedom of her friends as well as for the bullies and the people who don’t signal in traffic and all the rest of the types of people. She fought for the freedom of people who hadn’t even been born yet (like those kids in the photo with her). She fought for me. Her sacrifice paid the price for those of us who have never paid the price. Although we have never donned tactical gear or carried a military rucksack through the desert, our price has already been paid.

Finally, the price of freedom can never be fully repaid. Sure, I can tell veterans “Thank you for your service” and I can wave a flag in a parade and I can send care packages over-seas. But is that any comparison to the sacrifice that has already been made on my behalf?

Freedom is costly. Freedom is all-encompassing. The price of freedom can never fully be repaid.

And then it struck me: Jesus is the ultimate veteran. He fought Satan, sin, and death and he came out victorious. The freedom that resulted from this victory is the ultimate freedom.

Jesus paid the ultimate price for the sins of the world. He laid down his own life so that we might be free.

The freedom of Jesus is all-encompassing. His freedom is available for all people in all places at all times. No fine-print or exclusions, everyone.

The debt that has been paid on my behalf can never be repaid. Not by my good work, but only by trusting in the work that He has already done.

So this week as we honor our veterans, I will remember this. Freedom isn’t free. It never has been, and it never will be. I am so grateful to the men, women, and savior who have paid for my freedom–now, and forever.

Happy Veterans Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

Image result for life ring in waterEvery week I listen to one of my favorite podcasts (Sidenote: podcasts are one of the greatest inventions ever. Especially if you’re a stay at home mom who usually only hears other adults speaking between the hours of 5-9PM.). Each episode in the current series ends with the host asking that week’s guest a single question:

What is saving your life right now?

The guests answer’s range from the mundane to the profound, but it’s always interesting to hear what people consider significant. I’ve been thinking a lot about that question myself, but I can’t come up with a single answer. So instead, I’ll give you my list of 10 things that (really and truly) are saving my life right now:

  1. Preschool
    This year I have entered a new phase of my life, a phase that I have been greatly anticipating for quite some time now: The “All My Kids Are In School” Phase. With my youngest child entering preschool, we have ushered in a new era of Mommy-Freedom.  For any of you with multiple children–really, for any of you with any children–you understand the significance of this phase. Because not only are my children’s lives being enriched every day with education, but I get a break. Can I get a Halleluja?! Granted, by the time I drop all of my offspring off at their respective schools my “break” comes to a total of only about 3 hours per week. But 3 hours is 3 hours, and I’ll take it.
  2. My Stroller
    Over the course of the past 9 years since we’ve been toting around our babies, we’ve gone through approximately 597 bajillion strollers. We’ve had umbrella strollers and double strollers and snap-n-go strollers, and jogging strollers. So. Many. Strollers. So last spring when my trusty BOB started falling apart (Literally. Bolts and screws would fly off every time I opened the thing up.) I seriously debated just getting rid of strollers for good. My husband in his ever-present wisdom, however, convinced me to get one more stroller to pull us through to the finish line of toddler-hood. I reluctantly bought yet another stroller…and, boy, am I glad that I did. Every single afternoon I toss Hannah into that stroller with a snack (and, let’s be honest, her favorite “baby show” to watch on my phone) and I go out for a walk/jog/whatever. In this way, my stroller offers me freedom and, literally, a breath of fresh air.
  3. No
    This has already been an interesting school year for our family, and we’re only a few weeks into it. Some of the changes in our schedule and commitments have meant that I have to say no quite often. Sometimes I have to say no to really good things or things that I really want to do. But I’m learning to embrace that “no” is an acceptable answer. No allows me to keep my sanity, to be there for my family, and to focus on what is most important for me right now.
  4. Yoga Pants
    I made a decision quite some time ago that my comfort trumps fashion. As a result, I have relieved my wardrobe of pants with confining buttons and zippers. After all, what am I doing in my life that is so important that I can’t bring yoga pants along for the ride? Dropping the kids off at school: yoga pants. Taking my favorite stroller out for a walk: yoga pants. Steamy date night: yoga pants with a dress on top. I am yet to find a solution to life’s woes that is more appropriate than simply replacing jeans with yoga pants.
  5. Waterproof Cast Cover
    As I wrote about here, my 7-year old son broke his arm a few weeks ago. Beyond the physical limitations of having a broken arm and a ginormous cast, there are some very real emotional issues we have come across. For poor little Jacob, one of the biggest hurdles he’s had to face is not being able to take a shower with his cast. This kid loves his showers more than anyone I’ve ever met, and it was crushing his soul to know that he couldn’t take a shower for approximately 1/80th of his life. I was sharing this heartbreak with a friend recently and she told me about a waterproof cast cover that she’s used with her sons when they’ve broken their arms. Being the loving mother that I am, I went on Amazon that very moment and ordered the cast cover. Two days later (Thank you Amazon Prime!) Jacob was back to taking his beloved showers and our life has blessedly resumed a sense of peace.
  6. My Minivan
    I’m not gonna lie, I love my minivan. Like, really, really love it. Sure, it’s not the coolest car on the road, but it appeals to my practicality like no other object in my life. At the push of a button I can open or close doors and windows. There’s enough floor space to conceal 3.8 bags of crushed goldfish crackers. There’s room in the trunk for a load of groceries, soccer gear, and the family dog–all at the same time. There’s a built-in child-quieting device (Some refer to it as a DVD player, but I choose to think of it as my rescue inhaler). God bless the designers who took my motto of comfort over fashion and applied it to the automotive industry.
  7. Barry’s Tea
    I got turned on to Barry’s tea when we were living in Ireland, and now I’m officially addicted. My day does not officially begin until I’ve had my cup of tea, and you probably don’t want to know what I’m like until that happens. Let’s just say that if you ever find me lying unconscious in my living room, the likely solution is an IV of Barry’s tea.
  8. Freedom From Nap Jail
    This summer Hannah (my youngest) officially gave up naps. When my children were younger I loved the break I would get if I could (miraculously) get them all to nap at the same time. As they got older, however, nap time became nap jail. I was forced to stop whatever activity we were doing and rush home for nap time, then wake up a cranky toddler so we could rush off to whatever other thing we had to do. Now that all of my children are officially done with daytime naps I have been released from nap jail, and it’s kind of amazing. I can stay places for longer than 2 hours in the morning, I can relax if there’s traffic because I know my toddler won’t fall asleep in their car seat and have to be unsuccessfully transferred, and I can plan activities that have a start time after 12:00PM. Buh-bye, nap jail, and hello all-day freedom!
  9. Miss Veronica
    I have a housecleaner, and she is one of the most important people in my life. Miss Veronica comes to my house once a month and I am not joking when I say that the day she comes is my very favorite day of every month. When Miss Veronica comes she re-sets the physical space in my home which, in turn, re-sets my mental space. The fact that I can see through my smudge-free windows again and rest in the knowledge that dust bunnies are no longer inhabiting every corner of my home gives me an absolute sense of relief. For one day out of every month I can walk into a clean house and know that all is right in my little world. And that is worth everything.
  10. Grace
    Over the last few months I have been learning the importance of grace. Grace for myself, and grace for others. Sometimes this looks like admitting I was wrong or that I stepped out of line. Sometimes it looks like pushing homework out until tomorrow morning because the kid is just too dang tired to put forward any more mental effort today. Sometimes it looks like stopping to hold a screaming toddler instead of screaming with her. Sometimes it looks like letting the laundry pile up so I can go for a walk on a sunny day. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.

And now it’s your turn–what is saving your life right now?

How To Survive Washington Winter

winter

I grew up in Washington state and, with the exception of the 10 years we spent trying to live in as many different cities as we possibly could in a decade, I have always called Washington home. There are many things I love about Washington, but winter is not one of them.

You see, for a small sliver of the year we get to experience a magical time called Washington Summer. Fleeting as it may be, Washington Summer is a bit surreal–the weather is divine (Unlike some places where the summer heat is so unbearable that you actually have to retreat indoors!) and the people are the happiest gosh-darn people who you’ve ever laid eyes on. And why, you might ask, is everyone so happy during Washington Summer? I’ve thought a lot about this, and I’ve decided that the only reasonable explanation is Survivor Syndrome: Summer Washingtonians are happy for the simple fact that they’ve already survived Washington Winter.

Washington Winter is one of the most depressing seasons imaginable. The nights are long and dark, and the days are short…and also dark. And when I say season, I mean half of the year. Between the months of October and May most days in Washington go a bit like this: wake up in the dark, trod through a dark gray day, welcome the return of the dark sometime between finishing lunch and thinking about making dinner. It’s also cold, but not cold enough to make snow which would actually be exciting. Yes, this is the time of year when I long to be anywhere but smack-dab in the middle of Washington Winter.

However, long as dark as Washington Winter may be, there is hope! Here are a few ways that I have found to help cope–and maybe even enjoy–Washington Winter.

Enjoy sleeping in
Since the sun doesn’t come up until after breakfast during Washington Winter, your internal clock will be all out of whack. If you’re lucky, your kids will be so confused about how late it is that they will actually sleep in, too. So enjoy the sleep-ins while you can–it may even make up for the fact that your kids woke you up at 5:30 every morning during Washington summer.

Buy a light with the same name as your mood
On the 4th day God created the Sun…and on the first day of Washington Winter, man created SAD lights. You see, there is this thing that depressed people in Washington get in the winter called SAD (Seasonal Affect Disorder)–even the names of diseases caused by Washington Winter reflect the mood of everyone living through it. But no worries–if you have SAD you can hop over to your local Costco or Amazon Prime and, for around $40, you can buy a SAD light to set up your own mini-sun in your bedroom. After all, nothing says nirvana like staring into a desktop lightbulb!

Play flashlight tag…
…on your walk home from the school bus stop! When the sun sets before your kids amble off the big yellow bus, there is ample time for night games, even in the middle of the day! Other fun Washington Winter middle-of-the day-dark activities you might consider: snipe hunting, star gazing, glow stick waving, capture the flag, sleeping without an eye mask.

Catch up on everything you neglected all summer
During Washington Summer everyone basically lives outside and, even if you still have a 9-5, you’re living like you’re on summer vacation. Beside being exciting and exhausting, Washington Summer leaves plenty to catch up on during Washington Winter. Now is the time to clean your house, fold your laundry, organize those closets. And, once you’re done with all of that (since you’re stuck inside approximately 28 hours a day during Washington Winter) you’ll still have time to perfect a skill or take up a new hobby. Needlepoint, anyone?

Answer your toddler’s questions truthfully
When she asks you at 11AM if it’s time for bed, say yes.

Get outta here
Plan a vacation to somewhere not-Washington during Washington Winter. It doesn’t even really matter where you go, as long as it has daylight and *bonus points* some hope of warmth. Even Iceland with all of their hot springs and volcanoes would be an improvement in the warmth department. Seriously, though. If it is at all possible, just leave.

Rant
Sometimes you just have to get stuff out in the open so you can move past it. Don’t hide behind your hatred of Washington Winter–just get it out there! Rant to your friends about how much you miss your flip-flops and how you don’t even remember what skin pigmentation looks like any more. Complain about how your favorite shoes haven’t dried out since October and you’re pretty sure that new color is coming from the fungus that’s started to grow on them. And who knows–maybe after a good ranting you’ll even find camaraderie with another Washington-winter-weary friend who can’t remember where they put their sunglasses either.

Embrace it
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Sometimes you just have to leave your hopes and dreams at the door and surrender to reality. Washington Winter is here, and it’s not leaving any time soon. So zip up your big girl parka and enjoy it for what it is!

After all, Washington Summer is coming…