5 Healthy Habits for 2021

Last year I set a goal to drink more water. I wobbled for a while before the habit took hold. Initially, my skinny water bottle needed to be filled 4 times each day to meet my goal and I kept losing track – was I on bottle #3 or #4?

Eventually, I recognized the bottle was the problem. I switched to 32oz Nalgene bottles and now I am crushing my hydration goals. The Big Moods stickers make me smile, too.

I drink one full bottle before lunch, and another 1-2 after lunch. While making dinner, I switch bottles and fill it with spa water – we keep a pitcher of water in the fridge in which we soak fresh sliced lemons and ginger – and I top it off with a generous splash of unfiltered apple cider vinegar. Apparently, this concoction has a name: Switchel. It’s shocking in a good way, tart and refreshing. It provides a jolt of energy for my evening, as does the happy music I dance to during dinner prep.

After dinner, I finish up whatever’s left in either bottle, and end the day with herbal tea. Add in my morning coffee and evening tea, I’m drinking a gallon+ of water each day. I used to not like the taste of water. I drank coffee or soda, or sparkling or flavored water, anything but clean, clear water. Now I think it tastes great.

What tips do you have for staying hydrated?

One by one, she gingerly removed all the tomatoes from her salad. My eyes must have asked the question my manners wouldn’t, so she explained: she loves fresh-off-the-vine summer tomatoes so much that she can’t stand bland winter hothouse tomatoes.

I didn’t get it then, but having grown my own juicy-explosive sun-ripened tomatoes over the last few summers, I understand now. I no longer add tomatoes to my winter salads.

Seasonal produce = delicious!

Right now I can’t get enough of Cara Cara oranges. I eat them as snacks. Some nights instead of a salad alongside dinner, I slice up several and our family chows down. I put them in smoothies (pictured: golden wellness smoothie). I add them to salad (pictured: spinach and arugula with oranges, tangerines, chopped nuts, pomegranate seeds; before eating I dressed it with peanut sauce).

You can find lists of in-season produce here. What in-season fruits and veggies have you been enjoying? Any favorite recipes?

When I created a habit tracker for 2021, I decided to add or emphasize positive things in my life. I also recognized that I’d be more inclined to stick to the habit tracker itself if, in addition to new habits, I included habits I already had underway (i.e., hydration) and activities that add joy to my life. Writing and reading daily add joy to my life.

My best days almost always include both, lots of both, with variety. I write to understand how I think/feel. To hone my craft. To connect. For work. And I add joy to my writing by stretching myself in new ways, trying new prompts or styles.

The top “book” in the stack is my well-stocked Kindle.

I take a similar approach to reading. I read to nurture my soul. To educate myself. To travel the world and throughout history. To live vicariously through others’ stories. To develop empathy. I read for pleasure.

I have to shake things up. Of course there are times when I’m engrossed in a book I can’t put down. Or I get involved in a writing project that demands my focus. Still, my life flows better when I engage with an array of words; my writing flows better as a reflection.

I wrote a blog post all about joy here: 21 Ways to Jump Start Joy. What habits add joy to your life?

As a child infinitely content to snuggle up with my nose in a book, I required endless encouragement to get outside. When my grandma asked for help trimming green beans, she sent me outdoors. I thought she didn’t want cut bean-ends flying about the kitchen. Not so, my mother explained. Norwegians believe we should be outdoors all the time, all year round. It’s a philosophy known as friluftsliv (free-lufts-liv).

I experienced it for myself when I visited family in Norway. We hiked and swam in rivers. We heard stories of children snowshoeing or cross-country skiing to school. When it rained, we bundled up and went outside anyway.

So I had to laugh when I woke up to pouring rain on the day I’d planned to post “Get Outside.” I also suspected that I could wait a little while. Even on the rainiest NorCal days, we generally get breaks between downpours. And we did.

Getting outside stimulates the senses. The crisp air felt invigorating, as did moving our bodies quickly to keep warm. The world smelled fresh-washed, like wearing clean pj’s in front of the lit fireplace. We heard flitting birds in the bushes and saw raindrops glistening on winter flowers. I didn’t open my mouth to taste the light raindrops that fell before we returned home, but I did anticipate pouring myself a warm drink.

Which leads me to another Norwegian word: once you’ve partaken in friluftsliv, you come home to koselig, the Norwegian version of the Danish hygge, or getting cozy-comfortable.

What’s your favorite way to spend time outdoors?

Gratitude is one of my favorite habits. I’ve kept a dedicated gratitude journal since January 2017. Most mornings I write at least three things from the previous day for which I can be grateful. I could do this in the evening before bed, but mornings work better for me.

To make this habit stick, I put my gratitude journal and planner next to the chair where I sit to sip my morning coffee. The convenience factor makes it more likely that I will pick up my journal. The reason I keep this habit on my habit tracker is to work on consistency, to record gratitude not just regularly but daily.

It’s such a simple thing to write three points of gratitude for each day. I try to make them unique, for example, not just another walk but the uniqueness of that walk, like the neighbors we greeted along the way. I’m often grateful for beauty that bursts through the days’ sameness, like the now-blooming tulips from the bulbs my husband purchased.

My next step: not checking my phone until I’ve written down my gratitude. Since gratitude is well on its way to being a daily habit, I bet I can piggyback phone-resistance to it and increase the likelihood of both.

What are you grateful for today? Or how could you increase the convenience factor to make a desired habit stick?

20 Lessons We Learned in 2020

Image by Thanks for your Like • donations welcome from Pixabay
  1. Washing your hands thoroughly means singing Happy Birthday twice.
  2. People are weird and toilet paper is a commodity.
  3. Who the introverts and extroverts are
  4. How to work, learn, and celebrate via Zoom, and how to unmute
  5. We think we crave “normal” but we really desire the familiar comfort of routine.
  6. Everyone is essential even if they’re not an essential worker.
  7. How to bake bread and grow tomatoes
  8. Who we would actually choose to take to a deserted island
  9. Baby Yoda’s real name is Grogu and that matters to a lot of people.
  10. The power of the pivot
  11. What our true priorities are, and that we still won’t tackle some of the projects we say we’d get to “if only we had time”
  12. We can do with less, Amazon is (too) easy, and supporting local strengthens our communities.
  13. We can do without trips to the grocery store for “just one ingredient.”
  14. Even when the news strikes all bad, all the time, we can count on John Krasinski for Some Good News.
  15. Self-care and maintaining mental health should be everyone’s daily practice.
  16. Whether we rose to new heights on Pandemic Productivity (looking at you, TSwift) or got squashed by Pandemic Pressure, making it through this year with a working body and sound mind was an accomplishment unto itself.
  17. Comfort is everything, and dress pants are overrated.
  18. American individualism runs deep, democracy is resilient, and freedom for all is worth marching for.
  19. Even difficult changes can produce positive results.
  20. We have control over far less than we think we do.

One more, since we’re now in 2021: last year we watched as ordinary people stepped up to offer their talents and expertise, serving long, hard, sacrificial hours and risking their own health and well-being. We recognized the heroes in our midst, and we learned: we can be heroes.

Let’s be heroes.

Cover image by Monoar Rahman Rony from Pixabay

Word Play & Dog Walks: Fun-Ambulist

As a writer, I am a total geek for fun words. I have fond memories of spelling and vocabulary lessons as far back as elementary school; also, some not-so-fond memories when, because I was such an avid reader and therefore exposed to oh so many words, my spelling words were marked incorrect because I wrote the alternate rather than teacher-approved spelling – for example, theatre as opposed to theater. Both correct, only one the right answer.

I also have a quirky memory of being in the children’s section of our local library, seated at a tiny table covered with books I had cherry picked from many shelves. I may have been seven years old. An older girl sat down across from me and commented on my book stack. She couldn’t believe I could read the books in front of me. She picked up a biography with the word “colonel” in the title and demanded I read it aloud. I pronounced it properly: “kernel.” She laughed triumphantly, and insisted that I sound it out: “It should be col-on-el, not kernel,” she snickered. I silently stared back at her, proud of myself, pitying her.

Because I enjoy words, I often subscribe to vocabulary emails. Recently I began receiving daily emails from School of Word Play. I don’t actually remember signing up for this list, but so far it has chucked some playful words in my direction. Words like “funambulist.”

I hadn’t encountered “funambulist” before. It looks like fun-ambulist, and I thought it might be someone who walks for fun…like me. However, the correct pronunciation is fyoo-nam-byuh-list and the definition is a tight-rope walker…absolutely never will be me. [The “fun” comes from the French or Latin funis, or rope].

Let’s go, boys!

Still, it’s been making me laugh on my many, many dog walks to think of myself as a fun-ambulist, as a fun-walker, strolling along with our three funny dogs. A neighbor recently hollered at us from her jog on the other side of the road that seeing us with our entourage, our dog-tourage, makes her laugh. In the best way, I assume. We are quite the pack.

Most days Guy and I walk together. When he’s unavailable, I do two “laps” of the neighborhood, taking the two younger dogs first before returning home to swap the middle dog for the older one; the Power Puppy needs more than all the exercise we can give him, so he gets to trot along on both laps.

Power Puppy likes to hold the Old Lady’s leash

Walking these dogs has been one of the great joys of my life in this strange year. I have walked and prayed, walked and ruminated, walked and ranted (to myself), walked and pondered, walked and noticed, walked and wondered, walked and meditated, walked until I’d burned out whatever frustration the day has presented, walked until I’d paced myself back into being present and peaceful.

What’s been adding life (and laughter) to your life in this strange year?

More painted rocks I noticed on a recent walk

Speaking of word play, last night I wrote a list-poem that made me laugh…

Boring Words
Just
Very
That
Really
Right
Stuff-Thing
Then

Exhilarating Words
(The) Whimsical
Funambulist
Futz(ed and)
Lollygag(ged, then tumbled)
Catawampus(, causing a thudding)
Brouhaha (for the)
Nincompoop (spectator below)

Giving Thanks in An Exceptional Year

I always prefer to focus on gratitude, yet I hadn’t been feeling it this Thanksgiving week. So I posed a question to our community via Facebook:

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wonder if you would share what uniquely 2020-related things you are thankful for?

In this exceptional year, I thought we might move beyond the typical answers: life, health, family, community. As it turns out, those answers carry exceptional significance this year. When U.S. COVID cases have reached 12.7 million and 260,000+ have died, the essential facts that we and our loved ones are alive and healthy becomes a precious truth for those who can claim it. This year has yielded a renewed awareness that we aren’t promised anything and everything can change without warning. We are learning anew to appreciate our own vitality, the breaths we inhale and exhale over minutes that become hours that become days, and the people with whom we share breathing space—especially those we trust within six feet.

Which leads us to: Family. We’re grateful not to frantically rush out the door for our commutes or carpooling children hither and thither and instead to move a little slower. To share family lunches, hearing about school in the middle of the day. To teach kids to ride a bike or overhear through the bedroom door as they sing along with the school choir. To have unexpected time with littles who grow too fast or with older children who will soon fly the nest, or those who tried and got COVID-grounded or those who’ve made a return trip with fledglings of their own. We’ve had time and space to connect and care for one another differently as we’ve all gone through the strange experiences of this year. Some increased the love under their roof by adding dogs or cats to their households.

Zoom has taught many of us that we can work remotely and it’s given us another tool to connect with family and friends in other places. Some have been holding weekly dinners or game nights via Zoom, an idea that likely wouldn’t have occurred to them before March. Who can tell how many families and friends will celebrate with a virtual Thanksgiving feast?

We are grateful for friends who make us laugh. Last spring the world witnessed Italians singing from the balconies of their homes and apartment-dwellers who held evening calisthenics each outside their own front door. As we walked our dogs, we saw socially-distanced neighbors in cul-de-sacs and on street corners enjoying a “six feet at six o’clock” cocktail hour. A local DJ held socially-distanced neighborhood dance parties. One person commented, and many chimed in, that she is grateful for the way those in our community “swarm” to help others with small or big needs; this swarm produces honey as it relieves life’s stings.

We’ve rediscovered ways to savor time, playing board games and card games with family, hiking our spectacular trail system under smoke-free skies, or dabbling in watercolor painting through a subscription art kit. Reading lots and lots of books. Developing our skills through online classes.

It seems to me that the unexpected and initially undesirable changes brought about by the pandemic initiated so much more than cleaner closets and bread baking skills. It gave us quiet in which to reflect on our priorities and lingering conversations with family and neighbors. It forced us to get creative about how we would maintain the essentials for living and it freed us to be creative in other previously neglected and also life-giving ways. It freed us to live into who we are and who we want to be.

One respondent admitted that she found my question difficult to answer since the pandemic has hit her family hard. Although I’ve never met her nor do I know the specifics of her situation, I extended sympathy. As we say, “we’re in this together,” and clearly this year has been hard…illness, death, unemployment, draining bank accounts, loneliness, mental health issues, grief on so many levels. That’s precisely why I asked the question. We know how hard it’s been, and most of us know that our mis/fortunes rest along a spectrum: we have it hard, and also easier than others. Everyone’s lives have changed…in the same and vastly different ways.

In my faith tradition we acknowledge that when you don’t have words to pray for yourself you can rest in the prayers of others. Similarly, when I couldn’t name my own gratitude, I relied on the gratitude of others. “Yes,” I repeated with each response. “Yes, me too,” I’m grateful for that, and that, and I’m grateful to hear about that small or spectacular development in your life.

And so…

A Prayer of Overflowing Gratitude During Thanksgiving Week of an Entirely Unexpected and Exceptional Year

To the One from whom all good gifts flow I whisper Thank You for life and breath and health and the reminder that we can’t take any of it for granted. For families and slow time to hike and ride bikes and learn to cook or bake or support local restaurants by eating delicious take-out food. For the particular humans I get to call “mine,” and for the shared memories and the coming moments that will be tomorrow’s memories. For board games and card games, even the video games I don’t like but over which my guys bond and burn through their frustration loudly in the garage while I quietly read a book in another room. For skin care products which matter so much more than make up and baseball caps to hide the pandemic-casualty formerly known as a hairstyle and for the comfort of lounge wear all day and night. For the enthusiastic love of our furry friends and the hours upon hours we’ve walked dogs through neighborhoods and along trails, watching the tiny and wondrous changes of the seasons. Thank you for California poppies and irises and hawkweed and thistles, roses and hydrangeas and mums, and mustard plants that grow taller than our 85-pound dog. For sunshine and clear skies and the end of fire season and for the twisting and turning of rainbow-colored autumn leaves on the trees and the ground. For the neighbors we’ve greeted from a distance and waved at through windows and conversed with on the phone or over social media or Facetime or Zoom. For books and our library system and my never-empty Kindle. For Netflix and The Queen’s Gambit and Schitt’s Creek and Disney+ and Hamilton; may Lin Manuel live to write many more plays. For creativity and its multiple expressions we might not have witnessed except for this year. For freedom and those striving for freedom for all. In this Thanksgiving week and on every day of this ridiculous year whether I feel it or not, I whisper Thank You. We say Thank You. The people shout Thank You. And so, Amen.

Following the Words: Scattered

One evening I heard myself say to my husband, “I feel scattered.” I went on to explain just a few of the dizzying directions in which my brain was spinning:

the books I’m reading–to study the author’s writing style, to challenge myself to learn about life from a different perspective, to unwind before bed;

my writing projects–the few side gigs that pay a few pennies, the assignments that stretch me, my commitment to post on my blog regularly, the personal projects I’m trying to take to the next level;

my thoughts and feelings about the divided state of our country, the political and racial strife stirring up people on the streets but also changing friendships and affecting families, the election, and oh, let’s not forget that we’re in the midst of a pandemic and I have never in my life spent this much time at home;

and the intensely personal thoughts and feelings about the ways in which my sons are struggling through distance learning and the coincidence of their developmental stages with this strange time in history, and my mom’s declining health and how her children are coming together…and not.

In other words, it’s a lot. Everybody’s dealing with a lot right now, but this is my heap of extra to pitchfork my way through in search of a needle to stitch together a patchwork quilt of goodness.

The next morning, as the foggy mental fatigue continued to hang heavy on me, I did what I do: I started writing. I decided to follow the word scattered, to listen to the images it offered and what they had to say to me.

I feel scattered…
…like the multicolored metallic glitter confetti strewn across the parquet wood-tile floor of my teenage bedroom after I tore open a belated birthday card…
No, not that bright.

…like the dots and frizzles of crepe-paper ribbons launched from the midnight canon on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, paper melting and colors bleeding into sludgy snow drifts, ground into the treads of shuffling boots and sneakers and spiked by the impractical inches of sparkly high heels impaling the neon dark dawn of another cold year…
No, not that wasted.

…like the wild ping and ding and plonk and buzz and whap-slap of pinballs bouncing and banging a dizzying hypotrochoid roulette through an arcade game…
No, not that loud.

…like fire ash twisting in the late-summer breeze, tangling with the twigs of sunlight creeping through the apocalyptic orange smoke sky, impossibly snowing grey soot on our white roses…
No, not that tragic.

…like the crisp underfoot crunch of fallen autumn leaves carpeting the ground, sun yellow, rusty red, burnt orange, vibrant and colorful and withered, contributing their seasonal decay decoration to the loamy compost which will energize more life to burst forth from the ground…
Yes, organic potential, scattered like that.

Not the best piece of writing I’ve produced, but that wasn’t the point. The process itself was helpful. For a time I lost myself in playing with words and images. It felt freeing to be able to see, and then reject, what scattered could but didn’t mean to me: no, not wasted like crepe paper confetti on New Year’s Eve, or loud like pinball machines in an arcade. Not bright, not tragic.

But yes, scattered like fallen leaves, natural, not artificial, still scattered, but promising. Each factor in the multiplicity of ideas and anxieties boggling my brain and soul might come together for exponential growth. Some thoughts, like those fallen leaves, will crumble into dust and blow away on the breeze–not everything needs to lead to something or even mean something–but others may contribute to the rise of something new.

Though feeling scattered remains uncomfortable, the process of following the words led me to hope. And for that, I am grateful.

Cover Image by Martina Janochová from Pixabay

All Saints’ Day

Still trembling with fear, I grabbed Mom’s arm in wobbly desperation. “Do Not Ever let me ride that again!” I gasped. “Even when I’m a teenager and I come here with my friends, tell them I Am Not allowed to ride that ride!”

My mom took me and my sister to Disneyland, an hour-and-a-half drive from our home, and we went on the Haunted Mansion ride. About half-way through, our chair spun suddenly toward a mirror where I could see ghosts, invisible when I looked at myself but visibly sitting on my lap when I glanced in the mirror. Gah, ghosts? Only nine years old, I had the first panic attack of my life.

I’m not a Halloween person. As a kid, I liked costume parades and school carnivals, pumpkin carving and candy, all the candy, until that one year I learned that ALL the candy isn’t a grand idea. As a parent, I enjoyed helping my kids choose costumes, the kid-cute creativity and the fun of families gathering together for dinner and a trick-or-treat stroll of the neighborhood.

I understood early that I am sensitive, and scary + gore = more terror than I can handle. I eventually succumbed to sleep-over peer pressure and watched a few horror movies with friends, but that came to a hard stop when Nightmare on Elm Street gave me actual nightmares for months.

However, Halloween will always fall on October 31 and All Saints’ Day will always fall on November 1. I didn’t grow up within a tradition that observed All Saints’ Day, but it took on new meaning when my dad died on my son’s first birthday.

The Church has a centuries-old tradition of setting aside this day to remember those who have gone before us from life into death to form the “great cloud of witnesses” as mentioned in Hebrews: …since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… (Hebrews 12:1-2, NRSV)

Although I have lightly pussy-footed with a little bit of running, that race image has never worked for me. I’m kind of a wuss, and perseverance implies a hard-edged discipline I don’t possess. Joy motivates me far more…and so it truly helps to remember that I, that we, have a jam-packed cheering section hootin’ and hollerin’ for us as we look to Jesus for direction on how to live each day.

I still don’t have a specific All Saints’ Day observance. Unlike Dia de Muertos, for me this day doesn’t come prepackaged with decorations, traditions, and treats. Some years it slips my notice altogether. But last night we had the quietest Halloween ever, take-out burritos (boo-ritos!) and a suspenseful (not gory) movie and not a single trick-or-treater at the door. Our kids having grown older and this pandemic year combined to cancel one more opportunity to gather.

Which made me more grateful for the timely encouragement I found this morning when I wasn’t even looking for it, a prayer and a hymn, the great cloud of witnesses putting resources in my hands to remind me that, though we may feel alone in these strange days, we are never truly alone.

By the way, my family celebrated my 40th birthday at Disneyland and, as the Haunted Mansion was also 40 years old, I received skip-the-line passes for the ride. Despite countless trips to Disneyland, I had, in fact, not ridden the ride since that first time. I put it off all day until finally, determined to conquer my fear, my young son held my hand and rode it with me.

Renovated to include characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas movie, we giggled throughout our short trip. The ride still has the ghost-infested mirrors, but they no longer scared me. At the end, my son looked at me with concern on his face: What about that was so scary for you? I understood his incredulity; the ride isn’t scary.

It scared me once, though, when it showed me that there might be more going on in our experience of this life than we can observe with our two eyes. Still, I’ll take a heavenly cheering section over ghosts any day.

Prayer: Lord, your saints come from every nation and every tribe. Such is the beauty of your kingdom, where every race and people are honored and recognized as being made in your image. Help us live lives of peace and reconciliation that pay homage to the diversity of your great cloud of witnesses. Amen. (from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro)

Hymn:
Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake
All now mysterious shall be bright at last
Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below

Be still, my soul, when dearest friends depart,
and all is darkened in the vale of tears,
then shall you better know his love, his heart,
who comes to soothe your sorrow and your fears.
Be still, my soul: your Jesus can repay
from his own fullness all he takes away.

Be still, my soul! The hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored
Be still, my soul! When change and tears are past
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last
(Be Still, My Soul!, music by Jean Sibelius, words adapted from Psalm 46 by Kathrina von Schlegel)

Cover Image by Henryk Niestrój from Pixabay

Noticing the Glorious Ordinary

Most days of the week I walk by this ordinary bush tucked in among other ordinary bushes along the roadside. So why on that particular day did this one particular ordinary bush attract my eye? The dog must have yanked her leash and stopped to sniff at its roots, allowing my eye to rest a beat longer than usual.

But this bush…! Once I noticed it, I couldn’t not notice it. Now I see it, and admire it, every time I stroll that stretch of the neighborhood. I don’t know what it’s called, or whether it might look different in a different season, but it fascinates me in this early fall. I’m no mathematician but I’m certain its intricacies are mathematical in their precision.

Do you see those teensy pink flowers tickling their way out of the pods extending on stems from the central ball, like the tiny tickling feet of a sea star, or the antennae of some other spectacular underwater creature?

This glorious ordinary bush, tucked in among other ordinary bushes which might be equally glorious if I stopped to notice them. Like one glorious ordinary day in a week, or a month, or a year of ordinary days…and in this year filled with never-ending weeks and months of Blursdays, blurry in their sameness, it’s too easy to lose track. Some days when I open my gratitude journal in the morning to record a few sprinkles of gratitude from the previous day, I can’t remember a single stand out; some days I forget to even pick up the gratitude journal.

This striking regular bush, like a magnificent typical day, like a fantastic common individual human person. All ordinary, among ordinary others, and all miraculous… What will it take for us to stop, see, notice, admire, appreciate, marvel in the extraordinary ordinary all around us? Including our very own lives.

Choose Joy

I have a full day in progress, some work and mostly mundane chores that still need to get done. I also received hard, sad news yesterday, had strange dreams that shocked me awake with my heart fluttering, and had a pressing headache–from the tip of my nose down to my aching shoulders–before I even opened my eyes. None of that changes all the tasks ahead of me today.

And so I will choose joy.

@apeaceofwerk

I may require extra coffee and ibuprofen, notes to self to unclench my jaw and stretch, and refilling my water bottle more than normal. But I will still choose joy.

I will set timers to be productive and take breaks.

I will involve the kids, turn on music, and transform cleaning into a dance party.

I will offer myself periodic rewards for work well done, something as simple as a head massage in the shower I won’t get until this afternoon.

I will step outside and feel the warmth of the sun.

@apeaceofwerk

I will notice gratitude–for the sun, for the new crop of grape tomatoes growing in our container garden that will explode deliciousness in our mouths, for the company of the people I love living under our roof.

I will breathe deeply.

I will engage my senses–what can I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch that adds beauty to this very moment?

I will pet the pets and laugh at their antics. Maybe I’ll look up silly animal videos on one of my breaks.

I will give myself bear hugs.

I will say YES and Thank You to whatever this day holds, all the imperfections and the missed expectations and the mess and the wild and precious ordinary 1440 minutes (or however many are left) in this day.

@triciarobinson

How will you choose joy today?

These Miraculous Days

Some days are picture perfect–big and bright, colorfully nuanced, blooming like a show-offy prize-winning rose.

Those are the days when you wake three minutes before the alarm, energetic and enthusiastic to take on whatever-may-come. The days when the sunlight glints on every surface and the temperature is just right, not too warm or too chill. The days when one steaming mug of coffee or bone China cup of Darjeeling is all it takes to get you going and the whole grain toast pops up at exactly your preferred degree of doneness. The days when even your dog keeps in perfect rhythm with your step the whole jog around the block, foreshadowing good things to come.

Those are the days when your clothes don’t need ironing and they fit better than the last time you wore them and the color of your blouse enhances the rosy blush in your cheeks. When you catch every green light on your way and everyone you pass smiles and even the conflict you knew to anticipate dissolves into nothingness. When you find an unexpected check in the mail alongside the oh-so-fun Etsy package you ordered as a birthday gift for your neighbor, and your kids have managed to prepare a simple meal that you don’t have to salvage.

Those days are miracles. You fall into bed three minutes before bedtime and breathe in and out a deeply contented sigh, “Miraculous.”

Other days are simpler, quieter, like an uncomplicated autumn yellow chrysanthemum.

Those days you might wake up with the alarm. You might also hit snooze a time or two. You down two mugs of coffee and put on an extra layer before leashing the dog who yanks hard toward every other bush, which makes you slightly late so that you have to cut your route short.

Those are the days when you try on three outfits before settling on the one that needs ironing but to save time you toss it in the dryer on the “wrinkle release” setting while you take an extra slurp of coffee. The toast doesn’t exactly burn, but it’s disappointing–and you know life is too short for disappointing toast–so you chunk it in with the dog’s food and grab a yogurt cup instead.

Those are the days when, like your dog peeing on every other bush, you hit every other red light. When your preoccupied boss doesn’t smile but that might not mean anything and your work requires more concentrated effort yet you find yourself daydreaming out the window while the warm breeze tosses the leaves like fun-size candy on Halloween. When the mailbox contains bills and political ads and the kids are squabbling and no one can agree on what you should prepare for dinner.

Those ordinary days aren’t bad. They are most days, typical, unexceptional, average days…and they’re still miraculous.

How are you? No, really…

How are you? she asks, a simple question requiring an easy answer. But do we really have a simple answer?

I could tell her I’m tired, weary in my bones and soul. So weary that sleep plays hide and seek through the dark hours, slipping through my grasp each time I think I’ve caught it. And I understand, of course, that hide and seek was always more fun to play after dark. Still, I do all the right things: I go to bed at what they call a reasonable hour with a book soothing, not scintillating. I read until my eyes flicker and then, ready to slide down sloping fatigue into sleep, I turn out the lights. Timed to the flick of the light switch, my eyes snap open, staring into the dark interior of my sleep mask, which I now shove onto my forehead because I am instantly wide awake.

I could tell her I’m tired because, on those rare nights when I less eventfully hop aboard the sleep train, when its chugga-chugga forward motion lulls me into slumber and its choo-choo doesn’t rouse me, it speeds ahead of schedule to reach its destination before I’m rested. Or it breaks down with a screech of brakes and fire sparks of metal wheels straining on metal tracks as I am knocked meanly backward into my seat, clutching the arm rests for dear waking life, desperate for the slow-and-steady rhythm of safe passage to morning.

I could tell her I’m tired from my nightly boxing match versus my comforter, not doing its comforting job–I should spitefully call it “duvet,” or less fancy and more plain-spoken “bedspread,” or even “hot mess” except that more accurately describes me–as I fling my limbs free from the tangles of its stranglehold in search of the air flow from the oscillating fan. Until my foot or knee or elbow ice over and I yank them back to center, only to fight another round, and another, the fight cycle as endless as the fan, and the minutes on the clock, oscillating through the hours of the night.

I could tell her I’m tired from not sleeping because I’m a middle-aged hormonal woman. We could shrug and laugh and oh well meshuggenah at this sleeplessness. I could also explain that my anxious mind spins all night long through the circles of aching grief hell from the losses we have suffered this year, the loss of jobs, the loss of freedoms to be out and about at the theatres and the malls and the concerts and the parties, gathering with friends and family in countless numbers since the more the merrier was always the open invitation. The loss of travel, of vacations planned and cancelled. The loss of so much that added fun and celebration and punctuated the mundane, while the fatigue mounts from trying and flailing to sprinkle sparkle over days that recur with such similarity that we have lost the days of the week, the weeks of the month, the months of the year: I keep opening my calendar-planner to March, confused…

Pause: Let us now pause to mourn the colossal loss of the freedom to grieve through the rituals that allow and support and move us through grief. We have lost the freedom to be with our loved ones who are sick and dying; we have said our goodbyes in this life through plate-glass windows and computer screens. We have lost the freedom to hold memorial services and graveside gatherings. We have lost the freedom to gather in remembrance, for Memorial Day, 9/11, and Veteran’s Day is coming right up. We have lost, and perhaps just recently regained while perhaps to lose again, the opportunity to worship together in person, to worship and praise and lament and just be in process in this moment, side-by-side, right now.

I could tell her I’m tired from the heartbreaking loss of friendships because apparently some friends were truly occasional acquaintances and, without our regular joyful meetings in our ordinary joy-filled places, the colorful palette of our once-vibrant conversations dried, faded, flaked in the plein air breeze of months we thought would be weeks, leaving behind a faintly-hued shadow I hold tight as a memento. My gut aches and my soul quakes from the loss of friends who turned toward a different view from our place on the trail and wandered away to hike with others, new friends or those who share similarly-firm beliefs that leave us behind in the dust wondering how we could have seen things so differently when we once paced so steadily shoulder-to-shoulder?

I could tell her I’m tired of listening to and, in turn, shielding myself from the spits of anger bubbling and boiling in almost every cauldron-conversation, in person, online, on screen. The news I choose to read because the vitriol voices need no additional amplification. The pummeling lies that beat us to dust-level to sift through more and more foolishness piled up in more and more sources until, muscles sore from shoveling piles and digging mine deep, we strike a vein of truth: Eureka! Only to recognize that we will need to repeat the process, digging, sifting, digging, rinsing, hi ho hi ho, in search of diamonds and precious gems and 24 karat gold while smacking fool’s gold from foolish fingers.

I could tell her I’m tired of the ear-piecing voices that puncture the present to “get back to normal” ASAP, right this g’damn minute if not yesterday or last week already, that the restrictions meant as safeguards against which many fought and didn’t follow ever, you do you American individualism at its worst, be lifted for everyone everywhere. That theatres and malls and concerts and parties roar back to life, that workplaces open and freeways and BART trains fill up as commuters resume their daily to-and-fro trudge. That schools for students of all ages open immediately.

I could tell her I’m tired because the pandemic has worn me out, too. Just like everyone else, I’m tired of making all the meals for all the people and washing all the dishes and planning all the menus so we can stagger all the shopping trips or find ourselves again, unintentionally, offering the pet rabbit or the compost heap the produce that has gone off before we got to it. I’m tired of competing in the Pandemic WiFi Olympics with everyone under our roof and in our neighborhood on Zoom work and Zoom school all the freaking hi ho hi ho day long.

I could tell her I’m especially oh so tired of monitoring online school and emailing teachers and skirting parents who want me to agree with them, though I don’t and I can’t for the sake of my individual and particular struggling child, who likely represents more children than I or we know personally. The screech of brakes and fire sparks of metal wheels straining on metal tracks sting my ears and burn my brain as I realize that this time I’m the one throwing the brakes and I’m the one throwing my body over my child tied to the tracks as the train hurtles toward us… We’ve finally committed and settled in to our place on this track, as we thought required and necessary, and now that we’re here we discover wide-eyed that we’re stuck and left behind while others nimbly switch tracks and the train set in motion by life and pandemic and school board and caution and all those squeaky wheels might actually mow us down.

I could tell her I’m just as tired as every other K-12 parent from empathizing with the myriad losses my son has and will experience, losses common to all our kids, the games and sports practices and dances and lunchtime rallies and spirit days and concerts and plays and gallery shows and in-class support and Scouts and youth groups and parties and budding romances and old-fashioned face-to-face friendship and, oh yeah, Halloween which shouldn’t but probably will happen anyway in 2020, as this strange school year in this strange pandemic year unfolds bit by bit, a map we didn’t chart and don’t know how to follow toward a destination on which no one yet agrees.

I could tell her I’m tired of feeling anxious about a virus we can’t see and don’t understand for which there isn’t yet a vaccine–and patients in vaccine trials keep getting sick which halts vaccine trials and maintains our place in this holding pattern. I’m tired of having to think so intentionally about how to do differently all the things that once filled our days with normalcy, like a quick grocery trip on the way home from a day at the office to pick up a fresh ciabatta loaf so we can make a Tuscan pressed sandwich for dinner tonight with the fragrant basil and glorious tomatoes growing in our garden.

I could tell her I’m tired and shattered for feeling suspicious of neighbors and friends, those same shrill voices who insist that society and schools reopen, and yet I’ve heard about their summer vacations, multiple trips in fact while so many of us followed the suggested guidelines and stayed home, and I’ve seen their pictures of mask-less hugs gathered in tight for the camera on those vacations or at those restaurants that posted policies of family-only seating. Who to trust?

I want schools to open, safely. I want on-site work to resume, safely. I want stores and theatres to open, safely. I want to see friends and neighbors and family and colleagues, safely. I want “normal” life, whatever that ever meant, to resume, or our “new normal” to commence…safely.

How are you? she asks.

Tired, grieving, frustrated, sad, lonely, I could say.

Existentially and honestly, I could also answer: I am loved, safe, housed and fed, unintentionally funny yet funny nonetheless, smart and talented and engaged, creative and creatively fulfilled, thoughtful and kind and loving.

Grateful, I could say. I am all of this, and also grateful.

How are you?