pandemic

Vitamin C

Did a new year turn over?

While a fresh start is tempting, it feels more like 2020 is still bleeding onto our blank slates. I’m not willing to throw in the towel just eight days in.

One of my goals for this year is to check the news less. I’ve already failed.

My twitching fingers keep clicking refresh. As texts buzz in and news alerts ping loudly, I can’t help myself.

There’s a thick, bold line between being informed and being consumed. My consumption has reached unhealthy levels. The images of rioters and men barging through spaces seem burned into my consciousness. Anger seeps through screens as we create memes and scroll through poignant personal truths on Twitter, and confusion on CNN.

January typically is full of commitments to better. To healthy lifestyles, to new and improved selves, to less butter, or caffeine. Sugar is damned.

With the hemorrhaging of 2020 continuing, I ask, “What does it mean to be healthy, now?”

We thought cases were soaring in summer. Now spikes seem like mountains. These steep slopes lead to lack of oxygen. No blue skies or crispness in the air.

Searching for beauty from the home office is limited. My surroundings remain the same.

This week, I ordered groceries online and unpacked packages crinkling in cellophane. Butter and sugar are staples for survival. Improvement takes a back seat.

As plastic bags emptied, I turned to the pile on the counter. Five round Cara cara oranges winked hello from their caged netting.

Using a blunt scissor blade, I tore through the mesh to place a globe in my palm. As I dug my thumb nail into the flesh, I was squirted with small gems of juice. Licking my wrist, I kept at the process of ripping peel from fruit. I sank my teeth into the wedges and slurped on repeat.

I can watch, with eyes wide and stomach churning, the constant flow of bad news creep into my brain. Or I can put down my phone, walk away from the screens, and sink into sustenance instead.

Beauty in flesh, in juice, in slurping. In staying away from the news.

Be safe. Be well. Eat an orange. We need the vitamin C.

Many Mirco-Accomplishments

“Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

I pulled out my journal this morning to try and recount what exactly we did this year where many days felt the same. I surprised myself, sitting in the sun, as I scrawled twenty pages of reflection on what we did accomplish.

Nothing grand. No big adventures.

Instead, many micro-accomplishments. Harvests of cucumbers. Tiny reaches out of our comfort zones. A new job. Adjusting again to forces outside of ourselves. A basil plant taking in sun from cold winter windows. Witnessing pain. A new vitamin regimen. Striving for beauty. Ten gallons of paint.

2020 wasn’t a grand year. We were alone. Connected through screens, we grew closer to one another in ways I likely won’t understand for awhile. Isn’t it amazing how every human on earth now has this pandemic in common? How many other life experiences will stitch us together like this? The individual living of this year is different in kaleidoscope ways, yes. The tube, the crystals, the spinning disorientation – all the same.

I wonder how long it will take for the scapegoat disaster of 2020 to be reclaimed with something different. The ticking of time tonight can not erase what still lurks. 2021 may hold better. It may hold different. I know it will require processing, patience, and tending to pain.

Back in January I wrote I wasn’t going to be so bold to predict what would unfold on this year’s pages. I couldn’t have fathomed what actually was written in ink. I feel much the same about tomorrow. A new January. A new calendar. Pages to be ripped and discarded from organizational systems and goals to be scratched onto chalkboards in white. How many will be smeared in waiting in June?

This year, I read. A lot. On the floor, in the corner, tucked into my bed with cold bowls of vanilla ice cream. I got new glasses and my squinching face relaxed just a tiny bit as I escaped into story. Words comforted me. Challenged me. Seemed to be a constant companion.

As they lay Ruth Bader Ginsburg to rest, I welcomed with appreciation, all the work she accomplished to make the world a better place for my mother, for me, for women around the world longing for something different.

Never underestimate the power of words. How we absorb them, shape them, use them to search for beautiful things.

On this, the last day of a year we will never forget, I leave the list of books I read with you.

Bridge of ClayMarkus Zusak

Little WomenLouisa May Alcott

Red at the BoneJacqueline Woodson

Nine Perfect Strangers Liane Moriarty

There, There Tommy Orange

Dumplin’Julie Murphy

Counting by 7’sHolly Goldberg Sloan

Still MeJoJo Moyes

Little House on the PrairieLaura Ingalls Wilder

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and FoodAnn Hood

Turtles All the way DownJohn Greene

In PiecesSally Field

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country Helen Russell

Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s StoneJ.K. Rowling

The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away my Belongings, and Discovered Life is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a StoreCait Flanders

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity & LoveDani Shapiro

Such a Fun AgeKiley Reid

A Tree Grows in BrooklynBetty Smith

The CactusSarah Haywood

Little WierdsJenny Slate

Wine Girl: The Trials and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier Victoria James
The GownJennifer Robson

Magic HourKristen Hannah

The Hypnotist’s Love StoryLiane Moriarty

The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion

The Scent KeeperErica Bauermeister

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to SurviveStephanie Land

The Secrets We KeptLara Prescott

The Night Tiger Yangsze Choo

RedwallBrian Jacques

Mountains Beyond MountainsTracy Kidder

The Library Book Susan Orlean

The Alice NetworkKate Quinn

The Light We LostJill Santopolo

NeverwhereNeil Gaiman

The Henna ArtistAlka Joshi

The Velveteen RabbitMargery Williams

More Than Words Jill Santopolo

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War IIMolly Guptill Manning

Fortune’s Rocks – Anita Shreve

The Vanishing HalfBrit Bennett

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Ordinary LifeTish Harrison Warren

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRueV.E. Schwab

The Practice: Shipping Creative Work Seth Godin

The AfterGrief: Finding Your Way Along the Long Arc of LossHope Edelman

Finding Freedom: Harry & Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal FamilyOmid Scobie & Carolyn Durand

Goodbye to All That – Writers on Loving & Leaving New YorkEdited by Sari Botton

Angel FallsKristen Hannah

The Family Fang Kevin Wilson

Bel CantoAnn Patchett

Tomorrow Will Be Better Betty Smith

Of Dark December Days

I took the time to dig through the blue bucket where the winter clothes live. Up on the top shelf of the poorly insulated coat closet live the garments designed to keep me warm.

I found the regulars. Hand-knit, white, patterned gloves crocheted with care. A blue hat made with yarn I requested myself. Being a part of a family of knitters has its winter perks.

As the sun started to dip behind the mountains to the west, we bundled up for a brisk walk around the neighborhood.

The cold nipped at my cheeks and as the dog pulled at my arms, I started to notice. I watched the sun sparkle on snow, and dance with the thistles showing up for their dates at the golden hour. I said a small prayer of thanks as I lifted my dark hood up onto my head to protect my ears. The only noises accompanying us were the panting puppy and puffing of neighbor’s trucks passing as we dodged still frozen patches of ice on asphalt.

There’s quiet in this dark season. Words are few between me and my husband. Not because of conflict or passive aggressive fights. We’ve instead been running out of things to say. With all of our time at home, the highlights are brief. The anecdotes missing. We turn to our screens and try to find activities to fill these dark nights in Groundhog Day, pandemic season.

Pouring a glass of white wine, a small tilt of the wrist swirls the liquid in its home. Light from the candle wick at the table wobbles, mingling with the shadows drawing long across my kitchen. Christmas tree lights reflect on orb’s edges as I sip slowly.

These days feel long and lonely.

I must call on my reserves to bring warmth. Extra blankets. Size-able pours. Matches sparked against steady surfaces. Electricity pulsing on boughs of pine.

These are the beautiful things of dark December days.

Wine. Warmth. Light.

As The Darkness Descends

I now obsessively click on inciweb, checking the status of evacuations and wind patterns and burn scars up the canyons close by.

With the fires mere miles away from my home, I spent the weekend nervous and wondering. I signed up for text alerts and began making lists of items we would take should we get a call that could change our life.

My prayers centered on surrender and asking for protection. While I prayed, people in my community lost their homes. Whole lives burned up as bricks stood witness to the incineration.

New fires sparked further down the Front Range cooridor and I ask, “Is being witness enough?”

And if my witnessing is filtered through a screen, liberal media outlets, and through the stories on my social media feeds? Does this count as standing witness to pain?

I know what it’s like to get a phone call that can change your life. I also know what it’s like to hunker down and wait, with bated breath, for the wind to shift.

I’m trying to balance panic with presence. Reframe what could be to what is. Taking moments to identify the gifts residing in this natural disaster space.

Community members rally together to raise funds for those who have lost livelihoods.

Voters wait for hours to fill in bubbles with black ink.

The laundry is done and the sourdough is active.

I use my words to meditate – sending hope and love and peace to myself and others.

As I become accustomed to skies darkening with smoke, I slice oranges and lemons and toss them into a pot with cinnamon and cloves. Cool water covers the mixture and simmers slightly on my stove, trying to reclaim the air with fresh scents.

Ash rains down, falling in thin layers on my back patio, reminding me an essential part of my human experience is surrender.

I can click refresh but I can’t change the outcome. I can sweep away the mess, but things have still burned. The remnants smear black on concrete.

So much has turned to ash this year. Plans and dreams. Jobs and homes. Trust and a sense of safety. Community. Connection. A sense of time.

The other day I was checking the status of an online order we placed in August. The stressed customer service agent shared plans for the item to ship on October 20th. I texted Dylan, “Think we’ll get it before Christmas?”

His response?

“Christmas is really not that far away.”

I suppose he’s not wrong.

I’d forgotten it WAS October 20th. My brain is still stuck in April. Or September. I did grow a garden, right? Who knows if we’ll holiday, or give thanks over cardboard takeout containers. Wouldn’t it be alright to take a pass on tradition this year? Nothing else has been conventional. I’m not willing to risk a life for a turkey dinner.

The days are growing shorter and the nights are now long. I’m working on turning off my screens and taming my clicking finger’s tick to satisfy the need to know more of the madness we’re witnessing.

I’ll be here, turning on warm lights inside as the darkness descends. May that be a beautiful thing.

Which one is louder and why?

If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

I’ve been wondering the same of joy lately. If we take a moment to see the good, and no one is here to nod along, does the bubble burst unnoticed?

So much of this year has been spent in isolation. From behind our screens and windows, from six feet away, many sit longing. Others deny and bravely threaten others with careless acts in the name of freedom.

Can we cultivate joy if we are the only ones to recognize the burbles?

A life-long fan of Winnie the Pooh, I nodded at this quippy meme after clicking send in a private message to another who would surely nod too.

Image may contain: text that says 'Pooh? Yeah Piglet? I'm tired of all this. I am too Piglet. I am too.'

Then I caught myself, gnawing at the chords of dark humor binding my wrists into inaction. I am SO sick of all of this. Of living in a world where humans hurt and politicians lie and I fight with friends on Instagram, triggered by words of others I don’t even know. Shame crept up in the spaces where our values divide us. Maybe it’s always been this way?

I sink my teeth into the quickly tightening reeds of disbelief. I have to keep cutting through the growing thickets to create my own light.

The days are growing shorter, streaming orange beams of afternoon sun onto my kitchen floor.

Sourdough starter still bubbles up, even when recipes are misread and overnight rises become day time activities.

Grey strips grow into place as hair cuts beckon.

Chocolate bars crunch as almonds splinter.

Memories woosh through cyberspace and land with a buzz onto a cell phone screen.

A friend sent me a picture of my senior photo, snapped from a yearbook in halls where she works and I no longer walk.

A girl fills the left of a frame at eighteen with dark, shoulder length hair parted right down the middle. Big eyes surrounded with too much eyeliner, looked up as she fingered the small cross around her neck. In cursive font, was my chosen senior quote.

“When you stand in the present moment, you are timeless.”

Heady right?

I’ve outgrown Abercrombie long-sleeves, and knowing it all and yet, I haven’t outgrown my aching for transcendence.

I’m here – in this pandemic moment – knowing so many are struggling. I’m sick of politics, and fight my addiction to the ticking death toll on the New York Times website.

Does good beget good and light spark more light?

Trees are falling. Beauty is burbling. Do they make a sound? Which one is louder and why?

You can answer. What does beauty sound like to you? I’m here. I’m listening.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

Someone complimented my shoes.

We aren’t back to normal. We must continue to be cautious and perhaps, we’ve adjusted.

I packed my red Timbuktu work bag this morning to come to the office for the first time in five months. I needed a wet rag to wipe off the dust that had accumulated as it sat in the corner waiting to be carried again.

As I drove to the office, I noticed a mom and a toddler watching big, construction orange diggers in the new housing development nearby. Music played on the car radio. I haven’t heard new tunes because my commute went from thirty minutes north to four stairs descending into a room where the light shines through basement windows.

While waiting for my turn at a stop sign, and noticed a shaggy golden retriever sticking it’s head out the window of a yellow Volkswagon beetle.

Turning in to the parking lot, vacancies beckoned. Once difficult to find a place to leave my car, I scooted in to an open spot with no trouble at all.

Putting on my mask, I juggled a work bag and a floral lunch box I purchased in March, and keyed in the code to our office. It feels good to be back.

And still, I sit in the conference room by myself, co-workers still at their homes. The silence no longer bothers me. Clicking of keys keep me company.

Crossing the courtyard, I went to purchase an iced coffee. As I waited in line, a kind man standing six feet behind me complimented my shoes.

“I like the snake skin,” he said grinning.

“Thanks,” I replied. ” I haven’t worked outside of my house for seven months. It was time to bring out the fancy shoes.”

I know people are living their lives to various degrees. Some are traveling, going back to offices, and trying to adapt as safely as possible. Others are home and waiting and wondering, or perhaps turning more content to the slower rhythms of corona life. Parents are teaching, teachers are parenting, and we’re all doing the best we can.

This morning I noticed the ordinary. A toddler in awe, a dog breathing in the Colorado air tainted with smoke. Someone complimented my shoes. I haven’t worn shoes with a heel in months.

Life is still here. It just looks a little bit different. Receiving compliments from strangers is a beautiful thing.

In the Unfolding Future

For the first time in over a year, I spent a full day in the home I grew up in. There have been multiple reasons for my absence. Changes in caregivers and in family situations. I’m trying to negotiate being an adult woman with a house of my own. A pandemic lurks, placing tentacles of fear and suckers of joy on the cracked cement steps.

As I stood at the front door this weekend, I realized my key no longer has a place to work. The lock had been replaced with an electronic key pad. I rang the bell, and the big dog began to bark. Upon answering the door, my mom repeated the numeric code I needed to get access. It’s not as if I was kept out intentionally. I thought I put the pattern in my phone. Apparently not.

We had spent thirty dollars to stand in a field under a blue sky made silver with smoke. Returning again to the community farm, we took scissors to stems and snipped bloom after bloom, placing our finds in a large, round bucket.

We had gathered armfuls of greens, daisies, dahlias, and delicate flowers to collect into vases and mason jars. We returned home to do our work, walking through the front room on worn wooden floors to approach the table that sustained me. While we shredded leaves and clustered our collections, my mom and I caught up on stalled-life and our slow summers.

It has been almost five years since I sat in the same place, in the tall oak chair frame my dad built in the garage, disassembling arrangements sent for his funeral. The scratchy chair pad nibbled the backs of my thighs saying, ‘I may be worn, but I’m still here, too.’

Some heart ache challenges simply must be tended to from the kitchen tables of our youth.

I’ve healed, wept, and morphed over the last few years. I suppose, if we’re paying attention, we all do. What I hadn’t realized before this weekend was, just as every day is given a new, so too is my grief.

Dad isn’t here for this moment. Or the one that just passed. Nor will he be here for the ones unfolding as this sentence continues. I didn’t realize I will continue to grieve in the unfolding future. The every day ache is not debilitating, but it demands attention. When grief gets neglected, my soul gets hard.

I moved from the kitchen table, to the arm chair in the study, and still our conversation continued.

As noon turned into early evening, I kept wishing Dad would walk through the garage door. Couldn’t he be home from work or an outing at the hardware store? Perhaps he would have brought us a treat.

The door never opened. Instead, I walked out through the front.

I brought the bouquets to my new home. As I placed one vase after the other in rooms where I sit these days, I wondered if flowers can be seen as friends. I’m working from home without companionship now, as my husband returned to a socially distanced office armed with hand-sanitizer and a closing glass door.

The flowers keep me company. I’ve surrounding myself with beauty and scent and bursts of color to bolster me while he’s away. The refrigerator hums and my fingers click on the keyboard. I play classical music to keep my anxiety at bay.

For Dad’s not here now, in the next moment, or at the end of this sentence. I’ve learned I get to miss Him still, as the adult I’m becoming in my own home. I draw up familiar lessons of comfort. Memories of past greetings from the wide-open garage door nibble into me like bites left from worn, knitted, chair cushions.

Now, instead, I wait for my husband to return from his office to walk in our blue front door and I miss Him. And that, is a beautiful thing.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

Turned Inside Out

After six months at home with limited social interactions, I didn’t think I could look much further inward.

Inward is where I’ve been living – perhaps for the last four years. Grief turned me so inward, I turned inside out.  Insides exposed – skin raw, even still. Prickling with the constant bombardment of suffering, of loss, of what it means to have tugging skin as your wounds heal and re-arrange. After four years, I was ready to get out into the world again. And then a pandemic hit.

With news cycles imploding on the hour, and violence bursting across our country, I’m tempted to turn off my phone and close my eyes.

Tuning out is privilege. Turning things off is a choice.

I thought about changing my Facebook cover photo to this Fauci quote earlier this week.

care

I stopped myself because I don’t feel social media is the place to change minds. Perhaps blogs posts aren’t either. We’re pretty set in our ways and discourse fails in comment threads, when we can’t make eye contact, or place a warm hand of understanding on the fingers of someone we disagree with. Most of the time, our friends nod in agreement when we share our thoughts on how the world could be and for whom.

But, as I continually click reload on news browsers and watch brave protestors, athletes, artists, and individuals address the hurt and pain of others across the nation, Fauci’s quote keeps giving me pause.

How do we knock on closed-off hearts? How do we whisper to those living in extremism? How do we share kindness to people who are different than us?

I have a hard time feeling angry with wealthy people who choose not to share their resources. I live in a working class neighborhood. With every Trump flag popping up on lawns across the street, I hesitate to display my proudly purchased Biden-Kamala sticker. My Christian roots bristle at Evangelical narratives,  withdrawing to find different sources of spiritual thirst quenching. I struggle to embrace the differing opinions of relatives spread across the country.

I said I wouldn’t get political and well, here we are. Everything feels political. Our clashing values create rifts like canyons – pulling us apart from where we used to stand in agreement.

We’re living in fear of those who are different than us. Fear of those who think or look or value different things. Fear of expressing what we really think. Fear of having something taken, or distributed differently, fear of lack of control. Fear of, once again, being unseen.

And somehow, we’ve gotten so sidetracked, that caring for a human life feels radical.

So, I pick up a pen and write postcards to old friends. I text the people who seem to have forgotten me in the course of loss. I go to my garden and I water the plants growing in my tiny patch of dirt. I give money. I pray. I set down the phone. I circle back to my tiny sphere and I keep at the searching for good. I cheer for the protestors. I buy local and support small business owners. I wear a mask. I get ready to vote. I stay home and I keep looking inward.

Maybe, as a nation, we’re getting turned inside out?

How do we remind each other we need to care? Do you care deeply about our impact on the planet, our country, our neighborhood, our streets, on the children who look different than you? What about those who have lived and lost and are hurting? What about those without support networks? What about those whose kids are in literal cages? What about those innocent ones getting shot in the street?

We need to care. And that’s a beautiful thing.

 

 

 

Groan Tubes

Remember? About twelve inches long, cylindrical, brightly colored. You’d find them on the shelves in toy shops and as prizes when playing carnival games. I remember exchanging tickets for the annoying noise makers later left behind in back seats.

 

I relate to the little weight, pulled down into a groan by gravity.

The rollercoaster of pandemic emotions pulls me down from the crest, and as I descend down the tracks, I realized I’ve forgotten to raise my hands. We aren’t screaming in excitement.

It takes more energy and focus to live in joy right now. I have to be intentional in saying yes to following what I want to safely participate in.

On Saturday, our Colorado blue skies were peppered with plumes of smoke from the forest fires near by. I woke early, determined to follow through on a reservation I made to go pick strawberries at a local farm.

Standing out in a field, far from others, I picked ripening berries, and snipped stems to fill my bucket with sweet smelling fruit.

“This is so fun!” I said to Dylan, realizing it was the first time we’d been around others for more than fifteen minutes at a time.

An outdoor activity had turned my tube upside down, groans going up into smiles. We came home and I arranged flowers and popped fresh fruit right into my mouth.

We’ve kept our windows shut this week. Smoke is heavy and the AC is on, and fresh air is tainted with the knowledge that the mountains I grew up in are burning.

I woke this morning – sadness touching my heart with soft fingertips. It’s my husband’s birthday. We don’t have plans. I’m trying to prepare a special dinner and I know, another meal, just the two of us, will unfold without much to say because we only interact with each other.

The weight slides back down.

I have to honor the tender spaces created by the wishing what is, isn’t.

Tonight, we’ll make cannoli and watch a favorite show. We’ll celebrate another year here on earth and toast to what’s next. And we’ll miss those who aren’t around the table. We’ll keep the windows closed.

We’re taking things moment by moment here.

Honoring the missing. Wondering and waiting and remembering that at some point, we’ve got to tilt the silly stick back, right side up. Perhaps that’s a beautiful thing.


If you believe in the pursuit of beautiful things, have ever come back from a set back in life, or hold firmly to the belief that we can all be kind to one another, invest in this on-going project.

If you like what you’ve read, please share the piece with a friend.

Ease?

“Let it be easy.

Let it be easy.

Let it be easy.

Whatever it is.

Try that on in your spirit.

Get curious about it. “

Tara-Nicholle Nelson

We’re struggling on a collective level right now, yes. But what if it could be different? What if it could be easy? Tara-Nicholle’s blog post has been fuel for me this week. A refreshing reminder. Not every decision must make our stomachs church. If we change our energy and our expectations for ourselves, can we live with more ease?

Ease in standing at the cold counter, pressing the metal spoon into the warm red cherries, bursting with juice as their pits are removed.

joanna-kosinska-V9JIzPP0LWc-unsplash

Ease in sitting outside sipping on sparkling water in the heat.

Ease in the wondering how long this will last.

Ease in watching hoards of grasshoppers invade my garden.

Ease in flipping pages of yet another book to be read.

Ease in accepting the unraveling, noting the pile of yarn of what we thought this year would look like pooling at my feet.

I’m not getting anywhere by forcing things nor by clenching nor holding my breath under my mask, afraid to be in public.

What if ease is our beautiful thing?

Read Tara Nicholle Nelson’s full blog post here.