Joy in the Journey

I made this collage over the weekend because I needed a pick-me-up, and nothing picks me up like Autumn. When the calendar turns to September, I know that Fall is not too far behind. It’s hard to explain, but pumpkins, haystacks, cider, and falling leaves in all their splendor bring me a true sense of peace and calm.

September also brings back-to-school. Any excuse to buy new writing utensils, notebooks, and stickers makes my heart flutter like those falling leaves. This year that excitement is tempered by the “new normal” we are all facing. I will be going back in-person to my 7th grade students; and while I am really excited to be back in my classroom, my head is spinning with all the Covid protocols and new procedures put in place to protect the students and teachers. It can be overwhelming if you let it, but I am doing my best not to let it rob me of the joy of teaching and all the reasons I became a teacher so many years ago.

To that end, I have a notebook waiting to be covered with pretty paper that will bring me joy. Every day before I leave school, I will list the things that brought me joy.

I know that I will be exhausted next week when school begins – I am every first week of school every year let alone the first week of school during a pandemic! That doesn’t mean I won’t be joyfully tired!

I know it is going to be difficult for everyone, and some days might be tougher than others, but if I only focus on the tough parts, I am in danger of losing my joy, and for a teacher that is career-threatening. Although I have been teaching for a long time, my journey is not over; Covid is not going to highjack my joy!

Social Media Sadness

What has happened to the art of conversation? As a child, I remember being at my Italian grandparents’ house for holidays and being wide-eyed and wondering at the “talking” going on around the dining room table. My mom was one of nine siblings, many of whom had no problem expressing their opinions in a very “animated” style. I am on the younger end of the cousin spectrum, and didn’t live in “the neighborhood,” so I was not as familiar with this form of communication as some of my older, wiser cousins. To me, it seemed like ferocious arguing that could at any moment break out into a brawl, but by dessert everyone was laughing and talking as if they hadn’t spent the last hour at each others’ throats, and I don’t remember any fistacuffs. What happened to the “good old days?”

Admittedly over the course of this pandemic I have been scrolling Facebook much too much. (I am working on a detox plan.) I love my education groups and discovering new ideas, catching up on the lives of family, friends, and former students and their families. Lately, I have realized this is not a good practice for my health and well-being. I know that tensions are running high after being cooped up for the past five months, but things are getting out of hand.

When you scoll the Facebook feed you see a plethora of post – Republicans vs. Democrats, BLM vs. Law enforcement, parents vs. school boards and teachers. Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinion and to make decisions for their families based on their own thoughtful discernment, but what’s with all the trash talk? Discussions, if you can call them that have become bash sessions. While I know that going back to school is a hot button topic, and parents, teachers, and administrators are all in a tough spot, the posts I have been reading lately have been so disrespectful to public school teachers (my son is one), school boards, and administrators. I know parents are frustrated; my own kids have been struggling to make decisions about how my grandchildren will be learning in September, but where has all the “maturity” gone? Some of the things I have read have been downright disgraceful. It makes me sad.

I understand that people have different passions and post about them – sometimes when they are very worked up over the topic. What I don’t understand is why they feel they have the right to attack someone else. State your opinion; back it up with facts; sit back and consider the other side. Either you will be stronger in your own stance, move to the other side of the issue, or find some middle ground. The name-calling, insults, and defamation of character gets us nowhere. I wonder if many or most of the people writing the offensive posts would actually say those words out loud to a person? Some most certainly would; others can only “speak” in print hiding behind their computer screens.

What are we teaching our children? What kind of example are we setting for them. I am hard-pressed to think that the people writing these disrespectful posts talk any differently around their family dinner tables in front of very impressionable minds. We need to do better. Our future as a civilized society depends on it. Our children deserve more.

Color Blindness

I have had a difficult time putting into words what my heart is feeling. I never thought of myself as part of the problem, but if I am not part of the solution what am I?

My heart is heavy. My eyes are sad.

They have seen what they cannot unsee.

A man, George Floyd, was murdered this week

by an officer on bended knee. 

His desperate cries went unanswered 

falling on more than one deaf ear.

Another injustice delivered – 

Every black mother’s most dreaded fear.

I watched as many cities went wild – 

my own “City of Brotherly Love.”

I prayed for an end to the looting

And a miracle from up above.

I prayed for those in law enforcement.

I know many an honorable one.

I prayed for those doing the damage,

for they are someone’s daughter or son.

I prayed that I would listen and learn

To open my eyes to what should be.

I am ashamed that I haven’t done more.

“I was blind, but now I see.”

Window to the World

A colleague at school invited me to join the Facebook group, “View from my Window.” I wasn’t really sure about adding another group to my social media scrolling “problem,” but I am glad that I did.

During these past months of staying at home because of COVID-19, this group has become my window to the world, and I have been traveling to places far and near without even leaving the recliner.

I have imagined what life might be like in those well-manicured gardens, sandy beaches, city highrises, desert communities, and seaside villages. I have enjoyed reading the little descriptions that people post along with their pictures. Most are telling bits and pieces of their lives in quarantine. The stories are as varied as the pictures – people who have lost loved ones, frontline workers who are not living at home, people living in countries other than their birthplaces, young parents home with school-aged children, senior citizens happy to still be together – yet they are more alike than different.

I haven’t posted a picture yet because I have been a little intimidated by the beauty of the views I have been marveling over. I wonder if people take those views for granted or if they think they are as extraordinary as they appear to me?

A few things have struck me as I scroll each day.

  • God has blessed us with unbelievably beautiful world.
  • My view of the world has been so very narrow.
  • It is highly unlikely I will see any of these places in person, and that’s OK. Although nothing can compare to seeing beauty in person, traveling within my mind can still bring a sense of contentment.
  • While some people apologize that their view isn’t that beautiful or lovely because they are living in urban setting, there is somthing very pleasing in noticing architectural details.
  • Looking “out” is important in helping us see the bigger picture and in nudging us to look “in” and notice what really matters.

I plan to continue my trek around the globe this summer from the comfort of my couch. Only once school is finished for the year, I will be able to look at these photos closer, spend time researching the various places, and learn more about people around the world whose lives are so different than mine, yet have so many more commonalities than I ever imagined.

Stay well.

Staying Grounded:Letting Go

Today’s notebooking

How do we stay grounded in the midst of confusion? Somedays I wake up with that thought. How am I going to stay grounded today?

Early on in my daughter’s career as a mental health therapist, she would often listen to her father or me ranting or raving about something going on in our lives. It could have been about any number of topics that in the grand scheme of things were not truly important, yet seemed important ot us at the time. She would listen attentively and when we seemed to deflate to a semi-calm state, she would reach out her hand and say, “Here is your balloon; let it go.” She wasn’t being sarcastic; she was providing us with a visual metaphor for releasing the things that were weighing us down and letting them go.

Today there is a storm moving in (literally), and I can hear the wind whistling and whipping around the house. The lights have flickered once, and the forecast is for stronger winds tonight. Will it be as bad as predicted, or will it pass us by? I have flashlights with fresh batteries, so I am ready for whatever it brings.

I feel like the weather is a metaphor for how life right now is so unpredictable. The forecasts are all slightly different; we are not sure what to expect, and we need fresh batteries every morning to get us through the day.

Have you ever seen someone with a bouquet of balloons struggling against the wind to get them in their car? That’s how we are if we hang on to all the things that are weighing us down. We are struggling to keep everything inside when what we should be doing is letting go of those burdens and hanging on to the things that keep us grounded.

My notebooking page above illustrates the things I am desperately trying to let go of and the things which keep me grounded. If I let my balloons go today, these winds will surely send them far and wide. (Yes, I know they are not good for the environment; it’s a metaphor!)

What balloons are you holding on to? Isn’t it time to release them? Look at your two feet firmly planted on the ground and think about the things that keep you grounded. Then you might be better prepared to weather the storms that may come your way.

Stay well.

Discovering the Unexpected

Spending so much time at home alone lately has led me to make some unexpected discoveries.

  • The first weeks of the stay-at-home order were filled with almost nonstop TV viewing and trying to get my head wrapped around the situation. Now I limit my TV News viewing, but I still have no idea which news agency is reporting the truth.
  • The dog nextdoor barks – a lot!
  • I get more accomplished when I am wearing shoes.
  • There are “conversations” that take place during the day. The refridgerator begins to speak and the water heater responds; then the creaking walls and attention getting pipes want their voices heard as well.
  • Being caught up with the laundry really is possible!
  • While I was a little envious of my retired friends, these days at home are really long, and I REALLY miss my students and my classroom.
  • I dislike partisan politics even more than I thought.
  • Evidently I have ringing in my ears that I haven’t noticed before because my life has been too noisy!

I wonder what other unexpected discoveries I will make in the weeks (hopefully not months) ahead? I am definitely learning that I have taken some things for granted, have ignored some things, and have let some things fall off my radar. What unexpected discoveries are you making during this time of COVID-19?

Stay well.

Keeping Faith

I have been reading I’ve Been Thinking… by Maria Shriver.  It is a collection of quotes, reflections, and prayers all wrapped up in a couple of short pages for each entry.  In this book, Shriver offers insights into her life and the lessons she has learned from experience. Yesterday’s topic was titled “Faith Keepers,” and in it, Shriver explains her relationship with her girlfriends and how one of those girlfriends calls the others her “faith keepers.”  

“My girlfriends keep the faith for me when I can’t find it within myself.” This line really struck a chord with me. I immediately thought of my book club girlfriends, The Chapter Chicks.  The group is made up of 10 women who span from ages in the mid-fifties to 83 who have been sharing books and friendship since 2004.  Collectively, we have been through too many life experiences to count, but one thing I can always count on is when I am going through a rough patch the Chicks will be there to keep the faith for me.

The last book club gathering was to have taken place on March 26th at my house, but I needed to cancel due to the pandemic.  We could never do a virtual meeting because we all talk too much! There are always conversations going on alongside other conversations, lots of laughing, and maybe a little discussion about the book we read.

On April 1st, one of the Chicks sent an email to check-in on how everyone was doing, and she asked each of us to reply to her email with some good news. She thought it would be a nice way to stay connected since we don’t know when we will be able to meet again in person; she dubbed it “Chick Chat.” (Try saying that 10x quickly!)

We are on our second installment of “Chick Chat,” and I look forward to reading about what everyone else is doing during these stay-at-home days. These are some of my “faith keepers.”  I know that I can reach out to any of them for advice, a shoulder to cry on, or a venting session. They each have sage advice and help me keep the faith when I can’t find it within myself.  So, thank you: Anita, Judy O, Judy S, Julie, Pat, Peggy, Regina, Robyn, and Rosanne for being such good friends over the years. I can’t wait until we can meet again! 

Stay well.

Quarantine Playlist

Music is the soundtrack of your life.

Dick Clark

Last night I tuned in to watch One World: Together at Home, a two-hour program of music and uplifting messages from musicians, comedians, and other stars each coming from their own homes.  This morning I planned to write about what lessons I had learned this past week of quarantine, but now there is a new twist. After making a list of some of my favorite performances, I realized that my lessons match up perfectly with some of the songs on my new playlist. I am very thankful for the lessons I have learned this week. 

“Smile” sung by Lady Gaga https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCNM706Iv8M

The current situation is difficult, but it does not mean that I have to spend my time wallowing in gloom and doom. Smiles are contagious and laughing rejuvenates the soul.  Several times this week I was lucky enough to have experiences that had me laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. These were brought to me courtesy of my daughter, my granddaughter, and my husband.  Thank you.

“Lean on Me” sung by Stevie Wonder (originally by Bill Withers) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vgfBJhlEEo

Most of us pride ourselves on being independent but in this time of uncertainty, I am finding that I need to lean on other people for a variety of things.  I am leaning on my family and friends when I am feeling frustrated or fearful and on my colleagues when I need help navigating distance learning. Everyone is so generous and patient.  Thank you.

“You Can’t Always Get What You Want” sung by The Rolling Stones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7pZgQepXfA

I have been very fortunate in my life, not rich, not without financial worries, but fortunate enough to have a roof over my head, food on the table, and a soft pillow on which to lay my head at night.  When my husband and I make a list for grocery shopping these days, we are not sure if we will be able to get everything on our list, and sometimes we don’t, yet we have not gone hungry. My priorities are starting to be rearranged, and I am re-learning the difference between needs and wants. “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes you find you get what you need.” Thank you.

“The Prayer” performed by Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, John Legend, Lady Gaga, and Lang Lang https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYJCYr1I-Sk

“Lady Modanna” by Sir Paul McCartney https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUL7K7RQ8HM

Prayer has always been a part of my life, but in these days of quarantine, it has increased and taken on a new dimension.  I am praying more often and for more people. Praying the rosary to Our Lady, Mary the Blessed Mother, is a powerful Catholic devotion.  My mother prayed it faithfully, and I hope to be a fraction of the example she set for me. Thank you.

“What a Wonderful World” sung by Camila Cabello & Shawn Mendes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32uSO-1zBL4

Despite the tragedy and devastation of COVID-19, the frustration of stay-at-home orders, and the derision caused by dueling political powers, this is a wonderful world.  The news is filled with the good works of healthcare professionals, grocery store employees, and other essential workers. People are rising to the occasion and having drive-by birthday and teacher parades. Neighbors are shopping for the elderly, children are chalking uplifting messages in driveways and on sidewalks, and people are finding new ways to stay connected while still social distancing. If we look for the good and the wonderful, we will find it.  Thank you.

“A Change is Gonna Come” sung by Lizzo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVr-Iqr0GTs

These are just a few of the lessons I am learning during these challenging days, and I am sure I have many more to learn in the days ahead, but I want to leave you with my hope. You may have seen lists circulating on social media about hoping that we don’t go back to “normal” when this is all over.  It is my hope that there is a change in the world beginning with myself. My list has just two words on it – gratitude and respect. It is my hope that we no longer take things for granted, that we are thankful for every minute of every day because nothing is guaranteed nor deserved. I also hope that there will be a new respect for “essential workers” who so often go unnoticed such as healthcare workers, therapists, police and fire personnel, and EMTs, and for the essential workers who get little respect: trash collectors, bus drivers, grocery store workers, mail carriers, delivery persons, and truck drivers. I hope we learn from this that every person in this wonderful world has a special purpose and that each is deserving of our gratitude and respect.

The Great Pause

Over the last couple of weeks I have been seeing the words “The Great Pause” in news articles and blog posts. It has been used in reference to the pause that the coronavirus is causing in our lives, the economy, the world.

The pandemic has caused chaos and closures, confusion and grief. Having stay-at-home orders and school closings is beyond our imaginations. This incidious virus is wreaking havoc and endangering the lives of not only of those who contract the illness but all of those healthcare professionals and essential workers who are still working. This is definitely awful, yet there is a silver lining.

This “Great Pause” is forcing people to stay at home with their immediate families, to spend more time with their children, and to rethink everything they thought they knew. This pandemic is much more than an inconvenience; it is really an eye-opener for those who are ready to see.

Today is Easter Sunday, a day I would normally have spent with my kids and grandkids at the home of my brother and sister-in-law with their family. Instead, we all ate separately in our own homes. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it because I knew I would be missing the egg hunt and the kidding and laughing that family gatherings bring, but it actually turned out better than expected. Why? I think it was because we knew we weren’t going to be together, but we made an extra effort to connect.

Last night my sister set up a Zoom meeting with my siblings and spouses. We spent over an hour talking and laughing. It felt good.

Today, we watched church services live streaming from our parish, and had our traditional Polish breakfast of kielbasa and eggs. Then, there were early morning video chats with my grandkids who were so excited about what the bunny brought them, and that made me so happy. It felt good.

This afternoon our niece set up Zoom meeting with some of my husband’s siblings living in three different states. There was the typical sibling bantering and laughing. It felt good.

We played Houseparty with our kids and grandkids, and there were many calls and video chats back and forth with them over the course of the day. It did feel very odd for my husband and me to be the only ones seated at the dining room table, but dinner was delicious because it was made with such love. It all felt good.

I know that there are so many people suffering right now, some more than others, yet I keep thinking that there is a lesson to be learned here. I am a beliver that everything happens for a reason even when I don’t know the reason. I am searching for the lessons I need to learn. The one I learned this weekend is to just be happy in what is and stop worrying about what isn’t.

Stay well.

Control


Today is Holy Thursday, probably my favorite day of the year to be in church. For many years I played string bass as part of the music ministry at my church; lately I have been in a pew. This year I will not be sitting in a pew but in front of my TV watching the mass streamed from an empty church.

It is out of my control.

Today I learned that my school will be closed for the rest of the academic year. For over 30 years I have shared in the bittersweet end-of-year activities that signal the moving up and moving on of my students. This year my classroom is empty way too early, and I am not getting the chance to say goodbye in person.

It is out of my control.

This Sunday is Easter when we would normally have dinner with my brother and his family followed by an Easter egg hunt for my four grandchildren. This year they will be hunting for eggs in their own homes.

It is out of my control.

These are difficult days for everyone, and each of us is coping the best we can. Just how are we coping? Some people are drinking more, eating more, crying more, or watching more TV. No judgment here, just observations.

This is within my control.

I joke that I need to put a padlock on my fridge and pantry, but it’s no joke. I am a stress eater, and watching too much TV news and not being on my regular schedule is causing me to forage like a bear just waking up from winter hibernation.

This is within my control.

Life has thrown us a curveball, and all we can do is try to stay in the batter’s box. I have learned during these past four weeks of isolating at home that I am not in charge; I have control over very little in the big picture, but I do have control over whether I spend my time worrying and being afraid, or making the most of this situation and keep moving forward.

This is within my control.

I am very aware that I will have good days and bad days, and that’s OK. What is most important is that the bad days don’t string together. I can control what I do with my day, how I take care of myself, and how I keep in touch with my family and friends. It’s time for me lean into my faith and get on a better schedule now that I know life will be like this for awhile.

What is in your control?

What are you going to do to reliquish control over the things beyond your reach? How are you going to take care of yourself? How are you going to stay connected?

Control what you can; let go of what you cannot.

Stay well.