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Posts Tagged ‘pandemic’

One of the (many) hard things about this past year: so much of it has felt exactly the same.

I love a good routine (and especially a good rhythm). I went to the same coffee shop (hello Darwin’s!) nearly every day for five years when I worked at Harvard. I run almost the same path through my beloved Eastie every morning. Even my nightly (very simple) skincare routine can be soothing in its familiarity.

But: the past 10+ months have held a severely limited orbit of people and places. With the arrival of a new year and no changes (except horrifying ones, like more COVID-19 deaths, and the attempted coup in D.C. on Jan. 6), I have been seriously craving some newness in my days.

I read somewhere that human beings need a mix of novelty and routine in their lives, which struck me as utterly true: the ratio is different for everyone, but most of us need a balance of some kind between comfort and adventure. Since a pandemic winter prevents me from seeking out some of my more typical adventures (I miss you, New York weekends), I’ve been trying to search for novelty in smaller ways.

Last week, I brought home anemones from the florist instead of daffodils or tulips, and their bright reds and purples (see above) made me so happy. I met a friend for a walk at the arboretum a few weeks ago – I hadn’t been there in years. We got lost trying to find each other, but even that newness was interesting, and good for my brain.

My guy and I have tried a couple of new recipes lately: fish tacos, a one-pot stew from Real Simple, cranberry-lemon scones. And last weekend, I drove over to his place and went for a run along his section of the river, instead of my usual harbor/greenway loop. Much of it felt reassuringly familiar – blue skies, pounding feet, beating heart – but there were new trees and paths to see and navigate, and it helped a bit. A change is, sometimes, as good as a rest.

How are you creating (or finding) novelty in these same-same days?

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“Is there a word for when you wait three weeks to do something, and it takes five minutes?” I asked a few girlfriends the other day.

“Being human,” one friend responded wryly. Another came up with the brilliant portmanteau you see in the post title: procrastiminutiae, or putting off the tiny things.

I’ve been deep in a post-holiday, endless-pandemic funk of worry and frustration, unable to motivate myself to do much besides run and read and wash dishes. (All of which are good things.) But a few days ago, I decided to tackle one small task I’d been putting off for weeks: calling the gas company about an inspection. I’m not sure why: maybe it was the sunshine, or my inspiring run playlist (heavy on the badass female ’90s country singers), or just the general sense that it was time to stop avoiding this one little thing.

It took (less than) five minutes, in the end, and I got so inspired I tackled a few more minutiae: taking down the Christmas cards and stockings (I know it’s mid-January; don’t @ me), dropping some clothes off at a donation bin, making a bank deposit, ordering more compost bin bags. Each task took just a few minutes, by itself. But the mental space they cleared felt so expansive – and so good.

We have little control over our lives at the best of times, and lately, with so much disease and upheaval everywhere I look, I’ve been feeling particularly helpless. But it felt very satisfying to exercise some agency over my life for just a few minutes. Bonus: my apartment is a bit clearer, and so is my head.

What are the procrastiminutiae on your list?

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Hello, friends. Welcome (?) to 2021.

It’s hard to believe we are only 10 days in. Last week’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol has left me reeling. My partner and I both have family members who have the virus, and the general stress and isolation of pandemic life has not let up. If anything, the cumulative weight of the last few months makes it feel even heavier. So I’ve been quiet here, because really, what is there to say?

I still don’t know, but a comment from a reader (hi Mary!) helped remind me that coming back to this space is often a healthy outlet and a source of joy. So I’m starting the year on the blog with a list of the tiny good things that are getting me through, at the moment. Here they are:

  • My paperwhites (above) are finally blooming. Every year this is a miracle, and I have rarely watched so anxiously for those buds and creamy flowers as I did this year.
  • My Christmas tree is still up (oh yes it is), and twinkle lights feel hopeful in this dark season.
  • The fish I am feeding for a friend are all (knock wood) still alive.
  • I started a new journal last week, and this one is Harry Potter-themed.
  • Dinner on Friday was a new recipe from Real Simple, and it was delicious.
  • My new coat does have functional pockets (I had to open them with a seam ripper, but they are there).
  • The fizzy shower bar a friend sent for Christmas is such a treat. (I have a tiny shower and no bathtub, so it’s perfect.)
  • I have been reading some really good books: Elizabeth Wein’s gripping YA novel The Enigma Game and Horatio Clare’s gorgeous, honest memoir The Light in the Dark.
  • My writing class has started back up, and seeing everyone’s faces and sharing our writing is so nourishing and fun.
  • The Wailin’ Jennys’ cover of “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” – with their ethereal, bell-like harmonies – is perfection.
  • My local tea store, Mem Tea, is still faithfully shipping out online orders, and I just stocked up on my winter staples: English Breakfast and Earl Grey.

What are the small things getting you through, these days?

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It’s been such a strange year that I almost decided to skip this annual blogging tradition. But – why not? – we can still take stock, even at the end of all these months of isolation. So here we go. In 2020 I have:

  • run probably hundreds of miles through my neighborhood of East Boston
  • gone through three pairs of On Running shoes
  • taken dozens of yoga classes, in the park and via Zoom (and, briefly, in the lovely studio at The Point)
  • gone on so many bike rides with my guy
  • participated in my first protest rides
  • walked with my friend Marisa a few times a month, keeping each other sane while trading news of work and books and life
  • survived divorce court (back in January)
  • worked on campus for two and a half months, worked from home for two months, then been furloughed and eventually laid off
  • covered Berklee’s Dancing with the Stars event, pre-quarantine (so much fun)
  • driven up to Gloucester for a sweet birthday weekend with my guy
  • celebrated a cozy, quiet Thanksgiving, just the two of us
  • spent some time hanging with Chloe, my friends’ kitty
  • read about 220 books
  • adjusted to reading and reviewing ebooks for Shelf Awareness
  • taken Nina Badzin’s wonderful ModernWell writing class
  • drafted a novel during NaNoWriMo
  • tended herbs, geraniums, paperwhites, a fern and an amaryllis
  • sung in a virtual Christmas choir
  • made and delivered numerous lasagnas for my neighbors
  • filled up several journals
  • enjoyed a cozy, sweet Christmas
  • looked ahead to 2021 with tentative hope

Happy New Year, friends. Here’s hoping it brings more light.

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I’ve written before about how yoga has been getting me through the pandemic: lots of classes over Zoom this spring, then in the park this summer. Those outdoor classes were one of the true gifts of this strange time: setting up our mats in the lush grass, tree branches waving gently overhead, the sounds of birthday parties and children playing and a YMCA cardio class drifting over. We had occasional invasions from the local geese, but otherwise, it was just about perfect.

Lately, we’ve been back in the studio on a very limited basis, and I have loved showing up on Sunday and Wednesday nights with two or three others, to practice with Taylor and Carla, my favorite instructors. They are both warm and kind and understanding about how hard everything feels right now. They even put up twinkle lights and a couple of wee Christmas trees recently, and going there has felt quasi-normal, which is a serious gift right now.

Today, Boston is rolling back to an earlier phase of reopening for a few weeks, so we’re back to Zoom (fitness centers are closed) until January, at least. I am super sad about it: sometimes those few moments of chat in the studio are my only in-person conversations of the day. And while we don’t talk during class, it’s nourishing to be with other people, especially since I spend so much time alone right now.

I keep reminding myself that yoga will be there: that I can pull out my mat and practice at home; that (hopefully) my little studio will survive, and we will gather again on our mats, when we can. Until then, I’ll be tuning into class on Zoom, because I want to support a beloved small business, and I believe yoga is better when we do it together.

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During this completely bonkers year, I have needed voices of reason more than ever — to help me make sense of the pandemic and political madness, and cut through all the noise. Juliette Kayyem is one of my go-to sources for sharp, thoughtful, sane news commentary, and her tweets are a major source of light (and reliable information) these days.

I met Juliette when I worked at the Harvard Kennedy School, where my duties included staffing the camera room on campus. We had multiple faculty members who were regular guests on CNN and other networks, and the camera allowed them to speak to networks remotely.

I got to know Juliette as she’d come dashing into the camera room before a CNN hit, frequently finishing up a call with her consulting company before plugging in her curling iron and changing into a snazzy blouse. She struck me then as brilliant, real and funny, and I’ve enjoyed following her work ever since — but she is really knocking it out of the park these days.

This pandemic, whatever else it is, is confusing, and the distribution of a vaccine (not to mention containing the spread, distributing PPE, etc.) is (and will continue to be) a huge logistical and policy challenge. Juliette (a former homeland security advisor at the state and federal level) knows a thing or two about disaster response and logistics, and I have so appreciated her thoughtful takes on various stages of the pandemic and the challenges facing us at each stage. She and a colleague have also done a wise, funny “Questions from Quarantine” video series, and she occasionally peppers her Twitter feed with photos of her sunset runs, or her dog.

In short, she’s a human being sharing her considerable expertise and also her very real, very human take on life during the pandemic, and I am here for all of it. I’m thankful today for the experts who are pulling back the curtain a bit, sharing their scientific and political knowledge (and their struggles with bored teenagers) as we continue to navigate this pandemic together.

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Is it an odd thing to say I love my grocery store? In the middle of a pandemic, perhaps it’s fitting: these folks are among the essential workers who are keeping the rest of us fed and safe. As I’ve mentioned before, my partner works at the nearest Trader Joe’s, and I’m feeling extra grateful for him and his colleagues this week.

Since I moved to Eastie, I’ve been cobbling together grocery-store runs: picking up a few things on my way home from work, borrowing a friend’s car or using grocery delivery for bigger trips. But when my guy got a job at TJs back in the winter, I bought a rolling cart and started doing my weekly shops over there. These days, it’s an integral part of my week.

I make my list, go and wait in line (a short one, if I’m lucky), greet his coworkers as I walk through the produce section. I usually pick up some flowers to supplement my weekly bouquets from Brattle Square. There are always new treats to try (see above), plus reliable staples, and I sneak in a hug from my guy if he’s stocking the shelves or working the cash register. The store atmosphere is cheery and bright, and many of his coworkers recognize me now, even with a mask. I wave hello or chat with whoever’s ringing me up, then haul my groceries on the train back home.

Real talk: it’s sometimes a pain, and grocery shopping for one can feel a bit depressing. But we all need to eat, and I’m thankful to have a store I like nearby. I’m even more grateful for the community there: it’s good to walk in and be welcomed.

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Last year, one of the joys of December in Eastie was participating in a local Christmas carol choir, spearheaded by my friend Peter and often hosted by him and his wife, Giordana. (That’s their dining room table, above, complete with pencils for marking and herbal tea for scratchy throats.)

We are all keeping our distance this year, of course, but I think Peter (and some of us) could not bear to do nothing, so we’re cobbling together a pandemic-safe carol service. We’re holding rehearsals on Zoom and planning to record ourselves singing the individual parts, to be mixed together and then released as a full (amateur) recording.

I thought it might feel sad, or inadequate: like so many things, this practice is a shadow of what it was pre-pandemic. We can’t gather in anyone’s living room, or sing together in real time; instead, we all mute ourselves and sing along with recordings on YouTube, sharing the sheet music on our computer screens (with lots of attendant technical glitches).

It is messy and imperfect and sometimes hilarious, and the recordings are hit or miss, frankly. But it’s still nourishing to see everyone’s faces, and wave hello and sing together, even if it doesn’t look at all “normal.” I am learning a few songs I didn’t know, and revisiting cherished favorites, like “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “O Holy Night.”

These songs have layers of associations for me, long years of singing them with family or friends or church communities, all the way up to Christmas Eve. For me, the music and the community are both vital to marking the season. So despite the tech issues and the funky recordings and the wish that we could all be together, these rehearsals – virtual though they may be – are a real source of light and warmth and laughter.

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For a spill of yellow calla lilies and long-stemmed roses tipped with crimson, both from my beloved Cambridge florist.

For morning runs along the harborwalk and up the greenway, sea and sky and breath and music in my earbuds, a ritual that makes me stronger and happier and more at peace.

For three bags of cranberries and plump sweet potatoes, homemade mac & cheese and beef en croute from Trader Joe’s, with cider from Downeast for our tiny, two-person feast.

For daily chats with my girl Allison in California, whose good humor and grace and honesty about the vagaries of pandemic life have kept me sane for so many months now.

For Friends Thanksgiving gifs shared with my sister, weekly phone chats with my parents, Thanksgiving cards from my aunts. I am far from most of my family, but we love one another fiercely, even in these strange times.

For the memories of past Thanksgivings, in Texas and Oxford and Missouri and a few miles away in Brookline. There is pain in some of those memories, but also community, and joy.

For a light-filled, wood-floored apartment near the harbor, which has been a true refuge and home during a turbulent year and a half.

For a man who loves me deeply and shares my joy in the fact that we get to twine our lives together.

For the freelance writing projects that have helped give me purpose and income and a chance to use my skills in these furloughed months.

For strong black tea brewed in my favorite mugs, stacks of library books and e-galleys, candles on the mantel and cozy plaid slippers and all the comforts of home.

For the nurses, doctors, grocery store workers, delivery folks, farmers and other essential workers who are keeping us all going.

It has been a hard and sobering year, but there is still and always so much to give thanks for. If you are celebrating today, I wish you a Thanksgiving full of love and gratitude.

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Here we are in mid- to late November: Thanksgiving literally around the corner, Christmas peeking over the horizon. The days have grown short here in Boston, and my morning runs are taking me under increasingly leafless trees.

The holiday season holds so much love and magic for me, but there are some painful memories, too, and this year – whatever else it turns out to be – promises to be a departure from the norm.

I don’t usually travel for Thanksgiving, so was not worried about skipping a plane trip or explaining to family why this isn’t the year to be together. (I am dealing with those things around Christmas, and I’m sad about not spending my annual week in Texas, eating my mom’s cooking and playing with my nephews and catching up with so many people I love.)

My guy and I are going to hang out and cook this week, and while I’m looking forward to that, I’ve still been sad about our teeny Thanksgiving. This is only our second year together, so we don’t have long-established traditions, though we would probably be eating with friends if not for the pandemic. But I finally figured out the other day what was making me so sad: for me, Thanksgiving is about welcome. Creating it, finding it, receiving it. And this year, that concept has felt thin on the ground – or, at least, profoundly different than usual.

This year has held so much isolation for me: so many hours alone in my apartment, trying to plan pandemic-safe interactions with local friends. I miss having girlfriends over for tea, or meeting up at a cafe for an after-work cuppa. My arms ache to hug the friends I still see and the family members I won’t see this year. I miss walking into Chrissy’s house like it’s my own, chatting about music with my coworkers, making plans to visit faraway loved ones. I have struggled to find welcome, and create it, this year when we all know that we can best love each other by keeping our distance.

I am trying, this week, to create welcome where I can: texting friends near and far to check in, attending last night’s Christmas choir rehearsal on Zoom, going to a couple of small in-studio yoga classes. On Thursday, my guy and I will cook our favorite side dishes, and I’ll drop off some sweet potatoes on a friend’s porch (her kids don’t like them). I will remember past Thanksgivings, in church basements and friends’ houses and my mother’s kitchen. I’ll listen to my favorite Nichole Nordeman song, and soak in the company of the man I love. We will welcome each other into this holiday with its joy and complications, and somehow, I hope, that will be enough.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a lovely Thanksgiving.

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