Monday, March 30, 2020

6 Things on My Desk

On Friday morning, I awoke in a blogging frame of mind, but my blog for the day had already been posted. This was a good thing because it allowed my thoughts to kind of randomly wander. I know that doesn't sound like a good thing (and it's not when I'm teaching a class), but it's exactly the frame of mind a writer wants to be in when she's creating: that place where all things are possible.

Going through my old blogs in search of one I wanted to link back to, I stumbled across a "random objects" blog and thought it might be fun to do another one. So, here are a few items from Friday's desk that I thought would be fun to write about.

A flowered napkin. A testimony to my determination to use less of our resources (and now in the laundry, not on my desk). I started by replacing paper towels with microfiber cloths and paper napkins with cloth. Not everyone in my family is on board and I still reach for a paper towel or paper napkin from time to time as well, but I've greatly reduced my paper usage.

A small orange top. Yes, the actual child's toy. A couple of years ago, I joined the Next Big Idea Book Club, which sends me curated books a couple of times a year (and sends the same titles to schools as well). Their packages often have some small, quirky item inside and the little top made it to my desk, where it has taken up permanent, playful residence.

My ticking clock. It was too loud for my bedroom, but makes a nice addition my desk. Since I should be awake while I'm at my desk, the ticking is not a problem.

Be Still. I've Got this -- God. A small, wooden cross with these words on it hangs from a file bin (I have a similar reminder on the hanging organizer in the kitchen). This, combined with my 7 Promises from God helps me to remember I don't have to do it all, or all alone.

Eye drops. Dry eye + lots of computer time makes these a necessity. Add an I need to see it personal style to the equation, and having them on top of my desk, inches away from my laptop, makes perfect sense.

A repurposed spice jar with seashells inside. I'm not an early riser so, when we go to the beach, the shells I collect are tiny or fragments. The combination of lost earrings (two earrings, two different pairs), a spice jar with a broken lid and my tiny (literally) seashell collection yielded a pretty desktop reminder of the beach that makes me smile on challenging days (when I wish that's where I was).

I had fun doing this post and need to remember to do random objects posts more often. Shout out (again) to Sarah Reinhard, who gave me this idea in the first place.

What's on your desk? And what does it say about you?

Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday Feature: Play That Funky Music, Build Those Brain Connections

Did you play an instrument? Do you still?

When I was little, my grandparents had a piano at their house. I wanted to learn how to play, but the opportunity never arose. I learned to play the violin in elementary school, but never got very good at it and, when I was in middle school, I stopped playing altogether.

As an adult, I finally got those piano lessons. I'm better at piano than I remember being at violin, but that pesky practice thing still stands between me and greatness. Still, I play well enough to entertain myself and to improve my mood on grumpy days.

As it turns out, playing an instrument can have a  positive impact on brain health. Not only that, but our brains respond differently when we play music than they do when we just listen to it.

No matter how you look at it, music has brain benefits -- for all ages. As our enforced time at home wears on, it's nice to know there's something enjoyable that can also keep our brains from turning to mush.

Figuratively, of course.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

10 Ways I'm Staying Sane While Staying Safe

Conger Design via Pixabay
When my gray day hit on Monday, I had no idea how many other people were feeling the same way. While I was pretty sure I wasn't alone, it wasn't until I visited my social media accounts that I realized that the blues were appearing somewhat out of the blue for a lot of people.

As I mentioned, I'm not much of a pity party person, and since my blues are more blahs than a clinical concern, my go-to strategies are lists and distractions. Monday, I used distraction to great advantage; it has even led me to re-examine the materials I'll use for teaching one of my classes in the fall.

But shiny objects eventually grow dull and the best books come to an end. Since our secluded lifestyle seems to be an indefinite state of affairs, I thought I'd share some of my strategies for staying sane while staying safe.

Chase calm. I have stopped listening to news that is sensationalized, regardless of the source. The information itself is anxiety-provoking and I can cook up enough terrible scenarios in my head without help, thank you very much. I need a news source that's calm, cool, and collected.

Control the flow. These days, I choose to get my news either online, where I can control the source and flow of information or from local news sources that leave me feeling informed without feeling panicked at the same time. If panic begins to encroach, I need to step away. The news is everywhere and what I miss in one broadcast, I can catch in the next.

Step away from the computer. Now that my classes are fully online, an even larger chunk of my time is spent in front of the computer doing necessary tasks. My eyes and my back are feeling it, and it has an impact on my mood as well. I need to call to mind the advice to blink, change focus and get up and move -- and then do just that.

pexels via Pixabay

Balance solitude/quiet and socializing/noise. As an empty-nest mom used to having the house as my workspace between 8 and 5, having my family here has been an adjustment. I am very happy they are here and safe, but we've all had some adjusting to do. Each of us has claimed a work space, which helps us to be productive, and we aim for family dinners, but each of us also needs down time on our own terms.

Claim your space. Yes, I mentioned this above, but it bears repeating. Everyone in my house has a different work style, so shared spaces are a little too much togetherness. As a work in silence kind of girl, I have a low threshold for distractions like music. Even typical household noises can cause me to clench my teeth when I'm trying to focus on a challenging task.

Try something new. Companies are falling all over themselves offering classes, webinars, and all sorts of pursuits to keep us occupied (and claim us as customers) while we're self-isolating. Why not take them up on their offer? (Keep an eye on the fine print to make sure you know what you're signing up for). Or maybe there's been something on your wish list that you've never quite gotten to. What better time could there be to give it a try?

Let light in. I feel gray days now more than ever. When I was in and out at will, moving from one thing to the next outside my house as well as in it, rainy days and Mondays didn't always get me down but now, it's a different story. Something as simple as opening the blinds quite literally sheds a whole new light on things. I'm not an outdoor person but my husband and daughter need to get outside daily.

Jill Wellington via Pixabay

Read/watch/seek out things that uplift. I chose my reading very carefully on Monday because I knew I needed something that would lift my spirits. Though I've given in to the dark side a bit in my television selections, I definitely feel a difference after I do so, especially late at night when the shows' themes and airborne anxiety conspire to create disturbing dreams. Gray days are meant for comedy and light reading, at least in my opinion.

Get creative. This is one I'm preaching but need to practice. So much of my creative energy has been spent on turning face-to-face classes into online lessons and learning the tools to go along with them that my writing has more than taken a back seat. Currently, it's living in the trunk, tapping incessantly to get my attention, mollified only slightly by my blog posts. I decided last night I needed to make a list or chart or some kind of visual of all of my projects and post it so I could at least start by choosing a task that matches my energy level and available time. Whether it's poetry or painting, batik or baking, cross-stitch or crochet, make sure to carve out a little time and space for it.

End each day with joy and gratitude. For most of us, something happens every day to incite joy or gratitude. Focusing on the good can have far-reaching effects, shining a glimmer of sunlight into even dark days. Focusing on it (them) can help us to sleep better, too, and that affords a whole host of positive effects.

What are you doing to keep the blahs from sneaking in and taking up residence?

Monday, March 23, 2020

Taking Charge

Today, I decided to take the morning off. Admittedly, a rather large chunk of the morning was already gone when I decided to do this. As a non-morning person who stays up much too late without the constraints of getting up and actually leaving the house to nudge her to bed at a reasonable hour, I've been an even later riser lately than I usually am.

Still, I determined that what was left of the morning was mine to do with as I saw fit. No deadlines. No e-mail, no planning, no shoulds. I had spent more than ten hours of my Sunday on work-related projects and claiming a small chunk of a prime weekday time when I'm not yet exhausted and cranky seemed not only reasonable, but justified.

Something about this decision -- this assertion of control -- was freeing on this gray, rainy, tenth day of at-homeness. I walked right past things that didn't interest me and sought out those more likely to lift my mood. In short, I bypassed all the things that I'll eventually add to my to-do list, poured myself a glass of iced tea, and scanned my shelves for just the right book.

I settled on two of them. I kicked things off with some lighthearted musings from Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella (a beach book in both theme and place of purchase -- an extra bonus) and after a few of these, moved on to one of my favorite happiness researchers.

Slowly, despite the weather, the news, the politics, my fears, and my self-imposed social isolation, my internal fog began to lift. In part, it was the material but it was also the act of taking charge.

I don't like feeling helpless and I have little patience for pity parties that go on longer than about five minutes, yet there I was. One small step -- a reminder that I was in charge of my day, my mood, and everything within my immediate environment -- was enough to set me back on track. A little bit of an escape, a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of downtime.

I love what I do which, under normal circumstances, makes it all too easy to spend a massive chunk of my waking hours working. And I want to do what I do well, which adds more than a touch of perfectionism to the equation. Factor in being homebound and subjected to a slew of news items and pandemic-related emails floating across my computer screen while I work and it's a recipe for an internal grayness that rivals the sky outside my window.

But pity parties aren't my thing. Instead, that last sentence inspired me to take one more action before I get serious about the days work.

Get the news off my computer dock.

Nothing like exerting a little influence over one's day.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Friday Feature: Happiness and The Wizard of Oz

As I set out to find an article for today's post, I had a few criteria in mind.

It couldn't have anything to do with the coronavirus. In fact, I'd prefer it didn't even start with the letter C.

It couldn't be depressing, frightening or otherwise cringe-worthy. (See what I mean about C-words!)

It should be uplifting, but not saccharine; hopeful, but not preachy.

So, I googled one of my favorite positive psychology gurus, certain he'd have something.

He didn't disappoint.

And so, without further fanfare, I bring you Shawn Achor's "5 Things You Need to be Happy," all of which can be found in the relative comfort of your own home.

At a time when happiness perhaps seems far away, I find it comforting to know that relative happiness remains within reach or, to quote The Wizard of Oz, "Everything you were looking for was right there with you all along.

Stay safe and be happy.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

3 Things About Change

Monsterkoi via Pixabay
Weeds or wildflowers?
It's been a time of change. My daughter came home for spring break, only to find out she wouldn't be going back to school for her final semester. The college where I teach opted to move to online classes for at least two weeks.
With social distancing as the norm, my car hasn't moved from the driveway since sometime last week, as I dig in here at home for work and for relaxation. Fear and a constantly evolving news cycle make change, as they say, the only constant.

Most of us aren't entirely fond of change. But change brings with it opportunity.

Opportunity to appreciate. Often, change gives us the opportunity to appreciate what we had but, sometimes, it surprises us, and we discover that we appreciate the new normal. I love getting to know my students, so I love face-to-face-teaching. But online teaching? I don't hate it. It definitely has possibilities.

Opportunity to improve. There is no better way to decide what will be (if, in fact, we get to choose) than to first examine what is and what was. When we get stuck in our routines, we sometimes close off those avenues of exploration. Whether we choose change or are forced into it, we gain an opportunity to examine both our options and our experiences.

Opportunity to lighten up. Speaking of routines...I'm not a big fan of mine being thrown out the window. I'm both stressed and annoyed, for example, that I didn't get to this blog post until 9 PM when I have quite literally been home all day. But, you know what? In the scheme of things (or, to use my friend Ann's time frame, in ten years), it won't matter what time I posted this. So, why should it be a big deal now?

Pezibear via Pixabay
This is, indeed, one of those times when the change itself is less upsetting than the reason for it. We can choose to fight it, for the sake of clinging to what we know, or we can look around and consider the possibility that the change itself might be more welcome than we anticipated.

Sometimes, change is a weed, unwelcome and running roughshod over the ground around us. Other times, it's a wildflower, a bright spot in a gray landscape.

It's up to us to decide.

Monday, March 16, 2020

14 Things in 14 Days

cocoparisienne via pixabay
Does reading the news make you want to crawl under the covers in a self-imposed self-isolation? Whether we're staying home to be safe, because we were sent there by a boss or a school or because we're actually battling an illness, it can be hard to stay put in a society used to being mobile at will.

While the circumstances are terrible, the opportunity to be in one place -- the one we call home -- with time on our hands can also offer a gift of time. On Saturday, I voluntarily joined the ranks of those limiting excursions to only the essentials. I'm not sick, but I'd like to keep it that way and avoid the possibility of being the person who makes someone else sick.

As a self-proclaimed indoor parent who works from home, this was not a huge shift but, I suspect that as time goes on, it will be a bigger one than I expected. So, I'm being proactive and making my list of 14 things I can do in 14 days. All of them represent things I want to do -- a lemonade from lemons kind of approach -- and I sincerely doubt that 14 days is enough time to do them all, but I like having choices.

  1. Hang out with my daughter. Like many college students, she is unexpectedly home for the rest of the semester. A golden opportunity.
  2. Learn new technology. In the space of one weekend, I've moved from face-to-face teaching to online instruction. There's a whole new list of instructional tools to choose from!
  3. Write! Whether it's working on my books or proposing new articles, unexpected time at home can easily become writing time.
  4. Read. Still on a roll from my 29-day challenge, I now have an opportunity to make this a full-fledged habit.
  5. Clear off my dining room table. A drop spot for both my daughter and me, this spot quickly spirals out of control. Is it too late to make a Lenten resolution to clear it off and keep it that way?
  6. Clean out drawers and closets. Love doing it, never have/make time for it.
  7. Rediscover my kitchen. Is it possible that, without time constraints, cooking and baking can be fun? 
  8. Clean the basement. What a great time to create space by getting rid of what we no longer need.
  9. Take advantage of online opportunities. Webinars. Online classes. Virtual museum exhibits.
  10. Write a letter. Or send a card. Old school cheer to someone else stuck indoors.
  11. Laptop love. Pare down my inbox. Reduce the number of tabs that give my students heart palpitations.
  12. Update my online presence. LinkedIn. Goodreads. Pinterest. All suffer from benign neglect. 
  13. Pull some weeds. Shh. Don't tell my husband. He calls it ground cover. I call them weeds.
  14. Do my nails. Gotta get some self-care on this list, right?

Want more? USA Today has compiled a list of 100 things to do while stuck inside. I haven't read it yet (the news item popped onto my computer screen while I was working this morning) but plan to. Chances are very good that there will be items I want to add, particularly if 14 days stretches into something longer.

Nightly reports make it clear how much we have to lose. Why not opt to look at what we have to gain?