This week in a nutshell

This week, I will:

Monday, aka today — help put out the best GD last newspaper edition ever.

Tuesday — be at the office for the death bell at 3:31 p.m., which for some reason I find very important. No, I know the reason. I need that closure.

Wednesday — figure out the rest.

Some well-meaning people in real life have asked what I am going to do next. I find the question as vexing as I did when I was a kid and adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I don’t have a Plan B. I guess I should have (hindsight, etc.). Also, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. All plans are out the window at this point.

I think what I am going to do next is process all that has happened in the last couple of weeks. And grieve over the loss of my old life.

And then maybe I’ll discover my own colors of light like Sir Isaac Newton (thanks, Roberta).

A few links:

THIS article that Diane shared titled “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief.” Helped me immensely.

THIS article from OPB titled “Coronavirus has upended our world. It’s okay to grieve.”

THIS is the link to “I’ve Pet that Dog” on Twitter, which NEVER ceases to raise my spirits. Also, there’s THIS one, “Thoughts of Dog,” which is a joy.

THIS article by Dan Rather titled “We are in very difficult and dangerous times.” That sounds bleak, but it’s an uplifting article.

All right, friends: Thank you so much for all the love and support, I cannot even tell you what that means to me. Please check in if you have it in you (I know sometimes it’s just too much) — regardless, I am keeping you all in my thoughts.

A different kind of loss

I lost my job yesterday.

This week has been rough, you guys. I am up and down mentally, physically and emotionally. I sink into despair and rally; I embrace routine and then ignore it.

Wednesday was especially rough because a LOT of people company-wide lost their jobs, including the woman who does composition for us — the person who takes our words and photos and puts them on the page and makes it all look like a newspaper.

Yesterday was one of my up days. I was purposely following my routines, getting up with Eric, journaling, taking a shower and getting completely ready for the day (including makeup and shoes, because no, no one was going to see me, but I could see myself). I logged in remotely; I almost immediately discovered our sportswriter had been let go.

Thursday is a deadline day, so I concentrated on that. We were combining our paper with a sister paper for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it was going — it is a solid issue and our two teams were working well together. I wasn’t so sure how this was all going to go, and that was a nice sense of accomplishment to have it work out so well.

Our publisher put out a message that she wanted to have a conference call at 4:30 p.m. We had finished deadline; I knew, with all of the loses we had been suffering, that it was not going to be a pleasant phone call.

And it wasn’t.

Our parent company is dissolving as of March 31 at 3:31 p.m. (someone is a poet). All of our company newspapers are therefore defunct. Payroll will be met through March 24. We will publish one more issue — ironically, the April 1 edition — out of the goodness of our hearts, and that’s it.

I will find out more today about whether or not our publisher thinks she can keep our local paper going. Last night she thought we had the local support to make it work, but needed to figure out a few more things. I was like, well, count me in, because honestly, what else am I going to do? One of the reasons this week has been so hard is because we were furloughed last week and I haven’t been able to work my normal hours.

I do much better when I can work my normal hours.

So we’ll see. I have nothing to lose by working to get that launched.

I think this emotion I am feeling is grief: I’ve lost my coworkers, I’ve lost my work, I’ve lost my schedule and routine, I’ve lost Friday Lunch at the sandwich shop and breaks at the coffee shop. I had no idea when I did my test run for working at home two Fridays ago that things would be so different today, and I feel stupid that I didn’t see the signs or understand how much coronavirus would upend everything for so much longer than I originally thought.

I miss my old life. And my old life was, like, what I had two weeks ago. It’s CRAZY to think everything has changed so much in 14 days. And it’s scary to think how much more it will change in the coming days, let alone weeks and months. I miss visiting my grandma and seeing my parents. I miss knowing what I was facing when I woke up each morning.

I am trying to focus on what hasn’t changed: I still have Eric and the girls, the kittens, our home. I still have my friends. Books, I guess. Coffee at home. Um …

Um …

So, how are you?

Working from home: A COVID-19 tail (ha ha get it?)

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I am incredibly lucky to be able to work from home. I am grateful to our administrators for allowing us to do so.

I am finding, however, that I have traded one set of personalities for another. My new co-workers are furry and, quite frankly, adorable. I admire their unceasing hope in this time of crisis and their willingness to to help me with my tasks.

But wow, are they terrible at this.

One of my tasks is compiling a Yesteryears column, which details the history of our town 110 years ago to 10 years ago. It’s a fairly simple concept: You find something hilarious or historically noteworthy (ah, so THAT is why we have some of our street names!) and then you type it out, word for word. I brought these delicate tomes home and figured this would be a very simple project for the boys, who have a keen sense of curiosity.

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Not quite what I had in mind, Goosie.

I thought, too, that they could help me messages and phone calls — we cannot come to the people, so the people must come to us. But they’re just not grasping the concept of simple phone etiquette, let alone speaking clearly.

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That’s not even the phone, Bean! It’s the remote.

There are many, many breaks by the water cooler and staff fridge. I don’t mind chatting and think it’s nice to get along with your co-workers, but you get a 15 minute break every four hours. This every 10 minutes nonsense is out of control.

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And why am I the only one who ever brings snacks?

I’ve noticed, too, that no one has really gotten the hang of this social distancing thing except for Pearl.

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That’s not really news. She’s always like that. She was social distancing way before it was cool.

Bean is, perhaps, the worst at this. He likes to get up close and personal.

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Also, my new co-workers refuse to sit at their desks and work; they are always going off-site for “interviews” and honestly, I’m not sure how much they’re actually managing to accomplish.

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Their attention to detail matches their attention spans — which is to say, non-existent. The boys are especially bad. They will start a simple task, such as tossing around a hair tie that they’ve stalked and killed, and the next thing you know, they’re taking a bath. IN THE LIVING ROOM.

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I mean, I’ve had my share of quirky co-workers over the years, but this trio really takes the cake.

— This post is for my mother, who perhaps did not request this particular format, but at least I got the story part right.

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Dear everyone,

Today is Day 10 of being at home. I have ventured forth into the world a couple of times for groceries (pro tip, the corner market is more expensive but less crowded and picked over) and I’ll have to hit the pharmacy in the next couple of days, but I’m doing my best to stay put. We aren’t under any lock down orders (yet), but yesterday, Oregon was up to 161 cases and five deaths.

I mean, last Sunday we only had 36 cases and one death. Our county has had its first confirmed case, which means more will follow.

Please, everyone, all ages are affected by COVID-19, so for pete’s sake, stop and think and make a good choice AND STAY HOME. (Note to my mother: See what I did there?) This is about more than just you.

*

Thursday as I was proofing pages on deadline, I read about my own furlough in an op-ed by our publisher. Ah, classic. She called that evening to break the news in person, and sounded so down that I ended up comforting her.

Ad revenue is down because businesses are closed. Of course the newspaper can’t meet payroll. Of course we will have to work decreased hours. It’s one day per week at this point, although I would not be surprised if it increased down the road. There are other changes, too, like fewer pages in each edition.

Since I usually get lessons in patience, a lesson in flexibility is kind of a nice change of pace.

Ironically, now that I’m facing fewer hours and am working from home, I realize how much I do like my job. Oh, there are frustrating parts but: I get to read and write all day. That’s pretty awesome.

*

Furlough started Friday, so I put in three hours at the “office,” logged off, had lunch and then Johanna and I went for a drive. We ended up on a back road and she took the wheel. Uh, no, she does not have her permit and the DMV is closed so that’s not happening any time soon. She is a good driver if that makes you feel better (calm down, Mom!), and the only traffic we saw was two motorcycles and a Forest Service rig. Anyway, driving crimes aside, it was wonderful to get out of the house, see some new scenery and listen to Jo chirp happily from behind the wheel. I felt normal.

I am beyond fortunate to have a high schooler during this time because she’s able to self direct when it comes to her studies. (I’ve been checking.) She hasn’t been very impressed with my suggestions, i.e. cleaning her bathroom for PE. Anyway, we are working on life skills with the kid because she doesn’t have enough homework. Some things she actually already knows how to do, like run the washing machine and dishwasher. Some things are new, like expanding her cooking knowledge. We’ve been doing more stuff as a family, like playing games or watching movies. On Saturday, Jo found “Dracula” from like the 1950s or something on TV (with commercials, weird). It was awful and we had a wonderful time.

I have no idea what I’d do if I had to keep a younger, elementary-aged kid entertained. Lots of iPad time, I suppose.

Eric is still going to work; his boss refuses to close the office, which I find mystifying because yes government but not essential services. The public can only come in now for prearranged appointments but still …

Eh, one more thing to be anxious about, at this point who even cares.

*

This week, the goal is to continue with my routines, like getting fully ready for work and taking a walk after dinner. I’m going to add yoga to the list because I have all sorts of free time now and nothing to fill it with (or nothing that I would usually fill it with, I’ve learned my priorities suck so that’s been fun). Back in the day when I worked part time, I would practice with Melissa West; she has free videos that she shares each week and I really like her method, i.e. holding poses and being mindful. This isn’t, like, hardcore yoga. It’s just nice. HERE is the link to her website. (She also has a YouTube channel.)

One more link, Ryder Carroll, who created the Bullet Journal method, started live streaming writing prompts yesterday (sessions start at 10:15 a.m. EST). I participated and it was really lovely — HERE is the Instagram link. He’s going to save the sessions so if you miss one or can’t make it at 10:15 a.m. New York time, you can practice at your convenience. That’s SO NICE.

*

I think that’s all, friends. Keep hanging in there. On Thursday I’ll share what it’s like to work at home with co-workers who are anarchists. Bean, Goose and Pearl are adorable but wow, their collective work ethic sucks. And keep me posted on how you’re doing. I’m trying not to despair but damn!, it’s hard.

— TW

Self-care in crisis

It’s unbelievable to me how much life has changed just since last week, let alone March 1, and yet, this is the reality of our situation: Worldwide pandemic, numbers soaring, people hoarding toilet paper (still confused by that), working from home, kids out of school, every day life pretty much at a standstill.

Hey, anxiety! I see you!

On Monday, I asked everyone to think about ways we can take care of ourselves during this crisis. I’ve been thinking about that too. It’s slightly hilarious in a very non-funny kind of way that all of the usual things I do to take care of myself — monthly reflexology appointments, bi-monthly acupuncture appointments — have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

I find that my self-care bandwidth has significantly shrunk. I mean, I still have a book going — taking the time to read every day is always on my list — although it’s somewhat hard to concentrate on the words. (Just finished my 13th book incidentally.) And I’m doing my best to stick to my morning routine of waking up with Eric, journaling and then getting ready for the day — dressed in my work clothes, with shoes on. Whether I head to the car or my reading retreat to get to work doesn’t matter. It helps me feel grounded.

As I was thinking about what to share today, I remembered a day last week when I was feeling really hopeless and out of sorts, and I went into my retreat, grabbed a stack of photos and some scrapbook pages and got to work. I didn’t have to think; I just slapped pictures on pages and got them into their respective books. (No embellishments, no writing.) Took less than an hour, but I felt so accomplished and so much better afterwards — because that was one less pile in my retreat, because now I only have Abby’s school photos to deal with and I am DONE, because soon I will be able to pack up the rest of my supplies and drop them off at the Goodwill and never have to think about it again.

(Wait, is Goodwill open?)

Maybe you don’t have scrapbooks to catch up on, but maybe you have a drawer that’s driving you nuts, or a kitchen counter you could scrub. I have heard many times of the meditative power of washing a sink filled with dishes. Seems like a weird self-care idea, I know, but we’re going for whatever makes us feel better and more sure of our surroundings.

On the physical activity end of things, Eric and I have started taking nightly walks after dinner. Every night he says, We can leave whenever, and I say, Nah, I don’t want to, and then I hear him zipping up his jacket so I get my shoes on. I really don’t want to, which is why I go — I need both the routine and the movement. With so many other routines out the window, it’s nice to have something to look forward to.

One more idea that I’m stealing from my dear friend Shannon: Movie marathon with the family. I like this one because it takes zero braincells on my part to watch a show in my living room. And I get to be with everyone I love while I don’t do anything! How is that not a win?

Um … that’s all I got. To review: Read, keep up routines, check off a chore, take a walk and watch a movie. And one of those I stole. OH WAIT! Play with kittens, that’s a good one, soft fur, purring and stress relief, I can’t believe I didn’t think of that earlier.

All right, your turn. And if you don’t have the bandwidth for this either, that’s fine, update us on how you’re doing. I really, truly appreciate all of you who checked in this week.

Let’s talk about that big (sickly) elephant in the room

How y’all holding up?

I guess we may as well talk about COVID-19 because that’s all anyone is thinking about anyway. I know I am. I can’t get away from it at my office. We have no cases in our county (yet), but as of Sunday, there are 36 confirmed cases in Oregon and one death.

It was a busy week in the newsroom trying to keep up with everything that was happening. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown prohibited any public meetings over 250 Thursday morning, and then, less than 24 hours later, canceled all schools until April. So we were trying to keep track of those changes as well as what was happening locally.

People here are taking it very seriously and practically everything has been canceled. Pressed up against deadline with notices still coming in, I put a notice on the front page that, because everything was changing so quickly, information published could (would definitely) be out of date by the time it reached subscribers. The interesting part of this too is that, with activities canceled, what do you write about? It’s a huge struggle to fill pages when the press releases you had detailing community events are no longer relevant, and the events you’d planned to cover are canceled.

Kinda hard to have a sports page when there are no sports is what I’m saying.

*

One of the first indications I had that things were getting serious was last Sunday at Mass. The priest started off by listing the changes: No holy water as you enter the church; no cup; host only, placed in your hand only; no shaking hands during the sign of peace. Catholics are all about routine and tradition and these changes were just … weird. Totally on board on a personal level, thanks bishops for keeping us safe, it’s just that I have been Catholic all 47 of my years and I have never seen anything like this. Mass rolls along on the same tracks every single week. To see that derailed was jarring.

This weekend, our priest started off with a letter written by the bishop giving everyone dispensation should they miss Mass: If you’re over 60, if you have underlying health conditions, if you’re sick, if you’re afraid of getting sick. And everything besides Mass is canceled, from donuts after the 10 o’clock service to the parish council meetings. We had maybe 60 of us at the service we went to — about a third of the usual crowd.

It’s kind of weird how quickly the human mind adapts to changes. What seemed weird last week seemed normal this week.

Last weekend, I noticed toilet paper was gone from store shelves (which I do not get, it’s respiratory not … well, you know), but everything else seemed to be in good supply. THIS weekend, it was a lot of empty shelves. I felt lucky to get a gallon of milk; bread is gone, most canned goods are gone and forget paper products or cleaning products. I’ve been adding non-perishable items to my cart for the last two weeks, so I wasn’t worried about stocking up, but I did want to get fresh fruit and veggies, dairy products, eggs and the like. And a few treats. I don’t know, a crisis just seems easier to deal with when you’ve got cookies. (No, I can’t eat cookies because of my guts. That was an act of mercy on my part.)

*

On Wednesday, we had a staff meeting that involved all of our sister papers. Blah blah blah, it’s a hard time for newspapers but also: The company president was like, some of you are concerned about coronavirus and if you want to work from home, that’s fine, just make sure you’re set up to do that and also maybe think about department hubs. And I was like, I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE.

I am thriving when it comes to social distancing!

After the meeting, I pulled ol’ Freida out of my backpack and started downloading programs. I came into the office on Thursday — deadline day — but decided to make Friday my test run at home — soft deadline, good practice, and if it didn’t work, I could go into the office and fix it.

Um, and also I just really wanted to work from home.

Long story short, I have access to my work desktop on Freida as well as all essential programs, and my test run went perfectly. The only drawback was watching my co-worker, Goose, munch a spider and then spit it back out. Dude, gross, what are you, an animal?

Incidentally, I set myself up in my newly cleaned reading retreat, which is a lovely home office space. I am so grateful that I have this area to work in. It makes me feel settled, and, with everything triggering my anxiety right now, that is a big help.

*

Abby is home for spring break. Her university has extended the break for another week and will resume with online classes. Um, except she’s a nursing student and there might still be labs? Clinicals are out — just because the hospitals are overwhelmed and having students shadow is a distraction staff doesn’t need. Anyway, she’s headed back today. She’s not entirely sure what she’s headed back to, and neither are we.

Johanna will be out of school for the next two and a half weeks — one of those is their scheduled spring break. All students have a school issued iPad, but not all have access to wifi at home, so teachers cannot assign new work. I get the feeling that things changed so quickly that staff didn’t have time to plan and everyone is winging it. It’s hard to be upset about that because let’s be honest, we’re all winging it.

Grandma’s assisted living center went into lockdown a week ago Monday as a precaution. Eric is still going into the office, but he says it’s been pretty quiet. I plan to go in today after lunch, dip in quickly for tomorrow’s staff meeting and then work from home until Thursday, when I will reassess. Mondays and Thursdays are deadline days and I want to be a team player, but also … I’m set up to work at home and why go out if I don’t have to?

But still, it feels weird to be proactive rather than reactive — which is really what all this caution is about: Staying home to ensure that those who are most vulnerable not exposed unwittingly. I might be fine, but what about the grandmas? Hey look, a soapbox: Public health is only as strong as our weakest members. That’s who we need to protect.

*

I’ve been thinking about self care in times of crisis. I’m having a hard time with it because I can’t concentrate. Let’s think about how we can bring a bit of normalcy and care into our daily lives and then talk about that on Thursday, okay? I look forward to it.

And also, tell me how you are — I am hoping everyone is hanging in there. I almost just wrote “hugs” but what I really mean is “nods in an empathetic manner from at least three feet away.”

Downsizing 101

I love it when my work life and personal life intersect.

I got a press release from a professional organizer a few weeks ago detailing a free class on the topic of decluttering. Specifically: Preparing for life transitions and how to break down the task of dealing with a lifetime of stuff.

(She’d planned it for 2 p.m. on Friday. So I could actually attend. Sometimes I get rewarded for good semi-decent behavior.)

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Goose enjoying a decluttered shelf in my reading retreat.

I cover elder issues at the paper and “accumulation of stuff and the disposing thereof” is a topic that doesn’t get much attention. Which was this woman’s point: Start talking about it, start planning for it, and be proactive rather than reactive.

What a great way to look at it.

Downsizing — whether you’re looking to move into a smaller space or cut your possessions — before life tosses you a curve ball means you can prepare ahead of time and decide what that looks like. When you wait for a crisis, you often are forced to make rapid changes that stress everyone involved.

But by acknowledging that life does change, you get to control how it unfolds. (And it will unfold, whether you prepare or not.)

Bonus: You end up saving time and money and get to feel awesome because you’re taking up a smaller footprint. But she said too — and I totally agree — that you’re also getting rid of the stress associated with your stuff. Stuff can be a burden. By taking care of it ahead of time, you’re not only freeing your future self but those who will be assisting you at that time.

While you can’t make someone else downsize, you definitely have control over your own stuff. And when I think of my life 30 or 40 years from now, I want my kids to be able to wheel me up to the facility door with a couple of suitcases and my bed. I guess a chair. Definitely my Kindle. Put a “for sale” sign on the front door of our house and be done with it. It’s kind of weird to think about and I get why it’s hard to even go there. Which is why we need to start talking about it. To normalize it.

It happens anyway, right?

Here’s what this professional organizer recommended:

Step 1: Start talking about it. Get comfortable with the idea that change happens — that realistically you will not always be where you are at right now. (Or maybe you will be. You can still get ready for aging in place.)

Step 2: Create a plan. Write down your goals. What do you value, what things are important to you, what do you want to go to family and friends? (Do your family and friends actually WANT that item? Do they already have a house full of their own stuff?) What spaces need to be decluttered? Where do you ultimately want this to end?

Start a notebook. Make each page a different section of the house, a different list. It will serve as your touchstone when you get stuck. It’s what makes you proactive rather than reactive — you’re in charge of your own transition and you can make choices that are not based on the fight or flight response that kicks in during times of stress.

But for God’s sake, DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR WHOLE HOUSE AS ONE PROJECT. (Talk about stress.) Look at a drawer. Start with a shelf. Plan to tackle one tiny area at a time.

Step 3: Action. Start a routine and stick with it. DO NOT fall into the trap of all-day work sessions because you will get tired and just start moving stuff around from one place to the next without getting anything done. Set a timer. Set a goal — one hour a week, two hours a week. (She said if you do two hours a week, that equals about 100 hours in a year — and as a professional organizer, she has never helped a client downsize for 100 hours; it takes much less time than that. Slow and steady wins this race.)

Your house has layers to it: There’s the low hanging fruit of broken items, outdated stuff, papers that can be recycled and things you borrowed and can return. Get rid of the duplicates — pick your favorite one and box up the rest. There’s the hobbies and the things that you’ve outgrown, the stuff that’s not relevant to your life anymore. The stuff that you’ve not even taken out of the boxes yet. The stuff you thought would be collectables and worth a lot of money and just isn’t. It’s okay to let go of what no longer serves you and what you no longer enjoy, no matter how much money it cost or who gave it to you.

She also said that delegation is an underrated tool. Make a list of what you need help with, and when family comes to visit and asks what they can do, TELL THEM. Or tell them anyway even if they don’t ask. 😉 Eric has done many, many projects for Grandma that are a big deal for her but a very little deal for him, for example. (I generally get the easy tasks of cleaning spaces or helping comb hair for some reason.) We don’t have to go at this alone.

She talked about paying someone to do an estate sale (her opinion was that it was worth the money to be able to take what you wanted from a house and walk away, if that’s the stage of life you’re in). She talked about favorite charities and picking the right ones that align with your values and also give you a tax credit.

I think people get too worked up over where they donate their stuff, like they want it to go to the perfect person. Which is a lot of pressure for everyone involved and can bring the project to a halt. I also think people have too high an expectation that they’re going to recoup the money they’ve spent on their stuff. You won’t. Just let it go.

Step 4: Enjoy your progress. That’s my favorite part! There were times when I’d declutter a drawer and just stare at the gorgeousness of the empty space. That’s some unexpected joy right there.

*

I am 47 and Eric is 49, and I think this is the perfect time to start thinking about this — we’re looking at an empty nest in the next five years (although everyone assures me kids come back, LOL) and retirement … sometime in the next 15? While we did ourselves a huge favor by building a small house and tended to be minimalists before we knew what that was, there are still items that need to be sorted and dealt with. (Hello, reading retreat, you gorgeous girl.) But really, any time is the right time to start planning ahead.

Thoughts, feelings, experiences? I think this is fascinating.