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on the front page that, because everything was changing so quickly, information published could (would definitely) be out of date by the time it reached subscribers.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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Update: Six weeks into my ‘grand plans’

It’s been six weeks since 2020 began and I have been working diligently on three fronts: To read more books, to declutter my reading retreat and to focus on healthy habits.

Here’s how it’s going.

Books

I decided the easiest way to track my progress here was a Books 2020 page, which you can find up top under the Minimally banner above: What I’ve read, what I’m reading and what I’ve ditched. (I’m learning to ditch! I’m ridiculously excited about that.) (I’ve only ditched one so far.) The eLibrary has been coming through, usually in the nick of time, which is nothing short of a miracle, but I’ve also reread a couple favorites.

I’m learning to reach for my book instead of reaching for my phone, even if I only have a couple of minutes to kill. I feel like I’ve wasted less time when I read vs. scroll around online. I don’t always remember, but I am remembering more often. I like to read when I read, so it’s different to grab a book knowing I might only have time to finish a page or two. So much is just habit and routine. I find that fascinating, but that’s another post for another time. Eh, maybe.

Decluttering

I am finding it easier to be in my reading retreat for longer periods of time. Probably because each day I’m in there means there’s less visual clutter. And less actual clutter. It’s getting there!

I did make the mistake of letting the girls in on what I was doing early in the process, and they were horrified that some of their childhood books were in the giveaway pile. The kicker: They wanted to keep certain books, but not in their own rooms. “Think of your grandchildren!” Abby said at one point, but I was like, Dude, I AM. They might not even like these books.

That’s the thing: We keep things for future generations, and the future generations are all like, Nah, I want my own stuff. I know. I am one of those future generations (I wrote about that HERE).

I’ve tackled books. I’ve tackled the box of negatives and duplicate photos (that has been on my to-do list for like seven years, no joke). I’ve even tackled the mess of gift bags and ribbons and boxes. I’m sorting through my extensive Everyday Food magazine collection and recycling. I thought that would be harder. What IS harder: I’m dealing with a fat stack of scrapbook supplies and photos that need to go into albums.

(This will strictly be placing photos on pages, no decorating, no creative endeavors, just getting it done. I still don’t want to do it, I think because scrapbooking used to stress me out — the pressure of creating perfect pages, all the supplies and tools, all spread out all over the front room. I associate scrapbooking with stress.)

It feels good to finally be dealing with this space. I cannot believe all that I’ve managed to accomplish in six week. I can’t wait to see what it looks like after the next six.

Health

Again, this one is about mindfulness rather than fulfilling a to-do list. I’m drinking more water (which probably still isn’t enough, but at this stage, we’re just going with any water that’s not coffee as a win). I’m moving around more. I’m taking breaks. Well, sort of. I’m practicing self-care. I’m going to bed ridiculously early if that’s what I need to do.

I’m talking 8:30 p.m.! This is the benefit of having older kids. They let you sleep.

My downfall is sugar — I’m still eating too much, and that’s idiotic because it upsets my stomach and makes me feel super gross. On Feb. 1, I decided to give up desserts for the week to see how I felt. I was eating blueberries for dessert, which actually wasn’t so bad. But on Feb. 8, I ate A LOT of chocolate. Dessert fast over, YAY.

On Feb. 9, I had to admit that symptoms that had taken a week’s vacation were back: Swollen stomach, didn’t sleep well that night, general feeling of ick. Um, yeah, I did finish off the chocolate with a vague plan of restarting the dessert fast today. For a bit, anyway.

GOSH DANG IT ALL TO HECK.

Well, the year is long, if I managed to succeed in all my health goals in six weeks, what would I do with the other 10.5 months of this year? 😉

Not tomato sauce

Trisha’s Note: I’m going through my drafts folder and found this post, written in November. Which is handy because my weekend writing routine was blown apart (thanks, basketball!) and I got nothin’. 

I had the chance to browse a Market of Choice this past week — that’s another story for another time — and I ran across some rice spaghetti-style noodles. The package claimed they tasted like regular spaghetti noodles, which I didn’t believe but was intrigued by nonetheless. My store only carries rice pad thai noodles, which I find a bit thick and hard to properly cook. I tossed a bag into my cart.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It was a gamble worth the $4 price tag.

As I walked up and down aisles, just taking in the sights (what I wouldn’t give for one of these stores in my town!), I started thinking about sauces. I’ve been keeping an eye out for packaged sauces lately, but I have had zero luck. Everything contains extra ingredients I can’t have, and it annoys me when I see “tapioca starch” or “yeast” or “corn” on a label. ESPECIALLY if it’s for something that should technically only have four or five ingredients, like pesto, for example. I get trying to extend shelf life, but wow, that makes my life a lot harder.

Included on my list of foods to stay away from are nightshades — tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and potatoes, although potatoes are the least of my problems — and that rather puts a damper on traditional spaghetti sauce.

But walking around the store helped me come up with a plan: I could make my regular tomato sauce recipe but sub in a can of pureed butternut squash for the tomatoes.

It wasn’t my worst idea, or even my weirdest.

On Sunday, I got to put my theory to the test. I cooked onion and garlic together in some olive oil in a pan, and then tossed in herbs ((basil, thyme, oregano, marjoram) and spices (salt and pepper, no need to go crazy), and then add a can of squash. I added a bit of water, too, just because I was trying to clean out the can. Then I let that whole mess simmer while I cooked the noodles, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 47 years, it’s that sauce will wait but noodles never do.

I decided at the last minute to cook some of Eric’s elk burger, hoping that would also add a bit of flavor to the sauce. It tasted fine and smelled very similar to tomato sauce — huh, did not expect that — but it was, after all, squash. I mean, there’s only so much you can do with that.

I drained the rice noodles, added the sauce and a couple scoops of the elk burger, and mixed that all around. I dished it up with a sprinkle of freshly ground parmesan, crossed my fingers and dug in.

I mean, it’s so stupid, but if this worked … well, my hopes were kind of high, even though this is me and nothing ever goes as planned in my kitchen. I get so bored with my dinners, which are always some kind of protein, some kind of vegetable and either quinoa or a sweet potato. The thought that I could have something else to add to the rotation was thrilling.

Spoiler alert: IT WORKED. Yeah, I can’t believe it either. I think half of the success is because those rice noodles actually tasted like regular spaghetti noodles. The texture and taste was very similar. But the sauce was also surprisingly decent after it simmered for a while — and the meat probably helped. Not tomato, but an okay substitute.

I wonder what it would taste like with canned pumpkin?

I’m very pleased with this, especially for a first try. I usually mess things up. Inadvertently, but still.

Self-care: Changing my definition

What I thought of as my self care routine was the equivalent of considering that picking someone up in your car, not saying a word, and then driving them around the block and dropping them off 10 minutes later is the most romantic date you’ve ever been on. You’d never do that to someone else, so why would you do that to yourself?

— Kyle Nicolaides (HERE)

So. Self-care. I’ve had an epiphany. Um, over the course of like three months or something because I’m an idiot and it takes time for me to sort through whatever it is the universe is trying to tell me. And also because “health” is one of my grand plans this year and self-care is certainly a part of that whole ordeal.

I found the above quote when I was researching bullet journals — I was setting up my 2020 January-June journal and thinking about what sort of habits I wanted to track. That quote struck me as being sort of funny — in a sad kind of way because wow, relatable — and then I forgot about it.

Until Abby and I were at Friday Lunch one (when else?) Friday and I had a lightbulb moment. Abby was talking about the guilt she feels when she rests / practices self-care. How she can’t turn off her brain. And I was like, Oh, well, why don’t you just journal about what makes you happy and then cross stuff off that list? and she was all, Do you think I haven’t tried that yet? Because I have and it doesn’t work.

Hold. The. Phone. That sounds vaguely familiar … because I’ve also read the articles and made the journal entries and I am also terrible at it.

Ah, it’s so humiliating to find yourself giving pseudo-advice to your kid and then getting called on the bullshit that it is.

What I think of as self-care is really the bare minimum a person has to do to maintain any semblance of health. Because there’s always something else that is more important, or I don’t have time, or I feel guilty about taking the time when there’s so much else I should be doing.

The lightbulb: I think of self-care as special treats. And if something is a treat, that means it’s not necessary. It’s frivolous. It’s stupid. It’s easy to toss aside.

But in reality — and a shout out to Oxford Dictionary — self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

And then it occurred to me that taking care of myself is already routine, in that I have to, like, shower and brush my teeth and stuff. I just don’t think of those things as “self-care.” Could those things help me protect my well-being and happiness? Maybe even give me a buffer on the anxiety front?

Hmm. I have to wash my hair — but I can use a lavender bar and an organic conditioner.

I have to shower — but I can use the pumice stone Mom gave me for Christmas (hi, Mom!) on my heels.

I have to wash my face — but I can use a nice bar of soap and moisturize afterwards.

Which made me wonder: What else could I do to make what’s already routine into something more restorative? What could I add to my routine?

Meditation as self-care? Music? Reading? Eating for my guts? Exercise and family time and allowing myself to be bored? Being honest with myself and saying “no” to those things I don’t actually like but feel like I have to do?

I’ve been looking at this all wrong, in other words. I practice self-care every day — I’m just not mindful about it. I have to take that extra whole minute to apply moisturizer before I go to bed. I have to get up from my desk and leave the office for a real lunch break. I have to open a book instead of an app on my phone. I have to tell myself that nothing else is more important in that moment. The chores of life can wait their turn. And that this is nothing to feel guilty about. You can’t save anyone else if you don’t put on your own lifejacket first and all that.

I’ve got the theory down! Um, just keep your fingers crossed for me on the actual practice, which is the part I always fail.

New year’s grand plan no. 3: Health

I’m blessed with relatively good health, sensitive stomach and anxiety issues aside. Genetics mean I don’t have to worry about things like high blood pressure or diabetes or bad cholesterol or obesity. My doctor told me once that I could pick up a bad habit and still be okay. (“You could start smoking!”) Too bad I’m not interested in vices beyond coffee and books.

But that doesn’t mean I’m healthy. I’m worry because I’m 6-feet tall — and how many tall older women do you see? I know exactly one. (Not me.) I’m thin-ish but not in shape — I get winded walking up steps. My water intake is whatever is in my coffee. I have a job that consists of sitting in a cubical at a computer. About the only thing I really have going for me is my diet, and that’s just because I have so many food sensitivities, I can’t eat anything that’s super bad. Sugar makes me feel gross, but that is my weakness, and I eat a lot of (fair trade, slave free, minimally packaged) chocolate. And am rather fond of one (dairy and sugar free but packaged) chocolate coconut “ice cream” bar. I worry a lot. And when I get stressed, which is often, I self-destruct.

So I added “health” to my list of grand plans in 2020 as well. Not as fun as reading books, but to be fair, it’s also not as overwhelming as trying to clean out my reading retreat. This one is more about mindfulness:

  • Remembering to drink actual water. Not counting coffee as flavored water.
  • Remembering to take breaks.
  • Remembering to shop and eat for my gut.
  • Remembering to breathe and meditate.
  • Remembering to turn off my phone and do something constructive with my time.
  • Remembering to get out my yoga mat.
  • Remembering my body needs exercise.
  • Remembering my body needs rest.
  • Remembering that I have ways to deal with negative emotions and spirals and that it’s best to acknowledge and work through than numb and ignore.
  • Remembering to make self-care appointments (massage, acupuncture, reflexology).
  • Remembering that self-care is not special occasion stuff, but an everyday need.

It’s a lot to keep track of, at least now in the beginning. Why, yes, I do have pages devoted to this in my journal, how’d you know? My hope is that eventually, this will all be a part of my routine — I dearly love routines. I’m slowly figuring out the parts of my regular routine that can be cues for healthy habits, like: Hey, I just finished editing this story, time for a drink of actual water! Hey, it’s lunch, let’s take a walk around the block! Huh, just brushed my teeth, time to floss!

Here’s what’s motivating me: Every year during my year-end journaling sprees, I go back over previous years’ entries. I always see that health is a goal — and have to confront the fact that I’ve taken zero steps towards restarting my yoga and walk break routines, that I’m still making bad choices when I’m stressed and that I make no real effort to rest beyond taking naps on weekends. That I’m dehydrated as hell.

And I don’t know, having lost so many loved ones last year, I’m thinking that what I have is a gift and I’m squandering it on stupid stuff that I don’t even care about, aka my phone.

I want to be a tall, cool old lady. I want to be an old lady, period. I want to review my 2020 journal in December and know that this year, I took actual, tangible steps towards being healthy.

So that’s my focus this year: Read more books, clean out the spaces that I’ve been ignoring in my house and get healthy. (In addition to my 47th birthday goal of learning how to retrench faster when Plan A goes awry, of course.)

I’m excited. And I’m never excited.

Goodbye, 2019

I like to do a little end of the year housekeeping and sort through the last 12 months — and damn, what a year. I can’t say I’ve been too impressed with 2019, but to be fair, I’ve never had a year so good that I wanted a repeat. I like moving forward.

My word this year was peace (um, anyone else pick a word to guide them through the year?) and I’m 98 percent certain that will be my word again in 2020. It’s been my word for like three years running and, as I was explaining to my dear friend Shannon the other day, I choose it because that is the goal, not because I am peaceful. I rarely feel at peace, although I do often feel content and maybe that’s the same thing, now that I think about it.

I use my word daily and, as I’ve shared before, there have been times I’ve had to scream I CHOOSE PEACE because it is not something that comes naturally to me. I also write it in my journal every week, no joke. The word helps me remember that I crave calm and that I don’t need to judge. To care for my inside and my outside. To look at the light instead of the dark.

I know. That’s a lot for one word to hold.

It came in handy on deadline days when chaos reigned (“Not my circus, not my monkeys. Oh wait, yes it is. Shit. I CHOOSE PEACE”). It was what saved me when my father-in-law spent four days in ICU before passing away from a traumatic brain injury. It’s what reminds me that I need to stop and breathe.

I’m a big fan. And I’d love to hear your word for the year and/or plans for next year’s word in the comments.

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In 2019, I had to embrace change because I had no choice. And let me tell you, I despise change. Give me routine any ol’ day. But by keeping an open mind — well, really just trying to be open to the gifts and lessons of each day — I managed to have a lovely time on our trip to Canada (HERE) as well as to whatever life happens to throw me on any particular day. That’s not easy for my brain. I am terribly proud of the progress I’ve made since making this a priority (HERE).

I let go of my own crushing expectations of myself (HERE) and a lot of people — we had four deaths this year (my beloved Aunt Jan, Don, and family friends Celia and Patty). And for some reason, I let go of my walk break at work. I need to bring that back because I feel so much better when I walk. And take a break.

I’m grateful, however, for so much: My little family and the time we spend together, friends who rally when the chips are down and getting to see my Grandma so often now that she’s moved to town all come to mind. That we get to be a year older. That we haven’t gotten nuked yet.

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It’s always easier for me to think of the year’s challenges than it is accomplishments, but here we go.

Challenges first:

The experience of days in the ICU with my father-in-law, knowing that chances were very good he would never wake up, was the biggest challenge this year (HERE). Being in that GD waiting room. And then just the aftermath of his death. What a huge hole. I still expect to see him around and it’s always a shock to realize, again, that he’s gone.

I never want to see another ICU.

Deadlines have been particularly challenging at work this year; we’ve had staff turnover, which means more on everyone’s plate, and getting the paper out on time has been more miss than hit because of various personalities and/or the realities of print.

Perimenopause — I don’t even know where to begin with this one. It affects my guts. It affects my mental stability. I never know what will happen from month to month — will I have two periods or will I have zero? Who knows!

Accomplishments:

Um … well, I did win a newspaper award (second place) for my work. That was kind of nice, even though my brain is all like, Eh, second. And I managed to get myself a raise. I still make a poverty wage but I feel less ripped off.

I nailed our Canada trip! Which I am very proud of because I am not a good traveler. I also nailed July, with all my self-care appointments (HERE). I felt awesome that month and I’m sure it was because I was taking such good care of myself.

I don’t know if this is really an accomplishment, but I got my ears pierced and now I get to wear fun earrings and feel punk. And I feel like I have some new tools to work with: Breath exercises, stopping negative spirals (HERE) and a restarted morning routine that keeps me grounded (HERE).

Well, goodbye 2019. And see you next year, internet friends.

Here we go

My laptop has 26 percent battery, and as it turns out, that’s also an accurate representation of where I’m at.

I mean, I’m proud for how well I’ve done this December. I tried really hard. There may have been days I wasn’t feeling it, but I didn’t bring anyone down with me. I’ve enjoyed waking up each morning and turning on the Christmas lights in my kitchen window, even everything else seemed stupid.

I’ve managed to work towards Christmas and the gradual increase of light. And yeah, my battery is low. And yeah, I’ve got some crazy work deadlines this week and next because of Christmas and New Year’s landing smack on what are usually delivery days.

But here’s what I’m looking forward to:

  • Meeting Abby in our favorite coffee shop when she’s on her lunch break (we both work downtown).
  • Seeing my cousins, who are rolling in to visit Grandma.
  • Giving a couple of gifts to co-workers who save my life every day (I’ve made small packs with coffee cards, chocolate bars and peppermint lip balm, and I am ridiculously excited).
  • Binge watching “The Good Place” on Netflix with the girls (HERE).
  • And our various Christmas gatherings with my family and Eric’s, as well as our Walker Four Christmas morning extravaganza, which mostly involves the girls rolling out of bed late and a lot of coffee.

Anyway, for my friends who also have a hard time with this month, this is just a reminder that we’re almost there. That when the going gets overwhelming, we can focus on our breath or the light or whatever it is that gets us through it. And that we need to take good, good care of ourselves — not just everyday maintenance kind of stuff, but the kind of care we give to everyone else.

I think for me that’s going to be walk breaks, even on deadline, coffee (obvs), hugging my kids a lot and taking that GD five seconds after my shower to apply body lotion because, shock, my skin is high maintenance, just like every single other aspect that makes me me.

Here we go.