In a pandemic-less world, one where large groups are still allowed to gather for entertainment, I would have headed out last Friday, to work my dream job. I’m fortunate enough to know it’s my dream job because I got to work it last year, meet my love, work alongside amazing people, and smile deeply every day.
However, in this pandemic reality, the dream job has been canceled and I am home, with my love, breathing! Healthy. And simply for that, I consciously practice gratitude daily.
During this time of #StayatHome, I have seen myself do things I never thought I would do nor have the opportunity to do. I have applied and been granted unemployment, at least for two weeks. I have made loaves of bread with my hands that have made my heart smile. And I have cried. In several different ways, for a multitude of reasons.
Each day takes a new focus, a flow. Some days I am so deeply sad. I see and hear ill words froth from the mouths of humans I walk this Earth with. Other days, I feel jazzed to rearrange the den, to move a Buddha statue from the bedroom to the space in front of the fireplace in the front plant room, and feel the space that move has created.
During these quarantine days, no matter what ills I hear or joys I feel, I keep a running tally of what I know will make me feel. Feel joy. Feel loved. Feel supported. And feel like keeping hope alive. Because right now, we simply have to keep living. Breathing. For those we love and for those we have lost.
During this time, my joy is found simply. Small scale. A reminder that when we brush away all the puff and fluff, the human made stress of life, there is simplicity, waiting for us to catch it.
Are you there joy? It’s me! Five ways I have found to keep my quarantine head above water.
Numero Uno: All the small things...outside!
It’s spring and that means new growth, amongst the slightly chilly, cloudy days of Nashville. Each morning, as the sun has been up for hours, I put the kettle on to boil, tend to the ritual of a pour-over coffee, and head outside to get a little sun on my face and to see what has grown, maybe just ever so slightly, over night. Last year in June, as I was returning to a friend’s house after dinner, we came across a fallen paddle from a cactus. Being one who has a soft spot for dying plants, I grabbed the paddle, took it home while being pricked and poked, and looked up how to propagate a paddle cactus of the Prickly Pear variety. Put it in a pot on its side, water sparingly, and see what grows. Little baby paddles! That’s what grows! After two paddles grew, I transplanted the whole plant to the backyard earlier this spring. Again, while being poked and pricked! Now, there are three baby paddles growing from the top of the two original growth paddles. Each day, I look to see how much each new to-be paddle has grown.
We have also planted 6 vegetable plants! In the back garden bed along the house, we have an eggplant, kale, and sriracha pepper plant. A tomato plant is growing in a pot next to the ground plants. On the front patio, a mole pepper plant in a pot. And as a true experiment, a potato has been buried deep in a pot. The potato plant has sprouted from the soil, so I have covered it with more dirt. Potatoes are growing under there!
I have sprinkled herb seeds all around in various locations as well. Each day, as I take to watering these plants, I investigate deeply for new growth. A tiny green pepper growing from the dying blossom on the mole plant. A yellow flower budding on the tomato plant. A new leaf coming unfurled from the center of the protected older leaves of the eggplant. Growth!
Seeing spring take hold, the earth shift and grow, and the ground come to life brings me simple joy. By taking these moments to slow down, to observe nature and its beauty, I physically feel my chest loosen and my shoulders relax, releasing the tension from my neck.
Breathing and watching the plants grow is a kind reminder for us to act slowly, with grace towards ourself and others.
Numero Dos: Outdoor cats!
Sometimes I feel like somebody’s watching me. Oh-because they are! Currently while I sit at the kitchen table and glance to my right, there she sits, looking in. Sometimes Sweet Violet! When my older neighbor, Jonathan, passed away in October of 2018, I began luring his outdoor cats to my property. I procured a cat house and a feeding hut from a local woman on a mission to help stray cats, or cared for cats without an indoor home.
I had three black cats, falsely assuming they were all male until two gave birth. I went to feed one morning last spring and next to the feeding hut were four little kittens, eyes still not yet open to the world. The three adults and kittens were collected. Spayed and neutered. The mother, Woody White Paws, remained with a foster along with her kittens to be domesticated. When at the veterinarian, it was noticed that Eyes was lactating, with her kittens being hidden somewhere on my property. She was returned that next morning after being spayed, but no kittens were to be found...until several months later when two lovely angels came to feed with their mama! Young Pearl passed away last fall. Violet is now a teenager.
Eyes, Violet, and #2 remain to bring us such joy each morning and laughs all afternoon as they hunt, clean themselves, and snuggle up in a blanketed chair in our backyard. Violet has warmed up to the occasional petting, especially with Nik in the mornings when she is expecting a feeding. They typically hang in the yard all day, with a bit of “catploration” throughout the day. To know that they feel safe in our yard, cared for, and knowing they will be fed brings such a calm joy to us. Simple creatures reminding us to slow down and be grateful for what we do have right now: Health, Love, Shelter, and Food.
Numero Tres: Bread!
Flour and water and yeast and salt, you are magical with your science! A few weeks ago, Nik and I had a friend barter with us. We parted with a rolling clothes rack in return for two loaves of bread. Bread made with love, in a dutch oven. I was intrigued by this bread. And suddenly realized why I bought a purple dutch oven all those years ago with my mother when I lived in Denver. It was time to give it new life.
I bought bread flour and yeast, followed a recipe at first...and was off! For me, as with all the other bread makers diving in at this time, there is something so pure and magical about the art of breadmaking. A craft that takes my mind back to a time when life seemed simpler.
With bread making, nothing is fast. Dough is mixed and left to sit for up to 18 hours, to rise, to live, to bubble. My first loaf was glorious. I giggled with joy when I took my first peak under the dutch oven lid to see a growing loaf. After 30 minutes, she was cooked and steamed to near perfection. The last 15 minutes of cook time, without a lid, lends itself to browning and crisping the top.
Over the last few weeks, I have changed the type of yeast I am using, have blended a few recipes, and added ingredients to the crust. I feel like an artist. I am an artist, of the bread variety.
Along with this bread making has come a revival of the art of the barter. Last week, I bartered one loaf for two containers of the most delicious orzo pasta salad! What a gift to give ourselves and each other. What a way to continue to build community and closeness with friends and family during this weird and wild time.
The simple joy I feel while slowing down and pouring my love into each loaf does something to slow the anxiety. Using my hands to create while my mind dreams of flavor combinations. Might it work for you, too?
In the coming weeks, I hope to open my little bread shop into a bartering bonanza. What can we share with each other, to bring each other near in a time when we are all physically apart.
Numero Quatro: Walking...always walking! Movement.
I feel very fortunate that here in East Nashville, we live on walkable streets, where people greet each other while passing at a comfortable distance.
Starting in college, with the encouragement from my father, I began to realize how simply changing my location lent to a shift in mood. Oftentimes, especially now, I can find my energy lower and my mood shift with too much time spent reading about this pandemic, how our government has atrociously been handling it, or of people acting in deeply unkind ways. I notice my shoulders drop and it feels like the world around me is getting smaller, a darkness begging to hijack my thoughts . Every negative issue in my life, no matter how small or slight, seems like it suddenly bubbles to the surface and demands to be paid attention to. At these moments, I hope for awareness to hit me. A noticing of a shift needing to happen. And I quite literally stand up and change my location. Most often, I head outside. I gaze at plants. Look for new growth. See what edible is growing in the garden. Or I just get my body moving.
Walking allows for a literal scene change which allows for an emotional shift or opening. It brings forth space. A clearing.
During this quarantine time, walking has been my sanctuary. When I move my body, I feel more settled within.
It seems like so many more people are walking in our neighborhood and that has led to meeting a wide variety of neighbors. Some we see only once and others we see daily, walking their dogs or strolling with the kids. Socially distant yet brought together in time. We pass with a hello or a small chat. Peace signs thrown up at passing cars.
Spring has sprung, new growth from flowers and plants abound, along with the sweet new leaf buds gathered on trees. Head out...see what you can see, smile at another human. Allow the feeling of sonder to come over you. “The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”(Webster) We truly are all in this together.
Numero Cinco: New relationship...let’s quarantine!
While on the road in the summer of 2019, I met my partner Nik. What a gift. Since then, we have been traveling and loving and eating...and living in quarantine together!
Nik and I knew we got along to the core, to the very roots of our being, before this quarantine time. We have traveled to far away places together, worked through shifting and altering plans, and camped out in off-grid cabins for weeks. We deeply enjoy each other’s company and now we are getting a lot of it.
I cherish this time of being able to inspect and sink into this new relationship. We are not always feeling the same way about what is happening at the same time and this is a new space to explore. How can I support my partner in a moment where I feel joy, yet he has been saddened by our lack of work or a tragedy that has appeared in a news feed? It has been an exploration in how to maintain myself, while giving of myself to another. To maintain and carry my joy on a platter next to me while allowing myself to feel and understand what another is processing. To honor them during this time to know they are heard and understood. Learning a communication style that leaves us both feeling heard and whole. Misunderstandings will arise, yet we have found that the sooner we bring it up to discuss it, the quicker we can let it go and get it away from us. An honest sharing of where we are each day, with ourselves and each other.
Cooking has been a shared joy and experiment that we have thrown ourselves into. We have been eating more vegan in the weeks since getting home. Exploring new recipes and ways to cook food we had never considered. We have spent time standing and chopping together, boiling water to the point of overflow and stirring several curries. Then we have sat and slowly eaten together. Slowing everything down. Appreciating every bite. Checking in with how the day has made us feel or left us feeling as the moon rises. I have found it’s a time of reconnecting after spending the day physically together but possibly miles apart mentally.
This time has really allowed us to take a look at how we want our lives to look, after quarantine. What our shared dreams and visions are; what we dream of for ourselves individually. This time has allowed us the space to come up with new and exciting ideas and thoughts. How has this pandemic time altered and shifted a career we both love and where do we see ourselves outside of that.
As I think about a time after quarantine, I don’t have any solid visions. I often get filled with fear or anger or sadness at the uncertainty of it all. What I hope to take with me, to an after quarantine time, is a slowing down of life. To not let the frantic pace in which our world wills us to work to enter back into my daily living. To notice the small things because they are so deeply precious. To continue to smile at other humans as they pass because we are living and breathing through this wild ride, together. To keep creating and giving that gift of time to myself. Finding the time. Making the space. And to have gratitude towards every day that I am breathing and walking, sharing and loving. Because simply, this life is a gift. Have grace with yourself. Love deeply. Say something beautiful to one another. And truly live for all those we have lost!