Currently: quarantining

It’s Month Two of Covid-19 quarantining, and I hope you and your families are healthy and doing OK in all the ways. (Does anyone else wake up each morning and wonder if this is all one very extended bad dream?)

Our family is doing all right, for which I’m deeply grateful. But the scariness of the world and the uncertainty of it all, and the inability to be with family and friends as they’re experiencing sadness and loss — these things are real. 

But I know that we can count ourselves blessed, because there’s a lot of suffering happening in this world right now, and our loved ones have been spared the worst of it. It’s hard for each of us in our own way, and I’m just grateful for the strength to handle it. 

Ugh. Just ugh. 

So when all that icky stuff isn’t going on, we’re working away here (thank goodness for our work), and when we’re not working, we take time to find some bright spots in this strange season. And these are some of them…

Reading  |  I read two of the four volumes of Robert A. Caro’s magnificent biography of LBJ during this time, and I only wish there were more of them. But I have designs on re-reading at some point, so there’s always that.

I’m also slow-reading Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor, a biography of Mister Rogers. It’s my bedtime reading (cuz it’s guaranteed to be calm), which means that my progress is slow. Other than the amazing novella Passing by Nella Larsen, I’ve been reading only nonfiction. That seemed out of balance to my head (though my gut said it was fine, thank you), so I picked up Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos–one of my confirmed comfort authors.

Listening  |  A colleague mentioned The Daily Stoic podcast, and it’s completely perfect for right now. And the episodes are short, so you can listen to them when you have just a few minutes. 

Watching  |  We don’t watch much TV, but we’ve watched some of the documentaries and Great Courses available via Kanopy (courtesy of our public library!) Currently streaming The Skeptic’s Guide to American History. And after hearing about 20 people raving about The Great British Baking Show (on Hoopla—again from the library), we watched an episode… and will be watching more.

Cooking  |  Most of our cooking is the usual stuff (thank goodness we can get all the ingredients we need), but I’ve been dabbling in new dessert recipes. I’ve whipped up poor man’s pudding (a favorite from last year’s trip to Quebec City), a new molasses cookie recipe, and Oreo fudge. And pineapple upside down cake — oh so retro, but new to both of us. (It turned out kind of weird, but maybe it’s supposed to be that way?)

Learning  |  Turns out, using my laptop for 8+ hours per day was causing wrist ache. So I adjusted. Then got a neck ache. Then a friend told me about adding an external keyboard & elevating the laptop screen. A revelation! Two Amazon orders later, I’m on my way to comfort. I hope.  [small update: when the keyboard arrived, I realized I also needed a mouse & had that ugh feeling. Then the Dear Man rescued me with his spare mouse. And that made everything 70 times better]

Working on  |  On a related note, I’ve also been working on setting up a better home office. 

Phase 1: seated at the kitchen island; when I have a Zoom meeting or webinar, I headed upstairs to our home library 

Phase 2: elevated the laptop so I had a standing desk at the island (to alleviate the wrist ache)

Phase 3: swapped the furniture in the den and library—because the comfy chairs in the library were so ergonomically wrong; currently testing a rotation between seated desk / Zoom site in the home library and standing desk in the kitchen

Obsessing  |  Most days, our cat is super cute. Most days, I can’t stop myself from taking a photo of the cuteness. When I scroll through my photo roll from the quarantine months, it’s 90% adorable sleeping cat photos. Because basically that’s what’s new around here…

(Seriously, how does she sleep like that?!)

Snooping  |  Let’s just be honest: we all check out other people’s bookshelves. And these days, we can even snoop the bookshelves of the famous

 

Loving  |  This Hamilton thing that the original cast pulled together on Zoom gave me joy. 

 

Anticipating  |  No surprise here: I’m so looking forward to the day when things are mostly normal. 

 

What’s currently happening in your world? Give us the good, the bad, and the ugly…

Book Bingo Quarantine Variation: The Books on My Shelves

Last month I challenged us to play a special quarantine variation of Book Bingo: find a book on your shelves that matches each category.

I’m guessing you don’t mind a call to peruse your own bookshelves; for me, it’s like taking a mini-vacation right within my own walls. (And that’s where we’re all spending time these days, so: perfect activity, no?)

 

Here’s what I found on my shelves that matched each category. For Horror, I had nothing that really matched (what a surprise!) so I did the best I could. 

Here’s my list…

  • Icy: North to the Pole by Will Steger
  • Landscape: The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway
  • Novella: Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson
  • Harlem Renaissance: Passing by Nella Larsen
  • Longing: The Leavers by Lisa Ko
  • Lies & Deception: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • Expectations: Time & Again by Jack Finney
  • Underdog: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  • Personal Growth: Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
  • Long-Haired Author: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Friend’s Suggestion: Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos
  • Podcast: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Carnegie Medal Nominee: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Modern Classic: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Road Trip: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • Olympics: The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
  • Checklist: Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg
  • South America: Cuentos Completos by Julio Cortazar
  • Back to School: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig
  • Love: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Native American: This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
  • Horror: Passage by Connie Willis
  • Political: Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro
  • Memoir: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
  • Indulge: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

 

If you played along, please add a link to your list of titles in the Comments. And please tell us… 

Which category was the hardest for you to find in your home?

 

What I’ve been reading: April 2020

Reading in the time of global pandemic… Things are not normal for any of us, my friends. And my reading life is way off-kilter (everything is off-kilter!) even though I’m finding that reaching for a book is a necessary tonic at the end of each very long day. 

So for me, reading is more essential than ever. And it’s also in fairly short supply. But it’s enough to replenish my energy and restore some equilibrium. It’s my daily re-set. 

In April, I finished only three books. I’m calling it good. And I’m so thankful for these three books, which truly carried a heavy load for me.

Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro

3 words: in-depth, cinematic, dramatic

Give this book a whirl if you like… portraits of powerful people, the complex personality of LBJ, in-depth research and scene-building, gorgeous storytelling, thinking about the ends vs the means in politics

 

Passing by Nella Larsen

3 words: lyrical, powerful, interpersonal

Give this book a whirl if you like… Harlem Renaissance writers, #ownvoices, thinking about race, women’s friendships, stories about life choices

 

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

3 words: intimate, engaging, compelling

Give this book a whirl if you like… great storytelling, worklife narratives, inside baseball, behind the scenes in therapy, unflinching self-scrutiny

 

So what’s going on in your reading life? Is your reading disrupted? Or are you reading differently these days? 

Stay safe and well, my bookish friends…

Little acts of stoicism

 

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Reading this book during the onset of a global pandemic turned out to be a really good idea. As things were getting scarier and stranger by the hour, I was bolstered by the calm, quiet, gently encouraging tone of this book, which offers guidance on how Stoicism can offer a sense of peace. 

I needed to find a way to experience peace. 

And I have to say thank you to Bybee of Blue-Hearted Bookworm, whose review of this book made me sit up and take notice when she posted a few years ago. Sometimes people and their words reach us at just the right time. Thanks, Bybee dear. 

William A. Irvine is a kind guide through the ideas of Stoicism, and for me, the book really got going once he started describing the actual practices of Stoic living. 

For example, imagine the loss of everyone and everything you love, because this will increase your appreciation for them. 

Clearly, that sounds dreadful (especially when the world’s so frightening), but he describes how this approach can actually lead to our living the way we really want to live — in loving appreciation of the gifts we’ve been given. 

And another… determine which aspects of life you have some control over, and focus your efforts in those areas — and let go of the areas where we have no control. This reminds me of Viktor Frankl’s words: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Irvine distinguishes between our setting a goal of winning a game vs. setting a goal of playing our best. The first goal is outside our control, while the latter is something we can actually achieve if we put our mind to it. 

And there’s much more… 

So I’ve determined to begin practicing Stoicism in small ways, and then perhaps in larger ways. And this means I’ll be re-reading this book, because the first reading of this kind of life-changing book can inspire me, but it’s the second and third readings where I’m actually able to grasp the ideas and put them into practice. 

 

Anyone else like that? A single reading just isn’t enough, if I think there’s potentially life-changing stuff at hand.

 

What strategies and mindsets are getting you through this difficult time?

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, diminishing anxiety, finding peace

Book Bingo: quarantine variation

Many of us are a full month into quarantine, and these are not normal times. 

Raise of hands — how many people have examined their bookshelves and counted the number of TBR books as an emotional comfort tactic?   (Me, too. [My answer: 36])

As I was gazing at my shelves, it occurred to me that we could play Book Bingo quarantine-style… and here’s how that goes. 

On your bookshelves, find books for each category on the bingo card. If you feel so inclined, type your titles into the Comments (or highlight a few that make you especially happy or that are a total stretch or that are so perfect you can hardly stand it). 

I’ll report on my matches in a later post. 

Now… off to my shelves with the bingo card…

Wanna join me?

Comfort reads

Anyone else turning to sure-bet comfort reading right now? I’m right there with you.

When times are uncertain or scary, I gravitate toward books that offer reassurance that things’ll be OK. 

Here are some of my favorite comforting books…

What I’ve been reading: March 2020

As I look back on the books I finished reading in early March, it seems like a lifetime ago. This new strangeness we’re living in… it creates a warped sense of time. And also of experience. When I look at the first couple of books on this list, I think of what a naive, unaware person I was then: quarantine would’ve seemed like something from a dystopian novel. 

But here we are, my friends. And we’re still here — still carrying on and still reading. And that’s something we can be thankful for. I’m glad you’re here. 

 

The March reading list: here it is… 

Torpedoed: The True Story of the World War II Sinking of the Children’s Ship by Deborah Heiligman 

3 words: vivid, urgent, gripping

Give this book a whirl if you like… British children evacuees during WWII, shipwrecks, true tragedy, quiet heroism

 

Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage That Made a President by Betty Boyd Caroli

3 words: revealing, intimate, behind-the-scenes

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning the role and motivations of Lady Bird Johnson, stories of political partnerships, strong women, the power of subtle influence

 

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

3 words: joyful, quietly enthusiastic, encouraging

Give this book a whirl if you like… developing a philosophy for living, envisioning the worst so you can appreciate what you you have, finding peace, diminishing anxiety

 

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

3 words: atmospheric, menacing, unfolding

Give this book a whirl if you like… #OwnVoices, Southern mystery, current-day Southern plantation tourist site, single mothers

 

Welcome to Replica Dodge by Natalie Ruth Joynton

3 words: introspective, lyrical, intimate

Give this book a whirl if you like… beautifully written memoirs of everyday life, stories of religious conversion, fish out of water narratives, Jewish life, story of a new marriage and building a life together

 

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

3 words: folksy, heartwarming, uplifting

Give this book a whirl if you like… cats, small town America, the importance of libraries to the life of a community, Iowa

 

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei

3 words: sobering, nuanced, thoughtful

Give this book a whirl if you like… learning about Japenese American internment camps, blend of a child’s innocence and an adult’s reflections, WWII, memoirs in graphic novel form

 

What have you been reading lately?

Currently: quarantined and coping

So things have gotten a little bit weird in this world of ours. It’s scary and strange, and I hope dearly that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy in mind, body, and spirit. 

These days, COVID-19 concerns have us sheltering in place, and it’s all got an eerie dystopian feeling about it.

But our family is blessed with good health for our loved ones and ourselves, and I’m so grateful for that. And we’re fortunate to be able to work from home. And yet, there are worries and concerns, because this thing ain’t over yet. 

What are you doing that’s helping you through this?

For me, it’s…

  • Sheltering with the Dear Man and our goofy cat
  • Long conversations with my inner circle
  • Being able to work & having plenty of work to do
  • Running
  • Seeing so many people being their best selves — it does the heart good
  • Essential oils (the soothing blend and the allergy blend and sometimes the Christmas season blend)
  • The light therapy lamp
  • Evening walks through our neighborhood (greeting the neighbors as we skirt one another at a wide distance)
  • Reading comfort books before sleep (The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King — because really, how stressed out can a person be when reading about Mister Rogers? And also reading Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, which is so riveting that I understand why it showed up on so many people’s Best of 2019 lists)
  • Frequent planking (you can just throw yourself down on the floor and plank anytime you want to, when you’re working from home and wearing athleisure — and I gotta say, it helps with stress)

  • Sparkle lights
  • Daily counting of blessings

How are you coping with this new situation? And please let me know: are you and your family safe and well?

My word for the year: Abundance

Anyone else feel like there’s never enough time? 

That’s my constant refrain, and this year I decided to address it head-on. 

I chose “Abundance” as my word of the year. 

Here’s the backstory… 

 

abundance chalkboard vignette

In recent years, Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Craft of the Happier podcast have talked about choosing a one-word theme for the year, and hat idea has resonated with me.

Last year, I chose “Comfort” as my word, since 2019 was all about cozying up our new nest. Weirdly, “Comfort” also gave me permission to slow down and just be

It was a good word. 

So this year, I looked at my biggest pain point, and it’s scarcity. I fret about not having time to do the things I want to do; I fret about whether I’m spending my time in the best way possible; I fret about whether I’ve saved enough for retirement someday; I fret about whether I’m doing enough to take care of my health; I fret, I fret, I fret. 

And I gotta say: I’m not really thrilled about that. 

So, that brings us to Abundance. 

This year, I’m focusing on abundance in every aspect of life. 

When I feel like I’m running short on time, I think about the fact that the way I’ve spent the day is aligned with my values — and then I let go of feeling like I should’ve done 12 other things on the to-do list. 

When I feel like I should be getting more sleep, I resolve to honor my bedtime alarm and get back on track with my sleep schedule. 

Since I work best when there are action steps, I set up a spreadsheet in Google Sheets, where I record one example of abundance each day. It’s basically a gratitude journal, and I only ask myself to record one good thing for each day. It’s also keeping me mindful of looking for examples of abundance throughout the day, which helps with my shift from a scarcity to an abundance mindset. 

My friends, it’s working.


An added bonus to choosing Abundance as my word… videos

When I announced my word of the year to the Dear Man, he mentioned the Mama Celeste pizza commercial from the 70s.

Then we also watched one of my favorite: SNL Morning Latte (“abundance” at 2:40); cracks me up every time.

Anyone else choose a one-word theme for the year? I love hearing people’s choices, so please let me know if you’ve got a word for the year. 

Quebec City itinerary: 5 days in Quebec City in December

We love the Christmas season, so Quebec City in December was on our must-visit list. Beyond being beautiful and historical and having a truly European vibe, Quebec City is the home to one of North America’s best Christmas markets. 

We packed our warmest winter gear (prepare to wear your warmest boots the entire time, my friends) and headed to the airport.

And then we were completely charmed by the entire experience — friendly people, greetings of “Bonjour!” everywhere, feeling like we had traveled much further than simply over the border to Canada, and the sensation of time traveling into the past…

Here’s our itinerary…

Day 1: Arrival in Quebec City

  • Flew into Quebec City
  • Picked up rental car
  • Lunch: Chez Victor (145 Rue Saint-Jean) – where they have vegetarian poutine that is seriously life-changing. I can’t stop thinking about it. 
  • Plains of Abraham Museum
  • Rode the funicular from Lower Town to Upper Town  (man, we love a good funicular)
  • Strolled Dufferin Terrace
  • Chateau Frontenac – walked through the lobby and looked at the display of Christmas trees

Day 2: Old Quebec City

Day 3: Day trip from Quebec City

Day 4: Upper Town

Day 5: Departure

 

Have you visited Quebec City? What sights should we add for our next visit?