If I’m thinking it…

I told a class this week that if they were thinking of a question or comment, chances are that at least two other people were thinking something similar, so they should speak up. In that same spirit, in case you have sneaky moments that untether you from any stronghold you’ve been able to anchor yourself to, here you go.

I figure if I was thinking it, at least one other person out there is too.


Comparison is the thief of joy, so goes the saying, and yet…

We are in a pandemic where I feel I need to give so much grace to my students and yet…

I want someone to pull me aside and tell me it’s all okay, that everything will be okay, and yet…

(Not that I would even listen to or believe them because the evidence feels overwhelming that nothing is okay.)

Sometimes you have to remind yourself to find the wins and remember that they are, in fact, wins.

Sometimes you have to wear metaphorical horse blinders, you just cannot look around at what others are doing, how you perceive others are succeeding while you feel you are failing, and instead ask yourself, “is today just incrementally better than yesterday?”

Sometimes you have to write the advice you’d give if someone came to you distraught, despondent, discouraged, and remind them–and yourself:

You’re doing the best you can.

Perception is rarely reality

The people who matter are on your side.

It’s all okay, everything will be okay.

Christmas Eve 2020

When my dad moved us to Montana, I was sad to leave behind my Bellevue friends for the second time, but also looked forward to a world where no one knew that I played the piano. When it came time to register for classes, I auditioned for the top choir and made it. That choir yielded some of my fondest high school memories and dearest friends, and also introduced me to innumerable choral works.

The choir had a tradition at every December concert of singing the Austrian carol, “Still, Still, Still.” Always the final song of the concert, Miss Mac would turn to the audience and invite any alumni to the stage to join the choir and sing. Every Christmas since, when I hear that song, I am back on the stage in Williamson Hall, clasping the hand of the singer next to me before singing.

This year, the only singing I’ve done is in my car or my kitchen or even my classroom before kids or Stueve arrived; no communal carol singing of any sort. So I spent time this month learning a piano solo arrangement of “Still, Still, Still” mashed up with “Silent Night.” Initially, I thought I would record it and send it to my lifelong friend Mike–we met in that choir, by the way– as some sort of lame attempt at a long-distance Christmas gift. But then I thought about so many people I know (and I’m sure plenty more I don’t) who are low this season, who are missing concerts and caroling, who find music as a space for faith and comfort.

Sharing with just Mike is safe–he won’t point out the missed notes or uneven pedaling or changing tempos, because he’s my friend, but also because he shares my sentimentality for the song. I know it’s not a perfect recording, but I hope as you listen, you think of the people who made past Christmases special, and if you haven’t yet reached out to them, do so.

Merry Christmas.

Silent Night/Still, Still, Still composed by Sally DeFord, played by Julie L. Rowse

Looking forward to it.

It’s officially Winter Break for me as of 4 p.m. today, and this is an unusual Winter Break, as I’m sure it is for others. Winter Break in the past tended to fill up quickly with lunches and dinners with family, friends, and former students. There were typically no fewer than seven movies I’d go see in theaters. And of course, Christmas Eve services and Christmas Day celebrations were a highlight.

None of that is happening this year. And maybe it’s not happening for you, either. So at the risk of sounding preachy, I wanted to offer unsolicited advice about how to manage extended breaks mostly alone. Because even though my Winter Breaks could be busy, I’m a natural homebody and actually spend quite a bit of my breaks from school alone.

I was thinking today about how to best manage the next 18 days (!) of break, and it really boils down to two things: planning, and giving myself things to look forward to.

I started with that tonight–I’d found a recipe for Zuppa Toscano a couple of weeks ago that’s been haunting my dreams. So I decided earlier this week that after musical call backs ended and my break officially started, I would gather the ingredients and make a batch (and boy does it make A BATCH). I looked forward to this all week, and I really think it helped me manage my mood and my stress.

It has kale and garbanzo beans in it, therefore it is healthy.

After I ate a bowl of the Zuppa Toscano (with a side of Italian crusty bread), I started making a list of what I could look forward to, what I could plan, what I could structure my days around.

I have movies to watch and books to read (or listen to) and projects to work on and goodies to bake and basketball games to watch and new recipes to try. But the lists alone are not enough–the trick is to actually plan when to do these things, to capture that element of looking forward to something.

For example, I am already looking forward to Christmas morning, when I can watch Wonder Woman 84. Tomorrow and Sunday, I’ll plan out how to spend my days, making sure I have a good balance of rest, productivity, and entertainment. I’m sure there will be Zoom calls or FaceTime with people who matter, and those will be mostly spontaneous fun.

But don’t underestimate the fun that can be planned. Like in 30 minutes, I’m going to get ready for bed and watch Parks and Rec until I fall asleep. And then I’ll sleep tomorrow until I wake up, no alarm.

I’m looking forward to it.

Content. No, really.

It is 7:45 on Sunday night and it hits me: I am content.

I don’t feel the hopelessness and uncertainty I’ve felt since March. I take a moment to think about what has happened in the past three days to make me feel more relaxed.

I read a book from start to finish.
I finished an audio book I’ve been working through for a few weeks.
I practiced the piano.
I slept late, then had breakfast in bed three days in a row while watching episodes of Sports Night.
I watched football.
I chatted with friends over text and—gasp—the phone.
I took naps.
I cleaned, albeit reluctantly.
I worked on a vision board of sorts—started building a list of all the new furniture I will buy in June, whether I have a new place to live.
I watched cooking shows on Netflix and Sling.
I listened to podcasts.
I made a list of the things I can start doing now so that if I actually move in June, the move itself is less stressful.
I recorded, edited, and published a podcast.

I was lucky enough to have to stay at school late on Thursday so yearbook editors could work on pages, and somehow mustered the motivation to get all my work done before walking out of the building. It freed up a three-day weekend, and I am amazed at how…normal I feel right at this moment.

So I wanted to document this moment, this weekend, because if you listen to doctors (and I do), the pandemic is going to get worse before it gets better. The election is in 9 days, which brings a completely different slew of possible hellscapes, and I’m facing down a five-day work week with two sports broadcasts to produce. My future is still uncertain.

But at this moment, I am content.

Hi, October.

“How many of you thought we’d still be in school on October 1?” I asked my first class during the break we take in our 100 minute time together; twice as long as usual to minimize passing periods in hopes of managing the spread of coronavirus.

No one raised a hand, and several students slowly shook their heads.

Apparently, not many of us expected we would still be in school. So I asked a second question.

“How many of you started school thinking it would last about two weeks and then you’d be home again?”

Again, no hands went up but several heads nodded.

“Me too. I didn’t think we would make it this far. And I think that’s why we might be feeling a little off. Anyone else feeling bad vibes when they’re here?”

Nodding heads.

And then I told them—I think we all need a paradigm shift.

I know I started the year without my usual plans or excitement. The new protocols are mostly manageable, but are exhausting at times. I told myself I could handle things “until we go remote,” thinking it would happen within the first month.

Yet today, I made folders in my Google Drive for Week 8 of lesson plans.

We’re here, pals. And for what looks like the duration.

September felt incredibly bleak for me. The inconsistent weather, the “will-we-or-won’t-we” undercurrent regarding staying in school, not seeing friends or family because who knows what I’m carrying around on my skin, wondering if every cough or general malaise meant a 14-day quarantine—just bleak.

But there is something about seeing the calendar flip to a new month that always makes me feel some motivation to change. To shift the paradigm set by the previous month.

So that’s what I plan to do.

I think I’ve shared the Action for Happiness people before, but I’m sharing it again. If you’re pulling yourself out of similar doldrums, check out their app or their calendar, which has small things to do every day that might make your October a bit brighter.

Today’s action is write down your most important goals for the month. So here goes.

  1. Stop waiting for a shut down that might never happen (a.k.a. set up your damn desk finally).
  2. Revisit the “rewirements” from the Science of Well-Being class. Implement at least 3 a day.
  3. Do the daily mindfulness challenges from the Educator’s Health Alliance.

And because I didn’t want to lose my initial momentum, I went ahead and set up my damn desk today.

The desk in one of my classrooms. I hesitated to set it up for two months. Figured it was time.