Thursday, April 30, 2020

PSA: It's May

Public Service Announcement: Tomorrow is May 1. I thought I should let you know since May is shaping up to be, well, a lot like April. And the second half of March.  Is anyone else out there freaking out a little about entering this new month? March was all about "look for the silver lining" and "we're all in this together." Now it's the end of April and I still haven't learned how to play a new instrument or mastered a fancy cooking technique but I have watched Jimmy Fallon eating potato chips and Pepsi for breakfast. Connection, Jimmy. I think we are all starting to crack.

Do you wake up and feel like Bill Murray in Groundhod Day and there's "I Got You Babe," playing on the bedside clock radio? In order to survive May and avoid the monotony of all the days seeming the same, I recommend giving each day a theme:

Manic Monday: Mondays are the perfect day to panic when you realize there's another full week ahead of you. I like to take an inventory of my dwindling supply of toilet paper and do the math to see how many days worth we have left. Peeking in my pantry is another fun activity to raise anxiety.  I wonder what I can whip up with olives and bulgur wheat...

Try again Tuesday: On Tuesdays, I look at the list of productive ideas I made and wonder what the heck I did all day yesterday and why I didn't make time to DO any of these? And then I remember that counting the olives in the jar did take up a substantial part of my day. Tuesday's a much better day to start my replica of the space shuttle made entirely out of toothpicks.

What Day is it Wednesday? I considered calling this Wine Down Wednesday but since every day feels like Blursday, I might get confused and end up drinking every day.  I like to write "Figure out what day it is" on my list of things to do. Once I figure out it's Wednesday, I know what day it is AND I can cross something off my list. Knowledge and productivity! Win-Win!

Thrifty Thursday: On Thursdays I like to DIY to save a little money. Who needs a professional haircut when you've got a pair of purple scissors in your school box?

Freshen Up Friday: Usually I know it's Friday by giving my armpits the old sniff test. Whew, it must be time for a shower. Sometimes I go a little crazy and put on jeans and a t-shirt instead of leggings and a bathrobe. It's the weekend, a girl's gotta live a little! Come to think of it, might be time to wash the bathrobe too.

Same Day Saturday:  Surprisingly, my Saturdays now look very similar to Saturdays in my old life. The pandemic hasn't put a pause on my weekend chores. I like to give myself little challenges, like can I clean the entire kitchen with 1/3 of a Clorox wipe? I reward myself with some mindless drivel on Netflix when I'm done.

Sleep In Sunday: After exerting myself yesterday and binge watching too many episodes of Tiger King, Sundays are the perfect days to sleep in and recharge.  We've got a full week ahead!

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Spring Break Covid-19 Style

How is your Spring Break going? Mine is outstanding! Rivaling the most prestigious resorts, I stumbled upon this gem of a location that has the most luxurious amenities and activities, including an ample supply of two-ply toilet paper.   Here are some snapshots of my spring break vacation:

Four stars--Practical and affordable! For my first visit, I covered both my grey beginnings and my bleached ends for about $7 and 20 minutes. (Thanks, Clairol, Nice and Easy!). One life hack—use dark towels. The fluffy white towels look pretty but are not so good for toweling off freshly dyed hair. Oops. Good thing this property has laundry onsite!

Michelin guide, take note. The menu is like an episode of Top Chef—pull some ingredients out of a bag and see what creative confection I can whip up with the in-stock selection at Giant.  Epicurean delights for the pickiest of gastronomes.  If the gastronomes like eggs and toast, that is.  When someone else does the dishes, it really is a vacation!


After we’re sated at the trendy, full-service restaurant, we often stay for the after-dinner revelry.  The upscale dining room easily converts to an action-packed entertainment area equipped for hours of non-stop family merriment. Often the sounds of laughter can be heard wafting through the open windows in the garden outside. Or perhaps you’ll catch some fussy family bickering—depends on when you listen in. No Kelly vacation is complete without it!


Behold: a meditative retreat to commune with flora and fauna. At first glance, the gardens may appear to be overgrown with weeds and in dire need of mulching. Come a little closer and you will find that they indeed are overgrown with weeds. Dandelions need love too.  As for fauna, this resort boasts a fox in residence.  No need to visit a zoo to see this cunning little omnivorous mammal. Infinitely clever, she’s dug through several holes in the asphalt driveway and resisted attempts at relocation.  She’s evaded cameras and cages, vinegar-soaked rags and moth balls. We haven’t yet tried a lazy dog, but I’m pretty sure the quick brown fox would jump right over it. 

I know, you are probably jealous that you didn't find this amazing exclusive destination, but whatever your accommodations this spring break, I hope you packed some humor, imagination, and creativity.  Essentials for any vacation, don't leave home (literally) without them!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

One Uncharted Day at a Time

We didn’t get a lot of snow this year but maybe you remember that feeling of distraction when there’s a impending blizzard approaching?  There’s energy in the air and no one can quite concentrate on long division or the causes of the American Revolution because any minute those big flakes are going to start falling.  And it’s pretty much impossible to think about grading papers when you’ve got to stock up on toilet paper and wine.

That’s the way I’m feeling right now, only it’s a global pandemic rather than a weather forecast. Instead of shovels and ice melt, stores have run out of hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes. It’s uncharted territory, full of unsettling unknowns.  The coronavirus (COVID-19) will impact each of us personally in some way. Whether it is dealing with the disappointment of cancelled plans, worrying about the health of a loved one, or feeling scared about the economic consequences, the ripple effect will be significant.

Here we go. FCPS has already declared Monday to be a teacher workday so we can prepare for online learning.  Katherine learned today that she will be home for at least a month, extending her spring break indefinitely. Ashland just confirmed its first case of coronavirus, so my guess is that Jack will also be home soon to practice elbow bumps and social distancing.

None of this is convenient. None of this was planned. And for a list-making, calendar-loving planner girl like me, that’s a recipe for anxiety. And yet, that’s how life works. Winston Churchill once said, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”  I’m going to try to remember that. How can I make the most of the next few weeks? How will I choose to spend my time in between hand washings? I’m going to try to take things one uncharted day at a time. And as always, I’ll try to do it with a grin, some grit, and a bit of grace. 

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Puppies Are Like That

Puppies like to chew on things like bones, rubber balls, or even sticks. This puppy is chewing on somebody’s sneaker. He will have to be scolded. Puppies are like that.  

–from Puppies Are Like That by Jan Phloog

Having a puppy is not like flying on an airplane. Before takeoff, airline attendants always take time to explain the emergency procedures. “Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”  In other words, take care of yourself first. Then help others.
Puppies aren’t like that. When they wake up at 5:00 am, you can’t have a rational conversation with them. You can’t say, “It’s too early—go back to bed.” They don’t understand, “Give me 5 minutes to brew a pot of coffee and then I’ll play with you.”  Puppies come first.  Because if you ignore them, they will pee on the kitchen floor and chew on the chair leg. Puppies are like that.

When our kids were little, we read them a board book called Puppies Are Like That.  Over the last three weeks, Paul and I found ourselves echoing that refrain as we fostered a sweet six-week-old puppy named Claudette Colbert.
It’s been a year since we lost Tatum and, with the kids at college, sometimes the house feels a little empty.  Was it time to add a new furry companion to the family? We decided (OK, really “I decided,” but Paul is the best husband ever) to volunteer three weeks in January and reacquaint ourselves to the joy and commitment of having a pet.

Here’s what I knew about fostering before:

  • All the puppies are cute
  • Wolf Trap Animal Rescue provides all the supplies you need
  • If you fall in love, you have priority to adopt the puppy (this is known as “foster failing.”

What more did I need to know? Sign me up!
Here’s what I learned about fostering after agreeing to care for a puppy:

  • Puppies may have heartworm, fleas, parvovirus or even mange 
  • The change in diet may mean nausea and diarrhea 
  • The puppy will need to be spayed or neutered
  • The puppy should not be left alone for more than 4-5 hours at a time

I don’t tell you this to scare you, but to remind you of the reality that there’s a lot more to puppies than cuteness.  Because pictures of puppies on Instagram tug at our emotional heartstrings. And you cannot raise a puppy on emotional “Awwws” alone. It takes blood, sweat, and tears. Literally. Furthermore, this is an important time in the life of the puppy. The socialization period occurs in puppies at approximately 3-12 weeks. In The Art of Raising A Puppy, the New Skete Monks explain, “By socialization we mean two things: first, the positive adjustment a puppy makes to the many aspects of her life, whether this includes other dogs, people, places, or objects; second, what we do to foster this.” We are caring for this puppy at the time when she is most impressionable. It’s a huge responsibility and one we are taking seriously.  And by the way…She is the cutest. Puppy. Ever. 

Here’s a summary of our lives over the last three weeks: 
  • Arrange our schedules to tag team puppy time in 4-hour increments
  • Talk about poop a lot. “Did she poop?” “What time did she last poop?” 
  • Hire a dog sitter to come over on occasions when we were gone longer
  • Bundle up in the cold darkness for early morning/late night potty breaks
  • Clean up accidents in the house
  • Purchase extra toys to play with the puppy
  • Make sure the puppy is getting plenty of exercise
  • Work on training the puppy
  • Arrange for “meet and greets” so potential adopters can meet the puppy
  • Read a book on how to raise a puppy
  • Distract the puppy from chewing

And oh, the puppy chewing.  That’s where the blood, sweat, and tears came in. Those puppy teeth are razor sharp! I remembered very quickly to put the electric cords up and keep my shoes in the closet. Anything on or near the floor was fair game. Including the carpet in my living room. Oops. Puppies are like that. 

Puppy snuggles made up for all the hard work. Even in the short time we had her, we got to see Claudette’s sweet personality emerging. She’s a smart puppy who is already crate trained and sleeping through the night.  She knows “come” and “go potty” and loves to chew sticks and chase balls. She loves to be scratched behind her ears and to snuggle up next to you when she is tired. When you say her name, she gives you a little head tilt as if to respond, “Yes? I’m listening?”
Everyone thought we would “foster fail.” We didn’t. Finding the perfect family for Claudette’s forever home made it easier to decide. I realize that, as much as we love this puppy, it is not the season in our lives when we want to commit to a new family member. We are enjoying the flexibility and freedom of our first year as empty nesters. We are getting reacquainted with each other and even being a bit spontaneous. We’re making plans to travel and reading more books. 

Yet, as I packed up her belongings and prepared to say goodbye, I felt my throat catch and the tears well up. The house feels quiet again. Empty. We may foster again and someday, perhaps, we will get another dog. But for right now I’m excited to have a conversation with Paul that doesn’t revolve around poop.

P.S. If you are seriously considering fostering or adopting, I highly recommend Wolf Trap Animal Rescue.  Wolf Trap Animal Rescue is a not-for-profit organization whose primary mission is to “support a life-saving foster, transport, and adoption program which was developed in order to rescue young animals in danger of being euthanized in Mississippi from overpopulation.” They have successfully rescued over 5,000 animals in the past 5 years.   

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Every Book Begins with the First Word

I’ve decided to write a book. This might be a crazy idea for a few reasons:
  • I don’t know how to write a book.  Most of my knowledge about writing a book is based on a fictional character in the telenovela Jane the Virgin.  
  • My spelling isn’t the greatest. I once came in third place in a spelling bee, but there were only three contestants. Sometimes I’m not smarter than a 5th grader.  
  • I don’t know all the grammar rules. If you line up 100 people based on their grammar knowledge, I’d like to think I’d be in the top half, but that might be the Dunning-Kruger effect at play. I usually go by intuition, and I can’t always explain why I think a comma goes there. I’m not sure what a dangling participle is but I keep meaning to look it up. 
  • I’m not sure who will read my book besides my mom. 
Still, it’s good to have goals. I won’t be deterred. I’m a teacher—I’m used to being creative and resourceful. I’m also a whiz with the binding machine in the teacher workroom so publishing will be a piece of cake.

While I haven’t figured out the content of the book yet, I've already created a list of people who could write the back-cover blurbs.  Here’s what I imagine they might say:
  • Jenny Lawson (The Bloggess)—Hers was first blog I ever read about a metal chicken named BeyoncĂ©.  After I stopped laughing, I drove straight to Home Goods determined to find a bit of whimsy. I came back with a sturdy wrought iron fruit basket. Not what I had in mind, but it's extremely practical and I still have it. 
Allison is a whiz with the binding machine and we have the same birthday so she’s alright with me. This book is a bit of whimsy you’ll definitely want to pick up when you visit my Nowhere Bookshop. 
  • Gina Rodriguez (Jane Villanueva)—Fictional characters probably don't write dust jacket blurbs and I get that. But Jane the Virgin would probably tell me,
If you ever think you are not cut out to be a writer, that is just your doubts and fears talking. You have to keep writing. You are a writer. 
  • Oprah—If we are going to dream big on this dust jacket, why not?
What I know for sure…you should read this book! You get a copy and you get a copy!
  • Scott Avett—An extremely talented musician and definitely my favorite banjo player. Maybe he'll love my book so much that I'll score backstage passes the next time I see The Avett Brothers in concert.
Allison’s writing is much better than her banjo playing.
  • My Mom—She reads my blog and already comments on my writing so she'll be a natural.
Allison is so insightful and clever. She is the best daughter and her writing is wonderful.
OK, off to become a published author of my first book. If you want to preorder a copy, let me know!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Happy 49th Birthday to Me

Here we are in that black hole between Christmas and New Year’s where no one seems to know what day it is, we're feeling sluggish from too many cookies and we've reached our capacity on family togetherness.  So, who wants to celebrate my birthday? 

While December 29 has its challenges, I never have to go to school on my birthday. And its proximity to the end of the year makes my special day ideal for self-reflection and goal setting. Since I'm 49 today, I thought it might be fun to come up with a goal leading up to my 50th birthday that involved the number 50. So I asked friends and family for ideas. Boy, did I get ideas! I've whittled it down to my top 25. How do I choose?

1.   50 connections with friends and family

2.   write 50 letters

3.   50 acts of kindness

4.   50 volunteer hours

5.   donate $50 to a worthy cause

6.   50 mile bike ride

7.   run 50 miles in one month

8.   50 gym workouts

9.   practice yoga 50 times

10.                     50 spin classes

11.                     50 pushups

12.                     50 days without alcohol

13.                     limit screen time to average of 50 minutes per day

14.                     get rid of 50 things

15.                     complete 50 home projects

16.                     limit discretionary spending to $50 per week

17.                     50 dates

18.                     dine at 50 restaurants

19.                     50 adventures

20.                     plan to visit all 50 states

21.                     read 50 books

22.                     write a book with 50 chapters

23.                     try 50 recipes

24.                     letter 50 quotes in my bullet journal

25.                     be OK with 50 things not going as planned

There's time to work on a few goals this year; I have lots of ideas on the list from which to choose. They all align with my core values of relationships, health, and personal growth. I'm sure I'll mess up and life will intervene (see goal #25), but just the act of setting a goal helps me clarify what's important to me. Zig Ziglar said, "What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as who you become by achieving your goals." 

Considering the suggestions, I realize there is overlap in many of the ideas on the list. Whether writing a letter to someone or a random act of kindness, the items that most appeal to me are the ones that connected me to others.  So, I've decided to make my official goal 50 connections with friends and family over the next year. Catch up over coffee? Or something more adventurous? Let me know. I'd love to see you!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Monday Blues

When I woke up this morning, I was not feeling so good. Immediately my mind went to all the things on THE list. The list that’s twice as long this time of year. And I start to think of all the things I meant to do this weekend but didn’t…the weekend chores that help me feel organized and focused for the week, the wrapping, the shopping, the baking.  It makes me feel anxious. Like sweaty palms-pounding heart-pit in the stomach anxious. The kind of anxious you can’t explain to people because it doesn’t make any sense.  Like, hi, I’m in a really bad mood because I spent all weekend doing fun and meaningful things with friends and family and I didn’t do any chores.

To attempt to cure my case of the Mondays, I decided to reflect on one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”

Survive—check. Despite the lack of a two-hour delay that I really, really wanted on this icy, rainy Monday, I’m here.  Check.

Humor—Someday I’m going to cross everything off my TO DO list. Hahahhahahahaha. See? Humor, check.

Living with passion—check, check, check. Festive holiday party, check. Date night dinner, check. Holiday lights and an amazing performance of Fiddler on the Roof, check.  Throw in the happy chaos of a basement full of college kids and a few too many cookies. I lived with passion; I ate with passion.

Style—Well, I’m definitely crushing it on the style thing this morning.  I’m wearing bright red pants with purple rainbow unicorn socks pulled up to my knees.   I honestly don’t know if I could ever have the kind of job where I had to wear power suits and heels. Elementary school spirit weeks are my kind of style. Style, check.

Compassion—This weekend as I laid wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery, I paused before each name to think about this person—someone’s son or daughter, husband or wife, mom or dad. This Christmas season I will see my family. I have my family. Looking around at the evergreen and red against the white headstones, I remember to pray for those who have lost a loved one or who are feeling lonely during the holidays. 

Thrive—This morning I left a list of things to do on the kitchen table and told my family I was feeling a little overwhelmed. I packed some workout clothes and planned to exercise with friends after school. Because thriving doesn’t have to mean doing it all by myself. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and struggling, I don’t need more productivity to thrive. What I need is a break to reset my mindset and breathe some fresh air. Also, probably more leafy greens and fewer peanut butter blossoms.

How are you feeling this morning? How are you doing with the countdown to Winter Break? Maybe you’re crushing it and you can’t relate to this post at all. But if you are feeling the pressure of holiday to do lists, I leave you with another favorite quote by Anne Lamott:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”