So you want to start a garden?

Several of you have reached out lately about how to start a vegetable garden. Now, if you live in the northern part of the United States, overall it is too early to plant most things outside.

But what about inside? Yes, you can start seeds in pots now to have seedlings for the garden this summer. But if you aren’t ready for that sort of gardening, the best thing you could try right now is sprouting seeds, such as greens, in a sprouter. Amazon or your local farm supply store are likely to have counter top sprout growers, and most of them come with a small package of seeds specifically designed for growing in them. Don’t use packaged garden seeds for this, as they have been treated to go into the soil. You want to get seeds specific for sprouting. Then, soak them overnight, drain and put in your sprouter. A couple days later, you will have fresh sprouts for your salad or sandwich, and you’ll have the satisfaction of growing some of your own food!

For me, growing my own food gives me a sense of peace and safety that few other things do. Try it and see if it works for you too!

Social Distancing is LOVE!

Here is the thing, as many of you who know me personally know, I am mostly an introvert. I am happiest with my family, animals, my gardens, and in my writing. So social distancing and working remotely may not be as hard of me as it is on other people, as I can be with some of my family even more than normal.

But right now, regardless of whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, social distancing and staying at home is an act of love. LOVE! It is protecting not only yourself (therefore is an act of self-love), but it is an act of love toward the rest of humanity.

I have asthma. Most of the time it is managed pretty well. If I was to get COVID-19, I don’t know how my lungs would handle it, it could likely be very dangerous for me. My husband has ALS, and we need to protect his lung function on a daily basis, COVID-19 or not. So the people who love us are staying away from us. We are a huggy family — we normally hug everyone. We are together all the time. Not now. Now our daughter and grandchildren visit us only by phone and video, our oldest son stands more than six feet away from us outside to see us. Our youngest is isolating with us at home, not seeing his friends in person.

All of these are acts of pure love. Active, relentless love. Love that realizes and recognizes that protecting others is the greatest act of love there is.

Look, I know it is difficult for some to not be out being social. I’d love to run to the market to get produce today, and not worry about the safety of that choice. But if you truly care about anyone other than yourself, stay home.

Show your love by staying home!

When I Wasn’t Mom-of-the-Year (otherwise known as white privilege, or just plain old privilege, in the time of a pandemic)

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I am the mother of four amazing children. Four times I’ve endured the college application process. The first three kids, I was a super mom in the process. Applications were perfect, submitted early, it was just plain amazing. I was a true superstar in that process the first three times around. A superstar!

Then Sam died. About 18 months after he died, it was time for our youngest to go through the college application process. Now, this was a time when I was doing really well if I had on matching shoes when I went to work. Grief made me slow, emotional, and unable to think clearly. One day when I was at work, a friend who also happened to be his guidance counselor called me and reminded me that there was only one more round of SATs, and our youngest hadn’t taken them yet. I had completely forgotten the need for him to do the SATs while I grieved. With tears streaming down my face, I got off the phone and registered him for the test.

I felt like a failure as a parent. A complete and total failure. All the other senior mothers had made sure their kids were ready, all the boxes checked off in the process, and I (an educator!) had forgotten the stupid SATs. I was embarrassed, ashamed, and felt like a loser.

Fast forward to current times, and I am reminded of this time period in my own life. As I watch the current online social media posts about the wonders that some families are enacting in their own home school environments during school closures, my heart aches for many parents and children out there.

The perfect learning environments created at home for schooling? The creative daily schedules? The videos of the perfect creative lessons parents are enacting? Great if you can do it, but talk about making other parents feel inadequate and inferior. And their children? How many ways can they be told that their families and lives aren’t great? How many times can they be reminded of how they are somehow perceived as lesser in our society? How many times to they (and their families) need to see the perfect cooking lessons in other homes while they are waiting for a school bus to bring them needed food or they will go to bed hungry?

If you don’t have a parent who normally works at home, or is working remotely now, you are having to figure out how to do the best you can in your own situation. If you live in a tiny apartment (or a homeless shelter), you may not be able to create a “school room” for this duration. If you are grieving, have health issues, are financially stressed, all of those things are weighing on your mind, and seeing the constant reminders of how everyone else is doing it so well is not good for mental health in our communities. In a time where anxiety is rampant, we all need to do our part to reduce the anxiety around us instead of exacerbating it.

The ability to stay at home with your children, to create wonderful and meaningful lessons and units for your children, the money to buy supplies for projects or ingredients for recipes, having internet, being able to read and write yourself, the mental health to juggle everything right now, those are luxuries for many people. Luxuries that if you have them, you should be very, very grateful to have.

I implore us all to work on a sense of community and connection right now. If you are able to create an educational utopia in your home right now, that is wonderful. But do you really need to post about it obsessively, making sure your neighbors (and their children!) know how deficient they are in these areas?

Instead, I humbly suggest that if you want to chronicle what you are doing at home, make a scrapbook (hardcopy or digital) of images and videos and share them with grandparents or relatives. If you feel inclined to post online each day, post what you and your child or children did to help someone else. Did you call grandparents? Did you rake a neighbor’s lawn (with social distance of course)? Or post a picture or an inspirational quote to make others smile and feel hopeful.

One of the things that I carry with me each day is that Sam had the gift of being able to see well beyond the surface of people. He could see beyond poverty or illiteracy, see beyond wealth and privilege, and instead see the heart in people. In this challenging time, I ask us all to “do a Sam” and share love and acceptance, not drive the wedge deeper between us all. Love is all that matters.

Growing Things

It is a scary time right now for us all. If you are afraid of COVID-19, you probably are thinking of it all the time. As for us, we are all shopping and preparing, like we may be isolated for a long time.

For me, growing things helps with fear and stress. No, I don’t mean houseplants because I am awful with them. I swear that I am so bad with houseplants, I can even destroy a plastic one.

But vegetables and herbs? Those I can grow. Right now I have squash plants, tomatoes, peppers, and herbs all growing in the living room. Each time I look at them, it makes me smile and makes me feel hopeful for the spring. The bright green of those little leaves just gives me joy!

Ideas in the time of Fear

Right now is an unsettling time for us all. The word “pandemic” strikes fear in most people, rightfully so.

As a family, we are in the midst of two separate high-risk pools. We are so fortunate to have all four of our parents alive, and all of them are in their 80s with some health issues. They are at risk. We also have a member of the family with ALS, which means he is at a higher risk. While we are concerned, we are not afraid, nor will we stop living.

We will, however, be cautious and careful. No, going out to eat right now may not happen, because of our concerns about crowds. The mall? No. Grocery stores? Yes, when needed, although we have planned ahead and have staples so we can stay away as much as possible. Family meals together? Of course!

We clean surfaces. We wash our hands. We open windows when we can. We are being careful and planning for all possibilities.

But what more can we all do? What can we do to bring light and hope back to our own lives and to those around us?

  • Practice self-care, especially if you are caring for others. Take a walk, eat well, stay hydrated, meditate, listen to good music, do the things that are good for you and make you feel more centered and positive.
  • We can offer to go grocery shopping for those who are at higher risk. No, we don’t need to drop off the groceries and have a long in-person visit, but we can leave them on the doorstep or porch.
  • We can offer support to local small businesses. Don’t feel safe going there right now due to concerns about the outbreak? Buy your holiday gifts now — gift cards and certificates will help businesses stay afloat until things get more settled.
  • Don’t minimize the feelings of others. So you aren’t worried? Lucky you. But don’t make fun of others who are, or who are making choices you might not make.
  • If you have “stuff” that you have bought due to the situation, such as hand sanitizer, and you have lots of it, share it with those who don’t such as giving to the homeless shelter.
  • Canned goods? Buy them and donate them to food shelves. Those who are struggling to make ends meet as it is will need extra support at this time.
  • Know people who are self-quarantining, or are actually sick?
    • Do they have smartphones or computers? Video chat with them, send them funny messages, let them know they are loved.
    • Drop off books, puzzles, or craft projects to them to keep them busy.
  • Are you self-isolating?
    • Write cards or letters to people.
    • Do a craft project.
    • Call or video chat with those you love.

Wishing you all love, joy, good health and hope!

Love, Hila-style

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Yes, I did just post a picture of our Hila walking away from me. Why? Because that picture exemplifies love. Deep, unconditional, understanding love.

Hila has loved her human, Paul, since the day she came home with us. Lana, my sheep, has always liked us, but not with the intensity of Hila’s devotion to Paul. Hila would be happy if she could just follow him around all day or just sit with him. It is really funny to watch her be so gentle with him, then push Lana away if she wants to come in for cuddles too.

Why does this picture matter to me? Because it shows how a large, sometimes smelly, loud animal has the sensitivity and love to know how to take care of her human. She walks carefully beside him, making sure he is safe, and never letting him out of her view. She knows what he needs, and how to make sure she also gets the love she needs. What a wonderful way to live!

We almost lost Hila last spring to a neurological issue. Thankfully, she rebounded and came back with the same beautiful personality. Her love and devotion makes me smile on a daily basis!

A Tale of Two Plates

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If you are someone who knows us personally, or you’ve read Of Grief, Garlic and Gratitude, you know something about why these two plates matter to me.

The plate on the left (with grapes) is one of our “date night” plates. As many of you know, one of our rituals as a couple has been a weekly date night at home. We have done it every week since we moved in together in 1992 with one exception — we did not have a date night the week Sam died. Back in the 1990s, it often was a simple and quick meal such as nachos. Over the years, the meals have improved, but the sentiment remains the same. Date night started as a time each week where we sat down together at the table, shared a meal, and remembered all the things about each other that caused us to fall in love in the first place. When it started, we had young children in the house, and didn’t have the money to go out, or the money to pay a babysitter, so the ritual of the kids having a special dinner (frozen pizza!) and a movie while we had our dinner was born.

A couple years into the ritual, I went into the local TJMaxx, and saw the grape plates. They only had two dinner plates and three salad plates, so I bought them all, and they became our date dinner plates.  Our children and their friends and our parents have all come to recognize that when those plates come out, we are going to have our time together as a couple. Time to talk, to dream, to mourn, to plan, to laugh, to cry, to look both to the past and the future, and time to bask in our love.

The other plate, the white one, is equally important in a different way. Our very first date was dinner at Boves in Burlington. Boves became our family restaurant. We celebrated report cards, championships, getting into college and so many other things there. The first place we went out to dinner after Sam’s death, almost three months after he passed, was to Boves. We laughed and cried that night as we ate spaghetti, remembering our first date, and all the times we’d been there with our children. We toasted Sam’s love of the wallpaper there.

When it was announced that Boves was closing, I cried. It was as if another part of our lives with Sam was leaving us. So I reached out to the owner, as asked for some plates, which now proudly live in our house. We only use them a couple times a year, but each time they come out, they exude love and memories.

These plates represent love, memories, hope and rituals. One of the things I have learned on our journey is that rituals that speak to your love of others helps keep you grounded and connected to others, and I am so glad we have the ones we do.

A Give-Away!

As the winter winds down, it’s time for a give-away. For every person who shares this post out, or shares the ones on Facebook or Twitter will be entered to win a prize.

What are the prizes? Three winners will be picked from everyone who shares or retweets the posts, and they will have a choice of a signed copy of one of my books, or a “Do a Sam” mug or pins. If you live outside of the United States, I hope you will still share the posts, and if you win, your prize is an e-copy (Kindle) of one of my books.

Please share away!

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Love In So Many Forms

As our break week comes to a close, I stood in the sunshine this afternoon and reflected on the week. What did we do? We went to a concert, had medical appointments, worked some, made home renovation plans, and saw two great games with our kids.

The home renovation process/discussion is a difficult one. So many things were planned for years for our home and land, and with my husband’s diagnosis, we may not be able to (or want to) achieve some of them after all. For example? This was the year in our long-term plan that we were going to add more beehives and expand the gardens even more. Now we don’t plan on having bees this year, and we are scaling back the garden. No, we aren’t giving up, but we are being realistic and also wanting to focus on the quality of life and joy, not stressing over how many bushels of tomatoes we have sitting on the counter needing to be canned.

The appointments? They went well but still cause lots and lots of stress, uncertainty, and fear. The good news? We have such wonderful people around us, we can express all of those things and go forward.

But around all of that, we had a concert and two games (hockey and basketball). The concert was perfection. Great music, new friends and old, love, and the reminder that even if Sam is gone in body, his soul and love continue to motivate us on a daily basis. The games? They gave us different joy, but all based around family and friends. At the hockey game, we had the joy of watching our youngest granddaughter overcome her fear of the mascot and her pride in being so brave. We watched our oldest granddaughter get to know her uncle’s friends and talk and talk, something we didn’t know if she’d ever be able to do. We watched our grandson yell “Zamboni” at the top of his lungs, full of joy to see the machines. Then we went to a basketball game, watched great D-1 basketball and had the joy of watching our sons with their significant others, and realized that we have great kids. No longer children, they have all found their way into adulthood, have great partners, and have more strength and poise that I could have imagined at their ages. Our living children have navigated the worlds of losing their brother and now their father’s changing health without awkwardness, and they make me so very proud.

And then today, as I was sad about the end of the break, I watched Hila the sheep leave the grain trough to run over and rub noses with my husband, her favorite person in the world.

Yes, last Friday was Valentine’s Day, but for me, love can be found in a helping hand at a concert, a hug that makes you feel loved, a mushy bagel shoved in your mouth because a child wants to share, a UVM mascot waving to a child as she works up the bravery to wave back, a son starting the car so his dad won’t be cold, and a sheep saying hello.

Love is all around us if we just take the time to recognize it.

 

Yes, I’m looking at my comfort zone in the rear view mirror…

Recently, someone commented that I seemed stoic. Then someone commented that I seemed so comfortable in my own skin. Wow…

Neither of those observations are how I feel about myself, but I am glad that I give off a sense of calm and peace. Now, let’s be clear, I am at peace about many things, and have learned to accept many things I can not change or control. But comfortable in my own skin? Maybe at times. It would be more accurate to say that I have been out of my comfort zone every single second since that phone call at 5:34 a.m. on October 9, 2013, and I am learning to make peace with that fact.

Before that call, I was in my comfort zone. I was cruising. Life was exactly what I wanted it to be. My kids seemed to all be as healthy and happy as they could be, we were expecting our first grandchild. Life was good. Really, really good.

Then Sam died, and from that minute on, I have been looking at my former comfort zone in the figurative rear view mirror. We now try things and meet people we would never have connected with prior to that change of life.

Some days, I long for that comfort zone of old. But trying new things, meeting new people, trying to be as open to the world as Sam was is pushing that old comfort zone farther and farther away. And that’s okay.

“Doing a Sam” was not my intention in my life. Sam was going to do his own “Sam-ing”, not us. But we have the obligation, and the honor, of trying to live our lives to the fullest both in his honor and because it was what he always wanted us to do, no matter how uncomfortable we may be in doing so at first. And maybe we are helping others do so too, at least I hope so.

So, as I reflect on where we are now as opposed to where we were on October 8, 2013, I can say that I am okay at only seeing my comfort zone in that rear view mirror, fading fast.