Life in the time of corona

F29DFF43-A9D2-46EC-9C4B-F28216E21F29

What a week.

Has it only been a week?

Sort of. It’s really been longer. But only a week since what was once a distant, abstract concern sharpened into a serious concern that has dwarfed everyday life … making “everyday life” here in Maryland seem quaint.

It’s like a natural disaster is unfolding, only it’s a beautiful spring day. Like prepping for a blizzard, but without radar to monitor … and no obvious way to know when the danger will be over. At least after a hurricane, the sun can be counted on to guide us out of the gloom.

This is love and life in the time of COVID-19. Never have I felt so unsettled about what lies ahead. My human neighbors and I are all in the same boat. And I can’t distract myself or get away from it — not at home, certainly, where the kids are camped out. And not at work, where I’m still reporting to our hospital. The front of my office building has been turned into triage. Marketing, too, is needed on the front lines.

Even in my mid-thirties, I fight the urge in challenging times to run “home.” Back where my dad has a plan and a fridge full of food. Where my mom has crafts, People magazines, and a backlog of Hallmark movies on the DVR. Back where I am not in charge. Where I don’t need to worry about making the wrong decisions.

Despite the mounting concern and media frenzy, I’ve been trying to keep it together. For now, at least, I’m still needed and expected at work, and so is my husband. We have the relief of knowing the kids are taken care of, tucked at home while we wait to see what the rest of this surreal time brings.

When my mother- and father-in-law arrived, I thought I was going to cry.

“I can breathe now,” I told Spencer’s mom. “I feel like the grown-ups are here.”

IMG_4200

At home, I try to stay “normal.” We have been cleaning like crazy, finally cracking into some of the cleaning products we’ve had for ages because I keep dragging in more after forgetting we own them.

Though I don’t want pandemic anxiety seeping into the kids’ lives, there’s no way they aren’t picking up on it. Day care is still open but, with Spencer’s parents in town, we’re keeping them home in the name of social distancing. Hadley and Oliver are both old enough to understand the departure from routine; my son especially struggles with change. Still, with their grandparents visiting (thank god), Hadley and Oliver have company and novelty to distract them.

They have walks in the woods. Coloring books. Easter crafts. They have snacks and “Peppa Pig” and LEGO blocks for days. They have Play-Doh and puzzles. When desperate, they have tablets. And if I were home, too, I’d have my books.

Like parenthood, there’s a great lesson of life in the time of corona: so much is out of our control. Things that would have seemed unimaginable a few weeks ago — closing schools; shutting down restaurants and bars; postponing elections — have already happened. These are strange times, friends. 

I fluctuate between “everything will be fine!” and “wow this is bad,” and I’m learning to be OK with that. One day at a time. We can only stay calm, scrub up, and carry on. Give our phones a break. Pause the newscast.

No one knows what will happen, but we can hold on and help each other through a turbulent ride. So wherever you are and however you’re reading this, I’ve got a light on for you. For all of us.

May we see ourselves swiftly through to the other side.

Room for new things

Desk

I have a new desk at work.

It’s a simple thing, really: changing spaces within an office. In the eight years I’ve been with my company, I have moved within the building four times and been seated in four different departments. I’m no stranger to packing up my paper clips, highlighters and bric-a-brac, but this move is different.

For the last six years, I shared an office with two people who were my teammates. When you sit with someone for eight-plus hours a day, spending more time with them than you do your own family, it’s wonderful if you can get along. It’s even better if you are friendly, and the best if you become close friends.

I miss them.

I’ve been given new responsibilities and am tackling new challenges, and that feels good. I’m writing more than ever, and moving into a new phase of my career.

My new responsibilities are awesome, and I love the corner of the newsroom where I hang my metaphorical hat each day. My desk is new and clean, and I’ve quickly adopted a minimalist approach to my workspace.

After being a pack rat, an office hoarder of sorts, I shocked myself by . . . completely changing this time. Totally a 180.

Back when I had a physical office of my own, I treated it like an extension of my living room. Artwork hung on the walls; freestanding lamps took the place of fluorescent lighting. It had a cozy, homey feel, a refuge of sorts. And given I had no windows or natural light, it could also feel like a cave.

Hence all the lamps.

But that was three moves ago. I haven’t had my own office since 2010 or 2011, yet until last week? I was still carting around all those old photographs and trinkets from my larger space, never bothering to pack them up and take ’em home. I was surrounded by boxes, actually: boxes of random belongings from years and years ago.

After a while, you stop seeing stuff. It becomes a part of the background, a backdrop to your daily life; you forget about the Christmas decor on which you’re propping your swollen pregnant feet (hey, it was actually a good footrest), or the boxes and boxes of tea — so much tea — you must paw through to find a stupid spoon in your drawers.

Last week, I cleared it out. I spared nothing. I’ve been reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but haven’t extended any of her principles to my own home yet. I’ve been afraid to take the plunge, scared of starting the tidying process, but at work? I was ruthless. It was time.

I easily purged half of my belongings without thinking about it, bagging up tons of stuff I’ve been moving from desk to desk for years. Why did I still have it? What purpose did it serve? Who did it benefit?

No one.

Though I must confess that those belongings are now at home in a spare room waiting for me to bag most up for Goodwill, the physical act of getting them out of my office and away from where I sit all day, brainstorming and writing and working, has made such a difference for me — a major difference.

Everything feels scrubbed clean and new. My workspace is tidy, dust-free, uncluttered. I love having a desk clear of papers and junk and Post-Its, a place I can spread out the newspaper or my planner and not knock over ten random objects.

Why didn’t I do this ages ago . . . years ago? Why did I let myself sit each day surrounded by so much clutter? I can’t say, really. Force of habit? Laziness? Regardless, I’m never doing that again.

Though I’m still not ready to extend Kondo’s tidying principles to our home, this first cleaning hurdle at work was a powerful one.

Being a “stuff” person, I never thought I’d see an empty surface as anything but that: unfinished, barren, dull.

But now I see cleanliness and possibilities . . . room for new things.

Life-changing magic, indeed.


Spreading fall to the hall

I held out as long as I could.

With kids lined up for buses on every other street corner this morning, fall is definitely in the air. I woke up looking at the golden light with a sense of excitement — the same one I mentioned last week — and pulled open the front door to let a cool breeze in as Spencer was leaving for work.

We got so much done around the house this weekend. Two months into homeownership, we still have boxes tucked into nearly every room . . . but Spencer finished the pantry, friends, and it is glorious. I know I sing the praises of my handy husband all the time, but trust me when I say that every word is true. The guy is awesome.

As a side note, we apparently have tons of sauerkraut, taco shells, grape jelly and canned corn beef. So if you’re hungry?

Finishing the pantry created a domino effect: we could then finish unpacking all the bags of canned goods, kitchen appliances and other food-related goodness because the contents of the cabinets could be shuffled to the pantry. That means I could continue emptying the boxes in the future library, which has been operating as a makeshift pantry.

Which means I’m one step closer to having a library.

My reunion with my books — now languishing in boxes for three whole months — will be a joyous one.

But back to autumn, the most fantastic of seasons. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t imagining pumpkins in every nook and cranny back when we were just looking at the house in March. As soon as August rolls around, I’m usually dreaming of cool temperatures and county fairs and boots, and this year is no exception.

And I have a whole house to scatter with gourds. This is so happening.

In my pursuit of only buying pieces for the house when I have a “clear vision” for the space (ha), I finally broke down and bought a console table for the hallway. It’s kind of funny to be decorating when you have boxes and stuff everywhere, but whatever. We’ll get there.

I wanted a little table and found a little table, but that little table was just so . . . barren.

It needed pumpkins.

But what doesn’t, really?

I know it’s late August . . . and that I’m quite possibly jumping the gun. But I’m just so pumped and totally in the “pumpkin everything” camp. From drinks to designs to just the burnt-orange color itself, I’m all about fall and gourds and happiness.

And now I can spread that to the hallway.

Seems only appropriate.


Getting there

photo


We’re getting there.

Appliances are in (and full of diet soda and water, apparently all we need in this world). New carpet has been chosen and is due to be installed next week, and two of the three rooms we need painted are complete. The master closet has been ripped out, the walls need patching, more flooring will have to be procured for there . . . and often, honestly, it feels like everything is one step forward and ten steps back.

But I know it has to get worse before it gets better. And we’re not doing “real” renovations; these are mostly cosmetic issues, though still things that must be fixed.

And we are fixing them. Through sheer force of will.

My aunt kindly came over Saturday to paint our master bedroom, and it looks fantastic! While she cut in around doors and rolled walls, I scrubbed rust and grime from the master shower with the enthusiasm of Cinderella under duress . . . but hey, we got it done. And the bathroom has morphed from a place where I would never want to be barefoot to a place I would only kind of agree to be barefoot, mostly because we have loose nails and staples covering everything like a sheen.

Keeps you on your toes! (Literally?)

Spence and I are tired but making progress, and the progress is more apparent the more we sweat. Saturday was a rare humid-free day in Maryland, so we opened up the windows and let a cool breeze wipe out the last of the stale air. It felt fresher, more open.

And after we’d done all that, it was time to work on the condo. Our apartment should be officially on the market today or tomorrow, and we literally ran like lunatics yesterday morning to make it look spacious, lovely and enticing. That meant cleaning (again! so much cleaning!) every surface we could see and getting, like, a third of our stuff out of there — especially in the master closet, living room and kitchen.

So with aching arms and a nauseous stomach, we packed and moved about 15 boxes. Everything is getting dumped in the basement. At one point over the weekend, I realized that every single thing in our apartment will have to be touched by Spencer or me — packed, sorted, stored, moved, unpacked and arranged in the new place. By us.

How do people move? I mean, I moved eight months ago — but that already looks pathetic compared to this move. And in the grand scheme of things, we have a normal level of stuff. It’s not like we own a mansion we must empty . . . this just your run-of-the-mill stash of twenty-something newlywed belongings.

If I sound tired, I am. I really am. I know this is only temporary and we’ll be moved and settled in less than a month, but that month feels long right now. Very long. June has been a whirlwind . . . and it’s already half over. As of tomorrow, we’ve officially owned the new house for a month — and though I can definitely see progress, it still feels very overwhelming.

Mondays are made for napping.

Or going back to work for nine hours . . . where I’ll get a “break.” Funny how that works, eh?


The things we keep

Taz_shirt


Despite the fact that my closets get cleaned out pretty regularly, you still never know what you’ll find in there.

After picking up my wedding dress, I quickly realized my overflowing childhood bedroom didn’t have space for that ginormous garment bag. As I continue to lose weight (now down 14 lbs.!) and go through my wardrobe, I’m realizing that many of the clothes I once loved have become . . . well, less exciting. And baggy. Or old. I need room for new things, so the old things must be redistributed. On a recent weekday night, I began to pull old stuff from my closet and bag up what I no longer need.

It was pretty therapeutic, actually.

One of my recent finds was that ensemble above: a long, wool nightgown featuring Taz the Tasmanian Devil. My “Looney Tunes” phase, circa 1995, was interesting; I still have the miniature Taz backpack I used to sport. I’m thinking my mom picked this little number up for me one Christmas — and it still had the tags.

As I prepare for the married life, I’m sure I’ll have a few breakdowns — and more “look what I found!” posts. As a twenty-something who still lives at home, I have quite the accumulation of materials. I’ve already purged the old ‘NSYNC and Backstreet Boys-emblazoned teen magazines, donated bags and bags of old T-shirts and corduroy pants and other ’90s-era fashion choices . . . and generally brought my room up to the 21st century. My space is, for the most part, pretty tidy — but I have a lot of stuff.

Stuff that will soon buddy up with Spencer’s stuff. And our stuff will just . . . throw a big party.

I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve kept and the things I’ve given away — especially now, being confronted with childhood memorabilia all over again. My old Minnie Mouse sleeping bag; a lopsided globe I won after being named champ of the fifth-grade Geography Bee; old trophies and lamps, Hanson shirts and yearbooks. An entire adolescence in one bedroom. My personal history distilled into . . . objects.

And they’re just objects. I’ve watched enough episodes of “Hoarders” to know these things are just things. But I think it’s safe to say that, you know, the items I’ve kept over the course of 27 years must be the ones with real meaning. These are the belongings I have to make room for in the next phase. Amidst all that will change, this is what I must keep.

Maybe not the Taz shirt.

But everything else.


It felt a little like stealing, but I most definitely took it

Like most book lovers, I’m constantly looking for a way to feed my addiction. Books are like crack to me — I dream about them; lust after them; can’t wait to get lost in them. But, being the terrible glutton that I am, I have a lot of them. And by “a lot,” I mean an entire Ikea bookcase full of novels — most of them unread.

So I’m doing a little spring cleaning. When I quit my part-time job at a local bookstore a few years back, I was desperate to find a way to keep the steady flow of books coming into my home. I couldn’t imagine not living in a place piled high with paperbacks and I simply could not give that up.

I joined BookMooch, an online book trading site, and have gotten more than 100 novels through the program — including The Hunger Games and other awesome hardcovers. In short, it’s been fantastic. But? Space is at a premium in ye ol’ bedroom and, since my bookcase is now so full that it’s collapsing in on itself, I’m weeding out books and not really eager to bring too many more into the house. I have ARCs to finish, sent from publishers, but other than that? I’m trying hard not to purchase and/or mooch new books until I’ve finished what I have already. Or borrow them from the library, which I’m now all excited to do.

That’s easier said than done, of course. Of the books I currently have in my possession, most are unread novels I’ve acquired a variety of ways: purchased by me; sent from publishers; won through blog contests; mooched; received as gifts. And some of them? Not really my cup of tea. So what do I do with them? The idea of parting with an unread book is like asking me to shed a piece of my soul. If I haven’t read the book and still want to, even if it seems boring/not my genre, how can I possibly let it go?

But then I remind myself that, at this very moment, the backseat of my car contains about ten hardcovers and a few paperbacks — because I have nowhere else to put them. So I’m storing them. In my car.

I’ve become That Person.

So they have to go. They have to. This morning I carried in eight books, recently plucked from the bookcase, and began distributing them to my coworkers. Sandy and I share books all the time, so that’s no big deal, but what she isn’t interested in?

It’s going in The Box.

In my office, apparently, is a “Take A Book, Leave A Book” box. I say “apparently” because I never knew it existed until I wandered past the employee break room, a dark space I tend to avoid, in search of a soda. My caffeine fix is something not to be toyed with, friends.

And what did I discover there, sitting on top of a shelf all shiny and new and pristine? Sarah Pekkanen’s The Opposite Of Me, a book I’ve been lusting after for months.

In all the excitement, I’m pretty sure my mouth fell open. I reached out with trembling fingers to touch the cover, scarcely believing my eyes. In the past, the contents of The Box have been limited to tattered old romance novels circa 1983 and a few bad westerns, none of which I’m interested in. But this? This? A brand-spanking new work of women’s fiction with a colorful, gorgeous cover?

It was mine. It felt a little like stealing, but I most definitely took it.

Buoyed by the love I suddenly feel for my chick-lit-loving officemates, I brought books to contribute to The Box myself, including The Day The Falls Stood Still and Holly’s Inbox. And I have to tell you, I’m feeling pret-ty good about it.

Where do you take your books when you’re ready to part with them? Charity, friends, coworkers, a book swapping site?

New bookcase!

Before!

Before!

I can’t begin to say how ecstatic I am over my new bookcase — a piece of pure genius from none other than IKEA! With the help of my charming and insistent sister, I spent Saturday evening cleaning out my bedroom and getting rid of stuff I’ve probably had sitting on shelves for, oh, 15 years or so (I only wish that were an exaggeration).

The impetus for all of this? The fact that the stacks of books I’ve accumulated since the fall had really begun to take over the entire space. At one point I could contain them to sitting in front of another bookcase I had — that one already being full, of course — but the disease quickly spread . . . and my literature started to close in on me! Not to mention anyone lightly brushing against any of the books was likely to have them all fall on their foot in one big avalanche.

But now? The room is organized, Dad and I made a spur-of-the-moment trek up to College Park, Md. to get my giant Billy Bookcase and my library is tidy, neat and in order! I feel so excited just looking at everything in a row. I’ve never been entirely OCD, but I didn’t realize how bad the situation had become until it was being remedied. And now I can breathe easy, knowing that everything has a place! I can’t even remember the last time I felt so together. This is all very great news! I even have a small shelf completely dedicated to the books I’m due to review in the coming months.

A few shots of my new bookcase . . . isn’t Billy grand?

After!

After!

Still need to rearrange some, but much better

Still need to rearrange some, but much better

New review/borrowed book shelf

New review/borrowed book shelf