Baking into the Deep

Today, I went outside of my normal routine for the first time in …. I don’t know … months? A year? I went inside someplace other than a grocery store (and not on vacation). It was an eye doctor appointment. My former eye doctor had retired and the new clinic had opened in his old space. I decided to give it a shot. And it was fine. I felt, more or less, safe. I have to say, though, that it was exhausting with very little return. My prescription had changed very little and so, while, I will be getting new glasses, it doesn’t feel like it was worth it to go through all of that — the getting there and the forms and the, you know, TALKING TO PEOPLE.

Ok. It wasn’t all that bad. But I have been exhausted all day. It’s as if doing anything at all, having any sort of human interaction these days is on par with running an emotional marathon. I considered grabbing a coffee or something whilst I was out, but, in the end, I honestly just wanted to get back to the familiar territory of home.

Being out in the world, it felt like many internal gauges were off. I wasn’t sure what was “normal”, for me or for the other people I had to interact with. “Am I acting normal?” I kept thinking to myself.

I was trying on new frames and the man helping me told me I could take down my mask for a few moments to see how they looked. I obliged but also mumbled something about how I also wanted to check whether they’d fog up with a mask on. And I felt really vain and awful for pulling down my mask to see how I looked. Later on, at home, when my kids looked at my selfies, they asked, “why aren’t you smiling?” (Well, the two older ones did. Mr3yo just said, “Did you get new glasses?”) In the pictures, I’m not smiling, I’m just looking stressed out. Because I was feeling stressed out. I didn’t really want to take my mask down. I did it because, I don’t know, the guy told me I should see how I look and it was fine to take it down for a moment.

I’m exhausted just thinking about how difficult the whole thing felt.

In Luke 5:4, Jesus says to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.” They comply and pull in so many fish that their nets tear.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of putting out into deep water for a few days now. Where is the deep water I’m supposed to be casting my nets into?

This weekend, like many weekends, Ms8yo wanted to bake something. She pulled out one of her favorite books (Sweet by Helen G’oh and Yotam Ottelenghi) and paged through, looking for a recipe to try out. She chose the Raspberry and Lemon Cupcakes. At first, she was a little wary that they weren’t seasonal and asked me what berries or fruit would be in season right now. I told her that raspberries would be fine, more or less, right now, and she set about coming up with what ingredients her dad would need to pick up at the store and which ones we already had.

She’s getting better about reading through the entire recipe and checking all the ingredients. She’s learned her lesson from missing a few things in the pass. Nothing that couldn’t be replaced or easily found, but nonetheless, it’s made her more diligent about reading through things first.

This particular recipe called for lemon curd, which she managed to make herself on the stove with only a little help from us. I was thrilled because I love lemon curd and would definitely ask her to are it again. Even if not for these specific cupcakes, I’d love some on crumpets or other baked goods. She asked for help a few times reaching things. I zested the lemons; her sister helped her frost the little cakes when they were done. I dug out the cupcake papers I was fairly certain I’d picked up not long ago at the grocery store. (Although, when she couldn’t find them herself at first, she was perfectly willing to butter and flour the pan, which is always a feasible option.) She opted to weigh out (rather than measuring by volume) some of the ingredients and thus we talked about the different settings of the kitchen scale: lb/ oz and kg/ g.

The cupcakes were lovely: tangy and sweet with a lovely sponge (although Mr3yo stuck almost completely to just the mascarpone/ lemon curd frosting). We had two nights of dessert out of the dozen. “Baker” is one of the things that Ms8yo would like to possibly become in the future (although we try to tell her that she already is one). She’s currently reading From the Desk of Zoe Washington and says that one of the reason she loves it is that the main character also wants to become a baker.

As a parent, I worry. A lot. And currently, one of my concerns is just the fear that, with the pandemic and my kids basically having very limited options right now for movement and activities and socializing, that somehow they will miss out on something. What? I don’t know. A “normal” childhood? Knowing how to interact with people? The learning and knowledge that they can gain from going out into the world and being comfortable there?

Here’s the thing. When Jesus instructed his followers to cast out into the deep, I don’t think that it was the “outwardness” of the casting so much as the depth. If we are to catch fish, I don’t think they are going to be, mostly, “out there”. The fish, the sustenance of life and of learning, can be found in the depths, not in the shallows. And, for now anyway, the depths are in our very home, and inside ourselves, and in our families or immediate communities. For me, the shallows were the outing to the eye doctor (high cost, low return) whilst the depths are at home, where my kids do things like decide to bake cupcakes one weekend and end up pulling each family, in turn, into their activity, giving and receiving little lessons along the way, and ending with a lovely, sweet and tangy treat.

Twenty Blog Posts

About a month ago, I set a goal to increase my blogging. At first, I thought I’d attempt to post every day for a month, but then I thought, “BURN OUT”. So I scaled it back to five times a week for four weeks. Each entry would be at least five hundred words on one topic.

Yesterday was my twentieth post in this little mini-streak.

I’m quite proud of myself.

I’ve mentioned here before that I went to graduate school to earn an MFA in writing with a focus on creative nonfiction. (Yes, if your first thought was that “creative nonfiction” is an oxymoron, you are not alone. We write about things that are true but we weren’t studying journalism. Think: memoir, essays, movie and book reviews, “think pieces”, even blog posts. Op-Ed’s and opinion pieces would be considered “creative nonfiction.” As with these types of things, there’s often a little bluriness between the categories, so these are pretty rough rules, if one can even call them that.)

This process of starting a blog, writing in it, and here now setting — and accomplishing — this goal of writing twenty posts in a month was, as it turns out, a necessary sort of recovery from my MFA program. Ironic, I know: that I would have to write in order to heal from my years in a writing program. There are plenty of people who come out of a writing program with their relationship to writing intact or, it would seem, even stronger than when they went into the program. For me, the program left me shaky and unsure of myself. It was at Columbia University, in New York City. It wasn’t the first time I’d been at a prestigious institute of higher learning. I’d gone to high school at Sidwell Friends, in DC, where a few presidents have sent their kids alongside numerous senators and representatives.

A few years ago, Stephen King wrote a novel called The Institute, in which kids are taken from their homes and placed in a hospital-like facility where experiments are run on them. It has something to do with psychological warfare of a sort and the plot had sort of vague shades of “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. The details of the plot are neither here nor there. I’m merely bringing this up because being a student in these prestigious institute felt to me, in retrospect, a bit like being in something like The Institute.

It’s possible that I just wasn’t a very good student at either Sidwell or Columbia. But I don’t think it was that.

I’ve mentioned here before that I a few times I had interactions with professors that left me feeling as though my writing was a frustration, or bit of a disappointment to them, and that these shortcomings on my part were somehow personally upsetting to them. A sort of feeling of, “Can’t you just do better?” One professor told me, upon my departure, that I wasn’t ready for an agent. A few years later, when I signed with an agent who then dropped me not long after, his opinion was confirmed.

This, understandably (I think, anyway) led a reluctance to write (much less try to publish) on my part. Somewhere unconsciously, I’ve felt as though my writing would disappoint people. Or that it would be a waste of their time. Frankly, I needed to just get over it.

Setting a writing goal and following through has helped me do that. It’s been liberating to hold myself to this one daily (or nearly so) practice of writing at least 500 words. It’s allowed me to not fear quite so much that I will be judged … or that somehow my words would disappoint people or cause them to feel they had wasted their time.

Part of this whole process has also been to pare it down, to a certain degree. The goal has been to simply write. If I have an image handy to go with it, then great. But if not, that’s fine too. And I’ve even stopped including tags and categories and comments. I needed to focus on the words alone, not on the extraneous aspects of blogging. Just the words.

To some degree, this has all worked. I’m writing regularly. I’m actually, sometimes, looking forward to blogging each day. I have ideas for blogs floating around in my head and in a few notebooks but I’ve also started to learn that I don’t even really need to take notes through the day or jot down ideas or phrases for fear that they will be lost if I don’t. Writing is what I do. And I’m free to write.

More Watercolors

I’ve mentioned a few times here that I’ve been attempting to learn more about watercolors (and also illustration in general). It’s been slow. I picked up a kit, which features watercolors of Japanese foods and snacks, from a website called Mossery. It’s been lovely and relaxing. I think I’ve learned a bit and have been improving.

As per usual, I have a lot of doubts that what I am doing is worth my time (and money). When I look at it from a certain perspective, it looks so pointless: sitting there with a brush and colors, mixing them and filling in the predawn lines, attempting to match the example given in the little booklet. Why am I doing this? This isn’t real art, the naysaying voices state. I’m not nor will I make any money off of this. It’s not helping or feeding anyone (other than perhaps the people who work for the company that produces these kits).

It’s hard, at times, to silence those voices that have, for so long, been telling me that the only valid use of time is using it to make money or to produce something, anything as long as it can either be paid for and consumed or perhaps something wholly original (never mind the question of whether any art or human creation has ever been wholly original or even can be).

But, still, there’s a part of my mind that tugs at me each time I think about my little paint set. There’s a certain eagerness there to sit back down and do this little thing, this little ritual. And it comes from a certain familiarity for how the process is going to go and how it is going to make me feel. I know that, for the most part, I’m going to have at least a few moments of, “wow, this is so cool that my hand is recreating what my eye sees.” Or just little moments of surprise: “Oh! I didn’t know that this would come out like this!” Or even just the satisfying moments of, “well, now I know how to do this and how I can improve upon it next time.”

And of course, there are the lovely little instances where I can be so completely focused on what I am doing that there is no room for those pesky voices throwing doubt in my direction.

And my kids will check in on my progress every so often. By and large, their responses are surprised, “that looks AMAZING.” But one of them will thrown in the occasional suggestion, “You should have made that part lighter like they did in the model.” Or “That doesn’t really look like the example.” But at least then I know that their positivity is genuine, they clearly aren’t mincing their words.

We’ve thought about trying to make some of the foods that we see. We are hoping for a trip to Japan before too long here and my husband suggested we try to eat all the foods in this workbook whilst there. My dad went to medical school in Japan, so I’ve visited a few times and it remains a culture that I feel a certain kinship to because of my dad’s connection to the country. Our last trip there, my 8 year old daughter was too young too remember much other than the middle of the night trips out that she and I took together to 7-11 to pick up snack foods. Some of those are in this book, which I doubt I would have thought to re-create had they not all been already compiled.

The kit came with a blank watercolor notebook as well. I think of it as a sort of little nudge towards creating some of my own projects. There’s even a pencil that can be used to lightly draw guidelines (which will later be covered up with the paints). I’m a bit intimidated by that whole idea of creating my own. I’ve tried one small landscape (inspired by our trip to the beach) on one page. Results were mixed. But the learning was great. So I’ll keep going.


We went away for a week at the beach last week and, while it was not as eventful as it was last year’s vacation during which a nearby hurricane took out the electricity for a few days as I wrote about here and here, I don’t think it’s possible to have a tame vacation (or anything really) during a pandemic.

The sand dunes and sky at the beach.

Or maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe most things feel tamer, a bit quieter, in some ways. We’re sticking a bit closer to home and to the familiar. IN previous years, there might have been a trip, at the very least, to the boardwalk or to an amusement park. This year, we didn’t even make it over to the nearby nature preserve or the farm up the road for lunch. Several businesses that we would have visited in previous years — a general store and cafe, a cheese and sandwich shop, the fresh seafood shop where we’d get crabs — were all closed. A few of the standbys were still open, but things felt, perhaps, a little more subdued. Although, I don’t really know as I was mostly at the house and on the beach with the kids.

It was lovely to be somewhere with so much extended family nearby and, of course, with Eric not having to work (well, other than a few times) and with the ease of having activity and entertainment, a change of scenery all nearby at the beach. Different family members took charge of dinners each evening and we rotated through each of the different places where family was staying — eating, for the most part outside where possible. Our kids still can’t be vaccinated and it was lovely to be surrounded by people who acknowledged and respected that and were willing to make the sacrifice (mask-wearing) when necessary. I painted some and sat some mornings out of the front porch. We went kayaking one morning.

I came back exhausted. Had I not been sleeping well in an unfamiliar bed and house? Perhaps. Or just sand and surf tired? Or from driving long distances which I’m not used to? It really only took a few days for me to “recover” but during that time it felt, of course, like I would forever be exhausted, that I would never get back into the swing of non-vacation life. I felt drained and unmotivated. I requested a take-out dinner more than just that first night back. It was only today, four days after we got back, that I seriously got back into cooking decent food for my family. I’m lucky that I live in a place and with the resources to have decent take out.

During the days after our vacation, I was thinking a lot about this: “If vacations are so great, what about them can we hold on to and carry into “normal life”? I never really arrived at a satisfying answer. And I think that this might be because asking the question, I’d been looking at vacation wrong. A big part of what I love about our vacation is just being nearby the ocean. And I love having down time with family. But would I want to live near the ocean all the time? I don’t think so. Not much great take out and even a trip to the grocery store is a bit of a trek. Unlike my current neighborhood, there’s not much diversity of, for example, languages and cultures and food at the beach where we go. Would I like to live near all of my family such that we would be able to see each other more often? Sure. But I know that part of what I enjoy about my family is that we live in such different places and so when we come together, we each get to learn about each other’s very different lives and cities and places.

And so I know it’s cliche and it’s obvious but, when I think about what can I bring back from vacation, what is the lesson? Much of it is simply gratitude for the things that I have in my normal life and being able to appreciate those things that I had, perhaps, started to take for granted and failed to even realize where there.

Virtual Learning?

We are considering the virtual learning option that our school district is (as far as we currently know) offering this year. We’ve been homeschooling for a few years now (before the pandemic started) and it’s worked well for us, for the most part. In many ways, we were lucky that we were already teaching our kids at home when the schools moved to all virtual last year as the numbers of COVID-19 cases rose. From my understanding, lots of families feel that their kids missed out on most or even all of the 2020-2021 school year because their districts couldn’t shift to an on-line format quickly enough. And while our kids certainly missed out on a few things, we don’t think that the shift felt as profound as it could have had they been in school. Well, other than the fact that their dad working from home has meant he has been much more accessible to them through the day, which is, of course, an overall (huge) positive.

Prior to the pandemic starting, we had been relying on a few activities (namely sports and church) to round out our kids learning and which got us outside of the house and into a larger community. Of course those mostly ceased last year (although we were lucky that we had religious education that pivoted to on-line pretty quickly and seamlessly).

And so it would be beneficial to us to be able to engage with something like the district’s virtual option. While I trust that my husband and I have been doing a good (nay, great) job educating our kids, it would be nice to also have a little of the pressure taken off us.

It’s not that we’ve never had our children in traditional schools. We have. But we had a few experiences at those places (which I think are unique and specific to our county) that made us feel like there was a profound disconnect between what we wanted for our children and what was going on at those traditional schools. I felt very distant from my kids for those 6 to 8 hours a day and when they returned to us, it felt as though much of their time and energy during the school day was absorbed in things other than learning. The schools we sent them to didn’t seem to prioritize learning. Especially for the elementary school years, it felt like they were always one mediocre teacher away from a wasted year. (And in a few cases they had teachers who were less than mediocre.)

I used to be a teacher so it wasn’t hard to make the decision to homeschool them. One of the main challenges we have faced as homeschoolers is staying in compliance with the state’s regulation. It has felt like a massive burden on us. We are hoping that, in part, virtual school will absolve us from constantly feeling like we have to prove to someone that we are doing what’s best for our kids by showing them a bunch of paperwork.

We are hopeful that, with our kids still being in our home, one teacher (much less a classmate) won’t have as much (negative) influence over our kids’ day, week, year. We are hoping that with them learning in our home, we can increase the positive experiences (while decreasing any potential negative ones). Certainly, having two parents (plus the grandparents who the kids see pretty much daily) in the home which is also their classroom has a greater chance of mitigating (negative) impacts. I’ll post later on in the school year on how it’s going. Fingers crossed.

Vaccinate, Please

When I learned about the timeline for the COVID-19 vaccination creation, trials, and emergency approval, I knew it was incredibly fast. I don’t tend to be someone who plans on things outside of my control being a certain way at a certain time, but I suppose that somewhere in my mind, I had imagined that by this time of 2021, we would have reached, at least, herd immunity. I’ve been aware of a general anti-vaccination sentiment since when I was first pregnant and I knew we would soon have to be making decisions about childhood vaccine schedules. Still, I was surprised back in 2009 when other pregnant women I knew opted to not get an H1N1 vaccine. But I sort of thought that the anti-vaccination movement had more or less died out or was so fringe and isolated as to be irrelevant. When The Lancet retracted the almost entirely fictional study it had printed linking childhood vaccinations to autism, I thought that was the death knell for people opposing vaccines.

This image of some of our loved ones in the ocean doesn’t really have much to do with this post other than to show that even the experts and the virologists have people who they love and care for. It’s not about money or power or prestige, it’s about keeping their fellow humans safe and free from unnecessary suffering.

So I guess I’m even more surprised that so many Americans who have access to the vaccine have opted to not get it. Have we really just been experiencing this pandemic in such different ways?

Shortly after we got married, my husband started a six-year long process of earning his PhD in virology. This degree had been preceded by a bachelors in science and a few years working in two different labs. (It was in one of these labs where he met my sister who ultimately introduced us to each other, but that’s a story for another post.) His PhD was followed by four years in a post-doc position.

I’m not going to go into too many details about what his training entailed but suffice it to say that it was long days and long weeks in the lab, reading and writing at home, very, very little pay (part of which, he usually had to apply for grants or fellowships in order to cover his own salary). He was back in the lab within a few days after the birth of our first two.

But, of course, he learned. He became what some might call an expert in his area of virology (HIV, specifically) and he learned how to be a scientist, how to collaborate and learn with colleagues, how to understand how all of the different pieces of the field and research fit together. He learned how to write (and perhaps more importantly to read) articles.

There were many sacrifices made by him and his colleagues and, yes, to a lesser degree made by me and the other families who were supporting them. He is not alone in this. Scientists in many different fields make sacrifices every day to learn and to contribute to the greater body of knowledge of their fields, which, in his case, is viruses. And even though he is no longer in a lab and has been lucky enough to be able to work from home, he is on the phone every day with other scientists figuring out ways for them to share knowledge and collaborate and to fund research that will hopefully lead to cures and more (and better) vaccines and more and better treatment for all of what ails the human body.

Like many in his field, he doesn’t have a lot of time for socializing outside of work. Through the pandemic, much of his socializing has been answering friend’s and family member’s questions about Covid-19. Although it’s not his area of expertise specifically, he does need to stay on top of what’s going on in that area of the field. And he will periodically point out to me conversations that have played out on Facebook. These are invariably alarming to me.

The ones I find most alarming are those who post about how they are not getting vaccinated. These anti-vaccination people then point to some article or anecdote about the vaccine that is so obviously biased or mis-interpreted or even just flat out factually incorrect.

Here’s the thing. The people who are posting these sorts of things are stupid people. Like my husband, like many of us, they have their area or areas of expertise. Unlike my husband, that area of expertise is not viruses. In most cases, it’s not science at all.

I think that papers and articles and journals and information generally should be readily available to everyone and anyone. Information should not be guarded or kept behind lock and key in any way. But I also think that people should recognize their own limitations and areas of understanding and, in doing so, recognize that other people, like my husband, do, in fact, have more knowledge about certain things that they do.

The closer that a person who is expressing anti-vaccine sentiments or propaganda is to me and my husband, the more they know about what it took for my husband to learn all that he has learned, the more it feels like a kick in the teeth to me when they perpetuate anti-vaccine ideas. My husband doesn’t have time to comb through and respond to all of the articles people are citing on Facebook or other places which, in their minds, appear to be a “smoking gun” proving that the vaccines are bad or ineffective or dangerous or whatever it is that they are trying to show or prove. Mostly, I think it’s that they are trying to show that they know more than the people who have made the study of viruses and human immunology their life’s work. I don’t know why they must insist that they know better, why they must prove that they are so fiercely independent, and why they must hold so tightly to this self concept of being self made and self taught. I don’t understand why they can’t accept that sometimes there are people who do, in fact, know better than them and who are not, in fact, out to harm them.

The bottom line is this: please get the vaccine. Please, if you have any platform or sway with people who haven’t gotten vaccinated or who are anti-vaccine, please, please try to convince them otherwise. Let’s not let all the work and the sacrifices that people have done and made in this pandemic and before be in vain.


This morning I went kayaking with my daughters and various family members. It was lovely. My sister had arranged it and we had a guide so I didn’t even have to do any of the planning. In fact, I didn’t really have to do anything other than paddle, which is sometimes more than enough.

I have been kayaking before although I wouldn’t call myself a kayaker or really even generally an active, outdoorsy person. I mean, I’m up for things but I’m also generally fine staying at home doing my own thing. That being said, somehow, the idea of a kayaking trip is something that, in the days leading up to it, causes me moderate anxiety. Last night, I woke up a few times thinking about going kayaking: getting there on time, what I should bring, safety concerns for my kids especially, etc…. Have I always been like this? Perhaps it’s in part that the pandemic has had me so out of practice on things like getting to places at a specific time and has also added various health and safety concerns on top of those already present with something like kayaking (with kids). Will they need masks and hand sanitizer on top of needing sunscreen, water, and hats?

I feel the pull to do things with my kids and to take advantage of weather that will allow us to do more outdoors right now, but I’m not going to say that I don’t have my reservations and worries.

It turns out, of course, that I didn’t need to worry about any of these issues. At all. My husband was there to help make sure the kids were on-time, fed, and dressed appropriately. We made it more or less on time, but honestly no one seemed bothered one way or the other. The guide even said that we were a fast paddling group so in the end the timing didn’t matter. We got to see some unusual birds and other wildlife that our marine biology major guide pointed out. My kids seemed to enjoy the paddling (although I was in a kayak with Ms8yo and I think she would have preferred that I paddle faster; she prefers to be at the front to the back). The kids were perfectly capable of making sure that they are protected from the sun, hydrated, and masked when they need to be (and even sometimes when they don’t need to be).

And it was lovely and I have no regrets about going. I know that those sorts of things are really, really good for my kids in terms of building up their confidence (especially in these days of so many restrictions on their movement) and just having these sorts of experiences especially with their cousins and other extended family who they get to see so rarely these days.

And I know, too, that I need to cut myself a break sometimes. Parenting in a pandemic is hard. And having three kids under 12 who can’t be vaccinated isn’t making it any easier, especially with the Delta variant. Of course I’m going to be anxious about these things. But, of course, I can use good judgment (and rely on other like minded adults) to push through the anxiety. Which I did. Which is good.

On Living Small(er)

Yesterday, I wrote about the ways in which the pandemic has taken away certain choices… and how this might, in a way, be a good thing. And perhaps I am alone in feeling that sometimes too many choices are sometimes (all the time?) a bad thing. I often end up focusing too much on the choices I didn’t make or take. Some might call this a “fear of missing out” or a “fear of regret”. I have option A and option B. If I choose option A, I cannot partake in B and vice versa. How different would my life b if I had taken the other option, the one I didn’t? The bigger question: how different would my life b if so many of my brain cells weren’t mired in a swamp of meaningless choices. Do I want white American or yellow American cheese on my burger? Do I want whiter teeth or healthier gums (or at least the toothpastes that promise as much)? Sprite or 7up? How many conversations have you had or overhear where people are debating Coke or Pepsi? How many people do you know who define themselves by those choices alone? (And perhaps with good reason: by making a decision about which one you are going to drink and sticking with it, it possibly makes other decisions easier down the road. “I can’t go to restaurant X because they don’t serve Pepsi products.”)

And as a parent, I grapple regularly with the questions around: do I teach my kids how to make good decisions or do I protect them from ever having to make these types of meaningless decisions themselves for as long as I can? The answer is yes.

It is very easy and possible for kids to have a very big world and the pressure on parents to “give their kids everything” is immense. We have to give them every experience, every option. They have to try every sport. They have to speak five hundred languages. They have to have seen this, that, and the other thing. They have to do extra-curriculars and six languages They have to be well traveled.

I would be lying if I said that I’ve spent more hours than I can count, too many hours worrying over whether or not I’m offering my kids enough experiences and, yes, options.

I would also be lying if I didn’t say that the pandemic has taken away a lot of those fears and worries about whether or not I’m giving my kids enough experiences. A huge part of this is that their dad has been work from home for a while. With two parents much more present, I worry much less that I, as one, am doing enough. Of course, the pandemic has also made certain outings and activities impossible… for everyone, not just us. So not only are we not alone in this boat, but I’m not constantly looking outside of the walls of our home in search of giving my kids more.

This year was a big year for cicadas where we live. In any other big Brood X (which has a seventeen year cycle of emergence) year, I’m sure there would have been loads of programs related to cicadas through the parks system and the Smithsonian and probably even at schools in the area. There were this year. So one afternoon in the spring right after we had noticed their exit tunnels under a few of the trees in our yard, we started to pick up rocks and logs and flagstones in our yard. Our efforts were rewarded with the squirming, wriggling cicadas still encased in their shells and awaiting the warm weather they required to emerge from the ground and begin their journey (and discarding of their shells) up the trees.

Like many families around here (I am guessing) much of our discussions this spring and early summer was about the cicadas: the noise they make, their life cycles, where they live, etc…. Whenever her sister was otherwise occupied, my 8 year old and I would walk around the yard and the conversation would inevitable turn to the cicadas. She’d ask thoughtful questions and I’d do my best to answer them, knowing too that these questions would come up again and either her dad would know or we’d be able to look up the answers. These conversations were lovely and full of a mutual learning about each other and our interests and also about the cicadas. I think we might have covered more territory than would be possible in a more traditional cicada curriculum or program.

And so this is what I mean about how the pandemic taking away certain options has allowed us to live, yes, perhaps a smaller life, but, more importantly, a deeper one too.

On Living Small

A few years ago (maybe as many as ten or twenty, I’m not sure about things like that) it seemed that the idea of “decision fatigue” was in vogue. Or, at least, I read one or two articles about it and ran with it. The idea is simple. Making decisions, even small ones, involves an investment of energy. The more decisions we make, the more energy we use up and therefore the less we have in reserve even for basic things like eating and activity. This also translates into decreased willpower or an ability to say no to poor choices (or yes to good ones).

I’ve thought about this a lot as each of our three kids have moved through the phase we are currently in with the youngest wherein we are encouraging him to make “good choices.” But I’ve also waffled between wanting to teach them to make good choices and wanting to protect them from experiencing decision fatigue. Fatigue is, after all, the mother of poor choices. It’s a tricky balance to strike. Surprisingly, it’s also one that has become easier under pandemic conditions. In part, this is due to the fact that we simply have fewer choices to make. The museums, for example, have all been closed and even when they have been open, with three unvaccinated kids, I’m not likely going to be spending much time in public indoors with them soon. Without having even the option of going inside a museum (or any number of places like to a movie or a play or live music), I have one fewer decision that I have to make in any given day or week. I think of this a being able to drop one more marble into the decision making energy jar. Had all of these optioned for activities been open to me, to us, I would have been spending a lot of time and energy fretting about what I was not doing with my kids and I would have spent far too much time and energy concerned that each day NOT spent at a museum was a day I was depriving my kids.

My brother recently posted a video to the group chat of a man who had been incarcerated (I seem to recall about twenty years) and was standing in the cereal aisle overwhelmed by options. In this case, he couldn’t believe all of the different flavor options for cherrios. For me, it was toothpaste. When I was living in a small town (a handful of shops and restaurants) in Thailand for a while and I would return home, I would sometimes have to go shopping. I most distinctly remember standing in the toothpaste aisle wondering to myself “where do I even begin?” In the coming years, I was acutely aware, at times, of all of the time, energy, and resources I had to commit (felt forced to commit) to toothpaste. It was simultaneously frustrating and foreign. We are often taught in the US and perhaps in the western world in general that having options (Whitening! Sensitive gum?! Herbal?) is good, even when those options are ultimately and completely meaningless.

(To be continued…)

On Painting

A few weeks ago, I ordered and received a watercolor kit from Mossery. It was a little pricey but I’ve been wanting to learn and create watercolors and this was a complete kit that would help me to learn and it felt worth it to order. Thankfully, it has been.

Many evenings since receiving the kit, I have been sitting down with my notebook, small instruction booklet, and supplies and doing a few minutes here and there of watercolor. I worked through the color chart at the beginning and have been playing with color since then. It has been intensely satisfying.

A completed page of fruits and vegetables. My daughters were especially impressed with the broccoli and I had to agree

For me, painting like this involves a fairly high level of concentration, but not so high that I can’t perform the task in the more open space in my house with my kids and husband nearby. It requires just enough concentration to make it interesting but not so much that I ignoring the needs of the people around me. In fact a few times this week, I needed a second opinion about some color options and it was great to have someone nearby willing to give their two cents.

My husband DID ask if he could take a picture of me doing an activity that has been bringing me peace and calm in recent days.

I named this blog, Wild Goose Land, in part because in some places in the world (mostly in Ireland, I think), the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Wild Goose, going wherever it pleases. And for me, chasing the Wild Goose means pursuing creativity and those moments that transcend whatever it is that is getting me down or stressing me out. Some people, I think, sometimes call these moments, “being in the zone” where physicality and intellect and creativity become one. In the zone (or with the Holy Spirit), I am (and I think most people are) able to let go of the worries and troubles of everyday life.

Painting can, from time to time, get me there, into the zone, can allow me to empty myself out to a degree that the Holy Spirit (or muses or however else others might think about that) can enter in a take charge.

With the palette and the paints that came with this set or kit. I’m looking forward to also using the blank (those fruits and vegetables and every other page in this book is pre-sketched to make the whole learning process a bit easier) notebook that came with the kit.

My description is sounding perhaps more dramatic than the product of my paints and brushes are in reality (mostly a page of fruits and vegetables at this point): it is, for me, after all mostly about the process and that energy I put into the things I am painting. The final product is merely a side benefit, but it is still immensely gratifying to look at something I’ve painted or drawn (or even, from time to time, written) and to know that I had something to do with bringing that image into reality, even if it is that I tried to extend an invitation to the Wild Goose.