Four teachers affected by COVID

I was facilitating a training on zoom today, and when the last teacher we were waiting on joined the call, although we could only see her face virtually, it was very clear that she was under distress. The other teacher asked her if she was ok and without hesitation, she immediately began crying. I didn’t know the teacher very well, unlike the other two teachers, so I just listened as they carefully broached her. It was then that the teacher revealed that she just found out that both of her parents tested positive for COVID. What was worse about the situation was that the father had contracted it at work, where eight people also became effected.

The teacher went into details that included why the father was still working, that they lived in a small town in a different state and before the positive results, months ago, had already decided that they weren’t traveling to the Bay Area for the holidays– it was too risky.

Some time during the conversation it dawned on me how each of us on the call had been affected by COVID. While we weren’t tested positive, our lives, though vastly different were suffering in some ways.

As you know, for me, COVID and the pandemic, affected me two months into sheltering in place. My husband was furloughed and eventually let go and because we were down to one income, we made the decision to move to the east bay. If I have to return to work, my previous 2 mile commute will now change to a 45 mile commute. On a good day, I’ll be lucky if the travel to and from work will be under two hours. There is the other possibility of me getting a different job, something closer to home. While this may be an exciting opportunity, it really saddens me because working in South San Francisco has been my dream job.

Then there’s teacher #2 who has to manage working and providing child care for her two boys. She and her husband both have very demanding jobs and between the two of them, they have to schedule meetings, find quiet spaces in the house, arrange time to share the working computer all while feeding, disciplining, watching, and playing with their sons. She confessed to me at the end of the school year in distance learning that she felt she was failing. She shared tears on that call too. I managed to tell her that we know she’s doing the best she can do. Still, there was something in her voice that let me know that she felt like she needed to more, even though I reassured her that we are all adjusting, and that what she was doing at work and at home was more than what anyone could expect during this very complicated time.

The other teacher brought up how not seeing her students has greatly affected her. She also confessed that for some people, sheltering in place in isolation is too much for a single person. Going months without talking to another individual, in person, including her students made her feel more alone.

There we were, on the zoom call, through our computer screens, four women, talking about the different ways COVID had affected our lives. In that moment, I had never felt more connected with a group of people I barely even knew.

Six Weeks in Distance Learning

It’s been a very tough week for me. We’re finishing up our 6th week of distance learning, and just when I feel like I’ve got a handle on things, some thing else will come and a whole set of other challenges will ensue.

I find my work very meaningful and purposeful, and when I look back years from now and I’m asked how I helped with remote learning, I’ll be able to say that I may not have had all the solutions and answers, but I was there, helping teachers and students navigate their way through the most uncertain and challenging times of education.

I don’t know how long remote teaching will continue, nor do I know if I’ll be in education next year, but the skills I’m acquiring today will prepare me for other unexpected situations. Like the many teachers and students who I’m supporting, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, and who knows if we’ll be prepared, but I know for certain that our resilience will prevail.

Communication

Lately, I don’t know if it’s because of COVID or the civil unrest happening, but I find myself in more and more difficult conversations where people express anger because they are misunderstood. I can’t remember a time when the volume of verbal strifes have increased and people are putting blame or acting defensive because of what was said or how it was said. It seems that every person that I’ve talked to has expressed a recent argument that they’ve had with a partner, child, co-worker, or friend and the bane of the disagreement happens to center around communication, or more accurately, the lack of communication.

Being able to effectively communicate is a life long skill, and sometimes it’s the difference between going to bed angry or a happy, or a life or death situation with the police, or a job offer or job rejection. So much power and fate can be determined by what someone chooses to say and how they choose to express it.

Recently my partner and I had a quarrel because of Twitch. In short, I was upset because we both agreed that his live radio show would only be 1 hour a day. Well, lately it’s been more than an hour and this compromised our schedule for dinner, chores and most especially my mental health. I desperately need peace and quiet after work, which is also the same time his twitch show begins. Because of the fires, I can’t go outside and because we live in a one story condo- there’s no other place to escape the noise. I want to be supportive of my hubby’s outlet, but we agreed on a time limit, and he wasn’t honoring that. We talked about it and came to a compromise- 45 minutes day. In retrospect, this was a trivial fight, but I think it could have potentially led to a more serious one. With all the previous practice we’ve had with conflict resolution, I think we’re getting better with communicating our needs.

One thing about sheltering in place is that it’s forcing me and I imagine many couples and relationships to have the difficult conversations. Being at home, day after day, month after month, it’s natural that people will disagree. Being in each other’s space, with no respite sounds like a recipe for many verbal altercations. We’re all either going to come out of sheltering in place as expert communicators or a better version of our former selves. I know that I’m not an expert and I probably will never be when it comes to communicating with my partner, but I’m content with the progress we’re making and glad that rather than crying and giving each other the silent treatment, we’re talking, even when it seems like the most impossible and difficult thing to do.

Here we are “communicating” how to take pictures in front of our new place.

Paulo’s 37th birthday

These days, it seems frivolous to celebrate birthdays, but we could all benefit from looking forward to something, especially celebrating life, which is what I did today– we went to Oakland to celebrate my younger brother’s 37th birthday. When the idea of having a bbq at his house was brought up by me and my sister, Paulo hesitated, saying that he wasn’t in the mood. In context, work has been overwhelming and he’s in the middle of purchasing a house, so the very last thing he wanted to do was plan a birthday bbq. At the recourse of my pleas, Paulo eventually contested, probably out of guilt. But later today, when we were sitting around the dining table, with our plates filled with a blend of traditional American food, like ribs and mac and cheese, and Filipino food like lumpia and pancit, as ambient music played in the back, and as my niece, dressed in her Hawaiian dress nibbled only the crispy edges of her lumpia, and as the Oakland sun set in and the soft light afforded a calm and peaceful evening, there was a mirth of gratitude felt by me and I suspect, everyone else, including my brother. Paulo, in his relaxed candor, signed and smiled, unknowingly unaware of how grateful I was for this Saturday, this moment, this birthday, and the best present- him. Love you, little bro. Happy birthday!

As a gift, one of his good friends Kirby, made his rice crispy cake. It was delicious!

Let’s hug it out!

I can’t remember the last time I hugged someone besides my husband, and even then the hugs he and I exchange are more obligatory than they are passionate. Don’t get me wrong; I adore and love my husband, but when I was looking through old pictures of me in my early 20s, I noticed a stark difference. In almost every picture, I was hugging someone. Some were one arm over the shoulder hugs, but many of them were full embraces. I can’t remember a time, even before COVID-19, where I displayed such a genuine full body hug.

I don’t know if hugging is inappropriate for any situation over a certain age or if I was just living in a different time where one had to be conscientious of personal space, but it was clear during the early 2000s, hugging was the norm. I don’t know what happened as I entered my 30s and now 40s. Almost every picture I have of me, I’m off to the side, my hands on my hips,  or waving a hello or peace sign. I rarely see any pictures of me hugging someone, not even a dog! 

Now with the era of COVID, hugging is deemed unsafe. When I recently saw my mother in law, my first instinct was to hug her, give her a kiss on the cheek, but I knew better. I haven’t been tested recently , and she is susceptible to getting sick, so I had to refrain to what, at the time, felt natural. It was the first instance, in a long time,  I instinctively wanted to hug someone, and then I realized how much I genuinely missed it. For years, I had the opportunity, now with today’s climate, I’m not sure if I’ll get the chance again. 

Sure, the world will eventually return to a new norm, and I’m optimistic that how we greet each other in the future will mean more than what we previously knew it to be. When that day comes, I’ll be ready. My arms will reach over shoulders, backs and arms,  and I’ll take my time to hold and embrace the moment. I don’t know why I refrained so much in the past, but it’s clear to me now how the single act of embracing someone with both feet planted firmly on the ground, bodies supporting each other, wrapping all your love in such a safe public display of emotion shouldn’t be taken for granted. I now know better. Hugs and all! 

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I miss these hugs!

 

 

Parents in the Philippines and COVID

In about a month, my parents will make the long 13 hour flight from Manila, Philippines to San Francisco, CA. They have been in the Philippines since December. They were supposed to return in May, but due to COVID they had to extend their stay. Because of the health precautions, Philippine airlines suspended all their flights to and from San Francisco. The health risks of flying in a plane is still high, and because both my parents and seniors and are health compromised, I know that the flight home has several risks. 

Even if the airline enforces masks and physical distance, these precautions don’t guarantee that it will be safe. Passengers will still be breathing recycled air, and people will need to take off their masks to eat. 

It was a difficult decision for my parents, one that they didn’t make lightly. My parents asked me if it was a good idea, and as much as I wanted to say “no” , I knew it was ultimately their decision. My parents want to come home. They miss their children and their only grandchild, Aiza. They want to be close to us after living far apart, halfway across the world, for eight months, the longest we’ve been apart. 

I used to have very judgmental opinions about people who traveled in the time of COVID. I wondered what was so important that people needed to fly. Yes there are folks who travel for recreational reasons, which is fine for some and unacceptable for others. In the case of my parents, who have been inside for 8 months with no sign of COVID, they simply want to come back home to see me and my siblings. How could I say no?

Sunsets in San Francisco

It was the hottest day in the summer in the City. For a city usually engulfed in fog, it was rare to see the clear sky, bright sun and experience the heat. At 2:00 PM it reached a rare 89 degrees, which is golden for South City. The temperature  here is normally cool so anything above 65 degrees is considered summer. Reaching 89 is considered uncomfortable, especially since we don’t have AC. I waited till the evening to take a walk. As I reached the Hillside Road and had a clear view of my neighborhood, I noticed the pastel colors in the sky. The glorious sun was setting and as the city was tucking in for the evening, I couldn’t help but capture this unique moment. I don’t know when we’ll get a clear and warm day like this again, but special balmy days are definitely embraced.  

Good night South San Francisco! 

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Distance Learning

Tonight I poured myself a glass of red wine. It was deep, robust and bold. Kinda how I’ve been feeling all week. I trained over 100 teachers for distance learning this week and introduced four different curriculums, each one having its own nuanced resources and learning platforms. I had to learn it myself and then introduce them to teachers. Like students, teachers have their own way of learning so instructing teachers online, via zoom, was met with challenges. Some couldn’t get online, some had tech glitches, some said I talked too fast, some said I talked too slow. Over all the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Teachers thanked me for sharing and pointing them to resources that they never knew existed. They expressed that they felt more prepared to teach. Some went out of their way and thanked me via email rather than the feedback form. Another teacher was almost in tears. Being able to help teachers has been weighing heavily on my mind; I feared that I didn’t have the knowledge and the experience to assist during distance learning. To my surprise, not only did I realize that I have the capacity to ease some tension and frustration, but teachers realized it too. Cheers!

Three gifts to give a teacher

Next Monday is the first day of school, and like many districts in California, South San Francisco is starting the school year in distance learning. While there are many ways to support teachers during this time, I thought it could be helpful to give gift recommendations that surpass the usual — kleenex, paper, hand sanitizer, pencils. Since teachers will be conducting their classrooms via Zoom or Google Meets, why not gift the teacher with tools to make the distance learning more comfortable and beautiful. Here are my three gifts ideas for teachers who are using zoom.

1) Chair cushion:  teachers will be sitting down on their chairs, why not make it more comfortable by giving them a cushy chair cushion? 

chair cushions

2) Headphones with a microphone –  to keep things more private, teachers can wear headphones and with a microphone; students will also be able to hear the teacher better. 

headset

3) Lamp or ring light – it’s a known fact that lighting makes all the difference for video conferencing. Teachers needs to look their best, especially in the morning when the sun isn’t at its highest. Providing a lamp or ring light can be nice gestures to bring the spotlight back on the teacher. 

computer ring light

I would have never imagined that in 2020 these gift suggestions would make sense. But here we are at the start of a new decade, 6 months in COVID/ sheltering in place, and approaching the first school year with distance learning. Perhaps teachers won’t be able to return to their classroom, but in our own ways, we can help make things easier at home by providing some comfort, sound and light.

Good luck to all the teachers!

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Teaching in 2019

ring light

 

Top 5 literary landmarks in SF

It was day ____ (I’ve lost count) of sheltering in place in San Francisco, but today was also my birthday. To take advantage of the empty streets and zero traffic, my hubby took me to five literary landmarks in SF. Some were revisits, but it was great to visit a few new places. 

Here they are in the order we visited them: 

  1. John Steinbeck’s apartment  ( 1901 Vallejo Street)

 

 

2) Robert Frost Plaza (1 California Street

 

 

3) Jack Kerouac Alley and City Lights Book Store (Grant and Columbus avenue)

 

 

 

4)  Waverly place (China town in SF)

 

 

5) Maya Angelou’s high school  (George Washington High School 600 32nd Ave)

 

 

41 years old

I have a confession to make: I turn 41 in two days, and it’s the first time in a long time I’m not motivated to celebrate. I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting older or if there are more important events in the world to draw attention to. The thought of celebrating while others are fighting for their lives seems insensitive. I do understand that I have the privilege of breathing. That in itself seems like something to celebrate or at least acknowledge. Last year on my 40th birthday, I went to Las Vegas with a group of friends to watch a Janet Jackson concert. A year later, I will be at home with my husband, our 5th month sheltering in place. If I’m lucky, I can blow out candles and exhale.

Here are some pictures from last year…

Beach, please.

Along the foamy shore, I sink my bare feet in the moist land. Clumps of grainy sand stick between my toes. I avoid the earthy broken shells and black and white feathers sprinkled throughout the path. A red plastic bucket with a yellow handle floats in the white and grey water. Seagulls flap their loose wings but dip with wings as straight as the cross in the choppy ocean. My ear is pressed against the opening of a conch shell, a thunderstorm brewing inside.

 

Jump roping in the living room!

Since sheltering in place, my husband and I have used the rooms and furniture in our house to serve multiple purposes. We learned that since we are staying home more and more, we’d have to make adjustments to how we live. Now, rather than fighting the sheltering in place and sulking, which we did for a few weeks, we realized that life couldn’t stop just because we can’t go outside.
One of the ways we have adjusted is utilizing our dining room table. For the first few months of sheltering in place it was no longer where we ate our meals, but it was used as our puzzle table and my sewing station. But now, for five days out of the week, my husband uses it to set up his dj equipment for his daily live stream. He hops on Twitch or Instagram and hosts a thirty minute mix to an average of 20- 40 viewers, Monday- Friday, with an occasional live stream over the weekend. Part of the table is reserved for his laptop, mic stand and speaker, which we still eat next to. At our feet, under our table, and on top of our area rug is where he stores his controller, cables and plugs that I’m careful not to kick or step on while eating our meals.
My office also serves multiple purposes. I have a meditation pillow, my sewing desk and now my stand up desk that I use for work. This room was once my writing room, but now that I’ve been working from home, it’s difficult for me to separate work like from my personal life. I can’t seem to write at my desk because now it’s where I have a set up for zoom calls and my work laptop where I am constantly preparing documents for work. Now, I’m learning to enjoy writing my stories and blogs in other places in the house like on the couch, in bed and at the dining table.
We have also found ways to work out at home. Behind our couch is a treadmill that I use a couple times a week. I still enjoy jogging outdoors, but when sheltering began in March and facts were still unknown about COVID, my husband and I found ways to work out in doors. I did workouts via zoom in the bedroom and a few times my husband used the living room to jump rope! Thankfully we have very patient neighbors below us, so we haven’t had a complaint.
Carrying on with our hobbies and finding ways to still do them indoors hasn’t been easy. Our house is cluttered, space is limited and it feels like my husband and I are living on top of each other. And even though we clean our house regularly, no matter how much we sweep and vacuum it doesn’t take away the agglomeration and clutter of DJ equipment, jump ropes, exercise equipment, books that occupy our space. Yet there’s something very comforting and satisfying knowing that in a two bedroom condo, within 800 square feet, between two people with unique personalities, there’s a dedicated place, within steps of each other to sew, to jump rope, to play music, to meditate, to read, to write, to eat, and to sleep. We’ve definitely adapted and will continue to do so, but sometimes when I walk from room to room, it’s hard to imagine ever needing a reason to leave.

Follow my hubby’s jump rope journey here: Mel Got Jumped https://www.instagram.com/mel_got_jumped/

Follow his deejay account here: DJ Mel SF https://www.twitch.tv/djmelsf

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My hubby jumping in our living room

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My former writing desk that I now use for work

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Our dining table that my husband uses to DJ his live streams

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the treadmill and jump ropes we use to work out

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my sewing table in my office

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our home that serves multiple purposes

I Failed in Being a Couch Potato

For the entire day, I had one goal: watch movies. It was an intentional decision, and one that I’m proud to say I didn’t fully commit to. It’s now 8:00 pm, and I’m going into my third movie, which isn’t a lot for one day.

I wanted to take the day off because I’m going back to work soon, so I’m not sure if I’ll have another day where I can afford hours wasted away. Sure there’s a lot I could be doing like jogging, sewing my apron, reading my book, listening to a podcast, but I wanted a day to dedicate towards watching the movies I have been meaning to watch. 

After dinner, I hadn’t planned on it, but I got on the treadmill and speed walked for 15 minutes, then I got on the computer and I decided to write a blog. As much as I wanted to solely focus on watching movies today, my intuition was telling me I at least had to walk a few minutes and write a few lines. After the jog, I needed fresh air, so I relaxed for a few minutes on our porch. As I sat out and enjoyed the setting sun, I caught a rare sight: a hummingbird flew in front of the property tree. I recognized the bird by its long beak and wings. Had I not made the decision to jog, I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get a glimpse of this beautiful bird. Although I didn’t get to watch as many movies I would have liked,  I at least saw mother nature, even for a moment, in real life.

 

flying hummingbird

Photo by Cristina Andrea Alvarez Cruz on Pexels.com

My obsession with teeth

For some it’s the eyes. For others it’s the ass. For me –it’s teeth. This is the first thing I notice when I meet someone. I consider the following: are the teeth strong and round or sharp and jagged? Is it obvious that this person is a smoker, flosser, caffeine drinker? Do they whiten their teeth, wear braces, have a retainer? Are the gums strong? Do they have a full set of teeth? Do they have baby teeth, molars, veneers or any silver fillings? How often might this person floss, gargle, or brush their teeth? I know these questions risk the chance of me sounding pretentious and the reader being dismayed by my judgmental cavalierness. But full disclosure: I care very little about what the teeth actually look like. I care more about if the person takes the time to properly care for their teeth.
My obsession with teeth started at a young age and my visits to the dentist.
As a child and adult, I visited the dentist regularly. I went to the dentist every 6 months for my routine cleaning and check up. As a child, after the cleaning, I looked forward to receiving a sticker. As an adult, I look forward to the confirmation that I have no cavities. In my own simple way, getting encouraging news from the dentist is one of the rare places where I can look forward to getting good news about my health. My teeth — my oral hygiene — has always been something that I’m proud of. It’s the one thing about my condition about my body I can control. The other parts of my health I have less control.
For example, when I visit the optometrist, I’m told my vision gets worse every year. It doesn’t matter if I wear my daily contacts or glasses; at every yearly check up, I’ m given a stronger prescription to correct my vision. At my doctor visits, according to the BMI chart, I’m considered obese. I’ve gained weight, despite my running, practicing yoga, and eating a more plant based diet. At one point, I was even considered pre-diabetic. Then there’s the ringing in my ears, the popping in my left knee and the bloating around my waste line. As I’ve gotten older, my body is rapidly responding to my aging, and the disappointing part of this acceptance is that for the most part, most of these ailments are out in my control. Which is why, at the very least, I celebrate my teeth. I take pride in my routine: using a soft bristle brush, opening my mouth halfway to reach the back of my molars, brushing, twice a day, for at least two minutes, flossing with a thick dental floss, and applying a dime size amount of Sensodyne toothpaste. Occasionally, if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll use at home teeth whitening kit. But I’m protective over my enamel, so this is a rare experience for me.

Now that the world is responding to COVID and viral transfers are still widely unknown, I’m unsure when I’ll see my dentist. I’m about four months over due from my routine check up, and my doctor has no plans of opening up his office anytime soon. I’m thankful that my dentist is putting the public’s health as a priority. And I know that seeing the dentist is not a pressing matter considered the deep unrest the world is experiencing at this moment. My desire to have a cleaning pales in comparison to those whose are fighting their lives.

Not visiting the dentist is just one of the things I have to adjust to in new COVID terrain. And in hindsight, I should care less about how people care for their teeth. In these current times, with people wearing mask and practicing physical distancing, teeth should be the least of people’s health concern. But like I said, my teeth is my signifying measure that I have done something right in terms of my health. There’s a large chance that I may not get the opportunity for my dentist to affirm this. But I can be comforted in knowing that the small decisions I make everyday to preserve my long standing healthy teeth are taken seriously by me, even in vain.

Here are some of my favorite teeth pictures from the last 8 months…

My writing process during sheltering in place

Tonight I attended a virtual reading with Lysley Tenorio which was moderated by Mia Alvar. I am a huge fan of the both of them as they both write stories with a Filipino American lens. At the end of the reading they allowed the audience to type in questions in the chat.

In blue, my question is below:

 


His response wasn’t something I expected. He basically said that despite having won literary awards, given fellowships and having a secure job, this didn’t allow him to write as much as he wanted. He confessed that he didn’t write for years.  His stories and characters, for the most part, lived in his heart and head and he thought about them all the time, yet he still didn’t write, especially after his mom died. He mentioned that sometimes life gets in the way, not necessarily forcing you to stop writing but because sometimes writing involves a process, not a practice.

His honesty spoke to me. I assumed an accomplished writer like him, with two books under his belt, wrote all the time. I imagined the stereotypical  image of a writer hard at work at an oak desk with a soft lamp and a sturdy underwood typewriter with classical music playing in the back ground. I envisioned Tenorio typing away, taking occasional breaks only to stretch or crack his neck or take sips from his cup of whiskey. The words naturally flowed from his brain to his fingertips as he punched each typewriter key with vigor and fervor. Instead, the truth is probably similar to the process I currently have.

I, too, go for days, weeks, months, even (at one point) one year without writing. Yet when I do, often times, like now- it’s usually away from a desk or without a typewriter or alcohol. Instead, I’m at the kitchen counter, sitting on a swivel chair with my feet up, glaring at my Macbook Air with cookie crumbs nestled between the  greasy keys of my keyboard while I take sips out of 7.5 fl oz can of diet 7 Up. There’s no soft music or light; just the fluorescent light over me and the silence behind me. One aspect of this situation that resonates a smudge of the truth of the glamorous version I envisioned is that at least I’m writing– maybe not in the most ideal environment or practice, but at least, I suspect like Tenorio, the words are easily flowing from my mind and onto the virtual page. 

 

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Here is sceenshot of me with my two favorite authors: Lysley Tenorio and Mia Alvar.

 

I love a coconut

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This isn’t a picture from yesterday, but I love this picture because we were coming back from the beach.

For a week, I have been looking forward to visiting my sister, brother-in- law and niece. We settled on the idea of making do-it-yourself pizzas. I went to Sprouts and spent about $100 on ingredients including two types of dough, three vegan cheeses, and a gourmet mozzarella ball. We had premier wine and watched a thriller starring Nia Long.

The best  part of the day though?

When I cradled my niece on my lap and calmed her back to her nap. Her curly hair feathered my cheek, and for a moment, she smelled like a ripe coconut. 

Being productive with plants and aprons

I have been operating  at 70% for the last 3 ½ months. My processing time and ability to finish tasks have been slower than normal. I abandoned a 1,000- piece puzzle when it was 80% complete. I have been sewing the same apron for the past few months. I started reading books only to abandon them 30 pages in. I can’t remember a time when I’ve been this uncommitted. 

But in a course of two days, I did the following: 

  • Wrote a 5 page APA style research paper for my online class
  • Listened to the my school board’s five hour presentation and motion for distance/ hybrid learning and police at school
  • Ran 2.5 miles
  • Wrote and posted two blog entries
  • Sewed two straps on my apron 
  • Sat on my tiny porch and enjoy my newly potted plants
  • Made a call to the DMV
  • Went grocery shopping to make pizzas with my niece tomorrow
  • Jump roped with my husband
  • Helped select music for my husband’s dj mix live set
  • Wrote an email to my landlord to negotiate our rent
  • Told a former student that I’m proud of her for getting a new job (she’s still eating the chocolate I sent her)
  • Watched a documentary on being vegan 
  • One hour phone call with a colleague 

This is not a list that has any one profound accomplishment. It’s a list that demonstrates that although I am still sewing my, what seems like, never ending apron project, or I haven’t opened my book in two days or replaced puzzles with plants, I can still be proud of the activities my body can do, the conversations I have taken the time to prioritize and remind myself that talking and caring for plants can be just as mentally challenging and rewarding as completing a puzzle.