Pinch Me. I Must Be Dreaming.

Pinch me. I must be dreaming. I’m seeing too many things that make so little sense they don’t seem real. A dream state could explain this and ease the distress I feel from being surrounded by cognitive dissonance.

But I know I’m awake. I know the contradictions that have dominated pandemic news will continue to be paraded before me in my newsfeed, on TV, and on Twitter. If I’m going to stay abreast of current news, I have to tolerate what feels delusional.

I believe thriving and making good health decisions require staying abreast of current research, virus spread, government policies, and community activity. Doing so demands tolerance, fortitude, humor, and the ability to shift as things change. It isn’t easy, but to me, it’s worth it.

If you feel a need to stay informed, but worry that you’re not up to the task here are some tips to keep you feeling balanced:

Adopt a learning perspective.
When someone else’s point-of-view annoys you or sends you down a dark path, get curious. What motivates that person? What do they gain from taking a particular position? Are their values aligned with yours? If not, what values do you see demonstrated in their actions? Are they just taking a different path to reach the same conclusion you reach?

Sometimes things that look opposite on the surface are not. Further investigation can be revealing. Beginning with curiosity rather than assumptions or knee-jerk reactions can enrich your understanding.

Not to be forgotten, knowledge is power. While it may be a cliché, it’s also a good reminder that learning will give you more leverage than simply reacting.

Reject attempts from others to define your priorities.
You can set your own priorities and stick with them. These may go against the grain. That’s okay. In retrospect, conventional wisdom is often wrong. You may just be ahead of your time.

Feel free to hear a message while rejecting shame.
None of us are perfect. We make mistakes that can’t be taken back. Sometimes we see our errors reflected in the mistakes of others. Sometimes we need the opportunity to view our errors so we can correct them.

Once we recognize our mistakes, express remorse, learn and do better, there’s simply no reason to feel ashamed or punish ourselves. Period. It does not matter how other people respond.

If I would grant someone else grace and forgiveness for the same offense. I can forgive myself.

Have confidence in your perceptions.
You don’t have to believe incorrect information. Just because something is often repeated doesn’t make it true. Trusting your perceptions will allow you to keep an open mind and see past deception.

When you live or work in a dysfunctional system, there can be immense pressure to conform to distorted ways of viewing things. You may believe you’re alone in seeing things differently. Even if you are, that doesn’t make you wrong. Reread The Emperor’s New Clothes.

Choose your battles or choose no battles.
You don’t have to fight. Some of my friends and family are now ignoring the news because they feel they have to fight every single piece of misinformation and that looms so large they give up before they get started. You can stay informed without fighting. It’s a choice.

Contribute.
Doing something of value is centering. It doesn’t have to be large to be significant. Sew masks. Send encouraging texts. Mow an elderly neighbor’s lawn. Organize a driving celebration. Call a friend who lives alone. Create an online social experience. Raise money. Design and assemble goody bags for your neighbors.

You can create an experience each day that puts you in the position to be at your best and show it off. The result will boost your spirits and resilience.

Allow yourself to be strong.
If you always avoid the difficult, you’ll never know how strong you are. You may need that strength to get you through an unavoidable illness or natural disaster down the road. Most of us have internal resources we have not tapped. Now is a good time to get familiar with them.

Of course, you can use all of these tips and still feel crazy right now. Rest assured, there are other people who see things like you do. You haven’t lost your mind. Things are swiftly changing and uncertain. It’s unsettling.

I often feel like I’m living in two realities at the same time. I don’t enjoy that, but I know I’m okay and I will be okay. It’s the circumstances in which I find myself that have changed. And boy, have they changed! Pinch me. I must be dreaming!

https://time.com/5851849/coronavirus-science-advice/

How Does Your Garden Grow?

How does your garden grow? My dad loved to alter the nursery rhyme “Mary, Mary, quite contrary…. “ I’m sure you remember it:
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Dad’s version began “Cheri, Cheri, quite contrary.” Hearing him say that phrase is ingrained in my mind. That doesn’t mean I’ve spent a lot of time gardening, but it may or may not mean I’ve spent a lot of time being contrary. This year that is shifting. Herbs on the back porch are not enough. I just dug up brand new sod to plant a vegetable garden.

arugula
Arugula from my garden.

In early March, I sat on my neighbor’s porch drinking rosé and describing new landscaping plans for my back yard. Two weeks later, we’d been ordered to stay home and I quickly realized many links in the food chain are weak. What if they break? I grew up on a farm helping my grandmother dig potatoes and my great aunts shell peas. My next thought was, I need to plant a garden and get some chickens.

I immediately ordered an electric hand tiller, hoe, shovel, some rabbit wire, fence poles, and a variety of seeds. Panic buying had just begun and already seeds were scarce. If I had done my normal amount of planning, everything would have been gone. I stuck to basics defined by availability and kept the garden to dimensions that would fit within one roll of rabbit wire.

garden_prep

By the time everything arrived and I had the soil prepped, it was early May. Farmers’ markets were opening with vegetables ready to sell. I hadn’t started the seeds in pots. I hadn’t yet planted anything. It felt like I was months behind. I just kept telling myself it would be okay. We have a long growing season in the South. The timing will be fine.

A month later, I have beautiful arugula ready to eat! In a couple of days I’ll begin harvesting lettuce. And soon I’ll have cherry tomatoes, summer squash, and zucchini to add to my salad. Eventually, there will be carrots and green beans to harvest. Some days, I wish I’d planted more. Some days my back is tired from weeding and I’m glad I kept it small.

When I lived in an apartment, I could not have done this. When I had a yard filled with sweet gum trees, it would have taken too long and been too expensive to get started. But even with those obstacles, I managed to get my hands dirty growing herbs and peppers. There’s something healing about the smell and feel of fresh soil. I only wear gloves if fences or stickers are involved. Otherwise, I prefer my bare hands in the soil.

fenced garden

Thirty years ago, I grew my first herbs in small clay pots placed in a little red wagon my kids had outgrown. I would move the wagon around as needed to get optimum sun. I loved watching them grow. I loved the smells. I loved having them available for cooking. And they gave me an opportunity to play in the dirt. I’ve had herbs on my back porch most summers ever since.

How does YOUR garden grow?

It’s not too late to plant some herbs in pots if you’d like to give it a try. If you’re staying home during the pandemic, you can order seed starting kits online and have clay pots and potting soil delivered along with a Walmart grocery order…maybe. Shortages and delays in shipping still exist so a starter kit will let you get seedlings started while you locate and obtain the supplies you need to transplant them into pots.

I like to start seeds outdoors so that I don’t have to transition them to outdoor temperatures and light later. My plants start out accustomed to heat and humidity. If you want to grow your herbs indoors, it will be more appropriate to start indoors. Or if you plant when it’s cold outside, you can slowly transition the starter pots with increasing amounts of heat and light before you begin to transplant.

Most years, I plant basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and mint. Sometimes I add oregano, dill, parsley, cilantro, or chives to the mix. This year, the selection is a bit different due to availability. A starter kit may not allow you flexibility to substitute, but a variety of kits are available to mix and match. All of the herbs listed above will thrive in a pot as will tarragon, lavender, and lemon balm.

herbs

What you’ll need for seeds or plants

While I’m selecting plants, I purchase some potting soil. Miracle-Gro® offers a whole line of soils for containers. If you’re not confident you’ll water consistently, choose a mix that helps control moisture.

Specialty soils are pricey. If budget is a concern, there are other options. Last year, I chose a sandy inexpensive soil in 40 lb bags from the hardware store. The bags ran about $4 each. I used it for all of my plants including a large rubber tree, ivy, and a couple of pineapples. It’s hard to judge whether the cheaper soil affected growth rate, but everything was alive and well through the fall and early winter.

Of course you need something to put that soil in. I get the best results from clay pots with a drain hole in the bottom, but I use whatever I have handy. Herbs grow quickly so it’s okay to transplant seedlings directly into a fairly large planter.

To plant, I place a few small rocks in the bottom of each container to keep soil from blocking the drain. I partially fill a pot with potting soil, set the herbs in the pot then finish filling the container with soil pressing lightly around the seedlings to secure them.

For the next few days, I water diligently. Then I go to a somewhat haphazard watering schedule keeping an eye out for drooping or yellow leaves to let me know if I’m on track. When the leaves droop, I water. If the leaves turn yellow, I stop watering for a few days. You can also test the soil with your finger to determine whether it’s dry or moist.

Where to grow

My back porch leads directly into my kitchen so it’s a great place for pots of herbs. Much of it gets direct afternoon sun, but there are partially shaded spots where I put plants that can’t tolerate direct sun.

When you purchase seeds, the package will tell you the ideal conditions for your plant. If you purchase plants, they typically have an insert in the pot telling you how much sun and water are best for that particular species. If either of these is missing such information, it is readily available online.

A sunny spot doesn’t have to be outside. It could be in front of a window or patio door. You’ll just want to avoid placing pots too near heat and air vents. To protect your floor, counter, or furniture use a saucer underneath to catch draining water. Inside herbs add a wonderful aroma to any room.

If you don’t have space near a window, look for a nook or cranny in which you can place a grow light. Non-functioning fireplaces make a fantastic growing space. The built-in china cabinets sometimes found in old houses can be adapted as well. Your eyes and imagination will most likely lead to the perfect spot.

There’s no denying this is a stressful time. Connecting to the earth and watching the wonder of natural growth lifts my spirits. Smelling appetizing aromas pleases my senses. Whether a garden grows in the ground in the back yard or pots on the porch, cultivating and maintaining it is a healthy and welcome pastime.

I am happy with how my garden grows. I still haven’t bought any chickens.

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/herb-garden/5068.html

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/gardening-under-lights/5080.html

https://www.hgtv.com/outdoors/gardens/garden-styles-and-types/types-of-grow-lights-for-indoor-plants

https://geturbanleaf.com/shop/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Small Thing is a Big Thing

A small thing is a big thing. I heard that on TV this morning. It might have sounded a little like crazy talk two months ago. Not so much these days when scoring toilet paper results in celebratory texts.

But really, when you think about it, a small thing is often a big thing. The things that seem too small to acknowledge when life is normal and routine often loom large in retrospect or when viewed through a different lens. A small thing can change everything.

spark

I grew up on a farm with no television set and no nearby neighbors. During summers when I wasn’t outside, I read. For several years, a bookmobile brought books to a highway a couple of miles away. Once that service stopped, my mother would drive me into town on Saturday morning and drop me off at the library to choose books for a week while she went to the grocery store.

One summer I read two books that still stick with me. One was “The Story of Emily Dickinson: I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” by Edna Barth; the other was “The Doctor Who Saved Babies: Ignaz Semmelweis” by Josephine Rich.

Most English classes introduce Emily Dickinson at some point so you’ve probably read at least one of her poems. It’s less likely that you know the name Ignaz Semmelweis, but you are familiar with the results of his work. Around 1846, this Hungarian doctor developed a cleanliness protocol that helped prevent women and children from contracting puerperal fever during and after childbirth. At the time, this infection killed up to a third of those giving birth in hospitals.

Lacking today’s specialization, the same doctor would perform an autopsy and then care for patients. After careful observation and elimination of other possibilities, Dr. Semmelweis hypothesized that doctors were spreading the infection from cadavers to mothers and babies. He further speculated that cleaning the hands in between could prevent this spread of infection. He developed a procedure for coating the hands with a chlorine solution.

The result was a drastic reduction in infection and death in the maternity wards where the procedure was followed. Unfortunately, other doctors resented the implication that they were making patients sick. They opposed implementing the procedure and eventually fired Semmelweis.

While this whole story was fascinating, the reason the book stuck with me was that in the end, Dr. Semmelweis once failed to follow his own protocol and died from the infection he tried so hard to prevent. Whether that detail is documented or fictionalized doesn’t really matter to me. The irony drove home the point that strict adherence to protocol no matter how small is a big thing when it comes to disease transmission.

Reading this book was also a small thing, but it has had a lifetime effect on my behavior. While I don’t view myself as fanatic, I am a conscientious hand washer. I’m also vigilant about handling food in the kitchen to avoid contaminating surfaces and other food with pathogens or allergens. I consistently wash all fruits and vegetables prior to preparing or eating them.

I carry with me a certain wary awareness of my environment. I think about the fact that hundreds of people have touched the tube at the bank drive-through. I wash my hands with soap and water after changing my grandchildren’s diapers. I’m not comfortable just using a diaper wipe. I’ve always turned gloves inside out to remove them. I credit Dr. Semmelweis’ story with cementing this awareness. It is clear to me that one small thing can truly have a long lasting effect.

It can also save lives. Hand washing statistics in the US healthcare system show compliance hovers around 50%. This contributes to the two million hospital contracted infections per year in a normal year. This year, hand hygiene is even more critical.

Listening to media I’m getting a message that many of us are still feeling helpless in the face of this pandemic. We can’t wave a wand and make life go backward, that is true. But that doesn’t mean we have no choices. Perhaps it will help to keep in mind that small things can be big things.

An extra hour of sleep may be all you need to feel more robust. A drive at sunset can remind you that the earth still brings beauty. A bouquet of flowers from your yard can brighten the family dinner table. A word of encouragement can make all the difference to someone who is struggling and feeling unseen and unheard. A $5 donation can provide 5 meals from a food bank. Washing hands, brushing teeth, wearing a mask, and carefully handling food make a significant contribution to good health.

Most of us can do a small thing each day to take care of ourselves, our families, or our community. Those things count. A small spark can ignite a large fire. A small thing can be a big thing!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1277509.I_m_Nobody_Who_Are_You_The_Story_Of_Emily_Dickinson

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19332864

https://ihpi.umich.edu/news/hand-washing-stops-infections-so-why-do-health-care-workers-skip-it

https://www.mdlinx.com/article/more-than-half-of-doctors-make-this-simple-dangerous-mistake/lfc-4171

Stay Calm and Carry On

This is an opportune time for embracing the upside of the downside, but first we have to stay calm and carry on. In this, another unprecedented week, it’s hard to know what content is appropriate. When I check my inbox, I hope for normalcy. But every email that promotes a product or service unrelated to the new coronavirus-limited life seems tone deaf. TV commercials are the same way. Party scenes in new episodes of TV shows feel odd.

Some people want information to feel calm. For others, information feels stressful. We are getting a large dose of reality every day. Our systems have many holes. In some areas, they are truly broken. And suddenly those breaks can’t be hidden. That feels frightening.

connect

And there are very personal fears. One of my friends without a large bank account cannot work right now and is not near his family. He worries that his money won’t last until the relief packages are worked out. Another of my friends’ mothers is in a nursing home that has 13 cases of COVID-19. She fears she may have seen her for the last time a week ago when they closed to visitors. My family is facing both the fear of exposure from diagnostic procedures and the possibility of open-heart surgery for my 2-year-old granddaughter before the virus is under control. It doesn’t help knowing that the first positive case of COVID-19 in our state was in a healthcare worker who worked at the only hospital equipped to do the surgery.

I’m pretty good in a crisis, but I hit my limit of calm one night this week when a tornado flattened several houses near my hometown. While I was on the phone with a friend there, three rounds of gunfire rang out just outside my window. I suddenly felt afraid.

In the days since, I realize how easy it can be for fear to turn into panic. Intellectually, it’s easy to see that this is a great opportunity to learn and improve! We just have to treat it that way. But our emotions may get in the way until we find a way to stay calm and carry on.

We all have to find a path to calm that works for us. If you’re not sure how to do that, here are some tips that may help:

Follow a routine
Create a regular home routine if you do not have one. Get up and go to bed at a relatively consistent time each day. Create blocks of time for productivity, mindless entertainment, and physical activity. Experiment with the flow until it feels right then stick with it. If your timeline needs to be rigid, make it rigid. If you work well within loose guidelines, keep things loose.

Function
Put one foot in front of the other. You don’t have to feel like it. Just start doing something. Cook. Do the dishes. Mop the floor. Organize the toys. Clean out your closet. Go for a walk (if allowed), work out, do yoga. Do your nails. Draw. Paint. Write. Repot the plants. Rearrange the furniture. Mow the lawn.

Performing normal everyday activities will make your life feel less upended.

Do something comforting
Take a long bath. Drink hot tea. Break out the weighted blanket and watch a lighthearted movie. Watch a comedy routine. Read. Meditate. Pray. Dance. Play or listen to music. Listen to a podcast. Watch sports reruns. Knit. Crochet. Sew. Play with your kids.

Rinse, repeat! Many of us are so focused on productivity that we feel like we’re wasting time when we comfort ourselves. It’s okay to spend time and energy producing comfort and calm.

Be present
This is a wonderful time to stay in the moment. Instead of thinking about what may happen, notice your current surroundings.

That’s easy to say, but We’ve all seen a distressed person pacing because they just can’t be still. Sometimes you have to calm the energy in your body before you can calm your mind.

Doing something that requires strength can help you focus. Planks, pushups, squats, weight lifting (if you don’t have weights at home, grab a cast iron skillet), and stair walking can help dispel nervous energy. Hoeing in the garden or working in the yard is a great way to channel energy, get fresh air, and enjoy the smell of the earth and the sounds of birds singing.

If you can do nothing else, plant your feet firmly on the floor and breathe! Look around the room. Count all of the red objects, all of the yellow objects, everything shaped like a square, everything that’s round, etc.

I’ve sung the praises of yoga for years, but now is a great time to get out that mat you bought and never used (yes, it’s possible without a mat). There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of yoga videos available free online. You do not have to be flexible or strong to begin. And at home no one is going to judge you.

You can combine yoga and weight lifting as well. That’s how I started. I used a short yoga-with-weights practice I found in a magazine.

Learn a dance routine. This requires a combination of mental focus and physical activity, plus there’s music! That’s a great combo to keep you in the moment! There are tutorials online or you can break down your favorite artist’s video on your own.

Connect
You may find it’s easier to connect in a real way right now. I’ve used phone calls rather than texts more often this week. It was easy to feel the impact of some of those calls.

Different social media outlets can have very different effects. Choose those that most often make you feel positive and post away. Use video call apps. Talk to your neighbors from your own porch, yard, or balcony.

If you feel afraid, it’s okay to say so. In fact, just saying it out loud to a trusted friend or family member will make you feel better. Unstated fears can easily spiral. Voicing them takes away much of their power. On the other hand, I’m not sure a social media video filled with fear is helpful.

It’s a good time to share some love! I sent a few emails this week to some outstanding doctors and nurses I know telling them how much I appreciate their courage and dedication. Perhaps I should do this when there’s not a crisis, but I never think about it. That’s a lesson I can learn.

This time will present many opportunities for evaluation and improvement, but for now it’s sufficient to stay calm and carry on.

Editor’s note: Since I began writing this post, my friend’s mom received a second negative test for Covid-19. I find it somewhat comforting that in a highly contagious environment, she has not been infected.

https://yogainternational.com/article/view/the-perks-of-practicing-without-a-mat