Frustrated on the Fourth

Something feels different this July 4th holiday weekend.

Is it because I don’t feel comfortable going to a crowded pool on the busiest day of the season for fear of being exposed to the coronavirus?

Is it because I am so disappointed in our current leaders who have ignored the science and facts that are the foundation of what makes this country so great?

Is it because I am starting to see the true colors of some people who continue to support this racist president? People who can’t understand why it IS NOT okay to say “all lives matter” until everyone is given a level playing field, treated equally and afforded the same opportunities to succeed?

Is it because I know there are still children in cages at the border, women still fighting for the right to choose, and the LGBTQ community who have to overcome incredible obstacles for the pursuit of happiness?

Yes. Yes to all of the above.

But, I still have hope that we Americans will remember who we are and where we come from. I hope we can open our minds and hearts and step aside to give others a chance to contribute to this beautiful melting pot. I hope the next time I recite the Pledge of Allegiance, we will have come together as reasonable people and exchange ideas (even conflicting ones) to make “justice for all” a reality.

Yes, there are wonderful things to celebrate about this country. And I’ll have a beer and a burger and spend time with family and a few close friends today to celebrate our independence. I will also hope that the future is bright for all its citizens and those who want to be citizens someday.

History has its eyes on us.

Pandemic Parenting

If there was ever a time that we needed a parenting manual, 2020 would be the year. I mean – throw out all of the past advice about limiting screen time. We are in survival mode, people! If my daughter wants to binge-watch Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix, and my son is playing more hours of Minecraft than I typically allow that’s fine with me. It keeps them indoors, right?

I’m fortunate that my kids are teenagers – one in high school and one in college. They know how to make their own breakfast and keep themselves occupied. Homeschooling was us saying – “Did you turn in that English essay?”

My husband wanted me to wake up Jenna for her statistics class because the professor sadistically changed it from a 7 pm to an 8 am time slot. Because she is not a morning person, I woke her up for the first few days, but then I left her on her own. I got tired of her yelling at me.

I also remembered that she is in college and knows when to get up for class. I was much happier being her personal barista instead.

For eight glorious weeks, we were together 24/7. We enjoyed sit-down family dinners. We cleaned out multiple closets. We met new neighbors and reconnected with old friends. We had a Passover seder and a virtual family reunion over Zoom. We spent quality time doing jigsaw puzzles and playing the not-so-wholesome  Cards Against Humanity. We grew stronger as a family.

And now, four months into this pandemic and things are starting to open up even though COVID-19 cases have not subsided. The kids are restless and want to see their friends. I can’t blame them. I mean – we are cool parents and fun to hang out with, but even they have had enough of us. Andrew is craving his freedom in the form of a new driver’s license burning a hole in his pocket. Jenna is babysitting and Door Dashing. Luckily, they both have a close-knit group of people they always hang out with – outside and hopefully at a reasonable distance.

Deep down inside, I just want to keep them locked up in my bubble. But, I’m letting go of the reins which can be so hard. My first decision was to let Jenna go down the shore. But before she left, I made sure she was fully equipped with hand sanitizer, a face mask and my newly-minted, real-world pandemic safety review. (And yes, there was a quiz at the end.)

They are 19 and 16 years old. They watch the news. They know what is going on in the world. I’ve raised them to be responsible young adults.

What else can I do? He gave up his water polo season. She came home from spring break and never went back to campus. They have been through a lot. All I can do now is say a little prayer about their health and safety – and do a temperature check before they walk back into the house.

200th Blog Post – A Gift Guide

What do you do when your friendly, neighborhood writer publishes her 200th blog post?

Do a little dance… Make a little love… Get down tonight!

Moving on…

I know it’s hard to figure out what to get me on such a momentous occasion. But, what is the appropriate gesture? This is a toughie. Birthdays – even milestone birthdays – require selecting a gift based on age and interests. Brides and grooms and babies make it easy because they have registries. Wedding anniversaries have a specific and helpful chart for what to buy each year you are together. Lucky for you, I have put together this gift guide for your convenience. You are welcome. 

In the $0-$10 category, recommendations of your favorite books or podcasts you think I might enjoy is always a wonderful idea. Whether you have been a long-time reader of my blog or are just checking me out for the first time, I’ll bet you know something I’d like that feeds my creative process. Feel free to leave your best picks in the comments box at the end of this post.

Can’t think of anything? Don’t worry. A box of my favorite writing instruments  – the Pentel R.S.V.P. Ballpoint Pens, Medium point in assorted colors would make me very happy. You can never have enough good pens. But Lord knows, I have plenty of promotional click pens lying around that may or may not work anymore.

In the $15-$50 category, a gift card to a local independent bookstore is always a big win. I love supporting these establishments and with the pandemic, they need all of the support they can get. If you don’t like to give gift cards, there are always some cute book-related, writer-themed coffee mugs, bookmarks or comfy socks that I know I’d enjoy.

In the $150 – $500 category, I could really use a writing desk. My work set up is not ideal for writing. My laptop is perched on an ergonomic portable shelf which is sitting on the countertop of my kitchen peninsula. Staring at the dishes in the sink only makes me feel guilty for not doing them and therefore they are not conducive to the writing experience I wish to have.

Also, if there is any money left over, you can put it towards writing workshops and yearly conferences I plan to attend in the near future. Just ask me for my list.

And at the “money is no object” or “I married you and want you to have everything you want” level of giving, I’d like a she-shed or a dedicated writer’s room. One of these days, I will transform a bedroom into my own writing haven. It will include a lovely sofa for reading and pondering my next post. I’ll stock my new writing desk with Moleskine journals and boxes of Pentel R.S.V.P. medium point pens in assorted colors. The sky-high bookshelves will be filled with novels from my favorite authors as well as some good dictionaries, a thesaurus and, of course, the latest version of the AP stylebook. There should also be a coffee nook in the corner and a place for inspiring quotes and artwork as well as a scented candle and a fresh bouquet of flowers.

Too much?

Ok, fine. You got me. Deep down, I know a gift isn’t expected or necessary. In all honesty, what I really want from you on this milestone occasion is to continue reading, commenting and encouraging me however you can. I can’t tell you how much it means to have someone tell me they liked what I’ve written or that it made them think about things a little differently than before. Writers are a funny breed of creatives. We need reassurance that what we are putting out into the world is relevant and from a voice that should be heard. That’s really all I could ever ask for.

But, the pens would be nice too.

 

Essential Work

My first professional writing gig was as a weekend obit writer for the Daily Local News in West Chester, PA. As far as the newspaper hierarchy goes, this job is the bottom of the totem pole. And because of that, you may think the obituaries are not as important as the big story. But, I still felt my work was essential because I knew many readers often turn to that section first to see if they knew anyone listed there. If I close my eyes, I can picture my eager-to-please, 20-something self sitting in the back of that old newsroom by the phone and fax machine waiting for death notices to come through.

Sounds morbid, right? That’s because it was. One car accident or house fire could make for a busy and exhausting day. The good days were when no one died, or when I wrote about a 90-year old nursing home resident who went peacefully in her sleep.

I learned a few things about people skills and professionalism during my short tenure. I was rather chummy with the local funeral directors who made my job a lot easier by confirming the spelling of the name of the deceased, the memorial service information or getting the approval of the obit from the family.

And then, there were times when I had to call the family myself.

Hi, this is Elisa from the Daily Local. I’m so sorry for your loss. I know this is a difficult time for you and your family, but I have an 8 pm deadline and I need your approval to run the obituary. Also, do you have a photo to go with it? If so, here is how you can send that over to me, and I’d be happy to include it with the article.” 

What a weird job.

During this pandemic, I think about the person now sitting at my old desk. Sadly, he or she must be quite busy these days and maybe they leave the office exhausted. People of all ages and stages of life are dying every day – not by accident or fire – but by plague. I wonder if the paper brought in some additional writing help. Although to be honest, the writing is not that hard. One would think capturing the life of another person would take time and a considerable amount of effort. Admittedly, I don’t know how obits are written today, but back then it was an incredibly structured boilerplate of 150 words or less. The only exception was when an elected official or local celebrity passed away which often justified a higher word count.

In most cases, the obituary went something like this.

Mr. Jones, a beloved local high school teacher, died at age 90 of cancer. Born in West Chester, he lived in Phoenixville his entire life. He taught 10th-grade algebra for 25 years before retiring in 1991. He was a Vietnam War vet, a Boy Scout leader for Pack 573 and a church elder at West Chester Presbyterian. He loved to go fishing, play golf and spend quality time with his four grandchildren. Mr. Jones leaves behind his wife of 45 years, Emily, their son Frank and daughter Cheryl, his brother Mike Jones of Exton, and four grandchildren. Funeral services will be held on April 10th at 9 am (enter name of funeral home and address). Interment will be held at (enter name of the cemetery). A reception will take place at (restaurant name). In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the American Cancer Society. 

It always struck me how their lives could never be fully captured in a few words. But recently, The New York Times found a way to honor those who died of COVID-19 on their front page. Writers and editors took the time to go through the obituaries of 1,000 New Yorkers and carefully chose the perfect words to describe who they were in life.

Hailey Herrera, 25, Budding therapist with a gift for empathy

Michael Angel Bastiaans, 31, Indonesian teacher who reached into his own pocket to help students

Ty, 47, British rapper with a storytelling gift

Vanee Sykes, 53, Advocate for women released from prison

Orlando Moncada, 56, Left Peru and grabbed on to the American dream

Madeline Kripke, 76, Collector of dictionaries and lover of words

Romi Cohn, 91, Saved 56 Jewish families from the Gestapo

This act of kindness by the writers of the Times reminds me that words are powerful–even in 10 words or less. It may have been the best way to honor those lives well lived.

May their memories be for a blessing. And God bless the obit writers who – to me – are also essential workers.

Out of Control

The very definition of being in control is having the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.

I’ve never been a control freak, but I am a Type A personality and I like the sense of security that comes with feeling in control. But so far, everything this year seems completely out of control. From being reassigned to another team at work to being forced into quarantine, I am not in control of anything right now. And then – as if that weren’t enough – a tragic event has befallen our country and shook many of us to our core.

Personally, my cocoon of living in a peaceful and somewhat controlled world has been violently shredded and replaced with a brand new world that I don’t recognize and never knew existed.

Okay, maybe I did know it existed. And now, I realize I have been unintentionally complacent towards it. And, I’m angry at myself for not seeing it sooner.

As a Jew, I recognize the antisemitic stereotypes and prejudice that I’ve experienced towards me, my family, and my community. But, those instances have never interfered with my ability to buy a house, receive a quality education, and pursue my dreams. I’ve never been followed in a store or pulled over in my car for no particular reason. My mere presence in places has never been questioned. I’ve never had to hold my tongue or change my tone for fear that police officers would feel threatened and justified in harming me.

Living in my safe cocoon has been a privilege, and I see that clearly now.

So now what? I guess recognizing it is a step in the right direction. Now, it’s a question of what I can do about it. Instead of feeling out of control, I’ll let go of the reins a little more and let others take the lead. I’ll take a step back and stay alert for instances of injustice and unfairness towards the black community and then speak out when I feel it’s needed. I’ll read more about their history and their lives. I’ll listen to their stories. I’ll learn a lot and more importantly, I’ll share what I’ve learned with others so we can all make changes for the better.

And if and when the opportunity presents itself, I’ll find ways to make a difference. So please, let me know what I can do. Or if I’m on the right track. I’m all ears.

Getting Back to “Normal”

Well, it’s happening. We are slowly starting to enter into a whole new world. A world where we need to wear face masks in public. A world where we still need to maintain a social distance from each other. A world where we need to remember to bring your keys, phone, wallet, face mask, gloves and hand sanitizer before we leave the house. And when we leave the cocoon of our homes, we must learn to trust other people that they have socially distanced as well. Let’s face it – few of us have followed these things to the letter. Personally, I would have loved to secure a delivery slot on Peapod or Instacart instead of going to the grocery store every week.

As much as I want to support small businesses, I don’t think I’ll be running out to shop anytime soon. But I would like to get a mammogram which is way overdue. I’d like to go on vacation, but I have to think about what that looks like for our family. Regulations have been lifted in some places for the Memorial Day weekend. Experts say we won’t know the effects of this until Father’s Day. Will there be a spike in cases? Time will tell.

Looking into the not-so-distant future, will we be dropping Jenna off on campus in the fall? Will the high school reopen on a staggered schedule so some kids can attend? This is his junior year coming up. What will his college visits look like? Will those kids practice social distancing to the best of their ability? What will high holidays look like this year? All of it makes me incredibly nervous.

Meanwhile, I haven’t finished going through my pile of books I wanted to read. Truth be told – I’d need another six months in quarantine to get through them all. And there are still closets to clean and home improvement projects to work on. Not to mention that I’d like to lose a little more quarantine weight before I am seen in public again. To me, staying home still has its perks.

Everyone here is antsy to get back to normal life, but what is normal these days? We are about to find out.

In Case You Missed It…

While we are cooped up in our homes, there has been no shortage of incredible content online these days. Late-night talk show hosts are doing their monologues from their living rooms. I miss the audience’s laughter, but the jokes are still right on target. Disney did what they do best – a sing-a-long. Even news anchors are going off-script and saying what they really feel. I nearly spit out my iced tea when Wolf Blitzer called our president a chicken for not answering questions at the press briefing after telling people injecting disinfectants might be a cure for the virus.

While the world is going through a tragic period, there are some gems like these that bring a little normalcy and even a smile to life in quarantine. Here are a few more you should check out.

Have you heard of Amber Ruffin? She is a writer on Late Night with Seth Meyers. Seriously, she should have her own show. I like her so much better than Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and her Easter Quarantine Parade, should be all the proof you need.

Do you like mixing Broadway hits and politics? If you’ve seen a Capitol Steps show, you don’t want to miss Randy Rainbow. His most recent video is my new favorite–but if you have time, there is so much more out there.

And last but not least, The Holderness Family. I was first introduced to them when they did an original snow day song and video. The content they are churning out about being in quarantine is top-notch.

On a personal note, I am heartbroken about the people who are suffering and have lost their lives to this virus. Every day, the news has a grim outlook on our world and some leaders are just infuriating to me. And it may seem like laughing is not appropriate right now. But, our mental health is just as important to me. And laughing with our families as we sit around the tv may be just what the doctor ordered.

So, what have you been watching lately that makes you smile?

A Gift Among Chaos

 

One true gift this pandemic has given all of us is the gift of time. Before COVID-19, time flew by and now I realize that I was wasting some of it on things that were urgent, but not important.

This quarantine period has given me an opportunity to pause, look inward and figure out what’s next. My biggest question is what does my writing life look like going forward? What’s my niche? Where do I go from here?

I have ideas, but never had the time to sort it all out and make a plan. And now, I have nothing but time.

For example, this blog needs a makeover. I want it sleek yet creative; fun but meaningful. What that looks like I’m not exactly sure. Luckily, I have friends I can talk to and learn from their areas of expertise. At some point, I’d also like to monetize the blog, but I haven’t quite figured out how just yet. I’m also excited to tell you that I’m planning to take the best of Life Without A Manual and putting together a book of personal essays. Reading through old posts has been a fantastic trip down memory lane, and I can’t wait to share it all with you.

Most of all, I want to keep writing. My writing coach, Rachel, says my niche is letting people know through my stories and my strange sense of humor that they aren’t alone in their life experiences. Whether I write about parenting, panic attacks or a pandemic, I certainly hope that’s true.

If I had a tagline for this blog it would be – Life Without A Manual: Ordinary. Relatable. Human. Whatever is next in my writing career, I promise not to lose that niche.

Celebrating World Book Day

Yesterday was World Book Day, a day to appreciate reading and publishing. In my life, every day is World Book Day, but I was happy to mark the occasion with the newly-published book “I Will Judge You By Your Bookshelf” by Grant Snider. Mr. Snider is an illustrator who I follow on Facebook. He has this uncanny and original way of reaching into my soul as a writer and a bookworm and putting my love of books into his drawings.

I read his book from cover to cover yesterday. You would think it would be a quick read because it is a book of drawings. However, each illustration is thought-provoking as well as entertaining, and I absorbed it all.

And for the record, my bookshelves are real, and they are spectacular. 😉

I only wish I had one large bookshelf to display them all. Right now, my books are in different rooms around the house. I have a small set of nice crates in my bedroom closet that serves as my “go-to” shelf for my next read. These crates are home to trendy novels like “Daisy Jones and The Six”; professional development books with titles like “The Myth of the Nice Girl”; and writing guides which include my absolute favorite “Writing is My Drink.”

Across the hallway in Jenna’s room, I have books that I have read, enjoyed and can’t bear to part with yet. Some of these books include “Tumbleweeds” by Leila Meacham and “Firefly Lane” by Kristin Hannah. I keep these books are close by so I can visit them and reminisce, but far enough away so as not to distract me from the books on my “to-be-read” shelves.

And then, there are the books downstairs in our home office–the purgatory for my books. These will eventually be donated or given away. Most of them are Dilbert anthologies and parenting books that have served me well. I was a huge fan of Dilbert when the comic strip first came out. It made me feel that I was not alone in the workplace. I still look at them, but my love has faded because now I just nod and say “yep, that’s true.” As for the parenting books, they were wise and witty when my kids were younger, but not much use to me now.

Home organizer and author Marie Kondo wrote in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” that we should only keep things that spark joy in our lives. I 100 percent agreed with her until the chapter about books. She recommended keeping no more than 30 books in a collection. I understand she has since clarified this statement for us, highly-offended bibliophiles. But now that you know all about my bookshelves, I am sure you can guess which one her book is on.

The Darker Side of Quarantine

Three weeks ago, we had a family emergency. My dad fell at home and woke up the next morning confused and in a lot of pain. Mom drove him to the hospital and, because of the pandemic, was forced to leave him there alone. Because of his Parkinson’s disease, he was kept overnight for observation. As you know, it’s not the best time to be in the hospital, and mom was understandably upset.

All I wanted to do was put on my face mask, jump in the car and drive over to see them. But, I couldn’t do it. I was still sick and the risk of infecting my parents was too great. Thankfully, he came home the next day with a broken arm.

And there it is. The dark side of life under quarantine. Yes, I miss shopping – I mean visiting – my favorite bookstores and going to the grocery store without having to suit up in a mask and gloves. But not being with my loved ones in their time of need was the absolute worst.

And here’s another thing. I have no boundary between working at home and my family life. It’s all blended together now. Quarantine has ruined working from home for me. I don’t mind the occasional day at home when I need to run a personal errand, but I miss the camaraderie of my colleagues in the morning. I want to go for a walk around the building with my friends. The courtyard in the office complex was recently renovated, and I was looking forward to sitting in the sun on my lunch break.

On the other hand, I’m not in a rush to go back to the office or other public places. For those who don’t know, I live outside of Philadelphia, and we have had more than our fair share of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Most people around here take social distancing seriously, but I am sure there are a few outliers. And I have to be okay with the fact that I don’t know who those people are. Thankfully, we have an excellent governor who knows how to lead in a crisis. However, this still doesn’t alleviate the anxiety I feel around this new normal.

When I do feel it is safe to go out with people, the first place I will make a beeline towards is a local restaurant. I don’t care if I have to bring my own silverware. I just don’t want to plan and cook every day anymore. Before the pandemic, I had a few go-to recipes, and even I’m getting tired of them. If you send me recipes, I’d love to have them, but make sure they are easy ones, please.

And finally, did you know that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while quarantined? I say – good for him. I’ve read so many articles about all the wonderful things people can do while self-isolating – start a business, write a book, and solve world hunger. The pressure to succeed is out there, and I’m feeling it in here.

Is it okay if I just get out of bed every morning and do the best that I can? Yes, I’m working on a book, and I’m trying to build up a side gig as a freelance writer all while still gainfully employed. But there are plenty of times when you will find me sitting on the couch with a bowl of ice cream watching The Crown on Netflix. And that’s okay too. And later on, if someone asks me what I did during quarantine, I’m going to happily say that I survived.

 

 

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