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.

 

 

Quarantine Thoughts – Part I

I listened to a webinar yesterday about how one’s mindset can either fuel your soul or drain it. Typically, I would not sign up for something like this. In normal times, I consider myself to be an upbeat person who wakes up every morning with a plan and a purpose. But these are not normal times. And I’ve been struggling to stick to a routine and start and end my day on a positive note.

The speaker began with a question that made me laugh out loud.

“What is good about this pandemic?”

Ha! Is there anything good about a pandemic? But, sure enough, people started flooding the chat room with answers. Time with my family. Clean closets. Netflix.

Here are some silver linings that I’ve noticed lately.

First, I am much more aware of the beauty of my neighborhood and the kindness of the people who live here. I’ve been able to appreciate the beautiful landscaping outside their homes. I love watching the kids riding their bikes like I used to do when I was their age. I’ve spoken to people that I haven’t seen in a while. I found out that one woman is making face masks and not charging a penny. Another mom is posting about daily adventures with her young family complete with pictures and advice. Some days are a success and other days it’s not easy. Her honesty and sense of humor is refreshing. And everyone is looking out for the seniors and offering to pick items up for them at the store. This all reminds me that if I ever win the lottery I’d still never move.

The next thing that is good about the pandemic is that I no longer have to wear Spanx, spend money on manicures, or concern myself with the gray roots that are forming a skunk-like stripe down my center part. It’s refreshing to let my hair down and not worry about how I look. Of course, my family has to see me every day now, but they are used to me looking my best and my worst. Right now, I’m going through an in-between stage that works for me.

Finally, I’ve discovered the world of telemedicine. I never heard of this before the ‘rona, but it is so nice to have it available to me. At the beginning of the quarantine, I was actually pretty sick, but not sick enough to get a COVID-19 test. I had a nasty cough that shook my entire body and wouldn’t go away. I was exhausted and lost my sense of taste for a day or two (which really freaked me out!). I waited two weeks to call my doctor because I was social distancing and didn’t want to drive 30 minutes to his office. But apparently, there was no need. The nurse set up a Zoom-like call with my doctor. And guess what?! No wait time. None! Just excellent care and a course of antibiotics on its way.

While I’m looking forward to leaving my house again, I’m learning to slow down, sit back, and appreciate my life. This is the best silver lining of all.

Of course, there is a flip side to this blog post. And because I need to catch up on the Ultimate Blog Challenge, stay tuned for Quarantine Thoughts – Part Two: The Darker Side of the Pandemic — coming very soon.

In the meantime, how would you have answered her question? What is good about the pandemic? I’d love to hear your responses in the comments.

 

The Write Space

When Jenna left for college, I decided to use her room as my office. Knowing she would be back for winter and spring breaks and summertime, I only took over her desk.

 

Still, her room is a prime piece of real estate in our house. And it’s been a long time since I had a quiet place all to myself. Using her room also had the added benefit of giving me a reason to go in there on a regular basis. When I spent time in her room, I felt her presence in our home while she was away at school. I didn’t like how dark and clean it was all the time. So, repurposing her room into my indoor “she shed” made sense to me.

It didn’t take long to set it up. I found a new home for her bat mitzvah centerpiece from six years ago and cleared out a drawer of her miscellany. I cleaned out my overflowing bookshelves of every writing book I own and relocated them to her shelf. Underneath her camp photos and school track ribbons, I set up my laptop, brought in my favorite pens and blank journals and got to work.

Every night, I closed her bedroom door, put on my music and let the waves of creativity drown me. And when I was cursed with writer’s block, I’d lie down on her queen-size bed and read a book or take a nap. It was the perfect office space for me.

And then the pandemic hit us all. School closed for the semester, and I had to relinquish my coveted writing space back to her. Now, my current “office” is wherever I put my laptop. My choices are sitting on my own bed with a blue Yogibo pillow chair propped up for my back or sitting on a barstool at my kitchen counter. Neither one of these spaces is ideal. There is no place to put my writing books and prompt decks. I can’t leave out my favorite pens because they will most definitely disappear. And yes, I admit that I’m a bit of a snob about what pens I use for writing. I just can’t write from my heart with a cheap promo pen from Weight Watchers in my hand.

This may sound completely crazy to many of you who read this, but I know my fellow bloggers will understand.

E.B. White once said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

He’s probably right. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter where I write. But before the pandemic, I was etching out a solid writing routine. And now, I miss being able to go to a dedicated space where my only focus is putting words on the page. The kitchen is a high traffic area and not a great place for one to concentrate.

Once we are free from quarantine, I’m sure I’ll find a nice neighborhood coffee shop to support where I can sit and create something special. And soon enough, both my kids will leave the nest, and I’ll have my choice of writing desks.

I’m not in any rush, but having that writing space was nice for a while.

 

 

 

Quarantine Food Challenge

The one thing I’ve learned about social distancing is that it is difficult to stay six feet away from the refrigerator. And I don’t know about you, but I haven’t figured out the algorithm yet for how much food to buy that last for two weeks without going bad. I’ve never been a stellar math student.

All I know is when we go food shopping, I carry a big list. And, for the amount of money we spend on groceries, one would think we’d have enough fruit, veggies, meat, dairy, and snacks to keep everyone happy.

But then, we run into a problem. It is only day five or six, and we have already run out of something. Something I desperately need in order to cook dinner. Or something one of the kids can’t live without. Last week, our daughter had an avocado emergency. That girl loves her avocado toast! I have gone without a banana in the morning for three days straight. Believe me, it is a sacrifice I have been willing to make to stay home and save lives.

Somehow, we’ve managed to survive and can wait it out until the main staples disappear – milk, bread, coffee, and chocolate chip cookies.

This is no one’s fault. It is a new normal, and our family needs to adjust. There are four people living here eating three meals a day at home all week long. So, you do the math.

Seriously, can you do the math? Because I can’t.

Even when we order out once a week. we still manage to deplete our inventory rapidly. Unless you are looking for canned green beans because we have about a month’s supply of that in stock.

So, what are your tricks to buying enough food for the week? Is it better meal planning? Is it closing down the kitchen at 8 pm every night? I’d love to figure this out.

 

A Rose and A Thorn

Until the pandemic hit us, it was quite the challenge to get our family of four to sit down together for dinner every night. Our schedules were never in sync. After-school activities typically end around 6:30-7:30 pm. Sometimes, even later. Most nights, we would fend for ourselves and then head off to do homework, answer e-mails and whatnot.

As a parent, I always felt a twinge of guilt about this. Lots of parenting articles point to regular family dinners as the answer to raising well-rounded children who succeed academically, possess high self-esteem and are at a lower risk of alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and teen pregnancy.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on a mother trying to make dinner.

But I tried my best, and I’m proud to say that even without our crazy schedules my kids are kind, responsible, intelligent and well-rounded. They pretty much rock.

When we do eat as a family, our tradition is to go around the table and ask everyone to give a rose and a thorn. The rose represents something good that happened that day or something that made them happy. The thorn is for anything that didn’t go well or a challenge they were facing at school or with their friends. And even when we couldn’t all sit down together to eat; I’d still ask them to give a rose and a thorn on the way to swim practice or dance class.

Now that we are under quarantine, I am making up for lost time. I’m cooking up a storm every day for family dinners and the roses and thorns are flying.

Rose – “I don’t have the coronavirus”

Thorn – “I hate online learning.”

Rose – “I get to hang out with my dog all day.”

Thorn – “I can’t hang out with my friends.”

Rose – “Thank goodness for FaceTime.”

Thorn – “May is a long time away.”

While there are a lot of thorns to talk about these days, the roses are what keep me going. I have a full bouquet when I wake up every morning and I am incredibly grateful.

True Confessions

I’ll be honest with you. I’m having a hard time motivating myself these days.

Take writing this blog. I’m in the middle of a 30-day blog challenge and I have plenty of time to think of ideas and write something original every day. And yet, I struggle with what to say and hitting “publish” after my seventh draft feels like I’m giving in and saying – this is good enough.

I’m also having trouble working from home. I’m in a new role that no longer places me where I like to be – in the middle of it all. And without having my colleagues nearby, it is difficult to feel connected.

And worst of all, I’m not into celebrating Passover. This comes as a shock to me because I’m the one who typically leads the Seder and buys enough matzah and kosher for Passover food for everyone. Not to say that we didn’t mark the occasion. Thanks to the 11th plague of coronavirus, we had a perfectly lovely family seder last night via Zoom, but I left the meeting a little sad. Social distancing from loved ones is hard enough and seeing their smiling faces on a screen can’t compete with having them here in my home.

My husband and kids are making the best of it with their work and school schedules. They are busy enough to keep the days somewhat interesting. I wish I could say the same. My recent accomplishments include clean cupboards, folded laundry (and put away), and finishing the third season of The Amazing Mrs. Maisel. I’m safely snuggled into my comfort zone reading books and drinking coffee. My dog is much more attached to me than ever before, and the feeling is mutual.

Part of this funk I’m in likely has to do with the fact that I’m getting over a nasty cough. Illness is a major trigger for my anxiety which also plays into my current mood. Thankfully, I never had a fever or breathing issues and was never sick enough to require testing. The antibiotics are finally kicking in, but they wear me out.

I know one morning I will wake up full of energy, feel like myself again and snap out of it–and the sooner the better. All I have is time on my hands.

Raising PD Awareness for a Cure

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. It’s difficult to shed a light on a disease that resembles all the typical signs of aging like walking slow, having tremors or falling. But, Parkinson’s Disease, or PD, is so much more. It is a progressive neurological disease that has no cure. It’s a movement disorder that occurs when the brain cells that make dopamine – a chemical that controls movement – stops working. In addition to movement, people with Parkinson’s can also experience other physical and psychological issues.

More than 50,000 people are diagnosed with PD every year ane each person’s experience is unique. Some people experience minor symptoms that can remain that way for a long time, while others deal with more advanced problems. There are medications to ease the symptoms and improve quality, but again it’s not a cure.

How do I know so much about this? I have two special people in my life diagnosed with PD. I often think of my grandmom, Elsie, who swam every day at the pool in West Palm Beach, played pinochle and gin rummy with my grandfather and doted on her grandchildren while enjoying her coffee and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies. After her diagnosis, it was jarring to watch this once vibrant woman slowly and strategically maneuver her walker around her living room. Over the years, her voice became much softer, she had stiffness in her limbs, and her ability to attend family celebrations was challenging to say the least. She fought PD for a long time and experienced other complications which led to her passing.

Today, I watch my dad fight PD. For as long as I can remember, my dad has always been on the move and never one to sit still for long. As a middle school teacher, he used to sprint up and down the stairs as fast as his students—faster if he was running late. He bowled frequently, rode his bicycle and enjoyed the outdoors. At parties, he and my mom could typically be found on the dance floor. To this day, they can still cut a rug which is a joy to watch and is, coincidentally, a highly recommended form of exercise for PD patients.

His PD symptoms are completely different from my grandmother. His PD presents itself as tremors in his hands, shuffling his feet as he walks and sometimes losing balance and falling—which has happened on one too many occasions. In public places, he uses a cane as a safety net, but he doesn’t let it stop him from living life to the fullest. Recently, he and my mom went on the trip of a lifetime to Israel. They have a national parks tour scheduled for later this year.

I’ve come to recognize PD in celebrities before they announce their diagnosis to the public. I once heard former Philadelphia mayor, Ed Rendell, speak at our synagogue, and I knew what he was facing by the way he walked to the podium and his mannerisms. I hate being right about these things.

As the daughter and granddaughter of two people affected by this disease, I am doing my due diligence so that everyone can continue to make their dreams come true despite their illness. I donate to the Michael J. Fox Foundation regularly. I’m considering joining a research study since I am part of a high-risk group that may or may not develop it in my lifetime. But I am still thinking about it. I honestly don’t know how I would react to the results. But that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to raise awareness and funds to support those who are diagnosed early in life like Michael J. Fox at the age of 29, and my dad who inspires me in so many ways.

If you would like to help fund important research to find a cure or support organizations that offer exercise programs and support to PD patients and their caregivers, consider donating to the Michael J. Fox Foundation or your local PD charity. In the Philadelphia area, I recommend the Parkinson Council.

 

Songs and Schedules

I’m sure we all feel like every day is Groundhog Day. It’s the same thing over and over again. I’m fortunate that I can work from home and have two teenagers who can fend for themselves – for the most part. Here is how I’m currently spending my day. I could use some ideas to spice things up. Right now, I’m mixing up the songs I sing while I wash my hands.

Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

7:15 am – Wake up

7:45 am – Get out of bed. Check my phone to see what day it is. Wash hands and sing Happy Birthday.

8:00 am – Shower

8:30 am – Coffee, breakfast and watch last night’s monologues. Wash hands and sing the Eagles fight song.

8:45 am – Walk around the kitchen island to my workspace on the other side and login to work.

9:30 am  – Let the dog out. Look up and do the Facebook list of the day. Today was 10 jobs and one is a lie. Guess which one. Silly, but it does pass the time.

9:45 am – Wash hands to The Frog Song. If you celebrate Passover, you know which song I mean. For everyone else, click here.

10:00 am – Daily team check-in and send out a few emails.

10:30 am  – Throw in a load of laundry, run the dishwasher, get yesterday’s mail and take something out for dinner.

10:45 am – Touched my face. Wash my hands to My Girl by the Temptations.

11:00 am  – Kids wake up, come downstairs and make a lot of noise just in time for my Zoom meeting. Login and walk upstairs to my bedroom and shut the door.

11:05 am  – Strategically place my laptop someplace where my colleagues can’t see my unmade bed and messy closet.

11:30 am  – Move laundry to the dryer and take recyclables out. Check voicemail, email, Slack and text messages and answer accordingly.

12 noon – Lunch and take the dog for a walk. Wash my hands to Happy Birthday because I ran out of songs.

1:00 pm – Log back into work and dive into a project I’ve been wanting to work on all day.

1:15 pm – Take a break.

1:45 pm – Answer phone call to reschedule my mammogram for the third time. No appointments until June. 🙁

2:00 pm  – Text colleagues to see if they are getting anything done. If yes, what’s their secret? If no, begin commiserating about how we never thought we’d miss being in the office.

2:30 pm – Wash hands and sing Landslide by Fleetwood Mac.

3:00 pm  – Take another deep dive into the above project that I thought I’d be done by now.

4:00 pm – Pat myself on the back for a good start and make a list of tomorrow’s next steps.

5:00 pm – Wash hands and counted to 20 this time. Put my feet up and watch a little tv

6:00 pm – SHIT! I forgot to make dinner.

6:30-7:00 pm – Hungry family members come up one at a time to inquire when dinner will be ready. Vow to order out tomorrow night.

7:00 pm – Dinner & watch Jeopardy.

7:30 pm – Wash hands – probably for 10 instead of the full 20 seconds. Fold laundry in front of the tv.

9:30 pm – Exhausted even though I didn’t do that much today. Time to get ready for bed. Wash hands.

10:00 pm – Read a chapter in my book.

10:15 pm  –   Zzz….

What Success Can Look Like

I don’t love public speaking, but I’m told that I’m better than I think. I once took a class where we were videotaped giving a speech in front of the group. I was surprised to see that while my heart was pounding on the inside, no one could see me sweat. I never let on how nervous I was and seeing it for myself was a game-changer.

This came in handy recently on the way to a job interview, I went over the presentation in my head. I was feeling confident about my slides and prepared for whatever follow up questions would come my way. My accomplishment stories were solid, and I was proud of the two writing pieces they assigned to me. Everything was just about ready to go.

But I had one problem. I didn’t have an opening line. I’m a communications professional, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to kick things off. If I wanted this job, I needed a hook. Something that would grab their attention and hang on my word. Something that would make the senior leadership stand up, embrace me and say, “where have you been all my life?”

I went through the presentation in my head as I drove to their office. Nothing sounded right, and now my palms were sweating. I had that nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The voice inside my head was screaming at me.

“How could you be so stupid,” it said. “You worked so hard on this presentation. Why did you think that something would just come naturally? Or magically?”

I pulled into the parking lot with 20 minutes to spare. I had a few ideas floating around in my head, but I grabbed my laptop and downloaded my presentation hoping inspiration would strike.

Finally, I took a deep breath and asked myself: What am I trying to say? What do I bring to the table that they desperately need?

And then, out of the blue, it came to me. I am a storyteller, and people love to hear a good story. Stories are powerful things. They spark emotion. They inspire others to act and to give generously.

I finally had my opening line and made my way into the office.

* * *

Whenever you are ready,” the CEO said.

I stood up and even though my heart was beating a mile a minute, I remembered my public speaking class. I took a deep breath and walked to the front of the room. My hands were no longer sweaty. I was back in control.

“Thanks again for inviting me here today. Again, my name is Elisa, I’m a sucker for a great story.”

At the end of the presentation, I thought it went well. The opening line was well received, and it looked like people connected with my ideas. Of course, one can’t be too sure about these things. Maybe I did terrible, and they were just being polite.

But, here’s the best part.

During my one-to-one with the CEO, her first question was this.

“Do you train people to speak in public?”

I was floored. I guess they never saw me sweat.

Best compliment ever!

 

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