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We’re entering our second pandemic winter, and like many people, I was hoping that pediatric vaccines would bring about a greater sense of normalcy. Spencer and I are boosted, our kids have had both doses, maybe we can start doing some more things — but wait! There’s a new covid variant that may be able to evade vaccines. Maybe you’ve heard?

It seems as if every time we get our hopes up that things are getting back to normal, we have bad news about a new covid wave. Over the summer my office had just a couple of weeks without a mask mandate before the crushing Delta wave caused the mask mandate to return.

I’ve been thinking a bit about optimism bias. Optimism bias is the overestimation of the likelihood of positive events happening to you, and the underestimation of potentially negative events. According to an article I just read from the BBC, about 80 percent of the global population has some degree of optimism bias.

And don’t we all believe that we’re just a bit more special than the average person? And if we have kids, aren’t they a bit smarter and more spectacular than other people’s kids? I remember visiting some friends who had a newborn daughter a few years ago, and the dad was telling us about his plans for her to become a tennis player. But don’t we all do that sort of thing with our kids? I bought Marie a dress up doctor coat when she was in preschool, and a T-shirt that said “Future President.” Last spring I deliberated carefully about where Paul should attend first grade, and we considered both French and Chinese Immersion schools before deciding to keep him at his Waldorf charter (emphasis on the arts, nature, and Spanish).

Optimism bias is one of the reasons why my job as an early childhood special education teacher is challenging. One of my colleagues has said, “No one writes in their baby book that they want their child to be receiving special education services. These families don’t want to need us in their lives.”

Optimism bias is also, I think, one of the reasons why the pandemic has been and continues to be so hard. It’s been so much worse than most of us could imagine. We keep imagining that it must be over, and yet — it is not.

Having an optimism bias makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. We’re hard-wired for hope. We need hope to survive. The payoff at the end has to be greater than the cost of survival.

And yet, optimism bias can be harmful too, if it leads us to take on too much risk. So for myself, I’m trying to be aware of my bias, and check my perceptions. In terms of the pandemic, I’m starting to believe that we might be in this boat a lot longer than we want to be. As I’ve read several times recently in the NY Times, right now is probably as good as it’s gonna get. Yep, I’m not telling my kids, but I think we’ll be dealing with this for several years to come. New variants, booster shots, and KN95 masks. Vaccine mandates and protests about vaccine mandates. Anti-vaxxers will continue getting sick with new variants and clog up our hospital system. Trump will declare himself president for life, which thanks to biomedical engineering, will last several decades until he escapes earth to start a space colony. Mark Zuckerberg will become our global ruler and we will all live in the meta-verse.

By the way, can you separate the fact from opinion in the paragraph above?

For now though, we just need to get through this one pandemic winter. I’m going to look for joy in little things this winter. Lavender steamers from the Hideaway Bakery. Bouldering at the rock climbing gym. Ted Lasso reruns. Brené Brown podcasts. Helping families teach their toddlers to talk. Family popcorn and movie nights. Taking Albus for walks. Curling up with a book and a blanket (Currently: Cloud Cuckoo Land). Trying ice skating with my kids. Connecting with friends in ways that feel safe.

From Ted Lasso:

Keeley: So the product you’d most like to promote is joy?
Dani Rojas: I like to give away joy for free!

How will you find joy this winter?

“It was early, which has always been my hour to begin looking at the world
and of course, even in the darkness, to begin listening into it,
especially under the pines where the owl lives and sometimes calls out
as I walk by, as he did on this morning. So many gifts!

What do they mean? In the marshes where the pink light was just arriving
the mink with his bristle tail was stalking the soft-eared mice,
and in the pines the cones were heavy, each one ordained to open.

Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.”
– Mary Oliver, from It was Early


P.S. Last year in December I published 11 Songs for an Apocalyptic Year. I’m not going to get around to a post like that this year, but I’d like to offer a few songs here that stood out to me this year for one reason or another.

Coronavirus Lockdown, Day 16:

During this past week, our family has stayed connected with friends and family members via technology. We’ve FaceTimed, Skyped, and Zoomed to keep our social lives going. On Thursday, Paul had a Zoom chat with his preschool class. It was pure chaos, and not much was understood, but Paul had a great time seeing friends’ faces and blowing kisses. This morning Marie has a FaceTime chat scheduled with a friend, and Spencer and I are planning a FaceTime cocktail hour with two of our friends tonight after the kids go to bed.

What’s been lost so far in this crisis — our normal routines, jobs and economic stability for many. School. In-person social connections.

I don’t want to make light of a situation that is so painful and challenging for many people. Not only are we faced with a public health crisis, we’re also now having an economic crisis, and coupled with the social isolation, we could also be facing a mental health crisis for many.

It’s been painful for me to lose my routines and the lifeline of childcare that comes through school. At the same time, I feel that I have the opportunity to learn and grow through these challenges.

What’s been gained — more time with my immediate family. No more daily battles over getting out the door in the morning and arriving at school by 7:54 am in order to avoid being marked tardy. No more time spent chauffering the kids back and forth between school and extracurriculars. A pause to rest from the frenzied busyness of modern life.

Although it’s psychologically painful, this pause to rest from my normal routine is not necessarily a bad thing for me. I still have a lot of work to do between general parenting, homeschooling, part-time telecommuting, and housekeeping. But with cutting out the commutes and extracurrics, there are more opportunities to be quiet and pause, something that is lacking in my regular life.

I’m also finding that, in spite of social distancing, I have more time for social connections. I’m connecting more with my immediate family, chatting with neighbors from across the street, and checking in with friends more than I normally do. I often have to schedule get-togethers with friends 3-4 weeks ahead of time, but now, everyone is available to chat.

It makes me think about what I’d like to change when this is all over, whenever that may come. What could I cut out from my normal life to make more time for rest and relationships?

Less work is not a realistic option for me. I already only work part-time, and that’s with 2 months off per year during school breaks. Parenting and housework also need to continue.

Reducing the amount of time I spend checking personal email and news on my devices would be a good place to start. Additionally, making some changes to my work might be warranted — not sure at the moment what that would look like.

I also want to be mindful about not overscheduling the kids with extracurrics. I typically like keeping them busy, as it keeps them away from screens, and also helps reduce the number of sibling fights. But having to get them anywhere at a specific time always creates a lot of conflict. And, I’m also finding that they like just hanging out at home. Paul seems completely happy through this whole thing, and Marie has even told me that she likes homeschooling because it means she gets to spend more time with me and she doesn’t have recess drama.

Another thing, I’d like to be intentional about is setting aside time each weekend that is deliberately unscheduled. Maybe even just half a day — deliberately not scheduling anything on Saturday morning or afternoon. And I’d like to not have Marie in sports each season. If soccer’s a must, then fine, but we won’t play basketball during winter. (Hopefully someone will hold me accountable to this!).

P.S. How has this crisis made you re-evaluate things in your life? Are there any hidden blessings for you in the slower pace right now?

Greetings from Coronavirus lockdown, Day 7.

I have a vision in my mind of my house as an ark, carrying my family and I along through these uncertain times. In the Bible story, the rains continued for 40 days and nights, but after that it was still 150 days before they found dry land.

We don’t know how long we’ll be in the midst of this crisis, or when it’s subsided, how long the recovery will take. As scary and disorienting as this is, all we can do is focus on the present rather than letting our anxious minds spiral into worst-case scenarios.

I did a quick run to the Albertson’s pharmacy to pick up some medication that my insurance wouldn’t pay for until today. The lady in line in front of me wore a face mask and gloves. There was a sign up that said “This store is out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, and thermometers.”

I’m wavering between anxiety for the future, acceptance of what is, and grief of what’s being lost. I’m currently grieving the loss of all of my routines and social structure. But even more, I’m grieving for my kids, who (I hate to admit this) will likely be out of school until September. This was my son’s last year at his beloved preschool, and all of his little buddies will be going to different schools last year.

And my daughter, a chatty extrovert, is used to being highly scheduled with school, sports, ballet, Girl Scouts, and church. For now, all of that is gone. I am so thankful that her ballet class is continuing to meet via Zoom. I almost cried yesterday when we downloaded Zoom and were able to log into ballet class. Marie was so excited to see her teacher’s face.

These are the things I’m grieving now, before the full force of the health crisis has hit our community. Our community will have plenty more to grieve as hospitals reach capacity and fatalities rise in the coming weeks.

Still, in the midst of this storm, I am finding pockets of joy. Carving out time to write is a joy. Finding that my friends and family are still readily available by phone, email and FaceTime is a joy. I’m deeply thankful that we are going through this in a time when we can stay well connected via technology. I’m hoping to schedule some phone calls or playdates via FaceTime or Caribu for my kids.

I’m thankful to have time now to focus on exercise. Sunny weather has made it easy to get outside for walks and runs lately. I’ve also been doing yoga along with YouTube in the mornings.

I’m thankful that I have a background as an elementary school teacher, so homeschooling is not entirely outside my wheelhouse. I’ve been able to stick to a schedule and keep us pretty busy at home with reading, math, art, piano and outside play time.

I’m thankful for the gift of perspective, knowing that someday this will pass, and we’ll move into the joys and challenges of a new season.

I’m thankful for sleep. I have been through other challenging seasons of life, and at times, good sleep was not readily available to me for months/years (any other moms out there?).

Thankful that we’re all in this together.

With love,

Ursula

 

P.S. Just curious, what will you do if you run out of toilet paper? What did people used to do before toilet paper was invented? Hmmm.

 

 

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

I was going to write a post about my anxiety over our financial situation. Tax season has drawn my focus to our finances and caused muscle tension from my eyebrows to my toes. But then I remembered the gratitude journaling I’ve been doing. Counting my one thousand gifts. And I remembered the sermon I listened to yesterday, from the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

And does this mean we should try to be last in an attempt to be first in God’s kingdom? No, the preacher says, that is not the point of this parable. The point is that there is no first and last in God’s kingdom. The point is that there is enough for all.

There is enough. There is enough for all. God’s abundant provision is enough. Our economy is based on the myth of scarcity, that there are only enough resources for a few and so we should buy more now and fill our large houses with possessions we don’t need.

What if we only took what we needed? What if instead of living in homes large enough to house an entire African village, we lived in tiny but functional homes? What if we lived simply so that others may simply live?

Over these last years of financial insecurity, God has been teaching me the importance of daily bread. We’re receiving enough for each day. We’re trying to make good choices with what we are given. We’re learning to trust. Our faith is being shaped.

When I was in Ghana, a woman told me, “We are a hungry country.” It’s true. Many Ghanaians live in tin shacks with no access to clean water. These people know what it is to suffer. I thought of how much we have in America, and how we are hungry too. We’re hungry, but we think we are full. There’s a nagging emptiness inside that cannot be filled. We try to dull it with shopping. We try antidepressants. We try eating too much, or not enough. We try creating a Facebook profile that will make our friends jealous. But it doesn’t work.

It is only when we come to the place of brokenness that we can find fulfillment. When we discover that we cannot go another day without complete dependence on God’s grace, that we are not the ones earning our daily bread but it is God who gives it to us. I have been learning this lesson. In our brokenness we are made complete.

I can be grateful for that.

 

Books: I’m currently reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp and Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer. Next up on my list are the YA novel  Looking for Alaska by John Green and Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath. 

Movies: Hmmm, I rarely have time to watch movies anymore. Marie is currently fixated on Disney’s Pocahontas and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I was really impressed with Hunchback, really a deep message for kids about inner beauty. In fact, I could probably write a whole essay about this film, but I’ll spare you that. We also watched Happy Feet last week, which is pretty cute.

Television: Downton Abbey is over and I’ve decided that Grimm is too creepy for me. So that just leaves Parks and Recreation. I like that it features strong female characters. Also I’ve been letting Marie watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, a cartoon spin-off of Mr. Rogers. It’s pretty sweet, each episode has a little lesson that’s set to music. For example, “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, just take a deep breath and count to four.”

Music: I’m digging the Johnny Cash and Ella Fitzgerald children’s albums my mom recently gave us. Grandma Alice is helping Marie develop sophisticated musical tastes.

Project: Gratitude journaling.

Work: Writing a series of blog posts for accounting and finance professionals — here’s one. Haven’t subbed yet this month.

Gratitude: We just had our first vacation since 2011! A week in Palm Desert with my in-laws.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some colorful characters.

Sideview of the apparently famous Marilyn statue in downtown Palm Springs, where we encountered some, um, colorful characters. (Photo credit: Ursula Crawford)

 

Fear: Carcinogens in plastics.  

Developmental milestones: Marie swam on her own (with water wings) on the last day of our vacation! Also her vocabulary has me pretty impressed. She keeps creating verbs, saying things like, “I’m get upping,” or “I’m lay downing.” Or “Pocahontas, she troubling.” Did I mention she’s obsessed with Pocahontas? Might be awhile before we let her watch that again.

Looking forward to: Watching Marie continue to develop her personality. She’s almost two. I love kids in the two – five age range because the things they say are so funny.

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

The festive busyness of the holiday season is over. A bone-chilling fog, evocative of a dementor infestation, has enshrouded Eugene for the past week. And I have just been informed by Target that the Russian mafia may now be in possession of my personal contact information and credit card number. My instinctive reaction is to sit on the couch with a warm blanket and microwaved popcorn and binge-watch old Parks & Recreation episodes on Netflix. But, this may not be the best way to combat the January Blahs.

Sometimes it take a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Sometimes it takes a little effort to climb out of the fog.

Here are a few of my strategies for boosting my happiness level in this dark and dreary time of year:

1 ) Invest in my spiritual practice

Going to church regularly, reading the Bible and seeking God through prayer are my most important tools for maintaining a positive outlook on life. And the research backs me up on this — religious people tend to consider themselves happier than the nonreligious.

2 ) Keep exercising

Though I don’t feel much like running when the whether is cold and gray, I feel so much happier and relaxed when I do. If you’re not a runner you might try walking, biking, swimming or taking a dance class.

3) Focus on healthy eating

What’s good for your body is also good for your brain. Amidst the craziness of caring for my toddler, I need to remember to fuel my body with fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein — and limit my sugar intake. I also increase my Vitamin D intake in the winter, and take care to continue taking Omega 3 supplements.

4) Plan fun activities

I’ve realized that having something fun to look forward to is important. I used to look forward to weekends, but now that I’m a mom I don’t really have weekends “off.” Also my husband works long stretches of 12 days on and 2 days off. So I’m trying to make the effort to plan little things to look forward to. Last weekend we went to the movies for the first time since before our daughter was born, and in a few months we’re going on an actual vacation. Participating in fun activities also gives the added benefit of having positive memories to look back on. Win-win.

5)  Laugh

Like exercise, laughing releases endorphins and boosts mood. So maybe it’s okay to snuggle up on the couch and watch Parks & Recreation episodes from time to time.

6) Give thanks

It’s easy to take for granted the blessings I do have and instead focus on what I don’t have. Practicing gratitude helps me re-frame my perspective to view my life in a more positive light. Even simple things can be worth expressing thanks for. Some things I’m thankful for today are my morning into the sunshine, my dishwasher, and the lavender latte and pastries my husband brought home for breakfast.

7) Call a friend

Even though I’m rarely alone, I still get lonely from time to time. I mean, conversations with my 1.5-year-old can only go so deep. When I start feeling lonely, I know that it’s on me to reach out to others, rather than wishing that others would reach out to me.

What are some strategies you use to boost your mood when you’re battling the blahs?