This IS Your Real Life

Since the pandemic began I’ve told myself the quarantine restrictions were “for now.” That my real life would begin again later. 

Surprisingly, I was fairly patient with this odd limbo. Although I had bad days sometimes, I accepted that living with restrictions was necessary. I could handle this. My life was not all I wished for, but I could be content within the new parameters.

And seriously, I have nothing to complain of. 

Despite my acceptance I felt a level of distraction, a channel of disruption or low-key anxiety running in the background, keeping me from being wholly engaged in my days. 

Perhaps I was sparing myself from comprehending the limits and freaking out about them. But I was also banking my fires, saving my fully present self for later. As if this wasn’t my real life. 

After nearly 10 months, I understand I can’t keep holding back. This IS my real life. The days, weeks, months are ticking by. I won’t get them back. There’s no psychic bank account where the losses are preserved, waiting for me to claim them, and restore them to my life. 

My days are different from what I imagined they would be right now, but I remind myself that I’m already doing a lot of what I like to do. I’m still writing. Reading. Volunteering. Finding other creative outlets. I’m not as connected with friends and family as I’d like to be, but I call or video chat with them.

I haven’t completely figured out how to be immersed in this life, but I know that’s the answer.

Still Winter (Don’t Read This Cranky Blog)

Let’s see. It’s still winter. I’m done with it, but it’s not done with us. No use complaining (but that’s not stopping me). Weather isn’t personal. The same rain/snow/slush falls on all of us. The same ice clumps chunk off our tires. We drive the same roads that are scabby with ice or as slippery as Crisco.

Impeachment rages on and on. We know how this will end but the players must follow the script anyway.

No wonder I obsess about clay. I revel in the small personal thrill of throwing porcelain for the first time in years. Voilà! A small vessel I hope to make into an old-fashioned perfume bottle. Not to hold perfume. Just because I like the idea of them.

Maybe I’ll make stoneware wine goblets next. The sturdy kind without stems. Or stoneware tumblers for iced tea and mojitos with fresh mint. Mint that I’ll pinch from a plant in next summer’s garden.

Why not stoneware flower pots? That’s genius! When I’m not a potter, I’m a gardener. I could bring together two of my passions.

What about platters and bowls with sayings? Hmmm. I hate art that exhorts me to Live! Love! Laugh! Shut up, I think, even though I do want to live, love, and laugh. Isn’t stamping Ellen-isms into clay at odds with that? Too bad. I’m doing it.


I’ve been holed up in the pottery studio with my potter’s wheel spinning fast. It corkscrews my focus tighter and tighter until all I see is the lump of clay that I’m forcing to be centered. Even though it resists, throwing off stray blobs and splashes of watery clay.

Hours pass. My back and shoulders ache.

Weeks pass.

Now when I leave the studio at 5:15, it’s light out. The big wheel of the seasons is also turning. Slowly, slowly, but turning. Bringing me back to center.


Mom’s Inspiration

For years, my mom had a clipping stuck on her refrigerator with a magnet.


Although it was in a semi-public place, the clipping was a private message for her, not a directive for the family and friends who might see it.

Mom knew she’d be in and out of the refrigerator numerous times a day. She probably hoped that by putting the clipping right there she’d be forced to notice it. At least once a day, she’d really see the words and be reminded of her intentions. Every day, she could rededicate herself to the effort of becoming her best self.

As a visitor, I saw it often but never thought too hard about it. They were her goals, not mine, and Mom wasn’t in the habit of preaching about her values or goals.

But when the clipping turned up in a box of Mom’s things that my sister had saved, I realized how much her example has influenced me. I, too, regularly rededicate myself to the effort of being my better self.

I make New Year’s resolutions (often the same ones about health and writing – they’re still good, because I frequently stray from my goals). Throughout the year, I also take stock and evaluate whether or not I’m living the life I want to live. For example, I might ask myself: Am I too bizzy with household tasks that don’t matter? Am I letting other people’s agendas overtake my own? Can I be more tolerant and easygoing and let go of irritation faster? Am I pushing myself creatively? And more.

My refrigerator is bare. Unlike Mom, I keep my resolutions and inspirations in journals or in the Notes app on my phone where I see them often. When I reread my intentions, I’m pleased to see that I’ve followed through on some. Others, not so much. But I’m easy with myself – effort counts. I’m a work in progress and I just need to keep trying.

Mom’s clipping lists five goals. I love that she circled the two that were most meaningful to her. As her daughter, I can tell you that most days, she nailed them.

Fall Meditation

Every year fall delights me. Nondescript shrubs and trees surprise me with their dazzling colors. The cool air and shorter days are visceral reminders that we are not simply brains attached to keyboards and phones, but human animals subject to the rhythms of nature. Being part of a cycle that has been going on every year for eons restores my perspective. I hope these photos refresh you, too.

The pleasing artistry of primary colors—coreopsis, salvia, and burning bush








The exuberance of neighborhood Halloween decorations











The surprise of seeing three construction workers on a seven-story building across from the hospital cafeteria


The peaceful beauty of a golden tree arching over Minnehaha Creek










Winter will be here soon enough, but for now, I’m immersing myself in everything this fall offers.

Why I Don’t Hate Minnesota Winters

There are lots of reasons to hate Minnesota winters: endless discussions of windchill (Really, people?!? I’m already wearing all the clothes I’ve got. There isn’t more I can do. Stop talking about it. Please!) Crusty black snow clumps on my tires. Slippery-road roulette. Trudging with shoulders hunched and body braced to withstand the wind, to name a few. But I don’t hate our winters. To me, they’re refreshing. Seriously.

Very few aspects of modern life make us aware of our animal nature. The change of seasons pulls us back, reminds us that we’re participating in a cycle that’s bigger and more enduring than the words and images scrolling across our screens or appearing under our clicking fingers.

I’m not some cheery winter sports enthusiast who can’t wait to ski, skate, ice fish, or snowmobile. I don’t do any of those things. I might snowshoe if the sun’s out, the wind’s down, and it isn’t too cold, but otherwise, forget it. I’ll spend as little time outside as possible.

What’s winter’s big attraction?

To me, it’s a time to slow down, renew, and turn back toward health. After the excess of the holidays—too much good food and drink, too many incomplete To Do lists, and general year-end bizzyness, it feels good to do very little. To pull on thick wool socks and silk long johns. Make chili. Binge on Netflix.chili

I feel virtuous exercising. Eating crisp salads and savory vegetable soups have their ascetic charms. I’m restoring my body’s balance.

Winter is also a time to turn inward and refocus. I’m an optimist and like the idea of starting fresh every year. What do I want to do and be? How can I shuck off the stupid stuff I do and spend more time doing what I care about?

Recentering leads to other improvements—reading the books I never get around to (burrowing under an afghan with hot tea . . . or a hot toddy to make a dent in The Brothers Karamazov). Making sense of my sweater shelves.

Winter is also home improvement season. Better to paint the living room in the dead of winter than to waste a sunny June weekend on that. This year, I’m researching landscaping options since our shabby deck may get turned into a patio come spring. Winter is also a good time to tackle big projects like making a quilt. Weeks go by as I complete the many steps.

I do like winter, but by mid-March, my strategies are wearing thin.

Although the sun rises at 6:30 a.m. (at least it does before Daylight Savings Time toys with the clocks), the alley’s nothing but rutted ice. Crusty gray snow piles line the sidewalks and roads. I’m sick of keeping track of gloves and clumping around in boots. Tired of brushing salt dust off my coat. Hot cocoa and crackling fires hold no allure. If I never see a shovel again, it will be too soon.

I’m. Just. Done. But winter isn’t.

Then it’s time to escape. I consider spending ridiculous sums I can’t afford to just see the sun and walk outside without my down coat. Escape to Puerto Vallarta for just $759? SURE!

When reason reasserts itself, I go to the Como Park Conservatory instead. Inside, the air is humid and HOT. Birds are chirping. It smells like dirt and growing. Like life. Tulips, hyacinths, Asiatic lilies, and azaleas are blooming in glorious profusion. The whole world isn’t dead.Como Park

There’s hope. By late March melting icicles begin their steady drip. Water rushes under skim ice on sidewalks, begging to be crunched. Winter will actually end. Maybe by April 1st. April 15th for sure.