Quarantine Self-Care: In the Toilet!

I have a special button my sister gave me once; it says, “Mom Off Duty.” She gave it to me as a suggestion, rather than a joke, cause she knows I’m not the best at taking time to recharge my batteries. This morning I found the button in the toilet. Yes, actually in it–and that pretty much sums up how my self-care is at the moment.

I’m sure this is the case for many people…working long hours from home while parenting and homeschooling, or braving the front lines in the hospitals. I loved this image my mom sent me, because it’s so fitting. Real life superheroes walk the halls of every hospital right now! Thank you brave nurses and doctors and all health careworkers!

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There are so many heroes right now…but even Wonder Woman needs a bathroom break (alone!), or a shower, a quiet walk, or a few minutes for a favourite hobby to restore her weary soul a bit. These moments have been scarce for me, as I homeschool my seven kids and try to make magic from what remains of rice and dried in beans the cupboard until our next grocery order comes. The other day, for example, since we were out of bread and milk, we had homemade peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and fishy crackers for breakfast, not that the kids objected much to that!

Anyway, as I’m not the queen of mamma self-care, I’m going to share a few ideas friends of mine have mentioned doing. Please comment and share your tips, too!

  1. Going for a quiet walk alone, and calling a friend to catch up.
  2. Having a daily time set aside to practice music alone, behind a locked door, without interruption “unless anyone’s eyeballs are bleeding!”
  3. Dates at home, while the kids babysit each other in another room. Snacks and a movie with your spouse, without your littlest kids climbing all over and talking the whole time.
  4. Walks with your spouse…if you’re lucky enough to have kids old enough to babysit that is. Some friends of mine in Saskatchewan even braved the rather chilly park for a lunch date!
  5. Visiting friends over Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, to have a laugh together and feel less alone. My friend Monique had a knitting date over Zoom, and I’m planning a writing one with my writer buddy Lisa Rumple, who bravely blogs about her mental health journey at The Resilient Catholic.
  6. Taking a class online to feed your mind and grow.
  7. Exercising. As a family, we like to do the daily workout with the Body Coach, Joe Wicks, on YouTube. He is funny and accessible, and requires no equipment for his 20 minute workout (30 minutes when you include the breaks). Even our toddler joins in, and likes doing jumping jacks, or as they call them in England “star jumps.” It helps that every Friday is Fancy Friday dress up day!

I think all these are great ideas to help release the pressure that builds up from being “on” 24/7. Sometimes it feels very spoiled to talk about being stressed right now, when some people are in situations that are so much more devastating. As my friend Laura asked, “When have people endured epidemic isolation from a place of such luxury and connection?”

While we are indeed so lucky to be able to connect with others from the safely of our homes, it also means that we are more aware of the suffering of others all around the world. This collective stress affects us all; I don’t see the use in pretending it doesn’t.

So we need to find ways of releasing that stress, so it doesn’t silently build up like the little bricks in Tetris, until they are almost at the top of the screen and falling faster by the minute. If like in the game, we can find ways to organize all the little bricks that cause anxiety into little rows, plugging in the empty spots, they can disappear and leave us more breathing room. It’s not that we won’t have more stress factors coming our way, but if we can acknowledge them and fit them into our life, maybe we can rob them of some of their destructive power.

Right now, some of the strange things like working and schooling from home, not being able to visit friends, travel freely or go out as a family to socialize are the new normal. It takes energy to readjust; we are mourning the loss of the innocence of a world where people didn’t hesitate to shake hands with strangers or hug a friend who stopped by.

So whatever your situation right now, however much you feel affected by this pandemic, I encourage you to be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself with kindness, as well as others. Don’t drown in your to do lists. Try to pause and savour the little good things that happen each day. Pray for the grace to endure this storm, and to grow better from it, but little by little. Don’t be harsh with yourself.

And if it helps, and you’ve got insomnia, too, eat pumpkin pie ice cream at midnight, like me.

Big love to everyone!

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    Misadventures in Housekeeping, Part 2: Magical Hummus Goes “Poof!”

    Lately, I’ve been trying to be resourceful about using up the food at the back of the cupboard, since our grocery delivery service is so busy they can usually only make it once every two weeks, and we are trying to avoid going out as much as possible. If our pretending we live in our little house in the big woods, and making homemade bread instead of running to get some can, help less people get sick, then we are going to do it.

    So, even though we actually live in a big house in the city, with seven kids instead of three, I’ve been trying to find my inner “Ma Ingalls,” because she could make do with almost no stores and make everything from scratch. With varying results–my attempts that is! The most explosive result, so far, came from making homemade hummus.

    If you know my husband at all, you will know he is a hummus connoisseur. Yes, that’s actually a thing. Having been to Israel, and tasted the real deal, he is pretty hard to impress. Not that he won’t eat store-bought or homemade hummus quite cheerfully, but he will often make reference to the truly amazing hummus he had in the Middle East. Probably it’s partly just nostalgia. Doesn’t everything taste better overseas?

    However, like the rebellious obliger that I am, I felt two things:

    1. A challenge to create a really great hummus at home, so it’s not always just “alright.”

    2. The pressure to make it good enough to compete with holiday memory hummus.

    Kinda silly the whole thing. In any case, all we had was dried chick peas, so I soaked them over night. Then, I followed the instructions for “Magical Hummus” from my husband’s Israeli cookbook step by step. Mostly. Ish. After rinsing off the soaked chickpeas, I was supposed to cook them in a pot with baking soda for 40 minutes or so, until super soft and soupy, all the while skimming off the foam bubbles in the top.

    I don’t have time for that; I’ll just do it in my instant pot.

    Famous last words. Normally, I absolutely love my instant pot. It’s so handy! You can whip up dinner all in one pot in less an half an hour, even if things are frozen, and it comes out tender and delicious. It’s the closest thing to having another woman in the kitchen without polygamy.

    But! I shouldn’t have ignored the instructions about scooping off the foam…and when I flicked open the pressure release valve to let the steam out after cooking the chickpeas for 25 minutes, out came sputtering hot and foul smelling yellow scum!! Aaaagggghhh!!

    I had to throw a towel over the pot to close the pressure valve without getting burned by my hissing, volcanic pot. After wiping chick pea scum off the cupboards and floor, and letting the pressure release naturally, which is what I should have done, I opened the lid to see a mass of bubbly, frothy soupy greyish chick peas, and to smell…. awfulness!!

    Mom, what’s that gross smell?! Eeewww!! Are you making fart soup??

    The house did indeed smell like one giant diaper; the kids weren’t even exaggerating. So I went around laughing like an idiot and opening all the windows and doors and putting the fans on. My poor neighbours!!

    That Eastland family, what are they up to now?

    I thought this attempt at homemakerliness was going to be a total fail, but here’s the suprising part: after I partly drained, then blended the chick peas with lots of tahini, some lemon, garlic, and salt, it turned out great! Except quite a bit too salty…as I was worrying about masking the imagined awful taste…but after I added some water, more lemon and olive oil, it was lovely. And it made a great dressing for homemade falafel, the next day, which surprisingly, turned out just fine, and even satisfied my Middle Eastern loving hubby.

    All’s well that ends well. Sometimes it just really stinks along the way!

    Cereal Bathing

    Since Christmas I’ve been floating in

    periodic luxury…

    the bath bombs my husband gave me from Lush–

    enormous sparkling balls of colour

    which fill our bedroom with exotic perfumes.

    When you drop them in the water,

    they careen around like drunken tennis balls,

    spewing a fuzzy stream of technicolor bubbles.

    The first one was coffee-scented,

    and I had to laugh,

    lying there in a giant creamy latté.

    Another resembled a golden peach,

    and out of its centre came floating

    –unexpected up to my face–

    a perfect little dried flower,

    all pointy and crimson.

    Why all this sweet madness of sparkling bubbles

    from my often-away, hard-working husband?

    They are a silent embrace from afar,

    a wordless thank you for all you do,

    an affirmation of my body’s goodness,

    even, or maybe especially, when it’s exhausted.

    So tonight, feeling frazzled and snappy

    from too many sibling squabbles

    and the sneaky migration of mismatched socks

    all over the living room floor,

    I threw in a big orange bath-bomb,

    and read a delicious chapter of Before Green Gables

    while the tub filled up.

    Finally, I slid into this frothy carrot soup

    and imagined I was floating in the sea,

    bobbing up and down near the shore

    with seagulls gliding high above the waves.

    But…the tiny bubbles popping near my ears

    made it sound like I was bathing

    in a giant bowl of Rice Crispies instead.

    At least, for once, with the toddler asleep,

    no one was trying to steal my cereal!

    Silent Salute

    I look with longing up the hill

    to where my little sweetie lies.

    A strip of tall, green trees topped with crimson

    stand at attention along the oft-walked road

    like a line of fire

    through the graveyard

    and up the hill where my baby ever sleeps.

    Glorious fall silently saluting the fallen–

    my heart shouting without sound

    as the bus rumbles by and whisks me away too soon.

    A Walk to See Her Sister

    The toddler tumbles like laughter

    over the dry grass.

    Disregarding all signs of mourning,

    she chases the crows with open delight.

    She greets everyone she sees,

    all the mummy’s and daddies and “bapa’s,”

    convinced each one is part of her family.

    She even ambles after a thin, pink-shirted man

    with a slight bend in his back,

    calling: “Bapa! Bapa!”

    When we reach her sister’s grave

    she sits happily on my lap,

    and leans over to pat the “Staahhh.”

    I tell her it’s Josephine, a name she can’t yet say.

    Unphased, she takes her nursing blankie

    and flaps it about and pats it

    until her sister’s stone is nicely tucked in

    with her name peeking above the blanket.

    “Baby, nigh, nigh,” she tells me.

    Then grabbing her blankie

    she trundles off to seek new adventures

    and waves, “Baa-bye!”

    trusting I will follow.

    I kiss the dusty stone

    and rise.

    Gas Station Saunter

    See the woman walking

    light as air–

    her wings filling up with the wind,

    canvas shopping-bag sails dancing in the sun.

    An easy, breezy escape

    for 10 minutes,

    popping over to the corner gas station

    –alone!–

    to pick up lemonade ice-tea

    for her temporarily bed-bound husband

    who had this special request.

    She walks along in the sun

    smelling the city scent of spice and cement,

    free enough to notice such things

    without the usual tangled parade of double stroller,

    the baby in snuggly

    and other kids marching two by two.

    She wonders what the chances are

    that she’ll get to capture

    the poetry of this ordinary moment

    when she arrives home

    to 80,000 questions

    like “Why is blood red?

    What is the sun made of?

    What do we do before we are born?”

    and “Can I have a ‘peeburrer samich’ nooooooow?”

    An obnoxious car cuts her off to turn through the crosswalk on her light

    –keeping it real–

    lest in her pondering she float off into the brilliant blue sky

    to alight on the snow-covered mountain tops that beckon in the distance

    to this winged creature:

    a woman alone for a walk.

    Insecurity

    There is the illusion

    that ‘the woman next door’ has everything figured out–

    that the insides of her underwear drawer

    are as neat as her perfect front lawn–

    illusion of insecurity.

    There is the nagging feeling

    that you should be more like her,

    so confident and productive…

    It eats you up inside

    until your walls crumble and collapse

    into emptiness.

    Voices of self-doubt echo

    in the hollow chamber of your head:

    “Are you sure you’re good enough?

    Can you really do this?

    What gave you that silly idea?”

    You’re tempted to crawl under the covers again

    but that’s just where the demons are hiding–

    alone in your head.

    Instead, throw back those blankets and step into the sun,

    don’t give up without a fight,

    empty rooms are good for being filled with light.

    Empty hands are good for holding little hands.

    Empty hearts are good for being filled with love.

    Empty heads are good for listening.

    So, instead of dwelling alone

    in the harsh prison of your self-judgement,

    reach out,

    be open to other people’s stories,

    listen to their hopes and cries of pain.

    Everyone has their struggle,

    and everyone has their blue flame.

    Realize you are not alone

    in all your broken beauty…

    like them you’re just a tiny little human

    entrusted by God

    with the great task of love.