T.J. BROWN BLOG
You would think that forty minutes of activity wouldn’t be difficult to get, especially when working from home, but it is, oh, how it is. Forty minutes is the goal because that’s how much the CDC or some other health authority said we needed to get if we’re sitting for work all day. I start work at 7:30/8:00 and it is still pretty dark. I get off work at 4:30/5:00 and the sun is heading down. My gym is closed, (Stupid Covid) so one has to be strategic. Like if I cut my lunch back to thirty minutes and add one of the breaks to it I have 50 minutes for a brisk walk. Then I have to find a time where I don’t have a workshop to teach, a student to talk to or another meeting to attend. And when I do all that, it’s raining. I know, I know, I won’t melt. But that’s still a lot of barriers to overcome for something you didn’t really want to do in the first place. It’s easier to just have another piece of pumpkin bread. However, forty minutes was my intention for the week, so I’m doing my best. Monday, I got out for a walk. Yesterday, I managed to get almost an hour of work done in the front yard. The weather looks great today so I’ll try to get out for another walk. Who knows, I may even jog a little. I’m just crazy like that.
I’m out on submission, so in order to stay sane and not cyber stalk editors or obsess, I’m breaking out my Save the Cat Writes a Novel book and plotting out the rest of my story. Sometimes plotting works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. Silly characters just go and do things that muck up the whole works. I’ve already got a solid synopsis, so I am going to go through it point by point and add beats and potential conflict. The plan is to barricade myself in the office for a few hours this weekend and see what happens😊
So far this week, I’ve made a turkey pot pie, elk meat chili with cornbread muffins and last night I made a simple pasta dish from a recipe by Gabriele Corcos, aka the Tuscan Gun from Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel. He and his wife, actor Debi Mazer, recently moved back to his family’s estate in Tuscany and are remodeling the old farmhouse. I’ve been following their adventures on Facebook. Anyway, the pasta was just the right amount of everything and what a delicious way to get in some kale. Mom and I also threw together a roasted veggie dish that was amazing and a perfect compliment to the pasta. Here’s a picture I sent to my husband at work.
Obviously, I’m not a food stylist, so there’s that.
The nice thing about frontloading the week with cooking is the leftovers at the end of the week when I’m tired, though I do plan on making a white bean stew and a loaf of Italian bread on Friday or Saturday.
And you wonder why I really, really need to get in that forty minutes of activity a day.
We got home from the Powder House on Saturday. Like I wrote in my blog, it was a quiet holiday. I told Al when we left that I felt like all I did was drink and cook, which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but not conducive to productivity. I did manage to pull it out by mopping the floors and rearranging the furniture before we left, which helped me feel like I accomplished something besides gluttony.
I conked out at 7:30 Saturday night which led to me getting up at 3:30 Sunday morning. I had a really vivid dream that begs to be a book. It was odd how specific it was… even to the date—1932. The concept is super intriguing, but I am not sure I can do it justice. We shall see. I have other ideas in line before that.
Because I woke up so early, I had a chance to get a head start on the chores that had to happen before I start back to work. I got my weekly to do list done, my menu, the grocery list done by 5:30. Then I started in on the house and managed to mop, dust, clean counters, water plants’ etc. by 7:00.
So, of course, I was back in bed by 8:30.
An hour later, I was up. “Do your damn chores,” I told myself.
Ran errands with my husband—grocery store, Bi-Mart, Harbor Freight and Goodwill. Happy to see everyone wearing masks. Then back to the house where I threw together some pumpkin banana bread, vacuumed and made a chicken pot pie which should last us for several lunches… I’ll be turkeyed out by that time and have elk chili, a meatless pasta dish and a white bean stew planned for the week. Plan on making some French bread for the stew.
The pumpkin bread fell in the middle and I had to scoop out the raw. So angry with myself. THE TOOTHPICK CAME OUT CLEAN, I kept yelling until Al finally told me that I was obsessing. So I whispered it to myself. The flavor is amazing, though, so I’m going to turn it into bread pudding. Maybe add some chocolate chips and whipped cream. Stupid lying toothpick. The turkey potpie was amazing, so that helped. A little.
In spite of a busy productive day, I kept thinking of the things I didn’t finish. I didn’t get the leaves raked out of the front and distributed into the flower beds. I didn’t get the shower/tub cleaned. Didn’t get the litter box cleaned and damn, my walls could use a scrub before I decorate for the holidays.
I wish I had something positive and uplifting to say here about being kind to oneself, but it’s 2020 and I got nothing.
Except that the damn toothpick came out clean.
For us, Like many others across the US, Thanksgiving was a quiet affair. Just my mom, hubby and doggy. I woke up before everyone else and did some early morning research. It’s a tradition for us to give money to a Native American organization on Thanksgiving and I wanted one that was specifically for Covid relief. Reparations, yo.
I’d made cinnamon rolls Wednesday night after arriving at the Powder House and hubby and I took them to our neighbors early on Thanksgiving Day to have with their coffee, tea or whatever they drink to wake up in the mornings. Then we went to a field and let our girl run. A big, sweet puppy came lumbering over and we spent quite a while looking for the owner. I really wanted that dog and when we found his home, I wish we’d just kept him. What a sweet boy he was.
I took a nap and then got to cooking. We did a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey and it was the best turkey I’ve ever eaten. The buttermilk brine is genius. Of course, since it was just a breast, it only took an hour… and everything else took an hour as well, so I was hustling. The brussels sprouts with the pomegranate molasses got away from me, but they were still good. We were so full, we never got to the pie and I have a sinking feeling that I forgot the sugar…we’ll find out when someone goes to have pie for breakfast! Oh, well. They can have chocolate mousse which turned out perfectly. Or leftover cinnamon rolls. I just know the turkey sandwiches with this uncooked cranberry sauce are going to be epic.
I don’t know whether it was too many cocktails (homemade spiced orange syrup, Blueland gin, Triples Sec and tonic water… YUM), too much food, or too much worry, but I couldn’t sleep last night. I was up and down from 12:45 on which bums me out because I wanted to go hiking with my husband and have a winter picnic somewhere. I don’t think I’m going to be up for hiking.
I really wanted to get some painting done, too, but I don’t think that’s going to happen, either. This annoys me as the living room isn’t quite half done and I need to start on the kitchen cabinets before the countertops and new sink go in in January. But then, we bought a place here so we could play, not just work…
But first a nap.
Sometimes running away is the best way to find yourself.
The stress of (gestures wildly) everything has brought me right up to the edge of the abyss. There’s such an onslaught of happenings that I’ve had no time to process any of it—not the good, the bad or the ugly. It’s affecting me physically and my energy is so low that it’s difficult for me to even muster up the motivation to exercise. I’ve been having weird out of body experiences and sometimes my bones feel like they’re melting. Yesterday morning, I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin. Quarantine is hard, yo. When my husband took the puppy out for a walk, I finally texted him with I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE.
So we did.
Saying goodbye to mom, the cats, the dog and the chores, we headed west, first to grab coffee from our favorite coffee shop and then onto the freeway toward the ocean. Once in the coast range, we took the jeep up muddy tracks, down over boulders and through mudpuddles so big they could swallow a house. We weren’t going to grandma’s house; we were running away. We visited a drippy, lonely horse camp, found an epic walking stick at a hidden trail head and went in search of a waterfall that we never found. We checked out fishing holes along the river and my husband told me stories of taking our son to those same holes. We watched a man catch and lose a salmon. We got muddy. We gulped deep breaths of verdant forest air and let the mist settle down around us.
We never made it to the ocean. Instead, we grabbed a huge bag of delicious greasy food that included pork belly sandwiches, cheese curds, soft pretzels and tots, along with a couple of pints of cold IPA’s from Pelican Brewery and tailgated at Memaloose on the Tillamook Bay. We listened to classic rock and talked and talked about our kids, our new puppy and plans for our future. We didn’t talk about covid or politics.
I wish I could say our outing left me peaceful and rested, but that would be stretching it. It was, however, a lovely, much needed respite and I do feel grounded enough to survive the few weeks. Note to self. More of this please.
Remember my lovely weekend last weekend, filled with baking and joy and rest? Remember the birthday cake I made for my son that he stopped by to pick up along with a loaf of bread and his gift? He stayed for an hour and we had a nice cozy chat, the way that moms and sons often do when they don’t get to see each other very often… he stayed for about an hour, got birthday hugs and headed home to his family.
He had Covid.
Sunday, my husband headed off to North Powder to recover from surgery and get some R&R. We got the call Tuesday that fisher son tested positive for Covid and we should probably quarantine. I went and got a test, though in reality that only shows that I didn’t have Covid when I got the test. I’m most worried about my mom, who at 84, has asthma and COPD and therefore high risk. I am also worried about my husband who is still recovering from surgery and I am sick to my stomach worried about my kiddo, ill at home with his wife and my baby grandchildren. No one has any symptoms and its day six sooooo… we wait. Like so many other Americans, we wait.
In other news, I was offered and accepted representation from Laura Bradford from the Bradford Literary agency and got a puppy, so there’s that. Yeah, it’s been a week.
My lovely daughter went out for supplies for us. On the Friday before Thanksgiving week…she definitely gets daughter points. We were running out of groceries. Okay, beer. I was running out of beer. Though I did get into my wine collection, which was a nice change.
I’ve got homemade rolls almost ready to go in the oven, then I’m going to roast a whole chicken so I can make soup over the weekend. I think some chicken soup is in order, yes?
I started cutting back fall perennials and raking leaves this week. The weather has been awful, which makes everything harder. But, it’s lovely to work the earth and get the beds ready for winter in anticipation of spring. The earth doesn’t care who’s president. It only cares that the people working it, respect it. Okay, so maybe it does care who’s president. Ha!
Hubby isn’t showing symptoms and oversaw the installation of new windows at the Powder House. I am wildly jealous. It looks really good from the pictures. He’s on his way home so we can quarantine together.
That’s basically my plan for the weekend. Working in the yard, writing, cooking and maybe baking an apple pie just because I can.
The organization I work for has engaged a human resources coach to help its admin and leaders understand how their own emotional responses affect their collaboration as a team. This is an ongoing year-long session that includes both private and small group coaching. The theme of this coaching session is emotional intelligence and I am all in.
Or at least I was until I got the results of the first assessment. Ha!
The assessment included a series of videos—short vignettes concerning work related conflict. The actor spoke directly to you, and you were supposed to, as much as possible, put yourself in that situation. Then you answered a variety of questions. The assessment and consequent coaching session were eye opening to say the least.
There are several things that I do exceptionally well… for instance, I have a high ability to discern the feelings and intentions of others during conflict which means that I am very much in the moment. This makes me happy because I have been consciously trying to improve my listening skills. (After thirty years of living with a world class talker, I have a tendency to interrupt. It’s the only way I can get a word in edgewise!) I’m also very adept at moving from one collaboration style to another, which means I know when to collaborate, when to back off and work on my own, when to allow others to lead and when to lead myself.
What really threw me was I have difficulty accessing certain feelings which impacts my empathy score. Wait, what? I work in human services because I feel for others, right? Yes. But my ability to access the feelings of joy and love are alarmingly low, while my ability to access shame and anxiety are through the roof. This imbalance impacts a person’s ability to empathize. To tell the truth, I was really kind of pissed off about this assessment because I’m used to acing tests, dammit.
The coaches talked me through what I was feeling and helped me to understand the scores. Shame, they said, is a gift from our earliest caregivers. Through the years, my desire to avoid shame has morphed into a perfectionism that I didn’t used to have. Perfectionism causes anxiety which can manifest itself into a variety of ways. Both shame and anxiety sap your energy making it difficult to access other feelings.
Well, that’s just a perfect storm of suckery, isn’t it?
Do things that bring you joy, they said. Which comes at the perfect time, as my husband and I have been trying to discern our core desired feelings which will then informs the rest of our lives.
So I did this… Because joy.
Bet you didn’t know this post was going to turn out this way, did you? Meet Wyatt Earp, the newest member of the Brown household. Wyatt is a mini dachshund born on a huge cattle ranch in Eastern Oregon, hence the name. Plus, you know, he’s our huckleberry. We pick him up on December 29th, just before we usher in a new year.
And that assessment? The coaches told me that outside stress can impact the scores. Ladies, and gentlemen, I give you 2020.
But this little one is going to make 2021 a more joyous year!
To say that I needed a weekend exactly like this one is an understatement. It was both productive and relaxing, healing and restorative. After the past three weeks, it was like a lovely breeze blowing away the fatigue and anxiety. I stayed away from news as much as possible, ate the frog early on Saturday so I could do as I pleased the rest of the weekend. (In this case, eating the frog was taking my mom to Macy’s to go bra shopping for both of us. At the same time. After that, everything, including cleaning out the fridge, was easy-peasy!)
I baked up several loaves of rustic buttermilk bread, one for us to have with the maple stout stew I threw together and one for each of my children and their families. I made my son a pineapple upside down cake for his birthday and between the cake, the bread and the slow cooked stew, my house smelled amazing for hours. Warm. Comforting. Homey.
I mostly kept away from politics, which is difficult in this house. When I did run into the noise on Twitter and such, I tried to let it go and focus on the positives, like the diversity of the transition team and the report that Deb Haaland, a Native American woman from New Mexico is being considered for Secretary of the Interior which would be amazing.
Instead of politics, I did a lot of work in my new planner and had several fabulous conversations with my husband about our respective Core Desired Feelings. After thirty years, we know one another so well that we could guess one another’s answers😊
On Friday night, hubby and I started watching The Queen’s Gambit. So, so good. The actresses are just phenomenal. We started taking out the New York Times again, so our Sunday morning ritual of drinking coffee while reading has been reinstated. I kept to the book reviews and the cooking pages this morning though, to keep this weekend’s no politics policy.
I also got a lot of cleaning done, something I actually like to do… when I want to do it. I can’t help it, Capricorn sun/Virgo rising, yo. I like my spaces to be neat and clean. I scored some serious reading time in on the book club book, too. Reading about what the women’s liberation movement was like from Ginsberg’s and O’Conner’s point of view is fascinating and humbling. Women like them laid such a strong foundation and though there is still much to do, I’m grateful for the pioneers.
Oh, and I got some more writing in, as well. I’m like the tin man—I’m a little rusty but it’s coming back to me. I got a little affirmation bump this weekend in that regard which felt like a whipped cream top on the whole weekend. I’ll share more if anything comes to fruition, but it’s nice to feel like I’m in the game again.
In planning out my week, I added more political action items… if we’re to build a compassionate equitable world, we all have to fight for it. After this weekend, I feel as if I actually have the energy to begin again.
Anyone who has known me knows that I love myself a good planner. I can’t help it, Capricorn/Virgo, yo. I’ve tried a lot of them, Erin Condren is awesome, as is the Best Self Journal which also tracks habits you wish to form. For the past couple of years, I sadly resigned myself to keeping an electronic calendar because my job demanded it. I still kept a journal and wrote in it more or less daily, but I missed that nice orderly row of boxes with room for positive affirmations, a pretty to do list and a place to jot down what I was grateful for.
So I decided to get another planner, a hard copy planner that would encourage my desire for a holistic life. Because I have done so much at home work (And now days, who doesn’t/), I have always jotted down fold the laundry next to interview anecdotal source or finish essay for history next to write 2000 words for WIP. When I was going to school and working and writing, it would all go on the same weekly list and then get broken down into daily lists. I was an advocate of life work balance before it even had a name.
I am also not a do a little bit everyday kind of person. I like doing my gardening/yardwork or housework in two to three-hour slots. Not only do I feel like it makes more of an impact that way, but I like focusing on task for an extended period of time…which is one of the reasons writing 500 words a day is so difficult for me. I like a three-hour chunk in my day to write no matter how many words I get.
With 2020 being such a topsy-turvy screwed up mess, I felt the need to return to a hard planner that encompasses my whole life. I’ll still use the electronic calendar to keep my work appointments in order and frankly, my manager requires it as I work mostly remote now. But for the first time in three years, I found myself looking to buy a planner.
Friends of mine have used Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Planner for years. Her planners are like a combination scheduler, life designer, gratitude journal… oh, everything all together. Kind of like me. Kind of like you. The premise is to identify your core desired feelings first, then identify the actions that make you feel those things. The outcome is pretty powerful. And yes, that’s a lot of woo for one planner.
One good friend started using it and within three or four years her life is completely different. She left her very repressive church, started working out, getting outdoors, went back to school to get a degree in the medical field, divorced her husband, and came out as bisexual. Now, obviously, the planner didn’t do all of those things and I’m sure that much of what she went through was brutally hard. But it started with her being honest with herself about how she wanted to feel.
We have one life, people. (Or maybe many, but right now, this is the one we are in.)
I’m not looking for huge life changes. I’m really pretty happy with the life I have—the work I have been given and the people I am connected with—but I am looking to grow and I think this planner will help me do that for the next year. And I just love planners. Like I told my daughter, my core desired feeling is to feel the way I do when a shiny new planner comes in the mail!
I’m not going to lie, the past few weeks have been rough. Sleepless nights, constant worry, rage… all of those things. We’ve been dealing with some medical issues at the Brown house, in addition to trying to run a remodel from 300 miles away, learn a new job and watch helplessly as our democracy gets pummeled and a pandemic kills a thousand Americans a day.
Stress affects people in different ways. I start second guessing myself which soon morphs into self-sabotage which morphs into a vicious guilt/shame/sadness cycle. I know this about myself and usually have a really good system of self-support and self-care set up. But sometimes the load feels too heavy and I start skipping my meditation/movement/journaling/writing, etc. Which makes everything so much worse. Though I have to say at this moment in history it seems so much worse because IT IS SO MUCH WORSE.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way and even though I wouldn’t wish anxiety on anyone, it does comfort me to realize that I’m not the only one experiencing the crushing stress of this moment in history.
Last night, tired of everything, including myself, I sat down and started writing on a project I’m really excited about but which had seemed too daunting just a week ago. I realized how much I miss writing and how much I need it. A huge chunk of my creative self has been missing for… well, months, if I’m going to be honest. I need to make space in my life for creating. More magic, please.
Being proactive is also a good way for me to calm the anxieties, so I’m looking at things that have always worked for me and revamping them for my new schedule and life. Setting an alarm on my fitbit to remind me to take a twenty-minute walking break during the day is a good start. Reading before bed instead of doom scrolling would also help relieve my stress.
I’m making lots of soup and baking lots of bread. I’ve decided comfort food should always be on the menu. Today, I’m trying my hand at buttermilk sandwich bread and maybe a cake. Baking eases my stress, makes my house cozy and warm and feeds my soul as well as my stomach.
And soul feeding, heart centering, is really what it’s all about, isn’t it? The only way we can create a more compassionate, equitable and sustainable world is to center our own hearts. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need in order to have enough to continue the work. What words best express how I want to feel? Here’s a few…
I’m diving deeply into all of these things so that in 2021, I’ll be able to situate my life in such a way that encourages feelings that will, in turn, make me a more efficient catalyst for change. I need to be nourished in order to continue the work I have been called to do. It’s time to really be intentional about how I nourish myself. What have you been doing to cope?
I didn’t really think through the fact that having two houses means having two yards. I’m not complaining, mind you. I know how blessed I am. That doesn’t take away the fact that I now have two VERY LARGE yards to take care of. The lot at our city house is about 10,000 square feet with a small house and the lot at the country cabin is a half an acre with an equally small house on it. Clearly, we like big yards and tiny houses. Clearly, we like yard work.
And yard work we have done. The beds at the city place are cleaned out and the garden area has been mulched with bark chips. I am also almost finished staining the back patio and shoveling decorative pea gravel between the flagstones in the front patio.
At the Powder House, it’s all weeding all the time. One of the long time owners, Clyde Smith, loved his garden and as I weed, I’m finding long hidden perennials. He also loved rocks and I am discovering a lot of those, as well. Neighbors tell us how beautiful his garden was—one of the loveliest in town—as we are trying to bring it back to its former glory. However, we will have to do it with drought resistant plants, as we won’t always make it over to water.
Hubby and I mention Clyde a lot as we work. “That old Clyde, he loved himself some rocks,” he’ll yell as the mower hits another one. Yes, he sure did. He also loved his garden and died after he had a stroke working in it. I’m mindful of this and plan on having one of his rocks engraved with Clyde’s Garden to honor him. The above outbuilding is going to be my new writing studio one day!
Speaking of engraving, the women whom we bought the house from created a dry creek bed and aspen grove in memory of her mother. I was touched by her story and had a rock engraved with Jackie’s Grove on it in memory of her mom. She cried when I sent her a picture and said she knew she had sold it to the right people.
Honestly, by honoring those who had come before, I am reminding myself that we can’t really own the land we work on. We are simply borrowing it. I plan on honoring the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla People at some point, as the land belonged to them first.
In the meantime, you’ll find me in one of two yards… weeding.
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