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Many years ago, when we were under the age of ten, my cousin Mike and I came up with a plan. Our mothers were taking us to the lake for a few days and I had learned in school, right before we got out, that the summer solstice was the longest day of the year. The very night we were going was, of course, the night of the solstice. Of course, I told Mike and milking any excuse to stay up later, we asked, no, begged, our moms if we could please stay up until the sun went down. I don’t remember our exact words, but I can assume that we were probably very pitiful in our pleas. We often were.

The moms giggled and said that yes, of course we could, but we had to go to bed right after. Excited, we agreed, only for them to tell us that the sun went down around 9:20 and our regular summer bedtime was 10:00.

We were, understandably, a bit put out, but gladly reclaimed our later bedtime. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that.

Happy Solstice!

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The school year just ended, so I’m using this time to write and to become more visible as an author. I’ve written two articles on Medium so far, please check them out. Heck, you could even become a fan if you really wanted to! Here are the links:

https://medium.com/@julieballantynebrown_68872/online-teaching-during-a-pandemic-aea0e159bf90

https://medium.com/@julieballantynebrown_68872/faith-426322259857

Thanks! You are all awesome!

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Now I lay me down to sleep

I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

Thy love go with me all the night

And wake me in the morning light.

Amen

My prayers when I was six are a lot different than they are now. I have a lot of questions for God these days.

Tonight, I pray to be better. To be a better friend, a better advocate, a better ally. I pray for the strength to be a better voice for those who need it, for Black Lives and LGBTQIA+. I pray for the courage it will take for change, real change, to happen and for justice to be done.

Now it’s time for action, not just prayers. We have to take a stand and use what voice we have. This blog is one avenue for me and I pledge to do more in my daily life to help, whether that means speaking up more, writing more, or going out to march when COVID isn’t so prevalent.

I hate confrontation, I would prefer to hide away in hole away from the unpleasantness but I can’t. I CAN’T. And neither should you.

To quote one of my favorite musical characters, “If I stay silent, I am damned.”

Don’t be silent. Stand.

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Today, on this episode of Quarantine Adventures, I decided to clean out my kitchen cabinets. Since we began sheltering in place, I’ve been completely unmotivated to really do much around the house, especially since Marty and I have been online teaching full time. It’s completely exhausting and by the time I actually finish for the day, around 9 or 10:00, I don’t want to do anything else. Seriously, we have assignments and questions coming in 24-7 and it’s a lot more difficult to grade online work than it is on paper.

That’s also a reason I haven’t been writing much lately; I’m at the computer all day long and by the time I’m done working, I just don’t want to type anything else. We do take breaks during the day, but it feels like we’re constantly working and we can’t step away for long. Hence, there is not much going on in the way of deep-cleaning at our house, except for the linen closet I emptied out a few weeks ago.

BUT! This is Memorial Day weekend and although I have a billion more e-assignments to grade (just the thought of that makes me want to cry), I’m actually taking a couple of days away from online school. I’m not even looking at my email right now. After reading for a few hours this morning (Delicious!!!) I decided that we needed chocolate chip cookies. I mean, when do we not need chocolate chip cookies?

While rummaging for ingredients, I noticed that there were a lot of items that had been there for a while. And when I say a while, I mean a really long time, so I started going through them.

Oh, my goodness.

There was a lot to see there, folks.

Our cabinets go back ridiculously far. I know I’m short, but one would need 6-foot-long arms to easily reach the back of these cabinets. That means that as we go shopping and add more stuff, items that don’t get used get pushed all the way back and out of the sight line. It’s a really stupid design. There were a lot of things pushed to the back. Undeterred, I got out my trusty step stool and tried not to dislocate my shoulder.

Here are some examples of things I threw out today:

  • Two boxes of cornstarch, one expired in 2014, one in 2016.
  • Lasagna noodles, expired 2015.
  • Cherry Jell-O, expired May 2013 (at first glance, I thought it said 2003.)
  • Club crackers, expired 2018.
  • Lemon extract, expired 2014. (That one smelled up the whole kitchen when I poured it down the drain. Mostly lemony, but also icky.)
  • Instant coffee that was technically not expired but had consolidated into, well, a solid.
  • Arborio rice, expired 2016.

And the oldest thing I found today: A box of chamomile tea that expired in 2010.

We’ve been here since 2001, so all things considered, it wasn’t horrible, but still. As I was cleaning, episodes of Hoarders kept going through my mind. (Do you know how old this is???) I mean, at some point before 2010, I had obviously done this before.

It was very therapeutic. I LOVE purging and throwing things away, I love the way things look and feel after it’s done. I’m proud to say that every food item in my cupboard is, for the moment, unexpired and all of the emptied boxes/jars/cans are in the recycling bin.

Guys, this was a major achievement today. I feel accomplished. However, it may be another ten years before I do it again.

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Sometimes, a song just sparks a whole memory and the feels that come with it. Here’s one I’ll share with you.

I like to listen to music when I make dinner and tonight, “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin came on. I was instantly transported to the late 90s when I was working on Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village. There were a group of us young girls who were between 20-25 and a group of more mature women who were our mamas. We called all of them “Mama”, it was just that way then. We had a good thing going.

Anyway, one morning as we were getting ready for visitors, Mama Linda, a dear lovely person with children in high school at the time, just belted out, “Me and Bobby McGee”, beautifully. She stopped after the first verse, a little embarrassed, but we egged her on until she picked it back up again and finished out the song. We were blown away, this tiny lady perfectly channeling Janis while wearing an 1880s farm dress, her hair braided in a bun. It was amazing and I’ll never forget that day. By the way, those days were twenty years ago and I still call her Mama Linda.

These days, I’m grabbing onto whatever positive things that I can and holding them in my heart. Music comes from the soul and entwines with our memories for our life soundtrack. “Me and Bobby McGee” fits in nicely to mine. Tell me your story that comes from a song and a memory.

Much love to you all.

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Exactly two months ago, the night of February 17, I was so excited. The next morning, I would board my plane to Boston and begin my mini-adventure in Salem.  I was packed and ready. barely able to fall asleep. I remember it well. At that point, COVID-19 was the furthest thing from my mind. Little did I know

Fast forward to now. It’s only been two months since my trip, but it seems like years ago. Travel isn’t even on the radar at the moment. There have been some really rough days, I’ll admit. Emotions have run the gamut: Fear, inspiration, hope, anger (this past week, especially), frustration, all ramped up due to the situation.

I’m trying not to let my OCD and anxiety run away with those negative emotions, going round and round in my brain for hours without stopping. It’s times like these when I seriously rethink my therapist’s offer of medication. I’m not going to lie, Wednesday was really difficult, watching people completely disregard safety regulations, getting out of cars and clumping together, with such ugliness, waving Confederate flags and white power signs that had nothing to do with what they were supposedly protesting. Just for the record, I believe in the right to peaceful protest; I do NOT believe that we have the right to put other people in danger by potentially exposing them to a deadly disease (including children, OMG!!! There were several children there!), clogging up streets and honking horns for EIGHT HOURS around a Level 1 trauma hospital where there are tons of sick people, children, and a maternity ward. WTF??? Seriously, what is wrong with people? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. That’s all I’m going to say on that matter, so trolls, step off. Don’t even try to defend that mess,

That being said, there are many positive things about this social isolation episode that I am focusing on. Such as:

  • Family time. Youngest Child is a brilliant musician and he’s been teaching (forcing) me to learn piano chords. I can already read music, I sing and play the flute/piccolo/tin whistle, but my piano experience has been limited to very simple tunes. Now, I’m learning some really cool stuff. He’s also helping me with learning ukulele. I always wanted to play and, of course, he knows how. We’ve been watching a lot of movies as a family, eating dinner together every night, and playing games. Yes, we get tired of each other and need some alone time, but for the most part, I love spending more time with Marty and Youngest Child. (Oldest lives on his own now, two hours away, and Middle is in his apartment at school since he has better internet and still has an active lease.)
  • Sleeping in. We’re working, Marty teaches, too, but no more 6:00 am wake-up times for us. School starts when we want it to. We’re honestly working a lot of hours, more than we normally do, but we have sleep. Yay!
  • I’m writing regularly. I finished the yet-unnamed sequel to Traveler, began another book, and plan to begin editing (and naming) the sequel this week. I’m also writing a lot more blog posts, in case you haven’t noticed.
  • Languages. I’ve dusted off my Italian and French and am going full-force on Duolingo. It’s awesome. Future plans…
  • I’m starting my Shakespeare garden indoors with seeds. See my Shakespeare Garden post for more on that. It’s so cool, watching everything sprout!
  • Zoom meetings. Two months ago, I couldn’t have told you what Zoom was. Now I use it every day. It helps me to stay connected to my theatre family and my church family. I truly don’t know what I’d do without it. I even get to have my therapy appointment online, which is very much needed.

Now, with things looking a bit better with this stupid virus running its course, there’s a little light shining at the end of the tunnel, if people don’t screw it up and start a giant second wave. We (myself included) need to focus more on the positive, not to ignore the problems, but to keep things from getting very dark.

In the comments, share a positive with me, some bright spot in this dark time, no matter where in the world you are. I want to celebrate with you!

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This Easter will definitely go down in the books as one to remember. It’s a bit anticlimactic. When our boys were small, Easter was a big deal, what with the bunny and all. There was Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday, followed by Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Then there were the new outfits for church, going to a packed Easter Sunday service, smelling all of the flowers in the sanctuary. For the last several years, we’ve celebrated Easter dinner with family, at my brother/cousin’s house. It’s always been something to look forward to and enjoy. This year is different, of course. Church will be on YouTube, Youngest Child is too old to hunt eggs, and while I plan on making a nice ham dinner, it will only be the three of us. It’s a bit of a downer.

Of course, there have been other Easters that haven’t been “normal”. Seven years ago, we spent Easter in Disney World with my mom, brothers, sister-in-law, my niece, and my nephew. (Side note: Disney World is not the happiest place on earth, especially around nap time.) I brought some Easter candy to Florida with us to make it seem a little more festive, especially because Youngest Child was on that edge of belief and unbelief. It was a good Easter, just different.

Then there was the Easter that Middle Child got RSV. It was his first Easter, he was only a little more than two weeks old. His breathing didn’t sound right on the day before Easter so I took him to the doctor. We ended up taking an ambulance to the hospital where they tried to give him a spinal tap, but he gave them such a hard time that they gave up. We were there for three days, absolutely terrifying. Marty was left on his own to handle Easter for Oldest Child who wasn’t even two, so I assume he isn’t terribly scarred from the experience. That was the worst Easter, even worse than this one, for us anyway. Things went from zero to sixty so fast and we were scared. Thank God that little fighter made it through and is now quarantining in his campus apartment. He gets better internet for his classes there and still has a lease, so he’ll be home when things start clearing up.

Easter is about resurrection, rebirth, renewal. We don’t get to celebrate the way we usually do, so we have to keep perspective in mind. In Christianity, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the basis of our faith, a renewal of sorts. We’re going through kind of a renewal right now, a reluctant one, but a renewal nonetheless. It’s uncomfortable, but I don’t think Easter, true Easter, is supposed to be comfortable. Change never is. Things are different this year, but it’s still Easter.

I wish you blessings, wherever in the world you are, whatever religion or creed that you believe, or not. What’s in your heart makes no difference to me, I just wish you love and blessings. We all kind of need that right now, don’t we?

Stay safe. Stay home. Wash your hands. We’ll get through this.

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“There’s fennel for you, and columbines. There’s rue for you; and here’s some
for me: we may call it herb of grace a’ Sundays. You may wear your rue with a difference. There’s a daisy. I would give you some violets, but they withered all when my father died.” ~William Shakespeare

Ophelia, in Hamlet, Act IV scene v Lines 180-185

In the middle of this quarantine, I’ve started my Shakespeare garden. This idea was not an original one, I take no credit for that. I got the idea from the Shakespeare garden in Stratford, Ontario. Stratford holds a Shakespeare/theatre festival every year, normally beginning in late April and ending in October.

Marty and I went to Stratford last summer for the first time in many years to see Othello. In front of the theatre was a beautiful garden with all sorts of plants from Shakespeare’s works. I took a ton of pictures and the wheels started turning.

We have a lot of junk grass in our yard. We purposely use no chemicals, so the lawn is a mixture of grass, clover, and other green things. We don’t mind. We’re not the fussy type and we definitely don’t want to add to the poison in the groundwater. I would like it to look pretty, however, and at be somewhat useful, as opposed to boring grassy stuff. Hence, the Shakespeare garden.

No photo description available.

Many of the plants I’m putting in can be used in cooking or tea, some for other things. There will be thyme, rosemary, columbines, and marjoram when the garden centers open back up and I can buy established plants. Yesterday, I planted seeds for mugwort (more tea!), yarrow, rue (herb of grace), wolfsbane (I’ll finally keep those pesky werewolves away), foxglove, black seed poppies, wild angelica, and even mandrake. I can’t lie, the mandrake has a huge Harry Potter appeal for me and it comes with a full sheet of instructions, so they will definitely be getting names if they germinate. There’s even a Hawthorn bush/tree arriving in a couple of weeks so the fae folk have somewhere to live. Violets naturally grow in our yard and I already have daisies. I also plan to put little signs around the garden, explaining what they are and where they can be found in Shakespeare’s works.

I could never have started a project of this size without being in quarantine. Honestly, this would still be a seed in my mind (see what I did there?) if we hadn’t been compelled to stay at home. Will it all work out? I hope so. I hope it will be beautiful, I hope I can have friends over for drinks in my Shakespeare garden. I hope the bees and butterflies will be happy with all of their new blooms. I have hope.

I’ll keep you posted.

By the way, I ordered my seeds from https://www.alchemy-works.com/seed_index.html where they carry a lot of hard-to-find seeds. The customer service was superb, but have patience during this time of pandemic.

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I usually consider myself a pretty good sport. I play by the rules, accept my defeats (mostly), and shake them off. I’m not an obnoxious winner, only a little gloating, especially when I beat Marty in Jeopardy. Hey, if you beat Marty in Jeopardy you would gloat, too.

But I’m having trouble being a good sport right now. I’m a person who craves authenticity, realness, hands-on experiences and that’s not happening right now, nor is the possibility. I love the idea that zoos and museums are streaming live animal cams and virtual tours; I think that’s fabulous. These are things that I would normally watch and plan to visit, or put it on my wish list to visit, like the Louvre or the Bronx Zoo. But right now, I can’t and I don’t have the heart to watch.

There was a woman on the news yesterday, from somewhere in my area, who was supposed to leave for Hawaii yesterday, I think, with close friends. They had been planning the trip for seven years. Yep, seven. Of course, their trip was cancelled because of COVID-19 and so she made the best of it. She made several videos as if she were on the cruise, folding towels into animals, pretending that she was on the deck drinking lovely tropical drinks, wearing big, floppy, cruise hats. Of course, she was disappointed, but she really made an effort to turn it around.

A friend of mine posted a video of having Spring Break in her backyard with her kids, to the tune of “Vacation” by the Go Gos. It was adorable. It was so much fun to watch. I don’t know if she was actually planning on going anywhere for Spring Break, but if her plans were cancelled, she sure didn’t look defeated. I admire that.

I don’t have it in me to do that. I’m doing what I need to do, socially isolating, only going out for absolute necessities, staying as active as possible, but, damn, this sucks. I don’t have any immediate travel plans, just an overnight in Stratford, Ontario at the end of July. That’s still up in the air, whether that happens or not, but there’s hope. Right now, though, it feels like nothing good will ever happen again. I can’t watch those live streams because it’s not real. I’m not there, I’m not experiencing those things and, honestly, right now, it doesn’t feel like I will.

Now, there are some good things coming of this quarantine. Youngest Child has us all to himself and I get more impressed with him every day. He’s an amazing kid. He’s still messy, but one step at a time. I’ve been cleaning out closets and cupboards, throwing out useless things and preparing other things to donate. We have our health. We are still getting paid. We are still teaching. We have everything that we need, including toilet paper. We are fortunate beyond words, I know that. This is another thing to not point out to me. I get it. I’m not a good sport about this, I know, so please don’t tell me to look on the bright side or anything like that. Do you think I haven’t said that to myself? I am able to meet with dear friends for brunch and Coloring Night on Zoom, Tap Club on Facebook Live.   My theatre board meetings are on Zoom as well. Church, Sermon Chat,  and all of Holy Week are online. I may never go to church without my couch blanket again.

I’m not a good sport about this, I know, so please don’t tell me to look on the bright side or anything like that. Do you think I haven’t said that to myself? My inner Amanda Wingfield is coming out: “Nothing offends folks more than…” That being said, my theatre is still heavy on my mind, as well as all of our sister theatres. We’re all struggling to continue to do the thing we love. My show was cancelled, as well as many other shows. All of those dreams are gone. Honestly, theatre keeps me going through the year. It’s what I look forward to, what I need, and it’s not happening for the foreseeable future. The thought of not being able to even be in the building for months makes me anxious. I want my make-up room, the ghost light, the stage. I want to hug my friends who accept my weirdness, who love me for who I am. I can’t do that and I’m not okay.

I’ve always had a phobia about feeling trapped (let’s go back to childhood trauma, shall we?) and here I am: Trapped. Now, I do have a loving family to be trapped with, a killer garden planned, and neighbor cats who think they live here and bring other cats to visit. I can walk in my neighborhood. I’m freaking (desperately wanting to say the other word but won’t here) wanting to accept everything, to be at peace in my mind, but I’m not. I’m not. And I want you to know that it’s okay to say that, to not fool yourself into thinking that it’s not okay if you don’t feel that way. Be real with your feelings.

Will it ever be okay? Sure, someday. We’ll have a vaccine or a cure at some point. Things will open back up. We will, thank God, travel again, hug again, congregate again.

But right now, I’m not a good sport about it. I hate this. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be okay.

 

 

 

 

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Marty and I just finished watching A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, where Tom Hanks stars as Fred Rogers. (If you don’t know who Mr. Rogers is, Google him. He’s an American icon.) In the movie, Mr. Rogers is being interviewed by a reporter for Esquire magazine named Lloyd Vogel, a man who had a very difficult childhood and hasn’t processed things well, to make a long story short. At first, he is convinced that Mr. Rogers can’t possibly be the person that he portrays on television, but slowly learns that he truly does care about people and their feelings, children especially. He also learns that while Mr. Rogers isn’t a “saint”, he continually works on ways to express his negative emotions in a healthy way. Through the film, Lloyd is able to resolve his anger.

There’s a lot more to the movie than that, but I took that message to heart. There are so many ways that I can change my reaction to things to be a better person. I don’t have to make the comment I feel like making, I can stop and think more before I react to someone or somebody. Just last night, I could have responded in a better way to someone online. I didn’t insult the person, someone who gets under my skin and deliberately baits me from time to time, but I definitely could have done a better job with what I did say. I was defensive, which doesn’t work and just makes a person look desperate. Mr. Rogers would have known how to respond in a loving way, not in a defensive way.

A few weeks ago, Marty and I got into an argument because I overreacted to something he said. I can see it now, in hindsight, and I own it but I’m still upset with myself that I didn’t handle it well. It upsets me that I wasn’t a terribly patient mom when my boys were growing up. That’s a big regret. I know that after ten years, I’m not a terribly patient teacher when it comes to behavior, especially with I’m faced with deliberate defiance and blatant disrespect. Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks, actually) just reminded me that I can choose how I handle my anger and frustration instead of taking the easy way out and unleashing those negative emotions on someone else.

Do some people deserve our anger? Sure. I don’t think Mr. Rogers’ message was that we shouldn’t be angry, or that being angry wasn’t healthy, but not to be destructive in our anger. I still need to work on that lesson. I have a lot of things to be angry about, a lot of unresolved issues, especially from my childhood, but I can choose my response to that. I can be kinder, I can be more understanding about what someone is is feeling or going through. It’s really, really, hard sometimes because we want to hurt the person who hurt us, or put them in their place, but what does that achieve?

Something to think about.

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