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zoom
/zo͞om/
verb
(especially of a car or aircraft) move or travel very quickly.
“we watched the fly zooming about”
2.
(of a camera) change smoothly from a long shot to a close-up or vice versa.
“the camera zoomed in for a close-up of his face”
noun
a camera shot that changes smoothly from a long shot to a close-up or vice versa.
“the zoom button”
exclamation
1. used to express sudden fast movement.
“then suddenly, zoom!, he’s off”
Google Dictionary
Two months ago, these were all of my definitions of the word zoom, but it has, in a very short time, become so much more.
If you work from home, you’re no doubt familiar with Zoom (capital Z), the video conferencing website. Companies and groups all over the world are using Zoom, and other video conferencing companies/apps like Google Meet or Facebook video calls, to conduct business and hold meetings while friends and family are using it to connect in this time of social distancing.
For this, I am profoundly grateful.
Now, I will stress this: it’s not the same. You can’t hug or kiss anyone, shake hands, fist bump, etc. You can’t whisper a secret in a friend’s ear or snuggle a new baby, but it’s better than nothing.
Here are some ways that I’ve been using video conferencing in the last 6 1/2 weeks.
  • An Easter video chat with Oldest Child and Amazing Girlfriend.
  • Weekly board meetings with my theatre. I’m not a big board meeting fan (even though it’s necessary), but it’s SO good to see and talk to my friends.
  • A long-overdue chat with my Italian bestie. We’ve never done that before, I’ve never been very comfortable with video chats, but we had a lovely time on Sunday. This will be a new normal, especially since she’s monitoring my work in Italian. ❤
  • Coloring (or whatever) nights with theatre peeps.
  • Sermon Chats with our church group, where we discuss all sorts of things theological and personal.
  • Check-ins with students. We were using Google Meet, but some students gave out their codes to others and there were some highly inappropriate things that went on, so we’re moving to a more secure platform.
  • Work meetings. I love my coworkers, they’re amazing people, and meetings that used to be a chore are now a joy.

This virus sucks, that’s for sure, but it would be a hell of a lot worse without this way to connect. I have had some dark times through this, to be sure, but I look forward to those times when I can have a semblance of normalcy.

How are you connecting these days?

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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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We’re close to the Christmas season, particularly since Thanksgiving is so late. Despite my policy of taking one holiday at a time, I’m starting to think about Christmas-y stuff right about now. Of course, the decorations won’t come out for another week yet, but I’ve already started shopping in an attempt to get everything bought and wrapped by the day before Christmas Eve. The number of times this has happened in the past? Zero, but I do try every year.

All of this has stirred up some of my best memories. My grandparents, both sets, always made Christmas fun and special.

At Grandma and Grandpa Ballantyne’s house, we always celebrated on Christmas Eve with all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was crowded and loud and I sometimes retreated to the back bedroom or the bathroom for a few minutes of quiet, but after I recharged, I couldn’t wait to join the fun again. Grandma made dinner and then all of us kids had to wait for what seemed like hours for the adults to stop talking while we eyed the mounds of presents. They always threatened to make us wait until after dessert, which, of course, was pure torture. Grandma’s tree always had mounds of tinsel spread throughout and I thought it looked lovely, like in a fairy tale, gifts heaped in piles spreading out from the trunk. Grandma loved giving; there were gifts for everyone. She always over-shopped, so we got tons of gifts, which my mother would grumble about for days afterward. I still have the non-Barbie doll with brown hair (like me!) that I got when I was three years old from “Santa” there. After presents, there was the chocolate eclair dessert that my great-grandma made, which was fabulous. We kids would play with our gifts and as the sugar crash began to happen, we were carted home to await Christmas morning.

At Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Nick’s house, it was a slightly calmer affair with fewer people, my brothers and I were the only kids for a long time, but wonderful, nonetheless. For several years, Grandpa would be waiting at the door for us with the old video camera rolling with actual film and no sound. There was dinner on Christmas Day and sometimes we had presents before dinner rather than after. I don’t remember a pattern. Before we opened presents, though, we had to put Baby Jesus in the manger because it was his birthday. (Side note: I know it’s not his real birthday. Just wanted to clear that up.) Christmas seemed holy and beautiful at their house, the emphasis placed on the religious meaning of Christmas and it felt special. I loved the smell of Grandma Ruth’s kitchen, she was an amazing cook. We always had ham with pineapple on top. I called ham “bugs” for the longest time. I have no idea why, so don’t ask. I was an odd child. There were always Christmas cookies with the sprinkles and cinnamon dots in the shapes of bells, Santas, Christmas trees, and reindeer. I have those cookie cutters now and I use them every year. Later, we sometimes played Uno or Go Fish with my aunt and uncle or I curled up in the old green rocking chair and read all the stories in Grandma’s Liguarian magazines until it was time to sleepily go home, where our other presents were waiting. I loved Christmas there.

Were we privileged at Christmas? Yes, we definitely were. Our gifts weren’t expensive, but the grandparents put a lot of thought into them and I always felt loved. The memories of being at their houses for Christmas are some of the best I have and as an adult, I can appreciate how much effort they put into making it wonderful for us. I hope my boys look back on Christmas with the same amount of mushy nostalgia as I do.

What is your favorite Christmas or other holiday memory? Share it in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

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Two nights ago, I had a talk with God. Well, not so much a talk as it was a depression-fueled temper tantrum on my part. It’s been a long school year so far (already!) and the frustration with work and where I am in my life has been steadily building. Thursday was a horrible day: disrespectful kids, strangers giving stupid feedback in my classroom, no prep time due to meetings, and no prospect of things getting better. Remember what I’ve written about depression? When it kicks in, you literally can’t see a way out at that moment. Combine that with being sick all week and normal teenage stuff at home and it becomes a recipe for a major depressive hole.

By bedtime, my chest felt like it would explode with frustration and I could barely keep the tears in. In the bathroom, I let it all out at God. Why wouldn’t He help me? Why was I getting thwarted and blocked at every turn when I was trying to help myself? Was this all there was going to be of my life, feeling trapped and miserable? There were other things, too, but that was the gist of it. It didn’t last very long, I was exhausted, and I went to bed dreading the puffy eyes in the morning that come from late-night tear fests.

The next day (yesterday), I walked back into my classroom after cleaning up broken shards of a cologne bottle in the hallway. I can still smell it on my hands this morning, despite repeated washings. Ugh. My clock caught my attention at 10:23. That doesn’t surprise me. Those numbers, my birthday numbers, always seem to appear when my attention is required for spiritual things. This has happened throughout my entire life. I know that a lot of people, especially those skeptical or dismissive of such things would bleat that it’s no big deal, it’s 10:23 twice a day every day. No kidding, but experience has taught me that when my attention is specifically being drawn to the clock at that time, the universe and God mean business. Whether you believe it or not is your own business, but I know what’s true for me.

Anyway, as soon as I had registered the time, a voice popped into my head. “For I know the plans I have for you…”, it said. I stopped in my tracks. Now, I know a lot about the Bible, but I’m not one to memorize and quote verses, so this was a surprise. And I had the feeling, the feeling I get when something spiritual is happening. I knew the verse, I had heard it before, but hadn’t thought about it recently, even remotely. I immediately went to my computer to look it up: “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)  Well. I knew then, I knew, that this was the answer to my outburst last night. It felt good, it felt right. I don’t know how else to explain it. After months of pleading and trying to get an answer about my life and what I should be doing, I had a clear communication. Not a direction about where my life is going, exactly, but at that moment, I had peace about it. I still do, today, twenty-four hours later.

Does that verse solve my problems? No. Will my frustration disappear? No, but yesterday went a long way in restoring part of my faith. I’ve been struggling for a while, a long while, actually, and I needed something like that. I debated about posting this, as I usually do when I experience spiritual/metaphysical things, knowing that there are people who don’t believe or who won’t think I’m the “right” kind of Christian and will definitely think I’m on the train to Crazy Town, but you know what? I really don’t care anymore. Actually, I think that’s a part of what I’m supposed to be doing now, writing more about things like this, being more open about things about God and other things that we can’t explain. We’ll see what the future holds.

In the meantime, I wish you all the peace that I’m feeling today.

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The more I learn about God, the less I know. I listen. I study. I have so many questions.

I don’t think of God in the same way as I did when I was a kid. I believe that there are a lot more components to what I was taught while growing up, many more facets to what is spiritually acceptable and what is not.

It’s a little frightening to think this way. Hellfire for stepping over the human-drawn line is always lurking in my subconscious, but I’m learning to let my God-given intuition lead me rather than spoon-fed religion that made me paranoid and anxious. I’m learning to trust that voice within.

I’m giving myself the freedom to learn who I am, spiritually and metaphysically. I am a Christian, that has not changed one bit. What has changed is that I’m going to accept what I’ve been given, what I’ve known since I was small, to explore my potential without fear or restriction. I’m going to stop fighting it. What I learn leads to more questions, but it’s a delicious treasure hunt.

Amen.

 

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I’m not a huge fan of summer weather. While being cold isn’t great, I hate dripping with sweat just from standing outside. Breathing is too hot. Anything above 82° and I don’t get along, even lower temperatures if the humidity is rocking, which usually happens in Michigan. I grew up with no air conditioning and summer nights were brutal. I vividly remember being miserable unless I was in the lake or we begged the next-door-neighbor to let us swim in his pool.

That being said, I love the season of having a break, especially since I now have air conditioning and can escape the stickiness. I can get things done. I deep-cleaned our bedroom today! I never have energy for anything more than superficial dusting and Swiffering during the school year, so you know I’m relaxing.

I’m getting my soul back, too. I’ve been sleeping in way more than I thought I would; my body is apparently taking charge of recovering from the stress. It’s been almost a week and I feel a million times better already. I feel more like me. I haven’t been cussed out in a week.

For thousands of years, summer has been held in regard for more serious reasons than a break from school. While we have several examples of how our ancient ancestors welcomed this, Stonehenge in England really stands out to me.

Seven years ago today, my aunt and I visited said Stonehenge with a tour group. (Rob from Trafalgar, btw, made that an amazing trip. Just saying.) It was the day before the summer solstice and the field around the monument was already packed with people who wanted to celebrate the next morning. Stonehenge itself was crowded, but not enough to detract from its beautiful simplicity. I could feel the ancient vibrations, the thing that lingers after the people are long gone. It was that significant for me. As we watched the news the next morning, we learned that a few arrests had been made as some of the celebrations had gotten out of hand, something I think the ancients would have probably understood. At this moment, 11:30 EST, they’ve been partying all night at Stonehenge and the sun is about to rise, so it’s a very exciting time.

Those stones, arranged so carefully by people from so long ago, echoed deep inside me and still do today. The people who placed those stones welcomed the summer, more than I do. Summer was a reward for surviving the harsh winter, a time for tending crops and enjoying life. They worshiped the sun, the giver of life in their eyes, and felt the need to commemorate that particular spot as sacred. Somehow, they calculated the solstice, got those impossibly heavy stones to the sacred spot, and arranged them in the perfect way. Most of them still exist in perfect form, not bad for being around 5,000 years old.

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I have deep roots in England, going more than 1,000 years, and some from the town of Salisbury not far from Stonehenge. Did my many-great-grandparents dance around the stones? Did they dance the pagan dances, worship the sun, drink the mead? If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s very sobering to think that I could possibly have had people there at that crucial time.

So, in spite of my distaste for excessive heat, welcome, Summer. Welcome, ancient holiday that meant life and respite to our ancestors.

Respect.

Summer-Solstice

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