My Definition of Restful and Why That Might Be Weird to You

Recently, I’ve had text, email, or Zoom conversations with friends about books we’re reading, and in one of them, I made this statement: “I want a restful book.” Though you were not part of that discussion, I want to elaborate on what I meant.

By restful, I mean a book I can enjoy any hour of the day or night or during a pandemic. It is one that does not evoke feelings of righteous indignation, rage, depression, or mind-numbing fear. Though dinosaurs may or may not eat people and wealthy tyrants might be murdered in locked rooms by any number of suspects, I don’t fret about it, especially since I’m not the one being eaten nor the one whose murder is the basis of a cozy, but entertaining mystery.

My reading does not always involve murder or full-bellied dinosaurs, however. I thoroughly enjoy Mr. Darcy getting a comeuppance by Elizabeth Bennet (you know this one); Valancy Stirling experiencing life in a new way (The Blue Castle); and a small, unsupervised child crawling out of a window via a handy tree and going off by himself at night in search of a pillow. (Guess which book this is. No parenting advice will be forthcoming from me.)

 

  

Pride and Prejudice DVD case shown here, rather than the book cover, because I already had this photo in my blog library

Many of the books I’ve read in the last two months are restful in that they are familiar like well-loved walking trails. I’ve traversed these paths again and again and still appreciate the scenery.

What is restful reading to you? If books are not your thing, what have you been watching lately that you would categorize as restful?

The Blue Castle cover from Goodreads. Other photos by L. Marie.

A Birthday in the Age of COVID-19

As I wrote the title of this post, I thought about books like The Diary of Samuel Pepys, excerpts of which I read back in the Dark of Ages in my undergraduate years (Da Vinci was one of my classmates; that guy knew his way around a painting), A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, which I also read at some point, and Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez which I have not read, but probably will someday. Others have probably mentioned these books lately, particularly those by Pepys and Defoe, who wrote about the Bubonic plague back in the seventeenth century (though Defoe’s book was historical fiction).

So anyway, this is how I celebrated my birthday this past Sunday in these days of social distancing. First, my fellow island villagers threw a surprise birthday party for me in the video game Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which I’m playing on the Nintendo Switch Lite. I just wish my character had been allowed to change out of her night wear before the festivities began. Oh well. Back in college, birthday ambushes with me stuck in pajamas used to happen every year. But in these social distancing days, many people are using the game to have birthday parties, not just with NPCs (non-player characters, if you’re not into gaming but were curious) but with real-life friends who visit their islands to celebrate.

 

That was just one way of celebrating the day. Before I get to the rest of the Sunday festivities, let me add that the day before, friends dropped off breakfast, lunch, and dessert. There’s nothing like someone showing up in a mask to hand you a cup of coffee and a restaurant meal that says, “Celebrate good times, come on!” (By the way, the knight’s helm-looking hat on the sign in the first photo above is one I’ve worn while heading out in the world. The visor fits over my nose and mouth perfectly.)

  

Back to Sunday, I received a phone call from a friend (one of the pastors at church) who instructed me to come outside. Days earlier, she’d told me she wanted to drop something off, so not suspecting anything, I went out, expecting to see her standing by the front door. Instead, I was greeted by a line of people in cars honking their horns and shrieking “Happy birthday!” These are just a few.

 

So that’s how birthdays are celebrated in these virus days. I received some great gifts, part of the tradition of celebrating. Here are a few:

   

 

One of the above books was given by a friend who showed up with dinner on my birthday (not pictured due to having been eaten before I remembered that I needed to take a picture). The other came from my brother and sister-in-law. Speaking of books, one of the gifts I received that was not pictured was an Amazon card which I promptly used to purchase the book below, which is a must-have for the socially conscious person, especially parents looking to enhance their children’s understanding of classroom etiquette.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because you can receive what I received—a tradition around this blog. I can’t show up at your house even with a mask on to hand you a meal. But I can celebrate you, even if it’s not your birthday. So I am giving away TWO $25 Amazon cards or the rough equivalent at Amazon UK (easier to email).

That’s right:

Two $25 Amazon gift cards!

Comment below to be entered in the drawing.

Photos by L. Marie.

What Is My Song This Season?

Anyone else feeling the timey-wimey-wibbly-wobblyness*** of the passing days? Hours seem like seconds. And if I don’t check my calendar, I lose track of days. (Feels like tomorrow already.) Anyway. . . .

Whenever we’re not bombarded with snow in my area (which has happened a few times lately), and the temperature is reasonably warm, I hear birdsong throughout the day. Lately, the various songs and sounds of birds have seemed so plentiful and joyous. Which got me to wondering , ..

Can you identify the bird based on each call? (Pretty sure you can.)

1.

2.

3.

(For answers, check the **** below.)

Some bird calls are more recognizable than others. I’ve enjoyed hearing the birds’ songs and conversations. Such normal, happy sounds. Maybe they’re happy, not only for spring and mating season, but because they don’t have to think about viruses or masks or long wait times at the grocery store.

But hearing them caused me to wonder what my song is in this season. Some days, it is the sound of irritation, frustration, and fear, like raucous notes banged on a piano. My inner territory is too narrowed by circumstances, my song too one note. I want to change the tune, even if circumstances don’t change anytime soon. The best way I know how is to pray and to look outward instead of inward, to lighten someone else’s load if I know how, or brighten someone’s day. One way I can do the latter is to give away stuff.

With that in mind, onto the winner of The Edge of Anything by Nora Shalaway Carpenter. Go here for the interview.

       

And that winner, according to the random number generator is Nancy Hatch!

Nancy, please comment below to confirm. Thank you to all who commented.

Sparrow from Orange Free Sounds. Loon sound from Archive.org. Robin call from SoundBible.com. cloudcentrics.com. Bird silhouette from clipart-library.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

***If you’re a fan of Doctor Who, you recognize this.
**** The sounds are (in order) Robin, loon, sparrow

String-Pulling Bees and Other Things I Didn’t Realize I Needed in My Life

I don’t know about you, but I crave a bit of normalcy, a bit of adorableness. And what’s more normal than scientists getting some bumblebees to pull strings? (Those bumblebees must have some influence if they’re pulling strings. Am I right? . . . Okay, I’ll stop.)

Anyway, I ran across this video at the SciNews YouTube Video and a follow-up—scientists teaching bees to roll balls—and was mesmerized. If only they could teach wasps to be kind. (If somehow the video disappears, click here for it.)

See? You needed it too, didn’t you? (For more info on the bumblebee experiment, conducted at Queen Mary University of London, click here.)

Recently, a friend sent photos of her newest acquisitions, which turned out to be something else I needed:

  

As I looked at the photos, I could feel my blood pressure drop and something broken within me starting to mend. Maybe you feel the same way.

This also made my day (photo below). Chalk art courtesy of the kids who live in my apartment building.

Also, I saw these at the grocery store. Maybe they’re not as essential as water or toilet paper, but they’re essential in a soul-building sort of way.

  

What have you seen this week that helped lift your spirits? Please share in the comments.

Farm animal photos by Colleen Yang. Other photos by L. Marie.

Check This Out: WordStirs

With me on the blog today is another of my awesome VCFA classmates, the delightful Laura Byrne, who is here to talk about her news website, WordStirs, which she maintains with her son, Tim.

     

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Laura:
• I’m a former sports editor and writer, whose athletic son had to remind her that there is more at stake in the world than the score of any given football game.
• Tim is a former finance student and current consultant, who plans to drown the world in unbiased, simple news so we can stop beating each other up at family dinners, and get back to arguing about important things, like whether or not ketchup should be refrigerated.
• We are a mother/son partnership that somehow works, despite a few notable differences. Example: Tim lives in Manhattan in an apartment the size of an elevator, with no car, and eats food the names of which most people can’t pronounce, from countries he’s never visited. I live in rural New Jersey, on 25 acres, and make my own bread, which is usually white.
• We bring two worldviews together to model how differences can be valued, and information shared through simple, unbiased articles.

El Space: What’s your process for choosing news stories? How do you keep track of trending news and still sleep and keep your sanity?
Laura: You know how some dogs will chase a ball forever? You toss one down the driveway for my Barney and he won’t stop retrieving it—a thousand throws, some day—until you take that slobbery ball away. That’s Tim and me with news. A thousand stories, and then we take Tim’s slobbery laptop from him. While retrieving all that news, we try to determine, given our readers’ limited time, what single story will help them to understand the world a little better.

Barney and Fred (yes, they are brothers)

El Space: The articles are so engaging! How did you come up the format?
Laura: How WordStirs is organized: Every article set is developed from one topic that is summarized in a paragraph or two in our News Made Simple. Then, that News Made Simple article segues into three additional articles, which continue to explain the topic:
   • The Geek. Want more background on the News Made Simple topic? You can click on the Geek.
   • The Debater. Want to understand two sides of the News Made Simple topic? You can check out the Debater, which is often a discussion between Tim and me.
   • The Runner. In a hurry? The Runner can get you out the door with just enough information about a current event to make you feel informed.

We take a subject, say, the coronavirus relief package, and look at the Fox News perspective. Then, we consider The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal—and more. We also go to original documents, including Congressional records and World Health Organization guidelines. We look at fact-checking sites like PolitiFact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org. If we’ve done our job, somewhere in the article set you should see your perspective. But, if we’ve done our job, somewhere you’ll also discover something that makes you think, that challenges you and your prior beliefs.

  

El Space: How has the advent of COVID-19 affected your news coverage?
Laura: The coronavirus has dominated the news, including our coverage, and it carries with it additional concerns. For example, correct information is critically important and yet harder to get than ever as so many people are armchair-epidemiologist-ing the cures, courses of action, and predictions for the future. We’re trying to be even more critical of our sources and careful with our work.

El Space: Who inspires you?
Laura: The Secret Gardeners, my graduating class from Vermont College, are the most talented writers in the world, and their voices are always in my head, reminding me of the power of words.

El Space: Yay! What’s next for the site? What else are you working on?
Laura: Tim and I are working on a podcast. We’ve tried a few practice recordings and, so far, haven’t gotten past teasing each other. We’ll get it together, hopefully soon.

Thanks, Laura, for being my guest! Click here to access WordStirs or follow on Instagram.

Check out this video at Tim Byrne’s YouTube Channel:

The unicorn helps Henry get the point about social distancing.

P.S. The winners of the next two child Yodas are Charles and Marian. Again, I had to let them know ahead of time because of the fluctuating times we live in. I am working on yet another Yoda, so it’s not too late to put your bid in for one. 😀

Author photos and logo courtesy of Laura Byrne. Breaking news image from freepik. Washington Post logo from Wikimedia. Other logos found at various places on the internet. Other photo by L. Marie.

In the Chrysalis

Nothing says Spring like overnight snow.

 

Happy Spring!

When I think of Spring, I think of chrysalises/cocoons and the butterflies/moths that will emerge from these protective shells—the pupa stage. What I didn’t realize is that the shed skin of a pre-butterfly caterpillar hardens around it to form a chrysalis. But the caterpillar of a moth has to spin silk to make a cocoon to protect itself.

  

A challenging time like the one we’re facing now is a chrysalis from which we will all emerge at some point. Instead of shed skin or silk, the walls of our home are our borders, since many states have issued a stay-at-home order. Consequently, we’re going through a lot of different emotions: fear, anger, dread, despair—you name it. Many of us have felt the hardening effect of those emotions. I know I have. I’d much rather feel joy or peace. I know you would too.

What’s really helped me in these chrysalis days are texts from friends who write to encourage, share a funny meme, a song, or a Scripture like this:

Psalm 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  [The next verse provides the answer.]

These daily check-ins remind me that I’m not alone, despite the social distancing mandate.

As a result of all that has happened, I mentioned in this post that I’m giving away two crocheted child Yodas like the one below. The winners of those crocheted child Yodas are Shari and Lyn!

Because of the state-mandated lockdown, I contacted the winners ahead of time so that I could get the Yodas in the mail to them before the 5 p.m. stay-at-home order went into effect this past Saturday. I am currently making two more Yodas. If you’d still like a Yoda, please email me or comment below. I will try to get them sent whenever I can.

Photos by L. Marie.

Nesting

A while ago, I watched Dancing with the Birds, a documentary on Netflix about the courting habits of male birds. One of those birds, the Macgregor’s bowerbird, is well known for building an elaborate bower to attract a mate. I love that! This bird uses sticks, leaves, rocks, and colorful objects to create the perfect bower. According to an article on the San Diego Zoo’s website, “Bowers are not nests.” They are really courting areas. The female is responsible for building a nest for offspring.

      

The male weaver bird has the same goal as the male bowerbird. This bird, however, builds an actual nest using a weaving technique. But some species of weaver birds build nests in a group and have their own little neighborhoods. (See this article for more info on these amazing builders.)

When you think of nesting, what do you think of? This?

Or, perhaps you think of the efforts that people awaiting the arrival of their babies go through to prepare their “nests” for their little ones. I think of that too, but I also think in general of someone making a home warm and cozy, particularly in the winter when the weather is too cold to venture out. Warm, soft fabrics of differing textures, conversational seating, adequate reading materials, and other comforts, come to mind (like the Anthropologie pillows in the photo below). I also think of having the essentials on hand (besides the usual food staples): coffee, tea, chocolate, and cookies.

Speaking of soft fabrics, I saw this pattern on Yarnspirations.com and immediately thought of nesting. Wouldn’t you love to be wrapped in something like this blanket below while lounging on the couch? No? Just me then? Perhaps I’ll make it someday.

In these days of enforced nesting, with many of us anchored to home, I have been choosing craft projects to do. Before I knew about the latest crisis worldwide, I stocked up on yarn.

Speaking of which, I have an unusual giveaway just because it’s nice to get free stuff every once in a while, especially in challenging times. If you’ve heard about or seen the Disney Plus show, The Mandalorian, you know about this little guy:

I found a crochet pattern by Vivianne Russo online and have been making these. They are about five inches tall. I’m giving away two. Comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing to receive one. Winners to be announced sometime next week!

Henry is nesting with his new friends, the Yodas (for want of a species name, this is what everyone is calling them) and their guardian unicorn.

Macgregor’s bowerbird and nest from somewhere on Pinterest. Weaver bird from network23.org. Crocheted blanket image from yarnspirations.com. Pillow from Anthropologie’s website. Other photos by L. Marie.