Quarantine Scenes

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“We Read to Know We’re Not Alone”

-Sir Anthony Hopkins,

as C.S. Lewis in the film Shadowlands

 

 

Last week, I was supposed to meet Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States, during our college’s annual arts and literary festival, Sensoria.  We had been anticipating her visit for months, then COVID 19 struck.

I listened to a podcast this morning featuring her work.  She reflected on the iconic song, “This Land is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie.  She remarked how this song is relevant, but the songwriter got one pivotal point wrong.  She explained, “What Woody Guthrie forgot is we ARE the land”.  

This quote struck me as a teacher.  I sympathize with our students, but my feeling is we ARE our students right now.  We are all in this together. I am not dealing with the magnitude of their pressures, however, I feel at one with them.  Their issues are different, but the feelings of uncertainty and collective grief are the same. I just read my students’ posts on our Blackboard Discussion Board and my heart just hurts.

I want to say to my students:  

I see you.  I am listening.  And, I love you. Is that too much?  I don’t care.  

I want to take this time to share a love letter to my students for their bravery, devotion to their families and their fight to stay in our course despite insurmountable challenges at this time. 

To my students who are parents:

I hear you when you say that you have kids at home and it is hard to concentrate.

I am with you when you say you are scared.

I can understand your raw frustration when your kids are screaming and fighting in the background of our WebEx chats.

In their own words:

“The part of adjusting when I am doing school work now is that my little one is hanging on my hip.  That is the biggest challenge. In a matter of 4 days, I have decided to follow the governor’s orders and stay home, to not only protect myself, but mainly my child who is under age 2. I had a job four days ago and now, I have lost my job. This is the biggest change adjusting to.  I am back to being a full time mom, with a child stuck indoors and finishing this semester. As far as how am I feeling, I think stressed is the perfect word.”

“My son and I do yard work and go hiking and kayaking to pass the time by.”

“If I was to worry it would be for my four-month-old little girl. The only thing I need from you all is to keep all of the frontline medical workers and first responders in your thoughts. They are the real heroes during this pandemic.”

To my students who are worried about their grades:

I hear you when you say you are not good at English- though I would argue that you are.

I am with you when you say you didn’t sign up for an online class and you are uncomfortable with technology.

I can understand when you say it’s hard to write about things right now.  My brain is also full of static.

In their own words:

“To be most sincere I’m not feeling that great. I’m a high school senior and all I wanted was to at least graduate after 12 years of hard work and endurance. I feel like the one thing that I have left has been taken from me and it has been very hard for me trying to figure out my life, from working.. making enough money to survive.”

“Dropping out of high school in the first half of junior year gives me a different perspective. I knew I was never going to experience walking across the aisle for a diploma, go to a prom, or enjoy being a senior. I also lost contact with a lot of friends from high school because I didn’t see them anymore. Going to CPCC everyday in a way fixed it, as I enjoyed seeing everyone on campus and because it is such a small campus, I feel like I knew everyone. Now, it feels like I dropped out all over again except this time, it wasn’t a choice.”

“I can agree with you about the grades. I was not doing so well with my chemistry class in person.  How am I supposed to do well online?”

To my students finding out they are suddenly unemployed:

I hear you when you say you are afraid you can’t pay your bills and you worry about putting food on the table for your children.

I am with you when you say your uncertainty is crushing.

I can understand your anxiety being at an all-time high.

In their own words:

“My job had to shut down, which has been the largest source of my stress because I now have no income. I am unable to file for unemployment because my job did not file taxes, so after learning that I will not be able to receive financial help by the government during this time, it added a lot of stress.” 

“I feel deeply for local businesses who have had to shut their doors because I am in the same boat. My job is owned and operated by all Vietnamese people whom I love deeply, but there is a large language barrier. My boss has been coming to me every day asking for updates on what is happening throughout the world and specifically our county because they do not understand the news. Over my time working with them, I have taught myself how to communicate effectively with them so I have been explaining what is going on. We have been shut down for over a week now and we thought it would be just for 2 weeks, but after the Governor’s update from last night, it will be for at least another 30 days. I had to tell my boss and co-workers this information and they were devastated and asked how can they could continue to afford to live and it broke my heart to have no answers for them.” 

“I am in a similar situation. I work with kids in an after school program, but because school is canceled there is no after school program, and I am currently jobless at the moment. The whole situation is less than ideal. I didn’t even get to say bye to the kids, I just had to up and leave.”

I am also very proud of my students for so many reasons. 

I am proud of your kindness and how you stand up for your fellow students.  From sharing recipes you found on Pinterest, to yoga websites, you have been there for each other.  When one of your classmates told us he was getting bullied for being of Asian descent during this crisis, you were tenacious in your support of him:

“I am also Asian and I feel a little afraid of going out in public.  Although, nothing bad has happened to me yet and hopefully never will.”

“Though I am not Asian, I go to a Chinese church.  Don’t worry. Most people here are very nice and even if someone is being mean to you for no reason, it is just because they’re not smart enough, so don’t concern yourself with that.” 

“We can use our written communication skills to encourage and uplift others. Not only through technology, but also the old-fashioned way of writing letters. Words are powerful. We all have the ability to support others during this time of uncertainty.” 

I am immensely proud of how you have used the research skills you have learned in our class to be able to find credible sources during this pandemic:

I think a lot of people who get their news from a single source are really missing the full picture, and I am glad for this course for helping me to understand that. For example, it is good to understand that the polls showing confirmed cases are not an accurate depiction of the spread of the virus, since we aren’t testing everybody that is sick.”

“This course has helped me to look for what information is actually reliable and what side of the story some news outlets may be leaving out. It also has helped me to ensure I am fact-checking information I hear from other people since many people are panicking and spreading false information. For example, I had heard from someone that pets can carry the virus and first took that as a fact, but when I was politely challenged by my sister, I looked into it more and found that the CDC has no evidence claiming that pets can carry the virus.”

“I have easily been able to identify false information, and even try to tell my parents they are receiving false information from certain sites, and they do not believe me!”

This student even called out a fellow student for using Twitter as their primary news source:

“Also I don’t think Twitter is the best place to get your news unless it comes from a well known and reliable source. It’s just more believable that way. Not to say that other lesser known news or information sources don’t have the potential to give out quality information. I wish you would have specified exactly what the bits of information are that you have gathered from Twitter and later compared to other news sources.”

I am proud that ALL of you called out people in your age group about not observing social distancing regulations.  You are getting a bad reputation in the media and it is not fair.  Not all millennials and members of Generation Y are irresponsible. Students, like you, are leading the way!

“It bothers me to see friends and people I know defying the guidelines and posting on Instagram saying “ItS cOrOnA TiMe” and “SoCiAl DiStAnCiNg” when people are dying and they are being selfish by unknowingly spreading the disease.

I think it is so unfortunate when you see videos of people on spring break or just out and about not taking any of this seriously. The longer people ignore the CDC and WHO, the longer we will all have to be in quarantine.”

“Nonetheless, having this time to stay at home has given me an opportunity to really settle into a more present lifestyle, something that I have been trying to improve upon as a student. I am grateful for the opportunity to stay home and spend more quality time with my family and build stronger routines for every aspect in life such as wellness, and self-care. Also, being allowed to continue our education online and finish the semester as strong as possible is also a blessing.”

“My family and I watch both American and Serbian news from home and it’s astounding how differently the virus is portrayed in different areas of the world. Over in Europe, there seems to be a much more urgent vibe to the situation and more panic, while in the US we have kept pretty calm about the situation up until now.”

But, some students observed efforts to work together during this crisis:

“This pandemic has affected almost every nation on the planet. What has been amazing to see is that nations and leaders that otherwise have been adversaries have reached out to one another to offer aid to fight this disease. Humanity is simply reaching out to others and offering help and support when it is needed most. I think that through this course, we all have a positive outlet for learning and furthering our education which is a productive use of time while our lives are all affected by this pandemic. Being that the course timelines and expectations have changed, it is important to reach out to other classmates when needed and to offer help when you have the chance.” 

“I think you hit the nail on the head when you said that we need to come together as a community. In times like these, we are really able to see how much our well being depends on the actions of those around us, and who we choose to have around us.”

“More than just being kind, which should be a trait that everyone has regardless, we need to rely on each other and lean on each other. Martin Luther King Jr. had a wonderful quote that is especially true in times like these, ‘Through our scientific and technological genius we have made of this world, a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment, we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools.’”

Remember

By Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,

know each of the star’s stories.

Remember the moon, know who she is.

Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the

strongest point of time. Remember sundown

and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled

to give you form and breath. You are evidence of

her life, and her mother’s, and hers.

Remember your father. He is your life, also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:

red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth

brown earth, we are earth.

Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their

tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,

listen to them. They are alive poems.

Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the

origin of this universe.

Remember you are all people and all people

are you.

Remember you are this universe and this

universe is you.

Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.

Remember language comes from this.

Remember the dance language is, that life is.

Remember.

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Phone

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Let difficulty transform you. And it will.
In my experience, we just need help
In learning how not to run away.

                                                                     – Pema Chodron

 

 

I teach English at a local community college. Since our courses are now being delivered online, instructors needed to check on their students who have not logged into our courses to offer assistance. I did not anticipate what I encountered on the other end of the phone. These students helped to broaden my perspective and made me realize how much this pandemic has affected our community in different ways. Surprisingly, their stories dovetail with an article I read yesterday about the pandemic spurring feelings related to grief.

In the article, “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief”, Scott Berinato explained that what we are actually feeling is loss similar to grief. The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, sadness and acceptance. Here are some observations of grief based on these conversations with my students:

Anger – anticipatory grief
“Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis….there is a storm coming” (Berinato).

I called student #1. She is an A student, but has not signed on to our class in a few weeks. When she answered the phone, chaos erupted in the background. A demanding voice shouted, “Who is on the phone? Hang up! Hang up!”. My student apologized and said she was closing her door. She explained that her mother is very fearful that this pandemic could cause her family to be deported. They are living in a state of utter fear that ICE agents will be at their door. She wondered if her mother would take any of them to the hospital if one of them became sick. The ragged fear in my student’s voice was palpable. All I wanted to do was give her peace, but I was just another person demanding something of her at the moment. I talked with her a while and just listened. It was cathartic and she thanked me for my time. That’s the least I could give her.

I thought about this student having to manage a very tough situation in her home. Stress can get magnified during times like these. And, if you are a parent, all you are concerned with is the health and welfare of your children. I felt for this mom in the background – scared and unsure – with the added stress of wondering whether or not she will be forced out of her home.

Sadness
I spoke with a single mom whose voice spoke volumes as soon as she answered the phone. Defeated is the best description I can offer. She sounded exhausted and explained she has 3 small children and she’s all alone in the house with them. She apologized and said she was sorry for not being in class. I assured her I would work with her, explained there are resources to help her and then asked her how she was feeling. We commisserated, but I am not so arrogant to think we are dealing with the same situation. I have older children and a husband who is a partner in this fight with me. This woman is all alone. We talked, laughed and she cried a bit. I believe I was one of the first adults she had spoken to in a while. I offered to talk with her again this week. We can lean on each other during this time, I told her. I just hope leaning is enough for this mom.

Denial
One of my younger students answered the phone, “What?!”. After identifying myself, she said “OK”. I told her I was there for her if she needs anything and she said, “I’ll log in today, if I get the chance.” She responded to me as though I was her nagging mother. I get it. I kind of am in this scenario. I assured her that was fine. Quite frankly, at the time I wanted to get off of the phone with her as much as she wanted to dispatch me. However, looking back on the conversation, I need to check myself and my knee-jerk reactions. I have to realize that we all deal with grief and stress in our own ways. I hope this student will allow me to help her complete our course. I will keep an eye on her just as I am doing with my other students.

So, what do we do for help? Berinato offers advice through an interview with an authority on grief, David Kessler.

Kessler says, “There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night”. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion…” (Berinato).

“Your work is to feel your sadness, fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then, we’re not victims” (Berinato).

Kessler goes on to explain feeling your feelings in an orderly way:
“Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings”. If I feel sad and let it in, it will never go away… The truth is a feeling moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go on to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us….Let yourself feel the grief and keep going” (Berinato).

It is important we understand that people are living this altered state of self-distancing in very different ways. Reach out with love and compassion. Help as much as you can. We really have no idea what others are facing at this moment. I was lucky enough to be provided with a glimpse.

Special thanks to Jeannette Coggins for this article:

Berinato, Scott. “‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.’” Harvard Business Review, Mar. 2020, https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-you’re-feeling-is-grief.

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Critical Winter

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“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”

-Albert Camus

 

“What do you consider the most humane? – To spare someone shame.  What is the seal of liberation? – To no longer be ashamed in front of oneself.”

-Friedrich Nietzche

 

 

Today, I thanked my students, just for being there – for allowing me the privilege to teach them.  I realize that as teachers, we often forget the gratitude and focus on criticism. It is our job to judge.  We are paid to dole out feedback and award grades. And, our job description tends to make a person…well, critical.

But, how do we as educators, as writers, as humans, get beyond criticism to show people love while helping them get better?

A mentor of mine was talking about criticism the other day at lunch.  She said, “Criticism without compassion is brutality.” I sighed in response.  What a great quote! I asked her to elaborate and she said anyone can judge someone, but it is an art to give compassionate criticism.

I have always been criticism-adverse.  Really. Who isn’t? Any time I submit work to be published, the anxiety game is on.  And, I’m just waiting for the fallout. Or, the silence. Not sure which is worse.  

I blame my parents.  I was brought up with two supportive and very loving parents who guided me and made me feel like everything I did was wonderful.  Jokingly, I tell my friends I was brought up in a “Praise Parade”. Although I am beyond thankful to my parents for their unconditional love and support, they did not prepare me for the harsh world of receiving criticism.  

How does one take criticism well?  How can you make sure to spare a person’s heart, while providing sufficient and honest guidance to help him or her improve?  The interesting thing is I am a fervent practitioner of “Praise Parade” principles with my friends, family. Yet with my students, I tend to stray from the parade route.  I do acknowledge their growth and praise them for learning, but I may be a bit curt and technical in the feedback I give them. I acknowledge this mechanical style of feedback can be strident.

Just this morning, one student submitted her draft and said, “I know it’s not good, but I will take all of the tough criticism you can give me.  All I need is your help.” This plea proves that students relate education and coaching with shaming. Why not? This is probably all they have received in the past.  She assured me “she could take it”. Why do we have to take it – to brace ourselves for the onslaught of brutality?

There is a quote floating around social media by Larry Martinek that states, “Children don’t hate math.  What they hate is being confused, intimidated and embarrassed by math. With understanding comes passion, and with passion comes growth – a treasure is unlocked.”  English comes with the same kind of baggage. People feel intimidated by writing and have already deemed themselves failures before even walking into my classroom.

I do not have a definitive answer, but I have been thinking a lot about about criticism and want to employ these changes with my students.  I am reading a wonderful book, Atomic Habits by James Clear.  In it, he suggests, “Focusing on the overall system, rather than a single goal…an atomic habit refers to a tiny change, a marginal gain, a 1 percent improvement.  They are little habits that are part of a larger system. Just as atoms are the building blocks of molecules, atomic habits are the building blocks of remarkable results” (Clear 27). 

So, using this important book as a guide, let’s make a change.  Think about adding 1% of love into each criticism. The awareness of the person’s feelings, and leading with love and a sense of compassion can truly help a person become better at whatever task they are undertaking. 

I plan to infuse part of the proud tradition my parents started for me into my teaching.  I can still do the work of teaching/coaching, while charting onward with the “Praise Parade”.  

And, Joy Harjo, the Poet Laureate of the United States (who incidentally is coming to our campus in April), agrees with praise as protection of the soul:

Praise crazy.  Praise sad.

Praise the path on which we’re led.

Praise the roads on earth and water.

Praise the eater and the eaten.

Praise beginnings; praise the end.

Praise the song and praise the singer.

 

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

-Joy Harjo, Excerpt from “Praise the Rain”

 

Window

Window Christmas tree (2)

“The secret of Christmas is not the things you do

at Christmastime.  

But, the Christmas things you do, the whole year through.”

Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen,

The Secret of Christmas

I took a picture this morning of our Christmas tree from the outside of our house looking in.  I imagined someone not being able to come home for Christmas, watching the joy and celebrations from afar or just out of reach. 

When I was growing up, my family was all about Christmas.  Christmas-mania hit the day after Thanksgiving. Dad would be testing the lights- screaming at the bulbs, willing them to turn on.  This could go on all day long. Mom would be organizing the ornaments, as you needed to place ones specifically on different parts of the tree.  Lots of ornaments were from places we had been on family vacations. Yes, it was quite a production. But, what a production! After being gone from New York for over 24 years, my friends from home still remember our Christmas trees in our living room and den windows.  

You see, we had two trees.  One was the “family’s” tree, the den one- that was all Mom’s.  The family tree was adorned with all the arts and crafts we kids brought home throughout the years – popsicle stick santas and macaroni wreaths abound!  The family tree was always my favorite tree as I viewed it as a celebration of our childhood history.

Mom’s tree was different.  It had a theme – either silver or blue – and had beautiful ornaments.  Although I viewed it as impersonal and a little too fancy, I get it now.  This was Mom’s tree. All Mom’s. And, she could do whatever the hell she wanted with it.  This resonates with me so much this Christmas as I am now a mom, and missing my mom we lost in 2016.  If I could have her back now, I would gladly give her whatever kind of tree she’d like. 

Christmas is different since she left us.  Sometimes, I stare at our tree and it reminds me of all we have lost.  It brings up searing feelings of loneliness and grief. However, two things have brought me out of my haze.  Obviously, the kids do not let me brood for long. However this year, a commercial (click here to view the commercial) and an article (click here for the article) made me remember what the Christmas season is all about. 

Invite them in, despite the recipe you burned, no matter the dirty house or sink full of dishes.  No one will remember these things. All of these imperfections make a home. The love and kindness will be the souvenirs.

General Store Sleds

RV Chronicles #3 – Flashlight Letters

20190612_072736“I’d been the recipient of one kindness after another…I had nothing but generosity to report.  The world and its people had opened their arms to me at every turn.”

– Cheryl Strayed, Wild

The RV’s roof leak took a little longer than expected to fix.  My daughter and I decided to head out and the boys would wait at home for the RV.  After a day of sightseeing, Colleen and I headed to our campground in Asheville, North Carolina.  The campground was located at the summit of a mountain, accessed only by a narrow dirt road. The ride was entirely uphill and the road had no shoulder – no buffer between the small road and potentially plummeting over the cliff’s edge.  I was concerned the RV would have trouble on this road in the dark.  

As we checked into the campground, the owner said, “We do have a black bear and her cubs on this mountain. It’s best to stay inside after dark.”  Umm, what?!? Immediately, I became on high alert. What did I learn in Girl Scouts about bear safety? Was it that you talked nicely to a bear? Played dead?  My mind tried to remember the protocol, to no avail. My eyes darted from bushes to trees, looking for the lurking threat. It was dusk at this point and the boys were going to arrive in about 2 hours.  Without a camper, Colleen and I had to wait in the car for them to arrive.  

An hour went by.  As we were watching “Black-ish” on my phone to kill time, there was a knock on the window.  I screamed. 

This very tall, massive man with a long beard smiled at me.  I got out of the car and introduced myself. He motioned to his massive camper parked in the neighboring site and explained he and his wife camped at this site each year.  They were “regulars”. He offered me a flashlight for “safety reasons”, as he encountered a bear when he was retrieving his wife’s shoes one morning from outside of their camper.  “I shined this flashlight into his eyes and begged him or her not to kill me.” Excellent. I knew I was about to die on this mountain with my young daughter.  

He invited us to wait in their camper until my husband and son arrived.  “It’s not that clean, but it’s home.” Although he seemed kind, I am still a New York girl at heart.  I do not trust strangers that easily. I smiled and said, “No, thank you,” and explained we would wait in the car.  “OK, take the flashlight anyway. And, let me know if my wife and I can help you out at all. We’ll be up for a while.” 

The flashlight was extremely bright and industrial-looking.  It was bright enough to illuminate the entire site as well as the woods behind our campsite.  I immediately felt a little safer, being able to see a wide view.

My husband arrived and we had to park and level the RV before settling in for the night.  In the dark. With the bear in close proximity. You see, you have to prop up the tires, called leveling the RV, at every campsite to ensure everything inside the RV works properly, like the refrigerator.  We learned that lesson the hard way. Although I was deathly afraid of being outside in the darkness, I felt like the flashlight kept us safe from impending doom.

The next morning, I walked over to return the man’s flashlight and he told me to keep it.  ”You may need it and I’ll feel better if you all are safe.”

We took our time in the bright sunshine to tour the campground.  The view from the common area was tremendous. It would remind you of the movie, Shadowlands, when Anthony Hopkins as C.S. Lewis talked about the Golden Valley.  There were majestic mountain peaks with a lush, green valley and a river running through it all.  The beauty was almost too much to take.  

The next night, our kids wanted to roast S’mores, so we headed to the campfire at the common area.  A couple from New Jersey were there enjoying a cocktail, after a 12-hour drive and were ready to start their vacation.  The man had lots of stories about being a bus driver, while proudly mentioning his wife was the breadwinner of the family.  She smiled, and was quiet. She seemed happy to give him the spotlight.

As we chatted, he said their son just graduated from Parris Island as a newly minted Marine.  The whole training experience, as grueling as it was, bonded their family in unexpected ways. Before his son left for training, he told them not to write him. Then, the son made up excuses why he wouldn’t be able to write them either – he’d be tired after drills, too busy, etc.  They were crushed as they left their young man for the first time, knowing they would not be in contact with him at all until after his training. I learned that there were no phone calls allowed while at Parris Island, and no e-mail. The only permissible correspondence was letter writing.

After one week of training, they were surprised to receive a letter from their son.  The man said the letter ended with the words, “Write me. Write often.” He said his son’s words made him feel better than “Christmas morning”.  They began to write a series of letters back and forth. “I got to know my son better through writing letters with him than when he lived with us at home, “ he noted and added, “instead of fleeting face-to-face conversations that were few and far between, these letters enabled us to bond.”  He went further to say that the letters were the son’s single most loving gestures he had ever given them. He and his wife were grateful to get to know their son, and the man he was becoming, through letter writing. This revelation sent my English teacher heart soaring, of course!

There is something about camping where humanity is on display and the kindness of people shows through.  We have plenty of examples from our very short tenure as campers: people helping us park the camper, offering us cocktails, sharing snacks and meals.  Our experience has been that the RV lifestyle is one filled with people who are happy to connect with others, while enjoying nature and creating memories with the ones they love.   

RV Chronicles #2 – Tablecloth

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As I drove home from work, I thought to myself:  We haven’t had much rain lately.  I need to water the flowers and garden before leaving on our trip tomorrow.  If you’re an English teacher, you might call this thought “foreshadowing”.

We left on a bright, sunny Friday afternoon.  The RV was packed to the hilt and the kids were buzzing with excitement.  We were heading on a one-week RV trip, with the first stop being Stone Mountain, North Carolina.  Stone Mountain State Park boasted some pretty amazing hiking with a great mountain feel. We were excited to get into the fresh air, and capture some beautiful sights.  

As we headed north, the sky started to turn cloudy.  I checked The Weather Channel app and it said rain. OK, I thought.  Periods of rain, but there had to be some breaks, right?  I was still so optimistic at this point.

We set up camp at our rather bare bones camp site, a concrete slab with an electric hook-up.  No water. No Wi-Fi. No problem.

It was cloudy, but no rain.  So, I set up the picnic table with our brand new tablecloth.  I fastened the clips to keep it in place and…..CRACK. Lightning very close by.  Kids ran into the RV like the outside world was a house on fire. I took the tablecloth in and waited for the storm to pass. I tried to check to see if the weather was going to be severe or if there were any tornado warnings, but we had no Wi-Fi.

We ate some delicious pizza my husband made and set up dinner on our RV dinette.  We all viewed it as an adventure – seeing the torrential downpour outside, while safe and warm in our home away from home.  We played board games and waved to our neighbors in the campers next to us.  

There was a strong rain throughout the night.  It was hitting the roof of our camper really hard and the wind buffeted the camper.  No matter. We were snug in our beds and I was feeling so grateful for this home we made in our little corner of the forest.

The next day, more rain.  Again, wanted to check the weather forecast because it felt like we were sitting ducks if there was a tornado.  I suggested taking off and heading somewhere that might not have any rain- somewhere further west. Also, wanted to find a campground with Wi-Fi.  It just felt safer to have some tether to society. As you can probably tell, I am not an outdoor girl. No one would accuse me of being Cheryl Strayed or anything.  

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My husband is always up for an adventure and the kids were game, so off we went.  The weather forecast did not look good for anything in western North Carolina. Perhaps Tennessee?  We’d see what we would see.  

We decided to stop in Boone, North Carolina, as it is one of our favorite places.  The campground where we stayed was on top of a mountain and promised beautiful vista views (and Wi-Fi).  As we climbed the mountain, we encountered more rain and fog. Vista views may have to wait until the weather cleared.  Still the rain slowed a bit. Perhaps an al fresco lunch at the campground?  

I took advantage of the break in the rain and the tablecloth came out again.  I have to admit, I was becoming a little hell-bent at this point. We were going to eat outside if it killed us.  Well, not killed us per se. But, you get the picture. We were going on the second day of being in close quarters.  Fresh air was needed. Again, I clipped the tablecloth to the picnic table. We ate outside for a total of 2 minutes.  Really? The first bite out of my sandwich aaaannnnnddd…..DOWNPOUR.  

We stayed in the camper for lunch and dinner that night.  The rain was relentless. As we were hanging out with the kids, my phone made a loud alarm noise.  It was, hold on to your hats, a mudslide alert. Conditions were favorable for severe mudslides in our area.  The alert said look for downed trees, power lines and avoid areas of high elevation.  Umm….would that include mountaintops?  

At this point, I had enough.  The kids were anxious messes as they feared our deaths by mudslide.  Mark and I were beyond tired and disappointed. 

And, there was that damn tablecloth amidst the chaos, folded neatly in the open cupboard and full of promise of happy outdoor eating.  It taunted me from its perch like a smug little shit, if only you could use me, Elizabeth…  

Don’t judge me.  Cabin fever will do this to you, too.

I announced (well, really growled)  that everyone was going to bed. Enough of this day!  We’d figure out a plan tomorrow.  I went back to our bed and flopped on the mattress.  I tend to be a bit dramatic at times, I know. As my arms fell, I noticed a damp spot at the head of our bed.  “Who drank something in our bedroom!?” I yelled, accusing the kids of spilling something. No one confessed. However, upon further investigation, the window and wall were wet as well.  There was a leak in the camper.  

Mark and I got towels and stuffed them into where we thought the leak was.  We went to bed in a camper that felt like a sinking ship. For real. I had the wetness to prove it.

We had to head home the following morning due to the leak and everyone was relieved.  I looked at the weather and noticed this major storm would blow over in a few days. We would try to resume our trip later in the week.

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RV Chronicles #1: The Lifestyle

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“Home is where the heart begins, but not where the heart stays.

The heart scatters across states….escape is vital, in some cases, as a survival tool.”

Hanif Abdurraqib, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us

 

 

It all started when Mark came home from work talking about RVs, or showing me RV Trader listings and dealer videos on YouTube.  I listened to him, but these conversations were like listening to a distant melody.  Nice topic, but not something right in front of me.

The casual conversations became an everyday topic.  My growing apprehension of RVs was all logistics- they are expensive and a depreciating investment, what would the upkeep be?….all of those worries.  We arrived at the idea of renting an RV to see if we liked it or not.  Renting was a no-brainer and we were all very excited to see what “The Lifestyle” was going to be about.

“The Lifestyle” was a term coined by our dear friend.  We shared this RV odyssey with our closest friends and one friend said, “So, you’re looking into the lifestyle?”  Little did we know, he was very interested in RVs and was enthusiastic about our expedition. Since then, we started calling everything associated with the RV, “The Lifestyle”.  I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what this lifestyle entailed.

Soon, I was warming up to the idea of RV vacations.  The man wore me down.  After all, I always dreamed of having a camper ever since I had a Barbie Dream Camper when I was little.  It was my favorite toy, but I never thought my amusement would become reality.  I had myself convinced that this RV thing was meant to be.  Until, I heard Mark’s voice as he was driving the rental to our house.

“What’s wrong?” I asked when I heard the lack of enthusiasm in his voice.  He seemed, well, nonplussed, to say the least.  Was he afraid to drive it?  Is it too big?  Aww.  Now that I was on board, he was wavering.  Man!

After peppering him with a million questions, it turned out he was just really worried that somehow the kids and I would not like the RV – would it be too loud, too cold, too wobbly?…  In our family, sometimes the smallest issue can turn into a big problem.  His worries were justified based on past experiences.  I mean, we’ve had entire vacations messed up because of bugs.

When the kids got home from school that day and saw the RV, Mark and I were relieved to find he had nothing to fear.  As soon as the kids set foot in the RV, they were completely hooked!  John promptly leapt into his perch above the cab and shouted, “I’m king of the world!!!”  Colleen, ever the domestic goddess, started setting up her cozy nook in the dining table area.  She even unpacked John’s clothes for him!  It was amazing to see how our sensitive kids were adapting to our temporary home on wheels.

After getting situated in the RV, we were off!  Yes, the ride was loud, but the kids managed beautifully with the help of headphones and calming music.  When we arrived at the campsite, we found our spot was under a thick canopy of trees that gave just the right amount of shade under which to read and write, at least that was my plan.  Even though we were only 1.5 hours away from home, we felt miles away.  I had no idea how much I was going to love outdoor living, and how much it would pay dividends for my mindset.  It was a tonic to sit outside with the night sky winking its bright stars at me with approval.

It was as if nature said to us, “You made the right choice.  Welcome to the lifestyle.”

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