Time and Space

How many of you have thought, if I only had a little time and space I would…[write a book, travel the world, clean my house, insert thing here]. I am very fortunate to work for a company that offers a little bit of this – a sabbatical. Seven weeks off for seven years of service. Honestly, when I started with Tessitura back in 2015, seven years seemed like a very very long time in the future. Turns out that it is – sort of.

My life looks absolutely nothing like it did when I started this job. In 2015, I had one child in high school, one in middle school, and now I have a college graduate and a second one in college. After taking it one year at a time, and living through the weird time warp of the Pandemic, alternatively forever and a day, it seemed the time had actually come to really think about what I might want to do. The Universe seemed to align for us too.

As many of you know, my husband Joe worked for West Windsor emergency services for 25 years, and he decided he was ready to “retire” and collect his pension. I say retire in quotes, because he literally already had two other jobs, (see above: Two kids in college…) So it really was a question of rotating out of the fire department and the long shift work. I prefer the word: Evolution. Was he ready to give up that career, had he done all that he wanted to do there? The answer ended up being a resounding yes, especially the 24 hour shifts, which were only getting harder each passing year. With that decision in place, I decided it would be wise to line up my time off to coincide with his last shift so that we could enjoy some time together.

The other piece that sort of aligned accidentally, was our daughter Shannon’s plan after her college graduation last spring, to work in Disney as part of her Covid casualty postponed college program. In a different context, our son Joe had transferred to a different college, more transition as part of our family renewal/evolution.

As I started formulating plans, we thought we should take a big trip to celebrate all the things, and since Joe had not ever been out of the U.S., Ireland was first on our list, and London had ALWAYS been on my list. Shannon then scheduled her time so that we were able to drive her down to Florida and spend a couple of days in Disney with her as well.

So, the first thing we did upon my sabbatical (and Joe’s retirement) was – take a trip to Disney World. We were off to a good start!

After a hella-long drive to Florida with a very full car, we got Shannon settled in, and spent a couple of days with Pooh & Friends and enjoying Halloween decorations in Disney, then visited my brother and his wife who recently moved to Amelia Island, before heading back home. We promptly turned right around and went to Rhode Island to attend Family weekend at the University of Rhode Island and visit Joe. He was in the midst of pledging a fraternity, but he managed to squeeze in at least an hour or two with us… haha, (but actually true story). We were happy to have a beautiful New England day and take him to lunch, and also lucky for us, to stay and visit with my friend Julie in Newport, our Rhode Island “home”.

We zipped home to NJ, then left a day later for Ireland and England for 12 days. This trip was pretty incredible, so stay tuned for a separate post just about these adventures.

After we returned home and recovered from Jet lag, we were left with a few weeks just the two of us empty nesters at home – and not working. Weird.

I realized that if I had been working (from home) and Joe was enjoying his newly found free time without a concrete schedule, I would have been resentful – not in a bad way, but sort of just in the grumbly get up and start the daily grind, well, one of us has to work feeling. So we avoided that by being able to make spur of the moment decisions with our lovely New Jersey fall weather like, hey it’s a beautiful day, let’s take the top off the Jeep and take a nice drive! Hot Dog Johnny’s awaits! Or… Let’s drive up to Connecticut for a couple of days and see family…it was pretty awesome. I have worked basically full time since age 17, and I haven’t had significant time off other than maternity leaves (which IS NOT TIME OFF!) So, this was a profound discovery time for me.

Back in my professional dancing years with Princeton Ballet, (think late 1980’s) I was in New York City one day during a brief company hiatus, and I ran into Jennifer Scanlon, the woman who had set Jose Limon’s famed The Moor’s Pavane on us earlier that year. She was a lovely teacher and coach, and she had seen all of us as dancers through the most stressful of lenses, vying for a role, being in the studio 6 -8 hours a day staring at ourselves in a mirror, and when she saw me out of that context, she took my hands in hers and immediately said: You look so relaxed. I thought about that comment for a long time after that – and I feel like it was the same thing for me during this seven weeks. When you have a moment to just take care of yourself, and not be constantly thinking about work, or criticisms, or juggling a million things, it definitely feels better from the inside out. Note to self.

Other than the big things, and while working around our travel itineraries, I also made time to go to a Broadway show, I went into New York to have dinner with a friend, who does that? I mean, go to NYC just for dinner? Not this girl. I felt very cosmopolitan. I found great joy in just being able to plan to do one thing on a given day. As in, Today, I’m going to the chiropractor. Or…Today, I am having coffee with a friend. That’s it. I’m not answering 40 emails, squeezing it between meetings, or worrying about getting back in time for…more meetings. I went to appointments and then did something completely frivolous afterwards, like taking a walk around a park, or stopping at a store I never get to shop in. Time. Space.

I spent some time keeping up with my cat Poe’s Instagram account (@poekitty2022) who is a feisty black cat having adventures outside in our yard and inside our house, and frequently interacts with my sister’s dog’s Instagram account (@talleywoodside). Wildly silly and maybe ridiculous, but it’s so fun.

I planned future trips to Disney to visit Shannon – we just went back for Thanksgiving. I am going back with my sister in law in January. (I am not a fanatical Disney person, but since she’s only there for six months we have to plan accordingly…)

And oh, house projects – there are no shortage of house projects. I had hoped that in time maybe Joe and I would be on a track to become the next Chip and Joanna Gaines and start our own HGTV show, but he says I don’t have the skills. He may be correct. ☹

I guess what I could say was most impactful during this time was just reaffirming and understanding exactly who I am. There is no doubt that it is a complete paradigm shift when your partner “retires,” “evolves,” or simply changes paths. I’m grateful that I could take a moment and breathe that in, instead of barreling on to the next thing without the space to process it. We are still most definitely an empty nest work in progress, but we are learning and growing together into this next adventure and stage of our lives. Going back to work feels good right now, and my perspective has appropriately adjusted and refreshed. I can feel the possibilities. I didn’t clean my whole house, or write a book, but I certainly took more time for myself …even if you can’t take seven weeks off, spending time doing something that brings you joy and happiness is important everyday. Remember to create the time and space.

The Light is Changing

You can feel it actually. The waning days of summer, as the sun slants ever so slightly in a different direction, the light is changing.

In the past 18 years of my life, this small but significant sign has meant we are approaching back to school shopping, one last trip to the beach, a new school year on the horizon. This year is similar, yet different. Our youngest son is heading to college, and so for the first time in what seems like a very long time, I don’t have a child in our school district, I’m no longer getting the “back to school” notices, the reminders, the lunch account replenishment, the high school parking passes. I’m not filling out pages of medical forms or reviewing soccer schedules, and blocking out game times on my calendar.

I don’t miss this really… maybe? I don’t know. As the light wanes this August, the changes feel bigger, more unknown, the overall life shift is more monumental. It’s natural and normal, and inevitable. I am becoming more of a bystander, a cheerleader in my son’s life. He fills out the medical forms now and I just proofread. We discuss meal plans and a college course schedule.

With the changing light though, comes possibility. My son is at once worried, anxious, and excited. As each of his childhood friends has departed, one by one, like the drip of a slow faucet, he is ready to go. He will have endless possibilities in college, new friends, and a bigger world to be a part of. And we will have a new routine, a quieter house, opportunities for new (or old) hobbies and interests to take center stage.

So when I get a little wistful for the high school days, the standing out in the rain for soccer games, the focal point of my life revolving around these kids, I will take a deep breath, close my eyes and embrace this late summer light. The light is changing, and so are we.

Normal “Assassins”

It’s perfectly normal to find a full fire extinguisher of water rolling around in the back of your car on your way to church, right? Well…even with a husband who is a professional firefighter, this is not exactly…normal.

But when your son, who is a Senior in high school, nearing the end of the school year, has been playing a game called “Assassins” the entire weekend, where the high school upper classmen have formed into teams to stalk each other around town, and spray each other with water guns, (and evidently, fire extinguishers filled with water)- it makes life interesting. And, in a weird way, yes, also normal.

Pre-Pandemic, I would have worried so much more about this, kids driving around in cars, getting out and battling with water-filled “materials” in neighborhoods and parking lots, though this is a long standing tradition apparently, and obviously everyone who played before has lived to tell about it. But, after the year we’ve had, my perspective is quite different. Far from worrying, I am relishing every moment of dare I say…normal teenage activities. I am literally pushing him out the door.

On a Friday afternoon, a car pulled into the driveway, and four boys piled out of it, as Joe ran double time down the stairs from his room, out of the house – all ready with his black bandanna and awkwardly carrying the extra large fire extinguisher, bestowed upon him with the blessings of his fireman father. I hear all the boys cheering and clapping: LET’S GO! YEAH JOE! They are laughing, carefree, and they all pile into the car and drive away.

I paused for a moment, looking out my office window. Because this is the first time I had seen that kind of activity in over A YEAR. High school kids, together, laughing, ready for an adventure without restrictions, or a shadow of worry. I joke all the time that I have to stop crying over these things, that I should have invested actual money in Kleenex, but evidently it’s not going to be this month. I smash the lump down in my throat as they drove off. Because all I can think is, Normalcy.

What a difference a year makes- last year at this time these same boys were doing drive by birthday celebrations, yelling at each other from cars in the street, staying 6 feet apart, and trying to figure out what activities they could do outside in the summer to spend time together. This included going to the extent of buying fishing licenses so they could go to a lake all afternoon and sit and talk with their fishing rods in the water. A year ago, J was struggling through the last weeks of his Junior year with remote high school; we were worried beyond belief over his mental health. I was crying, but for very different reasons.

We are now at that point, after graduation, where he has one foot out the door, but is trying to be respectful of our feelings, still, we know it’s coming. He’ll be gone soon. A new normal.

Fast forward to later the same Friday night, when I awake from a fitful dozing sleep to hear him padding up the stairs after midnight. I get up out of instinct, and he greets me in the hallway.


He goes into enthusiastic detail about diving into bushes, hiding behind cars, and leaping and running across lawns. I blearily smile with relief and offer mumbled, possibly incoherent but heartfelt words of congratulations, and ask if he’s still in the game. He is. Hey, I thought you were staying over at A’s house, I say. I decided to come home, he responds. Good. Get some rest.

I climb back into bed, and two minutes later, he knocks on my bedroom door and enters, waving a Nestle Crunch bar. Hey, I got this for you when we stopped at Wawa. I admit, I had to suppress a little snort laugh. It was 12:30 at night, did he think I was going to eat it right then? But I was also overwhelmed with how thoughtful it was. Thanks, I said. Good night mom. He answered. Normalcy.

So the next morning, when I get in the car to drive to church, the dang fire extinguisher is clanging and rolling around the back seat. But rather than be annoyed that he left it there and didn’t think to take it out when he got home the night before, I smile with relief (and yes, a few tears), because in this weird way, it is actually a piece of normalcy. Sigh. {Sob}.

Gratitude in a Pandemic

Recently I started keeping a list of things I am grateful for, to be honest, because it is Lent and I am trying to be reflective. But I realized as I got going, that my list was nearly all things I have become grateful for during the pandemic. It does strike me that this is the classic: Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.…or While you’re waiting for the pandemic to end.

Either one seems to work here. This is a wide variety of things over the past year that has kept my spirits up, that has opened my mind, or has just freakin’ made me laugh. When I SO needed to laugh. There are 12 on this list right now, (in no particular order of importance), and in marking 12 months of this pandemic life, it seems to fit.

  • I discovered my sister’s dog has an Instagram account. I LOVE Talley and all of the small, simple adventures that she goes on with my sister. It always brightens my day to see Talley trotting in her little coat outside when it’s cold, or climbing a mountain, or just sniffing the grass on a daily walk. I know she makes Chris happy, and that makes me happy.
  • Deborah Roberts’s Instagram account. Deborah Roberts is an ABC News correspondent, and she is also married to Al Roker. I have always been a fan of Al, (Today Show fan too) – but during the pandemic, I discovered Deborah as well. She is a very inspirational, smart, compassionate woman, who has children the same age as mine, and is also an Episcopalian. When I began following her on social media, I found her posts to be reflective and joyful, reminding me to do things like buy flowers to brighten up the house, light a candle, go for a walk – Take care of myself. (Plus, I love their house in Upstate New York and their dog is really cute too.) I commented on a post last spring that she made on Pentacost at her church in NYC, and she reacted with the prayer emoji. So clearly now we are BFFs.
  • Cooking shows (Food Network.) I had always enjoyed a few shows on the Food Network here and there, but I REALLY got into some of them this last year. I could literally watch hours of Guy Fieri’s GGG (Guy’s Grocery Games), DDD (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives), and come on, can somebody please BEAT BOBBY FLAY? HE ALWAYS WINS! Sprinkle in a Saturday morning of some Giada and that PIoneer Woman while having my morning coffee, and I ventured forth to make some food outside my repertoire, and buy kitchen pantry staples to challenge myself to make some creative and flavorful dishes. If I have to be responsible for thinking about what to make for dinner like, 300 days a year, then Guy, Bobby, Giada, Rocco, and all those amazing chefs have saved me. They are ALL MY FRIENDS NOW.
  • Zoom Filters – or more accurately, the tragic mishaps with Zoom filters. (This is like my pandemic version of Buster Keaton movies). I don’t use Zoom all that much, but boy did I love and cackle out loud at the woman who made herself a Potato for the duration of a business meeting, and my god, the lawyer who couldn’t turn off the cat filter… I am not a cat. THAT WILL NEVER GET OLD.
  • Appreciation for Local Landmarks – I live in a beautiful historic area, (Washington Crossing) but when you walk in your neighborhood 350 plus days out of the year, you find new appreciation for exploring all of the history around us both in NJ and PA. On my bike, on my walks, in the car… humming Hamilton’s “HERE COMES THE GENERAL, (RISE UP)”….
  • Uncle Ed’s Creamery Ice Cream Pies – Early on in 2020, we were trying to support as many local businesses as possible who could only open for take-out. Uncle Ed’s is a small ice cream and chocolate shop owned by the High School Varsity soccer coach, so we were ordering there as much as we could, and then we discovered through a friend that they sell these amazing Ice Cream Pies. Well, Carvel, just move on over, because I will never again buy another one of your ice cream cakes. These things are THE BEST. We ordered for every occasion, and also just sometimes because it was Friday night and we made it through the week. (But, see walks above, so we didn’t gain 20 pounds of ice cream pie)… BUT.SO. GOOD. WE MIGHT NEVER HAVE KNOWN ABOUT THEM OTHERWISE.
  • Pandemic Poe Kitty. We got a new kitty. What would we ever do without this little cute black thing. The end.
  • Weekends free – Y’all might have heard over my social media life span that we have a child who has played travel soccer since 2010. That is, by my rudimentary math skills, 9 million Saturdays/Sundays of soccer over the past 10 years. For many many months, I had no driving to do on Saturdays or Sundays. See: Appreciation for Local Landmarks.
  • Pilates with Gioia/Yoga with Adriane – I have taken my fair share of Yoga classes over the years, I have enjoyed some, and others didn’t exactly inspire. I found Adriane on YouTube, she was really calming, her speed was just right for me at this time in my life, and her dog is often there too, which just made me smile. (And bonus, it is FREE). I know Gioia through my church, she is a fantastic Pilates teacher with her own local studio. She started doing classes online and also simultaneously fundraising for a wonderful and crucial local community organization by contributing half her class fees to Urban Promise Trenton, so I join as often as I can. She provides light, good vibes, and a great hour of taking care of yourself.
  • Lunch with neighbors – two friends of mine are teachers, and they were home. So we scheduled lunch together a couple of times this fall, where we met outside at one of our houses and brought all of our food with us. It was something that never would have happened otherwise without this weird school year, and it helped us kind of re-center ourselves during the week.
  • Senior Year Surprises – Despite the obvious kind of gloom and doom of a Senior year of high school during a pandemic, there have also been amazing surprises. Knowing that this is the last year I have at home with this kid has made for lots of emotions, and none of the “lasts” are happening the way they are supposed to. But some of it is better. Especially when I get hug, or a thank you, or he just bops into my office and spontaneously waves at my web cam in the middle of my meetings. Watching him mature literally before my eyes, it’s something to celebrate, not be sad about.

12. Science – And the people who believe in it. Go forth and get your vaccines!

Who knows what the next year has in store for us. It’s no doubt been a severe way to learn to be grateful, and have the deeper understanding that tomorrow is not promised. I am learning a ton about myself, through laughing at the zoom potatoes, taking a moment to look around me, and also being more open to life’s surprises. I have embraced my “micro world” as best I could. Love to all of you who helped me through, and I hope I can hug you all soon!

Oh – and if you are interested, you can follow Talley here: @talleywoodside (Maybe I’ll make an Instagram account for Poe’s adventures too….)

The Kids Are Not Alright

Teenagers have been on my mind. For those of you who are parents of teenagers, or who are related to a teenager, listen up, this is for you.

I have been somewhat flabbergasted, and frankly a little shocked at times when I asked friends over the past year how their kids (teenagers) were doing, which is kind of a big question in the time of a pandemic…and some of them shrugged and said lightly, “Oh, they’re alright.” Or… “Oh you know, he’s kind of oblivious to everything.” Or, “We are really loving our family time.” At first I thought wow, maybe my kids are the only ones having a terrible time of this. Or maybe I’m overthinking this. Or maybe I’m just a terrible parent. But no. Because you know what? They are not alright. Even the ones that you think are alright, they are not.

I have read countless articles about how teenagers are suffering through this pandemic. I have cried on the phone with our pediatrician, who assured me I am not the only one. We are not the only ones. I have spent so many sleepless nights worrying about how my son is going to continue to navigate high school like this. I’ve bargained with myself, I’ve tried the unrealistic optimism approach that things will be better. I have tried to keep a sense of humor (sometimes not very successfully). But, yet, the nagging little voice. He’s not alright. They’re not alright.

Our school district is among the best, we are very lucky, and I know this and I appreciate it. They have done all they can do to keep the kids in school safely. But yet, these kids feel they are literally being punished for going to school. Or not going to school. Or seeing friends. Or not seeing friends. You see, every choice they make comes with a set of consequences, and it’s impossible to make any good (or “right”) choices. If they see friends, they risk exposure to COVID. If they don’t see friends, they are much more likely to feel sad and depressed. If they go to school, they feel weird and it’s not the greatest experience. If they don’t go to school, they are more isolated and it’s not the greatest experience. I can’t figure out how to be supportive. I’ve tried every angle, and none of it really fits – where is the pandemic parenting guidebook? Because of the depression J suffered with last spring, we have tried to allow him some freedom to see some friends (not in large groups), but his close group in the safest settings possible. It seemed the most reasonable path in my mind, and to keep his mental health in balance.

That seemed to be working, although they still obviously are giving up and missing out on a lot of normalcy. But a few weeks ago he went to a friends house, and there were people there outside his usual “pod”. One of them tested positive for COVID and all of them had to quarantine. In the week following, J had two negative tests, so he did not get infected, but he was very quiet. He stayed more to himself, barely talking, if he even came out of his room at all. One of his friends did get the virus and had symptoms. When I was driving him to get his COVID test, I asked, “You know that I’m not mad at you, right”? And he said, “No, I thought you guys were really mad at me.” And I said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. You went to a friend’s house.” Let that sink in. He thought he was in trouble because he went to a friend’s house. He said that they all felt like they did something wrong, and that they were worried they were going to get in trouble with the school. If you add this pressure into the mix of kids who are trying to please, it’s the ultimate sadness.

It was at that point that I just thought, wow, how much have we burdened our kids? We have literally asked the impossible from them, and then we are disappointed when they can’t deliver. How have we made them feel so inadequate? They don’t deserve this. They feel punished for literally every action, and then they retreat. We (collectively, people in charge of them) said “Sure, you can play your sport, but it could be shut down literally any minute because of something you do (or don’t do) or because someone else who you don’t even know stands next to someone who has COVID.” I don’t know how we can support them, or fix it, or make it better. I have no advice. I do know that I get even more angry when I hear people being judgmental: “tsk tsk” these kids just don’t know how to behave.

Listen. They are doing the best that they can. WE are doing the best that we can. There are no good options.

I don’t know what the lasting effects of this pandemic will be for these kids, the ones poised to be independent and trying to figure things out about themselves in their Senior year of high school, and have been squashed. All I know is that there will be lasting effects. I hope and pray that they will put this in their rearview mirror eventually, but it’s no joke – it’s not something they will ever speak lightly about. I take the words of advice that are often swirling in my head, just have grace – a lot of it – be a good listener, and be forgiving. That’s the best that we can do.


Lace up…Inspiration in 2020

I never set foot on an athletic field in High School. I couldn’t even tell you for sure if Princeton High School even had a football team in the eighties. (But I think they had a soccer team). Suffice it to say, I did not understand the world of varsity athletics – what playing a varsity sport actually entailed, or what teammates really meant to each other.

But, I will say, I love a good sports movie. I mean, I truly enjoy watching the inspirational tales (especially the true stories) of underdog teams who make it to the finals against all odds, miracles on ice, Cinderella stories, athletes that overcome adversity, I’ve seen them all – multiple times. (With plenty of tissues on hand). I’m also literally the biggest fan of the Olympics. Every two years, my family knows that I will be fanatically watching every moment of coverage of sports I never even cared about until those two weeks, and then I’m glued to the television for days and nights on end rooting for athletes in the ski jump and the Nordic combined and I can’t even pronounce their names. Because those athletes made it to the OLYMPICS.

So, imagine when we had our very own real life version of an inspirational, spectacular finish of a sports season happen in 2020. [Big Cheers!!]. High school varsity athletes and coaches have had to navigate their seasons in the midst of a pandemic, with no guidebook – and our soccer player has been a part of that. And the last week of Joe’s soccer season perhaps provided the most twists and turns, emotional ups and downs, and outright drama that I have seen either in a movie, or experienced in real life. It was nothing short of exhausting and exhilarating.

These young men on the Hopewell Valley Central High School soccer team have proven their resiliency all season, enduring all the weirdness of sports in 2020; Health checks, canceled practices, schedule changes, not knowing each day if the season could get shut down, playing each game as if it might be their last. They all took care of each other, relied on each other, and kept themselves healthy for the past three months, leading in to the post season sectional finals. And then things really got interesting.

Their team was supposed to have their State sectional quarter final on a Tuesday evening.  They had a remote day at school Monday, so I was cautiously optimistic that all would be fine. Since no one had been at school since the Friday before, things were unlikely to unravel (I thought) with a positive case coming to light at the high school. But, alas, at 2pm on Tuesday, we got an email that there was a positive case identified, and the student had been in school THAT DAY. 
The coach reached out immediately to say that the game was “postponed”…but honestly we all thought they were done. The semi finals were scheduled for Thursday, and the finals for Saturday; obviously they couldn’t hold up the tournament, so the possibility was very real that they would have to forfeit the game. 
All the boys on the team began texting each other, Joe wandered in and out of my office at home pacing and running his fingers through his hair. I tried to stay mostly silent, knowing nothing that I could say was going to be helpful. Later that evening, he and his best friend Matt took a drive (they called it their “cry drive” – they went to the field at the high school, got food at WAWA and hung out together). I admit, I did some of my own crying too. In the meantime, I was obsessively searching the high school soccer schedule on, (complete coverage of high school sports…) and I saw that their game was moved on the calendar to Wednesday, but I knew it had to be contingent upon the whole team being cleared in time from the contact tracing.  Still, there was a glimmer of hope. 

Wednesday morning arrived and we were on pins & needles.  I was very distracted and I kept refreshing my email to see if there was any news.  At around Noon, Joe came tearing down the stairs and leaping into my office exclaiming: GAME IS ON!!!! GAME IS ON!!!! So we cried again – this time in relief.  The email subject line from the coach was: LACE UP.   Loud music was played in Joe’s room all day and there was some dancing too.

The HV Bulldogs went into that game Wednesday night with a TON of adrenaline, and took the field by a hundred fold teenage force. It was fantastically exciting, hard fought, fearless, all heart, tied up at the end of the game, ending up going into double Overtime…and they WON. They came away with a win on their home field in the quarter sectional finals, after just hours before not being sure they would even get to play the game. 

It was like a movie. And it was not over! They had to turn around and play THE NEXT AFTERNOON, after playing two hours of full out soccer in freezing cold temperatures, with cramping muscles, bruises, and coming out a little battered. Add to that – their goalie had hurt his ankle, and ended up spending a late night in the ER. This was setting up to be a classic scenario of an underdog team rising up from adversity to challenge the more experienced, nationally ranked team that was pretty much anointed champion before the game was even played. IT JUST DOESN’T GET ANY BETTER THAN THAT.

They were all a little emotionally overwrought and wiped out from the night before, (Joe sat at virtual school the next morning with a heating pad on his leg and bowl full of bananas), but these boys absolutely pulled it together. Their opponent had literally rolled over every other team they had played this season, and had many days of rest to boot.  But the Bulldogs came out strong, scored first, and stayed in the lead until the second half; they fought all the way.  We cheered loudly. The loss was ultimately 3-1, but the opposing team was confident on their home field, and hadn’t played an entire game less than 24 hours before! So I absolutely consider it a win for our boys – because most importantly, and above all else, in the midst of a Pandemic, they got to play their last two games on their terms, and with all the uncertainty, put their hearts all out there, instead of having the season fizzle to an end out of their control. 

These athletes showed a maturity and understanding that was beyond their years, they kept themselves healthy all season and put their teammates first – and the stuff that was out of their control was just that – I am so thankful it all worked out for them, that they were supported on so many fronts- by the school district, their coaches, the State athletic governing body. They eeked out this season in the nick of time. 

We have certainly lost a lot of things this year, there has been no shortage of struggles. Our teenagers have made sacrifices, and we as parents have worried on a scale that is not measured. The world has felt so out of control, but perhaps we all gained some perspective. We could say that it wasn’t a true soccer season because it wasn’t a traditional schedule, there was no county tournament, no Varsity trip, no State finals in the way everyone was accustomed to. But in the heavy plus column is that many of us appreciated this season more than any other that came before it. We cheered a little louder, hugged our athletes a little tighter. Gave each other a little more grace. Each game that came and went, we all exhaled a little more.

I, for one, appreciated that in a world that feels very fearful, I could watch these guys be absolutely fearless out on the soccer field. Twice a week, for a couple of hours, I almost forgot we were living in a pandemic, except for the mask on my face. I am grateful for every moment, and I know these boys are grateful for each other, perhaps even more than they would have been in a “normal” year. There were no “would haves” “could haves” or “should haves”. They truly left it all out in the field, and I gained an understanding of Varsity athletics in a way I never expected to.

In the second half of the final game, near the end, when Joe was on the bench for a couple of minutes, I heard him yelling to his teammates on the field: “DEFEND AS A UNIT!”. I would say that they did just that, both on the field, and off.

The sting of the losses will fade in time, but the moments they shared, and the friendships they nurtured – they will keep those forever. Well done, Bulldogs, we got some true inspiration in this excruciating year. I’m exhaling now.


Coronavirus Plandemic

I remember back in April, when we were at the beginning of the COVID crisis – the chaos, fear, uncertainty, saying many times to people….”When this is all over, we’ll…” fill in the blank. Go to dinner? Go to the movies? Have a party without worry? Celebrate milestones without “drive bys”?, SEND OUR KIDS TO SCHOOL?

I don’t know when it started to change, maybe sometime this summer, when the world realized it wasn’t going to be “all over”. It was going to hover over our plans, our existence, our everyday life, for a good long time. We stopped saying: When this is all over. I stopped planning for things too far into the future. It was incredibly painful to cancel everything on the calendar last spring, so by not having too much on the calendar, that doesn’t scare me so much now.

The “plandemic” has arrived. My strategy to plot my family’s life only a few days or a few events at time. I held my breath for school to actually start, I held my breath even longer for soccer practices, and games to actually land on the calendar. Week by week. Actually, day by day.

There’s now a fall chill in the air. With winter looming, and knowing the days are getting shorter, I have had real moments of sadness, so I started employing a strategy of coping by only thinking about things in bite size pieces to keep me from getting completely overwhelmed. I don’t know that it always works, but sometimes at the very least, it calms me down.

But when I get to question of planning for the holidays, I just stop. Too overwhelming. What’s happening THIS WEEK, I ask myself, and the answer is, soccer games, bike rides, walks, deep breaths, and cooking good healthy food. That’s a good week! No planning beyond the week. To the next high school soccer game, fingers crossed, breath held.

My sister Chris and I wrote an article together a couple of months ago about coping through the pandemic, using duffel bags as our barometer and how to metaphorically pack them with strategies that would buoy us up throughout the pandemic. Best case scenario was 1 duffel bag, worst case would be 3 duffel bags. (In case you missed it, and are curious to know more, you can read it here: )

In my proverbial duffel bag scenario, winter right now is at about a 10. So, there you go. I struggle with the winter in the BEST of times, so it’s daunting to me to even imagine coping without my usual comfort mechanisms – will I feel OK to go out and eat at a restaurant? People won’t want to gather inside, so we will be isolated just like last spring. What will I do when it gets dark at 5pm? I may just invite my neighbors over to the fire pit with many layers and 5 blankets instead of mustering up the courage for one more zoom call to socialize.

This is where I get to the Plandemic. Plandemic = no planning. I have to kind of shape my day as I feel I can, take baby steps, don’t eat the whole cake – take the small bites. Do the thing that makes me feel good.

When I listen to the “experts”, (and by the way, who the hell is an expert on living through a pandemic?) they say self care is so important. Take care of yourself. This is my coping mechanism. The “Plandemic” is going to go on for at least a few more months, so I am going to continue to go day by day. Week by week. Piece by piece. This is my self care, this is how I will stay sane.

But….having a Senior in High School during a pandemic is like WTF every single day. It makes college planning activities kind of hilarious/traumatic. (Is that even a possible combination of feelings?) There is literally not one piece of going to school right now that is normal – though I am extremely thankful they are trying. But as far as “planning” for actual college which is NEXT YEAR (!) I am going through the motions. I feel so disconnected, as if this is some mirage of activities that are not real. But I will say that young Joe has proven his resilience, and he is showing his maturity. He’s finding his way forward, so I am following. But, also saying my usual set of phrases on repeat: “I don’t know…” “Well see….” eventually I suppose there will be acceptance letters, decisions to be made, financial aid packages to weigh, and I’ll probably keep saying, “I don’t know…” “We’ll see…”

I admit that I am a bit weary of being grateful for the little things we get, as if we should be thankful this pandemic wasn’t screwed up even worse. “At least….” has become my least favorite leading sentence.

  • At least my son is in school *sometimes*.
  • At least they are having a soccer season, even if it’s not what they thought it would be. At least we get to go to the games, even if my family can’t come and watch his senior year.
  • At least my daughter is at college, even if she has to live like a hermit

At least… It’s a real struggle not to be angry, which I know does not help. But yes, I am angry that so much has to be sacrificed by us when we weren’t protected from this AT ALL, and now it looks as though this is a future sacrifice for….who knows how long.

I did briefly think of writing a book called: Parenting in a Pandemic for Dummies – but maybe instead I’ll write one called Plandemic strategies for tomorrow, or Have your Plandemic cake and eat it too. Seriously, y’all, it’s a plandemic dilemma.


A Love Letter to my Ballet Family

As the days have ticked by during the months of this Pandemic, I’ve certainly had my brain full of plenty of things to worry about, just like all of you. For me at this particular time in my life, I worry mostly about my almost-grown kids and what their life is going to be like for the next year, I worry about my husband going out on the front lines for work, I worry about my friends who are unemployed right now, and I worry about my clients in all facets of the Arts, who I talk to everyday and who have no idea how long they have to endure.

But the one other nagging worry, and feeling of helplessness, and sadness, is really going all the way back to my artistic roots as a dancer. Because for all the creativity, the zoom meetings, the moving everything to the “virtual” – there is no way for ballet dancers to do this well. Because the point (pun intended) is for dancers to be TOGETHER.

When you dance together, either partnering with one person, or dancing with 16 other dancers in the corps, the energy is built on the people in the room It’s not simply the hands on ability for the teacher to correct and see you up close, but because of the sheer joy and harmony of moving together through space. You are literally BREATHING on each other. Let’s face it, there is no way to dance together 6 feet apart, and WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO?  Not to mention moving through space in an expansive studio where you feel like you can fly. You can’t do that in your living room, no matter how hard you try. (Well, without breaking a lamp.)

I am literally flooded weekly by the hundreds of Zoom classes and virtual classes that are offered now at ballet studios all around me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds, and even some brave ballet schools with students attending in person this summer, standing literally acres apart at the barre in sterile studios with masks on… and honestly, my heart breaks a little bit every single time.  I can only imagine what a young dancer must be feeling- your years as a dancer are fleeting, there is no time to be lost, you don’t ever have enough time in this life at your peak as a performer.  I fully admit that I would have absolutely lost my shit at age 16 or 17 if a global pandemic had come along and taken away my community, my world, my ability to work together, to BE together cohesively with my fellow dancers- my ballet family.

So, to the ridiculous levels of creativity that everyone in this world is challenged to rise up to, the endless zoom ballet classes, the dancers putting panels of Marley on their kitchen floors so they can continue to train and do their barre work and put their pointe shoes on without breaking an ankle on waxed linoleum, I bow down to you. And especially to my friends who are ballet teachers – I know you have learned all kinds of  new technology and stepped so far out of your comfort zone just to endure this, (and are probably hating most every minute of it) I feel you and I applaud you.

And to the ballet students and professional dancers, I am rooting and cheering so hard for the day that you can feel the air from someone else’s movement brush by you as you move through Grand Allegro, when you have to lean back at the barre because someone’s Grand Battement comes just a little bit too close to your face, when you can grab the hand of your partner, look into their eyes and feel their sweat, their energy, their grit, and their passion.  When you can BREATHE together. The same air, in the same room.

This. is. Ballet.





Quarantine Chronicles Part 2

Quarantine Chronicles Part 2-  17th Birthday Celebration/Visiting Raccoon/Singing

This week’s highlights included Joseph’s 17th birthday celebration, which was like so many other parts of life in quarantine, for sure not what we would have planned, but surprising in its unexpected delight and creativity, raccoons on our roof (Yes, really) and the process/outcome of video recording a hymn for our church choir.

Birthday Chronicles:

For Joseph’s birthday, we planned a surprise “drive by” – and it was delightful seeing so many friends and his soccer teammates show up for him with a slow parade of cars down our street, beep their horns, hold out signs, and throw packages of oreos, but the highlight for me was his friend Ali standing through the car’s sunroof with a small megaphone shouting: Happy Birthday Joe! Followed by: Sorry you can’t get your license Joe! (Yes, we are sorry.)

Creativity – We had a family get together via GoToMeeting (just like zoom) – which was *exactly* like my family getting together in person, only virtually the opposite of that.  There was chaos, talking over each other, making fun of various people’s technological challenges (Ok, mostly my brother getting the brunt…) – but as a 17 year old is bound to do, J started using all  of the “tools” including chatting incessantly, as well as utilizing the drawing feature, where he was doodling all over everybody’s faces, which was both kind of hilarious and also very stressful.  In four years of using GoToMeeting, it never ever occurred to me to draw on anybody. (But now he’s got me thinking…) Also he found great entertainment in randomly muting people.

So after the jumble of trying to understand each other for 30 minutes, and singing happy birthday to the boy, I suddenly realized there would be a chat log of this meeting, and that, my friends, is the cherry on top of the whole quarantine birthday extravaganza.

Here is a brief excerpt for some of the highlights (yes, there is even more!)- and what you have to realize is that where it says: “Anne Gribbins” it is important to note that actually Joseph was typing all of that. Also, some pets made an appearance near the end, which is why you see random names like “Talley” (my sister’s dog) and Daphne ( Mattie’s AKA “Its Me” kitty).

Anne Gribbins (to Its Me): 7:11 PM: who is this

Anne Gribbins (to Bob and Terry Woodside): 7:12 PM: what up bob

Bob and Terry Woodside (Private): 7:13 PM: Hi Annie.  Glad you did this

Anne Gribbins (to Johnny): 7:13 PM: here’s johnyy

Anne Gribbins (to Johnny): 7:13 PM: get the reference?

Anne Gribbins (to Johnny): 7:15 PM: john

Anne Gribbins (to Johnny): 7:15 PM: NSWER THE CHAT

Ross (to Everyone): 7:16 PM: freaking Beiber thinks he’s funny

Anne Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:16 PM: WHAT UP LADS

Anne Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:16 PM: LETS GET READY TO RUMBLE

Anne Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:16 PM: gg

Anne Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:16 PM: let’s get some gg’s in the chat

JeepGribbs Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:16 PM: Happy BIRFday!

Ross (to Everyone): 7:19 PM: I love how it just tells you in this emotionless mono-tone that your family has muted you

Its Me (to Everyone): 7:19 PM: I feel personally targeted

Ross (to Everyone): 7:22 PM: This is so chaotic. Just lots of noise

Anne Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:22 PM: this is not a democracy

Bob and Terry Woodside (to Everyone): 7:23 PM: its Daphne

Christine Woodside (to Everyone): 7:26 PM: talley

Christine Woodside (to Everyone): 7:32 PM: If it is not a democracy then who is the king or queen

JeepGribbs Gribbins (to Everyone): 7:33 PM: Joseph is king – it’s his birthday.

So yup, that’s my family in a nutshell. You should also envision me in the background chastising him for muting people. (Stop doing that!) asking him to move the chat box off the center of the screen so that I could SEE people’s faces, and also trying to get the ice cream pie with the candles into the frame so everyone else could see it, but also not dropping oreo ice cream on top of my laptop.  While this juggling act was necessary, and sufficed for these circumstances, I would rather not repeat this particular scenario anytime soon!


Also this week in hilarity and possibly ridiculousness, we had a visit from a very robust and brave raccoon one night at 3:30am.  Yes,  for some reason in all the years we’ve lived here, I’ve not ever seen a raccoon in our yard, but now while we’re all home constantly, I guess this one got hungry and brave. It managed to hoist himself (herself?) up on chair or maybe the old dryer we had put out on the porch, and open the lid of our trash can. After pulling out some pizza crust, he decided to scale the scaffolding on the back of the house, which goes up past Joseph’s windows.  This is how the dialogue went:

3:30am: I am awakened out of sleep by commotion in the hallway and I can hear Joseph and Shannon talking in heated whispers and tense laughter. Then, J knocks and comes into my room:

J: Hey mom, I don’t want to alarm you, but there’s a raccoon on our roof. 

Me: OK…

J: He climbed up the scaffolding, I thought it was a PERSON – I mean a serial killer – so I pretended to be dead. Then I saw it was a raccoon. He’s HUGE.


Then as we hear the patter of raccoon feet above us, Shannon proclaims in a loud whisper from the hallway: I HEAR HIM….

We all burst out laughing. After stomping around on the roof for a few minutes, maybe eating his pizza crust, the masked bandit made it back down the way he got up, and we made sure the cats were accounted for inside to avoid any additional confrontation.

Buh-bye Mr. Raccoon!


Last, but most certainly not least, for this week’s chronicles, I finished strong (well, by my standards…) with recording a hymn for our church choir on video.  This was way, way outside my comfort zone, but I know it’s pretty much outside all of our comfort zones, so that definitely motivated me to figure it out.  After considering my surroundings, my lighting, how far away I could put the music and still read it, and my amateur iphone videography skills, I situated myself in my office and did a couple of practice tries to be sure everything worked.  Any of my fellow choir singers, or just singers that are reading this, I have to say…this was a PROCESS. 

First, can I simultaneously listen to the pre-recorded instructions/accompaniment and press record, toggle between screens, then manage to plug in headphones? Yes.  But, then I would realize I forgot to clear my throat and/or take a sip of water.  Take 2.  Whoops, forgot to plug in headphones on time, panic stricken face on video. Probably a couple of swear words in this outtake. Take 3. Plugged in earphones, cleared throat, then husband walks in.  Argg…..! He apologizes, and says It sounds great. I must have glared not lovingly at him.  He Leaves.  Take 4I seem to have done everything correctly, gotten over worrying about the possible glare on my glasses, my lopsided face and I don’t even bother listening to the recording because IT IS DONE NOW.

The happy ending to this story is that Mark Dolan, Music Director at St. Matthews Church is a wizard, bravely tackling new technology, and he encouraged us all to do this. He put together a really lovely video of our choir singing and people seem to be enjoying it. Even my husband who doesn’t give praise lightly, said it was “wonderful”.

My mantra these days is: One small thing, because I tend to get overwhelmed with my thoughts and trying to do too much. But I’m appreciating some challenges to focus myself, feel satisfied that we can do hard things in hard times, and this week I think I managed to do more than one small thing.

If you are interested in viewing the St. Matthews Choir singing Hymn 296, here it is:



Quarantine Chronicles

A few observations from Quarantine Day….#whatever…

It’s interesting living with your family, I mean really living with your family under circumstances like this.  When you don’t have much outside activity (like, other than actually going outside) and only one person in the house actually leaves the house to go to work every 4-5 days, it’s raised all of these interesting observations. Well, at least they are interesting to me – maybe not to you – which is totally fine, you can go back to Netflix or whatever now.

  1. Teenagers like to sleep – this I know. But this past few weeks has been kind of ridiculous.  I think my son is a vampire. Without a school bus to catch, he can sleep later and he does. And then after his schoolwork, he goes back to bed. Like, till 3pm. Then he makes an appearance at some point, and says: I’m so tired. What?!
  2. College students also have weird hours, and I am respectful of the fact that if Shannon weren’t home, I wouldn’t know any of her sleeping/awake schedule, and she also has no scheduled classes at 8am, so really, I don’t care too much about it, but again, she keeps mostly vampire hours. She comes downstairs after lunch and hisses something, then disappears again.
  3. In some ways my kids are like Senior citizens, and their preferred eating time is 4pm.  This is so weird, and I try to fight it a lot of the time, but you know, it’s either that they are eating lunch at 4, and dinner is at 9 (no thanks)…or we just have to go with it and let them eat whatever, and I eat when I would like to eat.  (Which is normally after work.)  I can’t cook the blue plate special dinner at 3.
  4. My kids take no interest in cooking. Anything. I would blame myself for this, but honestly, I think I have nothing to do with it.
  5. Towels.  I’m not sure how this happens, but I’m washing towels like 15 people live here- well, I should say…at least are showering here. Funny though, I don’t see any rogue visitors come out of my bathroom. I am trying to not get irrationally upset about it, but really,  man, it’s crazy town.
  6. I’m taking a lot of walks – not more than I usually do actually, but my feelings are very different about walks during this quarantine. Instead of thinking, oh, how nice, I’m going to take a little break from my computer and get some fresh air…I kind of angrily put my coat on and stomp out the door, look up at the trees and internally yell LOOK, TREES. ENJOY.  After about 15 minutes, I have inhaled and exhaled and definitely feel better, but the minute I walk back inside, there are 3 more towels waiting to be washed…
  7. I am not sure I see my son ever without his earbuds in. Listening to music or watching something (Impractical Jokers? Ozark? Tiger King?) on his phone. I have to yell, ask him twice, or jump in front of him waving wildly to get his attention.  Responses are short, usually in grunts.
  8. When someone in the house asks me what is for dinner, and I say Gee, what would you like? And then they say, I don’t know….  I want to cut them. (See, walk…..above).
  9. My husband built a shed in 3 days. (Great, right?!) But the outside of our house still looks like a butt hole.  He has promised that the shed is leading to fixing the rest of the house. It’s fine.
  10. I walk down by the river, where there are very beautiful houses in a little village. It’s very serene and peaceful.  Even after they closed our State Parks, and roped off the canal path, I could still walk on the road, so it was OK.  Until one woman put these huge signs out in front of her house that said: GO HOME. (and stay there!)  At first I kind of laughed it off. Then she literally came out and yelled at people riding their bikes and asked if they lived in Titusville – as if they shouldn’t be there. And then I couldn’t laugh it off anymore.  I worried that people are going a little crazy by feeling the need to put a sign out like that.  I mean, I wasn’t walking within 6 feet of her house, or coughing on her mailbox.  People can walk or ride their bikes on the road, and I’m sure that 99% of us do live in the area. (But so what if they didn’t?)  And now every time I walk down by the river I have to see that sign, which is so awful and makes me sad and worried.
  11. I wanted to kick my neighbor’s “Trump 2020” sign over. For real. It’s right at my shin height.
  12. Our dryer died yesterday. RIP. I can’t resist the need to call the new one “Corona Dryer.”
  13. In my “free time” I don’t really want to clean my house that has 4 people living in it 24/7.

I remind myself everyday that everyone is doing the best that they can. We can all have a little patience and wash as many towels as we have to.  Just go outside and say LOOK. TREES. ENJOY.