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….)


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.