Gratitude, Gratitude, Gratitude (Even for 2020!)

2020 will not soon be forgotten. I don’t know about you, but this year STRETCHED me in every way imaginable. But through all the ups, downs and curve balls, there was still a lot that was worth celebrating. As I look forward with positivity toward 2021, it feels equally important to shine a light the highs and bright sides of a year that will be remembered for so much negativity. Here’s what tops my list:

They made it to the end of the year and still look pretty happy πŸ™‚

My kiddos and the lessons I’ve learned as a parent. For those of you with kids and/or dealing with homeschooling, you deserve a medal for making it through. Good f*cking work. (Our educators, of course, deserve a bigger medal – and a pay raise – for dealing our kids every day. At this point, this probably goes without saying.) I don’t know that there’s another generation of parents since the industrial revolution that, on the whole, has spent THIS much time with their children.

We will all be dealing with the collective guilt of thinking we should have had better balance, sent them to school in-person, kept them home, yelled less, had more patience, etc. (pick any of them or add your own. Lol.). But I choose to believe that what my kids – who are now 3 and 5 – learned some good fundamentals about letters, numbers, shapes, sight words, reading, math, the animals and plants that live both near our house and in far flung locales (thanks, PBS Kids) AND experienced an exponential increase in daytime hugs and kisses, conversations, family games and puzzles.

The boys figured out many ways to be creative, such as turning my storage ottomans into boats and goin’ fishin’.

They’ve also learned a lot more about what it’s like to have a job in real life (from watching my Jason and I work, talk to coworkers, problem solve, etc.) than I ever would’ve guessed they’d know. I mean, if they decide to go into communications or IT, I’m pretty sure they will not need an internship after the work-immersion program they’ve been in since March. Lol. (I’m joking, but I’m serious.) They are now my closest and cutest coworkers πŸ™‚ Even though we’ve had to have some relatively mature conversations about health, race and inequality, civic responsibility and more, they have rolled with it this whole time, providing us with their interesting insights, comic relief and cute faces to kiss.

No matter what, I think and hope that this year has been a net positive for them. Hopefully, your kids survived not too much worse for the wear and learned a little something, too.

My husband is pretty awesome. One thing that many couples realized early on in the pandemic was that there was no escaping your significant other once lockdowns really got going. Jason and I already had a really strong relationship, but I can see that 2020’s made us grow in positive ways. It’s helped us remember that “teamwork makes the dream work” and that we really like each other as people and friends. I’m so glad to have him as my life partner.

Kids watch a movie on the big screen in our backyard. Equipment furnished by Family Backyard Rentals.
Small-scale birthday party for Justin, courtesy Family Backyard Rentals.

Family and friends. The concept of physical distance has been central during the pandemic, and this surely has been one of the hardest parts for most of us, including my family and friends. But we have been determined to get creative and stay connected. Some of us have done one-on-one physically distanced activities like walks and charity 5Ks. My family planned a variety of outdoor gatherings to celebrate most major holidays and events. What I loved the most is the effort that we’ve put in to finding ways to stay in touch while respecting each other’s comfort zones and boundaries. Only want to meet outdoors, even when it’s cold outside? Great – we have blankets and heaters. Wanna talk through rolled-down car windows in a random parking lot? Done – I’ll see you there. In-person meet-ups give you the heebie-jeebies? No prob – the Zoom invite is on the way.

My brilliant friend, Tara, and her husband also launched a great business – Family Backyard Rentals – that brings the all the gear you need to have an outdoor movie night to your backyard (even the popcorn!). We booked them for Justin’s birthday and it was so fun. I highly recommend checking them out if you’re in the D.C.-MD-VA region.

Snack Trays for Company
My pro-tip for socially distanced entertaining: Individual snack trays for each household to be placed in their designated hang-out areas.

I’ve also thought a lot about how to adapt my entertaining style for those that do want to connect – safely – in person. One thing I’ve done for just about every recent gathering is to prepare separate snack trays. I make one per household (ours included) so I can set up everyone’s hang out zone (groupings of chairs and a table) for each person/family to reduce overlap, people being in the same spaces, utensil sharing, etc. And I feel safer entertaining outside exclusively with people only coming inside to use the bathroom. So I’ve been working through questions like how I can make our garage (with the door fully open) more comfortable for lounging? What do we need to make the deck comfortable and usable year-round? Can I incorporate tailgating staples – like hand and toe warmers, warm drinks and finger foods – into small-scale entertaining at home?

There’s some figuring out to be done, but it’s actually fun and useful to dive into how we can make our house work better for us since we’ll probably be entertaining from afar for the foreseeable future.

Video calls. I know, I know – many of us working from home are so tired of Zoom. I may be the odd person out here, but I’m so grateful that we have access to this and other video conferencing technology. Being able to see my coworkers – even if it’s multiple times a day – is better than having to conduct business solely on the phone. Outside of work, it’s helped the kids to see their friends. I’ve been able to keep in much better contact with friends who live far away and who I usually only see after months of planning exotic trips and thousands of dollars spent (a worthwhile expense, but still!). Zoom, Teams, Ring Central and the like have also been really great for work and board meetings where colleagues who don’t know each other well would otherwise be on the phone for a conference call. Even if the conversation is tense, it seems better if you can see the person and put a name with the face, voice or sentiment.

Work and career. I love my job at the American Physiological Society, and I feel like it’s even more meaningful that I can say that after the year we’ve had. Being able to work from home has been a salve amidst this disorienting situation. My bosses and company have been GREAT during the pandemic. They’ve included employees in decision making and have shared regular status updates about the office and the plans being put in place. And working from home has been going really well organization-wide, so we’ve had a ton of flexibility in dealing with kids, pets and family commitments. I feel very lucky to be at a company where the leadership is confident in the ability of staff to get the job done and that gives us the freedom to act in the best interest of our families.

Cover of the July 2020 issue of The Physiologist Magazine where I profiled astronaut Jessica Meir.

Oh, and I also got to beam the International Space Station into my house!! It was part of a profile I wrote about astronaut and APS member Jessica Meir. We’d been working really hard to secure the interview for months and, in January, we got a tentative date for the end of March, right before the end of Meir’s space mission. My colleague conducted the actual interview while I served as the producer, working with the NASA team on logistics, counting down with Mission Control and the whole 9. This was definitely my coolest professional accomplishment of the year and that the boys got to see Jessica floating around on the space station was only possible because we were all here together on lockdown.

AM&P Executive Committee members after lunch.
Four of the five AM&P Executive Committee made it out to lunch just before the start of the pandemic. I think this was one of my last “before” outings – and it was great fun.

This was also the end of my first full year as a board member for Association Media and Publishing where I currently serve as Executive Secretary. Helping the organization steer through 2020 and the shift to virtual everything while navigating a merger with two other organizations under our parent management company has provided me with a level of professional experience that I was not anticipating, but that I’m so glad to have received. And getting to know and working with my dedicated, smart, savvy colleagues on the board has also been such a connecting experience at a time when there’s so much that isolates us.

So. Much. Time. In. The. Kitchen. Okay, so I always cooked…a lot. But I took it to an HNL – “hole ‘notha level” – in 2020. Of course the quick transition to feeding four people three meals a day from home played a role. But like so many others, I also started baking like it was going out of style πŸ™‚

In addition to baking, I’ve particularly enjoyed creating salads, bowls and soups for my lunches. I really miss going out to the “build your own” lunch spots that I used to frequent near my office. But it occurred to me that I usually have most of the ingredients that I’d order on those salads and bowls in my fridge. Making myself a healthy mid-day meal feels like self-care, clears a lot of produce from the fridge and also saves cash-money. Win-win!

Altogether, I’ve gained a better sense of what my family likes to eat and how I can “healthify” those things when necessary. This especially applies to my husband. He had an unhealthy relationship with 7-Eleven taquitos that I knew nothing about until lockdown began. It’s a work in progress, but I’m happy to report that he’s made great strides in reducing his soda and processed food intake, which probably would not have happened if we weren’t all at home eating together all the time.

Below are some of my experiments. (I have recipes for some of these, so if there are any that you want to learn more about, let me know in the comments.)

Our capacity for resilience. To anyone reading this post, and to myself, I want to send a big CONGRATULATIONS to making it through 2020 standing! No matter who you are, where you live, what you do, what you have – you had to deal with change, churn, grief, fear and inconvenience. We. Frickin’. Deserve. Trophies.

And though there have been some very ugly moments this year – tragedy, sickness, people behaving badly – overwhelmingly, people have reached out, checked in, stood up, donated, recognized, thanked each other and offered support. It’s weirdly such a divided time in so many ways, but also a connected one.

My wish for all of us as we step into 2021 is that we hold close all the surprising positives, victories, laughs, innovation and unexpected connections we’ve been forced to make. I also wish that we leave those things that don’t serve us behind. Life is precious and so is time. If you’re reading this, you still have both. I hope you make the most of these things this year as we keep on moving toward the future.

Happy New Year!

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