This photo popped up in my Facebook memories and made it a perfect segue into what happened yesterday afternoon.
I had just finished work for the day and decided to begin my afternoon ritual of unwinding. I switched out my computers and let Izzie out into the backyard. I put my yard shoes on and gathered some pruning shears and joined Izzie outside.
The weather was lovely and brisk, not nearly as hot as it was earlier in the week. In fact it was quite chilly. I picked up the garden hose and started watering some of the plants and as I did I started looking around for Izzie. Our yard is pretty large, flat, and pretty wide open except for a fenced off corner that we refer to as the “pig pen” even though we don’t really know if that’s what it was used for. Usually she’s not hard to spot, but this time I didn’t see her immediately. I didn’t think anything of it because this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve lost sight of her in an overgrown hedge.
But as I’m standing there, watering hose in hand, I hear, “Hello, hellooooo!” from behind me. I turn around and there’s one of our neighbors, a tall guy about my age or older, standing at our side gate with Izzie in his arms.
“Oh my goodness, Izzie!” I said, dropping the garden hose and rushing over. Then I realized what happened. “Ugh,” I said. “Craig must’ve forgotten to close the gate when he was working out here.” I was relieved but also amused because she seemed pretty proud that she brought a friend home. “I’m so sorry, I hope she didn’t bother you.”
He laughed. “Oh no, well the funny thing is, when she’s in this yard, she acts like a tough little badass barking at everyone from behind the fence, but when she was out there, she ran up to me just as sweet and friendly as she can be!” And then he said to Izzie, “We know what you’re really like, don’t we?”
“Oh goodness, what a silly girl,” I said. “Thank you so much!”
“No problem!” he said, and closed the gate behind him. I laughed again and scolded her playfully.
This is not the first time that Izzie has left the yard. Unlike other dogs who would probably take off wandering for miles, Izzie never really goes far. She will often just wander over to the neighbor’s house, or even just walk around to the front door and bark to be let inside from there. I’ve always been very relieved that she does this. I like to think it’s because she knows her heart is here with us, but let’s face it. This is Izzie. Her heart is wherever her treats are.
Last Thursday, we received a memo at work that all employees needed to begin working from home if able. With COVID-19 now in the news on a daily basis, we couldn’t deny the drastic shift that was upon us.
I’ve been home for 6 days, 4 of those have been actual work days. I have to say though it’s really… strange. In some ways, I feel like it’s a positive change for me because now I have to be more self-disciplined and regimented about my morning routine.
Start Promptly and Get a Morning Routine Down
Work starts for me at 7:30 a.m. Because I no longer have a commute, I start getting ready for work at 6:50. I shower and I eat a quick breakfast. Then I dress to shoes; I even do my hair and my makeup. I don’t do a full face, just simple, every-day makeup and straightened hair. Some days I wear my glasses, some days I don’t.
By 7:25, I’m usually at my desk in my home office. This means I have to disconnect my personal laptop and connect my work laptop. I’m also fortunate that I have a proper office setup so that I can close the door if needed.
Starting at about the same time every day encourages self discipline, which builds character and self worth.
Be Regimented About Taking Breaks
My company requires that all employees take a lunch break during the day, up to an hour. We also are allowed two 15 minute breaks during the day for getting up and walking around, bathroom visits, or, for some people, smoke breaks.
It’s important to not forget those extra breaks during the day. I will usually get up and do something else around the house like start a load of laundry or take the clean dishes out of the dishwasher. If it’s not raining like it has been all week, I’ll walk out into the garden to see how things are doing out there. Not only do I get some fresh air and sun, but I also get to check on some of the growth, or maybe even plant something.
Breaks allow your brain to rest from grueling and otherwise repetitive tasks. Don’t deprive yourself of them. They’r essential!
(Try To) Keep a Tidy Workspace
I almost feel a pang of guilt writing out that sentence. Considering that, as I sit here, I’m staring at an endless pile random shit that really doesn’t belong on my office desk, this is something I should practice, not just preach.
However if you had told me weeks ago that there would be a global pandemic in my community that would lock me up in my home, I would’ve laughed and said, “What movie is that from?” That’s how I find myself trying to make do with what I have, which in this case is a really cluttered home office.
I know that my office has potential. So during some of those breaks, I spend 10 to 15 minutes tidying up. I focus on one particular area and one by one, I just start putting things away. Pretty soon I’ll have a home office that I will be worth the 5 second commute.
I believe that having a reasonably tidy desk does help with productivity because it removes all distractions and gives you a blank canvas to work with.
Model Your Home Desk After Your Actual Work Desk
Friday friend told me over chat that she was just as productive working from home now (if not more so), once she modeled her home work space after her real work space. She even went as far as buying the same keyboard and mouse.
My coworker took all her desk plants home as well as a monitor. I’m sure though that taking home the plants was more out of their own survival than to maintain a zen workspace.
Since she and I were planning to meet up, she disconnected my headset from my docking station and brought it to me. I’m often in meetings or doing training sessions enough to warrant having a really good headset. Thankfully our company permitted us to take home whatever equipment we needed so I chose my headset. Sometimes having familiar items around just helps us get into the proper mindset. It doesn’t have to be specific work equipment. It can even just be as minuscule as a picture frame of you and your spouse on your wedding day. Whatever it is, don’t downplay its importance if you know it helps you keep your morale up.
If You Started Your Day Promptly, End Your Day Promptly
This is one of the first lessons I learned. Not only do I start my day on time, I end my day on time no matter what. In fact, I’ve started winding down my day about 20-30 minutes before my actual end time.
I review everything that I’ve done that day and document meetings and important reminders. Next I make note of any outstanding items that need to be addressed for the next day. Then I update my project hub in Microsoft Planner.
Once I’ve done all of that and it’s time to end the day, I put my laptop to sleep and physically disconnect it from my monitor so I can connect my personal laptop. However, I don’t dive right back into another screen. Instead I get up and I walk to another room and do something else for a while. Sometimes I watch TV in the bedroom, sometimes I go out into the garden. But either way, I make sure to mentally switch gears out of work mode by doing some other mindless task for a while.
Ultimately: Do What Makes Life Easy For You
There’s no right or wrong way to survive this whole work-from-home thing. Some people can do it, while for others it’s a challenge. Whatever you do though, remember that supporting your mental health is key here. Do what makes you happy.
This whole week has been a blur. A really strange, confusing blur. And now as this global pandemic reaches national disaster level, it looks like my working situation will be drastically altered for the time being.
For the last 48 hours, I’ve spent my time at home working, cleaning, decluttering, and preparing my home office for what seems to be an undetermined time there. It’s one thing to be at the office dealing with all the stress and stupidity, but then to have it invade my home, my sanctuary is wholly something else. So I’m trying to think of ways to separate the two while they reside under the same roof.
While I’ve been cleaning my office though, I’ve been evaluating the seedlings that have made the top shelf in my office their home. That’s when I found two tiny seedlings, one not much bigger than a pinhead.
For anyone who has attempted to grow lavender from seed, you probably know how extremely difficult these are. Not only do they have a long stratification period, but they have a long germination period, putting growth time from seed to seedling at around 60 days at minimum.
But just as I was about to give up on these guys, I opened up the plastic produce bag they were stored in (to keep the growing conditions warm and humid) and discovered two tiny specks of green.
I felt… relief. And surprise. Because considering the seed company was clear about the 30% germination rate, I was still determined to try. And even though I was about to give up, Mother Nature rewarded me at the last minute.
Let’s just hope I can keep them alive from now on.
I failed to do a year in review for 2018, but this time I’m working on this one early so I can publish it on time. Faster than a blink of an eye, 2019 flew by. My memory is pretty terrible these days, so I had to go back through my personal planner and my bullet journal to figure out what exactly happened this year.
We Expanded Our Family by Not Only One, But Two New Additions
2019 marked a year of growth for us in so many areas, but most importantly in our little family. It started in June, my friend Briana told me her boss was looking to find a new home for a kitten named Fiona they had been fostering. Since Patches’ passing back in 2016, we had been back and forth on the idea of bringing a cat back into our lives. I know Craig really missed Patches and longed for that bond again. But every time an opportunity presented itself, Craig was never ready.
This time, rather than asking for permission, I decided I would take a chance and surprise him with her. So I agreed to take Fiona. Initially the plan was for me to make up a story to Craig about why I had to be gone for a couple hours one Saturday afternoon so I could meet them and pick her up, but that fell through mostly because I’m a terrible liar. I ultimately had to spill the beans and tell Craig the real reason I was leaving on an errand for a couple hours.
“Sweetie, I don’t know,” he said. It was not quite the reaction I had been hoping for, but it was the reaction I expected nonetheless. “I don’t think I’m ready for another cat.”
The thing is no one is ever ready to move on, which is exactly what he meant to say. But I persisted. “She’s a kitten. She needs a home.”
He paused for a few seconds and he pursed his lips together. I could see him blink away tears. “Ok, let’s go get our kitten.” And just like that, our lives were changed forever.
It was September and Fiona had already been with us for 3 months. We experienced all the ups and downs of being kitten parents: the multiple injuries to our arms and legs, the sleepless nights, and the non-stop hours of entertainment she provided not only for herself but for us.
During this time, I was doing all my research by reading up on kitten development. I made sure Fiona had the best toys recommended by experts to hone her skills and keep her occupied. But there was one thing that cat behaviorists recommended that we didn’t have: another feline companion for her.
But it wasn’t just behaviorists who were recommending it, other friends and fellow cat owners recommended it as well. Kittens learned how to be cats from other cats. It was something that couldn’t be taught by humans obviously. It would also cut down on a lot of the injuries that Craig and I received.
That was when my friend Steph contacted me and asked if we wanted another cat. Her friend was retiring and needed a home for her cat Cali. The family who had agreed to take her before backed out at the last minute so she was scrambling to find a new home for her. According to Steph, Cali was a sweet, mature calico who would hold her own among other animals in the house. She sent me a picture of her and I was smitten.
The timing was impeccable. This time I texted Craig about Cali and he was immediately game. Steph lived only a few minutes from my office so I visited her after work.
Cali was a big, beautiful mama. She probably weighed close to 12 pounds at the time. She was shy and she had been well taken care of by her previous owner as she came with a lot of toys, her own cat fortress, and a ton of food.
Because Cali was an older cat, she had already lived half her life and was set in her ways, so I knew adjusting was going to take some time. The drive home was pretty traumatic for the both of us. She had just lost the only human she had known, then she moved in with another set of temporary humans for a day, and now who knows where she was going next. Her heart was broken, she was stressed out and grieving, and I was grieving along with her.
The first few days, Cali spent her time hiding behind our couch. She was annoyed by everything in life. She didn’t like Fiona, she hated Izzie even more, and she wasn’t interested in either me or Craig.
Once she was done with her hiding phase, she transitioned to her “roosting” phase where she pretty much spent most of her time up in the cat tree. She nibbled on her food, but only when Izzie wasn’t around, and she socialized with Fiona in small spurts at least when she could stand her because let’s face it, Fiona is a handful and can only be tolerated in short amounts of time.
Gradually she began to spend more time on the ground. I think she had to gain the courage to be around Izzie first. Izzie, in turn, became less curious about her and gave her the space she needed. Before we knew it, all 3 of them were hanging out in our bedroom with us. It was indeed a happy day.
Seeing as how that was right down the highway from us, I became alarmed and alerted Craig. It had been raining off and on that day and the rain was just starting to pick up.
Another text from my sister said it was crossing over 635 near Richland College which probably meant it was near the Texas Instruments campus (a mere 10 minutes away from us).
Rain and debris began pounding harder against the sides of the house. I insisted we bunker in the hall bathroom as it was the only room in the center of the house without any windows. I picked up Izzie and carried her into the bathroom with me. Fiona, who never wanted to be left out of the party, happily followed behind. Craig went in search of Cali who didn’t put up much of a fight when he scooped her up and brought her into the tiny room.
By then, the worst of it had passed. The high winds that had beat against the house died down and the rain was now a gentle trickle. Craig decided to step outside and peek out the front door. There were a few things knocked over, some fallen branches, but for the most part there wasn’t any significant damage.
Meanwhile, a few blocks away, some of our neighbors were not so lucky. Houses were severely damaged beyond repair, some were leveled, traffic lights were ripped right out of the concrete. It was chaos. It will take months for people to recover.
We Celebrated our 2nd Wedding Anniversary
Craig and I celebrated our 2nd year being married, and our 4th year being together. I’m not gonna lie–it’s easy getting caught up in the daily drudgery that is life. You get up in the morning, go to work, come home, make dinner, pay bills, go to sleep, get up again, go to work, wash, rinse, repeat. To be honest, we don’t always remember our exact wedding date. We know it’s at the end of March at least.
Our friends and family are shocked at how we don’t even know our anniversary date. To us, it’s a number on a calendar. It’s not how we measure happiness in our marriage. From the very beginning, Craig and I were on the same page about what we expected from our marriage and each other. We both wanted love, trust, honesty, kindness, and communication. From that point on, we would be a unit of 3: Craig, me, and our marriage.
I Received My 2nd Promotion in 2 Years
In 2018, I was promoted to Web Developer. In 2019, I became Website Architect. It was a surprise promotion, one that I excitedly accepted despite the short notice at the time. It’s been a gradual transition, but I truly do enjoy the work that I do and the team that I work with every day.
A Few Other Notable Milestones This Year
I said goodbye to a friendship that was unknowingly toxic.
I reconnected with an old friend who subsequently became our neighbor.
I started learning embroidery.
Craig bought me a ukulele and I began learning how to play.
I started learning Japanese.
I visited Shamrock, TX for the first time and traveled on historic Route 66.
Today is T. S. Eliot’s birthday, hence the reason why that was one of the first inspirational quotes I came across during my weekly search. I thought it was pretty appropriate for this phase of my life.
So to continue my minimalist journey, the next thing on the list is the Packing Party. This is the major leap headfirst into minimalism. It’s like when the alcoholic dumps all his or her booze down the drain. No hesitations, no turning back.
Now granted, I could change my mind after everything is packed up and put away. I could decide, “Oh my god, this is just too much. I just can’t,” then proceed with unpacking everything. But I think the idea is once you experience what absolute stark minimalism feels like, you’ll probably never want to unpack those boxes again.
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.
T. S. Eliot
When I started, I only did one section of my desk that housed my makeup. However once I threw things away that didn’t have any life left in them, I felt the weight lift off my shoulders. And if it weren’t for the limited space in that one box, I probably would’ve kept going. Because I liked the way my desk made me feel once all was said and done. It made me feel unencumbered and free to pursue whatever I wanted. That’s how a creative space should feel.