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Social Distancing on the Hiking Trail: Staying Safe Outdoors During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Schools have been closed now for a few weeks due to the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic. Our state—and many others—have stay at home orders in place. My family’s solution to our stay-at-home stir-craziness has been to get outdoors. So, every day, we head out to a local park to hike a mile or two. 

Fortunately, outdoor activity is currently considered an essential activity. Per the governor’s orders, engaging in outdoor activities—like going to public and state parks—is okay as long as people practice social distancing. Walking, biking, hiking, and running are all allowed. (Team sports and contact sports are not allowed, for the record. And playgrounds are closed.)

coronavirus hike
Here we are on one of our many coronavirus hikes.

It’s been awesome to be out in the fresh air every day, exploring nature together as a family. However, the more time I’ve spent at local parks and conservation areas lately, I’ve been getting the feeling that not everyone knows what to do—considering the coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak—when meeting other hikers on the trails. 

Some people seem like they’re ready to breeze right by us, close enough to brush shoulders (yikes!). Others seem slightly panicked, like they’ve encountered zombies on the trail. Most people, however, just seem unsure and a little awkward. Like, how do we navigate this and still maintain our midwest nice?

To make this all a little easier on everyone, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind as you encounter other people on the trail or at the park. 

My core message? Maintain the space requirements of social distancing on the trail and at all times. Here’s how:

Move over (way over!) when passing.

hiking coronavirus
I’ve been noticing signs like this in many area parks and natural areas.

Many, many hiking trails are less than 6 feet wide. That means that when passing, one party must step off the trail to maintain the 6 foot distance that the CDC recommends. Since I’m usually hiking with two small kids, we step out of the way (off the trail) to let faster hikers pass.

We avoid trails that are very narrow or don’t have room to the side, especially when there are a lot of other hikers. 

Take turns in tight spaces.

Sometimes there are spots—docks, bridges, towers, stairs—that are necessary throughways or desired destinations. Be extra aware of others around you in these tight spaces. If someone is already on the dock or narrow bridge, it’s best to wait until they’re done in the space before you enter the area.

If you’re in a tight space and someone is headed your way (and you’re worried about ending up in close contact), simply give a friendly wave and call out that you’re practicing social distancing and ask them to wait until you’re out of the space. In my experience, hikers are pretty friendly folks and won’t mind waiting until you’re out of the way.

Parking Lot Protocol

When you arrive at the parking lot, don’t park right next to another car, unless you absolutely have to.

And make sure to give people space as they get in and out of their vehicle, especially if they have children with them (because we all know that getting kids in and out of cars is one of the worst parts of parenthood and the only thing that makes it worse is feeling rushed).

Don’t touch anything! Wash your hands!

closed due to coronavirus
Most bathrooms are closed, but even if they are open, I’d try to avoid them!

Most bathrooms are closed, but even if they’re open, I’d try to avoid using them. My family also does our best not to touch fences, signs, shelters, benches, etc. But just to be sure, bring hand sanitizer and wash your hands well when you return home. 

Nature is full of hope.

Nature hasn’t been cancelled. Getting outside into open, natural settings is something that seems to be generally low-risk with lots of benefits. In fact, it’s keeping me and my family sane during a challenging time.

Nature is full of hope. As we hike, we’re seeing things slowly start to turn green—a reminder that spring is close, proof that winter doesn’t last forever. When the sun’s out, it’s warm enough to dream about dipping our toes in the creek.

We notice many small things as we walk: tiny berries, red branches, the way water bubbles up through sand. Around us, there’s life. So much life. Birds are returning. Buds are full and soft on the trees. Cranes call to each other. Nature doesn’t seem to notice us much, but we soak it in. It’s big and precious.

We come home from our hikes in better moods than when we left. We bring with us stories and pinecones. Our boots are muddy. Our muscles are tired. And, most importantly, we carry home the calm that comes from a little normalcy amid a time that is scary, uncertain, and exhausting.

So You Want to Run a Slap Dash Homeschool in Your Basement

So you want to run a slap dash homeschool in your basement? Awesome. Come on in and tour my operation. I would ask you to take off your shoes, but that doesn’t even matter anymore! Just stay 6 feet away from me, and come see how we do homeschool these days. I think you’ll learn a lot.

What? Oh no, that’s OK. I actually AM dressed for daylight. This timeworn negligee is the exact Anthro-meets-Dig-and-Save look I am going for, and my old housecoat has tons of pockets for my state-approved “essential” items like alcohol, guns, and takeout croissants The pupils call it my new uniform. And that’s a pro-tip for you: uniforms are important at homeschool. Get up, put on something. Sense of community, routine, and all that stuff– especially important for the pending Hunger Games for sure.

You actually came at the perfect time because my quaranteens are still sleeping. They love it when I diffuse our favorite essential oils– bleach and rubbing alcohol—it’s so relaxing.

Oh that? No, that’s not a bottle of booze at 10 in the morning. No, no, no—that would be unseemly. For science last week, we learned how to make ether, and I just keep it there to take the edge off all those conference calls and the frogs. Yes, the frogs.

Oh, you aren’t doing dissection in at-home science. Well, that’s OK. I am sure your kids have plenty of time to prepare for the rescheduled AP tests, maybe sometime soon. Plus I didn’t want to brave the store before our mask-making unit in home ec, so they had some screen time with Julia on PBS and learned how to make cuisses de grenouilles. So, two-fer! That’s also their economics lesson.

Anyway, follow me. Down here, and watch your step. This homeschool is quite literally an underground operation.

Oh, right, I can’t believe I didn’t mention that. I have four children here: eighth grade, sixth grade, second grade, and first grade. Why do you ask? Oh, the screens. Well, yes. Currently we have 6 per child if you count all the Chromebooks, iPads, phones, TVs, etc.  Well, yes, now that you say it this does seem like a strange number. Especially since I still have to talk to them and not just on video chat. How many screens do you think it would take to completely replace all human interaction? I ask because Amazon is still shipping just about anything—except, you know, any sort of household essential– if you can wait a few days. Which is why I’m growing out my bangs now. Planning ahead is something we teach students in this school.

On that note, this area with the calculators and the W-2s is our little tax shelter. We like to start our day with math, and, as long as the IRS extended the deadline to July, I think the kids have plenty of time to memorize tax code and, um, I don’t know the vocabulary, itemize things? We cannot possibly deduct any more.

Another thing we like to focus on is literacy. So important in this era of fake news, isn’t it, dear? I agree completely. That’s why we have christened this little corner of the basement our meme machine. Each child spends a few hours every day scrolling my Facebook—especially mom groups– and Twitter feeds for inspiration, and then we churn out some outrageous infographics masquerading as fact to sell on the dark web or to news organizations. They’re learning Canva, becoming great negotiators, and getting a real feel for digital citizenship.

Art? Oh my, I don’t mean to laugh in your face, moist exhalations being what they are these days, but I am afraid all the window paint mosaics and driveway inspirational haiku in the world can’t save us from dystopia. That’s why we’ve been making worry dolls out of clogs of hair we pull from the shower drain to hide under our pillows and carry our worries. We’re up to six thousand four hundred and twenty-nine, but between you and me, we’re still a little worried– and still remarkably hairy.

We’ve also been forging a connection between movies and real life. We watched Apollo 13 and made rockets. We watched A League of Their Own and researched inequalities in women’s sports and Madonna songs. Yesterday, we capped off our Tiger King binge by buying a zoo and a puma. If that’s not synergy, I don’t know what is.

Oh, my. You have to leave so soon? But you’re going to miss biology. We’ve all been coughing in petri dishes for days, and today we are finally going to swap samples and see if we can make a vaccine– we don’t know how to sew.

Well, good luck to you! I hope this tour has inspired you to be the best homeschool teacher you can be. Oh, and be careful when you close the front door. My oldest is doing some work with explosives.

Stay Home, Send Pizza | Supporting Healthcare Workers in Madison, WI

Madison, WI: In light of COVID-19, we have been blown away by this community and the people who have stepped up to help. Seeing the sea of support, is both uplifting and encouraging and a reminder that we are all in this together. One example is the brand new Stay Home, Send Pizza initiative – started by a local mom, Maggie Musgrave.

We asked Maggie a few questions – like how many they have already served (in a short time!), what inspired her to start this and what the response from the community has been like thus far. Here is what Maggie had to say!:

“To date, we have served or are scheduled to serve 733 healthcare workers, and counting! We can about double that with the money we have right now. We have served them at the UW main hospital, the American Center, Meriter, the VA, two UW urgent cares, and one SSM urgent care.

My husband is an anesthesiologist at UW, and they are responsible for patients’ airways. So they are right up in patients faces, breathing in the same air. Two weeks ago, he started coming home and telling me how scary things were getting at the hospital, especially with regard to the rationing of personal protective equipment. Morale was (is) low. And I just felt that I had to do something to help them during this crazy, stressful time.

Pizza is a great unifier, in my opinion. Who doesn’t like pizza? (If you ask my daughter, she’d have it 7 days a week.) My plan was to just raise enough money to feed the airway team. At the same time, I wanted to support a local restaurant that may be taking a hit during the stay at home order. It would be a win-win.

But then, I found out that the much larger Madison community wanted to help, too. Now we’re able to feed so many more healthcare workers and lift spirits, even if just for a little while. The feedback I’ve gotten from healthcare workers is amazement that people in the community care so much about them, and gratitude for the support.

You can say it’s “just pizza,” but it’s a little bit more than that. It’s a tangible expression of gratitude from us to them. And it’s providing real support to a local business (they’ve been amazing partners, by the way).

Plus, hospital food is not the best. Eating some cheesy goodness does actually take the edge off during the middle of the day (or the middle of the night—we send pizza to the night shift, too).”

You can donate to this mission, by clicking here. Do you know of another mission or mom in our community who has been spreading joy and light during these unprecedented times? Please send us an email at [email protected]

Thanks so much for your work, Maggie!

I’m Not Bettering Myself During Social Distancing

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Even though my kids are a bit older, this time of social distancing is bringing back a lot of feelings I had when I was home with my children when they were small. In particular, the feeling that I “should” be doing more than I am. The world has been turned upside down, regular schedules have gone out of the window, anxieties are at a high, and everywhere I look I’m getting the message that I should be using this time at home to better all aspects of my life. I’m not buying it.

This feels very reminiscent of how I thought my life should look after having kids. I left my job to stay home when my first son was born and I pictured my days being filled with self reflection, catching up on reading, writing daily in my journal and sipping cups of tea while watching my baby sleep peacefully. My naiveté was of my own making, but was also based on messages I was receiving from the outside world.

And now those same messages are being spread around again. Telling you that you should be spending this time at home making color coded schedules for your children, organizing every room in your house, starting to work on that book you’ve been meaning to write. And if you can’t see that NOW is the time to meditate daily, are you even trying at life?

Let me be clear that I am a person who reads a lot of self-help books, I listen to podcasts that help me make my life and relationships better, I read articles on parenting, and I fully believe in taking steps throughout your life to become the best, most authentic version of yourself. But I also believe that there is a season for everything, and beating yourself up for not using a pandemic as the time to turn yourself into a crafting, decorating, meditating, bullet journal using, I-really-should-get-started-on-all-those-dreams-I-have person, well, that’s ok.

Have you found a moment in your day to take a walk outside, acknowledge your feelings, breathe, give yourself grace for having an internal temper tantrum over crisis schooling, take a nap, successfully run an online meeting, feed and care for your children (or in my case turn a blind eye to the never-ending grazing) or say hey to your spouse as they crawl back up from the makeshift work desk in the basement? Congratulations, you are winning at life right now.

These are unpredictable and scary times so don’t use your energy toward making yourself feel guilty over what you are not doing. In a world of advice coming at you from every angle take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. But might I suggest, you really should go grab that nap.

You’re Stronger Than You Think

You’re going to get through this.

I know you might not believe it. Especially when you hear this might last weeks or months. But you will get through this.

Think of times before when you were certain you wouldn’t make it. When you were at the breaking point, and you doubted your resilience. Childbirth. Losing a child. Divorce. Getting fired. Bankruptcy. Betrayal. Running a marathon. Death of a loved one. Foreclosure. Illness. Break-ups. Depression.

We’ve all been in the darkest trenches. Maybe you’ve spent several seasons there. But you overcame. It might not have been easy or pretty, but you made it.

And you will make it again. The prospect of hardship is often worse than the hardship itself. A month ago, I dreaded the thought of being trapped in my house for an extended period of time. And now that’s the reality. And it’s OK. It’s not awesome. It sucks most of the time. But it’s OK.

Someday we will be on the other side of this and will marvel at our strength. Hold tight to that vision and let it lead you through the dark days.

Often we suffer personal hardships alone or nearly alone. But this time, we’re alone but together. We’re all facing different versions of the same hardship. And we’ll all get through this together.

In the immortal words of Winnie the Pooh author A. A. Milne, “Always remember, you are braver than you believe, smarter than you seem, and stronger than you think.”

We got this, sisters.

13+ At Home Activities (for Elementary Aged Kids)

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We are two weeks in to our new life of social distancing. It came as a total shock at first, but I’m happy to report that we have adapted to our new norm and have even embraced it (for now…!). Below I am sharing some of our favorite activities for my three elementary aged children. I am no Martha Stewart and I am far from Pinterest-y, but we are definitely having some fun… also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Sometimes the best education for kids comes from unstructured time where they are forced to get creative. And other times – screens are okay… so don’t put too much pressure on yourself. We are all in this together!

And the funny thing is that even after this all over, I have a feeling we will continue with some of these new habits… because maybe being forced to slow down every once in a while is okay?!

Indoor Fun

Writing Letters: Consider assigning a pen-pal to your child (maybe you have a friend in another state with a child a similar age?) or have them write letters or notes to their teacher, classmates and/or grandparents. Perhaps you can make a goal to write a letter a day!

Baking: From cookies to cake-pops, now is a fun time to try new recipes and to get kids excited about baking and cooking. Check out yummysprout.com for kid-friendly recipes.

Stained Glass Window Art: Use painters tape (or something similar) and make some shapes/abstract designs on the window. Then use washable paint (and WASHABLE paint will do!) and let the kids work their magic! Remove the tape and viola – a beautiful window for you to enjoy (and your neighbors can enjoy it, too!).

Book Club: Do your kids love to read? Set up a virtual book club for them with their friends. Assign a new book each week and then have them meet (via Zoom or Google Hangouts) to discuss the book. You can have pre-assigned questions about the book to help facilitate the conversation.

Yoga: We love starting the day with a little exercise! Go Noodle has some great exercise classes for kids, or check out Little Om Big Om for virtual yoga for kids.

Board Games: Our current favorites (for a 7 year old and two 6 year olds) are: Guess WhoBattleship; Connect Four; Monopoly; The Game of Life; Twister; Pictionary and Clue!

Outdoor Fun

Chalk Art: Same tape trick goes for sidewalk chalk; or make your own chalk (to be able to use with a paint brush); combine corn starch, water and food coloring.

Kindness Rocks: Another paint project; find some rocks and paint them. You can place them in your yard or around the neighborhood!

Nature Scavenger Hunt:

Egg Hunt: Since Easter activities were all but canceled this spring, have your own hunt in your backyard. You can either hide them; scatter a bunch and let them have a run for it; or write clues in each egg… like a scavenger hunt. You can grab 150 eggs for only $14.95 here.

Virtual Fun

Virtual Learning Classes: Tons of companies are offering FREE virtual learning classes right now. Some of our favorites are: Khan Academy | Scholastic Learn at Home | Duolingo | CodeSpark Academy | Mystery Science | Epic | ABC Mouse

Virtual Field Trips: Travel to art museums around the world through Google Arts and Culture. You can also virtually visit the San Diego Zoo, Yellowstone National Park and the Great Wall of China. Locally – be sure to check out the Henry Vilas Zoo’s Facebook page, where they are introducing the animals who live right here in Madison, WI!

Virtual Art: Author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka is hosting daily drawing classes and animator Mo Willems is hosting daily cartooning classes. The Art Sherpa has a number of painting tutorials on YouTube as well.

And when all else fails, ride bikes or go for a walk… luckily, spring is here and the great outdoors never looked so great!

Binge-Worthy Series On Netflix to Lift Your Spirits (+ How to Have a Watch Party)

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woman holding remote while sitting on a couch with popcorn in her lap

I have a feeling that a lot of us have been turning to Netflix these last few weeks of social distancing as a way to decompress and for a source of entertainment. Working from home, plus homeschooling, plus taking care of all the normal household tasks is exhausting. I don’t want to watch anything that requires me to pay close attention to the plot. I also don’t want to watch anything scary or disturbing (that’s what the news is for). 

Instead, I want to binge-watch shows that make me laugh and smile. During this isolating time, I want to turn to old “friends” – shows from my younger years. There are also great new series out on Netflix too! I hope you are able to enjoy some of these shows while we all spend A LOT of extra time at home.

Bonus – How to Have a Watch Party

Now you can watch a show on Netflix at the same time as your friends and family in different locations. The show is completely synchronized so if you need to go to the bathroom you can pause it for everyone at the same time! Plus, there is even a group chat feature. 

Everyone must have Netflix but there is a free 30-day trial for new subscribers. Follow the directions below to start a Netflix Watch Party of your own. 

      1. Install Netflix Party 
      2. You’ll be redirected to the Google Chrome store page to download the extension. Click Add to Chrome.
      3. A pop-up box will open. Select Add Extension. You’ll now see a gray NP icon in your browser toolbar. 
      4. Log in to Netflix and select the show you want to watch and press play.
      5. Now the NP icon in your browser toolbar will be red – click it. 
      6. Decide if you want to have the only control for pausing while watching or if anyone can. Check the box if you want to be solely in control. Click “Start the Party”.
      7. Copy the URL and share it with those you want to watch with you.  To be automatically added to the party, guests will need to click on the red NP icon to join the watch party after clicking on your invite link.

Now you can socialize while still social distancing!

Comedies

We all need a few laughs these days. Check out these great comedies, both old and new, available on Netflix. 

  • Schitt’s Creek – The type of humor in this show isn’t for everyone, but it may help give some perspective on our current situation of being “stuck” with our family members. The storyline is that a wealthy family finds themselves suddenly broke and living in a run-down town the father once purchased as a joke.
  • New Girl – A young woman becomes roommates with three guys and a lot of shenanigans ensue over their love lives, careers, friendships, etc.
  • Kim’s Convenience (new season coming in April!) – A Korean-Canadian family runs their convenience store together. Culture, parent-child relationships, and generational differences all take place in this show.
  • The Office – I can watch this show again and again and never get sick of it. A paper company has a cringe-worthy boss and everyday scenarios are made hilarious.
  • Parks and Recreation – Similar to The Office, another workplace comedy is set in a Parks and Rec Department of a small town in Indiana. 
  • Grace and Frankie – Two older women’s husbands leave them for each other and now the female friends/rivals become roommates and business partners.
  • Workin’ Moms – Career women go through the trials of working mom life (pumping, childcare, spouse issues, society’s judgment, etc).
  • The Letdown – A new mom is struggling with motherhood so she joins a support group.

Comedy Specials

Netflix has some wonderful comedy specials. My husband and I often watch them together for a “date night in” especially now that all date nights are in. I’m sticking to female comics because they provide the exact type of relatable laughs I need right now. 

Ali Wong 

Fortune Feimster

Ellen DeGeneres

Leslie Jones

Amy Schumer 

Katherine Ryan

person watching tv holding remote with feet propped up on coffee table

Dramas

I understand this guide is supposed to be about cheering you up but some of these dramas have many comedic moments too! Others on the list are just great shows to binge.

  • Self Made – This biopic series is about the ultimate boss lady, Madam C. J. Walker. She was the first black, female, millionaire made wealthy by her black hair care empire. I’ve only watched the first episode today and I’m hooked!
  • Virgin River – If you’re a fan of Hallmark movies with predictable plots and less than stellar acting, then this show might be for you. To be honest, predictable plot lines sound kind of great in a very unpredictable world right now. The premise is a nurse practitioner moves from LA to a small and isolated town to help out the aging local doctor.
  • Gilmore Girls – When I’m in the dumps I always turn to Gilmore Girls. The show is about the close bond and friendship between a mom and her teen daughter. Storylines involve both of their love lives, educations, careers, friendships, etc.
  • Outlander – I am obsessed with this period drama about a woman who time travels in Scotland and falls in love (there are some great sex scenes!). Warning to those who are squeamish, some scenes can get a little gory at times.
  • Hart of Dixie – Another show in which a big city girl comes to a small southern town but this time to work as a doctor in a medical practice she inherits. Obviously, there are love triangles.
  • The Crown – Yes, this show is about politics but it’s British history and sooooo good.
  • Shameless – Watching this completely dysfunctional family will make you feel fantastic about your own parenting skills. The show is full of drugs, sex, bad language, and it’s addictive but maybe not a great choice for a Netflix Watch Party.
  • Reign – Can you tell I love history? This series tells the story of Mary Queen of Scots. There’s a lot of romance, backstabbing, violence, plotting, etc.

Reality Shows

I had to throw a few reality shows on this list. I kept them mostly to competition shows because I can’t stand any type of series that tries to match up men and women. If that is what you are looking for there are a number of shows on Netflix for you.

  • Cheer – This series features a small Texas college that has ruled cheerleading for years.  The show covers the season leading up to Nationals and features the background stories of a few of the team’s members. Warning, some of the background stories do contain heavy issues like child abandonment and suicide.
  • The Great British Baking Show – A food competition show in which the contestants are polite and the food looks absolutely delicious. No stressful music playing in the background or flashing lights.
  • Yummy Mummies – It’s terrible . . . I watched both seasons. Super wealthy Australian moms are pregnant together and go overboard on push presents, baby showers, and overall daily life.
  • Instant Hotel – Another Australian “reality” show. People compete by judging each other’s homes that they’ve turned into vacation rentals. It can get catty but seeing all the different themes and locations is really fun.
  • Stay Here – Along a similar vein, Stay Here has two professionals come in and offer suggestions as well as update people’s home vacation rentals to make more money.
  • Tidying Up with Marie Kondo – Yes, there was a lot of hype and people went crazy folding for a couple of weeks but this show is super interesting to watch as Marie takes couples and families through the decluttering process.

Want even more recommendations? Here are 10 more binge-worthy Netflix shows.

If you are looking for movies to watch, on my personal blog I occasionally post movie guides. Here are some of my favorites; 

Movies to Watch When You’re Stressed

Family Classics

Romantic Movies

Summer Movies

Movies to Watch with Your Mom (Have a watch party!)

 

What are you currently watching? I’d love to know in the comment section below.

woman holding coffee mug watching TV

5 Ideas for the Reluctant Home-Schooling Parent

I expected to be on a beach in the Dominican Republic at this time for Spring Break. Instead, I am trapped inside, attempting to work from home and keep my four children entertained, if not educated. I fully realize that I am very blessed in that I am still employed, I have the ability to work from home, I am healthy, my family is healthy, and we have plenty of food, water, and electricity. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t challenging. 

The stress level in our house grows proportionally to the number of days we are cooped up together. The kids are antsy, bored, confused, and scared. I’m antsy, bored, confused, and scared. But, we’re getting by and trying to find the silver linings in this gargantuan storm cloud.

Faced with a few weeks (or months!) off school, I feel obligated to provide some semblance of educational activity. I lack the patience and creativity to be a teacher, so carefully structured schedules of instruction are out of the question. I am managing to keep the kids occupied with some enrichment however.

Thus, I present to you, 5 Ideas for the Reluctant Homeschooling Parent. (Spoiler: The winning formula is a video followed by an activity. Or just a video!) I hope these are helpful for you, as now more than ever, we are all in this together.

  1. The Driftless Region Explore the unique geological features of the area to the west of Madison by watching Mysteries of the Driftless (26 minutes). If you’re willing to venture out, you can take a field trip by visiting a state park such as Blue Mound or Governor Dodge, or just take a drive west and see what you notice.
  2. Banana Bread Science Learn about the chemistry of baking by watching The Science of Banana Bread (2 minutes) and then baking a loaf or two. Add chocolate chips if you know what’s good for you.
  3. Writing Letters Practice letter writing skills and learn how our postal service works. Watch USPS Systems at Work (9 minutes), and then have your kids write a letter or draw a picture to send to someone. Consider someone who is by themselves during this time of isolation. I had my kids write to their great-grandparents. You could also choose a Madison-area retirement community, since they are forced to restrict visitors at this time. Show how to stamp and address the envelope and put it in the mailbox.
  4. Bubble Science Discover the science of bubbles by watching Bubbles: Fun and Science (6 minutes) and then … blow bubbles! You can find some bubble recipes online, or do like I did, and use the ready-made stuff.
  5. Census 2020 Multi-task by filling out your 2020 Census with your kids! There are a ton of educational resources on census.gov broken down by age group, so you can get as ambitious as you want to. We just watched The 2020 Census Challenge video, but you can delve in deeper, especially with older kids. (Note: You can also create a “lesson” around the April 7th primary in Wisconsin, especially if you have an absentee ballot.)

Finally, a bonus idea that takes no effort at all, watch Our Planet on Netflix (or another scientific series) every day or every other day. That gives a little educational content between viewings of Frozen II.

Try incorporating these activities here and there, but don’t feel like you need to replicate the school day. The most important lessons we all can learn now are love and patience.

I’d love to hear your lazy home-schooling ideas! Hang in there, friends.

Neighborhood Window Walk

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Hi Friends! How are we all doing? It seems so surreal the life we are living in right now. Before I start this post I feel I need to say if any of you reading this are grocery store workers, nurses, doctors, custodians, deliverers, people who are putting themselves out there to benefit us in any way, you all are my heroes and I’m so grateful for what you are doing. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

To get fresh air and for our emotional well being during this time we are going on multiple walks throughout the day. To make the walks a little more exciting and fun for the kiddos we put together a Neighborhood Window Walk and would love it if you would participate in it as well! The idea is to have your kids draw, color, cut and paste, however they would like, the scheduled drawing and hang it in your window so other passerby’s can see it while they are talking a walk. It not only provides an activity for your kids, but it also is fun to spot similar art in other people’s home! It’s like a scavenger hunt to see if they can find them!

If any of you are like me here is a PRINT OUT for you to use as reference. If you do participate in this activity please share your photos with us! We would love to see them! Thinking of all you parents during this time! We are in this together.

Self Care and Self Quarantine: Taking Care of You During the Coronavirus

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We have no idea what the next few months will bring. Emotions are high. Unknowns are higher. It’s important to make sure that you take care of yourself during this tough time.

Wow. What a week it has been. The normalcy of last week feels like a lifetime ago and now most of us are hunkered down at home fulfilling our social responsibility of social distancing. As much as we all know that we are doing the right thing and helping save lives, this is still very hard. Overnight our lives changed and now we are not only parents, but also our children’s school teachers and only playmates. Many are juggling all this while trying to work and figure out the logistics of this new life. If it all feels like too much at times, you are not alone. This is an overwhelming time on so many levels. And while your priority right now may be keeping things as “normal” as possible for your kids and figuring out a new balance you never anticipated, it is also essential that in the midst of all this chaos you are also taking care of one very important person…yourself.

But how do you self care in quarantine? We can’t book a massage or go get a pedicure. Gym’s are closed and it’s childcare went right with it. Meeting a friend for coffee or a glass of wine is dangerous. Even those solo trips to run errands are no longer safe. How do we fill our own cups when we are stuck at home and our kids need us more now than ever? How do we navigate all this that is in front of us while also taking care of ourselves? I don’t have the answers, but I do know one thing I’ve learned as both a social worker and a mom- when times get hard it is even more important to prioritize taking care of ourselves. So yes, self care may look a little different while social distancing, but with all the new full time roles and responsibilities we have taken on (while also being isolated from others), it’s going to be an essential part of this whole journey. Below are some ways you can take care of you during this difficult time. What are some of the ways you are prioritizing you while practicing social distancing?

It is the right thing, and absolutely necessary, to practice social distancing right now. But with most of us hunkered down at home and being everything to our kids, how do we make sure to take care of ourselves to? Here are some different ways to practice self care while in quarantine.

Give Yourself Grace

This is a strange and scary time for all of us. There are so many unknowns and none of us have been through something quite like this before. When you’re on social media and see all the color coded schedules and Pinterest worthy posts, remember that there is no “should” right now. You have to do what you need to do so that you can stay sane and healthy yourself! Your kids need that more than anything right now. If that means your kids get way more screen time than you ever imagined, then so be it. Chances are almost all of us are doing the same! There is no right way to quarantine (well, except for actually staying away from others so we can keep everyone healthy!). I know I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a “Supermom”, but what that means right now is a SANE mom. And some days that may mean fancy worksheets and themed science projects, and some days that may mean movies and popcorn for dinner. My kids will remember this time with me, so I’d rather be the happiest version of me I can be- even if that means that means I swap schedules for screens some days! None of us know what we are doing right now, and that’s ok. This is not a normal situation for anyone! We need to give ourselves grace and let go of all the “shoulds” we feel so we can just get through this day by day.

Get Outside

Just like we keep saying our kids need to be outdoors, so do we! Being stuck in the house without even the option of a Target trip is daunting. I know I go insane looking at everything that needs to be done or every mess I see. Even if it’s just 5 minutes, grab some fresh air (and hopefully some sunshine!) and take a few deep breaths. Let the kids run wild while you feel the grass under your feet. Take a walk around the block. Getting out of the house will help you remember that even though we can’t be near other people, life exists outside our houses and one day we will all be reunited again.

After a long winter, the last thing you need is any more time feeling stuck inside. Go grab some fresh air and get a little Vitamin D!

Designate 15 Minutes Just for YOU

One crucial survival technique I’ve implemented since becoming a stay at home mom is taking a moment alone before the chaos of the day begins, even if just for 15 minutes. Some days I get up and go for a run alone. Or if it was a long night with the baby I opt for a hot cup of coffee alone in bed while my husband takes over with the kids. Both scenarios allow me to center myself before I’m constantly needed until bedtime. It’s a way to make sure I start the day off on the right foot and make sure some of my needs are met before I go and meet everyone else’s.

Meditate/Practice Mindfulness

Feeling overwhelmed and like you may scream at every person in the house, even the dog? Taking a few minutes to meditate may save you from losing it. It doesn’t need to be a perfect 30 minutes of a clear mind and total zen, just something that grounds you, even if just a few minutes. There are some great apps out there to guide you through the process (I love the ones that just help you practice deep breathing, quick and simple!). Meditating for me is often just taking a few minutes alone, putting the phone down, and relaxing each part of my body while I focus on breathing. Or I go for a”mindfulness walk” where I label all the things I see/hear/smell/see. It makes me focus on other things besides of all the chatter going on inside and outside my mind. Just a few minutes of quiet to clear your mind can change the whole tone of the day.

No need to become a meditation master, sometimes just taking a few minutes to ground yourself and take a few deep breaths will help calm your mind.

Change Your Clothes

This one may sound silly, but having just gone through the newborn phase where I was at home most of the day everyday- making sure I did simple things like putting on new clothes (even if it meant swapping one pair of leggings for the next) or brushing my teeth can create some semblance of the normalcy and routine we are all craving. The days where I stay in PJs and don’t shower seem longer and harder. I know it sounds nice to spend the day in your comfy flannel pants with no bra on, but after awhile it may feel good to take the time to do those little things for yourself. Whatever you need to help you feel human and like yourself during this surreal time.

Utilize Your Resources

Most of us never expected to be homeschooling our kids. And with 24 hours in a day and very few places to go outside of the house, that’s a lot for a parent to unexpectedly take on. Don’t put all the pressure on yourself. As I mentioned above, this is a time to really give yourself grace. You do not have to create your own curriculum from scratch for each child (but if you do, please share!). There are so many amazing educational resources out there right now that you can use when you need some space while your kids still learn. My Facebook feed has blown up with different websites to help parents during this coronavirus quarantine. Zoo’s around the country are putting on tons of cool programs, certain educational apps are waiving fees, and so many activities that were happening in person can now be done virtually. Think of the new and different things your kids can be exposed to during this time period! Sure, most of it may involve a screen, but your child is still learning and you can take some of that pressure off yourself and use that time to focus on you. This morning my daughter did an online live Yummy Sprouts cooking class and then watched a virtual “Ask the Zoo Keeper” from Henry Vilas Zoo. She loved both and learned a lot. Meanwhile, I got to sit down with some coffee and do some writing which I needed to do for me.

This is my daughter watching a live Facebook video of Yummy Sprouts and cooking right along with them! It’s always been one of her favorite classes to take in person, and she loved it just as much cooking right in our own kitchen! Plus, I got to eat all the yummy things she made!

Move Your Body

This does not mean that you need to take up a whole new fitness regime or start marathon training (though props to you if you do!), this is just about listening to your body and doing whatever movement feels good to you. Taking a moment to connect and move your body can really help calm your mind. Even simple things like a few minutes of light stretching can go a long way. Enjoy a walk outside alone, go for a run, do some new and different workout videos at home. If you need to get the kids involved then have a dance party or put on Cosmic Kids Yoga and join in on the fun! Even if exercise isn’t your thing, doing movement that feels good to you can help your body and mind feel better when cooped up all day.

You don’t need to commit to an intense exercise program to get the benefits of movement. Do what feels good to you, it will help you both body and mind!

Take a News Vacation

It’s everywhere. You can’t turn on the TV, Facebook, or even open your email without seeing or hearing about COVID-19.This is a very serious matter, and it’s also very scary, which can be a lot to absorb. It’s ok to step back and turn it all off. Being inundated with scary news 24/7 it can wreck havoc on our mental health. If you need to step away from the news or social media, do it. We can’t deny the reality of what is going on around us, but we can protect ourselves and take care of our mental health by taking breaks when we need them. Give yourself permission to turn off the news and focus on the things that bring you joy.

CALL or FaceTime Someone

Yup, that says to call someone on the phone. If you’re like me, you send most calls to voicemail and prefer to text- but with the isolation that we are all going through, there is something so nice about hearing someone else’s voice. Just because we have to practice social distancing does not mean we cannot be social. We need to be there for each other in the ways that we can. Sure, a text will work, but when the only people you’ve talked to all day are the ones that call you mom, it sure is nice to hear the voice of another adult every once and awhile. Just like I’m setting up FaceTime “play dates” for my kids, I am setting up phone and FaceTime “mom dates” for me. We all need each other now, so call a friend or family member. I guarantee you they will be just as excited to hear your voice as you are theirs.

I’m not one who particularly likes talking on the phone, but right now I need to connect with others and her their voice. Calling or Face timing someone you love can help with the isolation we are all inevitably feeling.

Try Teletherapy

This is hard right now, and it’s ok to reach out for more support. As a social worker and a therapy utilizer myself (not to mention I am also married to a therapist), I can tell you that in times like these it is so important to prioritize your mental health. What’s happening in the world right now can bring up a lot for people, not to mention the effect that isolation can have on a person. It’s ok to not be ok. We all need lots of support as we muddle through this unknown. Having a professional to work with during this time is a great form of self care. If you already have a therapist, talk to them about phone/video therapy sessions. Or check out services like Talk Space and Better Help. And if you find yourself in a crisis situation, you can contact The National Alliance on Mental Health crisis line or call 911. Reach out, you don’t have to do this alone.

Journal

If you’re anything like me, there are a lot of thoughts swarming through your head right now. Instead of ruminating on them and feeling overwhelmed, get it out on paper. It may help you feel better or see things in a different light. Journaling is a great way to relieve stress and organize your thoughts. It can also serve as a memento of this wild time in years to come!

Oftentimes getting those thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can help us feel better and put things into perspective. Plus it is a great way to look back on this time period in the future and remember everything that happened.

Do Something You’ve Been Wanting To Do

Have a book you’ve been meaning to read? Want to try a new recipe? Have that project you’ve been putting off? Sure, you can’t go cross sky diving off your list right now, but it may feel good to accomplish something you’ve been wanting to do. This isn’t to say you should stress over cleaning out every single closet in the house, but if doing something helps you feel productive and gives the day a purpose, then do it. That feeling of success can be great for your mental health. We don’t have a lot of control over things right now, so if crossing something off your list or trying something new you’ve been wanting to do feels good, then go for it.

I’ve been telling myself I want to learn to knit for years. Now may be just the right time to learn!

Take It One Day at a Time

I know it sounds cliche, but right now this is about all we can do. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know when life will resume its new normal. We could spend every waking minute asking the millions of questions we all have. But that isn’t good for our mental health either. Take some deep breaths and try to stay with just today. Do something you love today. Call someone you love today. Focus on what you can do today. I know the unknowns are scary. I know how overwhelming this all is. If we focus too much on all the uncertainties of the future, we may find ourselves full of sadness, fear, and anger. And that will make this whole ride unbearable. So as you hunker down and help save lives, remember to stay as much in the moment as you can and do the things you need take care of you too.

Stay safe and thank you to everyone who is doing their part to help flatten the curve.

I’m Not Homeschooling my Preschooler During COVID-19

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not homeschooling

Schools have only been closed for three days as I write this and I’ve been seriously amazed by the homeschooling that I’ve seen happening on social media. Home classrooms, curriculum ideas, awesome projects, guest teachers via FaceTime, and so much more. I think it is so awesome! I’ve even seen a lot of homeschooling happening for preschoolers! Wow! So many parents have had to jump in to being teachers in a flash, often while trying to juggle working at home.

But I’m not doing it. Nope. We’re not homeschooling our preschool-aged kids while schools are shut due to COVID-19.

With a 4-year-old who usually attends a play-based preschool (that’s now closed temporarily due to the pandemic) and a 1-year-old, I admit I’m in a position of great flexibility. I don’t feel the pressure that families with school-aged kids do. My kids aren’t going to fall behind academically. They’re not missing chunks of high school or suddenly lacking important school-based resources. Their formal education wasn’t interrupted. We’re fortunate.

However, they (especially my 4-year-old) are still missing a lot—playing with friends, school adventures, interactions with teachers, the routines of a school day. And with two parents now working from home, we need to make sure our children have meaningful things to fill their days (while mom and dad still get some work done). 

So, while we’re not “homeschooling” per se, here are some things we’re being intentional about each day.

Get dressed every morning

Ah . . . so simple, right?! But as a work-at-home-mom, honestly sometimes I don’t get dressed right away on a normal day. However, these days we ALL get dressed after breakfast. It would be easy to lounge in PJs all day, but by getting dressed, we keep some normalcy and it’s easier to feel ready for our day.

Make a daily schedule

Over breakfast, we talk about our day. We make plans and set goals. Sometimes we write it down. Sometimes not. But we have a plan for the day—things to look forward to, projects to work on, a plan to follow. This is how we maintain a routine. Meals, naps, rest times are things that structure our day. 

Time outside 

Every day, we make time to play outside. Spending time outside is so important! We’re fortunate that we have a backyard with room to play. I put the baby (12 months) in a rainsuit or snowsuit (or old clothes, whatever) and she crawls around, usually getting very muddy. My 4-year-old plays with trucks or digs in the dirt. We’ve planted some seeds that don’t seem to mind the early cold spring weather (arugula, kale, spinach, radish). Most days, we also go on a walk. 

Make something, clean something

Something I like to add to our daily schedule is the plan to make something. Something! It could be anything: an art project, popsicles, baked goods, a fort, whatever. 

We also clean. Toys get put away. Dishes are washed. Floors mopped. One by one, drawers are getting emptied and organized. Our garage and basement are looking better by the day. 

Each day, I pick a small cleaning/organizing project. This is more for me than the kids. But I try to involve them as much as I can. Yesterday, we rearranged things so that the toys that previously lived in a bin or scattered all over the living room have storage space in a cabinet.

It feels good to have a living space that is increasingly getting more organized and nicer. A silver lining of being stuck at home while schools are closed due to COVID-19?

TV time

Oh yes! TV, glorious TV. We watch TV every day. No shame here! However, we try to keep TV time at a minimum (i.e. not all day) and have been focusing on educational shows (Team Umizoomi, FTW!).

***

We’re all learning

We’re only a few days into this strange new world. Homeschooling, not homeschooling, watching TV all day—whatever we’re doing, we’re surviving. There are no concrete answers right now. There’s no right way to handle these unusual times.

We’re learning and growing and adapting. Give yourself and your kids space. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Have faith that we will figure this out.

We’re all just doing our best. Big hugs and love to all of you as we all navigate this new terrain. 

The Upside of Social Distancing | A Group Post

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Right now it seems, many of us have LOTS of free-time. Rather than focus on all that we can’t do, I wanted to focus on what we CAN do. So, I asked my fellow-writers what their up-side of social distancing looks like.

I’ve always wanted to do more learning activities with the kids outside (I have a friend who specializes in this from grad school). Today we took a walk and the kids (in 4K and 1st grade) took their notebooks and wrote down everything they saw that started with the letter D. It was fun to go for a walk (which I love) and have something that the kids really enjoyed. We’ve started and ended every day with a family walk which has been so nice to connect and not feel so rushed. Also, since so many outside of school activities are now being offered online, we’re planning to try them out together in the privacy of our home….with the curtains closed. 🙂 — Jackie Anderson

Since we’re so PHYSICALLY stifled, we’re giving the kids more freedom than we might otherwise for their at-home activities. Case in point: My daughter asked me today if she and her siblings could bake a cake, from scratch. I told her sure, as long as we have the ingredients. Normally, I’d supervise, but I’m working from home, so I’m just giving them free reign and extra trust. — Kirsten Adshead

I’m loving that I can put all the “to-do” lists aside and spend more time just being present with my kids. There’s no places we have to be, no activities to rush to or a schedule to remember. Nothing has to get done right that moment. The mental and emotional load of motherhood actually feels lighter right now. I feel like there’s this permission to just “let go” of a lot of things and focus on staying healthy and sane. We may get a little stir crazy, and the house will definitely be a mess, but right now all my kids have is me and it’s nice to feel like I can let so much go and be there for them 110%. — Kathryn Kuehn 

We’ve put off doing a toy purge for way too long, and our basement is full of toys that the kids have long outgrown. Now that they have extra time at home and need something to occupy some long hours while we work, it’s a great time to tackle that project and let them mostly be in charge of it. —Jenny Skrenes

This has really forced us to go out of our comfort zone (i.e. our daily hectic schedules that we’ve been accustomed to) and be creative and spur-of-the moment. We live by a golf course, and my husband took the boys to walk around it . . . and their walk turned into a golf ball hunt! They found 27 golf balls. And the activity didn’t stop there: they came home, rinsed and washed all the balls, wiped them off individually, and have been counting and recounting them. They are so excited and proud to have these little treasures that they worked hard to find! It really puts things in perspective – sometimes we have to step back and really see the magic in the simplest of things. It’s been great to see the world through the lens of our children these past couple days.  — Kim Hinkley

My almost 3-year-old was having a hard time with potty training. Mostly due to preschool cutting into the week, and also with the fear of pooping on the potty. This social distancing, and in our case, self-imposed isolation has given us the opportunity to slow down and give her what she needs to be able to gain the confidence that she needs to become fully potty trained. — Dan Sage

We’ve taken the time to clean up and purge items from the house. This means that our kids have discovered a lot of things that are becoming fun again. We have gotten outside together a lot more than we usually would, and that is such a gift when you have teens and tweens in your family. —Jessica Burfield

It’s been very strange having a calendar that has been completely cleared when we are used to having multiple things going on every day and night. Right now we have seven people under our roof with nowhere to go until who knows when. So, we made a very long list of movies we’ve been wanting to see. We are all getting outside way more than usual and I’ve decided to learn the guitar (why not?). I’m encouraging my kids to do some online learning in subjects they don’t take in school (my 12 year old is taking a sports and society class from Duke). We’re relaxing our strict screen rules and also playing more card and board games. — Julie Jensen  

We have our own basketball team at home now.

With all the extra time at home, I am getting a ton of heavy-duty spring cleaning done.  The chores I usually put off way too long are actually being accomplished at a much faster rate. The dishwasher is sparkling, the washing machine looks brand new, and the car seats no longer have layers of encrusted food in them.  Today, my toddlers started fighting over a dust rag because they both wanted to dust (ha!). Little do they know I will have an endless supply of dust rags for the both of them until they eventually move out. —Mehgan DeSmidt

So, what are you doing that is outside the box?

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