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Welcome to Nourish, a newsletter to help you be kinder to yourself and others. I'm Erin Strybis, a writer/editor, registered yoga instructor, bookworm and steadfast believer in grace and gratitude. In this issue find a journaling idea, new book recommendations and my "pandemic MVPs."

Dear reader,

Last month my husband Jay took his first work trip since the start of the pandemic. “Sure you’ll be OK, babe?” he asked before booking this trip we both knew he was going to take. “We’ll be fine – go make some money,” I replied warmly. Like many families, we lost income due to COVID-19, and we were grateful for the work.

Then, just in time for my first week of solo-parenting in nearly a year, the heavens opened and dumped a full-blown blizzard on Chicago. The Big Snow kept coming, day after day. We received so much snow, it clogged up the alley and blocked our garage, thus, we were stuck without transportation to preschool, thus, I found myself with mountains of snow to shovel and mountains of work to do and a precocious preschooler to entertain. As I trudged through thigh-high snow, shoveling the sidewalk, my words, “We’ll be fine” returned to taunt me.

Shoveling, by the way, is not my job. In our household, shoveling clearly falls into Jay’s lot, whereas meal planning and leaving clean laundry unfolded in our hampers for half the week is mine. Yet there I stood, shoveling at 8 a.m., and again at 1 p.m., rinse and repeat. By mid-week, I felt (and probably looked) like a deranged pirate with cabin fever. I needed to get the car out and get this child back to preschool. He’d exhausted our snack resources. I’d exhausted my patience. I was mere seconds away from a primal scream.

On Wednesday, my neighbor Chris and I met in the alley on our lunch breaks to begin the long task of unearthing our cars while our sons scaled piles of snow so high they reached the top of our backyard fences. I was angry at our neighbors – our houses fell in the middle of the block, how was it that Chris and I were the only ones out here shoveling? I was angry at the city of Chicago. Why couldn’t they figure out a solution for plowing the alleys? I was angry at this snow for simply existing. (Also? I was a teensy bit angry at Jay – how did he manage to pick THIS WEEK of all weeks to leave?) You might describe what I was doing as rage-shoveling...

An hour later, I finished clearing the garage and had become overheated. While shedding my coat in preparation for shoveling out the alley, I thought to myself perhaps there's a metaphor here — something about our lives’ unseen work being uncomfortable but important? Yes, that’s it, I resolved, clearing the way, pressing onward in the winter sun, watching our kids slide and giggle and scale the growing mounds of snow. I am developing grit here, I thought. This unseen, back-breaking work matters. 

Isn’t this what we’ve been up in this time of COVID-19 — building grit? 

On March 11, we’ll mark a year of surviving this pandemic. We experienced a year where the rules of living changed, and many of our social supports were unexpectedly stripped away. Many of us were forced to juggle competing tasks and demands, including extra caretaking, remote learning and remote working. Others lost work. Some had to face greater risks at work. Still others lost dear loved ones and had to grieve in unsatisfactory ways. (If you lost someone this past year, I am so sorry. Please know that I am holding you in prayer.) We all sacrificed and grieved. Perhaps you turned to your own version of rage-shoveling. 

This week, I invite you to pause and honor your unseen, back-breaking work of the past year. You have lived with a great deal of loss. You have pressed on through it all, even when you felt depleted. You became stronger and more courageous. You likely have anger or pain you carried with you through these challenges. Joy, too. Be encouraged: the end is sight in the form of vaccines. We are approaching a new era to which we'll need to adapt (again). Take a moment to rest and reflect or pray over your unseen work during the pandemic. How have you grown? What burdens can you release? What habits or traits did you develop that you want to keep? Whatever comes to mind, know this: your unseen work matters. 

The day after Chris and I cleared the alley, it snowed again. That morning my son asked, "Aren’t you going to shovel?" “Absolutely not,” I replied from my spot on the couch. My body needed rest. But the following day, I shoveled again, and by the grace of God everlasting I managed to drive our Jetta down the icy alley, drop that sweet, wild child at school, and treat myself to coffee on my first personal day off work since the pandemic began. You know what? That day of rest was utterly glorious.

Nourish yourself



EAT MORE PLANTS: It’s been about a year since Jay inspired me to transition to cooking more plant-based meals for our household, and can I admit something? I love the way these meals make me feel, but I’m still finding my cooking groove. After long days, I often need to talk myself into cooking rather than choosing convenience meals or suggesting takeout. 

Nevertheless, the more great vegan and vegetarian recipes I try, the more I want to cook. A few we recently tried and enjoyed include creamy mushroom stroganoff, lentil sloppy joes and PB energy bites. To up our produce consumption, I started a twice monthly subscription with Daily Harvest, mainly for their smoothies — we love the Strawberry Peach and Mango Papaya ones.

PANDEMIC MVPS: During a recent walk and talk date with a friend, we discussed our "pandemic MVPS.” These are the items/activities that are keeping us sane as we enter this final stretch of COVID-19 life. Here’s what’s on my list: (1) This “pandemic chic sweatshirt”™ is my weekly wardrobe staple, paired with these high-rise jeans (my first non-skinny jeans I’ve tried in years — yes, showing my age here — and I adore them). 

(2) My Keurig, which has been doing the Lord’s work daily delivering a perfect cuppa coffee for one. I like these coffee pods with a dash of brown sugar oat milk creamer

(3) I've savored streaming Sweet Magnolias (a show celebrating women's friendships, with a touch of Gilmore Girls’ charm), Schitt’s Creek (for witty, laugh-out-loud humor) and WandaVision (a genre-bending show from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that explores grief and love… just wow).

A PRACTICE TO TRY: On nights when my son drifts to sleep easily, I cozy up with a cup of honeyed chamomile tea and write “evening pages,” a spin on creative guru Julia Cameron’s morning pages, which are three long-hand pages of writing done immediately after waking. Because mornings are unpredictable here, I do mine at night to unwind. I try to keep my hand moving across my journal and don’t stop until I hit three pages, maybe more. I write with no agenda and no judgment — anything goes.

Often I find myself listing moments of delight: my son’s sing-song rendition of “Goodnight my someone,” a shared laugh with my husband via text message, the tingly sensation in my limbs after practicing yoga. The more I write the more blessings I find. I always feel better after writing them. Whether you identify as a creative or not, morning/evening pages is a wonderful exercise for clearing your mind. Consider this your invitation to try it!

Nourish others

FIGHT HATE: A recent study from Pew Research Center reported that 40% of U.S. adults believe “it has become more common for people to express racist views toward Asians since the pandemic began.” Here are three actions you can take, compiled from Anti-Racism Daily, a newsletter by Nicole Cardoza: “(1) If you or someone you know experiences an anti-Asian attack, report it at (2) Raise awareness and learn more by following the hashtag #StopAAPIHate on social media. (3) Ensure your company has implemented anti-discrimination policies that protect Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.”

TIDY WITH TINIES: Now that my son is four, I’m pondering how to better invite him into housekeeping habits. I went back to an old article I wrote for The Everymom on this very topic. “Organizing expert Marie Kondo’s top tip for [parents] eager to teach kids about tidying is to tend to your own belongings first. Our little ones are watching how we treat our bags, shoes, and even our dirty laundry, and will emulate our behavior as they grow. Ask yourself: am I putting everything away, or dropping belongings haphazardly around my home?” I will admit, I’m good about this when it comes to anything I bring inside the house, but our alcove near the back door is a bit of a catastrophe. Looks like I/we have some work to do! (Find the full article here.)

STAY VIGILANT: Although mask restrictions have eased up in some areas as more people receive vaccines, masks will continue to be used for some time to curb the spread of COVID-19. Many have mask fatigue, but it’s important to stay vigilant. Read more in this lovely article from Dr. David Thoele on finding common ground with patients who didn't believe in wearing masks, and debunking mask myths: “Even though I hate masks, I think they’re important. If I wear my mask, I keep you safe, and if you wear your masks, you keep me safe. These annoying things are helpful.”

Nourishing words

On my nightstand this month:

  • In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama (combining memoir, poetry and narrative theology, this book is compassionate and peaceful)
  • On Beauty by Zadie Smith (a recent book club pick that made me think)
  • The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan (immersive and heartwarming)
  • Rumors of Water by L. L. Barkat (beautiful, practical writing inspiration)

Thao Thai's essay on the complexities of work and mothering was incredibly relatable: “I don’t know how we can be expected to express the multitude of ourselves through a simple job title. Yet, I still feel the need to sell myself, to offer some kind of elevator pitch that places me in the world. Years of capitalism and family expectation brought me to this place of associating value with where I happened to be in my career.”

I've enjoyed listening to “A Good Word,” a podcast from Amy Grass and Molly Flinkman for anyone who wants to be “deeply rooted in truth and full of fresh spiritual fruit." I especially liked this reflection breaking down grace, and this episode about light.

I recently penned some honest thoughts on our lives' winters, prayer and light (excerpt below):
But how do you pray when
winter seems endless
and words become frozen
at the tip of your tongue?

I'll end with an excerpt I wrote from day seven of the Abundant Love devotional series:

“Mommy, what are we doing?” he asks, but I shake my head, not wanting to slow us down. I fling wide our cherry front door and, with him at my side, step out into the drizzle. I shield my eyes with my hand, searching, searching until, yes! Bands of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink peek out from behind city houses, arcing across the yellowed sky.

“Wow,” I say, a smile blooming across my face. God brought us a sign of hope tonight.

A final note: Starting this month, I'll be reducing the number of emails I send you to *one* a month. I know how inboxes get clogged, and I want to be respectful of yours. I also need to take some pressure off that I've been putting on myself to produce blog posts. 

Going forward, if you'd like to receive new blog posts from me in your inbox, you can do so by clicking the "follow" button on my WordPress site or just message me for help. I'll be sure to link to posts I love in future newsletters.

As we approach the annivesary of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hope you'll take time to reflect on all your unseen work. It matters. You matter. Thank you for being here. 

Grace and peace,

P.S. If you liked this newsletter, consider forwarding it to a friend. Or if you received it from a friend, you may subscribe here. Look for your next newsletter in April! 
"Love yourself.
Then forget it.
Then, love the world."
—Mary Oliver
Copyright © 2021 Erin Strybis, All rights reserved.

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