I am experiencing my own renaissance here in lockdown. Oddly enough, I am now an early riser.
At 5:30 a.m. I open the shades and the sliding glass door to the balcony to hear the 30-minute, a capella concert of every bird in Rome. It is so loud that it fills the neighborhood with chirping, trilling, throaty warbling, caw-ing, and that sound that seagulls make, the one that mimics sea lions only 3 octaves higher.
During this gentle half-hour, the traffic cannot be heard, and now at 6:06 a.m. I can hear the cars and trucks off on the main thoroughfare drifting up over the hill. The riotous cacophony has moved to another street.
While the concert is performed, sunrise slowly displays the perfect ombres that inspire every artist and textile designer in the world. This lighting plan is delicate and nuanced. The blues being gently overcome by pale blue, then there is almost no discernable color that moves towards the palest nude that moves to buff. The sun is coming. Soon.
This slower pace is good for me. This slower pace makes it easy to think, to heal. It is as the Psalmist wrote:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I have often noticed that when I need to rest, to slow down, and I don’t pay attention to that need– let’s say I discount that need as lazy, or listen to bad advice to “push through” or “move on” — I get sick or injured or experience one of my many migraines. I am then forced to meditate on Psalm 23, made to lie down, and in my life, it is green pastures.
Day 10 and I am accepting this new normal. I wonder if I will be changed, long-term by this slower pace. Will I start a commune or become a hermit? Or will I push forward and forget the lessons I am learning?
If it sounds like I am going into a sermonette, you’re right! You might have seen my Instagram posts with my #lockeddownItalia hashtags with meal plans and daily meal agendas — done in the eponymous whiteboard marker — not attractive, but useful, simple, and easy! Why do I plan? Because it’s in the Bible, it’s what I have learned in Sunday school — yes, folks in church. Here are three Bible stories that highlight the importance of being prepared (there are many more).
Joseph interprets the dream that God gave to Pharoah Genesis 41:15 – 40. Basically, Pharoah has a dream that disturbs him about 7 fat cows, that are then devoured by 7 lean cows. That’s a dream weird enough to call on the Almighty All-Knowing God, and the interpretation was predicting 7 years of abundant harvests with 7 years of famine following them. You see, God was preparing everyone for these lean years and provided the wisdom needed to survive those tough years. Joseph went into planning mode, saved an appropriate amount of foodstuffs, and the nation of Egypt survived the lean years.
Parable of the ten virgins Matthew 25:1. Let me caution you to not focus on the word ‘virgins,’ since this is a historical-cultural reference meant to highlight, in a situation the people of the time would easily understand, the concept of foolishness vs. wisdom, the idea of being prepared. In this time in history, it was customary to go out and wait while it was still dark for the bridegroom to come for his betrothed. So the foolish virgins took their lamps, not knowing how long they would wait, without additional oil, while the wise virgins took lamps and a spare jar of oil, just to be on the safe side. Really more of the meaning of this story is about the kingdom of heaven and practicing faithfulness. FOMO has always been the part that has stuck with me — maybe because in Sunday school, I was 7 years old and the teacher focused on being prepared as opposed to the kingdom of heaven — you don’t really want to scare little children about sudden death. Remember, those were the days when we would pray this prayer regularly:Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Please bless grandma and grandpa and make Toby, grandma’s dog, better. Amen.
The story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem in Nehemiah is fascinating. It is full of bad guys, being prepared, organizing people, etc. Another Sunday school lesson series that influenced me.
What can we learn from these stories? Here’s the bullet list:
Wisdom works well
Avoid bad stuff
Don’t squander your wealth — you might need it later
Manage your resources
Stories that we tell our children matter
Discipline of going to church (even if it’s online) builds character
Reading the Bible builds character and is entertaining
Expect bad guys in power and in government
Do something even though there might be bad guys in power
Relationship with God is beneficial to your health and lifespan
Be bold and do right
We don’t need to worry, we need to be obedient to God
What else have you learned from these passages of scripture?
The 7 smart tips in the article referenced above are:
Create a Dedicated Workspace
Set and Maintain Your Normal Hours
Focus on Your Output
Eat Healthy Lunches
Schedule More Check-ins with Your Team
These are all basic strategies for working remotely and some are easier to implement than others. Since I have been working remotely for the past 8 years, and across many time zones, I thought I would share some other ideas that have been helpful in keeping me engaged in work and with my teams, as well as balanced my family life.
We all know to some extent that much of our daily communication at the office is non-verbal. We see a co-worker with clenched teeth, or notice an entire team disappear for 2 hours. These are non-verbal cues that help us to do some interpersonal research and interaction to ensure that we are completing our deliverable with the most relevant information available. When we return home at the end of the day, we see the non-verbals of our family members, and no doubt turn to the happiest member for some stress relief (maybe the family dog?)!
When all of our time is spent away from the office, we miss out on those non-verbal cues, so enhanced communication becomes helpful and effective. When we are suddenly available 24/7 to our household, expectations need to be set, so that everyone understands what appropriate work boundaries are during lockdown.
Here are some suggestions for teams:
If possible, use a shared app for managing projects or tasks such as Monday.com. You can use this as your virtual office, see input, comments and status
If an app is not right for your team, a daily morning email can work well
Keep it short
Include explanations, why, steps, instructions, etc.
Bullet what you can
Use meaningful subject headers, such as Status: Project #1 [date]
Encourage your team to ask questions
Provide information for next conference call or video call
End of the Day Summary to Manager
Include status of deliverables
Daily morning huddle call
Here are suggestions for families:
Family meeting to set schedule, expectations, answer questions
Clearly identify workspace and expectations surrounding this space
g. “The dining table is my workspace from 8 – 5”
“I will put everything away by 5:30”
“While I am on conference calls it’s time for you to play in your fort”
“We will eat lunch from 12 – 1 picnic style”
You get the idea and of course you will have an entirely different scenario at your home!
Collaboratively get ideas for how to manage household tasks
Meet daily for a family huddle with lots of hugs and cuddles
Gently remind family of expectations
Ask what’s working well
Ask for issues/challenges
Ask for other input
If it isn’t working well, be sure to problem solve
Make changes as appropriate
Enhanced communication works well most of the time and especially now, to be sure we don’t start losing our sanity, we need to “use it or lose it!”
I was prepared for the lockdown here in Italy. I had a meal plan and I stocked my two-shelf pantry a little at a time over January and February. There is satisfaction when you’ve anticipated a crisis or emergency and effectively moved past the first phase — avoiding a potentially crazy situation.
Now that we have lived through the first week, it’s time to do a quick review of what 1) has worked well, 2) potential holes are in the plan, and 3) other opportunities this situation provides.
Zombie Meal Plan: the rough template of what meals we would eat over the course of a 2-week lockdown, and ensuring that we had the ingredients in the cupboard or the refrigerator
Routines: we have been using a home video series for yoga stretching, apps for sermons online, prayer time every meal and every night before bed, tidying up, so these structures keep an even keel for us emotionally and physically
Introducing our love of singing into our Routine: I felt very Maria von Trapp yesterday — wait, I have to start earlier, earlier in the week when we ran out of dishwasher pods. We ran out, which is a little cloud on my sunshiny plan — it means, that I have to don my pink rubber gloves and wash dishes BY HAND! Washing dishes by hand has always been a particular hated task of mine, possibly due to a somewhat mentally traumatic event in my elementary school years, but let’s not open that jar of anchovies. So, I am washing dishes by hand, and I think I must have gotten over my little trauma, because I started remembering times my grandmother and I washed dishes, singing old-timey church hymns at the top of our lungs. I determined that the next day, I would draft Hubby as my suds helper, (which worked – because he is simply the best guy in the world™®. Then I started trying to sing an old-timey hymn and I had forgotten most of the words. Not to be deterred, I asked Hubs to choose a song. He wasn’t quite cooperative. Another night passed and I turned into Maria von Trapp or maybe Mother Superior. I warned him that I wanted to hear Folsom Prison during the next episode of ‘washing dishes.’ Then I followed up on it. He wasn’t cooperative at first, which is totally unreasonable — see Hubby has a beautiful singing voice — he has performed musical theatre! Anyway, I started the song, and we all know that I love to sing, but not everyone loves to hear me sing. I handed it off to him and like a champ, he took it and sang his best Johnny Cash! I heard all of Folsom Prison! Next, we started learning a duet — Shallow — it was incredibly fun and yes, it helps to strengthen us, remind us of who we were, who we are, and gives us hope about how we’re going to handle anxiety and stress together. As a team or at least a country duet.
Haven’t needed to go to the grocery store (might want to, but haven’t, just no need)
Not accounting for Hubby’s water and creamer needs during the day when he’s home from work (accounted for coffee, and for water, just not the extra 1,5 liter he chugs throughout the day and the 1/4 cup of cream he likes in his “coffee”–meaning he is using my-planned-for-espresso-steaming milk. Don’t worry, I have two boxes of milk in the cupboard that I can use — I am just being stingy! #curmudgeon)
Didn’t plan for a small bag of dishwasher pods, hence long story above
Possibly might run low on lemons and juice — a grocery run may be needed this week (In this ‘live’ test of my Zombie Meal Plan my goal is to be able to eat well with no grocery store runs! Even if we do sneak in a creamer and dishwasher pod purchase.)
As far as I can tell, Italians are warm, friendly, and open generally speaking. The cultural behaviors that we love so much– the hand gestures, the emotional outbursts– are in evidence daily. Here is my list of differences that were new to me:
Fish and steak are charged by the 100 gram — so if you see €20 on the menu, that is not the price you will pay at the end — but rather you will pay €20 per 100 gram — so that piece of fresh fish might cost €40.
Toilet seats — or rather the lack thereof. Be prepared with disinfectant wipes and portable toilet seat covers, which are also not available. If you can manage not to sit — even better!
Grilled vegetables — listed as Miste Verdue griglia do not arrive at your table hot, or even warm. They come room temperature or even cool. That often goes for the side potatoes too!
Espresso is cheaper at the bar and costs around €3 more at Tavola or table. Go ahead, order it, watch it being made, and drink it right there standing up! When in Rome, do as the Romans do,
Don’t order a latte, rather order a Caffellatte. Latte just means milk in Italian and you get some funny looks when you order a milk.
Buona sera (Bonah Sayrah) happens right about noon and lasts until about the time you leave a late dinner at the restaurant. First thing in the morning is Buongiorno.
Old men and their shoe shops. So far, I have seen a few shoe shops that sell only Italian made shoes and each of these has an octogenarian greeting and running the money. These guys are over-the-top charming, one joking with us, flattering us, and kissing my hand even though he knew we didn’t speak Italian. The younger workers, I like to think that they are the great-grandchildren, make apologies, translate, and overall this creates the charming family environment that moviegoers expect.
Italian maids are amazing, don’t understand English and have full access to your room to tidy it up; once late morning and once while you are supposed to be out to dinner, plus someone else brings water, someone else checks the minibar, someone else checks to see if the maids did a good job…it’s like grand central station.
Roman water is good, unless you have a tendency to kidney stones. It has calcium — not the good bone-building kind, so one drinks a lot of bottled water. Frizzante is the most bubbly–the waiter will ask if you want gas, there is natural slightly sparkling mineral water, and there is still water. You are able to purchase water in glass bottles to avoid single-use plastic.
Birkenstocks have a tendency to get “side-eye” from Italian men. Women simply ignore them.
Skip the line by purchasing tickets and vouchers in advance from the hotel — you can even purchase from a hotel if you aren’t staying there, making impulse tours easy! There are always folks on the street selling tickets too — they are well marked so you don’t accidentally buy from the wrong guy.
Metro ticket machines — look at the pictures of the money it is taking — sometimes it quits taking bills and you can tell that by the picture of coins.
Don’t accept roses from the guys on the Spanish Steps — unless you want to donate.
Eat the roasted chestnuts. Look for evenly roasted chestnuts, the vendors paying attention to even roasting have the chestnuts arranged in a single layer. Wait until after 6 to ensure enough roasting has happened. Then walk around with 600 other people looking at the luxury shop windows and Roman landmarks.
Don’t get into the fountains. These are national treasures and meant to be enjoyed visually by everyone.
Be respectful of the churches — turn off your phone notifications and sound, wear pants not shorts, or skirts/dresses that aren’t classified as mini. Talk in a quiet voice, take in the art, make a small donation, and feel free to pray for world peace and contemplate.
Buy local. Italians make some of the best shoes — so look for “made in Italy” try them on because some are designed better than others, and in small shops sometimes you can make an offer. Italians have access to wonderful produce, so get as much fresh fruit juice (spremute) and fresh room temperature vegetables as you can get!
Learn some Italian — it’s really easy to get the hang of it! Grazie!
One of the annoying little things that can happen on any given expedition out of your front door is an accident. There are all kinds of accidents that happen every day, you get stung by a wasp–swelling up, you eat something that makes you sick, or you step one wrong way, causing some weird injury that impacts your ability to do what you want to do.
This happens while traveling, although usually not to me.
You see I am a bit of a “being safe” nut — full of helpful anxiety about germs, street food, and neighborhoods that are off the beaten track. I walk tall, don’t drink much alcohol (if at all), and am inside of my hotel room at a reasonable hour. I avoid public demonstrations, threatening people (both them threatening me and me threatening them LOL!), and going out without a scarf, a sweater, and a cross-body bag. I pack bandaids, acetaminophen, diarrhea medicine, vitamin C, and sunscreen. All of this so that when I travel I can walk all over the city fearlessly and fun-loving!
But accidents do happen. And one happened to me on Monday of Week 3 of my 5-week vacation. I was at a wild animal park/sanctuary, and I stepped down from a tall step onto some cardboard that had been placed, I had imagined at the time, over a former mud puddle. The dirt was dry, there was no mud, I didn’t even stop to think about taking this large step. My weight landed on my right foot, which then slid over the hidden large rock, and proceeded to hyper-extend, popping as I landed with a thump. My phone flew out of my hand; I managed to land on my knee, then my well padded hind end; shaken up, to say the least. I am not in the habit of falling, tripping, nor stumbling. I think of myself as being quite spry, although not at all athletic.
As you can see below, this did not stop me from petting the baby cheetahs!
I am so grateful that I didn’t know at the time that I had broken a bone in my foot since I have extreme anxiety about visiting hospitals, especially hospitals in Africa. Now, I say this since the local hospital that was pointed out to me in Zimbabwe was built from cinder blocks back in the 1950s–I would guess. (Realize that I do believe in contributing to any and all aid organizations that help third-world countries get medical supplies and other assistance.) We have resistant strains of bacteria and viruses in the U.S. and I am certain that it is no different over here in Africa.
So, grateful. No trip to the doctor [until 6 weeks later when it became apparent that it was more than a bad bruise]. But….with swelling, bruising, and pain that continues every step that I make a full two weeks later, I now have a new understanding of making the most of a trip. [And now, 9 months later, I realize how important it is to avoid injury!]
It is now a full month later and I still have pain in my foot and rely heavily on my hiking shoes — no other shoe feels comfortable. I have a bruise on the bottom of my foot, another one on the side, and the worst bruising on the top of my foot. You know what this means…Dr. Podiatrist here I come!
Also another P.S. regarding healthcare and Africa: Thank you to my nurse practitioner J.S. for not only prescribing medicine to prevent malaria, but also having the foresight to prescribe a Z-Pack — as it happened, the morning of my 10-hour flight from Johannesburg to Frankfurt, I woke up with a sore throat, coughing, –some sort of bronchial sinus cold that I am prone to–the meds are saving my butt. I am in Frankfurt, showered, napped, and on day 2 of the Z-pack and can function. Even if the flight was rough, thank you Halls Extra strength by the way. I will cover being sick in a foreign city in a hotel layover room in a future post!
In this beautiful place at the tip of Africa, it is a piece of heaven for little penguins. The Indian Ocean and it’s hypnotic mists along with the quiet town, Simon’s Town, make for a peaceful retreat. However, the magical ingredients for a peaceful retreat don’t always include effective credit card readers. In fact, throughout Africa, card readers and the handling of them in shops can be a little bit of a problem.
At this adorable souvenir shop we had the following experience with the card reader. The line was not reliable, and so the communication between the card reader and the authorizing computer was taking f-o-r-e-v-e-r…so, the clerk took the card to another reader, BEFORE receiving a “not authorized” code, and started trying to authorize it through that reader. At that point, literally the sale of over $200 (I fell in love with a silver penguin charm) could have been approved twice, creating a double charge to my account. In fact, this has happened to my husband once.
Now, my husband stops the clerk, and patiently waits for the “not authorized” receipt and keeps it in his wallet, and in cases where he can, he doesn’t make the purchase. Which is what we did. No cute little silver penguin charm. But, we did wait for two not authorized receipts and my credit card did not receive duplicate charges.