And... It's a Wrap. Goodbye 2020.

As we head into the new year, I'd like to go on record saying that it would be okay if I never hear the words "unprecedented" or "asynchronous" again.

That declaration aside, it's safe to say that even if your struggles in 2020 didn't register as tragic or severe as other people's trials, this year has been hard on us all. Struggle and suffering never should be a contest of degree; it all hurts. Personally, I hit some lows that stung terribly, but I'm still standing, tired, yet stronger for the scars.

I'm reminded of the account of Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednego who, when cast into the fiery furnace, saw a fourth figure in the blaze alongside them. When they exited the fire, they weren't singed. They didn't even smell like smoke. There are parallels we can draw. As circumstances burned around us this year, God has been present with us in the midst of the blaze. Even more, even if it doesn't feel likely now, we eventually will move ahead without traces of singe and smoke clinging to us.

As we pivot into 2021, I don't believe that life magically will get easier. But thank God that his mercies are still new every morning and that his nature is peace. He is enough, even when we're weak, confused, listless, bored, angry, hurting, or quarantined. If we're in a fire, He's alongside us. Perhaps the greatest gift of 2020 was teaching me this firsthand.

Here's to 2021, dear friends! May it be more normal than 2020. And most importantly, may it be well with your souls.

Oh, breaking news: I recently got a free yellow door for a DIY project because, people, a girl's gotta have a project on hand during these unprecedented times. (Sorry. Had to go there.) The door is awesome and entirely impractical, given that I have no place in my house for a spare door, but it's full of potential and the possibilities of "what could be" cheer me greatly. This is a hallmark of any good DIY project, but also a valuable life reminder. There are possibilities and potential ahead, friends.

Happy New Year!


Easy and Delicious Pretzel, M&M, and Hershey Kiss Melts

If you're an "I like something salty, and then I like something sweet, and then I like something salty, and then I like something sweet" snacker, then this is a treat for you! As a bonus, it's wildly simply and you can make a pattern with your M&M colors, giving yourself the illusion of order in your life. Win win!

1) Heat oven to 200. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.

2) Place square (snaps) pretzels in rows.

3) Put a Hershey Kiss on the center of each pretzel.

4) Bake at 200 degrees for 5 minutes. Kisses will be soft and shiny-looking, not melted.

5) Set an M&M on each warm Hershey's Kiss, gently pressing the M&M until the Kiss flattens.

6) Let cool and enjoy. Or eat them warm and enjoy. Or hide them from your family, eat them while sitting in your closet, and enjoy. (There's really no wrong way to do this step.)

Carry on!


A Fall Day in Central Pennsylvania

This morning as I raked leaves in my front yard, an older neighbor couple walked down the street. "Working from home today?" the man called out. I leaned against my rake and replied, "Well, right now, I'm avoiding working from home!"

Turns out, some mornings you just need to rake the leaves.

In this spirit, I convinced myself that my makeshift home office could wait a while longer. Not only would I rake the leaves, but I would also take a drive. One wonderful feature of central Pennsylvania is that you don't need to travel far to find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and there's never a better time to be in the middle of nowhere than a crisp fall afternoon.

I know it's not always possible, but if it is, choose to rake the leaves. It brings a sense of order when life otherwise feels disarrayed. If possible, choose to take the drive. It brings a brief adventure when life otherwise feels monotonous.

The work will still be there when you return. It always is. Some fall days are meant for better things than home offices.


Strange Dream Sequences and Short Attention Spans

10-year-old on 2020: "I find it helpful to run around the yard and scream sometimes."

Two aspects of Life During Covid are especially peculiar to me. One, I now regularly have the strangest dream sequences. Apparently I'm not alone in this, given that last week my husband dreamed he fought off angry vagabonds who were trying to break into our home by battering down our garage door and climbing through the medicine cabinet.


In one of my most recent dreams, which was less aggressive than my husband's but no less stressful, I'm allowed to steal anyone's voice and I'm forced to choose what singer I should sound like. I immediately consider taking Anna Kendrick's voice, but then I think, "Wait, no, I should choose Lady Gaga." At this point it becomes exceedingly challenging. If I'm stuck in a shower and I need to harmonize to "Titanium," it won't sound right if I'm Lady Gaga. But if I'm on a stage wearing a white jumpsuit, and sweat is causing my shaggy bangs to fall in my eyes as I belt out "Always Remember Us This Way" and Bradley Cooper gazes at me admiringly, then it clearly wouldn't be right if I sound like Anna Kendrick.


I don't know what voice I should have! And time is ticking away! What if I want to be able to sing like both of them, for different songs, in different settings? How can I pick just one voice for ALL of the musical contexts I clearly will find myself in?


Then I wake up, never having made a decision, and realize that I still sing like myself.


There's also a recurring dream thread where I live in different locations ranging from former apartments to random log cabins, and I keep discovering new doors that lead to hallways lined with rooms I've never noticed before. While there's no explanation why, each room is crammed with stuff (perhaps cast off by former occupants?): full bookshelves, overflowing drawers, cluttered closets, and disarrayed piles on every flat surface. Room by room, hallway after hallway, I'm required to sort, organize, and clean it all.


It's not restful when you wake up after having cleaned all night. Why Dream Robin keeps opening up the doors to find these relentlessly dirty rooms is a mystery. My wakeful self wants to yell a warning: Quit while you're ahead! Don't open another door, girl!


Feel free to psychoanalyze any of these scenarios and get back to me.


Two, besides the bizarre and vivid dreams, I've come to the sad realization that I now have the attention span of a fly, which -- in case you were wondering -- is roughly 9-12 seconds.


Simple tasks require extraordinary focus. Large portions of my brain are devoted to remembering ever-shifting schedules for basic events that used to be consistent, like which days of the week my children will attend school. (It's Monday, Wednesday, and Friday this week, but Tuesday and Thursday next week, unless our district reverts back to complete online instruction, like we had the past three weeks, except for that one day which was designated a "snow day" and all the kids had off because, well, it's 2020.)


So, yeah. We're doing great here. Just fighting intruders, singing pitch perfectly, cleaning random rooms that are mysteriously attached to our house, and sort of (but not quite) knowing our daily schedules.


It's the new normal.


If You Give a Woman a House Project During a Pandemic

The other evening I ended up on my roof. This wasn't because I was trying to escape my family members. Well, not exactly. No, I was on my roof because I made one decision: I chose to paint my front door.

It started so simply -- at least, after the deliberation between 30 paint chips, it started simply. I settled on a shade called Triumph Blue, bought a quart, laid down a drop cloth, taped off the doorknob and hardware, and then got to work. Two coats later, I stood on my front porch, head cocked to the side, uncertain. The new color wasn't terrible, but I wasn't yet convinced that Triumph Blue was entirely triumphant. Maybe it would be better titled Mildly Victorious Blue, or Perhaps Not Entirely a Failure Blue.

Something was throwing me off. Was it the sudden change after 14 years of looking at a classically red door? Was it the clash of the green painter's tape? Was the blue too bold? Too bright? Too light? Too something I couldn't put my finger on?

In this spirit of deep introspection, that's when I noticed our shutters. They were supposed to be black, but years of exposure to the elements had faded them to a washed-out gray. Maybe the contrast was off-kilter. Maybe the blue door would look better if the shutters were actually black, I mused.

That's how I ended up removing eighteen shutters from my house to spray paint them black. It's also how I ended up scrubbing the siding on my front porch because, without shutters, you discover a decade and a half's worth of filth. (And a wasp's nest, but that's another story involving a can of Raid and bad aim.) And that's when I noticed that the bench on our front porch, after enduring the removal of gunk and debris from the siding, also needed a fresh coat of paint.

Essentially, that's the full tale of how painting my front door led me to also paint a bench and eighteen shutters, wash my porch siding, kill a colony of wasps, and ultimately, end up on my roof. (Well, minus the part when I accidentally drove my car over one of the painted shutters that I didn't see laid on my driveway, had to Super Glue the cracked section of the shutter, and then accidentally glued my thumb and index finger together so I thought I'd live the rest of my life unintentionally flashing an "OK" signal to everyone I encountered.)

In other words, I'm relatively convinced that this project went as well as any house project could possibly go during 2020.

Disclaimer 1: Let me tell you, people: the newly-painted black shutters look terrific.

Disclaimer 2: The blue door is growing on me day by day. Triumph! (Perhaps this might also be due to the fact that I don't have any energy to repeat this process.)

Disclaimer 3: As you might have guessed, given my ability to type freely enough to compose this post, my fingers have been released from the snare of Super Glue.

Disclaimer 4: Upon further reflection, hiding from my family on my roof isn't actually a bad idea. I'm tucking this realization away.

Disclaimer 5: I might also paint a room. Please pray for me.

Let's Chat: But Wait, There's More!

Me approaching the blogging mic (tap, tap, tap): Is this thing still on?

My dear people, it's been too long since I've posted here. It's not as if I haven't wanted to write; I've simply experienced a few kinks. For one, my blog temporarily broke, requiring tech expertise that I, as a person who majored in English and Communications, do not possess. (Thank you, you frighteningly smart 22-year-old computer person who invested two hours to fix what would have taken me days, if not months or perhaps years, to still be unable to diagnose. It's a relief that people like you exist.)

Besides the technical difficulties, I haven't written for other reasons, some personal, some larger. From the global pandemic to terrible acts of racial discrimination, I've been unnerved by what's happening in our world. The past weeks have felt like a time when I should be still, listen, learn, and pray, not necessarily speak. But today, I'm hoping you'll sit with me a moment so we can talk.

Grab a cool beverage; it's a hot one! It's finally time for us to chat.

And Covid continues. I've never yet met anyone who thrives during periods of extended uncertainty. Personally, I'm not a fan of having a dozen questions for every answer. So, like the rest of the world, I process reports of Covid and mull over its complexities on physical health, mental health, education, childcare, the economy, social gatherings, family dynamics, and how its presence impacts nearly every decision (both large and small) that every single person makes any given day.

It's exhausting. Everyone is sharing this collective burden of concern, perhaps except for the folks who are surprisingly and irresponsibly unconcerned, but I won't fall into that rabbit hole here.

Who isn't asking hard questions right now? What will our jobs look like? What will school look like next year? How will families manage child care? What will happen if (or when) we revert to yellow or red phases? How will people recover from financial devastation? How is this impacting the morale of the younger generations? What about young adults who are attempting to launch their independent adult lives but can't get jobs? How will teachers navigate the nearly-impossible demands of teach in person and online simultaneously? Who's caring for the medical personnel who are on the front lines? What's the status on a viable vaccine? When will there be a semblance of normal again? Will there be normalcy again?

There are more questions than answers right now. It's uncomfortable.

Black Lives Matter. Since the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, I've read heartbreaking accounts of past and present racism against black men and women. As painful as they are, we need to hear and carefully listen to these stories. We need to grieve over these stories. We need to talk with our children about these stories. (As I type, I realize that as a white woman, I'm privileged even in this. My husband and I can discuss racism with our daughters in age-appropriate ways. Black parents don't have that luxury of being delicate when their babies are going out into the world; they're forced to have extremely hard conversations too early.)

Because of my skin color -- which is something I had no choice over -- I'm not at risk of making a headline for getting shot while going on a run or being videotaped as an officer kneels on my neck while I plead for my life. Because I'm white, I'm not a target for microaggressions or suspicion when I do the most benign activities, like strolling along a sidewalk or browsing merchandise in a store. But black people are. I have dear black friends who I love, who I've worshiped with at church, who I meet at Wegmans to share dessert and chat about writing, whose babies I've held. I think about the dozens of young black men who my husband works with, these bright and strong student athletes who (pre-Covid) hung out at our house each week all summer long, sat on our back porch, played with my kids, and thanked me for my cooking.

So much needs to change to bring justice and healing: revisions of systemically-racist policies and practices, without a doubt, but also adjustments within individual hearts and collective consciousness. Heaven help us. God let our nation repent of this evil, and let there be change.

When I feel like losing hope. Crikey, these are hard times. It's easy to feel overwhelmed. For peace of mind, I avoid social media panic-scrolling (it's way too unsettling) while still continuing my practice of screen-shooting great memes and sending them to my friends. These are a few of my recent favorites:

Memes aside, during these past few months, I've struggled to laugh at the days to come. I've been tired, fearful, worried, and tense about all the unknowns. My mind has spiraled into overdrive as I vividly imagine worst-case scenarios for a multitude of issues, the most painful of which revolve around the well-being of my children. Certain days, my emotional status quo can best be described as low-grade dread. I distract myself periodically, but panic threatens to spill over at any moment.

This is why I run to Jesus. This is why I must keep running to Jesus, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. When my emotions go haywire and fear threatens to consume me, I remind myself that God is for me, not against me. I turn to the Book of Psalms, which I've heard described as the most tear-stained book of the Bible, and cling to the reassurance that others, like me, have come to God in the lowest of states. They've poured out their hearts and concerns, laying it all out on the table -- deepest worries, darkest despair, ugliest experiences of shame, and the heaviest burdens of discouragement.

It's all in there. When I read the psalms, I'm not alone. In every account of brokenness, where someone is weak in the knees from misery or bound by anxiety, we see God's response. And his response always reveals his protection, provision, and presence.

From the psalms I learn that "in the day of trouble, he will keep me safe in his dwelling" (Psalm 27), and "the Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped" (Psalm 28). I stand on the promise that "the Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace" (Psalm 29). I'm comforted that "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit," and I'm reassured because "a righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all" (Psalm 34).

I remember that I have to be active, too. We're told to "cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you" (Psalm 55:22). Each time I read this verse, I envision a fisherman casting out a line, not just once, but time and again, casting and re-casting, until the line doesn't come back empty. Then I picture myself casting each care on the Lord, flinging it away from myself, time and again. Later in the same psalm, I read, "When I am afraid, I will trust in you." (I love the wording. It's not "if I am afraid," but rather "when I am afraid." The diction acknowledges that fear is normal and human.) 

What do I do when I'm afraid? I cast my cares and I trust in Him. I rely on God to be my strength, my shield, my help, my comforter, and my deliverer.

And, ten minutes later, when the pandemic cloud rolls in again and I feel crappy, or I worry about some new way that my kids will be permanently screwed up for life, or I envision a whole new set of undesirable outcomes to a whole new set of problems, I cycle through the process again.

It's not pretty, mind you. There's no serene still-shot of an angler's silhouette as dusk settles across placid water, like A River Runs Through It. No, it looks a lot like regular life, with me moving about the house, detonating landmines of of my daughters' pre-tween, tween, and teenage hormones and attitudes. I'm folding laundry, doing dishes, teaching online classes, noticing crumbs, spending two hours on the phone with the insurance company, and trying to knock out house projects. But, in the midst of it all, I'm casting and re-casting my cares.

Moment by moment, I come to God as I am. From that place of dependency, I repeat truths that are truer than what I see with my natural eyes: God gives me strength. He's close to me. He delivers me from my troubles. He blesses me with peace. When I don't feel any of it and I still worry, because that happens too, I remember that these problems are temporary: Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can't heal.

My dear readers, as we wrap up this chat-from-a-distance-as-I-type-and-you-read, this is my prayer for you. In the midst of your real and messy days, with whatever problems loom over your head and hearts, I pray that you'll find help and hope in the hard times as you run to Jesus, again and again.

And if you happen to find any good memes, please send them my way, will you?

Thanks for visiting with me. In the days to come, I'll try not to be a stranger to the blog.


One Way to Look at Mother's Day

The other evening I dropped off a small gift at a friend's house. Her whole family, including her 15-year-old son, came to the door during my visit. Later that evening she shared that when an electrician had come to fix their stove earlier, her son anxiously had locked himself in his room, but he stayed the whole time to talk with me. When she asked him why, he replied, "I just love Mrs. Kramer. I'd risk coronavirus to see her."

I texted back immediately, "That might be the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me!"

Then I read her text aloud to my kids, not just once, but twice, because I wanted to remind them that some people actually like me.

Moms, on this Mother's Day if you're locked in a house with your kids who may or may not be welcoming your continual presence, rest assured. Some other kid living in some other house still likes to talk with you.

Happy Mother's Day!


Why We Need Support Systems

It's a dreary day, and I'm sitting in my bedroom wearing leggings, a gray tee shirt, and an oversized nubby olive green cardigan that might be cute or might make me look homeless, I'm not sure which. I feel as inspired as an empty paper bag. I never intended to become a lackluster once-a-month blogger after a decade of consistent writing, but in addition to feeling the general uncertainties of quarantine these past few months, I've also faced several painful personal and family struggles.

Some are too close to home to share. Others, like one of my daughters being diagnosed in January with a complicated ongoing health problem, are a little easier to disclose.

Regardless of specifics, I haven't written much lately because I'm sad and exhausted. I submitted semester grades earlier this week, which finally placed a period at the end of this strange "emergency remote" semester of teaching. There was no sense of accomplishment or relief, though. I simply felt numb, especially since I have a little over a week to prepare two new online summer classes and start again.

Despite these legitimate challenges, I've still felt like I should be doing more or better. I should stop my children from watching eight hours of television on a school day, for example, and I should put my foot down more firmly when somebody eats potato chips for breakfast. I should do more art projects with the girls in between my Zoom classes and online grading. I should be more intentional in contributing to their educational, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

But who am I kidding? This morning I stayed in bed until nearly 10 A.M. after being awake until nearly 4 at night. I drank a large McDonalds sweet tea for breakfast, and well, you already know how motivated I am to dress well. I'm not at my best (who is, really?), and I don't feel capable of consistently helping others be their best now, either.

And that confession reminds me of a certain tree. Let me explain.

On campus (which, you know, is a place I used to regularly visit to teach groups of college-aged people in real classrooms) there's a gorgeous sprawling tree. Beyond the massive size, its most defining characteristics are the wooden props that support its extended limbs.

I'm no arborist, but I don't think a tree reaches this magnificent status unless it has external props. I don't think a tree can extend its reach quite this far without strategic support.

These wooden props are there for a reason: they prevent the tree from sagging and snapping under the heavy burden of aged limbs. In our own lives, different forms of support are there for a reason, too: we're not strong enough to carry some weights on our own. Certain burdens are too heavy to bear alone.

I'm not sure what you're personally enduring right now. Maybe you or a loved one has been physically ill. Maybe you've lost reliable income. Maybe you're scared, bored, careworn, unable to muster cheer, or have no desire to do science projects with your kids. Maybe you're emotionally unhinged, binge eating, and barely sleeping. Maybe you stare out your window while you brush your teeth each morning, wondering if you'll ever have a normal day again. Maybe quarantine has triggered a long-standing battle with mental illness, or maybe you've experienced serious depression or anxiety for the first time.

You need support to help you bear those burdens.

Maybe it's the opposite. Perhaps you love the extra time at home, and you now bake your own bread and knit your own socks. Maybe your closets are cleaner. Maybe your family is thriving with regular game nights, devotions, foreign-language acquisition, and increased cardiovascular fitness. Maybe you joyfully welcomed a pandemic puppy into your home. (That's a thing, I think.)

Your energy can help you bear other's burdens.

Maybe you straddle both of these worlds: making the best of things one moment and feeling like you're falling apart the next. I text my friends curated compilations of funny memes, then curl up on the couch, utterly despondent. I laugh, then abruptly cry, at every episode of John Krasinski's Some Good News. Most days after waking, I take 20 minutes (sometimes 30) before I muster the desire to climb out out of bed. 

Yet, in my lowest moments, friends come beside me, like sturdy wooden props under tree branches, and hold me up when I want to melt into the floor and stay there indefinitely like a slug. I think of how family has prayed for me, propping up my weary limbs.

Some days, we are the props for others. Other days, we need to be propped.

Anne Lamott once wrote, "The more I think about it, the only reason various societies work is because we’re not all depressed at the same time.” This seems true. We're strong for others when needed, and others are strong for us when needed. We're all part of support systems. Sometimes we support, and other times we're supported. I imagine that's by design.

I think of Moses watching a great battle with his arms outstretched, and how Aaron and Hur, one on each side, came to prop his arms aloft when he grew fatigued. That's how the battle was won. Two people served as strategic props. They carried the weight that Moses couldn't carry himself. They lifted his arms when he no longer could lift them on his own.

If you need support right now, there's no shame. I'm right there with you. Find that support. Lean into it. Let others bear some of that weight until you can get your footing again. And if you're offering support to others right now, well, you're amazing. You're like those essential wooden props. Your very presence is keeping people from sagging and splitting apart. And if you spend these infinitely long quarantine days toggling back and forth between being a "prop" and needing to be "propped," I think you're extremely normal.

Trees aren't the only things that need support systems. We all need support.


Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you.
Psalm 55:22

Keep Calm. Sunday Is On Its Way.

If you didn't know the end of the story, I imagine those days from Good Friday to Easter morning must have been unendurable. There was the obvious horror of the crucifixion, of course, followed by the creeping terror of hopelessness. Sunday was on its way, but the disciples didn't know that. 

I sense that some of us might feel like we're living between Good Friday and Easter morning right now. Perhaps we're facing an obvious horror, something that's too terrible for words. Maybe we're sagging under the weight of discouragement. Perhaps we're just tired and bored and unmotivated and apathetic and irritated and fatigued with social-distancing, home-sheltering, and remote-everything-ing, feeling all kinds of weird feelings because our lives, as we knew them, have been flipped upside down, and it seems like nothing, ever, will get any better (even though the memes have been pretty excellent recently).

But Sunday is on its way. Those middle days of waiting and weirdness, this holding pattern of confusion and quarantine? Those times when problems seem impossible and answers doesn't seem visible? Those darkest circumstances when it feels like dawn will never break with some relief and light?

Those are the middle days. They're not the end of these stories.

Keep calm. Jesus is reminding us that Sunday is on its way.

Let's Chat. From a safe distance, of course.

It's safe to assume that The Virus That Shall Not Be Named has flipped your world upside down these past few weeks. Given this, let's sit and chat (from a socially-appropriate distance, that is) because, people, life is unprecedentedly weird right now.

Go ahead. Grab yourself a nice beverage and settle into something friendly and familiar.

I am now teaching my college classes online. Last week I converted my courses to online modules and synchronous video meetings. I'm brand new to online instruction, but so far, it's gone well enough.

I'm learning a great deal, including, but not limited to, how haggard I appear on live video (do I look this way generally, I wonder?), and how any given class session -- like most of regular life now -- feels like a bizarre dream sequence that's being narrated by a child:

One day last week I was teaching a class, but all of my students appeared on screens. And some of my students were in their bedrooms! One girl's room had bright blue walls, and one student was covered by a blanket, and another student was petting her cat while we talked. A real cat! Then one kid coughed and we all noticed him because his video screen was highlighted. At one point I remembered that I wasn't even wearing shoes. And then I stopped the meeting and everyone instantly disappeared. The end.

At least my new commute is short. From my bed to my new workspace, it's one step. Maybe one and a half if I'm dragging my feet. That's all it takes. Let's do this.

That brilliant idea to sell Girl Scout cookies to my students. Several weeks ago, I asked one of my classes if they'd like to buy Girl Scout cookies, and hoo boy, did they ever! I explained that I'd deliver all the cookies -- and collect the $310 dollars they owed me -- when we returned from Spring Break.

Sigh. Rookie mistake. I honestly hadn't anticipated the escalation of a global pandemic so we would never return from Spring Break. But in good news, I now have 77 unclaimed boxes of cookies and all the time in the world to sit in the confines of my own house, so this can't possibly end badly, right?

I can't sort my email inbox. And I can't handle much social media. Information overload is real. I haven't been able to fully process the dozens of updates and resources on teaching listservs that I receive daily. Couple this with my children's individual teachers and administrators each emailing about their individual plans for remote learning, and then log onto social media to see too many ways that too many people are organizing their new lives at home, which is an interesting continuum of rigid schedules, or looser schedules, or no schedules at all for those feeling free-spirited or rebellious, I can't tell which.

It's all too much. It makes me want to shut down, rocking slightly and thinking about those 77 boxes of Girl Scout cookies. Then I remember that I don't have to do everything that every other college professor is doing, and I don't have to model my household schedule off of another household's schedule, and that we're each going to muddle through this as well as possible, given our own circumstances, constraints, and temperaments. And that's okay.

This is weird. We're all charting new courses. Our email inboxes and social media streams are going to reflect that, so if you  -- like me -- need to back away for the sake of mental health, so be it.

Part of me loves not going anywhere. I mean, I like people -- well, most people. I have a career that hinges on socializing. I don't fear public speaking. All that being said, I'm an introvert. I'm filled up by spending time alone. So if you asked me if I'd like to spend a week with some good books and without having to engage with anyone outside of my house, I'm not troubled.

In some bizarre way, it's like I've been preparing for this opportunity my whole life. Introverts unite! But do so quietly, and from a distance.

Another part of me knows I need a daily walk. Have you been ending your days with bad headaches, too? Every night, I need to take Tylenol to combat the throbbing, which likely is induced by much more screen time than normal. My regular exercise schedule is disrupted, and I haven't been disciplined enough to do any legitimate online workout, but I still can walk.

This has helped me. It doesn't need to be far -- maybe just a mile loop -- or perhaps it will be quite far, like the day I spent over two hours on a path on a local mountain. Either way, nature calms, quiets, restores, and refreshes. Daresay, we can all use that right now.

I read these verses yesterday, and I loved them so much I put them on my refrigerator. Maybe they'll speak to your heart today, too. Psalm 62:5-8:

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour our your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

No chat is really a chat unless the other person talks, too. I'd love if this went beyond a monologue. How are YOU holding up? Is your life like a weird dream sequence? Have you eaten through all your snacks already? Do you have a favorite quarantine meme? Much more importantly, are you healthy? Are you well? I sure hope so.

I'd love to know. Drop me a comment and tell me about it, my dear readers.

Together in isolation,

Do the Next Right Thing

One day, many years from now when I'm old and gray, sitting in a rocking chair and watching a sunset, I imagine that I'll reflect on my life. As I slowly rock, I'll remember specific phases that weren't enjoyable, yet taught me something valuable even though those lessons were hidden at the time and nothing made much sense.

That's where I am right now: fog is slowly lifting, but my vision isn't clear yet. I'd like to say that I've handled some recent struggles with maturity, grace, and unwavering faith, but that's not entirely true. I've had moments of maturity, small displays of grace, and mustard seeds of faith, but these highlights have been coupled with behind-the-scenes whining, crying, doubt, fear, prickliness, and other permutations of bad attitudes and sadness. (You know your struggle is real when every song on Christian radio -- even the unequivocally cheesy ones -- now cause you to cry ugly tears while driving to work because they're exactly what you need to hear.)

Let's all pause for a moment to say God bless my husband. He is such a good man.

All that being said, even in my clunky failures, of which there have been many this past month, I know to cling to Jesus. When I don't know what else to do, trusting God always is the next right thing. (Let's also acknowledge that your struggle is real when Anna's song in Frozen II where she bravely climbs out of a literal pit becomes one of your new life mantras.)

Do the next right thing. One next step, one next moment, one next choice. That's good advice.

For me, I recently took on a small project that looks insignificant on the surface, but turned out to be a "next right thing" for me in principle: I painted wooden blocks. These wooden blocks, to be exact.

Over the past month when I had an hour of free time, I've turned on music, laid out a flattened paper bag to prevent splattering my table, poured myself a Dr Pepper (which probably isn't the "next best choice" but felt right at the moment), and began the slow process of transforming those multi-colored children's blocks into something more mature, something quite heartfelt.

Let me tell you: this DIY project had moments of doubt, especially at the onset, just like most every DIY project I've completed. My expression looks serene in this photo, but my internal dialogue was yammering about how meaningless the activity was:

Why are you doing this? How many sides are on each one of these stupid blocks anyway? Six? Six whole sides? Are you serious that these blocks need three coats of white to cover them sufficiently? Three coats of paint on six sides? That's like, eighteen sides per block! And you've got dozens of blocks! Besides, you're not even painting the letters yet. You're not even to the point when you're touching up the gray on the white, or then touching up the white on the gray. This is going to take a stupidly large amount of time. Seriously, why are you doing this? 

But I'd do the next right thing. I'd slip on my unnecessarily frilly pink and white polka-dotted apron that I had been given at an event, then I'd dip my paintbrush onto my palette, and then I'd paint another side.

Block by block, I kept painting. My inner dialogue quieted. I'd sit calmly, focusing squarely on the task ahead of me. One by one, the blocks started to transform before my eyes. I finally reached a day when all of those "next right things" -- all those single paint strokes, all those single sides on every single block -- had transformed the entire batch.

And do you know what you can do with a collection of decorative DIY painted blocks? Honestly, not that much. You can spell words. But when you spell words, you can give yourself reminders to adjust your attitude in healthy ways:

You can write out messages to your spouse and children to declare that even in your imperfection, you'll remain by their side for the long haul, always:

Or, in case mental telepathy isn't working, you can even drop not-so-subtle hints about what you're really craving for dinner:

This slow, steady, and sometimes painstaking process of painting was unexpectedly therapeutic. Bit by bit over a course of weeks, the blocks changed before my eyes.

Bit by bit, situations change too. Transformation doesn't always happen suddenly. In fact, transformation most often is the byproduct of one next right thing, one next right step, and one next right choice, done again and again until there's a noticeable difference.

Thank God that He's in the long-haul transformation business with our lives and circumstances. I imagine that He's not concerned about how many touch-up strokes will be needed, or how many sides He has to cover, or how long the process will take until things look different. He already envisions a final product. He already knows that we will emerge different and better.

I started painting these blocks merely to kill time. Looking back, perhaps this is one of my favorite DIY projects to date.


When You're Hurting, This Will Help

My dear readers, I'm writing to inform you that I'm currently not having a mountaintop experience. In fact, in several ways I'm having a lie-on-the-basement-floor-of-life experience, and then realizing that my basement has a leak. And a mold problem. And a horrifying monster. Details are irrelevant, and my humor and faith are still intact, but it's sufficient to say that I'm currently in the weeds. (I realize I'm now mixing metaphors given that my leaky, moldy, monster-inhabited basement suddenly also has a weed problem -- deeply-rooted and dark weeds, nonetheless -- but you're smart and I trust you can make sense of things.)

I hope you're not in a similar life situation. At the same time, perhaps some of you are. Some of you might be deep in the trenches, and some of you might be crawling out of the trenches, and some of you might eventually be headed into them. Troubles in life are equal-opportunity, it appears.
Given this, I'm sharing several supportive thoughts that are helping me. I hope they help you, too.

1) Know that there's no shame in being human. This gets me every time. When I'm in a rough patch, I still feel like I should be able to instantly dust myself off and function well, rather than, say, cry through an entire church service, need extra sleep, and require time to process and heal. A friend recently shared, "You don't need to apologize for being human and having emotions," and yet that's exactly how I had started our conversation: "I'm sorry I'm a mess right now."

Being human means that we'll have messes and sometimes be messes. During those times, it's okay to ask for help, whether help comes in the form of a listening ear from a trusted friend, support from a counselor, or medical intervention to restore balance. It's brave and wise to seek help. Seeking help is a step toward healing. And while you're at it, it's also okay to cut yourself some slack and not be on top of your game.

There's no shame in being human. We all are. 

2) Finish sentences with "right now." In the midst of hard phases, those days or weeks when you wake and experience 30 seconds of grogginess before the crushing weight of problems collides with your consciousness, it's hard to remember that you won't always feel this broken. It's hard to remember that it's not permanent.

That's why we actively need to remind ourselves that our trials are temporary. This isn't glossing over heavy issues. This isn't making light of real problems. Rather, it's speaking life and perspective into those problems. It's acknowledging that the situation is bleak "right now," but then declaring that "right now" is not the final result. I'm taking great comfort from this profoundly encouraging video by Kristina Kuzmic:

"So here's a tip: add right now to whatever is frustrating you about parenting or life in general so that you're not putting a permanence on it. You're realizing that whatever is difficult right now doesn't have to be difficult forever. So, for example, 'I'm not getting enough sleep right now. My toddler is throwing daily tantrums right now. My teenager acts like he hates me right now. This divorce is so excruciatingly painful right now.'

This is right now. This is not forever. You are not stuck. A bad year or two or five doesn't equal a bad life. It equals a bad year or two or five. Hard parenting days won't last forever. Hard life days aren't permanent either.

It's not permanent. It's right now."

- Kristina Kuzmic

3) Name your blessings. When life looks bleak, it's easy to focus on what's wrong, creating a hall of mirrors that echos the tough predicaments and bounces pain again and again, creating an infinity loop of our troubles. This isn't good. One remedy is to pinpoint what's going right -- or, even more precisely, to identify one specific thing that has gone well today.

It doesn't need to be huge, but it's good to think about all the things that are, quite bluntly, not terrible. Today I'm thankful that I don't have a head cold. Today I'm grateful that the tech guy came into my classroom to fix the broken computer before my class session finished. Today when I took a walk, the one house far up the hill was burning its wood stove, and I breathed one of my favorite smells. Today I feel encouraged that the sun is shining. After multiple tries the past few days, today I finally spoke with a person -- not a machine -- at a doctor's office, and I'm one step closer to making that appointment.

These are all good things. Not everything is bad right now. Naming my blessings concretely reminds me that while many things are hard, many things are also working just as I'd like them to be working. This changed perspective changes so much. 

4) Look out for others, even in the midst of your turmoil. In the midst of our own pain, it's surprisingly healing to find a way to brighten someone else's day. Granted, sometimes we don't even have one extra millimeter of emotional bandwidth and we must attend to our own wounds, curl up in our beds, or protect our time and hearts. But it's also therapeutic to step out and help someone else who's careworn.

In the midst of my troubles, I don't want to forget that people around me are going through stuff, too. I have a friend facing a troubling health issue, and one whose store just shut down, and one who recently lost her father, and multiple folks who are in the thick of challenges with their kids ranging from behavioral problems, to severe food allergies, to learning disabilities, to bad choices, to stress and anxiety.

When I take my thoughts off my own hurts, I'm able to see their hurts. Then, even in my limited capacity, I'm able to offer something small -- if only a kind word, a whispered prayer, or a brief encouraging text. This habit, just like the "name my blessings" strategy above, takes my thoughts off of my own predicaments, even if momentarily. Please note that this isn't a callous exercise of self-flagellating to "suck-it-up-buttercup" or to suggest that because other people might have it worse than you, then your hurts don't matter. They do matter.

Rather, it's an exercise in compassion, and I notice that when I extend compassion and encouragement, it tends to bring me joy and hopefulness too. That helps.

5) Believe that comfort will come, and it'll expand your ability to offer comfort. The other day when I was really low, I simply had no strength to stand so I didn't even try. I wouldn't deem it an outright collapse, but it certainly was a crumple. I hit the floor and cried until tears no longer flowed, until I was empty and rung out. From that low place, both figuratively and physically, I felt God speak directly to me with this thought: "When you survive this, you're going to have a greater capacity to minister to people who are going through something similar."

These wounds? They'll eventually heal into scars. And those scars? Well, I'll be able to point to them, show others, and say, "I once wondered if a wound this deep would ever heal, but look at how it's healed. I'm not hurting or broken anymore. If this healing happened to me, it can happen to you, too."

One of the promises I treasure from the Bible appears in 2 Corinthians 1:4 and states, "God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."

It's beautiful to think on this. These hurts we experience? They're not for nothing. Not only will we be consoled, but when we encounter someone else who's troubled, we'll have the capacity to extend the comfort we've already received.

6) Stand on a firm foundation. The more life I live, the more I know -- not merely cognitively, but experientially -- that when I hit rock bottom, Jesus is there. And landing on Jesus is the firmest foundation I could possibly land on. Even though we might feel like we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death, God Almighty is with us. Right now, I'm reflecting daily on the qualities of God -- how he is a healer, a deliverer, and a counselor. How he is the Prince of Peace. How he's an ever-present help in times of trouble.

I need God to show up in my heart and circumstances now, and ever faithful, he's showing up. When everything around me is shaky, Jesus remains a firm foundation.

Friends, I hope your days currently are filled with more joys than troubles and that everything I've written seems distant for you. If that's the case, I'm delighted. But if you, like me, are struggling, consider this post as a sincere hug. (If only I could somehow get you chocolate, too!)

As many times as needed, repeat these statements to yourself until they become as real and vivid as your pain and circumstances: "I am human, and that's okay. These troubles are right now, not permanent. Even in the midst of pain, many things are still going well. I will be comforted, and I'll eventually use that comfort to help others. None of this will be wasted. And, without a shadow of a doubt, God is walking with me -- daresay, carrying me -- every step."

Rest assured, I'm going to be okay. You are too.


I rarely end posts this way, but if today's blog encouraged you, I invite you to share it widely. If you have a friend who's hurting, would you pass it along to them? And if you'd like to connect with me, please reach out to me at my Robin Kramer Writes Facebook page.  ♥

Going Through Stuff

It hasn't escaped my notice that people who are alive are going through stuff. And when I say stuff, I mean hard stuff, the kind of stuff that takes the wind out of our sails, or keeps us up at night, or, in most acute forms, causes us to double over and cry until we feel hollow and limp inside.

These precious, hurting souls still have to function in their daily lives. They still have to report to work, take care of responsibilities, fold laundry, make meals, and put one foot ahead of the other even when they're experiencing the pain of a divorce, the uncertainty of waiting for a biopsy result, the heartache of a child who's gone prodigal, the sting of rejection, the terrible burden of depression, the acute emptiness after losing a loved one, or the waves of panic and anxiety that roll through their heads and hearts, unbidden and unwelcome. When these dark nights of the soul happen to us (as they sometimes do) we realize that doing something "simple," even stepping out to get groceries, can be a herculean feat.

It makes me want to show all the kindness in the world to those around me. When looking at someone's outside, we can't automatically discern what's going on with them inside. And, Lord-have-mercy, we all hit periods when we need softness and grace from others. We all have times when we're members of the walking wounded and we plod through days with hearts that are confused, breaking, and raw. We all have times when our best prayers look something like this:

Today if you're hurting, know that I'm praying for you. May God comfort you. And if you're feeling well, rejoice!

Everyone, eventually, goes through stuff. So let's be good to each other out there today.


A Visit to the Magnolia Silos in Waco, Texas

On a cold Sunday afternoon in December, my husband learned that his work would lead him to Dallas over Christmas, and that our whole family would join him on his travels. Within roughly three seconds of that breaking announcement, I had googled this:


Because, people, if I'm within driving distance of Waco, Texas where I could fulfill a dream of visiting the Magnolia Market at the Silos, I don't have a hard decision to make. Asking whether I want to visit the silos is similar to asking if water is wet, or if ice is cold, or if milkshakes are good, or if books are better than the movies. The answer always points to YES.

You see, this dream originated from watching 79 episodes of Fixer Upper on HGTV (some again on reruns). It's been whetted each time I pass through Chip and Jo's section of Target. I love the aesthetic. I love how the show's videography can capture a cluster of wild thistle sprouting against a broken fence with a slant of late-afternoon sunshine and make me think, "I want to go there. I want to see that scene in person. That exact weed against that exact fence."

So, two days before Christmas, my family and our good friends, who also were in Dallas for the week, headed down 1-35 toward Waco.


I'll shoot straight and be honest: when I stood in the parking lot and laid eyes on the silos in person, I had a little moment. It was more than being a fan of the show. It was more than respecting what Chip and Jo have built. It was because such thankfulness swept over me -- thankfulness that something I had seen at a distance (and had longed to see up close) was right in front of me, thankfulness that the sun was shining, thankfulness that I was sharing the experience with my husband and daughters, thankfulness that a beautiful and wholesome environment invites people to rest

 Chip and Joanna Gaines

It was one of the sweetest and most relaxing afternoons: warm sunshine, great company, beautiful things to look at within the store, tasty options from food trucks to sample, large sweet-tea-filled mason jars to savor, and benches and picnic tables to relax along the outdoor courtyard. As a special festive touch, Christmas music played in the background to boot.

And now that we're speaking about boots, I should tell you that because of a generous act of hospitality, my whole family received a pair of them.

Wearing cowboy boots is the right thing to do when you're in Texas. Besides, I now know that boots makes me feel extra confident. When I first slipped on that beautiful light brown pair with the sweet embroidery and pointed toes, I grew two inches. Not from a heel, mind you. Just from the swagger. Cowboy boots make you walk tall.

Chip and Joanna Gaines

I took my time inside the store wandering the aisles and absorbing the displays because everything is charming. While it's a store, it feels as if it were arranged as sections of a farmhouse with kitchen items in one nook, garden items in another, and subtle touches throughout.

For example, even the display tables, like this rustic work bench with chipped mint paint and an industrial clamp, added character. I wondered how I could squeeze one into our rental car, smuggle it back to Dallas, and convince airport TSA to let it be my carry-on during my flight back to Pennsylvania. (In case you're wondering, this plan did not pan out.)

The pairing of merchandise -- like nestling tobacco baskets with metal rims beside black and white artwork with letters and numbers -- brought contrast of shapes and textures.

Live greenery tucked throughout the store provided a steady, yet subtle, nod to the Christmas season.

Even bins full of functional items -- like spoon rests, or salt and pepper shakers, 

or rolled kitchen towels -- felt charming. It's no wonder why Magnolia does good business. When you walk in, you know you'll want to walk out with a memento to carry a trace of farmhouse charm back to your own home.

If the inside of the store was lovely, the outside of the silos was spectacular. Perhaps it was the gift of a near 70-degree sunny day in winter -- the type of weather that's entirely comfortable with perfectly low humidity to guarantee a good hair day. It's the type of day that causes you to feel healthier and more alive, like Vitamin D is coursing through your body. (Or perhaps it was just the sweet tea.)

It was that type of day, intermingled with Christmas trees decorated with pine cones, magnolia leaves, wooden beads, and berry sprigs,

and windows casually enhanced with understated wreathes.

Bright pops of color, like the famous green Magnolia truck, delighted your eyes.

Magnolia Green Truck

But there was still more. Black and white awnings shaded farmhouse tables and benches so families and friends could relax comfortably and linger.

And that's exactly what I did. I sat on a bench, talked with my friends, watched my kids explore, and sipped sweet tea. There was no hurry.

Large sections of turf invited families to kick soccer balls, lounge in bean bag chairs, or -- in the case of my two youngest children -- tackle one another.

As for me, I simply kept taking pictures of my boots because they're awesome.

As another bonus, because the grounds were beautifully designed and maintained, there were ample places to take photos with interesting backgrounds, like this particular picture of my husband and me (which I love!) that was captured by my oldest daughter.

Or this photo that -- upon deliberation that it's no longer acceptable to display a profile picture that's nearly eight years old -- I have decided will become my blog's new welcome photo.

Once we finished our time at the silos, we saw a few other significant Magnolia-related locations, like the new Magnolia Pres coffee shop that was commemorated with Chip and Jo's hand prints.

Magnolia Press Coffee Co

Chip and Joanna Gaines City with a Soul Mural

We walked a few blocks to admire the fresh City with a Soul mural and the old-town feel of the red brick building with its painted advertisement in the background.

We also stopped by Clint Harp's quaint shop (Harp Design Co. -- what amazing woodwork he does!) and I briefly ogled the house next door, but in a subtle and entirely non-stalkerish manner. Fun fact: this house was remodeled by Chip and Jo for Clint and his wife Kelly in an episode that aired in May 2014. It had been a disaster, but it's now beautiful!

Waco, Texas

Finally, on our way out of Waco we made one last brief stop at the Little Shop on Bosque, Joanne's original Magnolia Market storefront, which now sells last chance and discounted items from the silos. I scored a cozy gray Magnolia sweatshirt. Without a doubt, it'll look wonderful with my cowboy boots.

As we reversed direction on I-35 back to Dallas, I felt filled up in many ways: good food, good fellowship, beauty from the sights I had seen, and warmth from the people I had met. We're now back in Pennsylvania, and we've returned to regular life and typical routines. Waco, just like any location, is an ordinary place. It just happens to have been lovingly attended to with happy story lines, satisfying before-and-after images, a strong sense of community, attention to detail, and the elevation of simple things -- like capturing the silhouette of thistle against a broken fence post in a slant of sunshine.

It reminds me that I can look for beauty in the scenes around me, right in my own town and right in my own home, just like I did in Waco. Finding pleasure and appreciation in the simple things, I suspect, involves the right eye and attitude, not just the right location. 

So if you'd ask me, "Would you ever go back?" my answer would be simple.

Is water wet? Is ice cold? Are milkshakes good? Are books better than the movies? The answer always points to yes. If given the opportunity, I'd return to the Magnolia Silos in a heartbeat.

Have you ever been to the silos or dreamed of going? Drop me a comment below to tell me about it!
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