A Call for Connection and Community

In March, when the world shut down, there was an outreach of love and connection in communities large and small. We left messages with chalk art, put bears in our windows for stuffed animal scavenger hunts, we sang music through Zoom, and challenged each other to dance. We looked for the most part to art to create a connection between us. Now that the national focus is beginning to divide us again, I want to challenge all of us to us the start of school as a reason to reconnect. Between the election and the desperation for normal, we’re forgetting what binds us. Community, Love, and Understanding.

At the end of the day we all want the same things in our homes. Safety, security both for ourselves and our futures, and the pursuit of happiness.

I want to share my five favorite ways to create a sense of connection with your community. It can be your street, your school, your office, your old brunch bunch, or your family you’re missing. I do hope you’ll try and connect with others you normally wouldn’t, our world needs some extra kindness.

  1. Postcard exchange
    • This is easy. Gather addresses and send out some homemade postcards. We designed our own back in the spring using Microsoft Word by cut and pasting some coloring pages of my son’s favorite characters. The hope is that you’ll get as many back as you send out. This could also help boost some of the USPS support they so desperately need right now.
  2. Chalk art
    • Our favorite way to spread some sunshine to our neighborhood is to leave a simple symbol along our walk. We live near a bigger nature trail, so it gets pretty heavy foot traffic. We’ve done Mickey Mouses or “Hidden Mickeys” if you’re a Disney nerd like me, rays of sunshine, and rainbows. Some other fun ideas are Blue’s paw prints or “clue’s”, lucky charms, Deathly Hallows, or just basic shapes and letters. I would definitely cater to the audience of your neighbors. It would also be fun to make a Bingo card to e-mail out if you have a close neighborhood association to see who can find them all.
  3. Back to School Scavenger hunt
    • I saw this one during the shutdown and thought it would be great to do it during back to school week. People put different stuffed animals in their windows on different days of the week and kids could look for them on their walks. If you’ve ever taught you know that public education LOVES a good themed week. I lived for them, even as a secondary teacher. I planned a few for testing weeks and l love a good “Aloha Friday”, I can feel the eye rolls of my former colleagues from here. However, if you have a cohort of students who genuinely wish they could see each other, and some are in class but others are distance learning and some are in a blended model, what a great way for them to show some solidarity in their community. Here’s a cheesy model for you to steal.
    • Monday- We’re BEAR-y excited to be back (Bears)
    • Tuesday- We’re hopping with happiness! (Bunny/Rabbit)
    • Wednesday- We’re swimming with smiles (Fish/Sea Animals)
    • Thursday- We’re dog-gone delighted (dogs/puppies)
    • Friday- Our teachers are “Purr”fect for us (Kittens/Cats)- Teacher appreciation
  4. Dish exchange
    • If you grew up Baptist like I did, your grandma probably participated in one of these at church. What you do is get one plate and decorate it. If you’re a crafting person like me, that could be a fun project. You bake something and put it on the plate, then leave it on a neighbors stoop. Then they enjoy the goodies and pass them on to the next neighbor. There are a lot of different ways to do it on Pinterest.
  5. Bookmark Bookclub
    • This could be especially fun if you have older elementary or middle school-aged children or students, but it works for all ages. Get together with a small group and everyone choose a favorite book. Create a bookmark with your name and the title at the top, so your book will eventually make it back to you. Then as each person finishes the book they sign the bookmark and pass it on. It’s a fun way to read new books and create a keepsake of these times. You may have to create timelines like “once a month we’ll switch” or “You have six weeks to swap”. Have fun with it! I’m sure there are ways you could make it digital too.

I know it is all too easy to feel divided or disconnected during these times. We’re constantly trying to redirect our anger and frustration and sadness toward issues out of our control. However, I think if we refocus our energy inward to our immediate community, we’ll find out there’s a lot more we like than dislike about one another.

For the most Extra of Extroverts – How to make the most of isolation

Recently, things went from “hey, maybe we should be aware of our hygiene habits” to “stay home and don’t socialize” VERY quickly. As I scroll through my social media I see a large amount of fear, anger, frustration, boredom, and anxiety. We all want want to wrap up our most vulnerable people in a safe bubble and spray the idiots out partying in the eyes with lysol. I, however, am in a strange place of comfort and positivity and encouragement, not just because I am a perpetually happy person but because this time last year, I was doing this EXACT same thing.

Me. Having a great time on bed rest. We clocked 49 days. Go Us!

Okay, not exactly… But for anyone feeling like they’re going to explode from boredom and lack of human contact and loss of freedom. I FEEL YOU. Last year, this month, I was on antepartum bed rest unable to leave the hospital. Medically mandated social distancing. I was terrified and anxious and under stimulated and spending a LOT of time on social media. So because I have been there in the trenches of the yellow wallpaper, I want to give y’all my top five tips for how to get through this whole “don’t leave your house” situation without having a breakdown.

First – Stick to a routine. Start it by getting up and getting ready every day. We will all likely be on shelter in place for at least a month. 30 days is how long it takes to create a habit. What productive and positive habits do you want to have in 30 days? Do you want permanent sweatpants and clogged pores? Take care of yourself and facilitate good habits. Plus the feeling of a good shower and being your best self is SO rewarding.

Second – Go outside and be a part of the world around you. The sun alone has a healing effect. Even if you just picnic a cup of coffee and your breakfast on your front stoop, give yourself some fresh air and take in your surroundings. During antepartum, when I was first admitted to the hospital, I was allowed to go on walks with my husband in a wheelchair to go outside. We would go to the hospital cafeteria and get ice cream and watch the boats in the harbor. It was my favorite part of my day. You know what one of my worst days was? The day they told me I couldn’t leave my room anymore. The world’s greatest authors all write about the majesty of nature because we’re meant to be in it. Go outside and be present in it.

Third – Do something that makes you happy. Many people are working and/or trying to teach from home. We want the reward of producing results and checkboxes of productivity. However, when you can’t leave your space and you’re feeling a loss of control, it is so much more important to feed your soul with joy. For me, its creative projects, usually with my Cricut these days. In the hospital I did macrame, colored, and did crafts with my older son when my family came to visit. So pick something joyous and DO IT. Game night, creative projects, back yard olympics, garage cross fit, just be joyful in your activity.

Fourth – Surround yourself with positive content. I thought that my antepartum stay was a great time to binge catch up on four seasons of Game of Thrones. It was a terrible decision. When you watch a show or movie you, as a normal human, internalize the feelings and lives of the characters. When there is already a heavy amount of emotion going on during your normal day to day, you can’t handle the extra drama, it will absolutely make you more depressed and anxious. This includes the news. I suggest stand-up specials (Trevor Noah was my favorite on bed rest), comedy shows and movies, and of course only the funniest of memes. Give me all of the literary references! I live for them. Your emotions need the same balance the rest of your life does, so give them positivity to balance the heavy weight of the current world.

This is actually a terrible example because I was watching “Fried Green Tomatoes”

Fifth – Use social media for socializing in positive ways. Don’t spend all of your down time mindlessly scrolling. Choose people you want to reach out to. Schedule virtual happy hours with friends, do the Instagram challenges with colleagues (especially the funny ones), play games like Words with Friends or Draw Something. Make sure your social media interactions are meaningful and create feelings of real connection. It is so easy as an outgoing, extroverted person to click on and respond to everything we see online (I still struggle with this). If you choose to focus on only creating true connection with followers, you’ll find that it feels less like mindless media screen time and more like real friendship.

Those are the five. I could have rambled for a sixth paragraph about food, but because everyone has their own complicated relationship with food, I will leave you to navigate your stash of Pirate’s Booty, leftover Valentine’s candy, and alcohol on your own terms. I just hope whatever you have is better than the ‘avocado toast’ I enjoyed in the hospital.

Smile. Choose Kindness. Wash Your Hands. Stay Home.

This too shall pass.

Washing Toys

Before I get started, go wash your hands and wipe down your cell phone.

Okay cool, let’s get started. There is a lot of hype and fear when it comes to protecting our family from germs and bacteria lately. I shared on my instagram stories how and how often to clean our toys and keep our children’s belongings clean. I wanted to also share the information on my blog so you don’t have to click through my voice if you don’t want to.

Types of Cleaners

When it comes to cleaning your home, there are usually two major categories of products you can go to, chemical based and natural. Bleach and ammonia, usually found in products from Clorox or Lysol are chemical based. These products are better for disinfecting food prep areas or bathrooms because of the types of bacteria or mold that can be found. Listeria, E Coli, and Staph are the big ones that need a chemical in order to really be disinfected. However, for toys and areas used by our children, those harsher chemicals really aren’t necessary. The bacteria and viruses related to common colds or the flu can be sanitized with a white vinegar solution.

Why not rubbing alcohol? It’s highly flammable, even diluted. If we’re talking about disinfecting common surfaces, its probably fine, but since this conversation will predominantly be about objects that your children could be putting in their mouths, we want to ease on the side of caution when it comes to toxic chemicals. Even ‘natural’ cleaners sometimes have fragrances in them that might not be great for your children. My sons get eczema easily, so I try to avoid anything too harsh for their skin like fragrance or extra softeners.

I choose a white vinegar solution after reading through the internet because its naturally occurring and won’t damage most materials. 50% water and 50% white vinegar in a spray bottle or sink should eliminate the basic bacteria and viruses most likely to come in contact with your home. You can add some citrus or oils if you really hate the smell.

Types of Toys

Plastic teethers can go in the dishwasher by themselves to be disinfected. Some newer dishwashers even have a sanitation setting. They can also be soaked in hot water and vinegar and then air dried.

Bath toys need to be dried out and then they can also go in the dishwasher or soaked in a vinegar solution. Make sure anything that is made of foam or absorbent material is cleaned more often and doesn’t get mildew.

Mixed material toys with fabrics can go in the washing machine, but using a garment bag or even a pillowcase will prevent the toys from losing parts or getting damaged. This includes dolls that have plastic arms and legs and then soft bodies.

Fabric toys in the garment bag ready to be washed!

Plastic figurines and cars can be soaked or wiped down with the vinegar solution. Check your hot wheels, if they’re older then you need to check if they have metal bottoms. The metal can rust or corrode if soaked too long, so a quick wipe down will help protect those metal parts. Barbies or other dolls with hair can be wiped or soaked. The best advice I found for their hair was to soak it in fabric softener and hot water after washing to detangle it and make it smell better.

Food toys go two directions. Felt food can go in the washing machine just like other fabric based toys. Wooden toys need to be wiped with a vinegar solution and then air dried. Be careful not to soak them so you don’t break down the paint or wood.

Frequency of Cleaning

Use your best judgement, obviously. Baby toys, especially the ones that travel in your bag need to be cleaned weekly. My suggestion, throw them in the dishwasher on a Sunday night when you’re getting ready for the week!

Bath toys need to be cleaned biweekly. They’re not clean and mold/mildew free just because you bathe every night. Don’t believe me? Google images of bath toys that have been cut open. It isn’t pretty.

Anytime your kiddos are sick, give the toys a rinse. After a playdate? Give them a rinse. Cousins are the grossest. I’m being sarcastic, but with over 40 first cousins, I shared everything growing up, even germs. Wipe down toys when you do your usual toilet scrubbing/dusting. Every other month it’s probably a good idea to clean out old toys and give the ones still getting love a good cleaning.

Public Spaces/Disneyland

I didn’t share these suggestions on Instagram, but I am adding them since our recent trip to the Happiest Place on Earth. Wash your hands often, obviously. Here are some silly photos of songs that works with how long you should be washing. I went to the website Wash Your Lyrics and generated some popular Disney tunes that worked well, have fun making your own!

Keep hand sanitizer on hand for when you get off a ride, clip it to your belt loop or bag. The queues and ropes and “oh crap” handles are probably covered in germs. I watched some moms wipe them with wipes, but my heart cringed at the idea of the trash waste involved if EVERYONE did that for EVERY ride.

If you have an infant, wipe your changing mat and the station before and after you change a diaper. You know what makes a good sanitation wipe? Hand sanitizer on a damp paper towel. Also, Disneyland always has the toilet paper holders where your little can reach up and play with them. Rotate them so they can’t reach them.

Wash your hands after you go to the restroom and before you sit down to eat, OBVIOUSLY, but also wash them after you finish eating. You probably, absent minded, wiped your mouth or your nose and didn’t even think about it. Your children? They mined at least 50 boogers, coated them in applesauce and mac and cheese, and then shared them with a sibling.

As always, if you feel sick, stay home. Do what the CDC tells you to. Don’t panic buy. And of course, do what feels right for your family. The best parent for your child is you.