Resiliency, Space Shields, and the Unstoppable Squad

The Starship Enterprise (as if this needed a caption)

I have been thinking and talking to many of you lately about how it is increasingly hard to handle difficult people – the angry resident, the frustrated or volatile board member, the toxic employee, what have you. Perhaps this is due to the Pandemic, in which all of the fun parts of our jobs are out the window. Perhaps our immunity to hostility simply weakens over time. (Seriously, is any one of you able to go five minutes without talking about immunity?) When I was considering taking the job I have now, almost twenty years ago, I asked my husband for his thoughts. He told me he would support any choice I made, but that I was not going to grow thicker skin. So true. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening.

I turned to my friend and resiliency guru Jon Wortmann for his sage advice. His wisdom included maintaining the best attitude, being exceptionally prepared, using every encounter as a growth opportunity, and worst of all, considering compassion. You will have to ask him for details, but suffice it to say my initial reaction was “Um, no. I don’t want to learn and grow, I want to complain.”

So, for fun, I started creating my own coping mechanisms. Because we are all on digital meeting platforms all day, every day – usually alone at home or in our offices – we have the luxury of beginning any meeting with the words “Shields Up!’ As virtually everyone must know, these shields provide limited protection for ships against damage and enemy attack. I’ll take some limited protection. I can start any meeting picturing Captain Kirk, Ms. Uhura, and Mr. Sulu readying my laptop for battle. Also, apparently you can get a Zoom background displaying the bridge of the Enterprise. You’re welcome.

Picturing my friend in a room filling up with beach balls inexplicably reminds me of Bobby Brady and the washing machine…

A colleague of mine in Texas once shared her strategy. Everything is bigger than life in Texas, right? Are the difficult people even more difficult? In any event, she imagines her detractors throwing beachballs at her. Rather than throwing them back, she catches them and gently puts them down. I can picture her in a meeting that slowly begins to fill up with beach balls. However, this may be too closely related to the loving kindness method Jon recommended. Moving on.

What is actually working, however, is visualization. I took up a 21 day meditation challenge in January, actually completing most of the days. I found it so valuable I took advantage of the offer to reactivate my app for the year. Of course I haven’t been back, but it is on my to-do list every single day, which sort of counts. In one amazing guided meditation, the teacher asked us to picture ourselves in a difficult encounter. And then to imagine someone we greatly admire standing next to us. And then to picture another, and another, and so on. This is incredibly powerful. I have a large group of fellow managers in Massachusetts and around the country who I can conjure at a moment’s notice. When I am in a tough spot I can picture them behind me. I know I can do anything, meet any challenge, and stand up for those who need me with my Unstoppable Squad behind me.

Some members of the Unstoppable Squad at a Conference! On the Cape!

So back to Jon Wortmann’s advice – I really am taking it, because I do believe there are ways to keep growing through adversity. I’ll share one more thought he gave me. If you have been in your career, or even in the same position for a long time, you do hold some cards. You can push back, even if just a little, if circumstances require. When will you use your cards? They will be useless when you retire. For me the answer is clear – when needed to support the team. Every time.

How about you? Do you have a tried and true coping mechanism? Do you create Zoom backgrounds that are secret jokes? Is your immunity to difficult people weakening? Do you remember the washing machine episode on the Brady Bunch?

Let’s practice. Phasers on Stun.

Using an Anti-Bucket List to Clear Space in Your Head

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 2016

I am recalling a flight to DC a few years ago. (Remember when we complained about the airlines? I even miss the airport.) So on this flight to DC, my older daughter and I got the idea from somewhere to write an “anti-bucket list.” This is the opposite of the ever popular bucket list, in which we are supposed to catalog all of the things we want to do in the this life and then not do any of them.

So we thought, what if we write down all of the things that we are sure we will never do, to get them out of the way? I fear we made a bit of a scene when we got laughing too hard. Here are a few things that we added to the list:

  • Take up smoking
  • Buy a motorcycle
  • Learn how to ski
  • Get a law degree
  • Climb a mountain
  • Walk across a suspension bridge made of rope (this one is just mine)
  • Jump out of an airplane (daughter #1 has reserved her options on this one but as she is soon to be a mother I am fairly confident on this)
  • Scuba dive through underwater caves
  • Anything to do with caves, really.
Fitzpatrick/Kean family members on the Bridge without VeryKate and & daughter #2 who were watching sheep

I’ve been thinking lately about all of the planning that needs to be done to keep our local governments on track, rebuilt, and thriving again after the pandemic. Like many of you, I am overwhelmed by the effort to simply get through the day given the financial crisis impacting our budgets, the difficult and meaningful work of examining our structures through an equity lens, and meeting constantly about COVID testing and vaccinations (rinse, repeat). We need more head space to think clearly.

I often turn to one of my favorite authors and motivational speakers, Mel Robbins, for simple and practical ways to confront problems. In her YouTube video “How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed Right Now” Robbins asserts that being overwhelmed is nothing more than having a full brain. Her solution for clearing space is a “brain dump.” She suggests that we write down our to-do lists, worries, plans, ideas, etc. Doing this every morning can help us prioritize tasks and plan our days. More importantly for me, I find that if a task or idea is written down in a place where I know I can find it (fellow notebook lovers, you know who you are), then I can let it go for a while and concentrate on what needs to be done immediately.

I wonder if creating an anti-bucket list for local government will help? Even if it just makes me laugh it is worth it. Here is a sample of things I have committed not to do:

  • Embezzle
  • Yell
  • Click on a link in an email from a foreign country
  • Approve only the highest bidder
  • Fall asleep during a cable TV license hearing
  • Go back to wearing stockings
  • Run for political office
  • “Fight City Hall”
  • Pull a fire alarm.

Practicing the daily brain dump and laughing about a work-related anti-bucket list got me thinking about the sheer magnitude of what we are trying to accomplish. I now resolve to do nothing new until FY22. That’s catchy enough to be our mantra for the winter and spring! Are you with me?

Here is the aforementioned sheep. You’re welcome.

How about you? What would be the first thing you put on your anti-bucket list? Do you have any strategies for clearing space for thoughtful work? Let’s practice – notebook(s) in hand.

Waiting.

The Holliston Rail Trail is a balm for the spirit. Yes, those are horses.

In our house, we are observing the Advent season, a period of anticipation and preparation.  The word Advent comes from the Latin root “adventus,” which means arrival. We are waiting for the arrival of the solstice, of Christmas, of the New Year, and a new life. If feels like the world is holding its collective breath to get to 2021.

I was reminded recently about the Stockdale Paradox (my idol Brene Brown interviewed President Obama on her podcast and mentioned it). The Stockdale Paradox was developed by author Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. He tells the story of Admiral Stockdale, who spent more than seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. When Collins asked him who did not survive the experience, Stockdale immediately answered “the optimists.” The optimists hoped they would be out of prison by Christmas, and every year Christmas would come and go, and they were heartbroken.

Stockdale posits that humans must balance faith and reality. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.” Collins credits this worldview as one of the ways entities can excel – to not just survive adversity, but to move from good to great.

Real Garland! Holliston, Massachusetts

So we wait – for 2020 to be over, and for 2021 to be magically better. We wait for a vaccine (according to the New York Times calculator, there are 257 million people ahead of me). We wait for for hugs from friends and family, and a draft beer at the local pub watching a game. We wait for all kiddos to be back in school full time, for trips to Europe, and for taking our aging parents to the theater. I would even take a staff meeting at this point. What about you? What are you waiting for in 2021?

Let’s practice, waiting with the faith that we will prevail, standing strong through the end of this brutal reality. Best wishes for a peaceful and healthy world in 2021.

The New Haven Train Station Has Two Dunkin’ Donuts

Union Station, New Haven Connecticut

Every time I think about the train station in New Haven, I remember the two Dunkin’ Donuts and laugh. We typically visit New York City from the Boston area a few times a year, and the best travel plan for us is to drive to New Haven and take the commuter train into the City. The whole trip takes about four hours, we don’t have to drive in Manhattan, and the commuter line is cheaper and runs more often than Amtrak. As a result, we have spent a lot of time over the years rushing through the station to buy tickets, get coffee, and make the train. We are always perilously on the edge of missing the express, and the line for DD is very long.

And then, the kids discovered that there is a tiny, secret, Dunkin Donuts at the bottom of the stairs that never has a line. I wouldn’t even risk mentioning it on this blog, but no one can travel right now so I think our secret is safe. I just hope the DD is still there when we can go back to NYC.

In our family, we love to travel. Over the past decade we have been to NYC a lot, and both kids lived in DC for a total of eight years so we went there A LOT too. When we visit familiar places, we instantly set up routines. When we are in DC we run or walk to the Lincoln Memorial, without fail. We typically stay in the same section of any city, find a local pub and market, and settle in. Even in new places, we value the familiar.

We prioritize family summer vacations, and trips to Europe in lieu of Christmas or graduation gifts. We spend hours enjoying the planning, and years savoring the memories. Even before the pandemic paused our travel schedule, we would spend hours over family dinners reminiscing and repeating – to the chagrin of those who were not along for that trip – all of the inside jokes until we cry laughing. Just mention the secret Dunkin Donuts to my kids and you will see this in action.

New York, NY 2017

But my point about the special Dunkin’s is not just that it earned a mention in my older daughter’s 2014 Christmas Poem (although it did, and I have generously included an excerpt below), or that it continues to provide joy and laughter in our armchair vacationing (although it does). It strikes me that the second DD stands for the idea that the obvious way to achieve a goal – like standing in a long line but risking missing your train – may not be the only way forward.

I don’t know about you, but practically the only thing on my “20 for 20” list that was achievable during a pandemic was “Read War & Peace” and I didn’t even manage to do that. So many of our dream projects at work are on hold due to finances, the pandemic, or the social climate. With that second Dunkin’s in mind, I am searching for new ways to achieve some of my goals.

I downloaded Kindle to my phone, where it is surprisingly easy to start making progress on great Russian literature. Instead of skipping exercise because I am in a nine month running funk, I plan walks that are twice the running distance for approximately the same result. I don’t want to do my 30 minute strength training on dark winter mornings, but I can do half. At work I am scanning the strengths of the staff we already have, hoping to find a way to make incremental progress on issues like climate change or public art installation with no new headcount in our future. If you can think of a way for me to get the children’s book on local government out of my head and onto paper, I would be eternally grateful.

Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC 2017

Here is your excerpt from the 2014 Poem. You’re welcome.

“There were good times to be had at the New Haven Train Station
An excellent place to start a quick two-day vacation.
Though saddened the Dunkin’s line was out the door,
We discovered a secret one on the bottom floor!”

How about you? Have you found an unusual way to meet a goal? Are you starving for travel? Would you miss the express train for an ice coffee?

Let’s Practice – travel guide and turkey leg in hand. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday’s Child…

Mug with Joyful Pens, Holliston, Massachusetts

You have probably heard the nursery rhyme “Monday’s Child” but here is a refresher. The lyrics were first published in A. E. Bray’s Traditions of Devonshire in 1838.

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

There is Joy in Autumn in New England even in 2020

I am a big fan of personality tests of all kinds. I have found that there is always something to be learned from taking a test (I like taking tests as much as I like making lists) and reviewing the overarching themes. The Myers Briggs indicator (ESFJ – “the persuader”) reminds me to slow down in interactions with those who tend more to introversion. Reviewing the traits of an Enneagram 3 (“achiever” or “performer)” cautions me to – you guessed it – slow down and stop trying to achieve all the time.

Of course, when we review personality test data, we often ascribe the meaning that we prefer when there is room for interpretation. One of my children, born on a Tuesday and prone to tripping, reminds me that there are multiple meanings for the word “grace.”

So even nursery rhyme personality tests interest me. I come from a family of geniuses. Seriously, my parents and siblings got the intellectual genes. I always needed to work hard and with persistence to keep up. Obviously, I was born on a Saturday. And I do feel like I have had to work hard for a living.

In her outstanding book Grit, Angela Duckworth asserts that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a blend of passion and persistence she calls grit. “Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going. ” Does that sound familiar?

In our local government world, I know many colleagues with brilliant minds. But I am most comforted by the camaraderie of the huge number of us who got where we are through grit – and remain on the treadmill. Interestingly, pandemic leadership values grit over talent. If there were ever a work treadmill, this is it. Especially now, we simply keep going. Here’s to you my fellow plodders – this is our time.

How about you? On what day of the week were you born? Care to share any Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, or other personality test tips that have helped you in your career? Let’s practice – heads high, one step at a time.

One more picture of fall in Holliston because can we really have enough joy?

Side note: While researching the nursery rhyme, I came across the poetry of Countee Cullen, noted poet of the Harlem Renaissance. This poem, about another child born on a Saturday, compares the lives of those born into wealth and those born into poverty. It’s a topical read.

Second side note: Did you ever put fall leaves between sheets of wax paper and then iron them? What was the point of that?

Stand Up, Very Kate

Statue Standing Up in the Secret Garden, Holliston, MA

I was listening to Rachel Hollis’s podcast Rise a month or two ago, and she called on women, especially leaders, to stand up. She noted that the pandemic was keeping a lot of us down, literally, but that we need to step up. We raised our hands to take these jobs, they weren’t forced on us. And so, I straightened my shoulders and told myself to stand up taller. That usually lasts until about 11:00 a.m., when I am slumped over at my desk at the enormity of what we are facing.

In March we were overwhelmed, and in April scared. In May we thought we saw the end. Sadly, there is no end in sight. We will be leading these communities through a pandemic for the foreseeable future. As in “years” with an “s.” If that doesn’t make you want to lie down, I don’t know what will.

In addition, of course, we are facing down this pandemic while gearing up for a financial crisis, and amid the call for racial justice that is resonating in our communities and city and town halls. Are you still standing?

Labor Day is one of those temporal landmarks for me, probably even more than the New Year. It is a good time to take stock of work and career goals. Who else wishes we could be handed a syllabus this fall, with clear guidance as to what success looks like by 2021? So what can we do?

We can stand up and make the best of a long season of social distancing, canceled vacations, and postponed family events.

We can stand up to create some joy in a year at work with all of the hard things and none of the fun things – no in-person conferences, no wedding or baby showers, and no holiday parties.

We can reestablish routines that got lost in the pandemic or over the summer – regular staff meetings, one-on-one meetings with director reports, and all staff training events, thanks to Zoom.

Most importantly, as local government leaders, we can to stand up and have difficult conversations about race, while at the same time supporting the men and women working in our police departments. (Note: This topic is so difficult to navigate that I rewrote this sentence 11 times and it still isn’t right. That’s why we must stand up and tackle it.)

Still Standing. Carrying a heavy load.

How about you? What will you stand up for this fall? Do you possibly have a road map to 2021 you could share? Who wants to write that syllabus?

Let’s practice, standing up, for ourselves, our staff, and our communities.

Rest.

Long Sands, York Beach, Maine

“Imagine the lasting healthy change that could come from well rested people.” – Emily P. Freeman

We have been working at a frantic pace since early March – living with fear, anxiety, grief, loneliness and frustration – usually all in one day. Now that our state has opened up restrictions to allow more activities (think pools and summer camps, restaurants, stores, gyms, etc.), we are busier than ever. Yet we have to constantly remind ourselves, our staff, and our residents that we are still in a pandemic.

Our office transitions to “summer hours” from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with staff working more hours Monday through Thursday and taking (most of) Friday afternoons off. Since my husband also has Friday afternoons off, we compare lists. We clean the barn, the barn attic, the basement, the actual attic, and, of course, weed the garden. This is not rest, people.

Virtually everyone I know is in a constant state of stress. Our bodies’ response systems are usually self-regulating – when a perceived threat is gone, our hormones (especially cortisol, the primary stress hormone) return to normal. This long-term activation of our stress response and over-exposure to cortisol is not a healthy way to live.

Rest, on the other hand, appears to be a miracle cure. It can boost our immune system, improve motivation, promote creativity, increase concentration, and lower symptoms of anxiety and depression. Sign me up for some additional motivation, right now.

Long Sands, York Beach, Maine

Earlier this month, our extended family spent a week in a rental cottage in Maine. While stores and restaurants were partially open, we brought our own provisions and mostly hunkered down in the cottage and on the beach. The weather was a bit iffy, but it really didn’t matter. This annual vacation is truly one of the only weeks of the year I can honestly say I am resting. Our typical vacations tend to be a series of forced marches through museums and other attractions in major cities. The fact that we can’t travel these days may make rest more attainable.

As many of you know, Very Kate is particularly unsuited to preach about rest. But here are the ways I have committed to trying to find rest this summer:

  • I bought a lounge chair for my back patio and I will actually sit there.
  • I continue to prioritize walking, especially on our local rail trail that has a real nature feel.
  • I am now catching up on the reading I couldn’t seem to do during the height of the pandemic.
  • I am watching the Great British Baking Show again. I’m embarrassed to admit that even after watching each series several times, I never seem to remember who won. This show is pure stress relief.
New Lounge Chairs, Holliston, Massachusetts

How about you? Have you found a creative way to rest? Please share!

Let’s practice, imagining how we could change the world for the better if we only had some rest.

6 Speeds to Joy

Country roads in Massachusetts

Raise your hand if you have ever stepped on a clutch that wasn’t there.

Last week I finally got the opportunity I have been waiting for since 2014 to drive a car with a stick shift. After owning six standard transmission vehicles, I succumbed to (slightly) diminished reflexes and bought an SUV. I’ve been whining wondering every since whether I would forget how to drive one.

We grew up with standard transmission vehicles – not because my parents were particularly adventurous, but because standard transmissions were significantly cheaper. I simply had to learn or never go anywhere.

Those of you who know me would not describe me as adventurous. And yet. I have won more than one game of “two truths and a lie” by my account of careening around the Amalfi coast driving a stick shift on my honeymoon. In fact, since my husband was less familiar with the clutch at that time, I drove us all over Italy. Still not lying.

So back to last week. We had a house guest who generously offered to let me drive his car. I snuck out before 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning and drove the country roads around our town for almost an hour. I was nervous, but it came right back to me. I didn’t take the car out on the open road to get into sixth gear. The point was to actually shift. A lot!

I spent that glorious hour thinking about the person I was when I drove around Italy, and in each successive vehicle, and how I could recreate the simple joys of those past lives. The year 2020 has weighed most of us down. Those of us in leadership positions feel the pressure to protect our residents and staff, while also opening up the economy and providing “normal-ish” services with restrictions that would be laughable if we didn’t have to implement them.

Pro-tip: plant roses near the septic system for this result.

And who couldn’t use a little more joy? We just have to work a little harder to find it when our accustomed ways are inaccessible – like traveling to Europe or having a draft beer at a bar. Here is what I am working on:

  • Spending time outside, including weeding.
  • Prioritizing walking over running.
  • Using up the gallons of sourdough starter discard making pizza creations once a week. (Confession – I went through the amazingly soothing and yet tedious effort to create sourdough starter and have yet to bake anything with it. But the discard is in heavy rotation.)
  • Planning travel adventures.
  • Making lists of books to read and checking them off.
  • Planning home improvement projects.
  • Not attending night meetings.

How about you? Do you have a stick shift story to tell? (My journey ended after having to queue up on a steep parking garage ramp for what seemed like hours after a Red Sox game.)

Are you finding joy close to home?

Do you still, on occasion, throw your arm across the passenger seat when you brake hard as if you have a twelve-year-old next to you?

Let’s practice – maybe actually smell those roses?

Tales from the EOC: Worrying & Laughing

COVID-19 EOC, Rosemary Recreation Complex, Needham, MA 2020

Have you been wondering what it is like to work in a medium sized metro-Boston community during a global pandemic? Every day there are about 1,289 decisions to make, and when you look up from your computer it is already 5:00.

Many local government managers are working entirely remotely. I tried working at home one day a week, and it was a real struggle.  I have a private office in a mostly empty Town Hall where I can work safely, and I spend a few days a week in the Emergency Operations Center.   I find that the loss of camaraderie is one of the most difficult aspects of this pandemic quarantine, so I treasure the opportunity to sit with our amazing EOC team leading us through and out of this pandemic. The people in the EOC make very difficult decisions.  They are under constant pressure to find resources and handle difficult telephone calls.  They are hounded for information they cannot divulge, and they are working constantly.   But life does go on – one member just accepted a new job, and another bought a new house.

Since the only antidote for anxiety is connection with others, I am constantly looking to colleagues in other communities for reassurance and advice. As local government managers, we are filled with anxiety all the time.  We are worried about how to keep our staff employed, paid, and busy at home.  We are worried about the employees who do have to report to Town.  We are under constant scrutiny to justify the “work at home” plan.  We secretly Google the symptoms of COVID-19 regularly because we are so run down. 

While social media and on-line resources are invaluable, they can also cause unhealthy comparison.  Those of us who are confident in our ability encourage and motivate our teams look on with despair at the amazing outward-facing messaging of our colleagues whose skills lie in that area.  And vice versa.

We worry that we simply won’t be able to cover payroll.  We worry that the many people in our communities who are not being paid or whose businesses are in jeopardy will become increasingly intolerant of the status quo. 

We worry that the first responders will get sick.  That our family members will get sick.  That we will get sick.

We worry because the world as we knew it is gone, and we don’t know whether we are up to the challenge of charting a new course. 

We wonder how we will adjust to not wearing jeans and sneakers and hoodies to work, and having to attend night meetings again.

We wonder if we can accommodate remote working options in the future, and keep the innovative spirit alive after the declared state of emergency. 

We also learned to appreciate the moments of hilarity and joy. 

The incident commander for this emergency is the Director of Health & Human Services.  It is highly unusual to see an EOC with no uniformed personnel in sight – unless you count logo fleece vests.  Another way you know this isn’t a public safety EOC is that for some unfathomable reason, three of the four staff sit with their backs to the window. 

The highlight of the day is ordering lunch to be delivered.  This topic starts right after the daily 10:00 EOC check-in call.  Sometimes before.

There is a lot of snack food around.  One member has taken to baking sourdough bread constantly.

We had so many complaints we had to ask the police to hunt down an unlicensed ice cream truck.

We had to install increasingly harsh signs closing parks, and then had to barricade their parking lots.  We had to issue a clarifying email banning the Easter bunny from visiting physical rather than virtual parks. 

Conversations like this are normal:  “Hey, I can get hand sanitizer in a month!”  “Great, how much can you get?”  “So, I have to order a pallet.  That’s 144 gallons.  But its only $6,000.”  “Do it.”

We put out a makeshift donation bin (repurposed trash bin from DPW) with a big sign that tells people what to donate.  We are so grateful for donations of Clorox wipes and masks.  One week we also got a bag of dog poop.

Improvised Donation Bin, Rosemary Recreation Complex, Needham, MA

Just before the pandemic the Town got a therapy dog – a white golden retriever by the name of Rocket (of course – the Needham High mascot). He is the most popular mammal in Needham, and has more Instagram followers than I do. Every week or so his handlers bring him to the EOC. He took my place on a Zoom call and that made my week.

Officer Rocket, Needham, MA

We have a pool going as to how close the Governor’s press conferences will be to the actual noticed start time.

Last week I had meetings on Teams, Free Conference Call, Go to Meeting, Webex AND Zoom all in one day. 

Did I mention my hair is many shades, none of them particularly attractive, and I have to stare at it on my monitor all the time?

Stay well, wash your hands, reach out to the lonely.  But only reach out to my mother if you want to hear how great Andrew Cuomo is.

How are you working during the quarantine? What is your worry? What makes you laugh? Let’s practice – six feet apart.

Very Kate and the replacement donation bin, Needham, MA “No Dog Poop, Please”

On Gratitude – Or, It’s Finally April

Chaa Creek, San Ignacio, Belize

The experts tell us that practicing gratitude will increase happiness, well-being, mindset, and success at work. I haven’t seen gratitude linked to weight loss yet but that’s probably next. I follow happiness researchers like Gretchen Rubin and Shaun Achor, and I believe in the science. I simply can’t force myself to keep up the gratitude practice for more than a few days at a time. Achor’s advice is simple and compelling. Write down three things you are grateful for that occurred over the last 24 hours. These don’t have to be profound. Things I have listed over the years include “light traffic because of school vacation,” “watching Marie Kondo on Netflix,” and “got a great deal on new sheets.” According to Achor, taking note of three things each day that you are grateful for will help your brain start to retrain its pattern of scanning the world, looking for the positive instead of just the negative. You can find his very amusing Ted Talk here.

So, as we begin week five of the hardest and strangest time in most of our lives, I am sharing three things I am grateful for today.

We Got to Take Our Vacation – Before the pandemic intensified in the US, we got to take our long-awaited family vacation to Belize. While two of us work in local government and were on the telephone a lot by the end of the trip, we still hiked in a jungle and went snorkeling for an entire day on a catamaran. The cabins at the jungle resort had NO KEYS. There was only one restaurant – so there were no decisions to make! “Where do you want to eat tonight?” “How about at THE restaurant?” If you spit out your coffee picturing me snorkeling (afraid of water, sea life, drowning, you name it) you are not alone. Thanks to the kind brilliance of our guide, I too was able to join in.

We Live Near a Rail Trail – There is a wonderful and “social-distance approved” rail trail that runs right by the end of our street. Like so many of us, I am walking (occasionally running) virtually every day. I am also going into work every day, so there is no excuse for not incorporating this routine into my life after the pandemic. My younger daughter and I recently walked during the only two hours of snow in 2020.

Upper Charles River Rail Trail, Holliston Massachusetts, March 2020

I Planted Bulbs – April me is grateful to November me for planting 200 bulbs on a cold and raw day. They will bring much joy this month.

Tulips & Daffodils, Holliston, Massachusetts

I am especially grateful for the employees in all of our communities who are on the front lines providing public safety, public works, and public health services. I am grateful for the hospital and health care workers, the grocery and pharmacy workers, and all who are performing essential jobs during the pandemic.

Even though we have no real idea what awaits us in April and May, I feel like we have made it through the initial phase of this crisis. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Let’s practice – what or who are you grateful for?