Life and Teaching – Reflecting on 2020

Sonya Barnes                     December 24, 2020

I haven’t written in a while.  So much craziness has happened in my life this year, and most has nothing to do with Covid-19. My oldest son graduated college, transitioned into a new career field, and is looking to move out on his on now with his friends. My mom decided to move out on her own now that her health has improved, and she is retired so she can enjoy life at her pace a bit more.  My dad moved in with us and my stepmom moved with my brother, sis-in-law, and niece as they transition from one duty station to another, but not yet to Florida, like we hoped. Which means our move to be closer to them was pushed back, as well.  Projects around the house ensued.

We lost our 15-year-old doxie Angel, and welcomed a new Shih-poo, Luna and have been working on training her and helping our remaining doxie transition from being the little sister and everything buddy to the big sister with an annoying puppy.  And did I mention that my dad brought his rescue, Reba with him?  We also built a chicken coop and are raising 8 backyard chickens that have been a great source of eggs, a consumer of leftovers and scraps, and have brought hours of entertainment for us and the dogs.  Oh, and did I mention the extra-large Guinea pig, Java, that joined our family?

But we have family meals together daily, go for walks, play games and have family movie nights. We’ve been creative on travel with camping or focusing on outdoor areas. We have learned how much we enjoy being around each other all the time and how much busyness we had in our life that was unnecessary and we didn’t miss when we cut it out.

Around all of this, I have continued to gain more experience as a virtual teacher and my husband has slowly but steadily grown his handyman business and found a balance between work and family time. Add all of that to the pandemic and everyone facing unexplored territories, I didn’t feel I had the knowledge to guide anyone since none of us knew what we were doing or for how long—or the time!  But as time passed,  I realized a few things.

A rainbow right before it grew into a double rainbow just before sunset–a beautiful sight on one of our walks

One, I miss writing immensely. There is something powerful of taking an idea, expanding on it, and sharing it with the world, along with all the vulnerability that comes from that.  Two, it’ a great way to focus my thoughts and get time to myself—events that are very rare in my day. Three, and this is the big one that brought me back, so what if I am not an expert? So what if I don’t have great insight that will change your life? Right now, we need to share ideas, hear ideas, and explore new options, even if that means failing at something and starting over a new way. 

So, here’s the morsel we all need to hear: how is what you are doing in your classroom helping your students? Are they learning skills they will need in future classes or careers? Great! Are they learning techniques for adapting to new ways of doing something? Super! Are they exploring a way of life that could be an option for them in the future by working at home and learning to be self-motivated? Fantastic!  Are they getting a voice and your focused attention because a Zoom or Teams call can minimize distractions by muting people or viewing only the speaker? Gold! Maybe this is the chapter of their life where the lessons come from the relationships being built and learning to handle boredom and self-management, skills that are lacking from our always on lifestyle we live.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the chance to talk to my students, whether it was about what they were learning, how to use it in school, how they may use it someday in life, or what is happening in life right now.  I’ve sent a text just to check in or to remind them of something due. I’ve even spent time just talking to their parents.  They needed someone to talk to that didn’t live under their roof about what they are dealing with or how to help their kids and, sometimes, I was the call at the time that they needed. It created a great bond and helped them through a challenging time, even if it was simply sharing a quick tip on balancing their schedule, answering a question or a weekly video snippet that gave them insight on the work due for the week. Those moments may be brief but can be very powerful.

So, as you enjoy your holidays and start thinking of your return to school and what you can provide that is meaningful to your students, remember to make time to take care of you and to teach them how to take care of them. What they learn from this major life event will shape the rest of their lives—how can you make that meaningful?

From my family to you and yours, whatever and however you celebrate, just celebrate.

Happy Holidays and all that jazz.

We grouped our trees together this year, kept the ornaments in the box to enjoy just the lights, but couldn’t forget my son’s train that he loves so much.

Why I’m Grateful for the Pandemic

August 2020

A few minutes on the beach when we tried to catch a launch on the coast

My life goes ninety miles an hour most days and has for as long as I can remember. I have tried to slow down so many times, but things just continuously come at me that it feels impossible. I found myself searching for ways to simplify and slow down.  Minimalism has crept into my life and I have cut down on how much stuff we have, which helped a lot with time spent working in the house.  But, as a teacher, there is always work to be done and the brain doesn’t stop working just because the school building is closed. I prayed for life to slow down. And then the Pandemic hit.

I’m not saying it’s completely my fault or anything, but…over the years, I’ve heard it said about both prayers and wishes to be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.  As a former middle school Reading and ELA teacher, The Monkey’s Paw immediately comes to mind and reinforces this idea.  Yet I still prayed for this.  So, when things started shutting down around town and around the world, I found myself grateful for it and sought out to make changes to our lives that could continue even after the world returned to normal.

Family meals This is something we have always tried to make a priority, even after my mom moved in.  With eating out not an option for us during the shutdown, we capitalized on trying new recipes, planning more efficiently to cut down on grocery trips and orders, and being more consistent.  It really paid off for us.  We enjoyed themed nights and tried our hand at making things we’d normally have gone out for or just ordered.  Dare I say, we even like our version of many dishes better than what we get dining out and for a fraction of the price!

When we desperately missed the Bavarian pretzels and beer cheese of Disney, we got creative! Not a huge success, but a lot of fun and we will try it again!

Routines This one is a challenge for everyone, so I know we are not alone.  We live in a multi-generational household with morning people that go to bed early, late people that are up into the wee hours, light sleepers, and loud voices.  There has been some tension for us, to say the least.  But we have found that we get our rhythm by being aware of each other’s routines, which comes from conversations during family mealtime, and we have established a sort of quiet hours for each other.  We also maintained getting up at the same time each day, having breakfast, going for walks, and doing our chores on specific days or at certain times to keep that consistency.  All day pajama sessions or binge-watching Netflix or YouTube never once became our life, although there were a couple of days when we stumbled across a great series or channel…

Family spaces – indoor and outdoor We are blessed that everyone has their own rooms as well as having both a family and living room and offices for those that work from home. The joys of owning an older home with oddball rooms in various places came in handy! But we had a few spaces that we had never really defined since moving in two years ago. They were just filled with leftover furniture or temporary items.  We capitalized on our savings from gas, dining out and entertainment and invested it in our home.  We created a comfortable family room for movies and game nights, and we got real patio furniture that gave morning tea or evening dessert & drinks a place to be enjoyed.  We also took the time to declutter things by the end that we realized we weren’t using despite being home more, which had been our excuse for not parting with them in prior purges.  Another dream project of having a garden and backyard chickens finally came into fruition and we have thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment and delicious eggs from our lady yardbirds, although our greenthumb still needs work since we didn’t get much of a harvest.  Now that we can go out and enjoy more things, we still find ourselves staying home more often, planning nights in the family room or on the porch and enjoying our spaces, even when we have other options.

some of our eggs from one day–we usually get 2-4 from our 8 chickens, which isn’t too bad in this heat and some are not daily layers.

Personal Care Habit This one has been an ebb and flow thing in our home.  When the pandemic and shutdown first became a part of life, the weather was nice here in Central Florida, so the routine of an evening walk to see the sunset and talk about our day or dreams of life after was great.  But when the afternoon storms crept in and the mercury rose, it became darn near impossible to keep it up, so it fell by the wayside, as did our personal care.  Hair cuts got neglected and manicures and pedicures were non-existent.  But after a couple of months, we missed these and realized that we still needed them in our lives.  We couldn’t go out to a salon, but haircuts, mani’s and pedi’s could still be done, especially digging out some of those bath salts and scrubs we lovingly purchased on previous outings.  We shifted out routine to walks and runs to the mornings and just start our workday around 9 instead of 730, letting ourselves come alive a bit before sitting down.  It really sets the tone for a day of success when you’ve done 2/3 or more of your step goal before sitting down to work at 9AM! I also loved reading but rarely could find the time. With life slowing down, now there is time in my day to read for me as well as to spend time reading with my youngest.

enjoying lunch and my book on the porch during a lunch break from working

Day trips and vacations This was the hardest part for us to give up since we were always on the go.  We are passholders and live close to Disney, the Zoo, nearby gardens, and the beaches are a two-hour drive in any direction. We have family all over, love to camp and have only taken our youngest to about half the states in the country and hope to visit more.  With all of that dashed, it affected our daily life.  One way we coped was packing a picnic lunch and planning a loop drive to places.  One of my favorites was a drive to the coast, up a coastal road and back home.  It was most of the day, but it was amazing to see everything so clean and clear and with light traffic and few people, we didn’t even mind that we could only walk small sections.  We even ventured to Texas to see family by taking a camper and boondocking along the way.  We saw about a dozen people on the entire trip and only had to go into a couple of stores.

a geocache travelbug we helped along on our camping adventure

Now that we can get out and about more and things are opening, we are starting to go more places.  But we are nowhere near at the pace of life we previously were.  Our excursions may be once or twice a month instead of every weekend. We are more selective on what we decide we want to spend our time and money on.  We still don’t turn on the TV until later in the day on most days and we continue to enjoy our family dinners several nights a week.  I don’ think I want to return to the breakneck pace we used to live at, I’m just sad that it took a pandemic to force me to change.