During the entirety of the Covid whirlwind I have been keeping a journal of what it was like to basically live out the plot of a bad YA dystopian novel. While those thoughts are a bit more personal, or perhaps 'boring' is the word considering it was for the most part a place to document how the world was changing, I thought it may be fun to share some of the things I did/the media that I consumed since it has been my entire life for the past year and a half.
The reason that I am sharing this now (I realise it may seem a bit 'late' in the grand scheme of things) is because I am starting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. England is finally beginning to relax some of the rules, I have holidays booked in the calendar to look forward to again, and most importantly everyone I see on a regular basis has been fully vaccinated (which, in all of the 'end of the world' movies and books means that the end of the suffering in nearing the end). However, I want to take a second to 'preach' staying safe and careful. Keep wearing your mask, keep social distancing, keep washing your hands, and get vaccinated! It's not over yet and the return to real normal will go a heck of a lot faster if we all work together.
Now, without further ado....
I am sure that you will all be shocked and surprised to hear that I read quite a few books during this period of time.... This, of course, is a joke. I read an excessive amount of books during any given year, so it wasn't a new activity for me. However, there were a good few months during lockdown that I was furloughed and my reading count absolutely skyrocketed. For the sake of brevity, I will try to whittle my reading down to 3 suggestions that you should pick up.
3. The Choice by Edith Eger
Edith Eger is, hands down, the most powerful woman that I have had the opportunity to read from. A holocaust survivor, Dr Eger explores resilience and hope in one of the most beautiful and difficult memoirs that I have ever read. Let me tell you something... if you felt your spirit droop during this period of difficulty, this book could be a wonderful slice of solace for you. People tend to shy away from potentially hard and upsetting books when they are feeling low, but I have never felt stronger than when I was deep in throes of this book. If a teenage girl can be ripped away from the world, forced into a labour camp, made to dance of Mengele, lose almost all of her friends and family in a matter of months, and come out of the other side full of hope and healing, then we can do anything! Her other book 'The Gift' was fantastic as well!
2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
What can I say? Meeting Anne was one of the highlights of the past year and a half. She has become more than a character in a book, but truly a friend and a source of comfort. A lot of people find Anne to be 'too much'. That is part of her character. She is loud and makes mistakes. She doesn't fit into a 'mold' of what it is to be human, and that is precisely what I love about her. After (and while) reading this book, I frantically Googled images of Prince Edward Island, I purchased a sticker that I look at every day which says 'Dear old world, you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you', I have watched both adaptations of the book and LOVED them and I have added the entire book series to my list to be read this year. A huge hug to L.M. Montgomery for keeping me sane during these past 16 months.
1. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
I don't think I will ever be able to describe to you the way that this book makes me feel. I will say that both times that I read it (in a matter of months, may I add) I ended up heaving sobs because I was SO HAPPY. This book made me so joyful and filled with love that I wept multiple times. You may or may not know this about me; I am a big crier, but for whatever reason that doesn't seem to cross over into the book-sphere. All normalcy flew out the window with this bad-boy, though. I think it is safe to say that this book has firmly taken the spot of... are you ready for this... 'MY FAVOURITE BOOK OF ALL TIME'. Yes, friends. EVER. I love the characters, I love the atmosphere, I love the message, I love the writing. This book makes me think, 'Yes, the world is a dumpster-fire and I haven't travelled or seen my family in almost 2 years, but at least I found "The House in the Cerulean Sea".
One thing that lockdown didn't take away from us, in fact, one might say that it gifted us, is the ability to wander the outdoors. In the last few years, I have gleaned such an appreciation for nature. Aesthetically, I am very drawn to the outdoors. I have somehow switched to being the child that didn't like sitting on the grass and begging my mom to let me stay inside during the summer to being the lady that gets emotional when she notices the way that dew forms on spring leaves and the quiet way the birds sing to each other in the morning. Being able to get out and explore the English countryside has been such a giant blessing... I can't even put it into words. I have been taking Mondays off from teaching and Jonathan will also take a morning off (Monday wanders) and we will hop in the car and drive to a nearby location. I will have a backpack full of rain gear, lunch, water, and sunscreen and for a few hours we get to forget about the fact that we have not been in a shop since last March, that our lives have been placed on hold. I have walked through marshy fields (squealing as the mud squidges into my socks), chased after lambs, climbed to see views for miles in the distance, taken hundreds of thousands of steps, and simply appreciated the world around me. I look forward to continuing this even as the world opens up once again.
If you forced me to only visit one website for the rest of my life, it would have to be YouTube. There are people that I have been watching on YouTube for almost 8 years now. Eight years! While they do not know that I exist, they have almost become friends in my mind. I also continually discover new people on there every few months where I immediately connect with them and form an unhealthy obsession with their thoughts and opinions. Here is some of the content that helped me get through the pandemic.
Emma is a relatively new booktuber for me. I have only been watching her for around 6 months. However, she has genuinely changed my life. Because of her videos, I have built up the courage to read 'Tolstoy' with her and her bookclub. She also has inspired me to read a lot more translated literature and led me to wonderful new books that I would have never found otherwise. She is also gives me vibes of the most soothing, genuinely kind person that's ever been created. Give her a watch if you need some relaxing, wholesome, fascinating content.
I have been watching Morgan for almost a year now and her content never EVER fails to make me smile and feel cozy inside. Morgan is primarily a booktuber (can you tell I have a very specific type of content that I lean towards) with the most aesthetically pleasing videography that I have had the pleasure to experience. She spends a lot of time outdoors and connecting with nature and she talks to you in her vlogs like you are a best friend. She is a go-to recommendation for me.
Kayla, a girl who could upload an 8 hour vlog and I would still watch every single second of it. I am trying to think how long I have been watching Kayla... I think it has to be around 4 years now.. wow. I LOVE her content. Kayla and I could not have less similar reading taste, and yet I will watch every single video she ever puts out. She puts so much time and energy into producing wonderful and thoughtful content. You know you're in it for the long-haul when you genuinely get excited every single time a creator uploads a new video.
Do you remember when the only thing people watched on Youtube were music videos, humour sketches, and beauty hauls? Those were the days when I found Jessica. My best friend Kindra actually introduced me to her videos back in 2014 and I was not convinced, and yet very slowly, Jessica sneaked into my heart and has become a consistent presence in my life since. I have watched her through so much of my life that she has genuinely become an important part of it. I don't even remember the last time that I wore makeup, but sitting down and watching her now feels like getting coffee with a friend.
Y'all, let me tell you about something that has changed my life a little bit. Food content. FOOD CONTENT. If it is a piece of media that is about international food, chances are I have watched it. I like food. I have always liked food. But, something inside of me clicked into place in November of last year when I stumbled upon a Chinese street food video when researching Chinese culture for my job. I now have developed an addiction to watching travel food videos. Let me introduce you to some of the content and you can see if it clicks something in place for you too.
This is the guy that started it all for me. I have literally watched every single video of his where he tries food around Asia. Every. Single. Video.
Mark Wiens came into my 'suggested video' section after I devoured 'The Food Ranger's' content and I welcomed him gladly into my subscription box.
While Beryl doesn't necessarily travel and eat, she makes recipes that people send her from all over the world. I love her video series such as 'How eggs are eaten around the world' and then people send her egg recipes. It's wonderful to watch her try to make them herself and I have learned SO much from her videos.
Netflix's 'Street Food: Asia' and 'Street Food: Latin America'
I have watched all of the episodes of both and would recommend both.
Anthony Bourdain: Part's Unknown
I am still working my way through this one. Bourdain obviously looks at food, but this is a wonderful recommendation if you are really more interested in the travel and culture aspect of the international food world.
Somebody Feed Phil
This show was such a brilliant idea. It's just a shot of dopamine to your heart and it also will make you inexplicably hungry. Also, just a side note. His episode in Saigon broke me (in a good way).
As we entered lockdown, I decided that something I could do for myself would be to learn a new language. As of today, I am 2 weeks away from having practised a language every single day for an entire year. I never do things by halves it seems. I decided to start with Spanish since I had a base from taking it throughout high school. My confidence is growing every single day with practice. I find some sentences and concepts are second nature now which is amazing. I also decided to start learning a bit of Norwegian. If you know me at all, you know that my trip to Norway a couple of years ago completely blew me away. I dream of Norway frequently and have made it a personal mission to learn all about Norway's culture and history. I figured that a step further would be to start to learn the language. It has been SO rewarding to do this. While I am very early on in the stages of learning, I think about all I have learned and it makes me very proud of myself. It also has been very eye-opening. I work with kids all over the world and help them gain confidence and fluency with their English. Learning other languages has been very humbling and a great reminder that what these kids are doing is very difficult and brave. Have you also been learning a language over lockdown? What have you been studying? I'd love to know.
Don't worry. I am not going to sit here and list all of the TV that I have watched during lockdown. That would be a tad bit obnoxious. Though, I will inform you of some of the shows that have been a highlight of my time locked in my house. Most of these were re-watches for me. There was something really comforting about returning to a familiar story. Something you could count on not letting down when the world felt extra tumultuous. 'Normal People' and 'The Durrells' however were new to me and I loved them both very much. 'The Durrells' is based on a true story of a British family that, for lack of a better phrase, run away from their lives and live on the island of Corfu. It was hilarious while also filling all my needs for 'family'. 'Normal People' on the other hand was very moody and emotional. It follows a young couple as they navigate a (let's be honest) relatively toxic relationship. It's based on the bestselling novel by Sally Rooney and was phenomenal. The acting was truly top-notch and the atmosphere was as dark and moody and you could hope. I also just want to mention that I am on my second round of Gilmore Girls during the pandemic right now. It is truly the best. I will not stop until all have watched it.
Not much to say here, but I would just like it to be known that for every single Monday-Friday for almost 2.5 years, I have rolled out of bed and lumbered downstairs to work out. Yes. Thank you for the round of applause. This was a big part of my routine leading up to lockdown, and I made it a priority to keep it that way. My husband also joined me after a few months stuck indoors and it has made it actually enjoyable to share with him. We both keep very busy with our work, so it's nice to know that between our morning workouts and our Monday wanders, we have time to catch up and keep each other accountable. I have done a little bit of everything from Barre, to weightlifting, to dance and cardio.
I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo 2020 and wrote another 'novel-length' piece of writing. I haven't even attempted to touch it for editing, but it was wonderful to have a writing goal every day and reach it. I also have tried to keep up with blogging throughout this year. I haven't blogged as much as I hoped considering the extra time I have had, but I am proud of the posts that I have put out (especially the ones revolving around my online teaching work). I also, as mentioned earlier, have done journaling to keep track of what the world was like during all of this. Even now it is wild to go back and read what the first couple of months were like. The fear of the unknown seeped into everything. I think it will be wonderful to have my thoughts and writing all laid out for either the world or my family to see one day.
I feel so fortunate to have stumbled upon my online ESL job during all of this. While I am so grateful for my time as a legal secretary, I made it no secret that it was not something that I could see myself doing for any length of time. It was, of course, a shock to get the email that I was being made redundant and I certainly went through a severe mental health dip wondering what it was that made me the least valuable member of the team, the easiest staff member to dispose of, but in the end I could not be happier that they cut me off and allowed me to explore a job that would really and truly fulfill me and make me happy. This job is like any other job. There are mornings when I get up and I don't want to teach, but for the most part I am in love with what I get to do. I get the opportunity every single day to travel the world from my little corner of the dining room. I have watched kiddos go from not know the English alphabet to reading stories and answering questions with full sentence structures. I have met children from Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, China, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and Dubai. I have made connections with fellow teachers around the world and made friends with people I see being in my life for a long time. Please feel free to check out my blog posts about this experience if you want any more information.
Spend Time with Loved Ones-
I have joked that these last few months has been the world's way of giving the time back that Jonathan and I lost during our years of long-distanced dating. It has been a true joy and privilege to get to spend my days with my wonderful husband and our fur baby. I am so thankful that I was able to be in a bubble with my favourite ginger boys. I could not have asked for a better partner through all of this. I also have spent many hours on video chat with many people that I care about. I am very appreciative that my years of living apart from people I love had prepared me for all of this. Silver linings, right?
Alright, I think that just about covers my last year and a half. I would love to know what you have been up to through all of this. Stay tuned for travel content to resume soon and as always, I appreciate your support. If you made it through this entire post, you deserve a cookie.
A. C. Woodruff