How my six kids prepared me for COVID

Having six kids in an exercise in perpetual organization. 

One of the tricks I have that allows me to get so much done (kids, work, volunteer activity, writing) is that every morning I sit down with a cup of coffee and I write a to-do list for the day. 

Every single morning. 

And then I move through the list item by item. I even create little checkoff boxes near the tasks so I can see my progress throughout the day. 

I do love and live by my lists. 

But to be fair,I have always been a consummate list maker, even as a kid I’d organize items and thoughts in one of the notebooks that I always carried. But never was this superskill more helpful than when we would go on our family vacations. I’d carefully write out a list of absolutely everything we’d ever need (Toothpaste, sunscreen, Advil and bandaids. Snacks to keep kids quiet during the car ride. Enough clothing to anticipate a few spills, etc.) Each list would be subcategorized into one for the kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms, and would always include a separate list for each child (DO NOT forget the favorite blankie of child #2.) 

We’d start every vacation off with the same tired joke “well if we didn’t pack it, we don’t need it.” 

When I realized that I’d have to feed my tribe 3 meals a day for decades, my list making skills went into high gear. 

On Sundays, I’d sit down and write a menu for the week which included using anticipated leftovers the next day after certain meals. After the menu, I’d create a shopping list based on the ingredients needed for those meals. 

Breakfasts were always a choice of frozen waffles, English muffins, or cereal. 

School lunches consisted of either dinner leftovers or a sandwich with chips or crackers and a piece of fruit. 

Dinners had protein with vegetables and a salad. As the kids got older (especially the boys) I’d also have bread with butter and usually a hefty serving of potatoes – mashed, baked, or sauted.  

Snacks were fruit, cookies, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or brownies – the rule was if you wanted a snack then you had to get it yourself. Snacking because you were bored was expressly frowned upon. Food was just too precious. 

By writing all this down and having a plan on how to feed my family for the week, I ended up going to the grocery store only once a week and spent about $180 each time I shopped, organization clearly pays off. 

As my kids got older and left to live on their own, I started slacking off on the weekly organizing and shopping. I mean seriously, I had put in my time, right? My husband and I started to rely a little too much on takeout and meals at restaurants. Meals at home became a hodgepodge of whatever was available – cereal for dinner? Sure, why not? 

And then COVID came along with its enforced lockdown. I have a medical biology background. I understand how viruses and transmission works. I got that you need to protect yourself and your family. 

I got it – message received.  

I also have a son who is immunologically compromised and while he wasn’t living with us, we still had to make sure that we were “clean” the few times we met up with him to transfer gifts or supplies. 

All of the sudden, it became vitally important to go shopping as infrequently as possible. 

Once a mom, always a mom – I dusted off my dinner list making skills and sat down once again to make meal lists except that this time I wasn’t making them for a week, I was trying to see how many weeks I could get out of one trip to the grocery store.

Like before I made my meal plans and then created my shopping list. High on the supplies were pasta, sauces, frozen vegetables and eggs. Spices were also important – we have learned that quality flavorful wins over quantity.

After each shopping trip, we’d gorge on the fresh fruit and soft vegetables in the first week or two and then switch to the longer storing items like eggs, potatoes, squash, apples and oranges. Meats were divided into dinner portions and frozen. I’d buy cans of beans so that I could sprinkle them on meals in the same way one would sprinkle parsley. Just a few here and there for protein. 

Frivolous foods didn’t make the shopping cut. Items that packed a flavorful punch – sun dried tomatoes, spiced meats, feta cheese, and pesto did. 

I paid attention to serving sizes – a handful of chips, not the entire bag.  A chicken thigh or two not a full breast. One English muffin with butter for breakfast. The goal was to eat well while making the groceries last. 

During the worst of the pandemic, I ended up going to the grocery store about once every 6 weeks and while we did end up eating a little too many carbs (see reference to pasta and cookies) we did end up eating pretty well. We even managed to avoid the dreaded Covid 19 pounds that afflicted so many who were desperate for emotional and physical nourishment. 

My family was lucky. No one got really sick from COVID (although it does look like two of us actually had mild cases of it) However, thanks to the extraordinary super-mom-power skills of already running a household with 6 kids by using organizational lists, I was able to help guide my family through the worst of this global pandemic by getting the food we needed with as few trips to the outside world as possible. 

Wendy Thomas is a mom of 6, a former NH State Rep, and a protector of all things great and small.

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Mental Health During Covid and Crisis

We are living through some crazy times right now.

COVID is rampaging through our country unchecked and rioters are trying to take over our government.

Right now, it seems that up is down, and down is up – and this has been going on non-stop for a long time. We are lonely, frustrated, and angry. Some of us are losing hope that things will ever be “normal” again which is all doing a job on our mental health.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to add that it’s winter so it’s even get outside to communicate with our friends from a distance.

How do we handle this?

Years and years ago, I had an experimental bone surgery where they took bone from my hip and inserted it into my lower leg (the result of being hit by a car when I was younger.) I rejected the bone graft (even though it was mine.) When your body rejects something, it’s not like having a sore finger because you have a splinter in it, instead your entire body rejects the object. You are sick. Everything hurts.

I was in non-stop extreme chronic pain to the point where I could barely function.

I went to a pain counselor who was able to show me that I still had control over my life. She helped me create a pain plan with sequential steps on what to do when the pain was getting out of control and I couldn’t think straight.

The plan started off with “lower level” actions, “take Motrin, lie down, watch a movie, use heat” and continued with more aggressive steps “take pain meds, call the doctor.”

I suggest that everyone create a 2021 Coping plan that would include a list of things to do so that you don’t slip into darkness.

Some important things you can do include:

  • Eat well, drink water, and get exercise – every day.
  • Speaking of exercise – there are plenty of free YouTube exercise videos that you can do at home. Try to establish an exercise routine.
  • Stay on top of your medications – now is not the time to skip doses.  
  • Get out of your pajamas each day
  • Create a to-do list each morning – don’t just include work items, include things like “do laundry, pick up the living room.” If you put tasks on a list then you will remember to do them (and the joy of crossing them off when done is worth it.)
  • Talk to a friend every day – write down a list of your friends and cycle through them. Texting and email is fine but listening to a friend’s voice is important.
  • Join an online group – with the advent of zoom there are tons of online cooking groups, book clubs, and discussion groups. The good thing is that you don’t have to be there, if I want to join a book club on the Cape, all I need is the zoom link.
  • Write a letter to a friend, in this day of online everything, handwritten letters are so appreciated.
  • Write in a journal – the act of putting your thoughts on paper frees them from your mind.
  • Check in on a neighbor to see how they are doing and if they need help.
  • Tend to a plant or a pet – both need to be nurtured.
  • Watch a good movie or TV series.
  • Listen to music that makes you dance.
  • Read a book – you’ve got time and if you can find a good one you will be transported to another world.
  • Go for a walk – as crazy as things are, the world is still out there. Even in the winter there is plenty of nature to observe, just be careful of the ice.
  • Watch the alcohol, oh sure, it may feel good for now, but alcohol is never a good coping mechanism.

Lastly, if you are overwhelmed with everything that’s going on and you can’t seem to function, talk to your physician or contact a therapist. If necessary, there are some medications and techniques that could be helpful.

And sometimes just having a different set of eyes on your situation can give you a new perspective.

It’s not going to be easy getting through these turbulent times, but if we look out for ourselves as well as each other, it will certainly be that much easier to bear.

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When It’s My Family’s Turn To Get The COVID Vaccination

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My daughter – an LNA and who works in a hospital got her second COVID vaccination shot today.

With my blessings.

She has seen first-hand the damage COVID can do to patients and she knows how deadly it can be.

Not only will the vaccine keep her safe, but it will keep the rest of our family who live with her safer as well. Remember that most frontline workers come home to family members who are not frontline workers – that’s just the way it is.

Interestingly we are all on different schedules to get our shots. One son who works with children as a behavioral therapist got his first vaccine this weekend. A few of our family members will be getting their shots sooner rather than later (for medical fragility reasons) and then there are those of us who most likely will not be getting our vaccines until late spring/early summer.

Each one of us who gets vaccinated ends up protecting our entire family that much more.

When my daughter got her first shot, she reported that her arm was sore enough it was uncomfortable to hold a hanger with clothing on that side. She said that the soreness was gone the next day.

Her friends, other frontline workers, who have gotten the shots have reported that the second shot has a little bit more of a reaction. A little more arm soreness, a little bit of fatigue, a little bit of achiness. All symptoms that are gone within 24 – 48 hours.

And all signs that your immune system is gearing up to fight an enemy in order to protect your body.

My daughter’s place of work sent her home with a sheet of Frequently Asked Questions. I’ve picked out some of the questions that I keep hearing being asked from others and have included them here.

How does an mRNA vaccine work?

In human cells, messenger RNA (mRNA) provides instructions to each cell to make proteins that keep our bodies working properly.

COVID-19 mRNA vaccines give instructions to our cells to make and release something called a spike protein.

The spike protein is not active or infectious and will not cause you to get sick with COVID-19. This spike protein is found on the surface of the virus and, while it is very small, it is enough to trigger your body’s immune response. Your body will begin producing antibodies to fight COVID-19 infection. After the cell has read the mRNA instruction, it destroys the mRNA.

Essentially, the message self-destructs.

In the future, if you are exposed to the coronavirus, the antibodies can prevent it from spreading in your body and causing an infection.

Does mRNA change your genetics or DNA?

No. Your genetic material, or DNA, is not affected by the vaccine. Messenger RNA does not enter the cell nucleus where your DNA is located. Therefore, the vaccine does not interact or interfere with your DNA in any way. The mRNA is broken down by the cell after it is used.

What if I already had COVID-19?

There is evidence that some people infected with COVID-19 have been re-infected because their immunity decreased. Vaccination will improve your protection against a future infection.

Are COVID-19 vaccines made from the virus?

There are different types of vaccines. The ones available first are mRNA vaccines. Messenger RNA vaccines are not made from the virus. They introduce a synthetic portion of viral messenger RNA (mRNA) into the body. In essence, they “fool” the body into thinking you have come in contact with the virus.

Can I get COVID-19 from the vaccine?

No, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. mRNA vaccines do not use the live virus that causes COVID-19. After the vaccination, as your body is making antibodies, you may experience symptoms similar to those you would have if you were fighting an infection such as chills, fatigue, or fever.

**

Do I have some concerns about the vaccine? To be honest, yes I do, one of my kids almost died from a vaccination reaction and we do not take them lightly.

But even still, I have more concerns about my daughter or any member of my family’s health should they contract COVID or infect other family members with it. COVID has the potential to kill and it also has the potential to significantly alter your life going forward.

So even though I have concerns, when it’s my turn to be vaccinated, you can bet I will show up and will gladly roll up my sleeve for the injection in order to protect myself, my family, and my neighbors.

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True Priorities

This past year has certainly made us reconsider our priorities.

It has shown that many of us have far too much and that we don’t need as much as we think we do.

And it has also shown us that family and family memories really, really matter.

My sister made this ornament for me that now proudly sits on our tree.

It uses:

  • A button from my grandmother’s button box (she has passed)
  • One of my mom’s flowered hankies (she has passed.)
  • Ribbon from my sister’s craft box.

Three generations of my family’s women tied together with three knots at the button representing the Father, Son and Holy Ghost – Faith and Hope.

Although the gifts I got this Christmas were lovely and I’m incredibly grateful for them, this is the one that brought an actual tear to my eye. Family and memories – those are the priorities.

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COVID Secret Santa

Each year at Christmas, we hold a Secret Santa event within the family.

Names are drawn at Thanksgiving and then you have until Christmas to get your gift. The only requirement? That it be handmade.

When the kids were little, this sometimes led to some interesting gifts – one year I got a pair of dangly macaroni earrings that pretty much went down to my belly button.

And of course, there was the time, one son taped large seltzer bottles into an “M” (for Marc) and called it a day.

As we’ve all gotten older, the gifts have become a little more creative, a little more advanced in skill, and a little more useful – although I don’t think that anything will match the year – a horribly off-key and without any sense of rhythm, but entirely earnest son recorded himself onto a CD singing Christmas carols.

Of course, this year of COVID had its own challenges. We had to somehow secure the materials we needed to make our gifts (and also stay out of stores) and then we had to find private time in a house where several people are hunkering down in order to work.

This year I pulled my oldest son’s name. What to make? What to make?

He lives in an apartment and is not fond of knick-knacks. I knew that whatever I made; it was going to have to be useful.

A small picture frame taken from the Goodwill pile (we have a never-ending pile of things to donate to the Goodwill), some embroidery thread that I got from a No-buy Facebook forum, and a child’s toy catalog gave me the inspiration I needed for this year’s gift. (The catalog listed a “my first embroidery kit”.)

Behold my son’s “Year of COVID Secret Santa mask holder”.  This is intended to be hung by his front door right next to where he hangs his keys, as a place where he can park his masks and let them air out between use.

In this very extraordinary year, the COVID mask holder turned out to be a very useful and caring Secret Santa gift indeed.

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Mommy kissing Santa Claus

Oh what a laugh it would have been, if Daddy had only seen Mommy kissing Santa Claus last night.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate. Joyous holidays to all.

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Hello new little friend

The day got away from me, so I’ll put up this quick post.

A lot has happened in the last year in our household. Our darling Maltese – Pippin succumbed to a combination of old age and cancer (he was 13 years old) right before the lockdown of March began. If you’ve followed my blog, you know that our fur babies are valued members of our family. It was especially tough to be stuck at home during a time when we could have given him so much attention.

That left my mother’s dog Dalai (she’s a Tibetan Spaniel – see what I did there?) who is currently 12 years old. She’s the Grand Ol’ Dame of our house.

Dalai started getting depressed without Pippin – it happens. So I began my search to get a new COVID rescue dog.

It turned out to be harder than I thought. Seemed that everyone and their sister was looking for rescue dogs. After a few dead ends, I finally found a tiny rat terrier/chihuahua mix in Texas who was transported to Connecticut where we picked her up in August.

Bailee has fit right into our family. She’s smart, funny and incredibly protective of me. Because she is quite the southern gal, getting used to the cold has been a journey. The poor little thing lives in a coat night and day inside of our rather chilly New Hampshire home.

Mi electric blanket es su electric blanket.

We’ve had a “Beware of Dogs” sign on our front door for years. It was a joke that my kids gave me because both of our dogs would have welcomed a stranger into our house and escorted them to any valuables while licking their hands.

Bailee is a watchdog. She is so protective of her new family. You come to my front door and she will let you know that you don’t belong. She has shown no inclination of biting anyone (and I’ve challenged her many times) but people at the door don’t know that. They step back.

The sign will be staying.

You never know how a new dog is going to be accepted by an older, established dog. I was worried about Dalai losing her position as Queen and I was worried that Bailee might not have had the pack socialization skills that are needed for new dogs to get along.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry. Welcome home new friend.

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Male drama during the holidays

A very proud part of my family’s history is that we are descended from the Burr family on my mother’s side.

Yes, *that* Burr family and yes, sigh, we all know the lyrics to the musical Hamilton by heart.

My mother’s name was even Theodosia Burr – she was one who carried on the family name. I have always wanted to change my middle name from Ellen (which has no family significance and was only assigned to me because it started with the letter “E” – long story) to Burr but just never got around to it.

There’s still time, I suppose.

While we were all taught the history of Aaron Burr, it wasn’t until Hamilton came out that others finally learned it too.

Yeah, Burr was a hothead and yeah, he had ambition, and yeeees, he was certainly a bit of a brat, but we were taught to believe that he was “strongly passionate” about his views. We like to think of Aaron as being one who meant well, but was horribly misunderstood by others.

Which is why it was so fantastic when I was in a discount store in 1999 and actually found a Christopher Radko Christmas ornament from 1998 of ALEXANDER HAMILTON!!!  I mean there is probably a very small audience who would appreciate such an ornament which is I’m sure why it made it to the discount aisle, but to me this was GOLD!

Another lesson to teach the kids! Hooray!

Since then, every Christmas we hang the Hamilton ornament near the top of the tree (always higher than the kids can reach) and we say to our precious decoration, “Sorry our family murdered you Alexander, but Merry Christmas anyway.” And then we have a drink in Burr and Hamilton’s honor.

Forever linked because of unresolved male drama.

To us, it’s our yearly atonement for family passion that got just a little too much out of control.

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Little bits of normalcy

This will be a Christmas like no other, not just for our family, but for many families around the world. A global pandemic really puts its own twist on the holidays.

Four of my adult children will be celebrating remotely with us this year. And yes even though 3 of them live only minutes away in the next town over – they will not be coming to our house.  

We do this remote celebration this year in the hopes that we will all be able to celebrate together next year.

As a mom who is and has always been into celebrating Christmas (our tree typically goes up Thanksgiving weekend) planning a remote celebration has been challenging.

Amazon wish lists have come in handy, but I also wanted to make sure that everyone got personal family gifts to open on Christmas morning. Advanced planning and getting packages out early helped with the one who lives in Tennessee and having the other boys stop by to pick up their Christmas boxes from our porch is how we are delivering gifts this year.

It’s all working out, with the exception of one tiny detail.

When the kids were little, Santa hung a Candy Cane Bouquet on their door when he came to visit. It was a way for the kids to know that Santa had visited and it gave us a little bit of time to turn tree lights on and start the coffee while they ate their Christmas Candy Cane.

Over the years, this has been a favorite tradition in our house. Well except for that *one* year when Marc and I, exhausted, went upstairs at around 2 am to finally go to bed for a few hours before the kids woke up. On the way to our bedroom a bouquet was carefully placed, and a certain little toddler heard the jingle bells and that was that.

He knew Santa had come and he knew there were presents under the tree for him. We managed to get him back to bed but that only lasted 45 minutes.

That was the Christmas eve when mom and dad didn’t get any sleep. At all.

It was after that event that we instituted the “crack of dawn” rule. You couldn’t leave your bedroom until the crack of dawn (and of course one of my very literal kids came up to our bedroom early one Christmas morning because he was convinced, he had heard the crack of dawn.)

Funny memories like these are what makes the holidays so special in families. We will all miss being together this year. We will miss going over the highlights of the last year and we will miss reminiscing over some of our favorite family stories.

But one thing that my kids will not miss during this pandemic is a Candy Cane Bouquet. Santa was nice enough to deliver them early and so each remote family member has one tucked away in their Christmas box.

Because during a time of great upheaval, uncertainty, and frustration – sometimes it’s the little bits of normalcy that can bring the most comfort.

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It is what it is

Whew, it’s been a long time since my last post.

Last Christmas my husband, Marc had just come home from his open-heart surgery where he received 4 bypasses. He ran into a complication where fluid had collected in his lungs during surgery. Essentially, when he came out of surgery, he was drowning from the inside out.

And what do you do if you have fluid in your lungs? You cough.

And you cough, and cough, and cough.

Marc coughed so much that he couldn’t sleep for more than a few minutes at a time. This went on for two weeks. As anyone who is trying to recover from anything knows, if you can’t sleep, your body can’t heal.

On Christmas Eve, I called the hospital and let them know I was bringing him in. I honestly wasn’t sure if he was going to make it through the night at home. The guy was just so exhausted.

Instead of having him come in, they prescribed a hefty dose of a narcotic cough suppressant. Marc took it and for the first time since surgery was able to sleep and have some distance between coughing spells.

That’s when he finally started to heal.

During cardiac surgery they saw through your sternum vertically and when the surgery is done, they put it back together with wire ties. Marc’s coughs had been so violent that he broke two of the wires near the base of his sternum and shifted a third.

When we got that news, we weren’t really sure what it meant other than “boy, that sure was a bad cough, wasn’t it?”

Now, a year out, we know exactly what that meant. Marc’s sternum kept getting separated when he coughed and so it never knitted back together. He has what is called a non-union sternum. And he doesn’t even have functional wires ties that will hold it together in its two pieces.

This means that when he moves, he feels his sternum bone(s!) moving around. Often when they move, they catch and painfully pinch tissue. Rolling over in his sleep causes pain. Thank God he has a job where he sits at a desk because even too much walking is uncomfortable.

There are some surgeries that could be done to stabilize his sternum, but no one is doing them in the time of COVID. Corrective surgery could be months, if not years out. The last person you’d want in the hospital during a pandemic is a cardiac patient who doesn’t absolutely need to be there.

So we’ve adjusted to our new lives. It is what it is.

But in accepting what we have, don’t think for one minute that we aren’t also tremendously grateful that Marc is still here to even complain about his condition.

We are fully aware that things could have been so much worse.  

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