habit shift: busy hands.

April 6, 2020
fabric face masks | reading my tea leaves

I know I’m not alone in my panic scrolling, but I’ve been actively trying to break myself of the habit that has me neglecting my already compromised work—or, worse, sullying a rare minute of downtime—to scan headlines and tweets for some new terror. I know this: The numbers are staggering. The sick are everywhere. We need to stay home.

The privilege of being able to stay home and healthy isn’t lost on me. There’s no doubt that far from being “the great equalizer,” this virus is affecting different populations in exceedingly disparate ways. Still, the task of social distancing remains difficult and the anxiety remains real. In daylight hours, I’m largely okay, distracted either by work or kids, but after the sun goes down, and especially after my kids do, I’ve gotten into the terrible habit of seeking out signs of doom while the sirens outside wail; compulsively searching for any new horrific development.

fabric face masks | reading my tea leaves

In dark moments, I’ve found that keeping my hands busy with simple projects is a help. I’m not trying to bury my head in the sand, only to seek a respite from a 24/hour live stream of trauma.

This weekend I started making face masks for our family. I haven’t stepped outside of our apartment in two weeks, but I’m hoping to be able to stretch my legs again soon and when we all venture out, we’ll need face coverings. I’m sewing our masks by hand from a linen napkin and two layers of cotton cut from an old pillowcase. For ties I’m using cotton tape so that the masks are easy to wash between uses. My fingertips are blistered from pushing the thin needle through the thick folds of fabric.

Last night, while I sewed and James rocked Calder, we listened fireside chat-style to the first episode of Cheryl Strayed’s new podcast, Sugar Calling. We kept our hands busy while we listened to the soothing and sensible voices of other people. It worked. We felt better.

fabric face masks | reading my tea leaves

Here, a short list of things to do that are not trolling your phone for bad news:

What’s been helping all of you?

PS. I updated my face mask post, in case you have questions about the pattern I used.

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  • Reply Kate Marshall April 6, 2020 at 1:08 pm

    checking frig, freezer & shelves then finding a recipe to use things up, deliciously…

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 6, 2020 at 2:14 pm

      such a good diversion!

  • Reply Kelly Libby April 6, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    I’m loving your very long list of things to do as i’ve been writing my own list titled, “things i can do”. And, i’m going to add a few of your suggestions. My list varies day to day, week to week, from sweeping the apartment and laundry to create an Italy trip scrapbook. Some days it simply reads, “take a shower” because it’s hard to live a normal life these days and a reminder never hurt.

    It sounds so (extra) scary in NYC and we’re all thinking of you and your family.

    Love from Boston.

    • Reply Rachel Manning April 6, 2020 at 3:05 pm

      Thank you for this post. I needed to read it, right this moment. -RAM

  • Reply Megan April 6, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    Perfect! Just what I need for my 20 week ultrasound. We’ve been doing a lot of scrap gardening. Green onion, bok Choy, celery ends in whatever jar or pot we can find. Old sprouting knobs of ginger buried with hopes it’ll be something. Soil brought to you by digging a hole in the back yard. We also have a kids book swap with a neighbor we do once a week. Cleaned books go out on the porch and we take turns on who walks over to pick up and drop off “new” ones. Trying to stay connected but also staying apart.

  • Reply Amanda Krieger April 6, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled until one night I was wide awake until 2am wondering where all this anxiety came from. I had to put rules around my consumption and it’s the best habit I’ve started.

    I’ve been thinking of families like yours — we have a yard and live in a neighborhood where we can go for walks and not see anyone. How have you guys been coping?
    Stay well xo

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE April 6, 2020 at 2:59 pm

      I hear that. Since I’m often awake in the middle of the night with Calder, I’ve had to be especially disciplined not to spend that whole time reading accounts of the virus! Thanks for thinking of us! This has been tricky for sure. The kids and I haven’t been outside in two weeks because we all had coughs that were troubling and I didn’t want to take any chances. Spirits have had their ups and downs, but we’ve been coping by some miracle. Very hopeful we might be able to go out for short walks again later this week. Even twenty minutes outside would be better than zero minutes!

  • Reply Nell April 6, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    Seeing those sweet little baby toes brightened my day. So much.

  • Reply Anna April 6, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    May I very clumsily say how much I admire your steadfast spirit in difficult circumstances. I have been reading your blog for a while, and never loved it more than I do now. I know there is much that goes on behind the scenes, but thank you for sharing a bit of your life and thoughts here. I have been encouraged by your example.

  • Reply Mackenzie April 7, 2020 at 4:01 pm

    It is definitely hard to know what to do sometimes. I have been baking more than usual and watching old episodes of the show Murder She Wrote. I am a huge bookworm but ever since this whole thing started, I cannot read a book. I can’t focus for more than two sentences 🙁 And my anxiety has been even worse since my husband got laid off from his job. But I am just trying to take everything moment by moment.

    Thinking of you and your family always, Erin…

  • Reply Deborah September 14, 2020 at 10:43 pm

    Hi Erin! Where did you get the lovely fabric for this face mask? 🙂

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 15, 2020 at 11:05 am

      It was a beautiful cloth napkin I had from local shop, Collyer’s Mansion!


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