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ANNA SMITH: Opening new windows to cultivate a sense of calm

I’d really like to know: How are you coping?

We are lucky, as I’ve mentioned before, to be able to work from home. I certainly grow tired of staring out my own window day after day, though the view is not the worst. From my makeshift home office, I look out on our courtyard shaded by Japanese Maple trees through 1930s paned French doors (albeit with layers of chipping paint and glass ripples to show their age).

I’m feeling antsy, to be honest, which I’m sure is not unlike a lot of you. Many of us are spending more time at home or at least in our local spaces than ever before. But no one is probably more antsy than travel guru Rick Steves. Even still, Steves is finding unexpected joy amid a travel standstill during the pandemic. (This is the same guy that, until now, had not spent enough time in his own kitchen of 10 years to turn on the oven ー not even once! He lived in constant motion.) And he is still satisfying his hunger to travel in his own ways. He explained on a recent episode of "The Daily" podcast: “This virus can stop our travel plans, but it cannot stop our travel dreams.”

Steves has been sticking around his hometown of Edmonds, Wash. (just outside of Seattle) much more than he’s done in the past; it’s the first summer in 30 years that he’s spending at home. As Steves explained to Raisa Bruner of Time Magazine, he has “rediscovered what it means to hear birds in the morning. He’s brushed off his old trumpet and plays a nightly rendition of taps for the neighborhood as the sun sets over the Pacific. He’s learning to love his partner’s dogs, to chop vegetables, and to travel — as he puts it — from home.”

While I am not a nationally renowned European vacation expert like Steves, I have felt similarly surprised to see myself embrace the slower pace of the pandemic, excited to rediscover my hometown in a new way these last few months. I relish all the beautiful writing inspired by current events, the weekend mornings without an agenda, the ability to focus and reprioritize. These things are carrying me through.

I find great joy in digging deeper roots here, but I still want to connect with other places, too. This itch to get out is perfectly embodied in one of my new obsessions with a website called Window Swap (window-swap.com), where you can instantly see the view through someone else’s window around the world, from Scotland to Sweden to Slovakia.

I have established new rituals for myself, like drive-thru coffee and a geeky podcast to myself in my car most weekday mornings. Since my commute is literally an 18-step walk through our courtyard to the guest house-turned-office in the back, this is a perfect way to start the work day. It helps my brain transition from sleep-deprived mom to focused business owner.

I have been curious what methods others are using to take control amid the chaos, so I took a very unscientific poll of a few of my friends. The results were insightful. The largest group (30 percent) is finding exercise and nutrition to be the most beneficial; the next seeks nature (25 percent); another leans into creative outlets for escape like art, music, cooking and books (23 percent); and a final group seeks solace in friendships and extra family time (22 percent).

I have a neighbor friend who is perhaps the most extroverted person I know. She is often a source of inspiration as a mom and business owner. Even so, I am floored by her response to the pandemic. She exercises a capacity for flexibility that many could never muster in the midst of a crisis. Despite her deeply communal nature, she took news of the pandemic to heart at the first warning sign. She is cautious about community spread and wears a mask. She refuses to resist the facts and ignore social distancing recommendations. She has spent time seriously considering when and how to expand her family’s “COVID bubble.”

This friend’s three children have been home much more than usual, and she still has a business to run, but I detect not an ounce of bitterness or anxiety. She is using every spare moment to dream up clever ways to safely connect neighbors. Everything in her wants to embrace each person she sees, but she’s nimble enough to accept a new reality. She is not focusing on the losses but on the opportunities to practice resilience. I see her opening up to the slow, quiet, beautiful bits as well, taking what she can from this unprecedented moment in time. She is evolving. She’s teaching me: There are times to fight and times to flow.

I hope this column can serve as a gentle reminder that there is joy smack dab in front of all of us right now. It may be in the simplicity, in the small moments, in our children and their bright faces. Let’s be the type of people who choose to enjoy this forced “downtime,” staying at home more because it is the right thing to do. I will keep arranging flowers and doing yoga late at night while the house is dark and quiet; it’s making me more mindful and keeping me sane.

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at anna@sagebakersfield.com. The views expressed here are her own.