How is it with thy spirit?

How is it with thy spirit?

how is it with they spiritMany of the churches in the denomination I belong to hold small meetings called covenant groups. We always start with a check-in, often with that question. Not just how are you, or how was your week, but how is it with thy spirit? How is your spirit holding up/on right now? How are the big issues in your life resolving, and how do you feel about them? Are you up or down, in touch with your feelings or out of touch with them? The question is open ended and lends itself to answers we want to give.

These days if I was leading a covenant group, I would plan to do very little other than ask that question, then wait for a flood of responses. Because for most of us, how we’re feeling, how we’re absorbing the world around us, how we’re moving through whatever trials and tribulations we’re facing, is really the heart of all our days.

Today’s blog won’t be a lesson on how to overcome obstacles. I bet you’ve noted that some advice is condescending and annoying. I’m not going to tell you that you’ll feel better if you take tuba lessons or translate sacred texts into obscure languages, or write that screenplay that’s been in your head since you were sixteen. If tuba, text or screenplay sound like they’ll lift the weight of the quarantine off your shoulders, then by all means, do them. But if not? Stay six feet away!

So here’s what I’m doing–beginning with being kind to myself.

In one of the many talks I’ve had with myself since Covid-19 started it’s trip around the world, I decided on a few things to help myself. Quite possibly none of them will also help you. The important message might be to give yourself time and space to think about what will help, and then find ways to do them.

My first important insight was to let up on myself. For me this is the right time to lower standards and find fun things to do when, in the past, I might be working to fill my time.

Finding fun things wasn’t a bit hard, but first I had to let go of expectations. I hadn’t realized how strong a work ethic I have until I decided to work less and play more. At first I felt guilty. I still do a little. But then I began to get in the swing of things. When the exhaustion from round the clock writing on my latest book began to lift, I jumped right into two crazes sweeping the country.

Jigsaw puzzles. 

how is it with thy spiritTwo weeks ago I shared the similarities of putting together a jigsaw puzzle and a novel. If you remember, our first purchase was a thousand piece mystery puzzle. The pieces had to be sorted into two 500 piece puzzles to solve an arson. Of course, being driven workaholics, we started with something that was too hard. Luckily now the first puzzle is completed and I’m 50 pieces from finishing the second. I’ve spent countless hours working on this. I’ve learned that puzzles are soothing and entertaining, and I’ve stopped feeling guilty about both. I’ve also learned to buy simpler puzzles for a while.


A neighbor handed Proman a recipe and a cup and a half of sourdough a few days ago on his nightly walk. I took a bit of the sourdough and grew it. And today I made multigrain sourdough bread in a pan I bought more than a decade ago and have used maybe twice. (Photo above.) I’d had a sourdough starter for years but finally gave it up as too time consuming. But now with so many more recipes for using the extra sourdough instead of throwing it out when you feed the starter, I’m back at it.

Like that pan, I’ve also began to use things I bought and never took advantage of. Old cookbooks. Fabric from my quilt stash for face masks. Odd ingredients in my pantry that I’m finding homes for in new recipes.

New and different meals.

One of the oddest of odd ingredients was pasta I bought at a farmer’s market several years ago. (We won’t discuss how many since one of my children might read this.) Weighing the possibility of tossing it against using it, of course I went with the latter. I used Papperdelle’s Pacific Rim blend to make a delicious pasta salad. And wow! Double wow. Our favorite dish ever. Do, however, cut the red pepper flakes to 1 tsp. It’s still spicy but not explosive.

After we realized we couldn’t live without having more Pacific Rim, I found Papperdelle’s Pasta online and bought eight pounds, although choosing what kinds was hard because I wanted it all.

Television indulgences.

My favorite viewing experience in recent months was Unorthodox from Netflix, recommended by friends. It’s the story of a young woman’s journey from a Hasidic community in Brooklyn to a life outside the sect in Berlin. Absolutely fascinating and so well done. We record Turner Classic Movies Essentials series, which airs at 8 o’clock on Saturday nights. So far my favorite movie was Casablanca but we passed on Gunga Din. This Saturday it’s A Hard Day’s Night, with the Beatles. I’ll be watching.

On the lighter can’t-brag-about-it side? In the afternoons we sneak in an episode of the original Law and Order (appearing right now on three different channels), and in the evenings while we’re waiting for the news, we watch portions of Shark Tank (people are so amazingly creative) and sometimes episodes on the old Carol Burnett shows. Luck was with us the day we tuned in and found her famous Gone With the Wind skit. If we luck out and get the Tim Conway dentist skit someday, my television life will be complete.

Finally crafts.

In addition to old cookbooks and pantry ingredients, I also dug up a cross stitch project I started about 27 years ago. It’s in great shape, just waiting for patience–and possibly better eyesight. But if neither arrives, I’ll find someone to enjoy finishing it. For me now is the right time to complete projects. That includes, quilts, of course. Maybe this year my Christmas wall hanging (pattern purchased in 1998 according to Amazon) will finally be finished in time to hang by December.

No tubas here, but I am thinking I might learn the penny whistle, and I do faithfully practice Spanish lessons with the Duolingo app. If you ever wanted to learn a language, this is a painless way to begin and the selection is vast. The point for me is not to do things to “improve” myself but to “improve” my mood. So far so good.

So how is it with thy spirit? What’s getting you through each day with a little joy left over at day’s end? Let’s share ideas.




  1. Joan Leopold on June 24, 2020 at 4:53 pm

    I had stopped quilting for almost two years. That was unheard of and my sewing room sat vacant and wasted. When I was presented with extra time I dove back in. Thankfully my stash made it possible for me to be as busy as I wanted without the need for shopping. As they say, I won’t live long enough to use it all.

    I’m still enjoying working with my two dogs. The scent work is amazing. So much fun.

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:33 pm

      I hope you’ll share some of your new quilts with us. I plan to get back into it, as well. Just as soon as I finish a new round of masks.

  2. ROSEMARY FORSTROM on June 24, 2020 at 5:42 pm

    Emilie, I was just coming out from a year of exhaustion and grief when the Covid situation started. I was surprised in March when my daughter asked me to stay home again for my own safety. She assured me that we all knew how to handle someone else shopping for me. I cared for my husband at home as Dementia and Parkinson’s slowly ended his life. We, as a family took the steps to keep him safe and that entailed asking for family help as I became home bound with him. I was not happy to become basically home bound again. I have been home for safety since mid March. The first few weeks I stayed busy sorting things and cleaning to donate or discard. I soon realized that sorting to donate meant asking someone else to do one more thing for me. Now I keep the house clean and read. In some ways I am in a “why bother” stage. Florida’s situation isn’t improving so we wait and stay as careful as we can. I also enjoy jigsaw puzzles but I do them online. I share my home with two cats and a traditional jig saw puzzle quickly becomes a game of dive and scatter for them. I am honestly doing well I am just tired of my own company.

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:36 pm

      Adding this to a long period of being a caretaker seems like cruel and unusual punishment, but it sounds like you’re handling things well. And yes, Florida gets worse by the moment, and although we’ve been very careful, I’m looking for ways to be even more careful now. As for the puzzles? A wise decision. Puzzles are hard enough without being “rearranged” by swatting paws and swishing tails. Stay safe.

      • FORSTROM ROSEMARY on June 28, 2020 at 8:24 am

        Emilie, I find that being a senior with health issues is frustrating during this pandemic. Knowing that so many people are busy living an almost normal life while so many of us need to stay home or restrict our lives is challenging. Perhaps this is a life lesson. We need to behave because other wise we could become a burden . For those of us who are/were used to being the care givers or contributing daily to our community it is a bit difficult to be on the receiving end and not the giving end. Thank you for providing a safe place to ramble on about our uncertain times.

        • Emilie Richards on June 29, 2020 at 3:59 pm

          I have to say that many of those people busy living almost normal lives may wish they’d been less ready to plow right in as this virus shows no signs of winding down. I feel your frustration and appreciate how hard this is. We just, wearing masks and carrying hand sanitizer, went out for ice cream cones at our local orange grove, driving by first to be sure it wasn’t crowded–it wasn’t. First time since this began, and only with all the precautions. Such an odd time for people of any age, but especially those of us most vulnerable.

  3. Jean DeFrances on June 24, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    Emilie, a few weeks ago when you wrote about the jigsaw puzzle, A is for Arson, I immediately ordered it from Amazon and it was a Father’s Day gift for my son who has been doing puzzles with his daughters. I think this one will keep them busy for awhile. I’m also a quilter with a “stash” accumulated over a period of 30+ years. So far, I’ve completed 13 quilts that were in various stages from thinking about it to pieces cut. I’ve also supplied family and friends with masks early on in the pandemic. .I’m in South Florida so I don’t think I’ll be going out and abut any time soon. I’ve stayed in touch with friends via Zoom and FaceTime so don’t really feel isolated though I do miss the personal interaction. Thank you for your always interesting blog and newsletter.

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:39 pm

      Please ask your son to forgive me. I just put the final pieces in the second of the two puzzles yesterday, solved the mystery and had the joy of breaking it back into a thousand pieces to pass on to my daughter-in-law. However Proman insisted we put it in two separate bags. If she wants to combine them and start from scratch, she’ll have the option. Meantime we’ll start on something a bit easier.

      And no, don’t go out anytime soon. I’m glad you have Zoom and FaceTime. They are silver linings because a few years ago, they didn’t exist.

      Continue to take care.

  4. Pat Kennedy on June 24, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    Hello Emilie! I have truly been enjoying this time of quarantine. I moved my sewing space to the dining room and the light is better, with the SW exposure. Dragged some of my stash and started making masks. The table is bigger. It is downstairs, closer to kitchen and laundry. I have books playing on our VBPL Hoopla through my iPad. I have a16 y.o. cat, named Oscar who comes and flops near me and stays put.
    I have noticed neighbors out biking or walking with family, kids included. The lawns look happier because they too get extra attention. My garden looks fantastic. ETSY and Amazon know my address. With Facetime I can chat with my kids. Actually more, I think than when they lived here…
    I peruse Pinterest too. And Emilie, the Tim Conway dentist skit is on YouTube…as is Mrs Awiggins.
    Yes I know it is really Wiggins but Tim pronounced it Mrs Aaawiggins. That gets me every time!
    But…what about the Siamese Elephants skit? Go check it out. And have a really good laugh. I smile
    Just thinking about it! Laughter is very good medicine, indeed!

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:41 pm

      I never thought about YouTube. I’ve seen the dentist skit recently. Carol Burnett came to Chautauqua a few years ago and some of the skits were part of her appearance. But Siamese Elephants and Mrs. Aaawiggins? Sounds like I have something fun in store. Thank you and take care.

      • Pat Kennedy on June 27, 2020 at 3:20 pm

        Please tell me when you find it on YouTube. I want to “hear” about your laughter!

  5. Kate on June 24, 2020 at 6:54 pm

    Last night, my book group met via Zoom. It was a first meeting since February. It was bittersweet, since one of our older members died in April, after ongoing health problems. However, we all enjoyed the conversation, exchanged book titles that we have been reading, and decided to continue with Zoom meetings. I booked our July meeting, today.
    My husband and I are having a daily competition on who can do the Atlantic Magazine crossword. He won today, but I took Monday and Tuesday.
    I do yoga and meditation online. Read (obviously) and I have knit 9 socks so far. All nourishes my spirit.
    And if you haven’t tried it yet, sourdough Brownies are Awesome!

    • Emilie Richard on June 24, 2020 at 8:50 pm

      Sourdough brownies? By any chance do you have a recipe? I’ve made sourdough waffles and now this bread. I do have a recipe for chocolate cake which I made years ago. But brownies sound especially delicious.

      • Kate on June 24, 2020 at 10:17 pm

        Of course I have the recipe.

        Not too sweet, lovely and fudgy and they stay moist for at least three days (maybe longer but there weren’t any left.)

        • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:43 pm

          After your comment I looked on line and found that one and several others. I know what I’ll do with my next batch of discards, and it’s perfect to have your recommendation.

          It sounds like you’re making good use of your time. I love knitting socks, BTW, but have stopped since I moved to Florida because… I don’t wear socks in Florida and my family has enough now to keep them warm–as do I. But I still have tons of sock yarn so I’ve been looking for patterns to use it. Where there’s a will.

          Stay safe and knit on.

    • Kate on June 27, 2020 at 3:03 pm

      Might I recommend Kate Atherly’s Baby Sock pattern. They use up the leftovers, and because they have a gusset in the foot, they don’t kick off. New moms are charmed by what look like hiking socks in baby size.
      Of course, I live n Canada. Winter ran from November to May, this time. So it isn’t possible to have “enough socks”. As well, local charities take any surplus socks off my hands. If we ever get back to church, in person, I will miss knitting socks during the sermon!

      • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 4:17 pm

        We need family babies! I’ll check. But remember…Florida. And all my crafts are best produced in the north. Maybe I need to knit swim suits?

        • Kate on June 27, 2020 at 6:32 pm

          Floatini shawl was my other knitting project. It is done in light fingering and lace weight mohair. It feels like a whisp. Just the thing for a fall evening in Florida.

  6. Nita Voleski on June 24, 2020 at 8:26 pm

    I’ve just realized our spirits are better because we’re able to get outside more. Today I was able to have lunch with my Circle from church. We ate on a patio by the river and it was just what we had all been needing. We hadn’t been together since February. From March there have been no meetings, just online church.
    Just being able to get outside and enjoy the sun and flowers have helped so much.

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:45 pm

      It’s a blessing that being outdoors when we can properly socially distance is much less dangerous. I walk every morning and that’s how I see some of my neighbors and chat. Sun and flowers make all the difference, you’re right.

  7. Nancy Lepri on June 24, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    I have to say I’ve been a horrible procrastinator since the quarantine started. I’ve been meaning to do a heavy cleaning and dumping of things…after all, less is more! But I prepare my church’s weekly bulletin and since activities ceased, I’ve spent a great deal of time researching articles to include in each issue seeing I have a lot more room! I’ve found this interesting, learning new facts, but it’s also frustrating too, as it encompasses so much of my time. But my saving grace is that I always manage to find time to read which saves my sanity! ,

    It would be so lovely if you could post your recipe for your sour dough bread! Love that!!!!

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:54 pm

      You’ll find the recipe here:
      I didn’t have enough high-gluten flour and no potato flour, so I subbed with unbleached all-purpose, and instead of Harvest Grains, I used a mixture of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. In other words, you can substitute and it still turns our well. I do own a covered clay baker and used that.

      I don’t think any of us are getting as much done as we think we should. But I think we’re doing what we need to, which is more important. Stay well and happy and enjoy the research.

  8. Kathryn on June 24, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    Emilie Covid has not really taken off here in NZ big time, now people with it coming home from overseas have it but mostly they are in quarantine. However just this last week my spirit has been feeling “sick” as we in my family try to walk a path with my sister who has motor neurone disease and is very angry with how it has suddenly progressed. It is so hard to know how to respond, we do our best but so hard.
    I love jigsaw puzzles, I have done them through tough times when friends have been dying etc. It is sort of zen like as you have to concentrate and worrying thoughts settle.
    Of course through all this I quilt, thank you for that as I always attribute that hobby to you and your Shenandoah books. It brings me so much joy and peace. For awhile during lockdown it was hard to read but now back in the swing and loving Susan Eliz Phillips new book Dance Away With Me. So good. She has ventured more into women’s fiction this time.
    Sour dough! No. But one of my sisters is amazing with it and lots were making sour dough bread during lockdown here too.
    Oh recently I splurged and bought a Q20 Bernina quilting machine. Shoot its bigger than I thought but I first I need to learn how to care for it – oiling etc. Did you see where Pat Sloan broke both her wrists and then now Kristan Higgins broken one. Watch your wrists whatever you do!
    Here we are just starting to meet up again as family which I find really great. ( I live alone). I admit I haven’t gone back to church yet, still not quite trusting of large groups although we are allowed.
    Take care I have been reading all the comments. It brings us all together. In NZ people have complained about the time they were “locked away” and I think of a blogging friend in the USA locked away in her little apartment in an establishment to keep her safe from the virus and I think we are so lucky – the internet brings us together.

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 2:58 pm

      I’m so glad you’re able to be with family and that NZ dodged this bullet with science and good sense. But I am so sorry to learn about your sister. That’s a very tough hand to be dealt, especially for her and then for those of you who love her.

      Yes, I saw Pat had broken her wrists! It was odd because that morning I woke up and thought I need to get back in touch with her. And yes, Kristan Higgins, too. You’re right about being careful. Here in the U.S. this is not a good time to end up in an emergency room.

      I love thinking my books brought you to quilting. I’m smiling at that.

  9. Joni on June 25, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Love your wall hanging!! Anything Christmas appeals to me!
    We are moved into our condo and anxiously awaiting our kitchen cabinets to arrive along with the bathroom vanities!! Slightly inconvenient!!

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 3:00 pm

      Slightly? But how much fun that you got to choose what you will like best. So good luck and may they come soon.

      I’ve done 99% of the Xmas wall hanging and now I just need to put it together. First I need to look at all the UFOs and prioritize. I may not like the outcome.

      May the cabinets arrive very soon.

  10. Patricia Yoder on June 27, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Two staples keeping my spirits up these long pandemic days: jigsaw puzzles and re-reading books off my shelf by Emilie Richards out on the patio!

    • Emilie Richards on June 27, 2020 at 3:01 pm

      That’s a lovely thought and I can see it in my imagination. Enjoy both and thanks for telling me.

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