break out of the rut

The endless quarantine has been taking its toll. What do you do to break out of the rut of the same-old, same-old? So what do you do when you’re “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”? I totally just turned on the U2 album for extra motivation.

Without further ado, here are my tried-and-true top 5 tips to break out of the rut.

1. Have a Picnic Movie Night

Now before you tell me it’s too cold for all that, you should know I’m not an outdoor kinda girl. Picnic blanket in the living room, a nostalgic movie from my childhood to show the kids, and an easy dinner of grilled cheese sandwiches, carrot sticks, pickles, and chips. A glass of wine for the grownups and we’re all set to enjoy a movie together. Among others, we’ve watched The Wizard of Oz (best movie ever!), the animated Alice in Wonderland, Mary Poppins with Julie Andrews, and the first movie in The Chronicles of Narnia. Honestly, I don’t even watch the movie all the way through, between refilling plates and answering incessant questions, but we still have fun.

If you’re not in full picnic mode, I’ve been making popcorn using a silicon microwave popper. It’s less drama than stovetop popcorn and fewer ingredients than store-bought microwave popcorn. I control the amount of salt and butter I add after the popcorn is ready, and it’s easy to control how much popcorn I make. Of course, with two kids who love snacks and the tantalizing scent of fresh popcorn, I usually make a second batch.

2. Make an Easy, Fun Dessert

Or a complicated, fancy one, if you prefer, but I’m trying to offer accessible solutions here.

After discovering vegan marshmallows at Whole Foods, I made s’mores for the first time in my life. See above…I’m not really into the outdoors. Earlier this month we lit the fire pit and toasted marshmallows, then I whipped up a batch of oven s’mores that the kids enjoyed. Yesterday, I just felt like making more, so everyone enjoyed a special afternoon snack.

For her birthday, T specially requested cheesecake bites instead of a cake. While they’re an easy, no-bake dessert, they took me longer than usual to make thanks to endless interruptions. But I finally have them chilling in the fridge (just in time!), and these are extra-special since I added the last of my homemade chocolate-blackberry jam to the filling.

3. Play a Game

Every Saturday after dinner, we let the kids play video games while the adults play a few rounds of Rummikub over drinks. I’d prefer if they played Rummikub with us, but they’d rather play video games… What are you going to do? This particular game is a bit of a puzzle, so it exercises the brain in a fresh way at the end of the week. We’ve been playing most Saturdays for months now.

We have a number of board games the kids do enjoy. The surprise hit has been old-school Monopoly. We usually deal out a couple of properties to everyone at the beginning and set a reasonable 45 – 60 minute limit on gameplay so that we aren’t playing for an eternity. I do think the game might play out differently (with a different winner) if we went all the way to the bitter end, but my 5-year-old won’t sit around to play any game that long. If someone bankrupts out of the game before an hour is up, we call time and count up our assets to decide on a winner.

4. Learn a New Skill

You’ve heard me wax poetic about my love for DuoLingo before. This year I worked a little each day steadily, and I completed the equivalent of 3(!) college semesters of language learning. The gamified learning has really motivated me to stick with it, and I’m feeling more confident in my Spanish skills than ever before. I also picked up French, out of a long-wished-for desire to see the Eiffel Tower, with different results. I may have found my Waterloo. So many words sound alike! So many letters go unpronounced!

My childhood keyboard survived cross-country shipping. On those rare days when the mood strikes and my wrists don’t hurt, I try to practice playing some simple songs for a few minutes. K abandoned his efforts to learn acoustic guitar for now, but the keys of a piano are a lot more intuitive. He’s practicing on the keyboard with a larger commitment to actually learning musical theory than I am. There are some impressive YouTube piano instructors that we’ve tried out.

Drawing has been another skill that has brought me a lot of joy. Lately I’ve focused on mandalas. Between the simple shapes and the symmetry, creating a mandala has become a meditative exercise that forces me to remain in the moment. My mind always feels clearer after I’ve drawn one. They’re easy to make, too. I use a compass to draw concentric circles, then divide them into 6 – 8  even slices using a straight edge. From there, it’s easy to start filling in each small circle, slice-by-slice, before going to the next larger circle. Check out some of my drawings on Instagram!

5. Try an Unexpected Genre

Books, movies, music… a different genre might be just what you need to break out of the rut. While a lot of friends who are more vocal readers prefer literary fiction, memoirs, or non-fiction, I’m just not like that. I unapologetically read fun fiction, especially if it has sci-fi or fantasy elements. But lately, the kids have been enjoying hearing us read Winnie the Pooh, The Chronicles of Narnia, and the Magic Tree House. The sheer silliness of Winnie the Pooh (especially if you do all the character voices like I do) will definitely lift your mood. Alternatively, reading “The Horse and His Boy” as an adult revealed a surprisingly apropos social commentary.

Of course if you like to watch shows or movies, try something (well-reviewed) in a different genre. If you normally watch comedies, try a period drama. If you like crime shows, watch a skit comedy.

One of the channels I’ve been catching on YouTube lately is “Twins the New Trend” and their first reactions to hearing new-to-them music. While some of the stuff they listen to isn’t new to me, I love that they are expanding their (viewers’) musical horizons and listening to different viewpoints. And their reactions feel charmingly authentic and honest. Another YouTube channel I see in my feed is Bailey Sarian, who does makeup tutorials while telling true crime stories. For some reason, I find makeup tutorials extremely relaxing, even though my own daily makeup routine takes 3 – 5 minutes. Trying something new in your everyday routine, like a bright colored shirt or something sparkly, can also help break out of the rut.

6. Bonus Tip

Embrace (realistic portions of) your pre-quarantine personal care standards. Though I’ve talked about self-care before, I don’t mean self-care. I mean that I want to feel like I did before quarantine, back when things were normal.

I’m so much more cheerful and productive when I shower and dress early in the day. Just the act of putting on a little makeup and an actual outfit changes my whole outlook. I feel like myself, and if I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I look like me, too.

Since I do a short work out prior to showering, I’ve already done something good for my body by the time I’ve finished my first cup of tea. Of course there are still the days that I spend in workout clothes and don’t shower until just before dinner. But I just don’t feel as good about myself on those days…

Is it also weird that I mostly prefer to wear jeans to leggings or sweatpants? Is it a generational thing? My daughter hates wearing jeans and always goes for leggings. My son has dubbed sweatpants “soft pants” and always asks to wear those first.

The most important thing, of course, is to do what works for you. Take care of yourself the way you need to.

Remember, taking the time to break out of the rut will pay off. You’ll feel better. Creativity and motivation can be yours once more! And someday, hopefully soon, things will return to normal.

Have you tried any of these techniques to break out of the rut?

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