5 Pandemic Self-care Tips

Let’s face it, we’re all tired of this pandemic and sheltering in place. Everyone talks about the “new normal” and what that looks like, but given that we’re seeing infection numbers rise across the country, we’re still in the thick of it for the forseeable future, and that’s depressing and overwhelming for many including me (ironic since I work from home anyhow).

So I decided to put together a list of self-care measures you can take when it all gets to be too much. Some things are super simple and some take some motivation, but all will in one form or another give you some respite from the anxiety of these uncertain times. Don’t underestimate the power of small actions – they can be just as effective as large, radical changes.

Be good to yourself. Be gentle on yourself. We are living in unprecedented times.


1) Soak your feet in an Epsom salts bath

My favorite and both the husbot and I do it together while watching TV. It’s super simple. We bought cheap washing up tubs (the ones that sit in a kitchen sink, you can also buy a mega-cheapy plastic cat litter box – just make sure your feet will fit in them!) and a bag of Epsom salts from Costco. You can also buy Epsom salts online at Amazon or at any pharmacy. You don’t need to be fancy or buy an expensive brand. Epsom salts is pretty much Epsom salts.

Follow the directions on the package for foot soaking, but essentially it’s 1 cup of Epsom salts to one tub of water filled halfway with hot water. We boil our water in an electric kettle and add it to the salts in the tub and then wait for it to cool down before sticking our feet in. If you’re soaking your feet while watching Netflix like we do, I highly recommend putting a towel down under the tub to soak up any sloshing or spills. And for the girls, I also use this time to give myself a pedicure. I wouldn’t make time for it otherwise, and the nice thing about soaking your feet means that you can’t get up and wander around. It makes you sit and relax.

You can soak solo or with a partner. And you can read, meditate, watch TV, play on your phone, or just sit and enjoy the soak. It’s funny how calming a foot soak is. We take our feet for granted, but they are fundamental to how we function. It’s good for us to show them some love every once and a while and this is a super easy and cheap option for everyone stuck at home.


2) Take a 30 minute power nap

This should be a mandatory requirement – no wonder Europeans take siestas in the afternoon. Even science has shown that a short nap in the middle of the day can make a difference to your well-being from enhancing your memory to improving your work performance. Now more than ever when people are stuck at home, naps are a good way to check out and reset. I’m notoriously bad at taking naps because I’m incapable of sitting still (many of the things on this list are quite challenging for me), but the husbot can make it work. I would encourage anyone to give it a go, no more than 10-30 minutes and before 3pm so you’ll still get a good’s night sleep.

And as always, you can Google a million and one articles about power naps.


3) Meditate


I’m terrible and I mean TERRIBLE at this one. I’m that girl in your yoga class doing my shopping list in my head when it comes to the last 10 minutes of class. I have such a hard time with being still and focused . . . that whole body mind awareness? Yeah, not so much. Still, it’s something that I’m working toward because I know that it can bring much needed change to my life as hokey as it may sound. Meditation is like power napping or breathing methods – they are ways for you to regulate not just your thoughts but your body’s response to stress and anxiety (I’ll talk more about body reaction when discussing breathing next).

I’ve tried and have had some success with the Headspace app. I also find podcasting at night before going to bed also works – weird, I know, but pick a really boring podcast with a monotonous low pitched voice and you may be surprised, too. If those don’t work for you, there are tons of other apps out there to try and some people may do their own out loud visualizations. I talk to myself enough as it is so no need to encourage that habit, but whatever it takes to get your mind disconnected from the world is no bad thing.

4) Learn to breathe

It seems so simple. We do it day in and day out, 365 days a year for our entire lives, but most people don’t know how to breathe. What do I mean by this? People have a tendency to take shallow breaths, which in turn means they aren’t filling their lungs with enough air, which in turn means they are also not utilizing their diaphragms. Less air intake means less oxygen that gets carried around in your blood stream to help with healthy organ function. It also means your heart has to work harder to pump that vital oxygen around your body.

So what does good breathing look like? It means slow and low – take your time breathing in and aim for your belly button. This means you’re expanding your lungs, you’re giving your intercostal muscles and diaphragm a work out, but more importantly, you’re sucking up all that delightful stuff called O2, which gives your cells what they need in part to function.

But wait, there’s more: good breathing also helps to alleviate stress and anxiety because of the effect it has on your biology.

Deep breathing resets your brain, as well as, doing such things as slowing your heart rate and decreasing your body temperature. It’s the opposite of what you experience when your body goes into “fight or flight” mode – shallow breathing, oxygen diverted to the muscles in your arms and legs, your heartbeat accelerating as you prep to either fight or flee a predator. Ironically, when you’re under extreme stress or are highly anxious, your body can’t tell the difference between an imaginary threat and a real one, as is often the case. Deep breaths counter this. Next time you’re feel a bit tense or overwhelmed, take 5 minutes and focus on taking the longest, deepest breaths you can. I reckon you’ll feel a lot better afterwards.


5) Buy a house plant

house plantSome people cringe at the idea of buying a house plant because they immediately think they are going to kill it, but hear me out, there is gratification in nurturing something and watching it thrive. It’s the same as vegetable gardening – an immense pleasure in doing the work, looking after it, and watching it grow into something edible or in this case, beautiful.

And don’t just water your plant and go about your day. Spend some time with it, make it a playlist, and I swear I’m not crazy, talk to it. Studies have shown that plants do respond to outside stimulus. For real. And if I still haven’t convinced you, then let me say this –  there is something comforting about taking care of something else beside yourself. A little anecdotal side note to illustrate the point: I bawled my eyes out when my first tamagotchi finally died. A piece of not very clever code with some wires and a teeny pixelated screen, but still, I wept like someone had killed my cat.

We humans need to be connected and it’s okay to be connected to a house plant. And as an added bonus, they clear carbon dioxide out of the air, making the air quality of your house better. So go to your local nursery or big box store, I’m sure there will a plant with your name on it.


Top 10 favorite blue inks

While the US is practically on fire this week and I was ready to write a long piece about being an ally for people of color and standing with #blacklivesmatter, I realized that most people are already stressed out and don’t want a lecture from me, and let’s face it, you’ve already gotten the memo about checking your white privilege and standing by those who need our help right now, or if you haven’t, you’re never going to get it. So. I’m not going to go there even though I’m sorely tempted.

Instead, I’m going to go to my happy place, which is fountain pens, and this week, I’m going to touch on inks with a caveat. The caveat is this: I’m boring when it comes to fountain pen ink.

Yes, that’s right, I only use blue in it’s various forms.

There will be a TON of fountain pen enthusiasts out there who are all about inks, but I’m pretty conservative when it comes to what I’ll put in my pens. Most of that is because the majority of my collection is vintage pens which can’t take modern inks (feel free to fight me) and part of it is because I have to have an ink that works well on handmade Italian paper from Manufactus because I draft and plot my books in their journals.

Having said that, there is an amazing array of blues out there for those who might be a bit more like me, and here are my favorites in no particular order:

1) Pelikan 4001 Royal Blue

This is the first blue ink that I got after moving away from cartridges. I primarily got it because I had a Pelikan Souveran M600 with a M nib that I detested because it’s so wet for my tiny handwriting. Pelikan inks are notorious “dry” because their nibs are so juicy. The ink made no difference for the nib, BUT I really like the shade of this royal blue and it’s consistent in most of my pens. Also, it’s one I trust in my vintage pens. Amazon carries it here and it’s great value for money.

2) Parker Sapphire Blue

Sadly, this unicorn of the ink world is no longer made and buying a bottle on Ebay can easily cost you $100, but let me tell you, I would happily pay that for this ink. This is my favorite ink hands down and it kills me that it is no longer available. I’m lucky enough to have 2 bottles and I always scout around to see if I can get a spare at a good price. Listing it here seems like a cheat, but it you ever find one for $50 or less, snatch it up.

3) Waterman Mysterious Blue

The only ink used by Richard Binder, this ink is a staple for anyone with vintage pens who want to ensure that they don’t ruin them. This water-based blue black ink from Waterman is about as safe as you can get. It may seem a bit boring to some, but I actually think it’s a decent color for a blue black and honestly, I trust Richard’s opinion on this one. I do use other inks (sorry, Richard) but any pen that I worry about, I use Mysterious Blue. It’s around $11 from Amazon at the time of this blog post.

4) Lamy Turquoise

By and large, I’m not a huge fan of turquoise simply because getting the hue right for me (I’m seriously fussy) can be problematic. I’ve bought too many bottles of turquoise ink that have ended up more green than blue than I care to admit to. Having said that, I think Lamy’s turquoise is pretty sound and isn’t overly fancy. It’s a good starting point for going down into the turquoise rabbit hole and it’s slightly more than the Waterman or Pelikan inks listed above at around the $16 mark on Amazon

5) Pilot Iroshizuku Kon-peki

This ink is absolutely in my Top 5 inks without any doubt and I’m not the only one. There is something about Kon-peki that is magical and Pilot’s whole line of Iroshizuku inks can’t be beat for quality and price. I might be biased here, but overall, the Japanese make top quality ink and Kon-peki is royalty among them. The color variation on this ink is incredible without being gimmicky. It doesn’t need glitter or high sheen or a metallic finish to be eye catching. It’s subtlety when you lay down a line is what makes it magical. I literally squealed in delight the first time it dried on a birthday card.

I will put in one disclaimer here – you’re not going to get the best results with a needlepoint or extra fine nib because you won’t get enough line variation to see the color change. a more bolder stroke is required. Still, GET THIS INK, you won’t be disappointed. $20 bucks well spent.

6) Sailor Jentle Yama-dori

Oh, Yama-dori, how you complete me! It’s too bad that Sailor decided to get greedy and do away with their large bottles of Jentle Ink and instead are now price gauging us with their tiny 20 ml bottle for close to $14 bucks. Don’t get me wrong. Yama-dori is an incredible ink and like, kon-peki, is just so fabulous, but I take issue with Sailor changing their bottle size to eek out more profits even if Sailor and Pilot make the best inks on the market.

7) Robert Oster Carolina Blue for Carolina Pen Company

This was an impulse purchase at the DC Pen Show last year directly from Jonathon Brooks at the Carolina Pen Company and I have to say that I fell in love just a little. Up to that point, I’d stayed mostly with the large ink manufacturers out of caution, but I’m glad I broke with ink tradition and got this ink. Since then I have picked up more from Robert Oster (the company is in Australia), even breaking away from blue to get some purples for my dip pens, but this color is great and reminiscent of kon-peki to me but with much bolder color variation. It’s a great tealy blue. The bad news is that I don’t know how you can get it unless you pick it up at a pen show. It appears to be sold out online at the Carolina Pen Company and with Covid-19, pen shows have been cancelled for the forseeable future.

You could try to contact Jonathon directly here.

8) Sailor Jentle Sky High

Sailor’s line of Jentle inks has been replaced by the Shikiori line, which is to say, same inks, smaller bottles, higher prices. Same gripe that I have with Sailor for what they did to everyone’s beloved yama-dori is the same story for sky high except worse because they discontinued sky high. So why have I given you another ink to obsess over that you can’t get? Because you can still buy a limited supply on Amazon and Ebay. In fact, there are currently 3 bottles sitting on Amazon here. If you aren’t able to grab one in time, then pick up Souten in the shikiori line from Sailor. It is almost identical.

9) Pilot Namiki Blue

This is a classic, standby ink and one that every fountain pen owner should have in their collection. You just can’t go wrong with Namiki blue. It’s a nice, dry ink that is highly reliable and gets the job done. It’s up there with Waterman’s Mysterious Blue and Pelikan’s 4001 and it’s cheap as chips. $12 on Amazon – you just can’t beat it. When you have a testy or fussy fountain pen, this is the ink to use. It’s not the most exciting shade of blue, this is true, but for those times when you want reliability and no drama, then this Pilot ink is a good choice.


10) Jacques Herbin Emeraude de Chivor

There should be at least one “wow factor” ink in any list and this is it with J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor. I will start off by saying that I would NEVER put this ink in a vintage pen. Just nope. Having said that, this ink is NUTS. Listed as a gold sheening ink, it’s not just emerald and gold, it’s like every color in the rainbow – red, gold, green, turquoise, pink . . . it’s incredible. It will blow your socks off.

But that wow factor comes with a price – around the $30 mark to be exact. If you find it for less than that, you’re a lucky bugger. I think Amazon’s price is fair and given the ease of purchasing, I bought mine from Amazon here for less than $26 bucks. As an ink to try your hand at calligraphy, this is a shimmering delicious choice.

That’s it for now, my fellow fountain pen nerds. Have a great weekend and stay safe out there. 

xo – Shawnee

A Rabbit is My Nemesis

Rabbit from Hell

We’re big gardeners here at Chez Small. It’s in the blood. I grew up on land that had been part of my grandfather’s dairy farm, and even my mom’s family who were poor-as-dirt country folk lived off the land and always had a garden.

So we (me and the husbot) have had a vegetable garden since moving back from Ye Ol’ England. And of course, we’ve battled a whole host of pests over the years: squirrels, mocking birds, bats, carpenter bees, squash bugs, Japanese beetles, green horned tomato worms, vine borers, ants, snakes, black widows, turtles, murder hornets (yes, we had them before they became a thing) and honestly, I could keep going on and on about the wildlife that we encounter in the garden. It’s an in running joke about what we’ll wake up and find on our soapstone porch. 

But this is the first year we’ve had to contend with rabbits.

Scratch that . . . THE Rabbit.

One autumnal morning last Fall, we looked out onto the porch, and lo and behold, the cutest littlest baby rabbit you could ever imagine was hanging out. That’s a lie. He was trying to get into the house and we thought he’d lost his everlovin’ mind, but still, he was cute, and not really scared of us and we thought, “Awww, little guy is nuts, but hey, live and let live. And he’s so cute!” I must’ve said “cute” like two dozen times. I currently hate that word because . . .

 . . . fast forward to Spring 2020. We’re stuck at home going insane during the pandemic, but hey, we still have the veggie garden to get underway and the yard looks great and all is well with the world (or as much as it can be sheltering in place).

That is until one day when the husbot notices that there’s a rabbit in the garden.

Now I should point out a couple of things:

  1. We have a ten foot brick wall, geogrid fencing, and a retaining wall with a 10-12 foot drop that requires a railing system. The only thing getting into this garden is Spiderman or a squirrel.
  2. I really wanted a pet rabbit. The irony is not lost on me that you should be careful what you wish for.

Back to the rabbit.

The husbot swears that the rabbit has created the crater-sized hole in a veggie box that contains my leeks. Skeptical, I place my bet on the squirrel because I’ve had run-ins with those fluffy rats with furry tails before – they are notorious for burying nuts in said boxes. But before I can debate the finer points of my case, we chase the rabbit out, it escapes through a hole, and I make a mental note to fix the fence.

Within 2 days, the rabbit is back and this time, we watch in dismay (okay, I watch in dismay, the husbot feels smug and vindicated) as the rabbit hops in the box and starts digging. Like a screeching harpy, I rush out the door and start yelling obscenities at the rabbit (note to self: small children live next door). It escapes through the fence. By this point, I feel like I’m living the live action version of Peter Rabbit.

Pissed, I then spend my weekend re-doing all the fencing with brand new high tensile geogrid mesh (yes, the stuff they use in construction) then secure it to the ground using landscape staples every 12 inches and even run a piece of geomesh all along the railing and retaining wall until the big wall drop. There. Take that, you weasily rabbit!

We go to have lunch several days later and you know where this is going, right, that little bastard is back inside the fence! And he’s digging another damn hole! It’s like Houdini rabbit. I have no clue how he’s gotten inside. Everything is latched down tight. But by this point, I’ve lost all rational thought. I make the husbot go outside and we corner the rabbit and torment it for a full five minutes chasing it back and forth. I’ve trapped it behind the boxes and I’m determined to a) find out where it’s getting in, but also b) scare the bejesus out of it so it doesn’t come back. 

Come to find out, through the husbot’s strong deduction skills and these wee tiny little wet paw prints that the devil rabbit has been squeezing his furry behind through the closed gate and onto the soapstone porch. At this point, many less stubborn people would’ve given up, but not me, oh no, not today Satan! I’m determined to thwart this rabbit once and for all and so I do what only a sane person would do – I WRAP THE ENTIRE GATE IN FENCING. Exhibit A – 

fence wrapped gate

This time I’m the smug one. I have finally defeated Satan’s little minion. In my mind, it was kinda like this: There is no way he can get the better of me. Ha! That rabbit thought he was smart, but I’m smarter. Stupid rabbit. I’ve got opposable thumbs, motherf*@&er!

You see where this is going again, don’t you . . . 

We sit down to lunch today to have this gorgeous Chinese chow mein that I’ve made from scratch. I’m not six bites into my noodles when the husbot is like, “You’re never going to believe it. It’s the rabbit.”

My back is to the porch and sliding glass door so I can’t see the damn thing right away, but when I turn around, which I finally do with a sigh, there he is. He’s already dug a whole in a pot only 2 feet off the porch (like he was trying to taunt me), but he’s more skittish this time. The moment he sees me get up from my chair, he backs up toward the fence. My first thought is, “that’s not going to help you this time, buddy,” until I realize my error – 



My old fence had been up over five years with nary a scratch on it, but within a week of the new one going up, that stupid rabbit has used it’s titanium-covered gnashers to go through my beautiful, shiny fence.


But this war is not over. It’s on like Donkey Kong. I’m getting chicken wire tomorrow. The husbot has pointed out that rabbits can dig, but I’ll deal with that later. For now, it’s full steam ahead. There can be only one victor . . . and it’s going to be me.

xo – shawnee




Hitting the Wall

I’ve been AWOL now for about a month. Not just here, but on my social media everywhere. I’ve interacted on a couple of posts, but by and large, I’ve lurked rather than participated, I’ve stood aside while I’ve watched others interact. That isn’t to say that I haven’t try to get out there in some meaningful way – I’ve taken walks with friends and have had drinks outside taking the appropriate distancing measures, but even with that, I feel . . . depressed. I’m not even sure that’s the right word to describe it. It’s stronger than ennui, but it’s not the crawl-into-bed-and-shut-the-curtains level of despondency. I guess the Victorians would’ve called it melancholia or melancholy.

We’ve just entered Week 9 of sheltering in place at Chez Small. I know this because the last time that I went out and enjoyed myself was with my Dad the day before my 48th birthday and then the next day – BAM! – birthday dinner plans with friends cancelled and the long interment began.

Sheltering-in-place was novel at first then that began to wear off after about Week 2. Then the next few weeks were full of frenzied DIY and garden activity – anything to keep me distracted and away from the news – Week 5 came around and that wasn’t pleasant. I hit a slump, but then pulled myself out of it and thought, “Hey, I’ve got the swing of this if I can just get back to writing,” and now I’m in Week 9 and I find myself with no appetite wandering around my house like a zombie going from room to room and not knowing what I should be doing.

The simple answer is I should be writing, but I just can’t. I can do every physical labor imaginable right now, can paint and dig and sand and nail things, but I can’t nail myself down to the chair long enough to even get a sentence out. And it’s not just me. Every author I know is struggling to get the words out even though we probably have more time than ever on our hands. It’s the great ironic conundrum.

I think this is the problem and it’s not just my problem, or an author problem, it’s everyone’s problem – we’ve hit the wall. We’ve struggled for so long now to stay positive, to not worry about bills, mortgages, homeschooling, politics, loved ones, etc. that we’ve depleted all of our psychic energy. There is no more energy in the well – we’ve tapped the last bit of juice we’ve had left. And when I say psychic energy, I don’t mean that in a woo woo sort of way – I mean the part of us and our brain that allows us to cope. It’s exhausted, you’re exhausted, hell, I’m exhausted.

I don’t write this post to depress you more. That’s not my intention. I write this post to say “I know how you feel. I know that you’re suffering. You are not alone in your darkness.” There are many of us out here just like you and we see you – you are our kindred spirit despite the topsy turvy world we’re living in right now. And I hope you can take comfort in that. I want to take comfort in knowing I’m not alone in this struggle.

So if you’ve hit the wall, do no be afraid to say something. Talk to your family, your friends, your loved ones and if you can’t do that then talk to me. I’ll listen, I promise.

Stay safe. Be gentle on yourself. It’s okay to be wobbly right now.

xo – Shawnee

Things to do during a pandemic (Part 2)


We’re finishing off Week 5 of sheltering in place at Chez Small.

I have to be honest and say that this last week was probably the hardest by far. I think it’s the same as writing a book: the first 1/3 and it’s still new and shiny, but then you get to the next 1/3 which we call “the saggy middle” or why did I think this was a good idea for a book syndrome and oh god, I’m the worst author on the face of the planet neurosis.

This last week has been just like that.

But this morning, I woke up and decided to kick my own ass and stop feeling sorry for myself and to implement the same method I use when writing, which is the the only way through it is through it philosophy. And in that vein, I’ve had a couple of more things that I’d like to add to last week’s list of what we can all collectively do at home to keep from going insane.

Here we go . . .

6) Take an Online Course

screensYou know that thing you’ve always wanted to learn, but never seem to have the time to learn it? Well, now’s that time. The Internet has exploded with online course options. From make-up classes with Bobby Brown to learning a new language, there are more online classes than ever before and many of them are free. Check out Coursera or EDX for hundreds of free choices. There’s also MasterClass if you want paid content and many many more. I personally am thinking about taking Korean, but languages have never been my strong suit. We’ll see how it goes. Either way, there are many things out there waiting for me (and you) at just the click of a button. 

7) Play a Board Game

Put the joystick or controller down and rewind back to a time when the whole family would sit down and play a board game together. I know, mind blown, but these days, board games are more than just Monopoly or Scrabble and they’re not just for children like Candyland. Board games are a perfect way to entertain the whole family at once without everyone being glued to an electronic device. It’s old school – way to go hipster!

Board games have made a comeback and there as many flavors of games as there are icecream – that is to say a ton. If you’re feeling intimidated by Settlers of Catan, why don’t you try Ticket to Ride? Or if you’re looking for something in the adult variety there is always Cards Against Humanity. There are many options for easy to pick-up-and-play games that don’t require you to read a manual for an hour to set up the board. But if all that seems like too much effort, pull out Connect Four or even Game of Life or Clue. You can never go wrong with a classic and you might just reconnect with your family along the way.

8) Clean the House

There are audible groans everywhere, but let’s face reality, with all those people living at home under one roof, cleaning is inevitable. When Benjamin Franklin said ” . . . in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he should’ve added cleaning to that list.

But here’s the deal – cleaning is good for the soul. Having a proper tidy up not only gets you off the couch and burns off calories, but it also gets you out of your head. Recite poetry as you clean, wax on and wax off like the Karate kid . . . whatever way you wanna do it, get the rubber gloves out and grab the vacuum. In this time of germ and disease, a tidy house is more than just a tidy mind. It’s also a way to keep your family healthy. It’s a win-win and you’ll feel better for it.

9) Send a Letter

Today, I’m writing my British father-in-law a letter. He’s stuck quarantined in his studio apartment in his senior living facility, which is not great for any senior. You think we’re going crazy being stuck at home with our Netflix and snacks and spacious living space? Try being an 80+ year old 6’3″ nimble man with macular degeneration who has no internet streaming, no ability to read books, no contact with the outside world except for someone bringing your meal on a tray in an assisted living center in a space that is smaller than my garage.

It’s grim and in a bid to lighten his spirits, I’m going to compose a letter. I have no idea what I will say and I have to be very careful to make sure that my handwriting is large and legible for his poor eyesight, but I feel like it’s something I have to do. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s something that I would encourage all of you to do especially for the seniors in your life who might be scared or frightened of the changes that are happening around them right now. 

Like journaling, you don’t need fancy pens or paper. Even copier paper will do. Jot down a quick note, let them know how you’re doing, or send them a poem if you’re feeling creative. You’ll be surprised how much of an impact your small missive will make in someone’s life. And by using a stamp, you’ll also be saving the USPS. Two good deeds in one!

10) Try Something New

I’ve left number 10 blank because this one is up to you. This is your chance to find out what makes you tick and once you do . . . are you ready for it . . . TRY SOMETHING NEW. It doesn’t matter what it is – whatever you try will alter you even the tiniest itty bitty bit. And that’s good in my books. Never stop being curious about the world. Never stop seeking to enrich your life because once you do, what’s life about at that point? To be healthy and happy is to stay engaged, to be involved, whether in someone else’s life or your own . . . but let’s focus on you here. Let’s make it all about you. Make time for yourself. Figure out what interests you and try it out.

And whatever you do, whether it’s something on my list or not, keep your chin up, and hold onto hope. This is just a bump in a very long road and you know what we do with bumps? We hold onto the steering wheel, drive over those little bastards, and keep on trucking.

Stay sane. Stay safe. See you on the other side.

xo – Shawnee