what i learnedThis spring, days melted into weeks then spilled into a pool of months. Before long, an entire season came and went. With personal freedom sharply restricted, I learned to appreciate some of the things I once took for granted.

Each season, Emily P. Freeman invites writers to share what they learned. She graciously posts our articles on her blog.

Being Atticus Finch in 2020

Back in the fall, I helped my niece with an assignment for her freshman English class. The focus of the task was Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the sobering tale of racial injustice in a small southern town.

When I taught High School English, it was, by far, one of my favorite novels, so I got a little giddy at being asked for help.

We found my favorite Atticus Finch quote that I’ve read so many times it should be the epithet on my headstone.

To this day, every time I read it, I get goosebumps.

Atticus imparts sage advice to his daughter Scout on how to get along with people:

“if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—


—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Lee’s novel, I know, doesn’t rank high on the list of literary intellectuals. But who cares.

The timeless theme of fractured race relations follows us. It will continue to do so until we see people, as James McBride writes, “the color of water.”

what I learned
That dark skin toned human, who was created in the image of God, deserves to be loved and valued.

Cultivating custodianship of my body and gratitude for food

The pandemic brought us all home, reluctantly, with the sheltering-in-home mandates. So we found ourselves spending more time in our kitchens—cooking, baking, and eating.

As COVID-19 cases sored, I soon learned the implications of not eating to crisis-proof health. Suddenly I redirected my personal food choices to strengthen my immune system.

Then the ripple in food supply hit our households. Suddenly the empty produce section deepened my appreciation for food and farmers.

No to toot my own horn, because we are farmers, but I recognized that, by and large, our nation forgets what it takes to get food from the field to the plate.

Masked shoppers with furrowed eyes brows (I learned to read eye-brow expressions during COVID-19) pushed carts shaking their heads.

As if to say, “why isn’t my heirloom cucumber available?”

But over these few months, time was on my side. I buy what nutritious foods are available, and I delight, once again, in chopping, dicing, and roasting.

Using cloth napkins and vintage linens

I’ve always had this soft spot for cloth napkins and vintage table cloths, particularly floral ones. Crisply ironed cloth napkins and a cotton tablecloth make eating the mosh pit of last week’s leftovers feel elegant.

I mentioned the “i” word—the iron—a long-forgotten task since the invention of polyester, rayon, and yoga pants.

Conveniently, the wrinkled look is in fashion.

Now and again, I search antique stores for sets of cotton napkins and tables cloths. My favorites are the prints from the 1930s and 1940s.

When I use them, I stop and wonder about the family that owned them before me.

what i learned

My oldest daughter visited the other day and mentioned that during COVID-19, she uses cloth napkins. And how they remind her of home.

My life as a busy mom forces me to compromise a bit, and by mid-week, I break out the rayon cloth napkins. By then, the favored linens litter the laundry room until the weekend.

There are many weeknights that we dig through a burrow of clean laundry to find enough rumpled mismatched napkins for each person around the table.

We fold them as neatly as possible, then set the fork on top. No one notices whether there are creases in the napkins or not.

It’s just one of those simple practices that, when enacted, become part of our family rhythm: wrinkles and all.

Clinging to the slow life

Being forced to stay-at-home transformed our family calendar. Pre-pandemic, I managed our family schedule using a four-month wall calendar prominently and strategically hung by the charging station in our kitchen.

Everyone could glance at it for a nanosecond while managing electronic devices or grabbing keys on the way out.

Over the past few months, the blocks on the calendars remain empty—no medical appointments, no sports games, no meetings.

I hardly pay attention to the wall calendar anymore. Did it take a global pandemic for me to savor those empty blocks?

My slight obsession with color-coding family activities faded as the sheltering-at-home weeks amassed.

what i learned this spring 2020

I used only to imagine what my week or month could look like if just a few of those blocks were empty.

An empty schedule allowed us to create new family traditions.

So now that the world moves forward now that coronacation is almost over, will I still hold my empty blocks sacred or fill them with busyness?

This semester in grad school via Zoom, I learned about neuroplasticity. I learned that I could change my tendency to overschedule.

“Traits and practices can be cultivated and practiced with regularity; that is, the repetition of experience can result in a change in the brain structure.”

A loving God designs the brain this way.

I can’t forget to thank COVID-19’s part in all of this.

Now I will be vigilant in making sure more empty blocks show up on our family calendar.


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What I Learned the Spring of 2020
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What I Learned the Spring of 2020
With personal freedom sharply restricted, I learned to appreciate the things I took for granted. Today I share what I learned in the spring of 2020.


  1. Michele Morin on May 30, 2020 at 11:57 am
    Hats off to you, farmers. And we are a cloth-using and appreciating family as well. My youngest started a trend of carrying cloth napkins in lunch boxes among kids who lunched in the band room...back when kids could eat together. 😣
    • Denise Sultenfuss on May 31, 2020 at 6:11 am
      Hi Michele, Hello, fellow cloth-using friend! Thanks for stopping by the blog today.
  2. Laurie on May 30, 2020 at 3:56 pm
    Yay for farmers! we live in a farming community (Lancaster County, PA) and the farm stands are just beginning to open with all their delicious bounty. The first day of strawberry season is my favorite day of the year. My family knows I look forward to it even more than Christmas. For real! :) I have used cloth napkins for my whole married life. At first, it was to save money. Now it's for the environment and because I love the feel of cloth so much more than paper.
    • Denise Sultenfuss on May 31, 2020 at 5:07 am
      Laurie, We may be kindred spirits! Lancaster, ooh, so beautiful! We live in the Eastern Shore of Maryland so where you have hills, we have waterways. Thanks so much for stopping by for a visit. Warmly, Denise
  3. lauren858 on June 1, 2020 at 1:04 pm
    Yet another cloth napkin enthusiast here! And also another big fan of To Kill a Mockingbird ... it's one of my top three of all time (just reread it about a year or so ago, and it absolutely held up to that high testimonial). Strangely, it's also one of my favorite movies ever, and it's rare that I like film adaptations as much as the book. Love the quote you shared!
    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 1, 2020 at 5:20 pm
      Hey Lauren, Thanks for stopping by today! Cloths napkins and lipstick just make everything seem fancier. You know, I just adore the TKM film, and the actress who plays Scout is adorable. Fun TKM fact, Dill is Truman Capote in real life. But you probably already knew that. I hope you swing by again soon. Warmly, Denise
  4. Laura Thomas on June 3, 2020 at 11:17 am
    I loved reading your spring highlights and insights—thanks so much for sharing! And yay for all the wonderful farmers! 🤗
    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 3, 2020 at 12:10 pm
      Laura, thanks for stopping by today! So glad that you enjoyed my spring musings. Warmly, Denise
  5. Karen C. on June 4, 2020 at 12:50 pm
    I love that you and your family learned to slow down and spend more time together. I think that is one of the best things to come out of this time in our world. Family is so important and I think so many people have forgotten that as we fill our lives and compare who is busiest.
    • Denise Sultenfuss on June 5, 2020 at 10:25 am
      Hi Karen, first, thanks for stopping by today. And second, I am happy to know that you see the value in slower living. Busy doesn't mean best. Hope to see you again here. Warmly, Denise

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