Elli Rader sometimes uses her letter-and-lightbox to illuminate messages she shares on social media. One day last fall she spelled out "Already only Wednesday."
It's a phrase that might have seemed puzzling in the past, but in the middle of a pandemic, everyone knew exactly what she meant.
"Time goes fast and slow," said Rader. "The days drift by and all of a sudden it's the weekend again."
When the lockdown began, the Minneapolis digital consultant began working at home while supervising her two teenagers, who shifted to online school.
"My weeks had always been scheduled and structured but as it went on longer and longer, I abandoned all of my routines," she said.
Blursday is the term people are using for the pandemic-induced time warp that Rader and so many others have been stuck in. Chosen as one of the defining words of 2020 by the Oxford English Dictionary, it perfectly sums up our inability to distinguish one day from the next.
The curious way that the weeks and months have been passing are confusing to us now, but will likely influence the way we'll remember the pandemic period.
"Our nervous system and the human mind are wired to notice and prioritize changes," said Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist who hosts the PBS show "Self-Evident."
"We're not set up to notice things that remain the same. Memory research tells us emotionally surprising events stick out. Our memories are shaped by new experiences."
For almost a year, new experiences have been as scarce as sanitizing wipes. And our largely empty schedules deprive us of what Mattu calls "novelty."
"Time blends together," he said. "I can't tell you anything interesting I did last summer. There were no trips, no amazing nights out with friends. Not even hanging out at a coffee shop where you might have a chance run-in with an acquaintance, or overhear a conversation."
It's not just that we can't take a vacation, socialize with friends and family, go to a crowded concert. We can't plan. And being unable to have that everyday anticipation flattens our collective days, rather than anchoring them.
That has prompted Mattu to seek safe ways to shake up the monotony.
"Like most people, outside of work my day includes cooking and food, music, exercise, TV. I've tried to find where there was room to experiment with something different," he said.
To disrupt his routine, Mattu bought a Nintendo Switch and began playing Super Smash Brothers with a young nephew in another city. He joined online games during happy hours with colleagues. And he and his wife challenged their television viewing habits.
"After we get our little girl to bed we have about an hour for TV, so we've branched out to programming that's off our radar. We started watching Korean dramas on Netflix. It's a different culture, a different format and we were surprised by what the characters are doing.
"We love it. For a little moment, it snaps us out of our rut," he said. "People could try a new genre — classics instead of contemporary, sci-fi if you usually watch comedies. Just something unexpected."
Celebrating 'Little Saturdays'
An old practice is getting a fresh spin in Scandinavia.
What Americans call "hump day" is known as "Little Saturday" (lillördag or lille lørdag) in Sweden, Norway and Denmark, where there's a history of finding a small indulgence to make the middle of the week special.
"My friends and relatives in Sweden say it's a way to raise up Wednesday, to do something cheerful or luxurious that's usually reserved for the weekend," said Ingela-Eilert Haaland, who moved to Minnesota from her native Sweden in 1994, married a Minnesotan and now teaches Swedish at the American Swedish Institute.
The tradition, Haaland said, came from the time when servants, who often worked on the weekend, had Wednesday night off.
Georgia Mäkitalo, a St. Louis Park native who has lived in Sweden since 2012, suspects the tradition is a way to brighten the shortened days of winter.
"In December, we're down to about three hours of daylight, and unlike Minnesota, there are not many sunny days. Swedes have many coping methods and give themselves permission to party," she said. "Lillördag is a midweek excuse to enjoy a few libations with friends."
This winter has seen renewed interest in making midweek special. Social media posts show Scandinavians enjoying everything from heart-shaped waffles to fancy cocktails to a trip to the sauna for a Little Saturday break.
"Naming it makes it a thing," said Ethan Bjelland, head of marketing for Norway House and a Norwegian teacher. "When I look at the hashtags, I see they are using this idea as a way to say, 'Treat yourself.' And during corona, that sounds great," he said. "Bring something surprising to Wednesday. Don't just get over the hump, look forward to it."
Seeing through the fog
Elli Rader brought her days into sharper focus when she made a commitment to spending time outdoors every day and resumed her exercise regimen.
"We ski and bike; I go on a walk in the woods with my daughter or my boyfriend. We try to find someplace new. I used to run on the treadmill when it was cold but I found out I love running outdoors," she said. "I went back to strength training and my yoga program and that's kept me from quietly going insane."
She's even come to appreciate a life with more breathing room.
"I used to say 'I'm so busy' as a badge of honor. I never want to do that again," she said. "I've learned the routine doesn't have to own me, but it does help my well-being when it's there."
Ali Mattu is fast-forwarding to the future, when our bubbles have burst and the coronavirus has receded into history. He expects that his efforts to find novelty (and make memories) now will be useful then.
"Ten years from now, my daughter will be doing a school report on the pandemic and she will say, 'You lived this, what was it like?' I want to be able to tell her something besides, 'It was horrible, but we got through it.' I don't want it to be just a vague fog of an experience."
Kevyn Burger is a Minneapolis-based freelance broadcaster and writer.