Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Stop Everything

 

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For the past few days I’ve spent most of my time in bed with a hot water bottle. I had a lower back spasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The first two days were difficult to get up and down. On second thought, difficult is an understatement. But with the pain came some important lessons I apparently needed to learn.

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The first was how kind and generous my family and friends were. I am usually a do-it-myself kind of person, sometimes to a fault. I am strongly independent. But there are moments I can become resentful when others don’t pitch in. It’s in these moments that I realize that I could use some help. But when I feel aggrieved my requests sound more like criticisms than inquiries.

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Since my mobility was impaired, I had to ask for anything I wanted. What happened felt like a flood of love and care. Emma, my daughter, and Larry, my husband, were very helpful. Emma didn’t give me her usual teen attitude, and Larry went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed. Friends offered to help., which meant the world to me.

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What surprised me most was when I called to cancel theater tickets for two shows, both theaters were more than accommodating. And when I had a time-limited gym class, they postponed it without hesitation. Normally I don’t ask for special requests. I want to, but I respect most rules and adhere to them. I can even be righteous when others don’t respect the rules. I know, not an attractive quality, but true, nonetheless.

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I think this back pain may help me to recognize the need to ask for help more often. It was great for accommodations when there were special circumstances. But it seems like an activity worth pursuing even when I just want or need something. It could be as simple as someone helping me with reaching a product high on a Fairway shelf, or it may be asking a favor of a friend or colleague. In any event, this is a time when the pain gave me a positive gain.

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Slowing Down

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This past week I had jury duty. My first reaction was one of annoyance.   I’ve done a lot of jury duty, even one stint for three months. So as far as I was concerned, I’ve done my time. But then I thought again. It’s an enforced day of quiet. I promptly changed my schedule around and planned my reading accordingly. First were some back issues of The New Yorker. Then, much to my delight I was going to be able to read Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door. The book came out the day prior to having to serve and I made sure I had my copy.

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Years ago when I walked downtown to the courthouses, just north of the Brooklyn Bridge, I had a clipped pace and could make the five-mile trek in 90 minutes. But this time it took me 110 minutes. 20 minutes longer than in the past. It wasn’t the cold weather. I walked throughout the winter in the long trial. Though cold and windy, I enjoyed the empty sidewalks allowing me to walk with ease. Perhaps the 20 minutes isn’t so bad given it was 20 years ago when I moved quicker, getting to my destination with time to spare. But I did notice I’m losing some stamina.

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I enjoy walking just as much as I did in the past, but I’m slower, tending to walk shorter paths. 20 years ago I’d walk to and from 100 Centre Street, last week one way was more than enough. I also started noticing that I’m doing less outside of work. I’ve always been a busy person, mainly pursuing the arts such as exhibits, theater, films, and the occasional dance performance or opera. Now I’m more selective, finding I prefer to rest more.

I guess I couldn’t keep up with my previous pace. And, I suppose I don’t have to. Losing a minute a year for a five-mile walk allows me to enjoy more of the scenery on the way.

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Letting Go in ’16

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What a concept! Letting go has been used as a catch phrase describing a way of not feeling what we don’t want. I am not amused when I make a complaint and I’m told, “just let it go.” If I could have let it go I wouldn’t be complaining in the first place. But 2016 feels like a good time for me to let things go. Partly because I haven’t liked what I’ve felt, but mostly because what I have previously over-enjoyed isn’t serving me right now.

 

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I usually make lots of plans, however, my plan this year is to plan less. I’m letting go of being too busy. It means more Yes time to do less, and more “No”s in the scheduling category.

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I feel relieved with this plan. In the past I would get overwhelmed with all that I had to do. I am smiling as I write this because I’m looking forward to less. And in this case less is more; more freedom, more ease, more inner peace.

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I don’t imagine living a less fulfilling life. In fact I image I will be more fulfilled doing less. But New York City still offers a lot. I will try to relax as I choose plays more judicially, or pick what art exhibits I’ll see. I go to the opera and dance performances less, so that feels easier. Movies may be difficult to decide on, but I’m up for the challenge. I will be reading less based on recommendations and more on what moves me at any given time. I’ve been fortunate to have gone to a lot of parties and events over the years, and am happy to slow down significantly. I’m just not in the mood right now. I still look forward to going to work, walking, running, and spending time with my family. And I’m always up for a good laugh.

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It will be interesting what I end up doing or not doing, as the case may be. Yet, letting go does not feel like an imperative at this juncture, it feels natural, as if I made it to this point and letting go is what’s next.

Grief Shaming

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Last week on Facebook I had changed my profile picture to one with a transparent French Flag on top of my face. When I was in college I had gone to school in Paris one summer studying Art History and French. The art history stayed with me, the French, not so much. It was a seminal summer for me. Memories surged after the bombings and I responded based on my relationship to my past and those in my present. Yet, shortly after that, so many people started writing pieces or making comments about how wrong it was to change our profile pictures when so many more had been tortured and killed in Damascus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Sierra Leone….. And the shaming began.

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I would much rather see a way in which we can educate and inform rather than tell one another that what has moved us isn’t good enough, or is racist or wrong. We’re all served well to learn more. But nothing is accomplished when we’re shamed into feeling bad about what matters to us.

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The irony is that often it’s in an attempt to create tolerance. Instead it creates a rift. “My way of seeing the problem is better than what you’re doing,” is the implication. And, though we see it online, we also hear it in our lives. There are so many times that clients will tell me that they’ve been criticized for the manner in which they’ve mourned a loss. If someone is relieved that a parent has died, they are considered cold-hearted. Alternatively, people who mourn for a year or two are asked when they’ll get over it. If someone loses a dear pet, eyes roll.   Why are we so dismissive of how others handle loss? And, what have we lost as a result of that?

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The Last Word on The Marathon

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So, I’ve been writing a lot about planning on running the marathon, training for the marathon and running the NY Marathon. Not only was the run a personal endeavor, but having written about it, it became a shared event. I secretly think it was self-centered of me to do this, and perhaps even more so in writing about it, but it’s a risk I’m taking. That said, I do want to complete this cycle, so I’m writing what I believe will be my final chapter on this subject. As selfish as I was in working towards and running the marathon, I have been acutely aware of how kind-hearted and generous my friends and family have been.

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In fact, more than anything else I’ve gained from my experience running the TCS 2015 New York City Marathon is that I’ve gained an appreciation for all the good will out there. Even though I trained for the marathon, I’m not a serious runner. I started running five years ago, treading lightly to avoid extra knee pain. I’ve always loved walking but never in my dreams did I think I could run. Nonetheless going at my very slow pace, I could maintain a runners gait. After a couple of years running from time to time for a couple of miles or so, I thought I’d enter a race. I didn’t care about my time, and resented those who kept encouraging me to pick up my pace. I am usually a private person, so I was uncertain about the yelling that took place. “You can do this!” “Go, go go!”

Instead I put on my head phones and finished the race noticing people 10 years older pass me by. I didn’t check my time, and was happy to have done it on my own terms. From there I entered other races. I still had a “leave me alone” attitude, but I was proud to be in the races, increasing my distances. For my first half marathon, which was the More Half, I liked that there was a mix of women all ages, shapes, ethnicities and sizes. I felt like my unique running style was perfectly suited for me and for the event.

A friend said if I could do a half marathon I could do a whole marathon. But I thought getting through half a marathon was all I would ever be able to do. I loved going to First Avenue year after year to cheer the runners on the first Sunday of November. I always cried because I was moved by their determination and stamina. But they were runners. I was not. I contemplated walking the marathon. And when I thought of that it seemed doable. At some point I decided I will try to run the marathon. Maybe not completely, but as best as I can. My friend Jeannette was very encouraging. She had gotten into the marathon and was committed to her training. Zena, another friend who lived in Chicago until recently, was a complete champion of my running. She gave me a half-marathon necklace to commemorate my first half. She gave me advice about running. And when she was in New York she ran a race at my pace even though she is twice as fast.

Then there were my friends who would compliment me. I didn’t always take in the comments, replying, “Well, I’m really slow.” But people were kind. When I did announce that I was going to do the marathon, I got so many encouraging and enthusiastic comments. In the past I might have felt that I was now obligated to run because I said I would. And, what would people think? But instead I felt grateful. I was happy reading comments from friends and family. I felt supported.

And, as I thought about it, I knew if I showed up I would complete the marathon. I just had to show up. So, Sunday morning I got up early, got dressed took the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, took the Ferry and a bus to the Verrazano Bridge, where I would start the race. It was unseasonably warm. For me the weather was perfect. I prefer to be warm rather than cold. As a slow runner I don’t get as sweaty as those at faster paces.

I was in the last group of runners. Many were running for the first time, so there was a friendly yet nervous energy in the air. I had my playlist on. Fabulous music for 10 hours created by Larry. The gun went off and I started at the pace I kept throughout the race. When I was in pain I walked. I only stopped to use the porta-potties. I drank the Gatorade. I like luxury bathrooms and I don’t like energy drinks, but that was a small price to pay to do this race.

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What was most amazing to me were the crowds of onlookers. I painted my name on my shirt. I knew I needed encouragement to do this run. Partyers would chant, “JANET, JANET.” I would hear my name from balconies, from strangers, from tourists and cops. It kept me going step after step. At mile 15 I was sure it was mile 16, and felt deflated for that mile. But then came mile 16 and I knew I could do 10 more. After 16 I was met by friends, first Zena and Seth, with an awesome sign as I entered Manhattan from the Queensboro Bridge, one of five. Then later Larry and Emma with our dog Lucy. They were with our other friends we met through Lucy, Just down the street stood more friends with another sign and a banana. From there I was met by many strangers wishing me and the other runners well. It was amazing energy.

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In some ways the psychological training was more significant than the physical training. I had to get out of my own way. I had to learn to be less judgmental, at least for the duration of the race. I had to let in others’ enthusiasm. I had to appreciate the love shared. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments. At two separate times I thought, “Fuck You,” when marathoners who wore tee shirts stating all the marathons they had run were condescending to me, a mere novice. They were nice in that fake way that lets me know they have “Experience.” But those moments were fleeting. Mostly I felt and continue to feel grateful.

Even though I ran this race for me because I wanted to do it, a bucket list item, everyone was so amazing. And that is what kept me going. I am surprised at myself for enjoying such a positive experience. I can latch onto the gaps in life complaining about what I don’t like. Yet for one day, one very long race from morning until night, I was smiling. A true reflection of all that was given with love and generosity. It brought out the best of New York City and the best in me. So thank you. I am now a proud New York Marathoner.

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Something for Nothing

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I am easily seduced. Obtaining a bargain, or being given the possibility to win something is an easy hook. But now, after years of winning nothing of substance, I am on email lists for any number of companies who want my business. Most of the emails get deleted without a second glance. On the one hand, I have a Pollyanna view of life, hopeful that things will turn out. On the other hand, I’m a sucker. I want something for nothing. And the something I get is an overabundance of emails luring me to go on vacations, acquire luxury products, or donate to another crowd-funding start-up.

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This is nothing new. My father has always loved a good deal. He chose his present home, a two-story town house in an over-50 community because it was priced to sell. A Pollyanna himself, he didn’t figure in stairs as a deterrent for a couple in their 80s. While growing up he always brought home dented appliances because of their low price tag, while my mother scoffed at the impaired item. No matter how much my mother begged him to buy at a regular store, he couldn’t stop himself from scouring the off-brand warehouses popular in the 60s & 70s.

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And, so, in my father’s footsteps I get excited when I see that I could win a trip to Tahiti, or win a shopping spree on a site that probably doesn’t accommodate for my curves or my age. I did stop myself from purchasing a membership to the Oprah Club. The ad promised free give-aways and deep discounts. As much as I love to get something for free, I decided that the price of the club wasn’t worth it.

Nonetheless, I have spent more time than I’d like to admit filling out surveys for a chance to be entered into a special drawing for one thing or another. I did win a free bag and a $25 gift card to Trader Joes once. But it wasn’t because I entered anything, I merely brought my own bags for shopping and was entered into their drawing. I like Trader Joe’s because they always have great prices even though it’s not a discount store. And, since I always bring my own bags for shopping, I can enter the drawing with the hope of winning another $25 gift card.

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But no more online contests. Luckily my Dad doesn’t own a computer. So my parents dodged this bullet.   And now now I’m spending my time unsubscribing from email lists. I don’t want the temptation of a big win to get in the way of living my life. My time is dear. I can use it enjoying what I already have.

The Kindness Con

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Last week I spent the day in Central Park to see the Pope. The day was beautiful. It felt like an early Autumn Day, sunny with a bit of wind, low humidity, but not too cool. I love Central Park, so giving up a day to stand in lines to join a crowd of 80,000 did not really seem like a sacrifice.

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I went with a friend. Given our busy lives this was a rare occasion to spend quality time together. We stood in line for a couple of hours before reaching the security check point at the park entrance at Columbus Circle. During that time we spoke with a group of moms from Queens, a couple from the Bronx, girlfriends from China, and faithful individuals from the tri-state area. The energy was positive. There was glee in the air, and it was infectious.

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When we finally made it into the park we went were directed to The South Drive. It looked like the front line was already filled, but we found a prized position in-between a mother-daughter team in the front, peeking out between their shoulders.

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Swiftly the rows behind us filled out. There was some wiggle room, but not much. For the most part there were lovely people around us. There was a large group to our right sitting and picnicking. There was a young mother and father with their 5-month old. There was a technology professor who brought his mother. And there was a father and his son. The father was around 65 or so, his son in his mid-30s.

They had a plan. First, divide and conquer. The son, I didn’t get his name, sidled up to us to show us pictures from his phone. This is after he played the same con with the couple behind us. Now he was next to us, rather than two rows behind where he started. We didn’t ask to see the photos, nor did we care about his arbitrary relatives, but that was his M.O. At some point after the son made his way next to us I went to the bathroom.  I knew I’d have to pay for the coffee earlier. So I stood in a long line for a port-a-potty.

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There were a couple of guys in line, a teacher from Yonkers and a homeland security off-duty officer from Texas. Good conversation made the line move quickly. Though, when I got back I barely had room to stand. The dad, I didn’t get his name either, started a campaign to move into my spot, telling those around him that my bag, which I used as a space holder, was really large and took two places. It didn’t. I found my sandy bag underneath a stroller and I had to squeeze to get in, angling to reach my bag. At this point the dad was playing with a baby, volunteering to hold her so he could be up front. Then the mother of the professor started getting faint and he leapt to help her, wrangling a closer spot. There were already four of us assisting her. He was oh, so helpful. With each act of good will he moved one row closer  to the front. The two in front of us had to tell him to move from their spot. The mother in front of us went to nap since she had worked all night, and his concern for her was amazing. “Is she okay? I hope she’s okay, I’d hate her to miss the pope.” To his daughter, do you want to check on her? I’ll hold your space.” He was three people away from her.

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His son was quiet now that he was as close to the front as possible, but he kept working the crowd, hoping his kindness and concern would pay off. When the faint mother was ready to stand up hours later, he stretched in front of me to “help” her.

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And, when I said to him, “Stay where you are. You’re not fooling anyone.”

He came back with, “Calm down. Take it easy. We’re all in this together. We’re all here for the same reason.“

Smiling at those around him with a knowing nod, as if I was the crazy one. At one point he repeated, “We’re all here for the same reason.”

To which I replied in earnest, “You’re giving me a great opportunity to test my spirituality.”  The father and son were incredibly annoying, but everyone else gave us renewed faith in humanity.

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And then the Pope drove by quickly, yet with aplomb. It was a wonderful moment. we were able to get the mother & her baby stood in front, sans the self-perceived, good samaritan. From there we made our way through the park, no one in sight. It was glorious.

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Charleston

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It’s been almost two weeks since I returned from Charleston, SC. I so needed to get away, and Charleston was the perfect escape. It’s a great walking city. And, jogging in the city proved to be perfect. It’s surrounded by water with stunning homes in the interior. So running the streets, the parks, and up and down the historic district in the unseasonably cool days, was therapeutic for my mind, body and soul. As an extremely slow runner, I had a chance to take in the sites, and I drank them in for thee and half days.

When I wasn’t walking or jogging, I was enjoying the wonderful cuisine or napping. Both felt simply indulgent. It was all great for a vacation. The restaurants take pride in their food and it shows. I enjoyed new southern cuisine, fresh seafood, and traditional fare. From fine dining to easy cafes, the servers and staff were friendly, but not overly solicitous. It was so easy to dine alone. And being alone gave me time to refresh and restore.

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On one of my longest days, I ran by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers in the morning and walked to and from the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge, going over it’s 2 ½ mile expanse coming and then again when returning. There were a lot of walkers and joggers, so I surmised it’s a popular track.

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Later the same day, weary from being on my feet, I went to the pool for a quick swim. I found the water too cold, so I merely soaked my feet and ankles. It was wonderful. Sitting on Chaises was a lovely couple from Lititz, PA, in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, Trish & Gerry Link. Our family is big fans of Wilbur Buds, wonderful chocolate drops from the Wilbur Candy factory in Lititz. It’s a small world.

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We spoke as the sun set. And, we shared our experiences on our short vacations. They had walked on the bridge their first day in Charleston, while I took a walking tour of the Historic District that day. They were kind enough to send me some pictures of their time in Charleston and the Bridge pictures are courtesy of Jerry.

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It was good to get away. I had burned out and this short, yet essential vacation was invaluable. I know it’s a luxury, not only to go to Charleston, but to do so with a teen daughter, husband and dog at home. However this trip allowed me to regroup and refresh to start anew. I’m happy to be home. Being away really does make the heart grow fonder.

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Wonderful Central Park

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It’s 6.2 miles around the Central Park loop. On a good running day I’ll run to the entrance to the Park Drive at 90th Street, jog around the park and run back, an 8-mile run. That doesn’t happen too often. I’m more apt to do a three-mile run to the park, around the reservoir or around the bridal path surrounding the reservoir, then back home again. I like that run. There are beautiful views of the city, some people watching, and the ground is soft.

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But, for now, as I train for a half-marathon, which I may or may not run, I am working on longer runs, making the loop a better choice. As I cross Fifth Avenue to join the other joggers, always on the drive, I pass a bevvy of tourists. They have come from the museums with selfies-on-the-reservoir as their next objective. I can get frustrated as they block the path, oblivious of native New Yorkers trying to get by.

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When I finally pass the tourists I go down a small slope and move towards 96th Street with a playground on my right and lush trees on my left. I veer to my left passing a field to my right and distant tennis courts to my left. Soon I pass the 103rd Street by-pass, which is a short cut to the west side, eradicating the two hills to come. I fuel myself with positive thinking since I feel good that I’m going the tougher route.

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Once I pass 103rd Street, the road zigzags past the Lasker Pool & Rink, the North Woods, and the Meer. By that time I am approaching the hill. Lesser cyclists stop or mimic the Engine that Could. When I ride my bike, I use self-talk of encouragement to get up that hill. “You can do it, Janet.” You’ve got it.” Just one foot in front of the other.” The pro cyclists speed righteously up the hill, indicating their athletic prowess. And, just when I think I’ve made it, there’s another slope towards the top. This last time, I went up another hill where there’s a 1/5 mile track. I did that just to prove to myself I conquered the hills. From there I go down hill. It’s a gentle decline, nothing too steep. I pass a pretty pond with a bridge and a scenic willow tree.

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Then I run for ½ mile at which point I’m at the 90th Street entrance on Central park West. It’s not quite half way, but it feels like it to me. To my left is the reservoir. Once I pass that there’s the great lawn. These days there’s a long line of theatergoers staking their claim to see Cymbeline at the Delacorte Theater. As I continue I can see the New York Historical Society peeking through the trees to the west. Next is the lake where you can rent canoes and row boats. But within a blink I’ve already passed Strawberry Fields and the crowds of tourists with their umbrella carrying leaders.

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Unknown-4Sheep’s Meadow with the picnickers, and frisbee players is next on the left with the reopened Tavern on the Green to my right. From there I can smell Horse Manure as I pass the Handsome Cabs and their passengers. I don’t hate the odor, but it’s distinctive. By the time that ends, I’ve passed the carousel followed by the Boat House. I now have less than a mile in the park, yet by now I am hungry for milestones for the end of this run. There’s a hill, actually not quite a hill, but an ascent of some degree. But as I run through that I treasure the sight of the Still Hunt, the cougar sculpture on a cliff.   And then there’s Cleopatra’s Needle just as The Metropolitan Museum rises on the east. I am simply relieved. I have a quarter mile to go in the park and that makes me giddy.

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I fall in love with the city and Central Park even while I push myself at West 72nd Street and East 68th Street.   I get tired there. I want to quit. I think about walking away from this. I need to think of walking away. Having an exit clause helps me to finish. I don’t do as well when I feel like I have no choice. Knowing I can walk away gives me the freedom to choose to keep running. That is a freedom I so need, and so appreciate.

I end where I began, East 90th Street, across from The Cooper Hewitt Museum. I turn south to 88th Street to run straight to the East River, jogging in place when I’m stuck at a light. On my steps I stretch. Breathing heavily, I think, “I did it!”

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