Life is Beautiful, Living is Hard; Week Thirty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I woke up this morning to a stunning sunrise.  I slept well and was in a better mood than I had been the last couple of days.  Sunrises bring hope.  They help me to begin the day with gratitude.  The day is lovely.  It’s warm enough to avoid outwear, but cool enough to enjoy the breezes on my walk.  The outdoor cafes are filled with happy brunch diners.  The city is moving along nicely.

Even so, as I appreciate the days, I am also struck by the enormity of personal pain and struggle we have had to endure.  Some are dealing with illnesses, others chronic conditions, still others are doing what they can to manage mental illness for themselves and loved ones.  If that weren’t enough, there are financial concerns, and there are individual hardships.  Too many people are bullying others because they can’t soothe their own pain.  Others are simply unable to sit with uncomfortable feelings, so they act out, scaring others. 

I notice that I’m more sensitive these days.  Loud noises, and there are many, especially the raucous cars and motorcycles in the city which startle me again and again.  I feel like my radar is on high alert since there are more vehicles including dirt bikes, scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and racing bikes, as well as cars whose drivers don’t abide by traffic lights.   

I feel so fortunate for good friends, family, and amazing work colleagues and clients.  I still love New York City, despite the cacophony that pollutes my ears.  Nonetheless, I am acutely aware of the everyday difficulties we endure, whether we live in or outside a city.  It’s been tough.  We can take refuge in those glorious moments when we gaze upon a sunrise or sunset.  We can enjoy a good laugh.  And we can be moved by the courage we witness.  It doesn’t take away the hardships, but it does give us a little something so we can continue forward in our beautiful and hard world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stop.  Sometimes we forge ahead and forget that a break will help us in the long run.
  • When you feel that you’re at your breaking point, step away.  Even if you can simply take a few breaths, create a small space between you and your inner pain.  
  • Keep it simple.  It’s easy to blame ourselves when things go wrong.  Instead simply identify that it’s a hard moment, and if you hear a critical thought, simply say, that’s a thought, I will not add it on to this difficult time.  

Exotic Minnesota, Week Thirty-Six in the New Abnormal

It’s cool, clean and sunny in downtown Minneapolis this morning.  I am taking my time this morning on this solo vacation.  Yesterday I went to the largest state fair in the country on the outskirts of St. Paul.  Wow! It was definitely not an experience to be had in the Big Apple, which made it a truly exotic experience for this New Yorker.   I entered in the morning and left as the crowds swelled in the early afternoon.  The grounds were sprawling, and I got lost any number of times leading me to impressive displays of award-winning crafts, deco buildings, and backstage settings.  

Everyone was friendly and respectful. There were long lines for fried anything including but not limited to corn dogs, alligator, twinkies, and a popular favorite in dairy country, cheese curds.  I chose to avoid lines and find my meal outside the fair gates.  Most impressive to me were the multiple exhibits of award fair award winners.  From hand carved canoes to creative sandwiches, there were ribbon winners in so many categories I couldn’t keep count.  Though, the butter sculptures were busts of some of the blue-ribbon recipients.  They were being displayed in the dairy building.  

After a slow stroll through the midway, I was ready to go.  The crowds were swelling.  Since I left New York City to get away from crowds, I decided to sacrifice fair sites unseen for a quieter walk through Minnehaha Falls Park in St. Paul.  This was another experience I wouldn’t have in Manhattan.  Yes, we have small falls in Central Park, but the majesty of the Minnehaha Falls, as well as the expansive network of pathways in the park are unrivaled in my city. 

My first day in Minneapolis was capped off by an impressive meal at Owamni by The Sioux Chef.  That was a very special meal I could only enjoy in Minneapolis.  It features creative Indigenous cuisine, much sourced from local areas.  A great way to end a long and far-off day.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Allow yourself to get lost on a walk or drive.  Then explore what you would never have seen or known had traveled the familiar path. 
  • Give a stranger a smile.  It may take a small measure of courage, but it can brighten their (and hopefully, your) day. 
  • Nap.  We are a busy society.  Taking time to rest is a kindness we can give ourselves.  

Scaffolding, Week Thirty-Four in the New Abnormal

Pre-Covid, I took a wonderful writing workshop with Emily Raboteau at the Key West Writer’s Workshop.  Not only was it a beautiful setting, but the guest speakers and the workshop itself were invaluable.  One thing Professor Raboteau taught us was the necessity of proper scaffolding to support the writing.  It took time, but I built my scaffolding.  It’s been more precarious than proper, but I worked with the materials at hand and I’m finding my way.

In terms of all types of scaffolding, New York City brick buildings must be inspected every five years.  If they need to have new bricks to replace the old, scaffolding goes up and the work begins.  Such is the case for our apartment building.  It’s a messy job that clogs air conditioners and gets dust between closed windows.  Nonetheless, safety comes first.  I’m hopeful the scaffolding is safe for the workers and protective for pedestrians.  Though It adds a dark, ominous feeling coming from and arriving home.  

Even so, as the many workers toil in the August heat laboring their way around the building, it has brought to mind the importance of creating scaffolding, not only for writing and edifices, but for our lives.  Supportive friends and family are great members of our scaffolding.  But the care we can provide ourselves is essential. Sometimes I do a better job than when I’m avoiding my feelings, or caught in anger, resentment, or victimhood.  Walking, meditating, reading, delicious, nourishing meals, are some of the nuts and bolts of my scaffolding.  Writing has become part of the foundation.  Laughing is a daily essential, though I forgot my sense of humor last night.  

I’m glad I noticed that so I can fix it today.  Just as the buildings in the city need inspection and improvements, my precarious scaffolding requires daily upkeep. Perhaps after a good cry, I’ll dance today bringing in music, while laughing aloud.  My scaffolding makes room for emotional variations.  Feeling those emotions is a crucial element of my scaffolding.   Let the progress continue…

Self-Care Tools:

  • List what elements of scaffolding you already have in your life.  Then add small supports that will augment your list.  
  • Remember to laugh whenever you can.  And, if you lose your sense of humor, do whatever helps to bring it back.  It will lighten your perspective
  • Thank workers for what they do.  Our lives are supported by all those who successfully do their jobs.  

A Good Morning, Week Thirty-Three in the New Abnormal

My short bob is all over the place.  I remember a time my mother would claim, “We have to tame your hair.”  I still hear you, Mom, but I am wearing it untamed today.  Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it was a deeply satisfying morning, but I’m feeling a bit untamed myself.  Today is one of three City Streets in which Park Avenue is open to cyclists, runners and pedestrians.  I took out my low bicycle and headed west to Park Avenue at 6:45 for a 7 a.m. start.  I trudged up a small hill, understanding this was the only practice I’d get before riding on the northern hills of Park Avenue.  

My helmet was on, my fanny pack in place. My curls sprouting from said helmet.   I have been inspired by Jennifer Weiner’s long-distance rides, though this was not nearly as intrepid.  I took off, surprisingly less judgmental about runners on the left where bicycles were directed to go.  The slopes, which seem less of an incline when walking, felt particularly high when seated on my bicycle.  I silently chanted from The Little Engine That Could, a childhood favorite, “I think I can, I know I can,” while trudging up the hills.  It felt like one minor accomplishment after another enjoying my seven-mile ride.  

I dropped my bike off and Lucy and I went off to the local farmer’s market.  I had passed by on my way home while they were setting up, though when I returned the lines were long.  I waited patiently.  While I meditate to have patience, and I work on having patience, long lines and my precarious patience are not always a good match.  Today, though, I easily had patience.  Even when a woman claimed to have a spot in line in front of me, though I had never seen her before, I just let it be.  Clearly getting to the register first mattered in some way I couldn’t understand.  

When I got home I made gazpacho.  I followed a simple recipe with the vegetable I procured from various farmers, and enjoyed it for a non-traditional, late breakfast.  I had forgotten how much I love it.  And, if that weren’t enough, the weather is beyond splendid.  It’s cool with a breeze, something more akin to May than August.  But I’ll take it.  Lucy seems happy with it, too.  She wasn’t clamoring to come back home as she often is in the sticky humidity.  

All in all, it was a great morning.  I’m grateful for days like today.  This week was strenuous.  A lot of tough emotions in and around me.  This unexpected break has been a gift.  Perhaps a nap today?  Why not? 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stand with your feet apart and stretch out your arms so that your fingers are pulled out to either side.  Take up space.  Affirm your place on this earth.  
  • Challenge yourself to climb a metaphorical or actual hill.  What would have you enjoy a feeling of accomplishment?  Can you take a step to get it done?  O do you have the time and energy to complete it?  Once done, acknowledge yourself for what you’ve undertaken.  
  • Take a short summer vacation with a Jennifer Weiner book.  Her latest is: The Summer Place.  I’ve enjoyed her stories and books since Good in Bed in 2001.  

It’s Hot! Week Thirty in the New Abnormal

Heat waves are oppressive.  I’m walking slowly, drinking more water, and commiserating with everyone else who is melting in this humid weather.  I have always preferred hot temperatures to cold, but sometimes it’s just too hot.  As a child I’d ride my Schwinn to the Haddontowne Swim Club and cool down swimming and playing in the chlorinated water.  Today, I can ride my bike, but I’m going to opt for the indoor version in my air-conditioned apartment, going nowhere, and enjoying the solitude.   

In heat like we’ve seen I think less is better.  Less activity, lighter meals, simple plans.  I have a lot of writing ahead of me this weekend.  It makes it easier knowing that I would probably be uncomfortable outside.  So, I’ll hunker down, laptop securely placed on my lap, and a cushion to lean upon.  Simple, though perhaps not easy.  Nonetheless, happy for the space and time to get it done in the cool air.  At least for now.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Hydrate.  Cool yourself off with water or a cold beverage.  I suggest freezing a bottle of water (give it enough space on top) and then let it melt as you sip it through the day.  The iced bottle can also cool you off on the back of your neck, your wrists or anywhere that needs it.  
  • Play some Motown Summer music.  Suggestions are:  All Night Long, Lionel Richie; I Need Your Lovin’ Teena Marie; Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye; Heatwave,  Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
  • Learn a new word.  It’s a simple task that can be enjoying.  Of course, it’s educational.  My new word today is: Emolument.  I had never heard it before.  It means a gift, whether cash, an item or a privilege, one receives because of one’s work title.  

Falling Down But Not Falling Apart, Week Twenty-Four in the New Abnormal

I’m moving a bit slower presently.  While on vacation I sprained my ankle.  I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying every moment of our amazing time away.  Now that I’m back home, I’m doing bi-weekly physical therapy while curtailing long walks.   I only made it to Central Park once this week. In full walking mode, I usually make it at least five times weekly.  Thank goodness for Carl Shurz Park, it’s close, by the East River. A smaller park, but volunteers and park workers have created a beautiful outdoor space.  Sometimes it gets crowded, but Lucy, our dog, and I walk around them.  

Walking slower has its advantages.  Though I don’t go as far, I can observe building facades and other block by block details. When not nursing my ankle, I’d quickly pass by on my way to one destination or another.  Another plus is Lucy and I going at the same pace.  There were many times that I would have to employ patience as Lucy sniffed and stopped to acquaint herself with a certain spot.  Now her gait serves me well.  

Another advantage is recognizing how getting older has improved my ability to accept bumps in the road.  Yes, I fell on a muddy hill in the Andes on a trail to a stunning waterfall.  When younger that fall would have potentially ruined my trip, and it would have had me cranky upon my return.  I would have been impatient to get back full mobility so I could do what I’ve always done.  Now, I can let the healing process unfold as I enjoy short, slow walks, and slow bike rides. 

Going slower even as others pass me by is not new to me.  In social situations, I learned skills later.  I believe that may have contributed to falling apart when things got tough.  My self- esteem was fragile, so hardships felt personal.  These days, if things aren’t going right, though that’s subjective, then I turn left, enjoying a less traveled path.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Slow down.  Notice details around you that you may have missed when rushing about.  
  • Take inventory of what you’ve learned about yourself in the past two years.  How have you changed?  In what ways are you proud of yourself having faced hardships?
  • If plans change, are you able to find the silver lining?  If not, process your disappointment, and be curious if anything lovely shows up given the changed circumstances.  

Post-Vacation, Week Twenty-Two in the New Abnormal

I don’t like the phrase at the end of a vacation, “Back to real life.” I think vacations are real life.  It’s a break from the everyday, but enjoying that break is very real. Coming back to my work and apartment, and New York City after this vacation was a terrific reentry.   

What I will take away from my vacation, and the Galapagos in particular, is that everything has an impact. That systems change and even if we think of the good in the short term, the long term might not be served by our actions.  This is nothing new for me.  I do understand if I savor a delicious meal but eat beyond my hunger, I’ll be uncomfortable later, even if I don’t want to end the delicious mouth experience.  In the same way if I read the news, I’m informed, but if I keep digging for every opinion piece on any given subject, I can become over saturated and can start to feel anxious.  

In the same way, if I push myself to be “productive” I end up having to redo some of what I’ve done because my good judgement wains.  Slowing down actually helps in my productivity.  I will do my best to remember that, too, from vacationing.  And, if I don’t, I need look no further than an impulsive purchase or a task I must do again.  

I like the idea of balancing rest with activity, another take-away from vacationing.  I will continually identify and work on calibrating that balance with the demands of life between vacationing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When rushing to get everything you need done, slow down by taking a couple of breaths and then do the next thing focused on each step in the moment.  
  • When hungry, chew slowly, savor each bite, and listen to your body for signs up satiety.  Stop when you feel full.  
  • Turn on music when busy or when you’re able to uplift everyday chores.  It brings joy to the mundane.  

Goodbye Galapagos, Week Twenty One in the New Abnormal

I’m sitting at the Quito airport in the wee hours of the morning.  This past week I had about one hour total of internet.  It was divine.  I thought I had overcome my reliance on electronics, but I have been habituated.  And, as much as I enjoyed the downtime, I also am happy to be on my way home to enjoy the benefits, while cursing the downside of being “connected.”  

There was a lot to do in the Galapagos.  By the time we returned to our lodge, I was way too exhausted to turn on my phone or Macbook.  Had I known the amount of time I would be going on and off boats, let alone the climbing, hiking on volcanic rock, and learning about fauna and flora, I may have opted out of this trip.  So glad I didn’t fully comprehend the rigor of this trip beforehand.  

The Galapagos is spectacular.  I am not able to describe the splendor of being so close to the unique wildlife, while learning about this ancient eco system.  More than the countless breathtaking moments was the simple fact of pushing past my fears to be able to enjoy this trip of a lifetime.  Actually I did not push past my fears.  They were in close proximity throughout the days in the Galapagos and in the Andes.  I heard them but did not heed them.  

I am afraid of falling.  Careful to watch for cracks in the sidewalk in the city, it felt harrowing to navigate the stony paths and uneven surfaces in the Galapagos Islands.  Plus, I am not much of a sailor.  Which is pretty much an understatement.  I get seasick easily.  I am naturally clumsy.  When we had to get on and off small boats, I needed assistance.  When getting from small boats to bigger vessels, I needed more assistance.  I was embarrassed and grateful.  

As the week went on, I had more and more gratitude.  Needing to be helped, and having it come with no judgement and endless generosity was a gift I didn’t know I needed.  Yet, this gift is invaluable.  It’s come before, but there was some old belief that hadn’t allowed me to take in other’s kindnesses with grace.  I will continue to work on that.  But the nature of this trip meant I had no choice but to accept the kindness of travel buddies, crew members, naturalists, and strangers.  I hope I came out of this trip a better human for having discovered so much about our planet and having learned something about myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  • Say “yes” when someone offers to help.  See how that feels. And see if you expand your experience thanks to the assistance.  
  • Schedule downtime from electronics.  Give yourself something in that time you couldn’t have if you were online.  
  • When you have fear, challenge yourself to feel your fear while simultaneously taking a step outside your comfort zone. 

Reparenting This Mother’s Day, Week Nineteen in the New Abnormal

Though cards, commercials, and media would have us romanticize motherhood, the truth is Mother’s Day can be stressful for so many.  Whether families grapple with mental illness, death, physical illness, the court systems, mismatched needs of child/mother, in-law drama, or whether there are reproductive issues, or other circumstances that make the day difficult, allow for kindness and caring while enduring the day.  

My Mother’s Day started out with a tepid shower.  Very unsatisfying.  I was looking forward to a longer, indulgent shower, washing my hair, and deciding which light aroma of my foam soaps I might choose today.  Instead, it was a quick and uncomfortable in and out.  I cursed while drying off.  But my coffee was ready and it’s delicious.  

Can I move from one moment to the next without holding on to upsets?  That is my challenge, as it has been for a long time.  Will I be able to feel the abundance in my life rather than focusing on what isn’t happening today?  I will do my best.  

As I go through this day marked to celebrate parenting, for better or worse, I think I will focus on reparenting.  Reparenting is treating ourselves with loving kindness, employing patience, and compassion.  It’s part of my daily mindful practice.  And, thank goodness it’s a practice since I haven’t, nor do I expect to, perfect loving kindness.  It’s an imperfect practice.  We’re imperfect, worthy of love and continued care in all our states.  So, I wish you a Happy Reparenting Day, no matter your relationship to motherhood.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Write down at least three things for which you are grateful.  Gratitude journaling supports a feeling of abundance.  
  • Soothe your senses.  Choose a fragrance, stretch, listen to beautiful music, or eat something delicious. It’s a small, kind gift to delight your senses,  
  • Find a meme, card, affirmation or anything that acknowledges your worthiness.  

On Repeat, Week Sixteen in the New Abnormal

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Life isn’t linear.  I had always hoped I’d solve what I considered to be my problems, and then live a quality life.  The truth is that we revisit issues time and time again.  Even when we think we’ve beat it, it will show up unexpectedly.  Perhaps it’s why the movie Groundhog’s Day resonates for so many of us.  

We are trained early to think that we’ve failed if we have to repeat lessons.  In school if we fail a grade, it must be repeated.   We are not taught that relearning is nothing shameful.  It would be much more helpful should we be told that repeating grades can be as useful as moving ahead.  Can we learn that somethings bear repeating?  

I have a difficult time learning steps.  Dance classes did not come easily.  I much prefer workouts that don’t include dancing.  Yet, I love dancing on my own, when I can move my body to the music.  In some cases, not on the beat, but with the mood rather than the tempo, I feel joyous.  That joy is robbed when specific steps are introduced.  I go into my head and my physical attunement goes out the door.  

That doesn’t stop me from trying to learn.  Luckily at this age I can laugh at my difficulties, at least as far as dancing is concerned. Of course, there are other lessons that I continue to struggle with, even if I understand what might help make it easier.  

I put together a Seder for our small family.  I didn’t over prepare.  And I kept telling myself that I should write a list.  I never did.  I had forgotten to open the horseradish, which I then couldn’t find.  I looked everywhere in the refrigerator.  Larry kindly volunteered to go out and get a new jar.  He had to walk a few blocks since we don’t live close to a food store.  This all happened when we were about to begin our short Seder.  During clean-up we found the horseradish on the counter where I left it to open it before the meal.  Also, the spinach remained in the oven forgetting that, too.  

It all worked out. We enjoyed the spinach yesterday.  But I know myself. Through the years I’ve come to find that I am well-served keeping lists.  Yet I refused to create one for Passover.  The forgotten foods were a needed reminder that lists help me.  

I will continue to face issues, big and small, that seemingly repeat again and again.  While I used to berate myself for what I could or “should” know., now I am grateful that I can learn from ostensibly familiar mistakes. It may seem like the same old issue, but it is new in this never lived before time and space.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try something that might seem difficult for you.  See how it feels.  Follow it by something that seems easy, and compare the sensations you experience, and the emotional response to what comes easy as opposed to what is more challenging. 
  • Keep lists if you like.  They are a terrific tool.  It feels gratifying to cross thigs off your list as you complete them

When faced with a familiar life lesson, keep it in the present.  In the same way you have never breathed that breath before, see if you can be in the moment with something that tends to take your mind into the past.  Notice what is new or different in this