BRRR, The Fifth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

Wow! I just went out to walk Lucy.  It sure is cold out there.  A good portion of the country is very cold.  New York City is no exception this weekend.  Just taking Lucy out for a short walk means bundling up for a solid five minutes to make sure the least amount of skin is exposed to the frigid air.  

Although I had insulated gloves with added glove liners, my fingers would not get warm.  Add to that the couple of times I had to take those sub-par gloves off to pay the brave vendors at the farmer’s market, or to give Lucy a treat.  Not my favorite moments this windy day.  

The thing about the cold is that it really highlights our priorities.  As much as I prefer not going out at all, happy to move to music inside, I do want to support the farms who service us year-round.  And Lucy, whom I adore, is not likely to be able to endure a day inside.  This is her weather as a Tibetan Terrier.  She doesn’t want a doggie jacket, she just wants to feel the wind on her face and the cold air on her hairy body.  She has hair rather than fur.

I curse under my breath when she gives me her usual signs that it’s time to go out.  Though she waits for me patiently as I don layer after layer until I’m ready to face the elements.  Thankfully I have a bevvy of face masks that I wear happily knowing that my nose and lower face are covered from the elements.  Grateful for my protection from the cold.  

It’s unbelievable I was strolling on the beach a week ago.  Now, miles to the north that recent memory feels like a long time ago.  Weather is a constant reminder of the transient nature of life here on earth.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Find the coziest clothes to wear.  The cold can feel so uncomfortable.  When the fabric’s surface gently soothes our skin, it can add an extra benefit aside from simply keeping us warm.  
  • Dance inside.  Even if it’s for one song.  Enjoy the freeing experience while keeping you actively warm.  
  • If you have to go out, walk in the sun.  It’s a good reminder that even when we deem the weather to be bad, there are no absolutes.  It can be beautifully sunny and still gratingly cold.  

Swimming on Vacation, The Fourth Week of the Second Year of the New Abnormal

I swam for an hour, my head submerged in the warm pool with tiny, wavy prisms, iridescent in the sun-drenched water.  The luxury of having a pool to myself is priceless.  Being able to move seamlessly underwater, thanks to my swimmers’ mask, allows me to stay beneath the surface, enjoying what I’d describe as a meditation in motion.  

 We’re on vacation.  That in and of itself is a gift of relaxation.  I had become rather snippy the first weeks of January, which is always a sign that I need a reset.  I’m still noticing some sharp edges that have yet to be smoothed completely, but the warm air, the sun and the tranquil atmosphere are working their magic.  

There’s a simple ease to being in the Caribbean.  Being able to swim with my mask adds a layer of delight as this vacation kneads the knots of stress from my body, mind and soul.  Sometimes in life there’s a simple fix that changes an experience from okay to wonderful.  That is true of my swimmers’ mask, a device that looks like an outer space unicorn.  It takes up the entire face, so unlike a snorkel, I can breathe just under the surface of water from either my mouth or nose.  There’s a stop at the tip of the hose at the center that prevents water from entering.  And the hose at the center means that swimmers like me can stroke our arms without hitting the tube.  All in all, I am so grateful for this wonderful addition to my swim.  

Life hacks can really help us when they make life easier or more enjoyable.  Years ago, Larry taught me that having the right tool for the right job matters.  He showed me how a well sharpened knife makes a huge difference in the joy of cooking.  Or the correct screwdriver can shorten a belabored task.  Now I have my swim mask, less a tool that a piece of equipment that provides a panoramic view of the pool or the ocean.  A few more swims and the last of the sharp edges will disappear.  At least for now.

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check to see if there’s an easier way to do your chores or activities.  A silicon spatula is helpful to scramble eggs while being gentle on your pan.  A group or family calendar is useful for scheduling.  And a small packet of wipes in your bag or car are good at any age.  
  • If you feel overwhelmed, rather than power on, take a short break.  Walk around the block, meditate, take a power nap, or stretch.  Breaks help us to refocus.  
  • When on the phone, smile while speaking.  It brightens our tone and communicates a softer nature.  

What’s For Dinner? Second Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I was preparing dinner as I do many nights.  Last night was pesto glazed salmon and garlic-marinaded skirt steak with sauteed spinach, garlic bread, and a spicy salad.  Thanks to Marion Zinn, my mother-in-law, I have the best marinade for the steak.  She was a wonderful hostess and served many delicious dishes.  Conversely, my mother would get anxious when hosting guests.  Nonetheless she deserves a shout out as an excellent baker. All three of my siblings and I have fond memories of annual birthday cakes baked from scratch, stored on a glass cake plate with an aluminum cake dome.  I used to cook and bake regularly, but as life’s responsibilities expanded, my domestic duties dwindled.   

Sometimes, though, I want to have a home cooked meal.  I shopped at the farmer’s market gathering some ingredients for dinner, and foraged the refrigerator for the rest.  Even as I began the prep work, I remained hopeful for a nice dinner.  Inevitably, by early evening, I was forgetting one thing or another, and my hope slipped to a tepid aspiration for a good enough meal.  Perhaps it’s this feeling along with my full schedule that diminishes my fondness for cooking these days.   

I realized, which might mean I’m late to the game, that planning, and subsequently serving, dinner is a process that mimics the complications of caring for oneself and perhaps others.  First there’s the consideration of taste.  What do I like?  What does Larry like?  Are there foods that appeal to us as the same time?  If not, what variations do I make?  Will I challenge myself with a new recipe or will I rely on the tried and true?  Not only does flavor matter, but so does nutrition.  I’m not a stickler that every meal meets the daily requirements of a balanced meal plan. However, I do like to have a variety of tastes, textures and basic health guidelines met.  

Now and again meals are more fly by night, others are indulgences, and more often meals are simple and easy to put together after jam-packed days.  I always enjoy good food.  I’m flexible in that I truly enjoy an array of possibilities from vegan to Omakase, and so much in-between.  I prefer local and organic, but I also shop at Trader Joe’s appreciative of their vast and changing selections.  One thing is for sure, I prefer choices, as I do in so many parts of my life.  

In getting dinner together, last night and previously, I’ve noticed the range of feelings I experience.  I start out hopeful, I have moments of frustration, periods I feel relaxed and trusting, and times I get annoyed, wishing I was being served rather than doing the serving.  And I challenge myself to get through the feelings of anxiousness closer to putting the meal on the table.  All in all, it replicates the processes I go through in other areas of my life, which include the original idea, the thought process and the execution.  So much stuffed into a quotidian endeavor.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Recipe for Marion’s marinade: ¼ cup olive oil, just less than ¼ cup cider vinegar, 3 Tablespoons or more of soy sauce, ¼ cup honey, lots and lots of chopped garlic, ½ teaspoon grated ginger (can use fresh, jarred or dry ginger if that’s what you have) Enjoy!
  • Take an everyday activity and break it down, checking in to see the array of feelings you have throughout the process.  Can you insert kindness and care when it feels uncomfortable?  Are you able to go with it when it feels pleasant?  If so, acknowledge yourself.  If not, see if you can make room for whatever comes us.  
  • Chapstick. It’s a great way to get through the winter.  Choose from a host of aromas, flavors, textures and ingredients. Find the one that’s good for you.  

Arrgg, Change; Week Forty-Seven in the New Abnormal

A couple of days ago I installed an iPhone update.  I find this new format annoying.  I get it, things change.  But sometimes the changes come all at once and too fast.  I just wasn’t ready for a new change, small as it is.  

I often hear from spiritual leaders, meditation teachers and self-care gurus that change is inevitable.  Just this week I was listening to Dan Harris and Anushka Fernandopulle speak of the impermanence in life on the Ten Percent Happier App.  I meditated in it.  And I was as calm as I could be following each mediation.  The idea of impermanence is appealing.  It helps us accept whatever comes our way.  At least that’s my philosophical take.  But when I encounter change in real life, as much as I apply the concept of perpetual change, the reality feels very different.  

One would think that my spontaneous side would embrace change.  And when it’s a small change, I’m okay.  But when it’s a small change like an iPhone update in a time of big changes, it feels less okay.  I’ve been agitated.  I overshare.  Truthfully, it’s more over-complaining than sharing.  And my self-care is more on the impulsive side rather than a thoughtful consideration of what’s needed given these changes.  

As we shift into holiday mode, which can upend our regular routines, I will do my best to be patient with myself.  Yes, change is inevitable, and living with change is unescapable. Feeling my irascible emotions while going through change is my challenge.  I’ll do my best to bring patience and kindness in those moments.  And, when I don’t, I will have many more opportunities to learn how to cope with kindness since change will predictably show up again and again.    

Self-Care Tips:

  • As the holidays approach, make a list of what you enjoy most and what you can change that will bring some ease to the holidays.  Feed the joy of the season, while letting go of the parts that rob you of that joy.  
  • Remember to thank those who have been generous of heart.  Sometimes small acts make a huge difference.  Saying thank you perpetuates kindness.  
  • When feeling frustrated or upset in the face of a change, stop, take a breath, and ask yourself what you need.  If you’re able to give that to yourself, great.  If not, then see if there is anything else that will bring ease at that particular time.    

Window Dressing, Week Forty-Six in the New Abnormal

I have always found great pleasure in walking the city streets.  Throughout my 43 years in New York City, I’ve seen a lot.  And, yet, I always find something new.  This past week I started to notice the ubiquitous iron work on so many buildings and railings.  There’s a long history, centuries old, of metal and iron works.  On closer inspection there are common patterns.  Chances are they’re cheap.  But not all buildings have the less expensive options.  There are stunning pieces of craftsmanship.  

Decorative arts can easily be underestimated.  In terms of New York buildings iron work tends to be architectural embellishment.  For me, they’ve usually gone unnoticed.  But to the trained eye, the metal works stand out as a separate entity.  A craft in its own right.  

Funny, but as often as I go to museums, a repeated walking destination, I have rarely visited the decorative arts galleries.  I’ve walked past them to see special exhibits, but like the iron work covering many brownstone doors and windows, I walked by them not giving them a second glance. 

There’s so much we don’t see.  Whether we aren’t in touch with our compassion and neglect to notice the pain of a bothersome neighbor, or we fail to see the beauty in the ordinary, as we continue to walk this earth we have so many opportunities to look again and appreciate what’s here in plain sight.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Go on a treasure hunt.  Look for beauty in places that you take for granted.  Notice what you find.  Enjoy the surprises that come your way.  
  • Check out decorative arts when you visit a museum.  It will be a quiet gallery with a virtual private viewing
  • As an act of body love, go over your physical being and notice it’s beauty.  It can be something small like a lovely crease on your elbow, the curves in your hair, or your hips, or you can look at your body anew, appreciating its presence, its strength, its capabilities 

Marathon Weekend, Week Forty-Five in the New Abnormal

The streets are brimming with runners.  It’s the first November weekend, which means daylight-savings-time along with the New York City Marathon.  Friday, while walking through Central Park, I came across a rally.  It was a celebration of all the countries represented in the marathon.  There were flags and delegates from 140 nations.  

            While I was passing, hearing countries being called out on the loudspeaker from Ecuador to Japan, I saw the proud representatives take in the cheers from others who had come half-way around the globe.  It was peaceful.  It was celebratory.  It suggested to me the very real possibility of getting along, no matter where one resides, or how different others might live their lives.  These are runners, and supporters of runners.  Each person wants to do their best.  They have trained and are ready to traverse New York City’s five boroughs.  

            I will be on the sideline, cheering my friends, and those I know, and shouting encouragement to those I will only see for a few short seconds.  Viewing the marathon is awe inspiring.  For most marathoners, running 26.2 miles is not easy.  But they’re game and they do their best.  There’s a courage in being inclined to make such a commitment.  I call it the courage of Yes.  They entered the lottery from a position of willingness.  They trained for months because of that willingness.  And now they are implementing a new courage.  The courage of grit.  

            Grit means giving one’s all, whatever it takes.  No one is compromising someone else.  Everyone is running together in harmony towards a personal goal known to each runner.  That takes determination.  That takes grit.  Witnessing the runners giving their all step by step, mile by mile, is truly inspiring.  It inspires us to be more generous.  It inspires good will.  All in all, it inspires the best in all of us.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Choose a small task.  It can be cleaning the bathroom, doing homework, organizing the sock drawer ,or anything else.  See if you can purposely focus.  As you do the task add a little positive intention.  This is a modest sample of grit.  
  • Find something that you’d really like to do that is out of your comfort zone or is something new to you.  See if you can commit to doing it, or if you can take a first step towards doing it.  This is a small example of the courage of Yes.
  • If you’re in New York City, try to come out to see the runners, even for a very short time.  You will be inspired.  If you’re not here, watch a snippet on tv.  Or watch a sport in which the players give their all.  Take in their commitment to excellence for a dose of inspiration.  

Walking in the Rain, Week Forty in the New Abnormal

Dear friends, acquaintances, and strangers in Florida, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other hard-hit areas are cleaning up the devastation left in the hurricanes’ wake.  The strength it takes to put ones’ life in order when ones’ home has been decimated is extraordinary.  It takes a particular type of courage to face hardship not of ones’ making.  

            Having to put forth grit to come back to the lives we’ve had, not only takes stamina, but it takes a private inner force to move forward.  These were my thoughts walking in the rain this weekend.  I realized how fortunate I was to be able to walk in the rain. I may have been wet and tired, but not stopped by the power of a weather system.  

            So many of us have had to pull everything together to return to lives changed by trauma, familiar to what was, but not the same.  Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to realize the strength we didn’t know we had.  Other times feel beaten down by hardships.  And then there are many times we’re worn down even as we find the inner resources to build anew.  

            I will probably be walking in the rain in the next few days.  I am hopeful that I can sustain my gratitude for the luxury of a light storm rather than a hurricane.  But I also know that hurricanes will hit us at some point, and I will find inspiration from my friends who have been through dark times before me.

            Self-Care Tips:

  • See where you can help.  If you prefer specific one-to-one giving, gofundme.com has many personal requests.  Unicefusa.org, is providing assistance.  The Atlanta based natural disaster fund, care4others.org is hands on.  Or give to your favorite relief cause. 
  • Cultivate a gratitude practice.  This can be a daily gratitude journal, a meditation practice, or create something on your own.  Gratitude softens our defenses.  We can commune with our humanity.  
  • Sigh!  There’s a great relief in sighing aloud.  Do it again.  Even more relief.  

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.