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.  

Happy Friendship Day, Week Thirty-One in the New Abnormal

I’m writing this on International Friendship Day.  It has me thinking of past friends, some gone by mutual consent, some, as the wonderful Claudia Shear put it, are ‘location specific’, and some died too young.  The rest still bring me laughs, tears, and meaningful moments either with posts, texts, emails, or on a rare visit.  

I have hurt friends in the past.  I wasn’t always trustworthy.  I wasn’t always able to set limits until it was too late.  Or I just didn’t understand when to speak and when to keep quiet. I have run into previous friends who I must have upset because, though I have been happy to see them, they don’t share that sentiment.  I may not know the specifics of their interpretation of events, but I recall not really understanding how to relate to others. 

However, the friends who stuck by me, the ones who forgave me, or who didn’t feel upset by my actions taught me so much about friendship.  They taught me about the imperfect, human connectedness that is key when relating to others.    They taught me to appreciate the differences and treasure what we share in common.  I’ve learned about new musical artists.  Books have been exchanged, topics seriously discussed.  There’s been a lot of theater and film, and meals shared.  

Friendship is a gift. Sometimes I squandered that gift.  Not on purpose, but by not knowing my value, thus not appreciating that my actions impacted others.  Nevertheless, I now value those gifts from the past and in the present. I’ve internalized each and every one with whom I’ve shared an alliance. I have learned from great generosity of spirit.  I’ve enjoyed shared belly laughs, and poignant moments.  Most importantly, my friends have taught me, and continue to teach me the importance of seeing beyond our imperfections.  I have learned to celebrate happy times with friends. And my friends have comforted me when things have been tough.  I am so grateful as I continue to learn and grow thanks to dear friends.   

 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Reach out to an old friend.  If you can get together, great.  If not, send a note.  
  • Send a cartoon or meme with a friend.  Nothing like a shared laugh.   
  • For times when you need more energy, take a few breaths through your nose, then quicken those breaths.  Repeat three times, First take regular breaths through your nostrils, then quicken the breaths for about 3 to 5 inhales & exhales.  Stop if you get lightheaded.  Best to do this sitting.  

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.  

Peaches, Yum! Week Twenty-Nine in the New Abnormal

It’s 1967, it’s hot.  It’s a July weekend so I’m not at Hilltop Day Camp.  The sprinkler is on, back and forth from one side of the lawn to the other.  I have mixed feelings about sprinklers.  I love the constant whir of water from the circular type, but I don’t get a break.  It’s more of a free for all than a game.  With the alternating side sprinkler, I can time it to race through when it comes my way, while taking a breath when it switches sides.  In the end, that’s my preference.  Get soaked, get hot, and start all over again.  

I have on a blue two piece with a jaunty, decorative, yellow bird at my hip.  At seven I feel at the height of summer fashion in our New Jersey suburb.  When I’m in need of a break, I go inside fans whirring and get a juicy peach.  I go outside since I know it will drip.  My mother prides herself on a spotless kitchen and I do not want to disturb that perfection.  I let the nectar drip down my bathing suit knowing I will go back under the sprinkler to wash off any signs of my snack.  

Today I took Lucy on a short walk to the farmer’s market.  When I saw the beautiful peaches, summers of my childhood came rushing to my mind.  My father would take us to Moffat Farms where we’d pick up peaches and corn.  The latter we’d shuck on the porch, squeamish when we spotted the inevitable worm. 

Though I don’t go through sprinklers much anymore, I still appreciate the simple joys of summer. Lighter clothing and fresh produce are among those joys.  

Self-Care Tips:  

  • Enjoy summer fruit.  Whether you bite into a peach, a nectarine, cherries, berries, melons, or other favorites, give yourself something sweet to counter the bitterness we’ve witnessed in the recent past.  
  • Bring some awe into your life.  View the Webb Telescope pictures on Nasa.gov and other websites.  
  • Sing along with music from your childhood.  Whether you listen to Julie Andrews singing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ from Mary Poppins, ‘Bein’ Green’ from Sesame Street, or whether you prefer another tune, just go for it, celebrating a moment of nostalgia.  

Moods Ebb & Flow, Week Twenty-Eight of the New Abnormal

The cycling of moods continues.  Today I’m happy.  It’s beautiful outside.  I get to walk on fairly empty sidewalks, and I’m ticking things off my to-do list.  Earlier this week I was crestfallen.  Too many tragedies and so much shared pain in the world.  I find it fascinating how the ups and downs shift from day to day.  Well, really, from moment to moment.  

The good news about these shifts is that I know when things are particularly low, they will rise again.  And when things are going well, I can appreciate them, understanding the fleeting nature of my feelings.  Impermanence used to feel like a threat.  I was always aware of the inevitable loss of something good. Luckily, given the fullness of time, I see things differently now.   I understand that there will be other occasions of highs and lows, and that I can plan to give myself extra care when things are tough, and I can delight in the glory days when they show up.  

I’m grateful that it’s been a good day since I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.  But even a good day for me, may not be good for someone else.  If I’m feeling strong, I can listen and learn from someone in a different space.  But, often when I’m not at work and it’s been difficult for me, I don’t have the wherewithal to take in the troubles of others.  That is when I have to set limits.  It’s not easy since I don’t want to hurt someone else. And, yet, I know I will be hurting myself should I extend myself past my limits.  In that case, having the courage to say “No” to someone else is a huge Yes to me.  A simple but challenging kindness I can give myself.  

Self-Care Tools:

  •  When you notice that your inner resources are scarce, see if you can lessen any interactions with those who require more of your energy than you can spare.  In this way you can build up your strength for whatever is to come.  
  • Listen to music that meets your mood.  Move to that music, whether it’s a simple sway, or a more vigorous dance.  
  • Surround yourself with those who are genuinely happy for you when things go well.  Their generosity of heart can be empowering.  

Compassion vs Disregard, Week Twenty-Seven in the New Abnormal

Thurgood Marshall said, “The measure of a country’s greatness is its ability to retain compassion in times of crisis.”  Yet what I’ve experienced in the last months and perhaps years is an eroding of compassion and care for others. So many are getting annoyed with others, some acting out in ways that are harsh and harmful.  This preponderance of disregard for other’s human frailties is hurtful to all of us. 

I am not immune to a general sense of annoyance for people that aren’t mindful of others.  After having a negative emotional reaction I spend time and effort to bring caring kindness to myself and work on having compassion for those who bother me the most.  It’s an imperfect process.  Nonetheless I find it helpful.  

The pandemic, plus many social and financial inequities have left us feeling burdened.  And when we look for support, it can be hard to come by since many of us are among others who also feel burdened.  

I don’t know that there is a perfect solution, though I wish there was.  What I do know is that the more vulnerable to others’ ire I feel, the less I have access to inner resources that help me get through tough times. Therefore, having patience with myself, doing my best to be thoughtful to others, and staying connected with and expressing compassion help me get through my days, especially when I encounter insensitivity from others.  

Perhaps this is the time we can move from a disheartening crisis of callousness to bring forth a much-needed time of compassion.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Try the RAIN (Recognize, Acknowledge, Investigate, Non-Identity) mindfulness practice.  You can find it on Tara Brach’s site, or at Mindful.org
  • Practice loving-kindness meditation.  You can find it at SharonSalzberg.com, YouTube or at Mindful.org
  • When you have the thought, “What’s wrong with me?” or What’s wrong with you?”  Rather than answering that question which has negative implications, ask, “What is happening now?”  or, “What am I experiencing?” These questions open up an inquiry, and are gentler when things are difficult.  

Reactivity, Week Twenty-Six in the New Abnormal

Honestly, the news this week has not been good given my values.  A lot of powerful women have been sharing opinions.  Yes, I concur, but I have found that it’s been challenging to be my best self in the face of these upsetting decisions.   I’ve not been able to separate my reactions from the deeply disturbing news.  In this moment the political is personal.  

I won’t argue or opine on what this means for all of us.  I will say that I find it hard to be charitable or forgiving to others when I feel so reactive.  Walking on the sidewalk with a family of six spread out so I can’t pass is reason for outrage.  Yes, it’s annoying, but my anger is pronounced. I’m shocked I didn’t make a nasty comment.   Or, when a customer service rep is not as professional as I’d like, I dash off a letter to the organization as if I have time, or as if it was a personal affront, rather than an unpleasant exchange. 

I am not going high in this moment.  It would behoove me to come back to myself.  It is when I am patient and caring that I can make behave thoughtfully.  When I’m feeling upset like this it’s hard to not find fault in so much around me.  And in doing so it exacerbates my upset, thus setting off unpleasant reactions.  A treadmill of angst.  

In writing this I am attempting to step off the treadmill.  I will do my best to observe my reactions and bring compassion to myself and to so many others.  We will need it as we take steps forward having been pushed back too far.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Listen to yourself.  Trust that when you feel a strong reaction it is informed by something you’re experiencing.  Ask yourself what is happening and envelop yourself with patience and compassion, as best you can.  Give yourself the space to process your experience. 
  • Talk to a friend.  Sometimes just hearing what your friend is going through brings perspective to your own life.  
  • Tap into your creativity.  Whether you make a new recipe, watercolor on paper, write a poem, or create a collage, you can move through stagnant moments by tapping into creative inspiration.  

Dashed Plans, week Twenty-Five in the New Abnormal

Our best intentions don’t always go according to plan.  I had all weekend to work on a project.  I planned on spending this weekend, as I have in the past, writing and rewriting to meet a deadline.  Lucy, who is my constant companion loves the cooler air and asked to be taken on walks more than usual. Once we were outside she was happy to let the breeze mess up her hair as she sat on the sidewalk.  

I, on the other hand, had a job to do and if she didn’t want to go for a walk, then I needed to get back to work.  She was having none of it.  As a dog, she knows nothing about responsibilities.  She knows what she likes, and she likes to be outside.  

When I finally made it back inside after the third walk/sitting, I was exhausted and knew that a short nap would give me the fuel to keep going later.  My naps usually last 20 minutes or so, this one was more like 45 minutes.  I was startled awake by Larry, who was supposed to work late tonight, giving me more time alone to write.  

That was not to be.  His schedule changed and he is happily enjoying a Bosch episode in our living room.  I will not be alone tonight to get my work done.  My initial reaction after a lovely day, though not a productive one, is to curse under my breath.  I can be rigid.  And when things don’t turn out the way I expect them to, I tend to be cranky.  I blame myself or someone else.  

But there is no one to blame.  Lucy is a dog.  I love her and she was so happy to be outside.  Larry is my husband, I love him, and he’s so happy to have the night off.  Rather than blame myself, I will do my best to be flexible.  

I will figure out how to reach my goals.  I try to make the distinction between a problem and an inconvenience.  This is no problem.  Yes, I was inconvenienced today.  But it was a gorgeous day.  The work is waiting for me to complete.  And I will.  Perhaps I’ll start early tomorrow after getting a bit more done tonight.  Sometimes creative writing can be about creating the time to get it done.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When annoyed, assess whether it’s a real problem or a mere inconvenience.  An inconvenience can take the sting out of the emotional mix
  • Strengthen your ankles and support your balance by standing on one foot for 30 seconds each.  
  • When plans change or your expectations aren’t met, get creative.  Create a new way to find enjoyment or meet your needs with the circumstances at hand. 

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.  

Ah, Spring, Week Twenty-Three in the New Abnormal

It feels absolutely freeing to wear lighter clothing.  Spring is here and I’m thrilled.  Even if the mornings or evenings require a light jacket, putting away the wool is such a relief.  In theory, I love the changing seasons.  Each season bringing a mood, a swath of colors, or, as in winter, shades of white and grey.  But, in practice I prefer the warmer months.  If only I could transplant New York City to a more temperate climate.  Alas, such are the compromises I’ve made to be a New Yorker.  

Even so, now that Spring has arrived, I’m enjoying the many flowers.  To all those who have planted in front of your buildings or who have replanted window boxes, I thank you.  Bringing beauty to the city is a gift to so many of us.  

And taking out the bike when I’m not walking is another pleasure this season.  Every time I fill up the tires and start to ride again I’m a bit wobbly.  That used to embarrass me so much.  Now, I think, ‘what the heck.  Do I really care, as long as I stay away from cars and pedestrians?’  The answer is No, I don’t care.  Not caring is a terrific benefit of getting older.  It balances the aches and pains that have certainly accompanied me into my 60’s.  

I will reaffirm my gratitude for the warmth every time I take Lucy for a walk.  Though she is comfortable with the cold weather, after all she is a Tibetan Terrier, I have always preferred the summers to the winters, and appreciated Autumn and Spring when the temperatures breaks through to the 70s. 

I’m laughing as I write this because in the last few years weather, which was simply information, has become its own news subject.  I find that odd.  And yet here I am writing a blog post about the weather.  News flash or hot flash…at this age I don’t really care.  Or I care enough to write this, but not enough to write something more profound.  Something lighter, just like our clothing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you garden, know that you are gifting the sight of these flowers to the insects and people who are close by.  If you aren’t a gardener, enjoy the beauty bestowed by your neighbors.  
  • Enjoy the wind in your hair.  Drive with the windows down, let the breeze envelope you while jogging, riding your bike, walking, skateboarding, or strolling on the beach.  
  • Close your eyes and take in the sounds around you.  How do they contribute to your overall mood?  Find the sounds that soothe you, listening for them when they show up.