Goodbye Grouchiness, The Twenty-Second Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I noticed that by the end of my work week I was short on compassion.  My go to was frustration, impatience, or barely disguised anger.  It was simple things. I was missing paperwork that had been promised me.  A pair of reading glasses broke.  Or it was a string of simple annoyances.  

I thoughtfully ordered a huge container of white vinegar and a large box of kosher salt to minimize the growth of bamboo, an invasive species, from our garden.  I was already annoyed that our neighbor’s bamboo had crept into our plot of land.  And I was aggravated that the two separate (un)handy people did a poor job of weeding out the bamboo.  But now the very heavy package was not delivered to my office but was left at the post office for me to pick up.  I was complaining about this to a friend while walking, and she listened without judgement, making me smile even while I was grumpy.  

I went to retrieve the box, first having to stop by my office to get a cart to roll there.  I don’t love the look of me dragging the blue covered shopping cart on city streets, but I am relieved to be old enough not to care as much about what I may look like.  I got to the post office, and only had to wait briefly for the postal rep.  I presented my printed paperwork since there was no notice left on my door, only an email telling me my package was not delivered.  

She gave me a knowing smile and told me that my package was not there.  It was at another post office. I showed her the email stating that it was delivered to her location.  Her next smile was kinder, and in a gentle voice, as she clearly saw that I needed cautious handling, she explained that this was a regular occurrence, and she was sorry.  My frustration melted slightly by her kind demeanor, and I went on my way, rolling the cart on the bumpy New York sidewalks until I reached the next post office. 

The lines were long.  I wanted to groan audibly, but I stopped myself.  I decided to stay, cleaning up email inbox while I waited impatiently.  When I finally got to the counter I was again greeted by a friendly representative.  She was happy because it was her last day.  She recognized my name because my large and heavy box was damaged.  I girded myself for the worst.  But when I got the box, yes it was crushed, but the cargo was not damaged, and I could take it back to my garden to rid myself of the pesky bamboo. 

Since I had the cart, and surprisingly there was still room in it, I stopped by the grocery store to replace a few items.  And what started out as an inconvenient and annoying chore turned into an appreciation for how easily kindness and happiness shared can shift my mood.    My irritability is a good indication that I’m ready for a vacation, which I will be taking this week.  Yet, I am pleased that I am not so attached to my anger and frustration that the kindness of a friend or a stranger can’t turn around my mood.  

When I’m tired or burnt out it’s so easy to get irritated.  Just as negativity is contagious, so is thoughtfulness and joy.  I will do my best when feeling less depleted to be considerate of others.  Maybe, they too, don’t have to let a bad mood become a bad day.  

Self-Care Tools:

  • If you’re tired or upset or both seek out kindness.  It could be a worker, a friend, or a stranger who can uplift you with a kind word, a smile, or light humor.  
  • If you’re in a good mood, share it.  Be generous, it’s free to share happiness.  And it multiplies your joy. 
  • Replenish daily items that make life a little easier, whether it’s a mini hand sanitizer, a pen & pad, emery boards, wipes or tissues.  Having these supplies in your bag or close by make life a touch easier.  

Train Delay, The Twenty-First Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

The Q train came to a halting stop.  An announcement immediately came on asking “Who pulled the emergency cord?”  At the end of our car, a good citizen thinking there was a request to pull the cord, got up from her seat, pulled the cord, even as the train stood idle.  She sat back down returning to her book.  A hardcover, old school, though she looked barely 25.  

I was slightly annoyed to have my short trip home delayed.  We were in-between the Union Square and 34thStreet stops.  The tunnel between the stops is a mile of tracks and darkness.  The lights were on in the train.  As I looked around I saw eyes meeting strangers’ eyes, a rare occurrence in the subway.  Seated neighbors started to talk.  I remained quiet, looking to see if anyone was panicking.  Surprisingly, everyone was in a good mood and remained calm.  Perhaps that had more to do with it being 9:30 pm on a Friday night, the start of a three-day weekend.  

A seasoned older gentleman, well, probably no older than me, was reassuring a group of tourists that he had been through this before and we’d get through this.  Others mentioned this had never happened to them before.  Personally, I couldn’t remember a time the emergency brake was pulled on a train.  I’d been delayed in my 42 years traveling underground, but this was new for me.  

I looked to see that my phone battery was full, settling in to read downloaded articles.  I barely finished the first short read when an announcement proclaimed we would be starting shortly.  I assumed the vague phrase meant something different to the crew than to us passengers.  However, within three minutes, around fifteen minutes in total, we were again on our way. 

It was a meaningful quarter hour.  Strangers supported one another.  Everyone remained composed, and we all clapped when the train moved forward.  Rather than ruining a terrific evening, it elevated my night, giving me hope.  Witnessing this sliver of kindness and respect reassured me in a city that is known by many as dangerous and cold.  Given the opportunity my subway car-mates chose kindheartedness.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Offer assistance.  Sometimes we see someone struggling, and if we open a door, help them cross the street, or give of ourselves in way that is not a hardship, we feel uplifted.  We get when we give.  
  • Practice calming habits, whether it’s a breathing exercise or tensing & relieving muscles, having a tool in a potentially stressful situation will be invaluable when that tension-filled time comes.  
  • When in a public place, people watch.  See if you can observe an act of kindness or a moment of care.  You, too, may find it reassuring.  

Micro Adjustments, The Twentieth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I just heard about micro adjustments. I’d never heard the phrase or the concept before. It was introduced as a mindfulness practice to adjust our perspective from getting lost in our thoughts, or external circumstances, to coming back to the present moment. It connotes adjusting our consciousness from distraction to mindful awareness.  This may not be a new concept, but it’s new to me.  

I love the idea of micro adjustments.  They are slight but meaningful.  I plan on implementing micro adjustments when listening, or writing, or simply when walking and viewing the city.  When I catch myself drifting away lost in a thought loop I can micro adjust to enjoy the moment again.  

I tried it this rainy morning while baking banana bread.  I was half-way through the recipe when I started looking through the cabinets wondering how many spices and various ingredients I was never going to use.  Too many, that’s how many.  So, I started to get the foot ladder to make room on the top shelves.  Then I caught myself sidetracked, again.  I stepped down from the ladder, turned around, and then continued mixing the dry ingredients into the wet batter.  

It felt so good to go back to my original activity.  I completed the mixing, the pouring into the pan, and the clean-up before returning to the cabinets.  It’s a quotidian moment, home tasks, easily diverted, then going back to start over again.  I’m easily distracted. Having a phrase that quantifies that instant when the shift takes place bringing me back to the present is terrific.  Micro adjustments are my new favorite contextual idiom.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • The next time you find yourself readjusting to the present moment, remember you just performed a micro adjustment. Acknowledge yourself. 
  • Name something you know you do well.  Smile, and take a moment to appreciate your gift.
  • Look in your cabinets, refrigerator or pantry and get rid of anything beyond expired, or anything you have that you privately know you’ll never use.  Then enjoy the space created.

Mother’s Day Ambivalence, The Noneteenth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I, like many, have mixed feelings about Mother’s Day.  

As a daughter I knew that I loved my mom, and I also yearned for her acceptance, spending far too much of my babysitting money to bask in the momentary approval of an expensive Mother’s Day gift.  I’d set up Arlene’s Kitchen, honoring our mom.  It was a made-up restaurant in our home with hand-written menus for the family.  Nervous about what I might cook, I’d prep all the possibilities from eggs, any type of French toast or bagels & lox.  As down home as those brunches were, they were followed by the certainty that my clean-up techniques would be met with inevitable disapproval.  No one could make a countertop shine like my mom.  

Then when I became an older mother to a young child I wanted recognition.  Even as I doubted my own parenting skills, I wanted my family to tell me I was great.  Not that it would have landed with accepting ears, but my insecurities yearned for others to tell me I was up to snuff since I wasn’t able to give that to myself.  For many years the let-down from those absent acknowledgements felt like a void that remained empty.

There is no such thing as perfect parenting.  We all make mistakes because we all have our own personal limitations.  Mothers receive the lion’s share of blame while also receiving less than deserved praise.  Parenting is a humbling job filled with unexpected challenges, unwanted criticisms, surprising joys, and a myriad of emotional responses.  

Many skip this made-up holiday altogether.  Whether you’re not a parent by circumstance or choice, others feel free to comment.  Or, if you are  a parent, it can feel like pressure to make the day count, even when you’re too tired to celebrate.  

Perhaps we can learn the invaluable practice of parenting or reparenting ourselves.  Be caring and generous of heart on Mother’s Day as in every day.  We deserve to give ourselves grace.  Being patient with ourselves is invaluable.  Let us celebrate the ways we try to make our and others’ world better.  Simple acts of kindness are gifts that honor our best selves any day.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Acknowledge Yourself.  What is something about you or something you’ve done for which you are proud?  Naming it yourself provides a moment of self-empowerment.
  • What is something you’ve learned from a parent or a mentor figure?  How has it informed your life?  It helps to be in touch with that gratitude for yourself and for your relationships.
  • Stretch your skill to embrace ambivalence.  Think about the mix of feelings you may have for the roles in your life, as well as for the parenting you received. 

A Full Moon, The Eighteenth Week in the Second year in the New Abnormal

It was a full moon this week.  I love looking up on a clear night and viewing the magical, mystical moon between the high rises.  Ever since I was a child I’ve found the moon an enchantress.  Myths have their place, and for many years I counted on myths to justify my outsized love of a full moon.  In times of feeling invisible I felt seen by the moon.  

The lure of the moon as a symbol of feminine energy resonated with my earliest feminist leanings.  Now at the foreseeable dawning of my senior classification, I am still drawn to the phases of the moon.  Perhaps it is the passage of time that resonates with the lunar cycles.  Or maybe it’s my propensity for relying on my imagination to improve on everyday life. 

Whatever the case, I am grateful to be able to look up at the night sky.  It’s guidance, imaginary or otherwise, will continue to fuel my dreams and capture my heart.  Given my friends, and referencing the arts, I know I am not alone in this.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Do the stars and the moon speak to you?  If so, write about it.  It will strengthen that connection.  
  • Do you have rituals or habits unique to daytime and night?  If so, try to change them up.  See if that gives you a new perspective.  It might have a new insight when you shift your routine.  
  • Shop your closet and drawers to find the clothes that have soft and soothing fabrics.  It could be a scarf or a swatch of cloth, if not a piece of clothing.  Keep the clothes or fabrics in an accessible location so that when you need soothing you have a perfect garment to wear, or a piece of cloth to rub for comforting.  

Our Relationship With the Weather, The Seventeenth Week of the Second Year of the New Abnormal

Growing up we wore rubbers or rubber boots, gently stretching them until they covered our shoes.  It was a hassle taking them on and off.  But to keep our leather saddle shoes somewhat dry, we sported rubbers over our two-toned oxfords.  These days my low rubber boots are the only shoes I need when it’s wet outside. They keep the water from soaking my socks and allow me to walk about in the rain.  

It’s been a rare occurrence that we’ve had two rainy days on a weekend.  This weekend we’re soggy and a bit chilly.  Lucy, our dog, isn’t inclined to go out, and neither am I.  I danced in our living room for a while moving to international music, happy to be in the flow, not so happy to feel the aches of muscles waking up after being dormant.  Weekends usually mean at least one long walk.  Sometimes it’s a great time to walk when it’s raining.  The sidewalks are less crowded.  Everyone wants to stay inside.  

The rain inspires me to slow down.  I like that.  Of course, other than a few errands, I was not required to work outside, so the impact of the rain is minimal.  Rain in the city, at least when it’s not flood conditions, does not impact us in the same way as it does in more natural settings.  With proper rubber boots and waterproof outerwear, we can navigate curb rivers and downpours.  We may be soggy, but we’re not deterred.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Make sure you have shoes and clothing for the rain.  An old Scandinavian saying goes, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” Being prepared is self-care.
  • Notice how different weather affects you.  Respect the weather’s impact so that you are attuned to yourself in relationship to your environmental conditions.
  • Dance.  Play the music you like or find a playlist.  Even if you feel achy, it fires up muscles and brings joy no matter the weather.  

NYBG, The Sixteenth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

My mom had a green thumb.  She could keep any plant or planted flower alive for years.  One of her favorite flowering plants was orchids.  She loved the dramatic curve and the delicate flowers.  She had a knack for keeping them alive and thriving for years.  A couple of times I found orchids I thought she would love.  I carefully brought them home reading the instructions and tending to them so they would make the perfect gift.  However, by the time they made it to her doorstep the blooms would fall and the sad gifts never reflected the hope I had of a lush and luxurious present. 

I was reminded of her love of orchids yesterday when I visited the Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden designed by the gifted Lily Kwong.  The many varieties displayed on rocks, wood, soil, and other surfaces was a pageant of natural wonder.    Walking through the conservatory was a collection of eye candy, elevating the joy of connecting with nature.  

Though the pictures don’t do the show justice, since snippets of the show don’t reflect the wonder in its entirety, I wanted to share some of the beauty found there.  The Botanical Gardens, open spaces, and natural settings continue to be the balm for the everyday challenges we face.  

Self-Care Tips

  • A gentle reminder to do things that please all your senses.  It doesn’t have to be at once.  Listen to something wonderful, music, the spoken word, a lovely soundscape.  Sniff pleasing scents.  Look at something beautiful.  Touch things that alight soothing feelings. Taste something delicious.  
  • Throw out old spices if you’re able.  They lose flavor.  Plus, it can feel more exciting to cook with fresh or new ingredients.
  •  When someone says something that hurts your feelings, ask them if they meant to upset you or hurt you.  Sometimes we react, and the person has no idea they hurt us.  Plus, we get a better sense of how they think, and it delays our instinct to react.   

Let’s Do Better, The Fifteenth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I came home late last night after seeing a beautifully moving theater piece by Suzan-Lori Parks at The Public Theater.  Retrieving our mail, I saw a broken glass and a brick on the lobby carpet.  Apparently, a group of teens were told to leave the area while smoking. So one of them in anger threw a brick through the window to show ‘them.”  It created more work for the porter and super who had to clean up and make immediate repairs on their weekend off. Needless to say the super and porter were nowhere near the incident when it happened.  

Too many people of all ages have little or no control of their expression of anger.  The honking in the city is out of control.  People are emotionally abusive in the workplace.  Or we’re ranting on social media.  There is a huge uptick of violence throughout the United States, and certain other parts of the world.  We are unchecked.  

I think we were so excited to leap past the couple of years of the pandemic that we forgot to heal from the losses, the changes, the pain.  Now we’re feeling the backlash.   So many are acting out because we didn’t do a great job learning and teaching how to care for ourselves when things are tough.  And if we’re not attending to our own needs, we’re not in a position to think of what our behavior will do to others. 

I’m doing my best to understand that when I’m reactive and harsh something is going on internally.  I may not understand it, but I can appreciate that I and those around me are impacted.  As Sharon Salzberg, Judson Brewer and others advocate in Loving Kindness mediation, “May I be free from inner and outer harm.”  Let’s care for ourselves with kindness and care.  Enjoying peace is an active intention.  

Self Care Tips

  • Though it’s not the season, this short video of David Bowie & Bing Crosby is uplifting.  We can use that now,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lCpXMy5GalI.  
  • Try a brief Loving Kindness mediation as practiced with Sharon Salzberg in which you repeat the ideas, “May I be healthy, may I be happy, may I be peaceful and live with ease.” Then, “May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful and live with ease.”
  • When difficult emotions arise and you’re feeling powerful sadness, fear, or anger, rather than blame yourself, others, or try to shut down your feelings, tell yourself you can get through this.  Think what will soothe you.  Remember these strong feelings come in waves, so it will subside.  In short, bring kindness and care in those difficult moments as opposed to acting out.  

Tattle Tales, The Fourteenth Week of the Second Year in the New Abnormal

I grew up with three siblings.  If you grew up with siblings, as I did, you are familiar with the age-old enterprise of tattling.  My younger sister, Susan, now Chova Sara, was the tattletale.  She was the one that thought it important to report to my parents, usually our mom, whatever misadventures we were enacting.  When I was six to her four, she ran to our mom to say I wasn’t letting her play with my Barbies.  This was true, but only because she cut their hair and drew on them with crayons.  Nonetheless, I had to release more dolls to her based on “fairness.”  This made no sense to me, but she got what she wanted, and it spurred her on for years.  

When I was fifteen she couldn’t get downstairs fast enough when she rifled through my drawers and found my almost full pack of Eve cigarettes.  I was no smoker, but I did purchase a 75 cent pack to try and smoke at high school socials.  I, a frizzy haired, acne prone teen with a penchant for musicals, wanted to seem cool.  I imagined cigarettes was the entry point.  I coughed more than I inhaled, thus ending a two-week foray into the impossible road to being a cool, cigarette-smoking kid.  But I kept the pack just in case I could offer an Eve to one of the true cool kids. 

Our mom, a former smoker, who coughed if she even thought there was smoke around her, was furious. I was grounded.  My explanation had holes.  Not only did I own a forbidden pack of cigarettes, but I was going to share an unhealthy habit with someone else.  While our mom lambasted me, I got a glimpse of Susan’s righteous smirk.  I imagine that same smirk on each of the mouths of all the tattlers online.  We have morphed into a culture of telling on others. 

When did we learn that telling on others was a better strategy than speaking in a respectful manner to said perpetrator?  We gain so much from having thoughtful dialog.  We may disagree, and in many instances, we may not come to a resolution, but there is a chance to connect rather than divide if we speak to one another rather than tell on each other.  

I believe when we feel we lack personal power we resort to public ranting or gossiping.  We dump our righteous opinions on the masses where we hope to receive positive reinforcement for negativity.  However, real confidence comes from being courageous enough to speak up without shaming someone else. In this way there’s a possibility you both might learn and grow.  Perhaps we can build our self-worth not by being righteous, which only strokes our egos, but by privately harnessing our emotional responses and caring for ourselves as we process those emotions. By looking inward instead of pointing fingers, we thoughtfully take steps towards positive change.   

Self-Care Tips:

  • Muster the courage to speak with someone with whom you disagree.  Let them know you want to understand their thoughts and actions.  Be open and think about what they tell you.  Monitor your emotional response.  And share your perspective, not to convince, but because you both matter.  
  • Stop! If you are about to rant with someone(s) who is/are not your friends, take a beat, write in a journal, but withhold from adding to the public negativity forum.  
  • Hold your own hand as if you’re holding hands with yourself.  Notice what that feels like.  Do you feel your own warmth?  Allow you to be there for yourself with this small gesture.  

Dashed Plans, The Thirteenth Week of the Second Year in the new Abnormal

I am a planner. Though I am open to spontaneous experiences, I usually rely on my calendar to settle into the day. In recent months I have had to change plans a good number of times.  Often, I’ve enjoyed folding the new into what I had expected.  But this last week too many plans changed, and my equilibrium is off.  My sense of self along with my comfort levels are being tested.  

My schedule changed.  Not only did my work schedule fluctuate day to day, but even personal plans and appointments got shuffled more than once.  I had not expected that, and I am working on finding a way for these changes to support me in outside endeavors.  It was mildly unsettling.  Nonetheless, the shifts in my schedule may be an opportunity to complete a book I’ve been working on a couple of years now with mixed emotions and limited time.  Along with all the other changes of last week, it was pointed out to me that the book needs to be reworked.  It’s not the first time, but I am losing steam and it’s hard to rally to continue.  

Perhaps these changes mean it’s time to reassess, and probably slow down.  As much as I like to be busy, accomplishing what I want takes time and focus, and my busyness has waylaid the process.  I’ll continue with the book even as I question my ability to go on, and my uncertainty of how to do that.  The book is on everyday courage.  I will be taking my own counsel today and going forward.  I may be weary, but I’m not worn.  

I have a new plan now.  The plan is to create a new blueprint going forward, referencing my experiences, while giving me more space for changes since they’re bound to happen.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stretch your arms above your head, and then out to the side.  If you’d like, add an affirmation such as “It’s safe to take the space I need.”
  • When you’re faced with a change (and you will be at some point), check in with yourself.  Notice any physical sensations.  Be patient and assess what you may need to adjust to the change.  
  • Savor delicious foods, joyous moments, shared laughter.  When something is good it warrants being savored.