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.  

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.  

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. 

Rest for the Weary, Week Fifiteen in the New Abnormal

In my mind this weekend was filled with activity.  I was going on long walks, I was starting to prepare for Passover, reading as research, writing, walking Lucy, finding items to give away, cooking for the week, and everything else that involves time and effort when not at work.  I forget what is required to get so much done, especially when a nap is in order.  

Even after over two years of a changed world due to the Coronavirus, I am still learning that I need more rest than I had a couple of years ago.  That’s not exactly true.  I probably needed more rest back then, but I thrived on the steady pace of work, perpetual plans, and a never-ending to-do list.  Now, however, my to-do lists alone exhaust me.  I aim to get so much done on the weekends, but I forget that I need more time to rest.  

I am humbled by my limitations. They let me know that I am not super-human, I am simply human.  I was never-super human.  But due to my low self-esteem, I acted as if I had to justify my existance.  To whom?  I’m not even sure.  Having high expectations for myself no longer serves me. Having realistic intentions helps me move forward towards my aspirations, slower than I’d like, but in the right direction.  

My challenge is to continually adjust to the slower pace.  I need to cooperate with the circumstances rather than going full steam ahead.  I’ve learned that being busy may have suited my energy level at one time, but that is no longer the case.  Leading a full life is not a series of crossing-off to-do list items.  Full means being in the moment.  Enjoying a sunset.  Delighting in the spring flowers.  Sharing meaningful conversations.   Stopping to rest.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Rest.  Your body and mind will thank you
  • When feeling overwhelmed, slow down.  Take a moment to check in with yourself.  If you’re able to take a break, do so.  If not, be patient so that you can get through whatever is required of you.  
  • Plan less.  Having open times allows for creative thinking.  

What We Don’t Know, Week Fourteen in the New Abnormal

It was the summer of 1979.  Thanks to a student loan I was in Paris studying French, which I didn’t retain and Art History, which I preserved with many future visits to museums. I felt so cosmopolitan sipping a café au lait while enjoying a freshly baked croissant before classes began. We sat at a café off of the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Half the day was spent in classes.  By afternoon I was walking for hours getting to know the city of lights.  

Those were the highlights.  Yet there was so much I didn’t know.  Back in our dorm room we had a bidet.  I was too insecure to ask how to use it or what it was for.  I thought, since we were in a women’s dorm, that it was a douche.  What I knew about douches I learned in Summer’s Eve commercials back in New Jersey.  When my roommates from other college exchange programs asked if I knew how to use it.  I lied.  I said, “Yes.”  Not knowing seemed as if it wasn’t an option for me.  

As memorable as the summer of “79 was, I recall my insecurities as much as I remember the amazing gifts of that European summer.  Over 40 years later and I still recall what my wonderful art history professor taught us every time I go on walks, recognizing the architecture.  Or, appreciating a painting in a gallery or museum because of what she imparted in our classes and tours.   I’m also currently enjoying the marvels of a bidet in our New York City apartment.  It’s not a separate structure as it was in Paris.  It’s attached to our toilet, a wonderful addition from Tushy.  I use less toilet paper, reveling in the simplicity of continental hygiene.  The focused stream of water cleans up beautifully.  

I may now know what a bidet is and how I can use it effectively, but over the years I have learned to admit what I don’t know.  I’d rather learn and grow than pretend that I’m more knowledgeable so someone else won’t judge me. We lose ground when we make believe we’re smarter than we are.  I compromised my learning curve and the breadth of joy while in Paris because I couldn’t admit what I didn’t know.  Thank goodness I know better now.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Think of something you have wanted to know or learn.  Look it up.  Or ask a friend about it.  It feels nice to understand what we didn’t know before.  
  • Make time to laugh.  Do it purposefully.  And laugh with abandon.  
  • Be open to be inspired.  Keep an open mind and go about your day.  Whether you anticipate it from a known teacher, or whether it comes in an unexpected moment, being willing to be inspired is the open invitation to wonder and awe.  

Tech Unsaavy and Other Limitations, Week Eight in the New Abnormal

I don’t really understand Instagram.  I’ve heard it’s for boomers.  As a Baby Boomer, I am virtually clueless on how to navigate this social media platform.  I can send hearts to a photo, but opening attachments, or anything more than loving a post eludes me.  I keep meaning to find a tutorial I can follow, but my time is spoken for, so learning how to use Instagram stays low on my to-do list.    I post to Instagram weekly.  I’m not sure if it goes through, or if people just see pictures but can’t open the attachments.  

There have been many times in my life when I’ve had common usage issues.  Learning the Dewey Decimal system in the public library meant that I couldn’t always find what I was looking for in my formative years.  It felt like a win when I could go to the files to find whatever reading material I needed.  Wearing a silk scarf still alludes me.  Many people can carry off scarves wearing them seamless accessories.  Not me.  My knots are sloppy, and they never fall gracefully.  What would naturally enhance a Zoom frame comes so unnaturally to me.  

Circling back to Instagram, I’m not so proficient with other social media platforms, but I know the rudimentary skills and muddle along with that.  Recently I noticed the amount of energy that I spend baffled. Acting with uncertainty.   It’s tax season now and I have to pull together all my documents.  I feel unsure if I collected them all.  I’m insecure to send the needed information properly.  The unease of using Instagram or attempting to be my own bookkeeper put me off balance. 

I like to know things.  Not knowing, or living with uncertainty, has me uncertain of myself.  And that can lead me to be defensive.  Sharing a few of the many things I don’t know may allow me the freedom to either learn the ins and outs of Instagram or not.  But I don’t need to act as if I know more than I know.  My uncertainty provides a level of compassion for others.  Uncertainty provides an opportunity to learn to stay upright in a boat on choppy water.  A skill useful on the high seas or on uneven ground.  

I find it’s difficult to trust myself when I’m deep in uncertainty.  I come face to face with my vulnerability when I confront my limitations.  And living in my vulnerability brings compassion for myself and others.  Though it’s an imperfect process, I do know that when I don’t immediately hide my vulnerability by armoring with defensive behaviors.  Knowing that I don’t know opens the door to growth.  

Self-Care Tools: 

  • Ask for help when needed.  Though it may be uncomfortable, asking from a place of vulnerability allows us to receive with graciousness.  
  • What song makes you happy?  Put it on your playlist or in a bookmark so you can go to it quickly and easily.  
  • Think about some of the things that you don’t know in your life.  Rate them to see which ones are worth learning and make a plan to learn them, or accept not knowing them.  

The Wrong Way I Meditate, Week Six in the New Abnormal

I felt so fortunate that I had a meditation practice prior to the pandemic.  I chose to double up my meditations to give myself devoted time each morning before I started my day.  And, when needed again at night, or anytime I had to find my way back to myself. 

There are so many meditation apps.  I like Andy from Headspace and the Chopra App.  Sometimes I do a Tara Brach meditation, or I’ll listen to Sharon Salzberg. When needed I’ll do my own thing.  I map my breath, I do a body scan, or Iisten to my ongoing thoughts noticing if there are any changes in my mood or physical sensations from one floating thought to another.  I’ve heard others who really like to meditate to Loch Kelly and the Calm app.   Though there are a lot of options out there, once I found two that met my needs, I’ve stuck with them.  

It’s taken years to bring the sensation of meditation into other parts of my waking life.  At the beginning of my meditation practice (that sounds so self-aggrandizing to me) I attempted sitting up straight, adjusting my posture again and again to make sure my spine was aligned.  It was extremely uncomfortable.  If I was in yoga class meditating at the beginning of a session, my leg muscles would cramp.  I focused more on the discomfort than on my breathing.  

For the past twelve years, since I turned 50, I started to meditate laying down.  To some meditation devotees, that’s blasphemous.  For me it was a game changer.  Often when following a guided meditation the directive is usually to sit straight.  No thank you.  At 50 I started making changes that worked for me.  One of the first was to lay flat while meditating.  I can meditate longer.  I can relax in a way that feels illusive while sitting, especially if I’m crossed legged.  

Now I meditate the way that works best for me.  It’s true for other areas of my life.  I enjoy food that I find pleasurable, rather than forcing myself to drink wheatgrass as I had in the late 80s.  I enjoy a walk daily, usually alone, as a moving meditation.  Or I listen to audiobooks, making it easier to get though books these days.  For the first half of my life I tried to follow the rules of life.  I believed if I could just get it right I’d be happy.  In this second half I am making the ever changing rules that support me.  I don’t know if I’m happier, but I am certainly more satisfied.  

Enduring these past two years has tested our every nerve.  We can all be gentle with ourselves by designing our routines to match our needs.  I will continue to meditate on my back, even if others see that as wrong.  Perhaps having grace for ourselves is more important in the long run than “good” form.    

Self-care Tips:

  • Try meditating in a comfortable position.  If you’re new to it, start with 30 seconds to 3 minutes.  If you like it, try it again.  If it’s not for you, either try another modality or let it go.  
  • When you’re feeling over stressed, imagine you’re softening your edges.  What does that look like? How does it feel?  It may assist in easing the emotional strain.  
  • Who makes you laugh?  Watch a video, stream a special, or call that funny friend.  A laughing brake is a terrific relief.  

We Are Not Okay, Week 33 in the Time of Transition

I’m finding this holiday season to be quite odd.  On the one hand, many of us are able to travel, visit with friends and family, and celebrate the holidays in person rather than on Zoom.  On the other hand, our nervous systems have been taxed beyond what we thought possible as we forge ahead.  

I so appreciate the invitations I’ve received for in-person celebrations.  And, yet, I just don’t feel up to it.  I am less inclined to have small talk.  I like to see people, but not much is new in terms of life changes, and I don’t have the wherewithal to listen even though I’m interested.  So I sit out the parties.  Parties I yearned to attend in my 20s and 30s.  Parties I will forego in my 60s while we still cope with a pandemic.  

When we ask, “how much more can we endure?”, we’re simply given more.  Plodding ahead, a bit slower than before.  Sometimes I can delight in a small moment.  Such as walking with a friend or enjoying a chance meeting in Central Park.  Other times I am enraged by what would seem an insignificant event.  

Today my face burned as I attempted to walk around a family who abruptly stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to adjust something in their stroller.  It wasn’t an emergency and they had plenty of room had they cared to walk a couple of steps moving closer to the curb. I have little patience for those who are not considerate of others.  Simple kindnesses go a long way.  I soften when someone is gentle or thoughtful.  Later in the day a neighbor helped me with a package, and I could have cried from gratitude.  Ambivalence and a general malaise have ruled these last months.  It’s kind of like a throwback to my adolescence, or maybe even menopause.  Two stages I would have preferred to leave in the past.  Yet here I am, moody and grateful.  

Self-Care Tools:  

  • Smile to a stranger.  Know that they, too, are going through a lot
  • Allow yourself to slow down.  It’s easier to make room for your feelings, your process, or anything you’re experiencing when you slow down, take a breath, and say, “In this moment this is where I am.”
  • Take a bath.  If you can, find some bath soap paint that washes away.  Create art on your body, in the tub, then wash it away.  It’s fun and it will be a reminder of the impermanence of our situation. 

A Rare Moment of Calm, Week 24 in the Time of Transition

I hit the ground running.  There was so much to get done and I’m still behind.  I did the best I could, which means I had to readjust from vacation mode to New York City-paced backlog catch-up.  Within a few days the vacation glow is flickering.  

Sometimes getting away is the space needed to reevaluate what works and what doesn’t.  There’s no way I can keep up my current pace.  What goes?  Time will tell. 

The idea of living simply makes perfect sense.  I can be still when meditating.  The quiet time before my coffee is delightfully simple.    The rest of the day is a maze of work, calls, paperwork, walks, family time, dog time, emails, and if I have the energy and a rare opening, a good tv program.  

It took me until today, while walking Lucy, to appreciate the cool air on the East River Promenade, without my phone, without a podcast, without distraction.  Just Lucy and I strolling along.  When I was away, I was able to go for swims.  I love the tranquility of an empty lap pool.  Though I have yet to find a quiet pool in the city, my walk with Lucy brought calm to my otherwise hectic days.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Find a new book, tv program, a movie, or something you can enjoy at the end of busy days.  
  • Try to go for a quiet walk without a phone or other interferences.  Notice what it’s like to move peacefully.  
  • Play the make-believe drums with spatulas and pots.  Get out all your frustration by tapping into your inner child pretending to be a rock star.   

Sweet Sixteen, Week Sixteen in the Time of Coronavirus

Sweet Sixteen.  It doesn’t feel so sweet these days.  I remember when I was turning sixteen, I yearned to have a fancy party as many of my friends were having that year.  We couldn’t afford an expensive affair, so I begged and cajoled my parents into allowing me to have a house party.  My mother did not enjoy entertaining, nor did she feel comfortable in having a good number of adolescents in her home.  I didn’t realize at the time what a gift she was giving me just by saying yes.  

I worked hard to pay for the party doing overtime to make it happen.  I would make runs into Philadelphia to get beads so I could make each guest a personalized necklace.  My ambitions were high even though my craft skills were not.  

When the party came to be I remember how uncomfortable I was to bring together my friends from various parts of my life, from Hebrew school cronies to my drama student friend, to those in B’nai Brith Girls (BBG) to old elementary school friends, and my more avant-garde crowd.  I was an emotional mess thinking that each knew a part of me, but I was not at ease with me as a whole, and projected quick rejection once they saw the other aspects of  my personality.  Needless to say, trying to calm my mother pre-party and calm myself took all my energy while setting up.  

Each person I invited had a special place in my heart.  They had given me their friendship. Not understanding what that meant, I wanted to repay their kindnesses.  However, I didn’t know myself well enough.  I felt fragmented.  Sadly I only remember my discomfort walking indoors and out to make sure everyone had what they needed.  Scared they’d find out I wasn’t who they thought I was.  

It took me decades to learn that our many personality traits are naturally unified.  We are and have always been a culmination of the different parts of ourselves.    

Last night I had the great fortune of going out for the evening.  I was able to meet a FaceBook friend from the pandemic for the first time, as well as her awesome sixteen-year-old daughter.  My new friend is an extraordinary woman who is bright, sensitive, and fun, among other wonderful traits.  Larry was there, as was his friend who has become mine, and his delightful girlfriend.  For me it was a magical evening.  Perhaps even more so since there’s been a Covid-19 surge, and yet we could still meet for dinner.  We don’t know what’s coming, but in our uncertainty and fear we made room for laughter and love.  

If I think back to my 16-year-old self, I don’t know that I could have shared my fears if I was supposed to be having fun.  Or, I would have missed the fun in deference to my uncertainty.  Thank goodness for life experiences that allow us to keep moving forward while honoring the moment. Though I am not grateful for the pandemic and what I thought was this time of transition, I am grateful for new friends, long-term friends, a good husband, and all the other gifts from these many pain-filled months.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Make a positive comment online.  It can be a compliment for good service, a nice comment to a post, or a short hello to an old friend.  It’s an easy way to make someone’s day.
  • Make a note of a life lesson you’ve learned.  Remember how you used to be and recognize how you’ve grown since then.
  • Check in with yourself to see what you need.  Sometimes we’re preoccupied with what others need, and we don’t know if we need rest, if we need to reach out to a friend, or we need quiet time.