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.  

One Year Older, Week Thirty-Five in the New Abnormal

Today I turn 63.  In my 20s and 30s I wanted a lot of celebrating.  By 40, after I started my present career as a psychotherapist, low key became my preferred option.  Don’t get me wrong, I wanted recognition.  Sometimes, I say with some embarrassment, I demanded recognition.  But smaller became better for me.  Today I took myself to the Bronx to walk among the August flowers at the New York Botanical Gardens.  

Going in the morning was key.  I could walk for a good while without seeing anyone else.  The day was hot, but there are so many shaded spots that the sun’s early rays didn’t overheat me.  A couple of hours of simple pleasure was a wonderful gift. But it’s not the only gift. 

While social media is often scorned for the propensity of many users to err on the side of negativity, that was not my experience today. The outpouring of birthday wishes is a testament to the warmth in the precious hearts of those with whom I’m acquainted.  I am filled with gratitude.  The abundance of good will on social media platforms has the power to transform.  The well wishes took a simple day and layered it with kindness and care.  My heart is full.  Thank you.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you have a chance to enjoy time in nature, seize the opportunity.  The beauty and majesty of gardens, woods, sea, desert, and mountains can soothe our souls.  
  • Take in the positive posts when on social media.  It will move you and/or bring a smile.
  • Look up Don MacMillan’s comedy.  He is very funny.  We went to Stafford Elementary School together.  He was smart and funny then.  He’s only gotten better since those early years in Cherry Hill.  https://www.youtube.com/user/donmcmillancomedy

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.  

Bears of Central Park, Week Thirty-Two in the New Abnormal

I entered Central Park at 79th Street.  The small, seated area was cordoned off so that Central Park Conservancy workers could clean the sculpture of the bear trio that adorns a circular inlet.  I had never seen the careful scrubbing of the artwork and appreciated how diligently they were working to rid the bears of debris.  The park is as beautiful as it is thanks to Conservancy employees and a myriad of volunteers who work assiduously to ensure that we can all enjoy all the Park offers.  

As I continued walking south I noticed other bears in the park.  It’s not that I hadn’t seen them before, but I never thought about them as a constant presence.  The others were closer to the Central Park Zoo.  One decorated the gate to the zoo area.  Another was on the top of the arch that dances on the hour, and a third was simply an ad for an animated short that plays in the Zoo.  I’ve never seen a wild bear, save for the imported Polar Bears now long gone inside the Zoo proper.  But the Zoo was closed for the day, and the only live animals, aside from Squirrels and pigeons, were the Sea Lions seemingly posing for the camera.  

It was fun to discover a themed walk.  The day was hot, but there was a light breeze that made the walk doable.  I love going down less traveled paths, and it was taking new turns that allowed me to enjoy bears as I moved through the greenery.  I wonder what I may discover on my next foray. 

Self-Care Tips:

  • Depart from your routine.  Take a different route. Really look and find something new you hadn’t registered before.  
  • Thank a volunteer.  Though volunteers choose to give of their own free will., they are often unsung heroes.  A thank you can go a long way.  
  • Hum.  It’s so simple and it can really lift our mood.  Hum with music played, or hum on your own.  Either way, you will probably feel better during and after humming.  

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.  

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.