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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care Tips:

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

Halloween Weekend, Week Forty-Four in the New Abnormal

It’s Halloween Weekend and the city is ready for the many trick or treaters at every age.  As a child of the sixties our Halloween was comprised of a trip to Kiddie City to pick out a cardboard box with a clear window displaying the plastic mask with a thin mouth opening with two nostril holes for labored breathing that allowed for a muffled song of “trick or treat” at the door of kind home-owners who distributed candy, both great and questionable.  My favorite candy were plain Hershey chocolate bars, M&Ms, Twizzlers, or Good and Plenty.  I was not a fan of the chalky Necco Wafers or boxes of raisins.  We had plenty of fruit and raisins in our home, so I was on the lookout for forbidden treats that I would hide in the back of my closet.  

I’d bring one or two treats to school a day.  If I was in junior high, then they would be confiscated from the bullies that threatened to ruin an otherwise adequate day.  Nonetheless, the feeling of being rich with sugary sweets was intoxicating. 

The other aspect of Halloween I reveled was wearing a costume.  I loved dress up, and I delighted in playing other characters.  The first time I played someone else was in a Hebrew School Purim play at age five.  Sadly, I did not make the cut for Esther, but wearing a long- haired wig, and a toga, I was one of the other wives of King Ahasuerus.  It wasn’t as fun as Halloween, but it was a solid second. 

There were very little Halloween decorations in our neighborhood growing up.  A few Autumnal pumpkins, some adventurous jack—o-lanterns, but not much more.  Even so, a good costume, from my elementary school age perspective, whether it was Casper, a Disney Princess, or a witch, was a special experience.  Walking home, hitting all the houses on the other side of the street brought heft to my papar bag, and anticipation of portioning my candy booty for the remainder of the holiday season.  It’s been a joy throughout this week to see young children in their costumes on their way to Halloween Parties, proud to represent a character near and dear to them.  

Wishing everyone a safe and Happy Halloween.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you’re not trick or treating, try some high-quality chocolate, one square a day.  It’s a small treat with big flavor.  
  • When someone says something that hurts you, simply ask them “Did you mean to upset me?”  it’s a way to communicate your upset without an accusation.   It will also give you information about what’s going on for them.  And they will know that they hurt you.  Of course, if they answer, “Yes,” then that gives you more information about being intentionally treated poorly, thus giving you a choice in future interactions. 
  • Relax with classical music.  We forget how impactful it is on our nervous systems.  It can soothe us when we are stressed, and lighten our mood when we feel low.  May I suggest Debussy’s Clair de Lune or Pachelbel’s Canon in D? 

Busy or Not, Week Forty-Two in the New Abnormal

As Autumn has created an uptick in activity, I am both excited to get out more and apprehensive as well.  The surprising outcome of the pandemic was that I enjoyed my quiet time.  What was surprising about it was that I lived a busy life and enjoyed juggling a schedule that allowed me to partake in the best New York City offers.  The theater and museums were a mainstay for me.  When everything shut down, I questioned how I would get on.  The answer was very well.  

Now, I am grappling with my desire to do less and my yearning for my old life.  Being busy has its merits.  There was always something to look forward to.  I love the arts and was wowed by so much of it.  And, if there was something I didn’t like, it didn’t really matter because there was something else around the corner.  

However, taking things easy, enjoying peace, finding calm, and not being on the run provides a type of ease I hadn’t known I was missing.  I am challenged to find the balance between good times out and savoring staying in.  

When life circumstances change we learn new things about ourselves.  In this new abnormal I wonder what I will learn about myself.  I am curious to see how I can listen to what’s best for me, whether it’s a performance or a nap.  I had learned how to check in with myself more these last couple of years.  Yet I am flummoxed when it comes to ambivalence.  Do I want to make dinner tonight by taking advantage of the largess from the farmer’s market, or do I want to keep it simple so I have a rare night off?  

For tonight I’m making dinner and foregoing a dance performance.  I wonder what tomorrow will bring.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Check in with yourself a few times a day to see what you’re experiencing and how you feel.  Checking in regularly helps during more stressful times when it’s easy to forget that checking in slows things down. 
  • When you’re in a quandary, rather than trying to figure out via the facts, try seeing how you feel physically when responding to the options.  
  • Cook, put together, or order something different for a meal.  We change our thought pattern and possibly introduce something new to enjoy.  

Life is Beautiful, Living is Hard; Week Thirty-Eight in the New Abnormal

I woke up this morning to a stunning sunrise.  I slept well and was in a better mood than I had been the last couple of days.  Sunrises bring hope.  They help me to begin the day with gratitude.  The day is lovely.  It’s warm enough to avoid outwear, but cool enough to enjoy the breezes on my walk.  The outdoor cafes are filled with happy brunch diners.  The city is moving along nicely.

Even so, as I appreciate the days, I am also struck by the enormity of personal pain and struggle we have had to endure.  Some are dealing with illnesses, others chronic conditions, still others are doing what they can to manage mental illness for themselves and loved ones.  If that weren’t enough, there are financial concerns, and there are individual hardships.  Too many people are bullying others because they can’t soothe their own pain.  Others are simply unable to sit with uncomfortable feelings, so they act out, scaring others. 

I notice that I’m more sensitive these days.  Loud noises, and there are many, especially the raucous cars and motorcycles in the city which startle me again and again.  I feel like my radar is on high alert since there are more vehicles including dirt bikes, scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, and racing bikes, as well as cars whose drivers don’t abide by traffic lights.   

I feel so fortunate for good friends, family, and amazing work colleagues and clients.  I still love New York City, despite the cacophony that pollutes my ears.  Nonetheless, I am acutely aware of the everyday difficulties we endure, whether we live in or outside a city.  It’s been tough.  We can take refuge in those glorious moments when we gaze upon a sunrise or sunset.  We can enjoy a good laugh.  And we can be moved by the courage we witness.  It doesn’t take away the hardships, but it does give us a little something so we can continue forward in our beautiful and hard world.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • Stop.  Sometimes we forge ahead and forget that a break will help us in the long run.
  • When you feel that you’re at your breaking point, step away.  Even if you can simply take a few breaths, create a small space between you and your inner pain.  
  • Keep it simple.  It’s easy to blame ourselves when things go wrong.  Instead simply identify that it’s a hard moment, and if you hear a critical thought, simply say, that’s a thought, I will not add it on to this difficult time.  

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.  

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.  

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. 

Post-Vacation, Week Twenty-Two in the New Abnormal

I don’t like the phrase at the end of a vacation, “Back to real life.” I think vacations are real life.  It’s a break from the everyday, but enjoying that break is very real. Coming back to my work and apartment, and New York City after this vacation was a terrific reentry.   

What I will take away from my vacation, and the Galapagos in particular, is that everything has an impact. That systems change and even if we think of the good in the short term, the long term might not be served by our actions.  This is nothing new for me.  I do understand if I savor a delicious meal but eat beyond my hunger, I’ll be uncomfortable later, even if I don’t want to end the delicious mouth experience.  In the same way if I read the news, I’m informed, but if I keep digging for every opinion piece on any given subject, I can become over saturated and can start to feel anxious.  

In the same way, if I push myself to be “productive” I end up having to redo some of what I’ve done because my good judgement wains.  Slowing down actually helps in my productivity.  I will do my best to remember that, too, from vacationing.  And, if I don’t, I need look no further than an impulsive purchase or a task I must do again.  

I like the idea of balancing rest with activity, another take-away from vacationing.  I will continually identify and work on calibrating that balance with the demands of life between vacationing.  

Self-Care Tips:

  • When rushing to get everything you need done, slow down by taking a couple of breaths and then do the next thing focused on each step in the moment.  
  • When hungry, chew slowly, savor each bite, and listen to your body for signs up satiety.  Stop when you feel full.  
  • Turn on music when busy or when you’re able to uplift everyday chores.  It brings joy to the mundane.  

A Trip to the Equator, Week Twenty in the New Abnormal

No one could have prepared me for the beauty of Ecuador.  Wherever I turn the vista is extraordinary.  The pictures barely capture the awe that we’re experiencing.  Going on vacation is the refresh I so needed.  

As if the landscape weren’t humbling enough, I faced my fear to ride a horse to a rushing waterfall.  While approaching the cascade, having dismounted the mare, I slipped on the mud.  My ego was wounded the most, the slide slightly slowing me down in the afternoon.  Nonetheless, I have no regrets.  The landscape is gorgeous.  The hospitality throughout has been most accommodating.  

Sometimes we need a touch of humility in paradise.    

Self-Care Tips:

  • If you can go on a vacation, enjoy the surrounding beauty.  If you’re not able to get away, travel blogs and far-off location books can transport you for moments or hours. 
  • Do something that scares you a little, but not so much that you’re terrified.  As you partake in the activity, notice how the fear can be mixed with other emotions, including pleasure.  
  • Even if it can feel uncomfortable, when appropriate, admit when you’re wrong.  It can feel like a release from silent defensiveness. 

Wild Condor at the Zuleta Condor Sanctuary