Weeds in Context; Week 29 in the Time of Coronavirus

As a young girl, how I loved to blow the puff of a dandelion while I made a wish.  And the bright yellow flowers were so nice sprinkled about the lawn when I was growing up.  I remember being told I shouldn’t like dandelions because they were weeds.  And, though I secretly enjoyed the seed carrying wisps and the bright yellow blooms, I did not share this with lawn lovers in my neighborhood.  

But in a pandemic, in a concrete jungle, flowers of any kind can brighten my walks.  So, as I was spending a work break by walking on the East River esplanade, I smiled when I came across some dandelions.  I have a deep appreciation for dandelions in this pandemic.  Seeing them is a bright spot during these difficult days.  Not only do they bring me back to my childhood, but they also connect me to the present.   

Dandelions remind me that the value of an experience is based on context.  In the context of the Coronavirus, a flash of color is a small gift.  In the context of suburban lawns of the 60s, that same weed was a scourge on manicured properties.  Context really matters these days.  When we think of caring for ourselves, and perhaps those we love, getting through a pandemic may present new pathways to our well-being.  We may have hit our saturation point of plowing through.  Now we have to embrace the weeds of the past, both literal and metaphorical, as we wind our way on the twisted Covid-19 road.  Where once I might have called myself lazy for taking a day to rest with so much to get done, these days, indulging in a respite is a loving act I can give to myself.  

Let’s bring out the weeds. Make a bouquet of them.  We owe it to ourselves to enjoy the wild flowering plants in these turbulent times. 

Self Care Tips:

  • Make a wish.  If you’re not able to wish on a dandelion puff, write your wish down and put it in a secret place where you might forget about it for a while.  
  • Actively listen.  See if you can listen from a place of curiosity.  Instead of adding what you know to the conversation, see if you can learn something new from the person speaking.
  • Be willing to be wrong.  We open up and grow if we are not attached to being right.  
  • Make one small change that leads to a larger change.  That could mean taking out your yoga mat so that you might stretch someday soon, or it could mean you open up a new document so that you can write something you’ve been meaning to write.  Or, you buy an ingredient for a recipe you’ve been wanting to try.  
  • Whether you need inspiration or a short break, go to YouTube and search for someone who makes you smile and watch a brief video of their words, song, dance, or other offerings.  

Outdoor Musings; Week 27 in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s such an odd experience to go for a walk and find myself, again and again, a focus of various restaurant patrons on the streets of New York.  I realize they’ve been starved of social interactions.  And, people watching has taken on a new importance.  Pedestrians have become the dinner entertainment for the open tables’ clientele.  So if I walk uptown or downtown on the avenues, I become a subject for diners’ eyes.  Conversely, I look to see how to walk around so I’m not too close while they’re eating their meals mask free.  

It may be that I provide much needed amusement with my firecracker ponytail, my loose tee-shirts and touristy fanny pack.  I don’t care.  I’m at an age where I believe other people’s opinion of me is none of my business.  It gives me more head space to enjoy my daily walks.  

The character of the city has taken on its own pandemic configuration.  For instance, I was so looking forward to this past Labor Day Weekend.  In previous years, the city empties out and we can roam freely, the streets void of residents.  Not so last weekend.  If anything, it felt more like neighbors had prematurely returned from second homes or vacation dwellings. 

 I love the East River Promenade.  Yet, I’m not so fond of it during the pandemic.  This summer the river-facing benches are like chaise lounges at resorts, people have to get there early and stake out their territory.  Should I identify a rare empty bench, I would have to race walk to claim it as mine.  And, forget it when said bench is shaded.  

When I’m out with Lucy I get the distinct impression that she is confused that her park is no longer all hers.  We walk to areas she loves to sniff only to come across sun worshippers or picnickers who are located in the exact spot she wants to examine.  So we move on trying to forge a path around these interlopers. 

The city is, in turns, emptier, and more crowded.  The indoor places are a quarter full at most, while outdoor spaces seem to be at capacity.  This weekend brought even more people outdoors with cooler temperatures and Labor Day behind us.  I’m looking forward to the future when travel is a safer option.  My plan is to stay in the city as it empties out.   Lucy and I will sit on a readily available bench.  And, if they want, the runners by the river can enjoy Lucy’s mellow aura and whatever quirky yet casual get-up I’ll be sporting.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Set an alarm on your daily calendar to acknowledge yourself for small accomplishments. 
  • These times are so difficult.  Write down or share with others something for which you are proud.  
  • Set a timer for complaints.   This way you can acknowledge all the things that you find annoying, but it’s framed within limits.  
  • One-minute stretch brakes help come back to yourself, physically and emotionally.  
  • People watch when you’re outdoors.  You never know who you might find amusing.  

Masked Strangers; Week 26 in the Time of Coronavirus

I’m not being rude, I just don’t know who you are.  Though it seems ill-mannered, I rarely recognize anyone I see.  While walking about, I hear my name but have no idea who is summoning me.  Even after you tell me how we know each other, I have difficulty placing you.  Thus is the dilemma of mask wearing.  

Sometimes I recognize the voice.  Yesterday my name was called behind me.  And, though I couldn’t pinpoint who she was, ultimately her voice gave her away.  She’s our upstairs neighbor for about eighteen years.  It’s as if I have face blindness, a malady made well-known by the late, great Oliver Sacks.  

I used to recognize everyone, even those who had no clue who I was.  I’m not great with names, but I remember faces, shared experiences, and my personal impressions.  But now that we’re wearing masks, and, for my part, I prefer you wear one than not, I can rarely identify neighbors, acquaintances, friends, and colleagues.  It adds to the many moments in which I am caught without a clue during this time of the Coronavirus.  My mind is not as sharp now as it was in January.  Are any of us as focused or attentive as last year?  From what I hear, no.  

What I do recognize is modern dance on the bridle path with the reservoir as a backdrop.  A man was doing amazing moves as I slowly ran the path.  And I can identify a small ballet class on the East River promenade.  They were quite advanced.  It was pure joy passing them by as they strongly and gracefully leapt in the wind. 

A Saachi stock photo image from an online search

I also recognize the dogs I know.  They remain maskless for now.  And in that way, I know the identity of the owner.   I also recognize bees, butterflies, turtles and horses.  Most importantly, I can recognize smiling eyes.  They say the soul can be seen in the eyes.  And, the beautiful creases that adorn perfect strangers is a welcomed reprieve from the stress of the pandemic.  It connects us even when I don’t know if I know you.  

Self-Care Tips

-Buy 2 masks, give one away. 

-Shake things up, try a new hot sauce.

-Whatever you forget, whatever mistakes you make, whatever embarrassing moment you. might have now, remind yourself you’re living through a global pandemic. 

-Smile at a masked stranger.

-Dance indoors or out, bringing joy to yourself and perhaps others.  

Stressing About Stress, Week 22 in the Time of Coronavirus

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Oh Boy, another opportunity to stress.  We are going away to unload stress from city living, and yet here I am stressing about going away.  I’ve gotten used to the steady hum of anxiety just below the surface.  I have yet to speak to anyone during the pandemic that hasn’t acknowledged added stress. These feelings manifest themselves in many forms.  For me, I have a hard time focusing, going from one task to another without completing any of them until I’ve come back around twice.

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For the first time in years we will be at a place where there is no WiFi or cell service.  To that end I set a deadline for myself to complete this post before we left.  Last night was my made-up target.  When I failed to do that, I had to search for another word rather than fail to come back to myself with some patience and understanding.  Now I’m telling myself I simply did not finish this last night, and am doing that now.

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This also meant that my walk, run or bike ride was going to be short today.  I didn’t wake up early.  Instead I slept until I woke naturally and abbreviated my previous goals.  Perhaps we’ll settle in early enough for me to take a walk around the large property this evening.   Or, not.  Either way, we’re on an adventure.  I am in turns, excited and nervous.  And I’m interested how my stress will wane in the wooded Catskills.

 

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Self-Care Tips

 

  • Do something sensual. This isn’t necessarily sexual.  This has to do with your five senses.  Find a scent you like, make touch a sensate experience.  Mold clay, taste something divine.  Listen to the birds or music, or secondary sounds.
  • Make-up with yourself. Think of something for which you got mad at yourself.  Now let yourself know that you are your own reclaimed friend.  As a friend to yourself you may feel more inclined to treat yourself with respect and compassion.
  • Learn something new. Whether you listen to someone who knows something you didn’t know, or whether you look up information online on a site like lifehacker.com or zidbits.com, it’s fun to learn facts, hacks or material new to you.
  • Do it differently. Like I had to shorten my run today, as well as my blog post, it can be relieving to accomplish something outside your routine.
  • Get away. If you’re not going anywhere try a virtual tour on Fodor’s or another travel website.  Or, take a new route on a walk.  Or leave your home for a safe place in a new venue.   All can expand your outlook.

The Frustration Budget, Week 20 in the Time of Coronavirus


The light breeze in the high heat and humidity of this New York summer is a simple pleasure these days.  When I amble along on the sweltering sidewalks I can feel the gentle air waves stroke my head and shoulders lifting me up from the heaviness of the muggy day.  It’s a simple joy to feel the wind when it comes.  It eases the countless frustrations that have set upon us during this time of the Coronavirus. 
 
Given how easily I can be set off these days, I have come up with a made-up system.  I have begun to enact a frustration budget.  Living through a pandemic can wreak havoc with our nervous systems.  So, I am going to assess what is a livable measure of frustration, and anything above that quotient will not be spent.  I am not my best when I’m overstressed.  And, then I circle back on annoyance with my mood and behavior, thus adding to my agitation level.  
 
At this point I think I need to set up my budget with a low level of frustration.  I am subtracting rather than adding to my to-do list.  I am laughing at myself for my lack of memory, including my lack of access to common words, and forgetting seemingly simple tasks.   I open my pajama drawer when I mean to retrieve socks from a parallel drawer.  I am at work, and I am unable to make a point since the word “overcome” will not make itself known to my brain in that moment.  Pre-pandemic, I would get annoyed with myself, and maybe even defensive.  Now, deep in the storm of Covid-19, I am amused by my foibles.  At least that’s how it is this hour.  
 
The frustration budget will be a work in progress.  I just thought of it this week, as I felt exhausted by the end of my day, and quickly followed it up by being less than pleasant when I came home.  It was then I thought, “why not limit what I take in that doesn’t bring me joy?”  And, why not?  I don’t need to finish those articles now when I don’t have the bandwidth.  I can look at the New Yorker cartoons, and save anything else that really interests me.  I can leave the room if the TV is on a program that I neither like nor care about.  I can shorten my walk if I get exasperated by those who are not following the CDC recommendations.  I can lengthen my meditation so that I purposely have more calm moments in my day.  
 
I am amazed by the changes that have occurred since our world changed.  Much of it is difficult.  But some of it, like noticing that I can’t continue on building a wall of aggravations on top of displeasures brings a sliver of mindfulness. It’s a kindness that I can give myself.  I imagine the daily distractions and activities in the past allowed me to ignore certain annoyances, but now they are front and center.  It is time to tear down the wall one frustration at a time until I am thriving within my frustration budget.  
  

Self-Care Tips:
·      Notice what frustrates you and see if you can let go of anything on your list
·      Start a Bullet Journal.  It’s a creative way to track what’s important to you.  
·      Keep a Mood Tracker so you can care for yourself no matter what you’re feeling
·      Write personal affirmations and put them on post-its, then place them where you’ll see them like on the bathroom mirror, in your sock drawer, or on the calendar.  
·      See if you can laugh at yourself when you find you’re being hard on yourself.  It really shifts your mindset.  If you can’t laugh at yourself.  Maybe you can smile at the fact that it’s not easy to go from frustration to humor.  

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Being Okay Not Being Okay, Week 18 Blog Post in the Time of Coronavirus

I am in awe at the speed and dominance my emotions morph during the time of Coronavirus.  I am moved to tears by the humanity I witness or hear about.  Moments later I am immersed in fury for a perceived injustice.   I am in love with my child and husband for their simple kindnesses, and then I am agitated when I turn the corner to see that some arbitrary chore or other wasn’t accomplished.  My pettiness is astounding. My gratitude short-lived.  

As an observer I find this fascinating.  As the subject I find it disconcerting.  More and more I’m hearing similar stories of unwielded emotional lability.  By the week’s end I am exhausted.  Too tired to be social or active.  So I am resting more and more.  I have found resting to be restorative.  Prior to Covid-19, I thought resting was an obligatory lessening of activities when I hit a wall or got sick.  No longer.

I am not a closet napper these days.  Now I proudly nap, understanding the need for the down time.  I hadn’t realized the array of my rigid beliefs until I had to set up new rules during the time of Coronavirus.  All of a sudden I am making room for my widening range of emotional connection.  I have eschewed the notion that getting the most things done is a winning strategy.  And, I am throwing out plans right and left in favor of what works for me in the moment.  

This has been a tragic time in our world’s history.  And, though I recognize the losses we all have had to endure, I am also grateful for the gifts of this time.  The difficulties that have come our way make it impossible to go on as before.  I am unable to hide my less attractive features like my pettiness or judgments.  I can see them upfront and personal.  All I have to do is go for a walk to hear my thoughts; appreciating someone who raises their mask when passing, while silently cursing those who are not choosing to protect me and everyone else from the spread of Covid-19.  

These are kneejerk responses.  Later I may be able to find compassion, understanding everyone is doing the best they can.  But I don’t always dwell there.  So, I am using my ire to teach me.  I’m not defending against the notion that I get angry or disparaging of myself and others.  Instead I am learning about how and when those feelings present themselves and seeing if I can have patience for myself and others as we travel this unchartered territory on our own and all together.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Change the lighting to shift a mood.  We get set in the way we light things.  Yet, sometimes turning off a light or changing the bulb color helps to relax us.  Conversely, bringing in more or altered light can provide an emotional lift
  • Expand your vocabulary.  There is something singularly satisfying in learning new words.  Word Genius brings new words to your email.  There are also other platforms that are terrific.  
  • Star Gaze.  If you can, go out on a clear night a gaze up at the stars.  You will see infinite possibilities which will be a lovely contrast from the limited options we presently have.  If you can’t go out, then check NASA’s website for images or go to NOVA for images. 
  • Light a candle. It’s so simple and can remind us that a small source of light brightens large spaces.  
  • Add fresh herbs to the inside of your mask.  One mint leaf or rosemary sprig on the inner side of the mask can make all the difference.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, perhaps trying an essential oil or a light fragrance 

On my Bike, Week 17 in the Time of Coronavirus

Each one of us have been impacted by the Coronavirus in a personal way.  Some have been ill. Many have been in quarantine. Too many have lost their jobs and income, some of our loved ones have died.  And, the weight of the pandemic continues.  Friends have been divided based on the level of protection we have chosen.  Plans have been cancelled.  Supply chains are interrupted.  And we have all made appropriate adjustments centered on what is right for us under these circumstances.  

I am riding my bicycle more than I have in past years.  I like it because once I pass the trafficked streets it’s easy to ride the slow lane in the park.  And, as with every activity, I wear my mask, wishing everyone would wear there’s when in public.  This is a reflection of the rumble of fear right below the surface.  I am as afraid to infect others as I am of contracting a life-threatening illness.  As an extra precaution, I ride at times when the park is apt to be less populated.  So far, so good.  

My bicycle is a low-standing, folding bike.  I like the truncated height because my feet can easily reach the ground.  A throwback to shaky bike riding during the long summers peddling to The Haddontowne Swim Club.  I keep my bicycle in my office, located on the ground floor, to avoid schlepping it up and down the stairs of our apartment building.  It’s nice when I can create a simple solution.  Stashing my bike in the office also gets me out more.  Given these times, if it’s easy, it’s more apt to get done.  

Humidity was high this weekend. I don’t mind that so much.   It’s pleasant to feel a light breeze cruising down the hills.  Tracing the topography of Central Park, as well as the streets on the Upper Eastside, is a unique experience I encounter during my rides.  It’s physical and mental.  And a bit more challenging while wearing my mask.  I even tried a cycling mask, which was hot and constricting, making it harder to ride.  So, I returned to my office for the light cotton style that allows for an easier, though somewhat restrictive, air flow.  

I am both challenged and contented on these rides.  For one, though a cliché, the short journey on my bike is a metaphor for my ability to face difficulties and experience joy. I have to harness the energy to get up a hill.  Whether I go slowly or forge ahead, I can feel my muscles in motion.  My body is supporting me in moving through space.  My mind is telling me I can do it.  My conviction assures me I will do it.  I am grateful that I am at an age that I can trust this thinking.  I didn’t have that ability twenty years ago.  And, I understand that taking on the big and small hills builds mental and physical strength so that I can face them and others like them again.

Conversely, I can enjoy the flat roads, the ease of cycling at a pace that suits me.  I can enjoy the light breezes of summer as I turn the pedals.  Also, I get to know the streets that are open to me.  When I’m short on time, or just want a different ride, I make two rights to get to East End Avenue.  It’s partially closed to traffic, making it a great option. Cycling on East End is convenient and stress-free. Before the pandemic, I had no idea that I live on the top of a gentle slope. I never really saw the hilly street as anything but quiet. It’s a lovely way to get to know the city’s surfaces.  Enjoying old pleasures now is reminiscent of childhood, when every adventure was new again.  

Self-Care Tips

  • Purposelessly take a break.  Rather than push through, stop, meditate, or take a breath, and slow things down a beat.  It’s personally affirmational.  
  • Send a card or a letter snail-mail to someone who has been on your mind.  
  • Bring fresh herb plants into your home.  They smell great, and you can always clip them to flavor your meals and drinks.  If you already have an indoor or outdoor herb garden, perhaps adding another fragrant herb will round out the robust fragrances.  
  • Change up something in your routine(s).  For instance, walk a different direction to get a different view.  Or, if you always brush your teeth after your shower, brush them before.  It will feel odd to do something slightly differently, but it changes how we see things, and will allow for a new perspective.  
  • Smile under your mask.  It’s a mood changer.