Staying Connected While Keeping the Distance

Between the pandemic and the resulting stock market tumble, my mind is often a crazymaking mess, fueled in part by our president’s lack of concern, care and compassion.

To keep myself from getting derailed by the body’s fight, flight or freeze response, I’m practicing mindfulness, which my friend Jacquelyn Fletcher Johnson, founder of Heartwood Healing, describes as paying attention to the present moment without rehashing the past or panicking about the future.

While I’m certainly not convinced that things are going to be “just fine,” being mindful has helped me think more clearly and calmly.

Two other things have helped: a mantra I’ve borrowed from my sister Karen (“Whatever happens, I’m going to be okay, today and in the future”) and a practice I learned from my friend Diane (Focus on what you want, control what you can).

To help keep my focus positive I’m staying connected with others while spending my days at home. I’m sending at least one card a day and even some handwritten letters. I’ve found a bliss buddy; she and I occasionally text one another what we are grateful for. I’m having weekly conversations with aunts, uncles and cousins, some of whom I haven’t talked with in years. And on Saturday, I’ll be meeting with my book group via Zoom rather than in person.

I’m also taking inspiration from what others are doing.

Deb Shanilec, my minimalist friend who helps people discover that less truly can be more, plans to celebrate her upcoming birthday via a virtual party around her backyard firepit. Teresa Thomas, founder of 50 Fun Things, is hosting an open-to-anyone online “Happier Hour” each Friday afternoon with the goal of raising a toast to joy.

And while joy isn’t my constant companion, it does remain my friend, in part because I’m practicing what Jacque refers to as the “art of the return.” By repeatedly and gently bringing my attention back to the tasks at hand, to my values and to the people and causes I care about, I gradually return to my future hopes and dreams.

How are you keeping calm? What are you doing to carry on? Who is sustaining you? What hopes and dreams are you envisioning for your own post-pandemic life? We’d love to hear. Please share.

 

Mental Whiplash

On February 19th, the snow was deep in our yard, and our alley was so rutted with thick ice that my car was forced to follow the deep track. Before my husband and I left for our three-week snowbird experiment in the Southwest, life seemed relatively predictable.

We are keenly interested in politics, so the Democratic primary in South Carolina on February 25 and Super Tuesday on March 3 (which included Minnesota) were on our minds. We voted before we left town.

We speculated about the outcomes as we hiked in the California desert among shaggy palms, Joshua trees, and giant boulders that are tumbled like toys in the foothills.

Less than 48 hours before Super Tuesday, the trailing presidential candidates ended their runs abruptly. Although the departures were inevitable, the timing was startling. The consolidation of candidates meant that my early vote was irrelevant. Like many, we were astonished by Joe Biden’s surge. When Elizabeth Warren exited a few days later, I was sad that there were no women candidates. The political landscape had changed dramatically, and the rapid change was jangling. However, COVID-19 felt remote.

In Tucson, our next destination, the desert was blooming. Clumps of yellow desert marigold dotted the hills that bristled with saguaro cactus. The sunny warmth of Sabino Canyon’s trails soothed me.

During the first week of March, concerns about COVID-19 came to the forefront for us. This was new terrain. Until then, sensible precautions seemed enough; our life hadn’t been disrupted. With each subsequent day, our understanding of the COVID-19 crisis increased as updates poured in faster than we could absorb them.

The Grand Princess cruise ship, which carried passengers ill with COVID-19, docked in Oakland. We worried about our son and his significant other, a physician in Oakland, who would be on the front lines.

The sky was overcast but the temps were still warm as we walked trails alongside the broad dry Rillito riverbed. I noticed spikes of pink penstemon, but our conversations centered around the looming pandemic and the conflicting national response. We worried about restrictions on flights from Europe where our niece was studying abroad and the pandemic’s impact on the economy.

By the time we flew home, the landscape was changing hourly with updates about cases and the CDC and NIH’s latest guidance. On our first day back, the president declared the overdue National Emergency. Comprehending the impact of the cascade of closings and event cancellations was hard. Is hard.

The pandemic is uncharted territory. Only a week ago, I wondered if I’d be able to fly to Chicago later this month for a wedding shower. Several days ago, meetings with my writer’s group and book group seemed possible. We’ve ruled out travel, in-person visits, and ordinary errands to help “flatten the curve.” The daily, even hourly, changes are like mental whiplash. No school. OK. Restaurants and stores with limited service. OK. Stay home. Got it.

March 18thIn the space of a month, so much has changed. The world looks very different. Socializing in person has been postponed. I no longer assume my travel plans for May and July will happen. We’ll see. We’re figuring it out, day by day, case by case, just like everyone else.

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At the moment, we’re healthy. The snow in our yard is nearly gone, and the alley is ice-free and dry. As I circle the yard, I note the early tulips and weeds pushing up in my gardens as they always have. Though much is unknown and I’m seeing the world with a new perspective, spring is coming, and for that, I’m grateful.

 

 

I Thought I Was Doing What I Was Supposed to be Doing

“That’s the problem,” he said. I looked down at my legs. I was sitting on a physical therapy table with my legs outstretched on the tabletop. I couldn’t see what he could see. He pointed to the concave shape of my inner thigh. “Your leg has atrophied.”

What?!? Atrophy might describe an old lady … maybe someone who’s in her late 80’s and immobile.  Not me! When I thought that I could speak without crying, I interrupted him with questions. “Is my other leg atrophied?” Yes, he said. Later that evening I would sob with Jody.

How could that be? Exercise has been a priority for me and after getting my knees replaced, I continued to exercise at least 5 days a week, whether it be aqua pool jogging, biking, or Pilates reformer. During my workday I piled on steps from walking the plant floor.

Over a month ago, I had graduated from physical therapy following my last knee replacement. What brought me back to the doctor was a constant pain where my IT band ended near the knee. My knees were terrific, but this new pain was causing me to limp.

What I learned is that all the exercising that I was doing was great, but my quads needed strengthening. If my quads were stronger, then the IT band wouldn’t have to work so hard. I needed to get my quads to fire.

I was introduced to Blood Flow Restriction Therapy. The physical therapist put a band similar to a blood pressure cuff on my upper thigh and pumped it up. This stopped the blood from flowing into my leg. I then did straight leg raises, quads over roll, and knee extensions. What this did was engage my quad muscles.

After two sessions with blood flow restriction therapy I was no longer feeling any pain.

I recently graduated from physical therapy again. I purchased a blood flow restriction band to continue the exercises at home. My goal is to climb Mount Fuji on our Japan trip this summer. No atrophy allowed.

The Family Tree

The Bayside Tavern in Fish Creek, Wisconsin has two buck burgers on Mondays during the off season. There’s a choice in seating– high tops, low tables, tiny booths for two, or stools at the bar. Narrow windows keep the inside dim. It is the place to go before the community Christmas tree is lit across the street, before the high school musical, to watch the Packers or Badgers or Brewers play. Maybe the Bears or Cubs for those brave enough to wear such jerseys. If you are a local, or a seasonal local, they probably know your name.

My Dad preferred a booth and ordered fried onions on his burger. He had haunts in Door County including the best places for good food. He knew the parents of people important in the community—the Catholic priest, the sheriff, a few bar owners.

So it was at the Bayside that my cousin Jeff Frisque and I met for lunch, the first time we had ever talked to one another except at family funerals. We connected through Facebook where many of the cousins have friended each other. Taking a risk, Jeff and I moved from responding to postings to trying a direct message.  Jeff’s father and one aunt are the last living siblings.

In my book, The High Cost of Flowers, the eldest sibling comes to the realization that to have the kind of extended family you want can require effort. And as the elders age, the responsibility passes to the children to do something, or to walk away. My husband and I are the elders of our families. That sounds easier to me than embracing the concept of adult orphans. We value the small circles of those connected to us by birth or marriage. Along with those we love, we have developed new traditions to stay close.

The Bayside Tavern might become a comfortable setting for weaving together the grandchildren of Michael Frisque. In his prime he spent many hours in bars, but I don’t know if he ever sat at this one. I didn’t know my grandfather well enough to say how he felt about his children and grandchildren. None of that was important in sharing lunch with my cousin Jeff.

Jeff is known locally for building and restoring exquisite log homes. We share love for Door County. We both showed up with spouses, a sign of how we value our families and would go to great extremes to protect them. We are not members of the same political parties although we may share a few beliefs. I think we are both tender-hearted about the right stuff. We both love or admire each other’s fathers. We walked away with each other’s email addresses and telephone numbers.

We also both like burgers at the Bayside. Mark that on the family tree.

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Thinking Retirement

I have a date in mind. September 26, 2021. My 63rd birthday.

“Dream about what you want to do after high school,” I tell Juan and Crystel. Jody and I have offered our children many options. Gap year. College. Work. Travel. Imagine it all. Don’t put any restrictions on your visions.

I’m doing the same with retirement. Sometimes, I’ll have thoughts of staying in the workforce longer. I have a job I enjoy and leave satisfied, most days. After planning a trip to Japan for three weeks, I thought, well … maybe if I arrange a few more of these three-week vacations I could work longer. Then winter came.

The first time I stepped into the bone chilling Minnesota cold at 5:30 am to go to the YMCA and then on to work, I changed my mind. There is a difference between having to leave your home for work and leaving home when you want. For one if I were retired, I’d let the air warm up.

On numerous occasions, I’ve told Jody that I’m going to retire at 63. Just in case she forgets. Or thinks I’ve changed my mind. Since she is four years younger than me and has her own relationship with money, she will most likely work longer. I love her for that.

The kids graduate June of 2021. You would think that I’d want to work longer to help them pay for college. Jody and I have already come up with the amount of financial help we’ll give them. The rest is ours.

Some people add on to their house after their children leave high school, while others downsize.

Jody and I won’t downsize. We are going to keep the house as much for Juan and Crystel as for any reason. I always liked the idea of selling the house and traveling until Juan told Crystel one day that Mama Beth and Mama Jody were going to kick them out and sell the house after they graduated high school. After my OMG moment, I realized that he was saying that he needed a home to come home to. I always thought they could travel wherever we are.

The more Jody and I discussed retirement the more I realized that it didn’t make sense to be such involved parents and then when Juan and Crystel launch for college to no longer be present. In dreaming of their options maybe one of theirs is to live at home. Another OMG moment.

Now when I think of retirement I’m counting the winters left. One more winter. The Groundhog said it will be an early spring. Juan and Crystel will be starting their senior year September of 2020. I’ll be starting my last year of work. The days will go fast.

I’ve always said to people – get out of the workforce while you are still alive. Not everyone does. My parents and several siblings died young. This doesn’t mean that I will, but it lurks in my mind like a dirty swimming pool. I want many days of sitting in a chair with my eyes closed and my face to the sun. Our swimming pool sparkling.