Forest Bathing

Alderbrook

I've been reading about "forest bathing" for awhile. The term refers to a Japanese practice of experiencing the forest through the senses. You're in the woods to to smell, listen, and breath, but not to hike, jog or otherwise exercise. 

Forest bathing is meant to be healing. In fact, a recent NYT article looked at the practice medically, measuring blood pressure, cortisol levels, mood, and more. The conclusion: not enough evidence-based science to prove the benefits.

Oh come on. Everyone knows that being in nature is both calming and rejuvenating. And it doesn't need to be the woods. Sitting by a lake, atop a mountain, in a meadow, watching waves roll in -all have the same effect. 

I love being outdoors. In fact,  I'm up in the Adirondack forest pictured above as I write this.   I don't need a blood pressure cuff to tell me how soothing it is.

Now "Forest Bathing" has become a "thing," with spas offering forest bathing for a fee. Seriously. Trained guides will take you through it. 

Here - this is free: go to a beautiful outdoor place. Sit down. Breath deeply. Breath slowly. Listen to the sounds. Take in the smells. Notice the changing light. Rinse and repeat, until you don't have to even think about these steps and do it naturally. 

 

 


Signs


ImagesDoes the Universe speak to us, or are we just always looking for meaning?

Yesterday: I heard from my dear friend Missy's daughter. Missy died earlier this year. Her daughter, "K" often visits the spot where the family scattered Missy's ashes - a specific point on the beach at Jacob Riis Park in Queens. At K's last visit, a pink heart balloon washed up from the shore, deflated and battered but at the exact spot. Also, someone had constructed a beach sculpture of rocks, shells and twigs in the same place. Missy was an artist, and K was speculating that she's changed her style. But she saw it as a message.

Then last night, when I turned off my bedside lamp, I spied a lone firefly outside my Fireflybedroom window. He danced and danced just outside the window for the longest time. Drowsy and happy, I felt my late Dad had come by for a visit - to let me know he was watching me and that he loved me. It was so beautiful - the yellow/greenish light against the dark sky.


Finally, this morning, my husband texted a short video of a brown rabbit hopping across the path. He and I are heading to Long Island this weekend. When we were dating - oh so long ago - he had a share in a summer Rabbithouse in Long Island. We used to go for walks at dusk and count the bunnies. I smiled when I thought of this. Then I looked up  from my laptop and there was a fat brown rabbit on my patio. We've lived in this house 30 years, and I've never seen a bunny here.

Signs, signs, signs. Except last night, when my husband stirred in his sleep, I jostled him to point out the firefly. "It's amazing!" I told him. "He just stays at the window." Mike gazed at the sight, and then said, "I think he may be stuck in the pull of the window fan." Sigh. We turned off the fan and the firefly remained. A sign! But then Mike pulled out the fan, and it turned out that the firefly was stuck behind it. Somehow, it had gotten in the house, and now he darted desperately around the bedroom, looking like an errant Tinkerbell. 

Last I saw the firefly, it had landed somewhere next to my nightstand. I worried it would die there, and I've already lost my Dad once. Well twice, if you count the dementia that proceeded his actual death. I'm dreading finding the firefly's dead shell this morning. If I do, I won't interpret it as a sign of anything. 

 

 

 

 


Family Book Group

Books-bookstore-book-reading-159711We're starting a family book group! 

My son proposed the idea on a group text. "Remember when we saw 'the Reading Family?'" he wrote.

Of course we did. We were on a trip back in the 1990s, and the Reading Family was staying at the same resort.  The mother, father, little boy and little girl each brought their own books to breakfast, lunch and dinner. They ate in silence, immersed in their reading. We thought it was so weird. They didn't talk to each other at all.  (Of course flash forward, replace the books with cel phones, and it couldn't be a more common sight.)

Anyway, my son continued, "Remember when we  mocked them mercilessly? Remember when, for the past 20 years, we all harbored a deep, secret affinity for their life choices?" 

Hah! It's true our family has a major nerdy streak.  And I'd like to take at least partial credit for the book love. When the children were growing up (they're now adults)  my favorite time of day was when we were cuddled up in bed and I read to them. First picture books, then kids books, then chapter books. Now when we're together we do look a bit like the Reading Family - parallel reading with paper books, Kindles, phones - though never at the table! And we do talk to each other. 

We still have a lot of details to work out - the book selection process, not to mention the actual meetings. My husband and I live in New York, our daughter in Seattle and our son in Washington, DC. Conference call? FaceTime? Can you even do a group FaceTime?

 

 

 

 


Times Marches On...

Old driver's liscenseToday I did something I've been avoiding for about a quarter of a century.  I updated the photo on my driver's license.

My old photo was taken when I was my daughter's age, about 33 years ago. Since then, I've renewed it by mail every eight years. New York State went along with this for decades.

Maybe I got tired of going through security at the airport, having them look at the photo, then peer up at my face, and then look back down at the photo. My reply to their raised eyebrows was always, "Well, I used to look like that."

In two years, we will all be required to have enhanced drivers licenses for ID to board domestic flights. And after all, how much longer could I have pushed this?

Still, I'll miss seeing that hopeful, smiling face in my wallet - a young mother and writer with so much time and possibility still ahead of her.

 


The Stink Mobile

Smelly carIf you just saw a woman driving down the highway with all her windows open and her hand covering her nose, that was me. There are no words to describe how disgusting my car smells.

It all began last month, when I found out that our town was launching a pilot composting program. I was thrilled - I felt guilty throwing compostable stuff in the trash and adding to the landfill. But I didn't feel confident starting a compost pile in my own yard - we have enough wildlife between the deer, coyotes, foxes and raccoons.

Now all I had to do was collect the food scraps in biodegradable bags and ever so often carry it all to the town recycling center. 

My husband is a sweet and thoughtful man. This morning he volunteered to get my car inspected and to take the collected (and now moldering) compost bags into town. 

He says he doesn't know what happened. The bag didn't break or anything, and what's more it was in the trunk. So why does MY ENTIRE CAR STINK?  Smelly car 2

Not fully aware of the problem, I drove it to the gym after he came back. Trust me, I needed a shower before I worked out. After a few minutes in that vehicle, I smelled like garbage. 

Right now the offending car is sitting in the driveway, windows and trunk open with the interior liberally dusted with baking soda. Any other ideas? 

 

 


College Reunions

ReunionSaturday night, I was rocking out on the dance floor to "Taking Care of Business" (Bachman Turner Overdrive circa 1973) with my college classmates. It was reunion weekend, and I've never missed one - except for my 5th, when I was on my honeymoon. As I threw my arms up in the air and gyrated on aging hips, I flashed back to earlier reunions.

How pathetic the old geezers seemed - those classes celebrating 35th, 40th, 50th - even 60th and 70th - reunions. They'd march with their classes, proudly waving class signs, sporting class buttons, dressed in college logo gear. The parties were the worse - watching the oldsters trying to relieve their college glory days - grey hair and sagging bodies out on the dance floor listening to the music of their day.

Now I'm one of them. I look at the young classes dragging their toddlers around, and a few reunions later, talking about college admissions and their kids' chances of attending their alma mater. At the 25th, most people (at least the ones that show up) are at the top of their game, peaking in their careers, kids mostly launched, still physically sound. 

At my reunion this weekend, we said a prayer (non-denominational of course) for the 24 members of our class who had died. Many were lost to the early days of AIDS, a disease that soon after we graduated  mysteriously began killing off young men for no apparent reason. Cancer, suicides, heart attacks - the ravages of age. I was chatting to a classmate who is a cardiologist now (wait - that guy? Who was such a wild man? He's a doctor?!) and he says that the percentage of deaths in our class is consistent with the actuarial tables. 

Sometimes, visiting campus for a reunion is like being smack in the middle of your own actuarial table - you see where you've been - those pregnant bellies, those sweet kids, those driving energetic professionals - and you see where you're going - the walkers, the canes and the wheel chairs.

So yup, even five years from now, I hope I'll be on the dance floor pumping my fist to "I Can't Get No Satisfaction!" I'll look like a fool. But I'll keep dancing.

 

 

 


Packing

PackingAnxiety Girl has a lot of trouble packing for a trip. As soon as the suitcase is on the bed and the drawers are opened, I go into a mental melt down. Going for 5 days? That means I need 15 pairs of underwear. I think. I will be hiking by day. Okay, simple enough - shorts, t-shirt, socks, hiking boots. But what if we go out to dinner? Do I need something nice? Will I have a place to rinse my socks? Will they  dry overnight? Can I wear my hiking shorts three times? What if I forget something crucial?

On top of that, I have a recurring anxiety dream about packing.  In it, I have one small blue plastic suitcase. Not only do I have to fit drawers and drawers of clothing into the suitcase, but also I keep discovering more and more things that need to be packed. An antique armoire! All my books! And look- there's another entire room I just discovered that also needs to fit in the suitcase, couches and curtains included.

I have discovered this is an inter-generational family anxiety dream - my Mom has it, and both my kids have it. 

Some interpretations suggest that packing dreams mean the dreamer wants to radically change things in their lives. Others suggest that the dreamer needs to deal with chaos in their lives.

 I just figure it means that I'm struggling to get my s__t together. Must get to it.

 

 

 


Did you know letters have genders?

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Sorry to beat on an old drum here but this stuff makes me crazy. I am going to visit my great nephews and niece, 61OEa+OZNAL._SY498_BO1 204 203 200_

and I wanted to bring them each a book. Went on Amazon and began with "Books for 1-3 year olds." And look what pops up. Gender specific alphabet books! Needless to say, I won't be purchasing either book. But I did peek inside. In the Girl's Alphabet, A is for Apple Pie. In the Boy's, A is for Airplane. Last time I checked, this is 2018.


Book Group - Hollywood's and Mine

I was excited when I read that the movie "Book Club" was coming out, especially when I found out it starred Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Jane Fonda. Oh boy! 

Full disclosure - I haven't seen the movie yet. But I did just watch this trailer. Oh. My. God. A bunch of 70-something women, not a wrinkle among them, giggling like school girls over dating, men and sex. The book they are reading? "50 Shades of Grey." 

The script writers have given them high-level jobs, plenty of money, and even a scornful reaction to the book selection, which apparently leads them all to explore their own sexual frustration. Over the decades they've moved from Erica Jong's "Fear of Flying" to "50 Shades," fueled by a lot of wine on the way.

Really? What a let-down. My book group has been together for almost 25 years now.  We've read dozens - no, hundreds  - of amazing books. Over the decades, we've shared more than literature, of course.

Our kids were in elementary school when we started. Now they are adults. We fretted over middle-school language placement, kids' drinking and drugging and dating in high school, college applications, kids looking for work, their first apartments, kids who are gay,  kids who are depressed, kids who got sick, kids who got married, grandchildren, etc. etc. We compare notes on aging parents, home health care aides, nursing homes and death. We lament our own lapsing memories - once we chose a book we'd already read.

Not to mention charting our own careers - triumphs and setbacks, layoffs and promotions. Five women in my book group (of 12) have had - and survived - breast cancer. 

And yes, we've discussed our own marriages, the joys and frustrations. Sex? Occasionally, but not in a giggling, school-girl kind of way. 

I'll probably see "Book Group" and I hope it's better than it looks. This afternoon I've got "RBG" on the docket, so to speak. Nothing silly about her.


Ghost Writing

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I'm reading "Sing Unburied Sing" by Jesmyn Ward and two of her main characters are ghosts. One appears regularly but remains silent, disapproval registering on his face. The other is less physically solid, but he speaks - in fact he narrates a few chapters.

In the last year, I've lost my beloved father, my little brother and one of my best friends. I have no visions, unless you count dreams. But it amazes me how often the three of them pop up in my writing now. They show up in pieces that seem utterly unrelated to any of them.

One writing prompt - kind of a complicated assignment involving old photograph negatives - brought up a scene of trying on maternity bathing suits while my friend Missy watched. She  laughed and laughed as I struggled to shove my ungainly body into the spandex. The dressing room was hot and crowded and I felt faint.

Missy gave me most of her maternity clothes. Today I'm having lunch with her daughter, who looks so much like her that I catch myself staring at the curve of her cheek.

When Dad and my brother Bill come in dreams, they are always healthy and well. And every time, while I'm dreaming, I think, "How did Dad get so much better? I can't believe how well he's doing." I'm confused and delighted with his come back.

 

 


Make. It. Stop. Make. It. Stop.

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All my life I've been a news junky. I was in the biz. I never watched much TV news, but I was a newspaper hound. I still subscribe to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Journal News (my local Gannett paper) and I get highlights from several other publications, including the London Times.

But at this point, those subscriptions are as wasted as a hastily purchased gym membership. It's not the fault of  journalists.  A great deal of quality work being done. It's the emotional damage from absorbing the content. News should come with a warning label: "Consuming this product may be harmful to your mental health."

This is no joke. Numerous studies have made the link between news consumption and anxiety and depression.

My news aggitation wasn't doing much for my marriage either. For the last year plus,  I thought I was scanning the headlines silently. But evidently, I was constantly spewing, "Oh my God!" and "UNBELIEVABLE" and "Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse..." in a loud voice until my husband asked me to kindly keep my commentary to myself.

My husband actually reduced his news diet before I did.  And yesterday, I had lunch with two of my best friends - super-smart, informed women - and they, too, also have cut way back on  reading/watching and listening to the news.

 I feel like a bad citizen - democracy runs on an informed citizenry. But right now,  I just can't....