Button up your overcoat
When the wind is free
Take good care of yourself
You belong to me
Eat an apple every day
Get to bed by three
Oh, take good care of yourself
You belong to me
You get the idea…If you love someone, you want them to stay safe and healthy!
But what if that weary, worn-out, frazzled person is you?
It’s an interesting challenge in an era of economic fear and anxiety, a time when people who actually have paid work are terrified to be seen as slow, lazy — worst of all, disposable.
Here’s a recent post by Small Dog Syndrome, a 27-year-old who recently moved from the U.S. to London, about her struggle to find time for self-care:
I’m starting to feel a bit depleted and stress is taking a very real toll on my health. Even if it’s for a job or in a field you love, doing work without pay is grueling, on the soul as well as the body. And spending time working on those projects has the very real potential to impact my freelancing work negatively – no one’s at the top of their game when chronically sleep deprived.
Many American workers, those who even get paid vacations, are too scared to actually take the time off, or too broke to go anywhere.
So they keep driving their exhausted minds, spirits and bodies like machines at a vicious, speeded-up industrial pace. We’re all becoming Charlie Chaplin movie out-takes.
But it’s no comedy.
I recently did something that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. I had three deadlines to meet and editors driving me insane with endless demands. Instead of staying glued to the computer, fed up and resentful at their insatiability, I snagged a cheap ticket to a show I’d been wanting to see for years, the musical “Once.”
I went to a Wednesday matinee.
It was heaven. I came home refreshed by pleasure.
Good thing too, since the next two days proved to be completely hellish and the week ended with an editor killing my story — after weeks of work, costing me $750 in lost income.
In response? I made a pot of tea, put some chocolates on a tray and ended my crappy Friday with a pile of glossy fashion magazines.
It takes effort to make time to care for yourself.
Here are some of my favorite ways to do so:
— a pedicure
— a pot of hot tea every day at 4 or 5:00 p.m.: hydrating, comforting and fragrant
— a massage
— having fresh flowers and/or plants in every room
— going for a walk
— calling a friend
— taking dance class two to four times a week
— listening to music
If we don’t make time for pleasure, what on earth are we doing?
Are you taking good care of yourself these days?
If not, why not?
If so, what are some of the things you do to stay healthy and happy?
Last week I went back to defend our title in the Asian American Journalists Association annual trivia contest, which The New York Times won last year, beating The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and others.
Each company can bring a team of ten, and the goal is to raise funds for scholarships and other AAJA programs. Being a trivia fiend who once qualified for Jeopardy, this is my kind of night!
It was held in a beautiful ballroom on Broad Street, at very southern end of Manhattan, a half a block from the New York Stock Exchange. It’s a part of the city I never visit, where all you can see are thin slices of sky barely visible above the narrow, steep canyon walls of skyscrapers. Guys with gelled hair in costly suits stride past, weary from a day of moving millions, or billions, of dollars.
It also reminded me, sadly, how terrifying 9/11 must have been down there as thousands of people ran as fast and far as they could from the huge dark cloud of dust and debris that chased them through those narrow streets.
The event brought out a combined team from CBS/ABC, from General Motors (the main sponsor) and others, including AARP, who were nothing if not consistent — dead-last in 8th. place the whole evening.
We were tied for fourth through the first four rounds, suddenly ascending after the fifth round to second place — but losing by (shriek) three points. But we had a blast, got to know some new people and are even more determined to re-claim the Tea Cup next year.
The raffle prizes must have been bid on by our table alone as we kept winning them. I scored a $450 three-month health club membership for my $20 worth of tickets. Cool!
So, my dears, here are some of the 60 questions lobbed at us.
Which actor has won the most Academy Awards?
What is the best-selling album of all time?
What is the longest-running scripted show on American television?
From which novel did the company Starbucks get its name?
How many oceans are there?
What is the capital of West Virginia?
Pluto was re-classified as a planet to….?
Which dinosaur turned out not to be real after all?
What is the name of the spacecraft that landed on the moon?
Which two lawyers argued the Scopes monkey trial?
Which designer currently heads the Fashion Designers Council of America?
What was the 48th. state?
What is the only even prime number?
What country lies directly north of Germany?
Who is the founder of Standard Oil?
Which President is the only one to have held a patent?
Which American athlete has won the most Winter Olympics medals?
Which fashion designer took over after the death of Alexander McQueen?
I was walking through Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library at 42d and Fifth, on a glorious September afternoon when I saw a table piled high with board games, and a man and woman playing one I’d never seen before — Bananagrams, a word game that requires players to think really fast and make words with their letters. First one done, wins.
“Can I play, too?” I asked. I hadn’t asked anyone that question in decades. The woman’s job was to wait for people to come along — and play, with her or with others, part of the park’s new initiative to make it even more welcoming.
“Sure. Have you ever played before?”
I hadn’t, but am a fairly decent/quick Scrabble player. Within minutes, we were laughing and hooting and shouting “Dump!” (turning in your letters for new ones) or “Peel!” forcing us to pick up another one.
The winner gets to shout “Bananas!”
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had such free, spontaneous, joyful and social fun. In New York City, where status and power and owning costly real estate are the usual measures of human value, laughing my ass off with two smart strangers was the best.
It felt so good to be five again!
I love to play. Raised as an only child, trolls and Legos and stuffed animals were usually my companions. In boarding school (from the age of eight), every day and every hour was structured, lived by a schedule.
I love my work as a writer, but every word, literally, is worth money. I’ve bought groceries and gas and rent and clothes and acquired savings for decades — thanks to my ability to conjure up enough words, in the right order for the right people.
To simply play with words is a great luxury!
In my teens, I spent many evenings in front of the fire with my Dad, drinking tea and eating chocolate cookies, whipping one another at Scrabble — unless Jack, the big fat tabby cat, prowled right through the board, scattering our hard-won triumphs.
My weathered Scrabble board still bears the hand-written notations of my highest score, and my Mom’s — we played for hours while visiting Costa Rica and Fiji. On one of my trips west, to Victoria, B.C., where she now lives in a nursing home, she taught me to play gin rummy.
Before my left hip was destroyed by arthritis-plus-steroids in May 2009 — and has since been replaced — I played co-ed softball most Saturdays in a field near my home; here’s an essay I wrote about it for The New York Times. I plan to be back at it this year.
Our players are people who spend their worklives practicing law and medicine, singing at a synagogue, teaching high school, representing authors. Heavy responsibilities. There is something so deeply restorative in just playing, for its own sweet sake, where all we really need is a triple or a great catch from the outfield.
Jose and I don’t have children, nor any nieces or nephews, so we (sadly) have no chances to play with kids. I really miss that! We often play gin rummy, Scrabble and now, Bananagrams. He plays Tetris on the Iphone while I play Scrabble on the Ipad — cursing the bloody, stubborn algorithm for using words I have never heard of.
Do you play games — with your sweetie or friends or kids or grandkids?
Vacation is over and we’re heading home to New York today. I’ve been gone from my home for an entire month, and alone for the past two weeks.
Some things I enjoyed most:
— Watching a minor-league baseball game. My ticket was $8, for one of the best seats in the stadium.
— Attending the 9:30 a.m. service at the local Episcopal church. It was a tiny A-frame, whose screened windows faced the grass of the Champlain exhibition grounds. Seagulls squawked. A man played banjo for Amazing Grace. The peace — the part of the service when everyone greets one another — went on, charmingly, forever.
— Eating at the bar of a dive-y pub a very good cup of home-made corn chowder and a cold local ale. Watching the NBA draft and a baseball game on two TVs at the same time.
— Not turning on the television once in two weeks of house-sitting. Didn’t miss it a bit.
— Reading fiction, which I almost never do. Loved “The Art of Fielding”, a new first novel by Chad Harbach and “Cannery Row”, the 1945 classic by John Steinbeck. Harbach’s book has sold 250,000 copies and he was paid $650,000 for it, after a decade working on it in broke obscurity. I really liked his book, despite the hype.
— A phenomenal blood orange martini and salmon with chive risotto on a splurge night.
— Washing my car with a hose in the driveway, (forbidden at our co-op.)
— Watching two hot-air balloons soaring over my head at dusk, the roaring of the gas flames audible and mysterious. Even the little dog was impressed.
— Meeting someone at a party on a farm in Vermont whose grandparents came from the same small tiny Breton town, Concarneau, where my mentor is buried.
— Having a small, playful, cuddly dog to accompany me on road trips, to hog the bed at night and whose silky ears I will miss terribly. On the car trip home from Montpelier, in the dark, she laid her head on my shoulder.
— Lying in the sunshine reading.
— My first few Zumba classes. Ouch! Now I get why people so enjoy it. Planning to continue them at home.
— Playing endless games of Scrabble on the Ipad.
— Missing the hell out of my husband, with three weeks apart to remember all the things I love and none of the stuff that annoys me.
— Driving up to the ice-cream stand for a huge cup of very good ice cream, for $2.60.
— The Friday farmer’s market, with wood-oven-fired pizza, luscious tomatoes, crusty baguettes and live music.
— The astonishing mist and cloud over the green hills as I drove southeast through rain to an outdoor party.
— Meeting new people who were welcoming and kind and offered amazing barbecue ribs at that party.
— Scoring some great, cheap-o antique finds, like four silver-plate knives for $7 and a lovely transferware cup for $10.
— Snagging some CDs, including the new Patti Smith.
— Introducing myself to local indie book-sellers and asking if they’d stock my book.
— Seeing the Camel’s Hump, a 4,800-foot high mountain southeast of where I stayed, in all sorts of light and weather conditions.
— The river at the end of our street. When I went to its edge, I found a tarp/tent and a very deep large hole dug at the edge of a cornfield. Shriek. Fled…quickly.
— Taking lots of cellphone photos for future visual reference, mostly of anything with patina.
— Going dancing with Jose, shaking my tail feather for 90 minutes, with kids half our age coming up to say “You’re a terrific dancer!” That new left hip works just fine.
I love glam trips to Paris and London, but the past month, doing the rural/small town thing, has been a wonderful and relaxing change. I’ve really enjoyed it.
What are some of the simple pleasures you’ve been enjoying lately?
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and are heading into our fourth month of cold, snow, ice and short days, it’s time for a cheer-up!
Here are ten ideas:
Spend as much as you can afford on fresh flowers. Even $20 or $30 will fill several containers with living color, scent and beauty for a few weeks. I snagged $16 worth of white lilies from the supermarket last week and they’re still blooming and fragrant in the bedroom and dining room. So lovely to open the front door to a hit of scent! If you have nothing to put them in, check out your local thrift shop.
A long walk, preferably with a camera in hand. Snow and ice transform the landscape in unexpected ways. The jagged stone walls surrounding our apartment building, covered with snow, look exactly like a row of teeth!
A long talk with someone you adore. Make a phone date — or face to face, better yet — and settle in for a good 30 minutes or more. Forget email and Facebook.
Bake! This morning I cranked out blueberry/banana muffins and spice muffins. Easy, fun, something nice to look forward to every morning for a week or more. If you haven’t replenished your pantry, make sure you’ve got the staples on hand for when inspiration hits.
A small pretty treat for your home. Check out the sales at old favorites like Pottery Barn, Home Goods, Crate & Barrel, West Elm, Anthropologie, Wisteria, Sundance — a few of my on-line favorites. For even $20 or 30, you can enjoy a new set of hand towels, a few new dishtowels, some pretty candles, a 2 x 3 foot cotton throw rug from Dash & Albert, some fresh pillowcases. Check out Etsy for affordable and charming choices. Here’s the Dash & Albert rug we ordered for our living room.
Make fresh tea — in a teapot. Enough with this awful Americanism of “tea” being one sad teabag stuck in a mug of hot water. I think not! You need a proper china or pottery teapot; here’s one shaped like Big Ben! Some lovely teas, maybe a few you’ve never tried before. I love Constant Comment (with orange and spices), cardamom/chai, Earl Grey and even (wild stuff) Lapsang Souchong, whose smoky, tarry flavor makes me feel like I’ve been licking the deck of some 17th century frigate. If your local store doesn’t have these, order from my favorite New York purveyors, both of which are more than 100 years old, Porto Rico Coffee & Tea, (try their pumpkin spice or chocolate raspberry coffee), and McNulty’s. Even better if you’ve got a lovely bone china teacup with saucer; check out this one, in blue toile, for a mere $9.75. Aaaaaah.
Something cashmere. A pair of socks, or gloves, or a watch cap or scarf, or a turtleneck sweater. The sharp-eyed can always find one affordably in a local thrift or consignment shop.
A massage. If you’re really lucky, your sweetie knows how and is happy to provide. If you can afford it — usually $65 or more — a scented rubdown is sheer bliss after months of being swaddled in wool and rubber, our chilled muscles stiff and sore. My local drugstore sells a bottle of eucalyptus scent for a few dollars…add it to some light oil and you’re good to go.
A stack of library books you’re dying to read. Make them two-week returns so you won’t procrastinate! I recently read, and totally loved, “The House in France” by Gully Wells, a memoir.
Get out your pens, pencils, watercolors, oils, paper, wool, threads, fabric, dye….and create! Borrow your kids’ Legos or Barbies or trolls. Turn off every single electronic “toy” and use the best one of of all — your brain!
Bonus: Paint something: a bathroom, a funky chair from the thrift store, a bookcase you’re sick of, (one of ours recently went from deep olive green to pale yellow/green to match the walls. Big difference!) A fresh coat of paint in a new-to-you color is a guaranteed happiness-inducer: quick, cheap, eye-opening. Here’s a $10 guide from House Beautiful magazine with some wonderful choices. The British company Farrow & Ball makes the yummiest colors ever. They’re expensive, but even a sample pot will give you enough to re-do a lampshade or lamp base or a small table top. Here’s a sample of Straw, a great neutral mustard tone which we chose for our very small (5 by 7) and only bathroom; two years in, we still love it.
Extreme sports such as bungee-jumping from the Macau Tower may well be enough to satisfy the adrenaline needs of the majority of premium thrill-seekers. Those still wishing for more, however, have a new alternative: they can pay to be kidnapped, without warning, by French Ultime Réalité.
“Kidnapping”, “Manhunt” and “Go-Fast Adventure” are all among the standard services Ultime Réalité offers, but it’s open to special requests. Through the company’s simulated kidnapping packages, for instance, the participant is abducted without warning—after leaving a restaurant, say, or in the supermarket parking lot. Paying “victims” are then bound, gagged and imprisoned for four or 10 hours (depending on the scenario they choose), allowing them to experience the terror of the real thing. Additional elements such as ransom, escapes and helicopter chases can also be involved. Manhunt packages, meanwhile, can last either one or two days, with the option to play the role of either hunter or prey. Then there’s the Go-Fast Adventure, where participants take the role of a drug dealer smuggling cargo on the high seas. Finally, a recently added “extreme” package allows clients to wake up on an autopsy table in a morgue, surrounded by corpses and body bags. Pricing on a basic kidnap package is EUR 900.
Just a few weeks into its launch, Ultime Réalité was already getting as many as two requests per day, according to Reuters primarily from top-level executives seeking an extreme-sports alternative.