Staying Calm And Staying Home

How much has changed in one week. It has been so fast paced that it’s taken me a while to really consider our shared situation and come to terms with it. These are unprecedented times and it calls for unprecedented action. Social distancing, self-isolation, preparing for ‘just-in-case’, working from home (if possible), staying home all together – all new to most of us. For myself, working from home is normal but everything else is a challenge. However, I’m resolute in rising to the occasion. There is no choice. If not now, then when?

All of a sudden, the world is no longer as we know it. From people going on shopping frenzies to hoard up on everything including the kitchen sink to price gouging on essential products, to all cultural centers and performances coming to a halt to cavalier folks who don’t care about the community risks they present, it can be a little too scary and upsetting. Take a nice, long deep breath. Exhale slowly. Keep your calm. Together, we shall overcome.

Here is how I see it. We must all do our part for the sake of our family, our neighborhood, our town, our state, our nation , our planet. This might sound trite but in reality, it is pretty much what we must do. That said, I, along with my family, are socially distancing ourselves. It’s an adjustment. To have a full house with each one needing space to work in quiet itself is not easy. When one is on a conference call, the others must remain quiet. When the musician can be practice, the dinner prepared, a workout done to motivating music and such, require thoughtful coordination. We called a family meeting and after much talk, the conclusion was that each of us promise to help, support and behave ourselves. Nothing earth shattering. Simple kindness and consideration is in high demand at home and elsewhere. A sense of humor is a bonus. Admittedly, it is easy for the humor to turn dark.

Work is all very well. But how are we going to use our down time? Right off, suggestions for movies and TV shows pour forth. And thank goodness for this entertainment option. With nowhere to go, Netflix, Hulu, Apple, Amazon Prime etc., are godsends. The big mountain of books waiting for readers can now be conquered. Board games and puzzles are on the ready.

We’ve made a list of home projects (room by room) – what, when and by whom put down. I need the element of accountability. For myself there is the all-important creativity of painting and writing projects, the drudge of paperwork, recipes to try, business ideas to flesh out. But most importantly, there is the garden.

I’m so very grateful that whatever we are all currently facing is happening right now and not at any other time of year. Spring is officially starting this Thursday and crocuses have joined the hellebores in the garden. Nothing like the sight of the flowers to lift the spirits. Just as the news got dire, the crocuses started popping up as if on cue. The white forsythia is in full bloom too. Every day is adding more color to the landscape. Hallelujah! Spring is all about hope and good things to come.

A quick visit to my favorite nursery last Saturday paid off nicely. I got what I needed to put up the spring window-boxes. The daffodils and tete-a-tetes are still very young but should be trumpeting loudly by Passover/Easter. In the meantime, the mango hued pansies will carry the ensemble nicely. That simple activity cheered me up no end.

I also pulled out the last of the hyacinths and crocuses cooling in the refrigerator and potted them up. In a couple of weeks its going to be hyacinth heaven indoors.

Some of the nursery daffodils have a separate purpose. I’m going to pot them up to drop off at friends who are living alone and/or do not dare get out into the world because of immune-compromised health. For sure they could use some flower power.

On the subject of thinking about helping ones community, I got word that there is a need in my town for Meals-On-Wheels driver/volunteers. My daughter, now home from college ( for the foreseeable future) has responded to this call. I believe that college students can play a vital role during this Covid-19 crisis. They are less vulnerable, amply capable, familiar with their towns and able to do many things that put older volunteers at risk. Just putting it out there.

Similarly, restaurants have closed but take-out and delivery is being offered. A couple of meals from such businesses per week will help those businesses – they are not just hurting but actually hemorrhaging. Our support is desperately needed.

Lets look for additional ways to help our communities, each other. Doing something that serves a cause is a guaranteed to make our days better. When I’m busy doing positive, productive things, there’s simply no time for fear, panic or boredom.

In addition to spending time working in the garden which itself is so healing, I’m determined to go walking for a minimum of 30 minutes every day. Fresh air and sunshine are proven health boosters. We all know this. But in case you’re feeling particularly attached to the couch, think about this – during the Spanish flu pandemic, patients treated outdoors (the overflow of patients in San Fransisco for example) did far better than those cared for indoors.

Explore the State and county Parks (NY has waived all entry fees) and visit our many beautiful public gardens. They are open, never overly crowded and absolutely just what our bodies, minds and spirits need.

Stay safe, be well everybody. We’re in this together.

P.S – Please feel free to reach out, share tips and ideas or, just your thoughts. Or at least a joke! We must stay connected.

Scenes from my garden at present –

More snowdrops coming through

Forcing hyacinths

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Great Escape

Summer is here and thoughts turn to vacations and a general slowing down of the days. School is out – I’m nostalgic for those carefree, unstructured days. Oh for the gift of a total break of two whole months.

At the very best, most of us can get away for a couple of weeks. So much planning and preparing goes into making those vacations happen. Money, time and obligations place constraints as well as a thick mantle of guilt that we wear as though its par for the course. Don’t forget the crazy expectation we have – a total escape from our reality.

Vacations are necessary. There is mounting evidence of the restorative, health benefits of taking time away. Yet, despite rising stress levels, many do not take their vacation days. Funds, fear of becoming dispensable at work, family responsibilities such as elder-care are all real but, I think a periodic recess from all work ought to be mandatory.

While there are many benefits to going away, our furloughs do not have to depend on travel or deep pockets. All one requires is imagination and a willingness to let go of our quotidian routines. How often have we mindlessly watched television as an escape? How about those hours wasted scrolling through social media? Problem is one doesn’t come away from those ‘activities’ feeling better about oneself. Mindfully taking time off is necessary.

I have my own take-a-break strategies. A good break requires the right state of mind. Recognizing that I need to get away is the first step. Feeling grumpy for no reason at all, being distracted, not paying attention to what or how I eat are the first most noticeable symptoms. If I don’t take action, my body asserts itself with colds/coughs, migraines and/or general malaise. Disregard those signals and it goes downhill very fast.

Stopping right away to breathe deeply, calm my mind and step into the garden where I sit and let the sights, sounds and smells there wash over me is the first step. Centering myself is best done outdoors – it’s as though I have literally stepped away from whatever is causing stress ( this includes that ubiquitous phone ). Following this, I decide what needs to be done by me to alleviate or solve the problem.

That sort of thinking whilst weeding and deadheading is terrific. By the time I’m done, I’ve found clarity of purpose and tidied up a patch of the garden. Taking a walk also works wonders. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas and solutions during strolls through my garden, neighborhood and parks. The daily ritual of walking worked for Darwin too so, I’m in good company. It’s quite remarkable how such simple activities can refresh both physically and mentally.

Okay, sometimes I need to stray further afield. Like a public garden. For me, that means the New York Botanical Gardens, Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers and Wave Hill in the Bronx. A day spent in any of these beautiful places is the perfect escape. I leave inspired and rejuvenated. Sometimes, I take my paints and set myself up to capture the beauty. Very soon, I’m totally absorbed in my activity that all other thoughts have been pushed aside. A might fine tonic for anyone in need of a mental break.

Recently, I went to the NYBG to take in the current exhibit “ Georgia O’Keeffe in Hawaii”. I started with the art exhibit showcasing some of her works done during her short stay in Hawaii. I hadn’t been familiar with those paintings so they expanded my understanding of the artist. Heading into the conservatory for the plant show reflecting the flora of Hawaii was a whole other experience. I was in a tropical paradise. At first, I started by looking at the plants as Georgia O’Keeffe might have viewed them. But in no time, I was back to my childhood years in India. I grew up with so many of these same plants. Happy memories of times spent in the garden of my childhood home came flooding back. Making ‘buttons’ with Plumeria flowers, crushing hibiscus petals to color my cheeks, stringing jasmines to wear as garlands, bracelets or adorning my braids, plucking ripe papayas to bring into the kitchen …. when I left the conservatory, it felt as though I’d actually been away for a few days. A true vacation.

Yes, one could curl up on the couch and read a good book – books are excellent escapes too. Or watch a funny movie. But, a deliberate sojourn outdoors has a bigger, longer lasting impact. The positive effects of Nature are not all tangible but the healthful effects are there. Moods are improved, spirits are buoyed, blood pressure lowered, muscles relaxed, minds cleared and, best of all, there is a new energy as one gets back to routine. So, go ahead, take some respite as often as you need to. Create your own summer holidays.

Note: Don’t forget to check out Shop for those gifts you need to get – hostess, bridal showers, weddings, birthdays, housewarmings …

Invitation! You are invited to the reception of the art show ‘Waterfronts’ at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.Tuesday, July 5, 5-7 pm.

My painting ‘A New Day’ is part of this show.

Enjoy the photos taken at O’Keeffe show at the NYBG:

Papaya

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar