Find Your Magical Place

Gorge Creek Falls, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Whenever I hear the song, “I Know a Place, I’ll Take You There,” by the marvelous Mavis Staples and her Sisters, I think of the Pacific Northwest. In my mind it is summertime with ferns and lush greenery along the trail that calms the heat. Breathtaking beauty in North Cascades National Park, referred to as America’s Alps. A surprise waterfall lies deep inside—the only tropical forest in the Northern Hemisphere.

If you close your eyes, you probably can think of a beautiful place that does the same for you. Then you can move forward to imagine positive experiences in your life that brought you joy and the people you hold in your heart. Carry the warmth of those experiences with you to ease your current stress.

When my imagination leads me to the Pacific Northwest, I relax. While you struggle to balance work at home, or no work, family time, at-home school time, and personal time, find a few restful seconds to calm your mind. Give yourself a break from negative thoughts, particularly before bedtime, so you can ease into a peaceful sleep.

Simple Relaxation—Apply Heat and Mix it Up

Turns out hot chocolate does not just hit the spot—it too soothes as it goes down (as long as it doesn’t impact your sleep). Same for coffee and tea. And more people are taking more showers now because steam can help reduce anxiety, but that might not be the reason people give for more time in the shower.

After the heat has taken the edge off, pull out the colored pencils or watercolors from the closet and colorize your imagination on velum or even copy paper. Do not second guess or judge your work. This art’s for you. Tame your inner critic.

Take your indoor plants outside in the spring sunshine or select a flowering plant to come in with you. Sit outside to pull in Vitamin D. Researchers have found that Covid-19 does not survive on the surface of tables and chairs outside in sunshine, so enjoy soaking this up. It’s understood to help improve our immunity function, too. (with sunscreen, of course!)

You can sing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” or the show tune of your choice. While you are in a musical mood, make your own musical instruments (if children or grandchildren are within range, they will enjoy doing this). Pots and pans and spoons are simple and work with most any tempo. If that is too loud for you, find jars or oats containers with lids. Fill them with any dried beans or dried rice from the cupboard. You have your own maracas and serve Tex-Mex.

Gain focus to organize your thoughts through meditation. Just ten minutes in the morning can get you started and refreshed for the day. If this is new to you, an app can help: Calm has been downloaded millions of times. It isn’t free after the initial period, but there are several more meditation apps to choose from, including Headspace, and 10% Happier. Then if you decide to attack clutter to further organize your life, or go deeper into your closet, halt and check in with Gretchen Rubin’s newly published Outer Order, Inner Calm.

Be Kind to Yourself

Whatever you decide to do or don’t do, practice self-compassion. Give yourself a break when you or others seem not to live up to your standards. Provide do-overs graciously. Then count three of your blessings each morning. Write them down. Pretty much guaranteed to raise your spirits.

If none of this appeals to you, pull straws to decide where you will go when you a) are free to; b) have the inclination; and c) have saved the money to visit. Course you could just pick from museums close to you. Just plan an event to occupy your imagination—give anxiety less room to play!

My neighbor, Mary Butler, a former school counselor who now advises people on health and calming techniques, assisted me with this blog.


”50 Ways to Stay SANE,” by Guy Dauncey,

Journey to the Future a Better World is Possible, Guy Dauncey

“Seven Ways of Self-Care,” Lura McArdle, February 12, 2020

“19 Secret Signs of Loneliness,” Madeline R. Van, reviewed by Justin Laube, MD   June 12, 2018

Empathy and Gratitude Should be Contagious

People clapping on their balconies in Spain, 29 March 2020, The Conversation

A London grocery clerk noticed my daughter and her son looking a bit discouraged. “We moved from the States three weeks ago and just learned the kids’ toys aren’t coming until after the pandemic.” The clerk frowned and she continued, ”Well, We’re together—that’s most important, but it’s hard to explain to a three year old.” Her son’s eyes lit up when he saw a perky stuffed bunny rabbit on the shelf. The checker turned and pulled the bunny off the shelf and said, “Here, this one’s on us. Things will get better.”

And they did. That evening at 8 pm sharp, the family of five joined neighbors all over London in organized clapping to thank the National Health Service for tending to the sick with dignity. While they were outside, a neighbor from townhouse 25, practicing social distancing, welcomed my daughter at townhouse 21 and brought out an extra glass in case she wanted to join local women in a spot of wine.

After a few moments they learned my daughter’s family was recently arrived from the States. The neighbor from Flat 25 asked for my daughter’s phone number to include her in the neighborhood’s digital news link. When the ladies learned the kids could wait months–until after the pandemic–for their cuddly toys and favorite books, they went into action. The mothers gathered a mountain of books and toys for the three children, including a favorite “Frozen” book for the youngest. By the next morning, a quick note on the app alerted my daughter to a delivery on their front porch—British neighborhood welcome wagon!

Capt. Tom Stimulates British Gratitude

World War II Captain Tom Moore with troops from Yorkshire

Other Europeans share the Brit’s appreciation for their health care workers—in Spain in the picture above–clapping, in France they chant at 8 pm, and in Italy they sing, like their countryman Bocelli, who used his tenor voice inside an empty Milan church over Easter Weekend to bring the beauty of song to a sad world.

Captain Tom Moore, a World War II veteran, turning 100 in two weeks, used his gumption to thank England’s National Health Service (NHS) for helping him recover from cancer and more recently a broken hip. He used his recovered hip and a walker to help him walk 100 laps of an 82-foot loop around his Bedfordshire garden in northern England. He planned to raise 1,000 pounds on a “Just Giving” site, thanking the under-funded NHS. He grossly underestimated the appreciation of the English people, who may have been looking for a way to express their gratitude to their health care workers. The funds will go to the NHS Charities Together to assist during the pandemic.

Over the last week the tally for online giving has grown at the rate of a donation every twenty seconds. By April 16, there were 800,000 donations made to the “Just Giving” site for a total of 16 million pounds—a staggering amount of money, particularly compared with Captain Moore’s initial expectations. The First Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment were posted along the garden loop for his final loop—young men a quarter as old as the captain, saluted him for his military and civilian service.

Maybe there is something more behind this. People can feel impotent when stuck inside, away from customary work and living cheek-to-jowl with family members with no respite in sight. Psychology professor Robert Emmons, University of California Davis, points to a secondary reason gratitude serves us now. He finds expressing gratitude can lead to a stronger immune system (quite useful right now), lower blood pressure, and more of a sense of joy and pleasure. Maybe without realizing it we’re serving ourselves when we express our gratitude to others.

Passing Along Gratitude and Respect

Some places in America might see showing gratitude as a mark of weakness, but after this past month we all understand the sacrifices of the health and hospital workers on the front lines of the coronavirus. I hope so. I suspect if one went out and started clapping here, they might be carted away, except probably no one is paying attention given the crisis at hand. Actually research (by those listed below) shows that clapping in a group offers an emotional and physical reminder that we are part of something bigger!

So maybe it is time to sincerely thank those close at hand—grocery checkers and stackers, postal workers, gasoline tanker drivers, (if you can catch them), the sanitation workers removing the nasty refuse from our weeks at home, any people working to prepare or pass food out windows at restaurants or take-outs, and the spouse shouldering the burden of at-home coursework for the kids, or helping out for the first time. (Even those toiling at desks behind doors attempting to get work accomplished.) These folks are keeping the wire frame of America in tack.

This is all new, so we’re making it up as we go along. We cannot forget the unsung 22 million who have lost their jobs since the beginning of this crisis. Those folks need much more than gratitude—they need solidarity. Each of us is a valuable part of this nation and for once for the majority of us, it feels like we’re all on the same side. Let’s hang together and treat each other with respect. It will do us (and the country) good!

“Why feeling for carers feels so strangely,” Loveday March 29, 2020

“The Selfish Side of Gratitude,” Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times, Dec. 31, 2015

A Jet Soars Above

Sunlight behind clouds with airplane jet trail on blue sky. (c) ComStock Photo, Inc. KerdaZz csp 6017009

Viewed from an untended backyard, the straight, white ribbons streaming from the jet give a sense of order, calm protection. Maybe because the sound of the jet opens a memory two decades old when scores of military planes crisscrossed the Virginia sky in the weeks after September 11. Today the circumstances are different. But once again fewer civilian planes appear as Americans stick to home during the coronavirus, which makes each jet citing distinctive.

Today due to the coronavirus many parents have little time to focus on the sky or much else outside their own abode. Multi-tasking rules the day as parents are concerned about their family’s physical and financial health while elements of the economy shut down for how long no one is certain. Some can work online. Others may share electronics and/or precious internet resources with their children.  Professional needs compete with schoolwork, Zoom-meetups with family and friends, children’s videos, and video gaming. Digital homeschooling provides links to organized educational resources and possibly a way to view school buddies while schools are closed. As schooling moves online, an even heavier burden falls on those parents who don’t work online, need to be out of the house, and have not learned Zoom or the education software required for their child’s school.   

Soaring in the sky or the classroom is not the first thing that comes to mind today. But by utilizing the imagination of our children, new projects could open unexpected areas of learning that could excite students for years to come. Taking time to daydream can be a productive use of this unexpected block of time. Doing a bit of that myself, I wandered into book sites and opened a chapter of a well-written memoir (More Myself: A Journey, with Michelle Burford, Flatiron Books) by songstress, songwriter, and pianist Alicia Keys. Serendipity.

Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen around the corner from Times Square when it was “an X-rated cesspool open for business,” she went the other direction, taking advantage of every activity her paralegal single mother struggled to afford to keep her only child busy. Alvin Ailey summer dance classes, gymnastics, and ballet ran up against classes to hone her one-of-a-kind voice. When Alicia turned six, a neighbor offered her mother a “well-seasoned” piano, a little out of tune, provided she could get it moved. In stepped two hefty guys from Beethoven Pianos, who made the move for fifty dollars.

Building a Career: Beethoven to Ellington to Prince, Back to Chopin

 Once the piano belonged to her, Alicia’s mother found a piano teacher–Margaret Pine—who stayed to mold and encourage her talented prodigy through high school. Alicia stuck with it, though at eleven, she negotiated a summer break, promising diligence during the school year. Soon she was back at it practicing Beethoven’s sonatas, Mozart’s concertos and Satie’s preludes, then moving onto Joplin and jazz greats Ellington, Waller, and McPartland. Wasn’t long before her personal fusion included Tupac, Salt-N-Pepe and Prince. All the while continuing to marvel as she played Chopin.

It’s not necessary to be the multi-talented Ms. Keys to find a bliss that can last, maybe a lifetime. In eighth grade, Sister Theolea, wrote just one line across the top of my autobiography: “You have a newsy way of writing.” Who knows what triggered her to write that note? But that wee bit of encouragement carried me through journalism school and decades of writing—from reporting for a Midwestern newspaper to Capitol Hill, then twenty years as a national transportation safety communicator.

That makes this week’s news more wrenching. As of April 8, 14,700 people who have died in America. As New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reminded us, “Every number is a face.”  Two of those faces belong to people who have offered guidance and encouragement to students throughout their careers have died of the coronavirus. Joseph Lowinger, 42, principal of the Mary Louis Academy in New York was one of the 776 who have died in New York this week (by April 8). He’d worked at the school for twenty years, his entire career, according to his wife.

The second, Dwight Jones, served the Detroit Public School as basketball coach at Mumford High, also died of the disease this week. A Detroit TV reporter had calls from former students and players who told him Coach Jones would always make time to talk, even after they graduated.

Guidance works best with open minds and willingness to move forward. Developing a skill requires persistence, as we see with Alicia. This paired with her talent and the shaping from her piano teacher, who sparked her to push on. For the rest of us, that little spark from a middle school or high school teacher or a coach can work wonders and offer encouragement that pushes a teen off the ledge into the pond, where their interest could last a lifetime. Now think for a minute about a teacher who made a difference in your life or your child’s progress. Someone who noticed a talent that others missed.  Someone who helped you figure out a personal or classroom problem. How about we each send a few words of gratitude to a teacher or mentor who made a difference in our life?                                  

The Birds Still Sing

GoGraphic illustration to characterize neighborhood songsters.

 A symphony of mourning doves greeted me when I took the trash to the curb at 6:58 am. Instantly thankful that Austin’s sanitation workers had not abandoned us, or the stench of the neighborhood might overpower the beauty of their song!  Their slightly eerie song requires getting use to–when I first came to Texas, it unnerved me with its perpetual moan, but now it soothes me every morning. A matter of accommodation, sort of like our lives today.

Welcome to the First Anniversary of the Past Becomes Present Blog, originally coming to you from a condo in Northwest Austin, Texas. A year ago, my perspective differed from what it is today. Writing about unique events in American history never got boring to me. From time to time, I talk about the here and now, recognizing that this is a historic time with the coronavirus pandemic touching nearly every corner of the globe. Americans have made it through some tight situations before, which we’ll examine over the next few weeks and months. Likewise, bravery comes from people in all walks of life and all ages, which we’ll point out if you keep in touch!

Today many people whose jobs we took for granted, those who seemed to melt into the background of our lives—barista Christine at the neighborhood coffee shop, mechanic  Brian who fixed my headlight, and Patti, my favorite checker at HEB– are now seen and appreciated more for the services they perform. Most of these now essential workers are pleased not to be among the more than three million Americans who have applied for unemployment after missing a paycheck.

Nurses, doctors, medical technicians and their staffs are even more vital than they were a few short months ago. Their well-being depends on how faithful we are in staying home and practicing physical distancing if leaving the house. This will give the medical community a chance to catch up before the next wave hits. Otherwise the people we depend upon may not have the medical facilities, equipment, energy, or in some cases be alive to treat new patients.

The job losses nationwide in March 2020 far exceed New York’s loss of 223,000 jobs after September 11—then a 5.7 percent drop. That occurred mainly on the East Coast with a blowback in tourism around the country when airlines weren’t flying, but people weren’t flying for just a month or less. In the last recession, in 1989, more jobs were lost–300,000 and we pulled out of that. Today (end of March) 3.2 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits as their jobs have been suspended or permanently curtailed. To assist in jacking up the U.S. economy, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package to aid Americans, key industries like the airline and hospitality, and provide loans to small businesses.

While we think of successful musicians as millionaires, here in Austin, musicians are mainly self-employed, earning a living from their performances. When these are cancelled, as 300 music festivals have been, including Austin’s mega South by Southwest, musicians make nothing and may even lose the cost of pre-purchased airline tickets.

Some of the musicians who uplift us and bring us joy appear to be on the frontlines of this pandemic, suffering or losing their battle with the disease, according to news reports. But it may be because people like country music’s Joe Diffie, 61, who died this weekend of coronavirus, travel constantly, which reduces their immunity. They perform for large audiences and come in direct contact with hundreds of people each week. If you have a favorite artist from your local community, this may be a good time to recognize their work by purchasing one of their songs if you are able.

Decide to Reach Out

As we enter the third week of isolation in hopes of preventing further spread of the coronavirus, we’re beginning to realize that we could be in for the long haul. A month has been suggested, but isolation has been longer in other countries. So, we need to make a personal plan to prevent ourselves from being isolated. Plan to call friends and associates, at least one person each day to keep up with their lives. Find a way to exercise each day—walking separately from neighbors, use the exercise equipment if you have some at home, or if you have stairs, making multiple trips or find a yoga or exercise program online that matches your level of fitness. No time to overtax your heart!

Imitate the Birds in the Shower

Belt out your favorite songs from whatever era.  Singing, even for those of us hard-pressed to carry a tune, is indeed good for the soul. No medical license here, but it seems to reduce stress, maybe in my case due to the comedy. Now’s the time to “sing to the music” in your head and forget yourself for a moment.

Daydream—Never Know What You Might Discover

YouTube is overflowing with videos that teach everything from car mechanics to computer coding, WordPress to Lasagna Gardening. Check it out and see what strikes your fancy. Even if you are working from home, it might feel good to try something new after your compressed workday is over.

This is an opportunity you don’t want to waste. Englishman Isaac Newton took advantage of his break from Cambridge University in 1665, when students were sent home during the Great Plague. He daydreamed, then gathered his ideas on light, calculus, and color to develop the law of gravity, which did indeed involve from an apple falling in his family’s orchard. Next Newton built the first reflecting telescope, later presenting it to London’s Royal Society in 1671. Use the time to daydream, inspire yourself. Be bold. You never known where it might lead.

As that American icon, John Wayne, said: “Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”