Saturday and the week that was

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The first week of the year is just ending and I think mine went pretty well. Busy at work, back to the grind, but in a steady kind of way that was not rushed or overly chaotic. It was not exactly just any other week with the events that unfolded in the Capitol during the middle of the week. That one was a very sad event for me.

Audible sigh.

As someone watching from the sidelines during that day, I felt troubled and worried for the people who were trapped in the building. I feared for those tasked with protecting them. I shuddered to think about the Covid superspreader unfolding with only one in maybe 15-20 people wearing a mask. And I was sad for what the world was seeing as they watched events play out. I prayed for peace.

Things have somehow simmered down but tempers are still flaring. We can only really hope for the best. It seems to have been a wake up call for many politicians — and the leaders who have been tasked to be our voice. Let’s hope they pick up the lessons to be learned from what happened instead of fanning the flames higher.

My screen grab from tv coverage of the Capitol Seige
Screen Grab while I watching events unfold on television

Beyond that, the week was fine. I started off rather slow as the boss took the first day off. I noticed there were a few people that had actually taken the week off instead of hitting the ground running after the holidays. That’s a thought.

My two week holiday (well, almost.. because I worked here and there — for a bit) was long enough to help me get ready for the start of the year. I rested, I did chores, slept in, and enjoyed the spirit of the season. It was not short to make me wish for a day or two more, and not long enough for me to want to wish it was Monday already. I had a good holiday.

Work has been normally busy, so no rest for the weary, but I am grateful to still be working.

I started off the year with a boatload of optimism. Cautious, though. I am well aware that the Covid surge is raging, and while life seems to have almost returned to a sense of normalcy, it is farthest from anything we did or felt this time last year.

So this morning, I gave myself the extra hour or so in bed like I usually do on weekends. I browse the news headlines, checked my emails, look at messages and just enjoy the warmth of my bed. I take it slow and relax. Sometimes I go back to sleep — although that is rare. I saunter off to the kitchen, weigh myself and begin my day.

Sunny but cold today. Breakfast was Egg and tomato hash — one of my weird food faves. My mom always used to ask why I wouldn’t add onions — the usual scrambled egg variation we grew up with. Simply because I like the taste of egg and tomatoes and banana ketchup which I had. Happiness.

I had a list of errands to run which I am ticking off in my head as I write this.

– Stop by the cleaners to drop off some coats for dry cleaning.

– Wash some of the large crochet projects I had done in 2020 which were used — but hardly — before I store them away.

– Maybe head off to the Michael’s around 5000 steps away to grab more storage bins to continue organizing my craft supplies.

– Disassemble the boxes that carried items that arrived over the week for disposal.

– Put away the christmas decor. (My son had actually taken off the tree decor, but I need to organize them into the storage boxes that are up in the attic, and then take out the lights.)

– I have postcards and letters to write.

– Begin my 2021 Art journal. (Excited about this!)

Looks like my weekend is spoken for. Between today and tomorrow, I have my work cut out for me.

Well, the chores are waiting, and I have to head out soon if I am to get out the stuff I need to drop off to the cleaners. The sun is shining high but I can hear the wind blowing fiercely. The temperatures are hovering between almost and below freezing. Here’s to a peaceful and productive weekend for everyone.

Goodbye, 2020 !

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It’s the second day of 2021 and I am just now, saying goodbye to the very eventful and different year just ended. This is all about my 2020 — the year that marked such moving changes in the way we all lived, and continues to do the same in the new year. As a fitting goodbye that I can speak to, this is all about what the year was for me. It touched us in different ways, some good and some bad, but everyone was moved in one direction or another by all that transpired.

My son and I were thankfully untouched by Covid, and for that I am grateful. There were the brushes with positive tests from people my son had interacted with, but his own tests always returned negative. It has taught us to be mindful of our interaction with others — and although the anxiety it brought upon was unwelcome, it was enough to get us to be vigilant about protecting ourselves.

I have managed to make working from home actually work for me, and although my company has moved return to office plans from January to May, I am not raring to go back to the office anytime. We adapt. And so far, it has worked well, even when my boss had to return to work in October. I am lucky that she herself insisted I work from home, and that we will keep the arrangement as long as we can for my safety and my son’s.

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The pandemic that claimed so many lives has actually made me take a harder look into how I’ve been keeping myself healthy. I walk my steps everyday now, and while the holidays has thrown a curve ball into my diet, I know that I’m on the right track. As one of the people considered “at risk” for being over 50 years of age, and one who has pre-existing conditions like asthma, everything that has happened has given me pause. You have to stop and think what needs to be done to keep yourself safe and healthy. The masks can only do so much, and your body can only take so much as well. This is one of the positive things that 2020 has given me.

I regret that I was not able to go home in 2020, and I honestly don’t see myself crossing the seas anytime soon. It just feels like it’s too much of a risk to put myself and my son in, and there is so much that it entails on both ends of the journey. I can force it if I wanted to, but I don’t. An audible sigh just escaped my lips, and my thoughts were interrupted for a second or two there.

Not being able to travel this year to see my Mom is actually the biggest loss I have felt as a result of the Covid pandemic. I know that this is almost insignificant compared to the lives lost, and the loved ones they left behind. I consider myself fortunate that this is all that I have to sigh about. We will be able to travel again. While I am not counting on this being anytime in the near future, I know it will happen, and I will get to see my family again. I can wait. For all the excitement the thought brings me, I shudder to think that I might be the one bringing them more harm than them doing the same to me, so I will wait. I tell myself: in time.

One thing that I did more of was talk to my mom via video calls — even just to say goodnight or good morning, and have her see that we are well here.

So much has changed in the way we live. I have had the chance to go to the city occasionally the past couple of months, and nothing is the same. So many businesses have shuttered their space for good. Many have lost their jobs. While there is still a stream of people and the occasional tourists (yes, they are still there..), there is such a pronounced thinning of the usual crowds.

I find myself fortunate to be in a state that enforces mask wearing inside establishments. A sign by the door will always greet you saying you cannot enter without a mask. New Yorkers, for the most part, have taken to wearing masks as part of their daily attire. You will still come across people who sometimes wear it below their nose or on their chin or not at all — but rarely. People will usually put it up on their faces when they see someone approaching. That, to me, is a matter of respect for others. It’s not all about what you think, or the discomfort of it all — it’s about being mindful of your neighbor. After the thousands of lives lost in the earlier part of the year when we experienced the worst of it in the big apple, New Yorkers have learned that prevention is key.

It wasn’t an easy lesson to learn. We experienced grocery shortages — and just recently, a second wave of the disappearing toilet paper and other essentials hit us, but things have settled back to a semblance of normal. Back in March, I felt the panic when I saw the meat section practically empty. My grocery delivery had shortages even of the most basic items like diet soda. I succumbed to my own version of hoarding but quickly let it go. If I had rice, cereal, snacks for my son and some canned goods in my pantry, I felt a sense of security. In the beginning, I did not venture out of the house except to get essentials every 3-4 weeks. I relied heavily on contactless delivery. Then we relaxed. When the fear of the virus settled and numbers in New York went down, we let go of the gloves and just kept a bottle of sanitizer in our pockets handy.

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I went from season to season with most of my usual wardrobe unworn. I went through my closet and realized I had more items than it could hold so I started to weed things out. I didn’t quite go the Kondo way, but I went by the simple rule of asking myself if an item was something I’d wear again. There is a second round in the offing. I also stopped shopping for clothes, save for the activewear I needed to go on my walks, and only because I really never had any. For the holidays, I bought one dress to wear. This winter was the year I was retiring some of my winter coats which had served me well the last four to five years. I was planning on sewing coats and buying one more, but all that has been put on hold. My winter coats are still here, and I have really not worn them outside.

I discovered an entire world of New Yorkers who are down on their luck and asking for the most basic necessities. I joined a Facebook group focused on New Yorkers and there was just such an overwhelming sense of need. I did my part and helped a handful — something I will write about separately. I shared this with my son to show him the reality of an existing problem that was magnified and made worse by the pandemic. But while the local government tried their best to continue to help despite the pandemic, there is only so much that they can do.

Free food is available for all New Yorkers. I remember walking past the school in my area which is the main distribution hub for meals for kids from 7:30-11am or so, and from 11-1:30pm for anyone at all who was hungry. The lines were long — partly because of social distancing — but people needed to eat. That was a jarring reality for me because I live in a predominantly middle class neighborhood. But people’s circumstances have changed and have been affected by the closure of schools. So I no longer found it surprising when I saw the state delivery of a crate of food good for a few days to one of the doorsteps during one of my walks. You even have the option for Kosher, Latino, or regular food. (There might be more, but those are the only ones I had heard of.).

Hotels in the city were turned into homeless shelters to prevent them from cross-contaminating one another in some of the communal dormitory type dwellings. It was that bad that even the Lucerne, one of the more upscale hotels in Manhattan, was turned into a men’s homeless shelter. It created quite a stir among local residents — dividing them sharply between those who were tolerant, and those who wanted the men moved elsewhere. Only in New York.

I think I did pretty okay in 2020. My days were busy with work most of the time, and they were long days, too, but I am not complaining. I work full time — with full benefits. My son has been doing remote learning this whole time, and I think he’s adjusted to it and has actually been doing well.

There were times during the year when I felt the stress of all that was taking place around me take its toll on my peace of mind. I resorted to meditating and lulling myself to sleep using sleep casts, and I continue to have difficulty sleeping sometimes. “Okay” did not mean not being affected — I just coped better than most and I think I managed to adjust to the demands of this whole “new normal” that we find ourselves in. I managed to work around the restrictions we faced — and found my work around. I talked to family and friends. I wrote in my journals. I wrote here.

I am grateful for that.

I managed to continue crafting through it all, working on my art journal. I started sewing masks feverishly but have stopped the last 6-8 weeks to focus on my jewelry making. I am getting ready to start sewing again, though.

I cooked and baked.. gained and lost the weight. I’ve tried to put a semblance of order to my supplies and crafting in general. It kept me sane and distracted. It got me here.

As we begin a new year, I am full of hope for a better one after the challenges that 2020 brought our way. I am cautiously optimistic — and still taking lots of caution in going out into the world beyond my doorstep. Whatever it is that 2020 brought our way, it is far from over. I am praying for continued good health, peace and love. I think I had a good measure of all of that in 2020 — just asking for a bit more for all of us in 2021.

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Summer walk in Central Park

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AA note from Pinay New Yorker: There are times when I want to write a post in a very detailed manner that it ends up languishing in my drafts folder for ages. There are times when they end up like this one, forgotten. Many months after that walk in my Central Park, I found this and just realized I never published it. Now well into winter, I have finally decided that I will hit the publish button finished or not. It’s my own ode to the summer of the pandemic here in New York City. (12.30.20)

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A couple of weeks ago when I braved returning to the city, I had the chance to do my daily walk in Central Park. This is a much delayed post, but before the summer is totally over, I wanted to share my walk around this favorite part of New York.

One of the things I have always tried to aim to accomplish in any given year is to visit Central Park all four seasons. I’m starting a bit late this time, having skipped spring, but I had the chance to explore and visit some of my favorite spots a couple of Saturdays ago. This isn’t exactly this previous weekend, but for this summer, this is my Central Park trek.

Central Park is a big patch of green in Manhattan that spans acres of land. I have yet to reach the upper fringes of the park, but have gone enough times to have my personal favorites. One place I hope to visit with Angelo one of these days is The Gill where he used to play among the rocks. Maybe one day one he is up for a picnic lunch and things are not as different as they are now.

For this particular day in the park, I had my goals set modestly to walk towards the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. It’s deep enough into the park to be not that easily accessible from the outer perimeter, but close enough that you can go back the same way you came in from 59th street.

I chose it not only for its beauty and serenity, because it’s one of the more iconic spots here. I have beheld it several times before, and I knew from which vantage point to best take the pictures. In all honesty, the best time to visit the park is in the early fall when the leaves change colors, but the trees have not shed its leaves to prepare for winter.

I was ready with my mask, my disposable gloves in the pocket of my leggings, and a small pocket sanitizer tucked in the other pocket. The things you have to bring now that we are all social distancing and trying to be careful.

There were a lot of people in the park, but not quite as many as there used to be on a weekend. Even with the open space, I still try to avoid areas where there is just too big a mass of people breathing into the air that I might eventually breathe. So I walk in the opposite lane or detour six feet away from people.

Central Park Summer 2020
Gapstow Bridge

I always prefer to enter the park from the 59th streets perimeter where the Gapstow Bridge of Home Alone fame can be found. (The pond was dry as the setting was winter in the movie.). If you are ever in New York City and can only spare a few hours in Central Park, this is one of the best places to go to for pictures and to get a taste of our backyard here in the city. The pond itself offers several photo opportunities around it, and there are ducks and sometimes unusual birds that take a dip in the water, or who fly around the lush flora and fauna. The bridge itself is not very long but provides a view of the skyscrapers surrounding this side of the park, and sunsets and the evening lights provide a gorgeous reflection off the water if you are lucky enough to catch it.

Central Park Summer 2020

Looking Up

One thing I like about this part of the park is that it provides such a picture perfect view of the concrete jungle that Manhattan is, with the greenery of Central Park in the foreground. Depending on where you’re standing and what time of the day it is, sometimes you can get lucky and see a mirror reflection of the buildings around in the water in this pond. Not today for me.

If you are ever pressed for time and don’t have the leisure to go in deeper into the park, this iconic spot is representative of the beauty of Manhattan’s backyard.

This wasn’t a random walk. I knew where I wanted to head to. While I have another part of the park that is special to Angelo and I a little further on, my personal favorite part of this expanse is actually the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain seen below.

Central Park Summer 2020

It entails a bit of a walk from 59th street, but is a focal point of the lake that borders it, and will take you through another favorite portion here called The Mall. It is a stretch of walk bordered by elms on both sides, fenced in to help preserve its beauty. The benches that line the entire stretch of this wide walkway are an interesting bunch of names and dedications. One time, I actually found Jim Henson’s bench.

Central Park Summer 2020

When dusk sets in, the lamp posts on both sides are lit and a soft glow descends upon the corridor. You will find musicians and artists dotting the whole area. A staple of this particular patch is Jazz musician Ralph U. Williams, who has been there forever since I first walked this part of the park two decades ago. He is a fixture in the park through all four seasons, filling the air with his music . You can catch him on any given day, and enjoy his park concerts from the benches lining both sides of the mall. If you hear the smooth notes of a sax, it’s him. (I am trying to upload a 3-minute video of his performance which I shot while seated across the way from where he was playing. Rather than wait for that, though, I would like to see this post finally published.)

I found myself walking in circles the day I decided to do my 10,000 steps in Central Park. I actually ended up doing almost double that, but for all the extra steps and exhaustion, it was well worth exploring one of my favorite parts of New York City.

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It’s the penultimate day to the New Year, and I have double these pictures to share of that one day that I was able to roam Central Park freely — even if donning the required mask. I haven’t gone in the fall nor yet, this winter. I have always tried to make one year where I can visit all four seasons. Maybe 2021 is the magic year. For now, I write with the memories of this day I took to explore and just bask in the beauty of this huge patch of green in the concrete jungle that is Manhattan. In two days, it will be 2021, and if I can visit in the next couple of weeks, that makes for the first of the four seasons. Central Park will be there, waiting.

“Me” Day on a Covid holiday

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AI don’t get to go around much anymore, and everything has changed so much that things just don’t feel like they used to. Manhattan is still there but with a different “flavor”. Although I work there and used to be there five days a week, I only really got to explore and enjoy the city during those days I got to go around leisurely. Those would be the days I went in specifically to go around and do errands or take visiting friends or family to see the sights. Thursday was an errand: a doctor’s appointment.

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Like most others, I try to get the usual annual appointments done before the end of the year. I should really do better than that and try for earlier, but insurance will usually not take the appointment until after 12 months from the previous one. (It is supposed to be “annual”.). It went rather quickly with an hour’s wait only– I guess the ladies held their babies in and no one went into labor, so my gynecologist sauntered in pretty much on time. Hooray!

I wanted to get the steps in so I walked from 34th and Madison towards Bryant Park on Fifth and 42nd. It was a cold but beautiful day but I dressed for the weather and had my mask on. I was all set.

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The steps to the New York Public Library are usually full of people seated on them enjoying the sunshine. Famous for movies like “Sex In the City” (venue of Carrie Bradshaw’s non-wedding) and “The Day After” (where Toby McGuire and company holed up until they could be rescued). To me it was an early discovery way back when I had just arrived in New York in 2000. I would pass the time here between exploring the city and heading home. One day when they let us back in, I will write a post taking me back to that time. For now, no visit to this corner of Manhattan is complete without stopping by to take a picture.

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The rows upon rows of park tables and benches were mostly empty. Used to be abuzz with locals and tourists, any time of day. One would usually have to walk the length and breadth of the park to find an empty table, or wait for those seemingly about to finish their meal and scoot on over when they stood up to leave. Not this day. Or the previous or coming days.

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I am hoping they will put up a bigger Christmas tree like in previous years. This clump of regular sized Christmas trees are usually replaced at a later date with a beautiful Christmas tree, a mini version of the one in Rockefeller Center, although it’s not exactly a small tree. I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if this is all we get this year.

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To make way for social distancing, only a third of the shops were allowed to sell in this year’s winter village. My favorite cheese house wasn’t there, so I went for my other favorite: the Crepe Cafe. This is one of the original food outlets that has been here every year.

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I always order the Banana Nutella Almond crepe here, and this was lunch for the day. I found my space on the periphery by the 40th street side, sat down and took off my mask. There were only a handful of food outlets allowed to open, and the pop up indoor restaurant was not put up this time around.

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Sitting down and looking around, Bryant Park felt more like a Sunday than the Thursday it usually was. People were walking around and there was a smattering of others trying to enjoy lunch like I was doing, but a very thin crowd it was. But I enjoyed the quiet.. and just taking in a beautiful day enjoying a favorite treat.

So much has changed in our lives since the pandemic began. Any semblance of normalcy is a breath of fresh air in our now masked existence. Literally. I have actually gotten used to going around with a mask, being that I actually do my usual hour and a half walk/jog with a mask on.

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The children’s carousel was still there. At least the kids still get to have their fun, even if at half capacity. When the weather gets too cold, this beauty will be shrouded and covered until things warm up again.

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The rink is alive with a six foot barrier to keep those watching on the sidelines safely distanced from the railing that some of the skaters hang on to. There are still tables and chairs around the rink, but socially distanced.

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The temperatures have held to decent “cold” and we really haven’t had snow yet, so my favorite Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain is staying pretty without a load of ice just yet. Truth is, it’s quite a sight when you see it laden with ice and still flowing. They cannot shut the pipes or it might burst, so they keep it flowing even in the cold of winter.

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We’re all trying our best to cope. The Bryant Park Cafe run by Bryant Park Grill has put up these dining huts and the park has a few available for groups like the one on the right. (not sure that’s the proper term). For the ones provided by the park, a notice is put up after the space has been sanitized. It’s just sad that the Governor has just shut down indoor dining and outdoor dining might follow next. At the very least, it is good to know that there is this option.

I walked uptown to view the Rockefeller Center but I will save that post for a possible part II of this post.. before I headed back to my bus stop, I had to decide which treat I would go home with. The line to Angelina Paris NYC was too long and I just didn’t feel like taking the chance even when social distancing. So I opted to grab some of my other happy food over at Magnolia Bakery.

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I miss those days when I could just walk down from my perch at work and grab a cup from the branch in the Grand Central food court. I went to the one on Sixth Avenue. These days, the lines that used to snake around the corner are no longer there, but they are still making their special cupcakes, cakes, cookies and yes, their heavenly banana pudding. I walked in before leaving the Rockefeller Center and found that they now have the banana pudding by the cashier. I was lucky to grab some red velvet banana pudding (a specialty flavor), and a second tub of their old time original. (Calories be damned! Lol)

I did the rest of my errands — stopped by Whole Foods near 42nd Street to grab some steaks and ground beef for my big guy, and headed home. Like always, it was nice to be able to spend an afternoon in a leisurely fashion for some “me” time. It’s a different kind of Manhattan now– and a different way of going about the things we had gotten used to before the pandemic broke out. While things have improved from the second quarter when everything shut down, we are far from normal.

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The threat of things going from bad to worse is hanging over our heads at the moment. It makes it all the more imperative to enjoy life while we can– without forgetting the new limitations and requirements of being socially responsible while we do it. (Masks on, please..). Life goes on, indeed. Even if not in the same way we used to go about it.

A different kind of holiday season

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4ADecember has always been my favorite time of the year — no matter where I am, and even if memories of Christmases in Manila make me miss home all the more. Christmas in New York is a little less festive because we don’t all do Christmas– depending on one’s faith, it might be a Hanukkah .. or Kwanza..

Last Thursday, I was in the city for a doctor’s appointment and I decided I would go around and visit the usual places which were the festive manifestations of the holiday. This year, the lions adorning the front of the New York Public Library, Patience and Fortitude, have their customary Christmas wreaths, but are now masked.

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I wanted to check out the shops at the winter village in Bryant Park behind the library and found out that only a third of the usual number of stores and food outlets have been given space to allow for social distancing.

This side of the park right behind the library used to have two rows of shops facing each other but now have been left empty.

No booths on this side of Bryant Park this year

The seasonal restaurant is not up this year, and the skating rink facilities are all outdoor so there is no longer any enclosed waiting/changing station. What few shops that set up still bring us the holiday spirit, but it isn’t quite as festive as years past.

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The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree is now cordoned off and the nearest you can get is at least 10 feet away through a directional path, where security personnel and denominated circles on the ground let you make your way closer to the tree.

The crowds were visibly thinner and there was a horde of security and police present.

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Even going through the main walkway where the angels with their trumpets blaring lead you towards the front view, allowing you to see the tree with the statue of a Prometheus under it as the skaters glide on the rink are now controlled and directed. Which is good given the current state we are in.

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The usual decorations have sprouted up again but the crowds aren’t there. Although that makes taking pictures a whole lot easier, a visibly thinner audience around all this display of the holidays makes it less festive than we have been used to. But that is life now as we know it.

In a state of siege

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AIt’s Sunday and I’ve done half my step quota for the day, walking/jogging on my way to pick up a 5lb tub of peanut butter. (That’s another post altogether..). I gave myself the luxury of sleeping in this morning, in large part due to waiting up for the 16 year old who went to a friend’s house to watch the boxing match last night. I thought I’d pick up brunch at the Paris Baguette along the way and sit and just enjoy a moment of quiet.

I needed a “me moment” because I know this coming week will be busy at work. I picked up my treats, went to sit at what appeared to be a safely distanced table in the dining area and picked up my phone to read. It was a choice between the New York Times app and my email prompts regarding new reads from fellow bloggers who are among a handful I follow. I chose the latter.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting other blogs when I get the chance — it’s like a silent and extended conversation in my mind. It’s a source of inspiration and helps me to ground my thinking in general. These are the thoughts of people who actually find the same release I do in putting my words down into a corner of the web. I know how it feels — I can relate. I only wish I could do it more often. Alas, there are not enough hours in a day.. and there are a dozen things I wish I could do more regularly but have no time.

I read Island Traveler’s post where he asks the question: What Happens if U.S. Run Out of Hospital Beds and Medical Staff by Christmas? For the first time in a long time, I read a blog post from start to finish, actually tried to leave a comment but somehow didn’t make it through, and was moved enough to write about it here in my corner of the web.

Island Traveler is a blog by a fellow Filipino who had stumbled into me and thus started one of those silent conversations. He is a health care worker on the other side of the country. He has enthralled me with his photography and very profound photo essays. This time, though, he moved me just as another denizen of this great United States of America which, like most of the world, is currently in crisis because of the pandemic.

I felt a need to reply in a longer fashion here because I feel what he is saying. Literally.

Earlier during the infancy of this crisis, New York was the epicenter of fear, panic and death. We froze with the realization that we were being overwhelmed by a force that we had to race against. We applauded our front liners who faced the crisis head on. We appealed for federal assistance and help from the medical professionals from other states and they came. We all came together as a community to grieve the dead who had to be kept in refrigerated vans, with funeral homes backed up.

I watched the news almost the whole time I was awake, as I saw families with medical professionals going into their houses through windows and the basement or garage, and sacrificing not hugging or kissing their children for days on end, afraid they would bring home the virus to them. There were lots of tears for the patients who were dying faster than they could be attended to, and tears of fear for the scarce personal protective equipment they needed. There was burnout and frustration. There still is.

While life is anything BUT normal these days, we managed to get a hold of the situation. The ambulances that came to our aid with their first responders have gone home. The nurses and doctors who volunteered their time and expertise have since returned to their states– and are now battling the virus there. The behemoth Javits Center which was converted into a hospital was hardly even used– but we braced for the surge. It came– just not in the magnitude we were warned it would, because people listened out of fear.

Work and school shifted to home. We learned to plan our resources to cope with disappearing items from the grocery shelves. And while the virus hasn’t totally disappeared from New York, we lived and continue to live with the shadow of the pandemic hanging over our heads. Which is why I find it sad and worrying that many parts of the country continue to be in denial of the dangers of the novel Corona virus.

There was a very striking news interview a couple of days ago of a hospital worker who was in tears, relaying that even in their deathbed, some of those afflicted didn’t believe the Corona virus was real.

There are many who are still raging against the restrictions imposed by states that are now buckling under the pressure of dealing with this crisis. They equate the mandate to wear a mask as an impingement on their personal freedom. I say you wear a mask out of a need for personal protection and as a manifestation of respect for others.

The numbers have not started going down for the country. We are already being warned as a nation that a second wave is coming. That warning is really for places like New York where there was an upsurge and then a decline– but not a total eradication of the problem. The truth of it is, many places continue to be in crisis– where patients are overwhelming the system. What second wave? They are still in the thick of the onslaught of this unseen killer. Even outside the United States, other countries are beginning to feel the effects of an echo of the crisis.

We are a world under siege. And despite the promise of a vaccine or improved cures in the horizon, thousands are continuing to be afflicted and are dying every day. As individuals, we have to come to terms with the reality that although we may be unaffected, many others are not. Whether or not we know someone who has died of the disease, there are many others who are affected by it in their day to day lives.

We’ve had some scares but have managed to steer clear of getting sick ourselves. Negative tests are not a guarantee of safety, and are not a reason to relax our guard. As a non-medical worker or other frontline participant, I feel it’s my responsibility to help ease the burden by doing my part in trying to stay healthy. As we all should.

I say do more than applaud them.. show your respect by doing your part. Even just wearing your mask will help, no matter how inconsequential you might think it to be.

Autumn In New York

Getting back into the swing of things

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AIt’s been ages since I was here.. I know. My bad. Life has totally taken me over (favorite excuse).. and yes, we are still far from normal.

While a very small percentage of people at work returned to the office, including my boss, I continue to work from home. I was fortunate that she insisted the commute to and from work was not worth the risk, plus there was the boy who I opted to do full remote learning for. I just gave her the option to call me in if the need ever arose. The numbers are rising again, and while we had hoped to inch our way towards “normal” in the weeks to come, there is a threat of another lockdown or shutdown or shelter in place hanging over our heads. So much for returning to normal.

The truth is, I had sort of resigned myself to the fact that this is now our new normal. Masks every time we go out. Social distancing. Washing hands the minute we get home. Having a container of hand sanitizer in our pockets all the time. No more shaking hands or hugging. Being careful what we touch and how we touch things.

I just wrote the second half of this post and it just disappeared on me with a stroke of my finger. When things like that happen, I attribute it to the simple conclusion that whatever I had written wasn’t meant to be published. I can try again, but it’s late.

New York City schools just announced that everyone will do remote learning beginning tomorrow due to the rising numbers in positive cases. I’m not really affected because my son has been fully remote from the start of the school year. The long commute and the transfer it would take was too much of a worry in terms of the possibility of exposure to the virus, so he has been learning remotely. I’m lucky that at 16, I can easily leave him at home if I were forced to return to work. But I am even luckier that I don’t have to and I continue to work from home. Working parents of younger kids are not as flexible because there would be the issue of childcare while they try to put food on the table.

Another day ended in the time of Corona..

Autumn in New York

Return to school dilemma

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4ALabor day falls on the 7th of September this year. In years past, this would signal the beginning of the school year a few days after and came with a lot of excitement about school supplies, new schedules, outfits, etc. This year, there isn’t as much excitement as there is anxiety — more so on my part.

My soon-to-be junior in high school had picked a school which was quite a trek from where we live. It meant going into the city via Express Bus like I do, then a one stop subway ride and a 6 minute walk from the subway to school. All in all, if there was no traffic, he could make it to school in under an hour. He would take the subway and the local bus on the way home because the Express bus took longer, and meant catching his ride based on a schedule. We had gotten used to this the last two years.

When New York sheltered in place, we switched to remote learning. I gave the school some slack given the sudden adjustment from in-classroom learning to virtual, which, I can imagine, was quite the challenge to the faculty. It wasn’t a huge student population, but it also meant there was limited faculty presence. We made do with the system, and I tried to monitor his progress through the remainder of the school year. Although he did very well during this time, I couldn’t help but feel he was missing out on much of what should’ve been learned had there be in person instruction instead. But what can we do given the pandemic?

Over the summer, the school administration kept in touch and came up with a novel proposal regarding the return to school come fall. The Department of Education had given several models to follow and choose from, depending on the size of the school population and the physical space available that would accommodate social distancing. Add to that the optimum distribution of faculty between in-person and remote learning. We had two options essentially: one was to be fully remote, and the other, to do blended learning. The latter meant that he would spend part of the time in school, doing in person learning and part of the time, remotely.

The principal of my son’s school took great pains to explain what they thought was the best solution, given the above factors. “Blended learning” would have to be a half day in school every two weeks. That meant that for 9.5 days of the 10 day two week cycle, the students would be remote. This would enable the faculty to focus equally on the 7 students who would actually be physically present in the classroom at any given time, and the rest of the student body doing remote learning. That seemed like quite a lopsided proposition at first, but after it was explained that 10 of the 30 or so faculty would actually qualify to teach remote due to pre-existing conditions, etc., it didn’t make sense to force any of the other proposed models. If we were to follow the DOE directive, it looked like our school would fall into the twice a week weekly, with a third day in school every other week model. It was confusing for most parents — and there was an uproar and some really bewildered people on the ” virtual townhall” I participated in. There was just no way to make it simple enough for everyone to understand. But I found the school’s proposal acceptable.

It’s bad enough that I have to worry about his commute. Everyone knows that classrooms are breeding grounds for infectious diseases among the younger generation. – pandemic or not. Masks all day? I wouldn’t trust my boy to do that unless I was watching. Sanitizers? Okay, maybe that one, I can trust him to do. Even at home, he has always taken to washing his hands often.

So we signed a petition to the Department of Education, endorsing the proposal of the school. And then we were turned down.

Last week, the principal announced that we would do the 2 days one week and 3 days the next week model. It was also revealed that 55% of the students had opted for remote learning. The boy chimed in that most of his classmates who opted to return to school either lived close by or were coming in because of the free meals.

I didn’t need much convincing to switch sides and opt for fully remote learning. I called the boy’s father and had a discussion and we agreed.

As a parent, I have tried my best to protect him during this time of social distancing and COVID worries. I was rooting for the school’s proposal because I wouldn’t have had any problems spending for Uber both ways for that once-biweekly class. But to have him commuting in what is a usually tighter than tight route even just by one stop was a cause of anxiety.

He and I have been lucky to have been untouched (so far) by COVID. There was a false alarm earlier in the summer when his father got sick but tested negative, and then tested positive for antibodies. Thankfully, the boy tested negative.

I have been trying to limit his social interaction with his friends, while acknowledging that I cannot totally keep him locked up at home. He has a small group of friends he sees once a week, with a strict rule of staying outdoors and not going into anybody’s house. We are lucky to be surrounded by lots of open space courts and playgrounds, along with an abundance of parks and greenery. Most homes like ours have courtyards or backyards to practice social distancing in. But school would’ve been totally different matter.

I cannot say I was torn between prioritizing his education over his safety. This was a no-brainer for me. His safety was of primary concern. During this time when it seems like so much has changed and uncertainty continues to permeate our everyday lives, there is very little that we have retained control over. And this one, I could steer one way or the other.

It’s one of the big sacrifices that the pandemic has imposed upon us as parents — while I would want school to go back to normal, I know that even having him there physically doesn’t mean he will receive normal instruction. Teachers would also be wearing masks . Interaction would be limited. Half their time would be consumed by work geared towards the students who aren’t physically with them. It is a test of wills on both ends.

Just today, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced that school opening will be delayed 10 days to September 21. Apparently, the teachers and principals are up in arms, threatening a strike as they are apprehensive about their safety and the ability of the government to help protect them in the current scenario. Many of our educators also feel that they aren’t prepared to head into the blended learning scenarios and fully remote learning option that many children and their families have taken. I can relate. Unlike the children they will teach, the opening of school will mean they will have to be in every day. The cadence of school attendance was offered to the students — but not to the teachers.

Many working parents have been thrown in a bind due to this postponement of the school opening, particularly those who were relying on a semblance of normalcy with the kids off to school. Some companies have actually slowly started going back to work, although many companies have declared they would return next year. Still, parents who don’t have the option to work from home or stay at home are now caught between a rock and a hard place.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to work from home all this time. I will not complain about the difficulty of doing what I had been used to doing in the office in my dining room. I am fully connected. Most importantly, I am continuing to work full time. We will eventually return to work, and while that is a source of mild anxiety, it is something I can prepare myself for both mentally and physically.

We all have to make adjustments. While I believe I am getting the short end of the stick with the option of keeping my boy home to learn remotely or sending him out into a Covid-ridden world on his own to go back to school, I will take the lesser of two evils. I have my own anxiety about the fall and all the things that go with it in this new normal. I had always lived by the tenet that although there is much that we cannot control, we must be firm about those that we have a handle on.

I am hopeful that there will come a time — hopefully soon — when our kids will be able to go back to school and actually learn in a classroom setting. I just know that we aren’t quite there yet, so for now, I choose to keep him at home. We will just have to make the most of it.

I have missed you, Manhattan

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AI remember the last time I was in Manhattan after our company ordered everyone to work from home. Someone I considered a daughter was visiting from Manila, and although we couldn’t go around, we agreed to meet at the apartment where she was staying to spend time catching up. That was in Mid-March, and I braved the city choosing to ride Uber going in and out. The city that never sleeps was practically quiet, with only a smattering of people here and there. Traffic was light.. most stores were closed.

I finally returned to Manhattan last Friday, and although the vibe is nowhere near what it used to be, it was a better cadence and more people were out and about.
Missed you, Manhattan! First time back in three moths.Traffic wasn’t as light as the last time I was here, but it wasn’t as busy as I was used to. Most people going about their business were wearing a face covering. Masks, after all, have been mandated all over.

Missed you, Manhattan! First time back in three moths.

It felt different. It was almost like there was an eerie whisper in a place that was always buzzing with life. I passed my building and wonder how it is over there now — yet I wasn’t curious enough to venture that way. It can wait. We are, after all, still officially working from home, so much so that I have indicated that in my voicemail. We don’t know yet when we will return to the office, but I am not excited by that thought.

Missed you, Manhattan! First time back in three moths.

I feel grateful to be able to work from home, spared from having to deal with the anxiety and stress of commuting. Or of being in an enclosed space with others — and that was never even a thought before we were all overtaken by the virus. Not that I wish this to be permanent, but I know that I am not quite ready to go back yet.

Missed you, Manhattan! First time back in three moths.Even Times Square which would usually be teeming with people all hours of the day was somber and quiet. The lights were still on like they always have been, but the place seemed to have been sucked of life with the absence of the people of all races and colors walking its streets.

Missed you, Manhattan! First time back in three moths.

It’s so deceiving how the skies are blue and everything looks sunny and bright — and yet there is a pervading sense of gloom in the streets as many stores are shuttered, and there is a pronounced thinning of the usual street crowds. Restaurants are still not allowed to do indoor dining. Some stores have signs on their doors saying that they have decided to close their shop/restaurant indefinitely. And there are the boarded up windows on the storefronts that fell victim to the looting of several weeks ago.

It feels as though the city is in a state of limbo. As if everything is suspended.
Missed you, Manhattan! First time back in three moths.Even my beloved Bryant Park wasn’t the same. It felt like a weekend morning when it was actually late in the day and a Friday. There were paths specified in the park and various signs around.

I terribly miss how the city used to be. But I missed it plain and simple that even in the midst of all that is different now, I was grateful to be back even if only for a short while.

The Whole Foods across from the park was closed. There was a sign saying this branch serviced online orders only and it appeared that this was their distribution center. Most fast food stores were open only for take out or delivery. The offerings were limited. My favorite Maison Kayser had signs that they have decided to close their stores temporarily. The hours were severely shortened. Most stores that were usually open even on weekends were now closed on Saturdays and Sundays. Most of the stores screamed “We’re Open” in signs, both handmade and professionally produced, just to distinguish themselves from the other empty stores that were everywhere.

I could actually feel the city moaning in pain. But what could I do. Like the city that never sleeps that now seems to be bedridden and chained down with limited movement, I’m just riding the pandemic out.

I don’t want to hasten a guess as to which stores will be around when this is all over. The prognosis is not good. The business landscape of the rows and rows of stores here in the city will certainly change in big, bold strokes when we return.

It is a sobering reminder that nothing is permanent. Even the greatest city in the world can be cowed into submission. What I know is that no matter how bad things get, this city will overcome. We’ve done it countless times before. In the gloom and doom and the sense of loss of 9/11, or the pain that became manifest in many stores succumbing to bankruptcy in the economic downturn of 2008 — and even now, we have come back.

It may be a slow one, but we are getting back up on our feet again, come what may.

Wildflowers

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AI’ve always taken pride in paying attention to the ordinary. From a very young age, I was trained to appreciate the simple things. I think it’s important for us to never lose our childlike sense of wonder. It keeps us hopeful and optimistic. It helps us see the light instead of the darkness. Much like the glass being half full rather than half empty.

The eternal optimist, that’s who I am.

During these walks I’ve taken the last 3 weeks, I’ve opened my eyes to the wonders around, tucked between the weeds that have crept upon the growth in the forest, or in the cracks in the concrete pavement. What colors — if we will only stop and pay attention to nature’s canvas.

I used to always think about doing this — just walking around to stretch my legs, or to try and get some exercise in. I never really got to until after weeks and weeks of being cooped up indoors. I can’t believe that I’ve been doing this for longer and longer stretches of time. And I’ve taken to paying more attention to the things I walk past each time.

Wildflowers
Sometimes they call out to us as a patch of color, but what strikes me more are the singular stems that stand out from the drab green, or the cracks in the sidewalk. Wildflowers here range in color from pastels like purple and the starker fuschia pink ones like this one I saw just this morning.

I just had to stop and take a shot. I’m sure the man walking around 200 paces behind me must’ve been baffled why I stopped in my tracks. It would’ve thrown off the distance we were trying to keep between us.

Wildflowers

And there are the usual blooms that we see everywhere, popping up from the ground in batches, just nonchalantly standing their ground and ignoring the rest of the world. If you look closely enough, you’ll see how nature has put them together in such an intricate fashion.

Wildflowers
More often than not, we gloss over their existence. To many, they are a nuisance ruining the monotony of the pavement where the earth gave in and a crack let them through. But such bright colors wave to us. Again, if you look closer, you’ll see how beautiful they are by themselves, or as a bunch on the ground we walk on.
Wildflowers

They’re springing up all over these days as we get deep into summer. I’m trying to catch them before they wilt away and the green gives in to the glorious colors of fall. I love fall for the tapestry of leaves and the changing colors of the season, but autumn signals the disappearance of these beauties, both wild and nurtured in the gardens around. We have to enjoy them while we can.

Wildflowers

See how intricate those spines around the berry-like center are? I cannot wait to see what springs forth from this bloom. I hope I see it tomorrow or the next day I walk past it again. I’ve made it a habit to look around with each pass, and stop the next time I go past it. It’s almost 400 steps around the entire quadrangle, and I usually try to keep pace with those who are ahead of me. Sometimes, I get lucky and I get to enjoy the space and have the place all to myself. I like walking here because there’s usually no more than 4 others who make sure we walk with ample space apart.

Wildflowers

This week has been such a visual delight. It seems that every day, there is a new bloom that pops up to surprise me. Even along the highway as I walk on the last leg of my morning ritual, visual delights like these little wonders abound.

I admire them from a distance and leave them be. I want to have them there, serving as a backdrop to my feeble attempts at exercising. They bring color to the toil of walking in the summer heat, and they bring a smile to my face.

There are so many things we should be grateful for. Little things that we should not take for granted. We should stop and take notice before they fade away and another season creeps up on us.

Tomorrow as I walk again, these little beauties give me something to look forward to. I will look at them with childlike wonder and hope they stay just a little bit longer. I can’t wait to see another surprise that will stand out from the rest. Some new wonder growing out of the ordinary, here in the wild.