Autumn in New York and Running

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Suddenly there is a nip in the air on my early morning runs and I find that I have added a cotton layer to my togs and my running shorts have been put away. Sunrise is later and later these mornings and up to this point I have resisted going out before the sun is poking up onto the scene – I remind myself that this is still New York City and running alone in the dark is perhaps not the best idea nor indeed safe.

I am hitting the one year mark since I started running and thus far I have persevered through summer heat and two broken fingers. (Earlier running posts, and the broken finger story, can be found here and here.) I try to run most mornings, short of having to be in midtown for an in-person meeting before 9:00 which I increasingly often do for work. On those days I walk the three miles to (and often also back from) Columbus Circle instead. Those mornings I cut the city catty corner and walk through Central Park which certainly has its own early morning charm. I cannot help but compare and contrast these mornings to mine spent in our little east side enclave.

At the one year mark I run about three miles. I run a slow, gentle jog. Despite being exclusively on concrete I try to land softly, mid-foot, and to keep my joints loose. My right hip and the muscles reaching down tend to complain a bit, less so if I am rigorous in my warm up, which I try to be. I have psoriatic arthritis and I know that eventually it will all catch up with me, but I have taken the use it or lose it approach to my joints as I will ultimately be a great candidate for a hip replacement regardless. I have chosen to take the using them up approach to my joints. (A post devoted specifically to my workout as someone with arthritis can be found here.)

Sunrise is a bit later and later each day now.

I began running because I was spending so much time in our tiny apartment sitting in a chair, no longer able to go to the gym, that I realized I needed to do something. Walking (which took too much time and didn’t seem to raise my heart rate at all) quickly gave way to running. Although I like working out, especially lifting weights, I have never aspired to run so this was a strange turn of events, however it solved the cardio problem and also helped address the pandemic pounds I needed to shed.

At first my body resisted this turn of events, but with the help of my trainer I stretched and cajoled it into compliance. I have, over the year, lost close to 40 pounds (most of those put on in the first six months of the pandemic – read some of my baking recipes here and here at your own peril), although I warn anyone entering into this endeavor that it is very easy to feed a workout and gain weight instead of losing it. Losing weight, for me anyway, is tied to a careful (merciless really) counting of calories and thoughtful food choices in conjunction with exercise. Running has also largely eliminated nagging lower back pain I had acquired even before the pandemic from too much sitting, long hours of airplane travel and concert hall seats.

I commented to Kim this morning that running has changed my body in an interesting and far more overall way than I expected. Of course you expect more muscle in your legs, but it has changed my upper body too. Something about my posture and even the way I move is different. Far more than lifting and my former (devoted and beloved) gym routine the total impact is more significant it seems to me.

Carl Schurz Park near Gracie Mansion.

I run slower than most of my morning compatriots and speed just isn’t something I am competitive about, my competition is only with myself and is generally more about distance and consistency. I set myself at a comfortable pace and mostly only alter it to go around folks or if dogs get too inquisitive – in a nippy way. Some days are peppier than others, but regardless I take time to note the denizens of the Esplanade and those of you who follow my Instagram account know that I will take time to snap some photos. (My running adventures are documented more or less daily in my stories here.) I try to take a kindly attitude toward my middle aged body which is, after all, answering my call to this kind of exercise. I remember that it is serving me well and I should not be critical of its efforts on my behalf.

FDR on recent morning run – complete with fire trucks stuck trying to get somewhere.

I used to listen to books but while running I replaced those with music – at least to the degree I can cajole my iPhone to play it while running while still snapping the occasional photo. I tend to like to listen to the same thing over and over, and then switching to something else. Wynton Marsalis’s Swing Symphony accompanied me on many a run, second maybe only to Beethoven’s Seventh. I have wandered through some classical – YoYo Ma playing solo concertos, Moonlight Sonata – popular music of my teen years (think Bruce Springsteen) and most recently Billie Holiday which is a bit of surprise. I usually like something more upbeat. However, I was taking a tour of Autumn in New York this week, hence the name of this post. (A few choice versions can be found on Youtube here, here and here, Sinatra, Holiday and Sarah Vaughn respectively – at least available at the time of writing this.)

Dogs romping and being walked probably deserve their own post. They sometimes take great interest in me – sometimes offense too!

I pass the qi gong and tai chi practitioners, some stationary, others in a sort of walking-moving meditation. Folks are taking boxing lessons (I would like to try this some day, broken fingers notwithstanding), others working out with someone instructing them via their phone, yoga gatherings and a series of trainers who are set up along the river just beyond the park’s environs – Juliet and Darryl are among the trainers who watch me run by everyday, their white boards with contact info and declaring their names. They have stopped offering their cards, but I watch their instruction with some interest daily. The gorgeous view of the river is great for this (and meditation and yoga which is also all around me) and I find the time near the water restorative. I am nicer and kinder in general on the days I run. I often think that if I worked for me I would make sure Pam was out there every day!

On my route there is one camp I always note, set up by a gentleman in a choice spot over the river in a little cul de sac above some sort of Con Ed semi-deserted building. Recently he has added house plants, an interesting framed print and most poignantly a Fischer Price type child’s toy of a house. I don’t see the resident often, although occasionally I see him communing with some sea gulls who seem to know him. He disappeared for awhile and it seemed that someone was packing up the area but he came back and it seems to have rolled back to where it was.

Pigeons congregate in this spot early every morning. They barely move for me and only dogs will make them rise en masse.

Among the permanent residents, Collage Woman is either sleeping or working on gluing things from catalogues into her books. Writing Guy, if he is there, has nodded out on his bench and over his notebook. Then there is a steady stream of people, virtually all men, who I suspect have only recently joined the ranks of the homeless. Often they are using a roller suitcase for their possessions, although sometimes a back pack with frame and a sleep mat. One day I ran behind one very large man using a table leg and a Fresh Direct bag as a bindle. This group fared poorly during the harsh storms and hurricanes that battered us a month or so back (our tales of flooding and leaking can be found here and here), but I worry about all of them as the colder weather approaches. This group seems especially and terrifyingly ill-prepared for it.

The East River Esplanade, running along the river and along with Carl Schurz Park, waking slowly into being our Yorkville town square these days as I wrap an early run at the north end. The morning traffic along the FDR drive runs less scenically along one side of me. As I head up back from 91st Street I look at it and always have a moment being grateful that I am not commuting in one of those cars today.

Beloved and dependable Bagel Bob’s.

I loop back through the park and stretch some more. At this hour we runners and early bird walkers are slowly outnumbered by commuters are lining up for an early ferry, the dog walkers who have multiplied, school kids making their way to their destinations, as well as people heading to work on bikes, motorized scooters and of course walking – this group replacing those of us in work out wear with office attire. In my mind I run through an unconscious rule of thumb which is: vehicles should give way to runners, runners give way to walkers and we all find our way around those who, for various reasons but usually involve dogs, are standing still in the path. Not everyone follows this rule and we try not to be run down by the various newly motorized bikes and scooters, not to mention regular bicycles, sometimes in the hands of a nascent rider. I worry about those because they usually do not sport a helmet either.

The Mansion Diner in full Halloween regalia recently.

I smell the coffee and breakfast sandwiches of those who are parked on the benches, just enjoying the sunrise or communing with their phone. It wakes my empty stomach up with an inquiring growl and I remind tummy that reward in the form of coffee and breakfast awaits us too, but after the run. These days I split my breakfast acquisition between Bagel Bob and The Mansion Diner. Bagel Bob became my pandemic go-to in the neighborhood and a couple of eggs on a whole wheat wrap is my order there. I stand in a line of bagel buyers and folks on their way to work or school. Although it has re-opened its few tables it isn’t really a sit down sort of place. People at Bagel Bob’s are on the go.

Interior of The Mansion Diner.

The Mansion Diner, another neighborhood stronghold, is more of a sit down affair and now offers a broad range of seating both in and out. It is frequented by our local policemen taking a break on the job, but also folks who have the time to savor a proper breakfast, or maybe having take-out like me, or supplying the ongoing delivery business which seems to employ a small army of men. (Who orders breakfast delivery in the morning? I have long wondered about this. Doormen? Is it a version of breakfast in bed for the UES clan?) I wait for my single egg on an English muffin here, listening to a rather consistently fine loop of Frank Sinatra blasting inside (this invariably makes me think of college Sunday brunch) and out while checking my email, or occasionally heading back outside to finish my stretching on neighboring stairs, while my breakfast is being prepared.

Unlike Bagel Bob’s, The Mansion stays open to cater to a dinner crowd, even in these nebulous post-pandemic (can we say we are post I can’t help but wonder?) times. At one time it would have been mostly elderly people and some with young children, but now that we all eat earlier (six o’clock is the new eight o’clock here) and as it is very local it is a broader sampling of the neighborhood.

Ferry recently on an early morning commuter run to Queens.

I am starting to eye warmer socks online, also running caps as my baseball cap will seem insufficient soon. (Yes, the dreaded moths have eaten all my wool hats I ran in last season.) I am giving reflective garb a sideways look too – if for no other reason than when I run at my mom’s house in New Jersey where cars are a bigger issue. (Running there has been documented in a recent post here.) I am somewhat confused by the idea of putting screws in the soles of old sneakers for snow and ice traction. But my cotton baseball shirt will give way to a proper sweatshirt and it will take more willpower to get out the door in the morning. I know autumn will quickly turn to winter here, but I do plan to be out there even on those frosty and snowy mornings.

Working

Pam Pictorama Post: It is a chilly September morning as I sit down to write this. We have a window open as we continue to try to air out the apartment from a persistent mustiness that settled on it as we tried to deal with clothing and a smattering of other items that were in our basement locker during the hit and run of Hurricane Ida. Coffee, the remedy to all things waking up, is perking (yes, perking, I actually still use a percolating pot) on the stove. Yesterday had the same September chill and I was thinking about how those first few chilly days somehow manage still to surprise us each year.

The Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center, set up for the first dinner I held there in 2017.

Every year we think it seems early, but it isn’t really as it is mid-September after all. And while we know that we will still have some very hot days still slated, somehow the spell of summer is really broken. As a kid I remember feeling that somehow that first day of school should have some chill in the air – it seemed wrong to go back to the school routine when it was still hot and you wanted to wear shorts and sandals instead of school clothes and hard shoes.

Rosh Hashanah commenced the Jewish holidays this week and welcomed in a New Year. I have always thought that the Jewish calendar of holidays was spot on – this is the time of the year when I think of starting over (it’s that back-to-school thing again), Yom Kippur shortly after which makes you take a hard look at yourself, and Passover as part of the renewal process of spring.

A box made by Kim which sits on the desk in my office. I wrote about it in a post called Kim’s Elephant Box.

I have written a bit on and off about the potential return to the office – it is still pending and currently set for mid-October, Covid variants pending. (Among those posts are two here and here.) I have spent the summer with a mental punch list of things that I need to do in order to begin to officially return to the world. As a result I have seen a litany of doctors and gotten myself back on their roster of maintenance and taken their neglected battery of tests, ending with the dentist finally this past week. I have had a hair cut, although I think I am already due for another. My weight loss program is nearing its goal which commenced last November and took on the pandemic pounds first and then moved onto what I had needed to lose before it all started. I am hovering within five pounds of my lowest fighting weight, as I like to think of it. I started running last November as well and have largely stuck to it through thick and thin, pausing only for the worst snow over the winter and longer after breaking my fingers on Memorial Day. (The finger tale of woe can be found here and the story of my nascent running is here.) I am a person who finds comfort in developing a list of achievable goals and the ability to check them off as I go.

Felix sheet music from my collection decorates the walls of my office. Sheet music Pams-Pictorama.com collection.

My office is still virtually deserted when I make trips there these days. We’ve cleaned and cleared the decks of old paper and tossed out the plants that didn’t make it on a visit as a group earlier this summer. It is in a state of perpetual weekend in my mind. I tend to show up for what I need to do there – checking the mail and the like – and I leave. There is no music wafting through the halls or out of the offices of colleagues. When I look around and try to imagine us all back I am reminded that many folks won’t be back – a staff of 16 which has whittled down to possibly as few as five of us returning to the office in my group and a similar proportion across the organization. The loss of a dear colleague, Jazz giant historian Phil Schaap, to cancer this week will linger over the common spaces we shared and his office. (His obit can be found here.)

Dog walkers back on the job in Manhattan earlier this week.

As I cleaned my closets and purged moth eaten clothing (another of the tasks on my long list) I realized that we are all essentially two years older. I realize this should be self evident, but everything else aside I haven’t sat cheek to jowl with this folks every day for seventeen months and counting. I look at these clothes in wonder and think about whether I have any interest in wearing them again – they are a microcosm of another time. I don’t right now, but keep the ones that moths have not (yet) made visible inroads in and that look like they might fit and figure I will worry about that another day.

The world at large still has mixed feelings about in-person interaction, at least here in Manhattan. I have scheduled numerous visits with patrons I haven’t seen in person over the duration over the coming weeks. Some still only doing outside and others looking forward to live music inside. I have emailed and spoken with others who are not ready at all. Our jazz club, Dizzy’s, is full some nights and deserted on others following a rhythm none of us can quite decode. Showing my vaccination status everywhere I go will become law on Monday, but many restaurants and other public venues have already adopted it.

Katherine Rusell performing at Dizzy’s back in July of ’19. I will hear her again in a few weeks at Dizzy’s.

My work days are long again. I start very early before my run, work through the day and find myself drifting back to my desk after dinner. My intermittent insomnia has already put in an appearance, the mental calculator of millions of dollars to raise this year ticking away in my brain.

This morning I am reminded of when my sister Loren’s apartment was broken into while going to grad school in Chicago – after that she would frequently refer to things as being “before the heist” or “after the heist”. This would usually refer to something she no longer owned, but sometimes it would refer to other things like the acquisition of her large dog Ron – although I believe he was adopted after a subsequent spate of robberies in Berkley. I felt that way after 9/11 and then experienced a personal version after Loren died a few years later. World wide disruptions and personal ones, the great divides that change the path we thought we were on but were never really destined for. We will be talking about the before time and the post-pandemic one for a long time going forward.

Still, my back-to-school spirit remains intact and although I am still layering sweaters over sundresses (and have not committed to ever wearing anything but sneakers again), I am mentally starting to construct what this new world is going to look like for me and to some degree for my team at work. I remain ever interested in what the future will look like and what I will make of it now.

Let the Vacation Begin…

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today marks the official beginning of our summer vacation here at Deitch Studio, although Kim has the jump on me having started last week. I have become bad at vacationing I am afraid. Especially since taking my current position, somehow vacation has not really panned out for me.

Toy cafe, Shanghai

My first summer at this job I was very new and I went to Shanghai on business after only a few months in my job. (A post about that extraordinary trip can be found here.) It was fascinating, but I was learning so much about the organization and everything was so new that it was exhausting and as far from relaxing as I can imagine. The subsequent summer my father was sick and then died in August and I was largely preoccupied. Our pre-pandemic summer was spent preparing for the window replacement in our apartment and a September business trip to South Africa. (Posts about these events can be found here, here and here.)

Window installtion, fall of ’19 and immediately after a lengthy trip to South Africa.

Last summer we were in the cautious reawakening of New York City after being truly housebound and were just forming newly found pleasures in re-opened restaurants serving booze on the street and eating outside. My days which were routinely more than 12 hours, cut back a bit but the pace could not really stop. The organization needed money and my job was to keep that ball rolling forward.

Therefore, I can say I am hitting this few weeks pretty exhausted and with low-key expectations. I do not plan to travel further than to see mom on the Jersey shore, although I have some other interesting ideas about ferry exploration which I gather can now take us up to the Bronx, but also to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Day trips! There is a cartoon show hosted by Tommy Stathes in Brooklyn tomorrow night which, if not interrupted by hurricane, I would like to see. I had planned for us to take the ferry there too, but will likely employ the subway if stormy as predicted. (Details on that show for other locals can be found here.) Kim seems game for all my nascent schemes.

Where I run in the mornings, along the East River and FDR Drive.

In addition, I have pledged to do my best to purge the moths and moth eaten clothes (still largely from the winter of ’20) from the closets and will clear off my desk. I also have numerous sessions of physical therapy for my hand to be completed – hopefully getting it back into shape for the fall!

My other vacation goals are few. I have been reading the Red Cross Girls series by Marjorie Vandercook (a few of my myriad posts about her Camp Fire Girls and Ranch Girls books can be found here and here) and I think you all will be hearing more about those when I finish them. (I am currently in occupied Belgium, volume three.) I would like to get my running back on track now that I am back from a six or eight week lay off for the broken fingers on Memorial Day.

Don’t own this one – and hoping to continue reading them for free online!

Also due largely to the broken fingers, I haven’t been lifting weights in recent months. I would like to start to get that part of my workout back on track although the bad hand is still weak and I have to be careful with free weights. It would be nice if I could get close to my diet goal before going back to work, although vacation should be about good food too.

A few moments of sound from Dizzy’s Club, last Wednesday night at our soft opening.

I have an eye toward thinking about the fall, although our plans at work are uncertain like most people’s right now. We re-opened our jazz club, Dizzy’s, last week. It was a joyous return to live music indoors and wonderful to be back. Herlin Riley and his band could only be described as ebullient and exuberant – exactly what was needed. It was good to exercise the muscles of in-person interaction. Still, it was a night informed by Covid protocols and the reality of the new world never really left us.

Our return to full time in the office has just been deferred by a month, into October, in deference to the rising rate of the variant. Meanwhile, our concert season doesn’t begin until November so perhaps our timing will be good. It is hard for someone like me not to be able to plan, but I am trying to loosen my grip on the need to do so in this environment.

The joys of hand physical therapy will continue for the foreseeable future.

I am in the midst of hiring staff to shore up a team that has dwindled over the past 17 months, and also in the process leading up to asking for a very large contribution, all which must continue forward over the next few weeks so I doubt my vacation time this year will be pristine. Still, my OOO message is on my work account and at a minimum I see some strolls with ice cream along the waterfront, some late nights watching old westerns accumulated by Kim for this purpose, much cat petting and sleeping late in my immediate future.

Treading Gently

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It seems safe to say spring is finally on the rise here in NYC and this month marks six months in my experiment with running so I thought I might give a bit of an update today. February threw down some serious snow which brought me to a complete halt for awhile, however after several weeks in captivity I forced myself to head back out (with some trepidation) to see how much ground I had lost. Much to my amazement I pretty much picked back up where I left off.

For those of you who missed my earlier post (it can be found here) I started jogging because otherwise during our long pandemic period, I found myself not moving from my home desk (Deitch Studio is also a studio apartment and our single room leaves little room even for pacing), and watching as many hours melted rapidly into days. I don’t have much time and I wasn’t able to get much walking done in the hour or so I can devote to it so in a bid for efficiency I began running.

I came to exercise late in life, but pre-pandemic was a happy gym rat, cramming it into early mornings, evenings and weekends. (I have written generally about my workout and that post can be found here.) However, I have always been a reluctant runner. I dislike treadmills (I don’t really imagine that will have changed when I get back to them) and running was sort of a final frontier of exercise I had not embraced.

Dramatic signs that spring is unfurling earlier this week.

My mother ran and was in fact a high school track and field star whose records there were only broken decades later. (I believe it was the long jump she excelled at.) She ran for a brief period when I was a kid, but she had largely given it up as an adult. My sister, Loren, ran. Loren was a bundle of hyper energy that needed to be released daily in large dollops or she was impossible to live with. Therefore it wasn’t unusual for her to run and bike, swim or play tennis together in combinations daily. She ran cross country, was on the track team in high school and generally distinguished herself as she did in most things. (Loren’s college rugby career in is mentioned in a post here.)

It can only be said that I did not inherit my mother’s genes in this area and it must be my more sedentary father I take after. I frankly cannot imagine my father running – it isn’t an image I can conjure if I did indeed ever witnessed it. He was a tall man, 6’5″ and skinny in his youth, but he filled out as an adult, muscled from his work carrying camera equipment for his job daily. Still, other than a daily work out of reluctant stretches for a bad back, executed on the floor of the bedroom, there are no memories of dad and exercise.

Frankly, I run badly and I am relieved that it is very unlikely I will actually ever see myself run. I run slowly – there may be people who walk faster than I jog. My strides are short and plodding. I seem to be a different animal than many of the folks around me, boasting their shirts from the marathons they have run, bouncing, gliding and zooming along. Young, old, women and men of all ages generally make a better job of it. It is only thanks to my long time trainer, Harris Cowan (@livestrongernyc) that I have managed to ease my unwilling body into running.

Area I start my warm up in each time. Often there are others working out, walking dogs or on their phones. These trees have been late breaking into bloom.

However, doing something with determination even if badly, is a good foil for the narrowness of our current cooped up state I think. I remind myself to be grateful to my body for what does achieve, not critical for its failure to do it better. It’s been good to put myself up against something hard that is concrete and which can be chipped away at. Running makes me use another part of my brain and gives a rest to the thorny problems of work and what needs to be done, or what has risen to the top of my agenda for fretting. Releasing the problems for a time allows me to better work through them later I think.

Strangely and unexpectedly I have started listening to classical music, largely orchestral, while running. I run along the east side esplanade, along the water (my brother Edward reminded me in my prior post that our East River is actually an estuary) which tends to be glorious with the sun rising over it in the early mornings. I will never tire of the various moods of the water – choppy with current one day and still the next. It reminds me of the river which was always in our backyard growing up.

View of Roosevelt Island with water sparkling during a run earlier this week.

However, not to be too romantic about it, on the other side of me each day is the FDR drive and a noisy endless bevy of cars, fighting their way to their early morning destinations. Therefore, it is not the glorious sounds of nature I would enjoy if I wasn’t plugged into my phone. Audio books were always my go to when exercising and I have listened to some wonderful things. Yet I was finding increasingly that they weren’t right for running, distracting but not in a good way.

The park during a more wintery run.

I switched to a music mix I had used occasionally for workouts which ran I admit with some embarrassment heavily to Bruce Springsteen (can’t take the Jersey out of the girl I guess) which did the job but was a bit repetitive. However, one day it started with a curiosity about Beethoven’s 7th symphony and the feeling I had never really listened to it. I downloaded it and decided I would listen to it while running – which I did many times over several weeks. After that I wandered over to Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony which has long been a favorite, but I hadn’t heard in a long time. I welcomed spring with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. (Admittedly, I have pretty routine taste and I suppose if I want another challenge I could actually start learning about classical music.)

A fairly calm morning on the FDR.

I listened to a Beethoven violin concerto and realized that after years of it making me sad after my sister died, more than a decade later now I love listening to the violin. Staying with Beethoven I was listening to a piano concerto yesterday and realized I have rarely listened to much piano at all and what an amazing instrument – one-stop shopping for a full orchestra in a single instrument. The education of my ear which I had been receiving with live music via jazz on the job in recent years, has taken a turn with classical music.

The long incline at about 80th Street on a cold morning.

My experiment with running began with a combination of walking and running. Running as long as I could, followed by periods of walking which became shorter over time. I achieved a milestone the other day and did virtually the full run without a break. (There is a steep incline at a land bridge which I have yet to tackle at even a slow run.) I had dragged myself out that day which it turned out was a gentle spring morning not to be missed and was rewarded. For those who have followed my running via my IG stories, I am taking fewer photos now that I am walking less!

Little guy found a cache of nuts and was happily porking down the other morning while I stretched at the end of my workout the other day.

Frankly most mornings it is still sheer will that gets me into my sweats and out the door. (I wrote last time that I was doing the post simply to keep me from quitting the whole venture.) It is hard and drinking coffee at my desk or even lifting weights in the comfort of the apartment is more appealing. However, once I am out it is good for me and I am seeing spring unfold in the park where I start and end my jaunts. Earlier this week a hawk swooped right past me at eye level while I warmed up with a few moving stretches pre-run. (He was a big fella and I was glad not to be a small mammal or bird. Yikes!) Plants are beginning their persistent and riotous emergence and squirrels and birds are suddenly everywhere, feasting and frolicking. When I look back on this time I think it will be these mornings I remember best.

Running Slowly

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I am starting this post about six weeks into my jogging experiment. I have never run. Until my mid-forties I had never worked out in a gym either, but I became addicted to weight lifting and my time at the gym is one of the things I miss most in these pandemic times, although I lift at home now with an ever-growing pile of hand weights. (A previous post on my quarantine time work out, can be found here.) However, I have never enjoyed, only endured, cardio – stuffing a good audio book in my ears and taking my medicine, working my way up to 20-30 minutes of increasingly difficult cardio on an elliptical machine over time like medicine. It seems to me that although when left to its own devices, my breathing is just fine, but once I start to fuss with it – be it to meditate or exert – it becomes resentful and turns recalcitrant.

While I continued to lift weights and work out with my trainer (shout out to Harris Cowan @livestrongernyc) via Facetime and Zoom throughout the pandemic, the first quarantine foray of walking to my office in Columbus Circle from 86th Street and York Avenue made it very clear that I had lost both my wind and my strength – albeit a long walk, one I used to do it without thinking.

Walking has always been my strong suit and life in New York City usually provides for enough unscheduled walking in our daily lives that I have never had to think about it, but now long workdays in our studio apartment often resulted in my not leaving my desk (sometimes it has seemed my chair!) for 12 hour stints. No trips across Columbus Circle to the hall or even a few blocks down for a lunch hour errand or to pick up food. Evidently stretching and lifting (and the occasional trip up sixteen flights of stairs) quite simply were not cutting it. Regretfully and doubtfully, I began a program of walking, just as it started to turn cold of course.

An impressive congregation of pigeons seen on one of my first ventures. They are there each morning and own that portion of the esplanade.

I have nothing against walking, in fact I have always been fond of it and have also enjoyed hiking when it was available to me, but it wasn’t really raising my heart rate which was one of the primary goals and sufficient distance to make a difference was just taking too much time, my work out time being constricted by my work hours. It wasn’t long before I realized that there was no reasonable solution, but to pick up the pace and see if I could jog a bit.

However, another issue that has long prevented me from impact exercise is that I have a form of arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, that impacts both my large and my small joints. (Lady Gaga is the most famous person I know of who has this disease, diagnosed about the same age as I was, early 20’s. There was also The Singing Detective who was fictional and the doppelganger of his creator Dennis Potter who alarmingly actually died from it.)

Since my diagnosis, now decades ago, I have taken an increasingly large number of pills which generally keep things going mostly unimpeded, but I have always been a bit ginger and thoughtful about introducing new exercise. A Pilates class taken without supervision or hopping on a new machine at the gym without proper guidance has landed me in stew of inflamed and swollen joints for days. My hands will sometimes even rebel and swell against weights lifted improperly or gripped too enthusiastically. I sometimes wonder how it compares to the soreness of anyone trying something new, but of course as we are trapped in our own bodies it is hard to guess or know. I have been warned that running will speed the need for joints that want replacing or repair.

Nevertheless, I am nothing if not stubborn and one morning in late October I started the process of jogging. I had read up about it and done some HIIT (high intensity interval training) to know that I could start by alternating between running and walking. At first I ran about a block for another two or three walked. Surprisingly my wind picked up first, within the first weeks, and my body memory for that kicked in better than I would have expected. Unfortunately my legs, my hips, knees and feet (okay, everything below my waist) have balked mightily at the experiment.

Instagram followers already had a chuckle with me over my discovery of mismatched sneakers when I went to stretch the other day – early mornings! I have already been pestering those IG folks with my outdoor work out all along! A thank you to them for helping to keep me honest.

Simultaneously and for better or worse, I figured I might as well resume some of my former workout our one room is too intimate for and so I added into these sessions with bands around my legs, deep squats, and lunges – I hop up from park benches and step up onto deserted pallets along the river’s edge or stone steps at the entrance to the park, turning it into an hour or more for the full regime. Before you start to think this is really admirable let me assure you that getting myself away from my toasty warm morning desk routine dosed with copious coffee and instead out into the park in the cold has been a sheer test of will. I deeply suspect that I am writing this so I will be ashamed to stop once I have told you all about it.

I also have no doubt that (and assuming anyone cares, although I am pretty sure these days they don’t) I look like an absolute fool – an overweight middle aged woman, in brightly printed leggings (I’ve always had a weakness for bright workout clothes) showing every inch I need to lose before we resume our post-pandemic lives, and a top layer piled on for warm. However, that is of course the beauty of the now time rather than the before time – everyone in that park is there for their own kind of escape. People reading, smoking, on their phones, staring off into space – a few young couples canoodling, but not so often early in the morning. I often think there are probably all sorts of life’s dramas unfolding, secretly around me there each day.

Carl Schurz Park on New Year’s Day morning.

And of course, there are other people working out. There is a group that boxes and I must say that looks like great fun and is sort of tempting to try one day. (Yes, my aforementioned arthritic hands balk at the idea.) A variety of trainers have taken to the park, with its benches, fences and even some handy scaffolding along the waterfront to train individuals. Groups gather in the basketball court for a work out to blaring music. As I say, these days everyone is there to do their own thing and no one is giving me a second look – except dogs fascinated by my workout with the band (not sure why but they want to investigate) and the occasional trainer sizing me up to see if they can add me to their roster. Luckily for me I am not deeply troubled by embarrassing myself in public in this particular way anyway.

Like going to a gym, familiar faces and characters emerge to populate the ongoing drama of the park. In addition to the boxers and the trainers there is the elderly woman volunteer who picks up garbage each day and makes sure the storm drains are clear of garbage and leaves, the other nascent runners, an elderly woman in a down jacket who I always think is looking at me like I’m nuts. (Masks mean that normal cordial attempts to smile at someone is impossible so unless one wants to shout a hearty greeting – which I’ve started doing to the volunteer – we all largely pass without acknowledgment.)

As to the running, we should call it jogging really, it has been a slog. I reached a pinnacle of pain about two weeks ago and thought I would have to stop. However, I reduced the number of days I do the outdoor workout (now generally 3) rotating with the other days to do my indoor regime of lifting and apartment friendly exercise, or off to rest muscles. With the advice of my trainer (yay Harris!) I added more stretching on the front end (roller on the most offended leg muscles and joints before I leave the house), have pushed the non-running portion of my workout to the beginning to give myself a maximum warm up and have reduced some of that as well – step ups are on hold for awhile, and my post-workout stretching is more fulsome. It is not perfect, but it seems to be working well enough to keep me in the game.

I now jog with only short a few short periods of walking. I look on with frank envy at people of all ages and both sexes who appear to do this so much better than me, appearing effortless as they pass me by. However, I am determined to continue to just push that bit further each time – setting a new goal by at least mere yards beyond where I thought I could go. I tell myself that I should not criticize my body for what it is not doing well, but to be grateful for what it is able to accomplish. Patience and kindness works better and will be part of the ongoing lesson. No, I have not reached the fabled endorphin producing stage – I’ll let you know about that. Meanwhile, I have switched from listening to books to music that encourages swifter movement, as does the morning chill. I am always warm when I finish.

A jolly tug that could be out of a children’s book.

One unexpected pleasure has been seeing the East River in all its moods. As Pictorama readers know, I grew up on the Shrewsbury River in New Jersey and while the East River is technically visible from our apartment, I have been largely removed from the nuanced shifts in it. Now I am always surprised by the strength of the current and some days small, curled waves are even lapping at the bulkhead along the path. On stormy or very windy days it threatens to overtake the esplanade, gurgling up from storm drains below, which I know from experience it does, ultimately flooding the adjoining FDR drive. It brings my childhood watching of the water and the way it was a part of daily life back to me though. The river is home to a surprising amount of boat traffic, largely tugs, freighters and ferries this time of the year – some creating a ferocious wake in their path.

I try to remember, as I grumble and leave the toasty warm apartment, that I am generally happy to be outside once I get there and always feel better for having done the workout than not; that and a daily dollop of determination get me out the door more often than not. Busy workdays might mean only a part of the workout gets accomplished, but better some than none I remind myself and I try not to engage in work email or texts while on my breaks between sets.

I have recently adopted an oversized sweatshirt from my alma mater (Connecticut College – go Camels) the first I have ever owned. Seemed to me though that the college might as well get my money as anyone else and if I am to have some logo emblazoned on me, further adding to the ridiculousness of my appearance, why not at least one legitimately own. I commend the sweatshirt for being roomy and warm and exactly what was wanted, logo not withstanding.

Outside the Big Dog Run in Carl Schurz Park.

The sun rising over the park and the water, the various guises of the clouds and water, have an allure – even when they turn dark and threatening. I would say I am at least well on my way to walking to Columbus Circle unimpeded when the time comes. I can honestly say I do not know how far my ambition and grit will take me. I guess it is a New Year’s resolution come early and we’ll see if I can stick with it through the coldest, and then ultimately the hottest, days of the New Year ahead.

Early morning walk to the park in November, sun rising over the East River.

Miss Pat: the Prelude

Please note: I wrote this earlier this morning, before the news about the election being decided. Whatever your affiliation reader, I hope you will join me in a sense of relief that we as a country voted during a worldwide pandemic and that the system held, votes were counted and we have come out the other side. Let’s hear it for democracy!

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I suspect many of us have found or continue to seek ways of comforting our tired brains, bloated as those brains are these days, with bad news and uncertainty. Pictorama readers know that one of the paths to calm for me has been baking. (An expanding waistline has sent me to exploring soups and stews more recently – more to come on that.)

The act of making something from dispirit parts, the smell permeating the tiny apartment while cooking, and the lovely, nourishing end product are balms for a frazzled Pam. (Some of my baking posts can be found here and here.) I sometimes wonder what Kim makes of suddenly having a wife who not only now makes two out of three meals a day (I took over lunch recently and we are consuming simple but thoughtful ones), but is fully re-exploring her atrophied cooking muscle. Generations of cooking ancestors are having a field day with me. The days of heating up pre-made dishes are largely a memory here.

Meanwhile, although I have continued my work out via video with my long-standing trainer (shout out for Harris Cowan – love you!), with limited time and no access to a gym my cardio has sadly fallen away. I admit that I never liked it as much as lifting, but it was built into a routine and if nothing else my body misses it.

Early morning on York Avenue this week.

I attempted to cure this ill with walking up our 16 flights of stairs (part of Kim’s regime), but never found it really satisfactory. This week I have started an attempt to reclaim some early morning time from work (yes, I am one of those people whose work hours have more or less consumed all my waking ones) with walks along the East River. The opening of a long-closed gate which leads from Carl Schurz Park to a path down the East side has served as my destination thus far. The East River, sparkling with morning sun runs along one side and the speeding cars on the FDR are on the other. Now that I have told you all about it perhaps it will help me maintain my resolution as the weather turns foul.

Impressive pigeon gathering a few mornings ago in the park. I have a video that runs for a full minute, walking past these pigeons.

The other way I clear the thorny issues from my mind is my bedtime reading. My bedtime reading is separate from my audio book listening (what I listen to when I exercise or am stuck waiting in line somewhere which happens increasingly these days) which runs to contemporary novels and some historic fiction. Nothing you would be embarrassed to be seen reading in public, but nothing too trying to the frayed nerves. (I have a friend who made me laugh recently when she said she only reads historic non-fiction because she knows how it ends!)

Bedtime reading has been juvenile fiction from the early 20th century for quite awhile. It certainly predates my quarantine reading, (posts about Grace Harlowe and even Honey Bunch can be found here and here and date back to 2016), but I devoted the first few months of pandemic life largely to the pursuit of Judy Bolton, girl detective. I have already opined on my affection for Judy Bolton (those posts can be found here and here) and Kim has just taken them up so I am happily reliving them.

This series of 30 books has been hard to replace in my affection. Their plucky young heroine and her escapades were always good at setting me right before drifting off to sleep – mind relieved of fretting about work and world and instead thinking about the exploits of Blackberry her cat and others.

Our good friend Everett Rand, who along with his wife Goioa Palmiari, founded and edits the annual mag Mineshaft, was responsible for introducing me to Judy Bolton. It was to Everett that I turned to for my next fix. Among his recommendations were the Miss Pat series.

Written by Pemperton Ginther (nee Mary Pemperton Ginther, a name I am fascinated by so it is fortunate I am not naming so much as a kitten right now), this series of ten books was written between 1915 and 1920, a prodigious output. Ms. Ginther, more obscure than Margaret Sutton of Judy Bolton fame, does not currently enjoy so much as a Wikipedia entry, but I did find a bit of biographical data on a database devoted to Bucks County artists.

Ginther was born in 1869 and was a painter, illustrator and novelist. Evidently some of her stained glass designs still grace churches in Philadelphia and Suffolk, Virginia. She attended Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, (a woman’s college at the time and one I was very interested in attending until on one visit with my mother we found a junkie curled up in the hallway entrance to the dorm – mom vetoed it after that) and she was prolific.

A painting by Pemberton Ginther found on an auction website.

Tomorrow in Part 2 of this post, I will regale you with the joys of the Miss Pat series as I am at more or less the halfway point in the series. I know you are on the edge of your seat! For now, having just completed a Saturday morning call for work, I am going to pour myself another cup of coffee and make my way outside for that morning walk!

Working It Out

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Deitch Studio followers may already know that Kim is well-documented for his commitment to a daily work out routine. On the other hand, I think I have only touched lightly at best on my own devotion to a work out regime which I am reflecting on a bit today.

Let me start by stating that my interest in anything athletic was desultory at best growing up. If I swam, it was never laps; I might hit a tennis ball around with someone, but rarely really played a game; I would walk to get somewhere, but never was a runner. Like many little girls in the suburbs, I took ballet lessons when little, but while interested was not promising in this area and my parents deftly moved me on from it.

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Loren’s rugby trophies from Princeton.

 

Was it because I grew up in the shadow of my older sister who was captain of every team, winning a myriad of varsity letters? Loren did it all – swim team, tennis, and track in particular, but the only thing that precluded her from joining a team was another that took place at the same time. She was a restless bundle of energy and needed to blow off steam daily and it was a rare day when she didn’t have workouts of one kind or another morning and evening. (I wrote about her rugby adventures here.)

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis and I began a program of yoga, developed specifically for me, that was a daily constant in my life for many years. It did a fairly good job at keeping my joints functioning. (My workout was designed by a brilliant man named Allen Bateman who appears to have disappeared entirely off the face of the earth, Google cannot find him.) I turned Kim onto it and he incorporated some of it into his workout, some things that he continues with today. There came a time however when some of the practice was getting a little risky with the advance of the arthritis and gradually I fell away from it. A few years later a sore shoulder which blew up into a frozen shoulder lead me ultimately to Pilates. I loved Pilates and it always makes me feel good about myself and my body.

However, at some point I wanted more exercise than I could afford via Pilates and the instructor of that studio sent me to Harris Cowan, personal trainer (@livestrongernyc), who I have seen pretty much every single week of my life (a few work trips notwithstanding) for the past 9 years. I have followed him to a myriad of private gym spaces – some nice, some just not – over the years. In many ways, I would have considered myself the least likely person to enlist the help of a personal trainer, but the arthritis meant certain concerns if not actual limitations, and as I had never walked into a gym in my life I wouldn’t have known what the heck to do. I joined what passed for an inexpensive gym in Manhattan and set a commitment to myself of a minimum of three days a week in addition to seeing Harris on a fourth.

Harris probably deserves his own future post as a regular and important feature in my life, but for now I will just say that he has always been superb at pushing me just beyond comfort. I am rarely actually sore the next day, yet progress is achieved. He is sensitive to the issues my body has, but generally has a can do no nonsense approach. When setbacks (such as foot surgery) occur he has helped me reset and again we build and move forward. He slowly restored first one shoulder, and then eventually the other, to full usability.

No one could be more surprised than me that it turns out I love lifting weights. Left to my own devices it is all I would ever do in a gym, eschewing cardio (back in the pre-quarantine days when I actually did some), and tedious but necessary things like squats. Actually, I adore the gym. I relax immediately upon walking into a gym. I find that if you are going to hold weights over your head you had better focus your mind on that and nothing else which means it is a method to clear my mind of the constant demanding chatter of work and life.

When I traveled for work it was always the most centering thing I can do. No matter where I am in the country or the world, if I can drag myself out of bed early and to the gym I am the better for it. The first thing I check about every hotel in advance and when I check in is the gym.

I happily stuff earphones with a bit of contemporary fiction via Audible playing in my ears and I am in a blissfully focused, quiet place for 60 to 90 minutes. Exercise does as much (if not more) for my mental state as for my physical one. (Strangely, passages of those novels replayed, bring me right back to where I heard them first, either my own gym here on the east side of Manhattan, or a hotel in San Francisco where I traveled down the block to use a gym for a workout, back when I was still at the Met.) I have a mental image of hotel gyms across the world (they are lousy in most of Europe) and the country – some that were quite nice and others a bit less so. Some crowded, many (most) fairly empty.

My first gym was a small local chain of a few gyms. I went from feeling like an alien there to slowly becoming a fixture there, among a small devoted clutch of folks who were there upwards of four days every week. In the first years of working out I often found myself there six days a week. Because I often only found time to work out before going to the office, I kept a locker at the gym and would shower and get ready for work there. I considered a locker essential as not only did it mean that I could carry less on those mornings, but it also meant I could leave clothes and sneakers there, enabling me to stop by for a workout I had not planned. When the gym eventually did away with lockers as part of a renovation, I somewhat regretfully moved a few blocks up to the more upscale Equinox.

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In Manhattan Equinox is somewhat in the upper echelon of gym chains. While I had enjoyed the decidedly low rent aspect of my first gym, I ultimately felt that for someone who spent as much time at the gym as I did I probably could pay more and I sunk happily into the relative luxury of it, although I admittedly missed some of the regulars at my old establishment.

Not that I ever much spoke to them. In my mind I had names for them such as Man Who Reads the Paper on the Bike, but Never Pedals or Woman With Red Hair Who Runs. I never felt the need to really talk to people, although after a few years some of us might nod at each other. One day I ran into one of these folks on the crosstown bus and we actually had a conversation. We commented on how strange it was to see each other fully clothed, ours was a locker room acquaintance and I’m sure the other passengers thought we were very odd. One of them (Thin Man Who Lifts While Biking) turned up at Equinox and we had a happy nod hello to acknowledge the reacquaintance.

Starting three years ago my job at Jazz at Lincoln Center took a ferocious bite out of my time and it has been harder to make it to the gym on weekdays in the past few years. My six and seven day habit became more of a three and four day one with work being a starting very early and ending very late sort of thing. I was still very relieved to get there and let everything else fall away.

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My view of Cookie from the floor while working out the other day.

 

So, of course, living our quarantine lives has meant no gym and I miss it very much. (So much that I dreamed about working out on machines last night – probably the inspiration for this post.) Even the gym in our building (which I also belong to in order to grab more workouts on the fly, yes, I belong to two gyms) is closed by order of state law, unable to open until some future post-phase 4 re-opening. (I occasionally fantasize about breaking into the one in the basement and making off with a few weights and the Bosu ball.) Gyms in New York are in a suspended state in much the same state as our concert hall, awaiting such a time as it is safe for us to return.

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Cookie looking a bit critical during a recent workout, perched on Kim’s work chair.

 

On the other hand, exercise continues at Deitch Studio as a daily ritual. Like so many people these days my new work wardrobe consists primarily of workout clothes – mine starting to get a bit ragged from the constant rotation. Kim and I vie early each morning for time on our 10’x 4′ (or so) space on yoga mats, our designated work out area in front of the flat files and blocking the entrance to the bedroom.

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Yep, gym equipment piled up next to DVD stacks and some of Kim’s comics reading.

 

I have slowly accumulated a variety of weights (luckily I had some from a former period of at home rehab which was a good thing because there was a shortage of them and price gauging online if you could get them at all), a ball, some bands, a foam roller. Cookie in particular is interested in this daily ritual (she is wildly fond of a paint pole we use for shoulder exercises and also comes running if I am using the green band). Blackie, ham that he is, only shows up to say hello to Harris during my Facetime workout however. (Blackie has discovered his inner actor and extrovert tendencies as a video call cat star during these work at home days.)

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Yummy corn muffins in progress last weekend.

 

Harris appears on my iPad weekly, where he watches some random portion of me visible to him, and I work out to his instruction. Not ideal, but it works. And despite missing the gym and a broad variety of equipment there, the good news is that I am back up to five or more workouts a week, biceps gaining ground and abs attempting to keep up with my renewed interest in cooking. (See prior posts herehere and here.) As mentioned above, cardio is a bit of disaster despite the occasional trip up the 16 flights of stairs here; I find myself huffing and puffing when I attempt to walk more than a mile. I am slowly adding in daily walks to offset this until such time that more walking and even elliptical machines are a part of my life again.

However, I often joke that I will emerge from the bunker days with a prison pallor, oddly buff, but a bit puffy and overweight – perhaps sporting a Deitch designed cat tats on each bicep. Perhaps I will work some of that good cooking weight off biking to work in the coming new post-Covid world. I will let you know.