What Made Me Happy in 2020

We are waving goodbye to this year, and a lot of people are saying good riddance. But I’ve been thinking to myself, how can I write off an entire year of my life? Even optimistically, it’s at least 1% of my existence. So lately I’ve been reflecting on all the great parts of 2020. These are some things I have been grateful for in this most unusual of years:

  • My dear little pet gerbil lived over 3/4ths of this year, so I can never say 2020 was bad. He passed away in October, and in 2021 I’ll be without him the entire year. So since I had the joy of being with him in 2020, I can never say 2020 was bad.
  • I made more new friends this year than in the prior 5, oddly enough. I think people are reaching out for human contact, but also trying to be safe. My relationships with my existing friends also became deeper as distractions were removed and all of us needed more of each other’s support.
  • I discovered yoga, which helped me heal from a tendon injury that made it hard to walk. I now have a great new hobby I plan to vigorously pursue in the New Year. It also provides me a community of great people to talk to.
  • I got into camping, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy but came to love. As our usual activities shut down, my friends and I went to the one thing that was open: the woods. We deepened our friendships by facing challenges together and found peace amongst nature.
  • I will truly appreciate getting to see family and non-local friends again. Normally, I would’ve seen them from time to time as a matter of course, but being deprived of that this year means I’ll relish their company all the more in 2021.
  • I’ll also really enjoy being in a crowd of friends, being able to act in TV shows and movies, volunteering at the animal shelter and other activities I can’t do now.
  • I gained real understanding that the world can change absolutely unpredictably in an instant. I had only ever seen gradual change before in my life. That will give me greater insight into the world and help me prepare for other challenges.
  • Even though unexpected changes can happen, I realized certain solid habits like exercise, a decent diet, and saving money set you up well for any eventuality.
  • I gained greater confidence in myself. I assimilated new information quickly about testing, masks, etc. and successfully kept myself and my family safe. I feel like if I can get through this, I can get through most anything, and I think the same is true of society at large.
  • This blog! I was searching for a lockdown-proof hobby and rediscovered my interest in writing. We’ve had views from countries as far away as Belgium, India, Dubai and Nigeria. What a joy to be able to connect with people from all over the world!

What did you enjoy in 2020, despite all the difficulties this year has presented? Let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!

“New Year’s Eve 2020 at Numbers” byenigmaarts is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where I Was Last New Year’s

We have made it through a challenging year. And now I’m starting to reflect. Lately, I find myself thinking back to where I was last New Year’s, and where I’ll be next one.

As this year began, I was walking up the steps of a beautiful shrine in Tokyo, Japan in perfect blue sunlight. Just ahead of me were my wife and my sister-in-law, with her newborn in her arms. We made the traditional New Year’s Day visit to the shrine, where they asked for blessings for the coming year. Me, I mostly just looked around in wonder at the beautiful shrine and the clear blue above.

Today, my wife is in Japan again with her family, my family. I cannot be there by law. They won’t be doing the shrine visit this year because of the crowds. But they still plan to eat sushi at the same place we went to last year. 🙂

My little nephew is walking now. He actually remembered my wife! I wonder if he’ll remember me. Even if he doesn’t, we can start making new memories together.

At the beginning of 2020, I could never have predicted how this year would unfold. But here we are. We survived and we have new hope heading into 2021. We have not recovered everything we’ve lost…I cannot be in my second home with my wife’s family, nor can I go see my mother or grandmother. But the difficult days are, at last, numbered.

Where will I, where will we, be next new year’s? I don’t know. But I think we will have beaten this. And we will be feeling great joy at being together once again!

Until then, don’t give up the fight.

What It’s Like to Get the Moderna COVID Vaccine

About ninety minutes ago, my dear friend Laura* received the Moderna COVID vaccine. She’s the first person I know to receive the Moderna one, and she reports that she hasn’t felt a thing so far. No pain or side effects of any kind.

Laura works in a medical facility and got severely ill with COVID this spring. I’m very happy for her that she is now protected as she goes about her work of protecting others.

She sent me a picture she took right after, and she looked more happy and relaxed than she has in a long time. They even get a cute sticker to show they got the vaccine!

We hear a lot about COVID vaccines and their side effects, but now I know two people who have actually received one (another friend just got the Pfizer vaccine). Hearing directly from a trusted friend rather than a news report gives me enormous confidence and peace of mind.

Talk about hope for our new year!

*Not her real name

“medical syringes” by begemot_dn is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The New COVID Strain Is Now in the United States

The first US case of the new strain from the UK was just reported a few minutes ago by the Wall Street Journal. The case was discovered in Colorado. If we have one identified case, how many unidentified ones are already here?

The increased transmissibility of the new strain, along with strained hospitals in many parts of the country, could lead to serious lockdowns soon.

The Art Piece I’m Loving Lately

I came across this beautiful art piece recently. It’s a mixed media piece made of acrylic paint, paper, and safety pins. It is in the silhouette of a girl seen through a fence. It appears to be meant to evoke the many people coming to the southern border for asylum in recent years.

I spoke with the artist, Amy Putman, and she said she got the idea from an article in the New York Times about people using safety pins on their clothing as a statement about people being linked, whether they be fortunate or disadvantaged.

Ms. Putman plans to make a series of prints from this image. I hope to get my hands on one when they’re ready!

What interesting pieces of art have you seen this year? Leave it in the comments!

How I Took An Awesome Yoga Class for $1.75

One of the new hobbies I’ve picked up in 2020 is doing yoga. I became a believer when it helped me recover from a painful tendon injury, and I’ve been turning myself into a pretzel (or trying to) ever since.

Yoga classes can be expensive, but I’ve found a way to take great classes in person for as little as $1.75, which is what I paid last night. Perhaps as a way to coax people back into gyms, ClassPass has yoga, spinning, and numerous other classes for incredibly low rates. And you can do it all a la carte with no monthly membership fee.

You can do a 0 credit a month plan for free and then buy credits any time to take a class. That’s what I do.

I’ve taken almost a dozen classes since November and I’ve never paid more than $6. I go to a local studio with great teachers, and I feel very energized and relaxed afterward. I work out, socialize a bit, come home and eat dinner, then sleep like the dead due to the evening’s exertion.

An a la carte model is perfect right now because the COVID situation can change rapidly and impact people’s willingness to go to a gym. With this plan, you only pay when you actually go.

I don’t know of any cheaper way to do yoga, and the app is easy to use, so I strongly recommend this to anyone who is interested in yoga or other fitness classes.

I can’t tell you how nice it is to be around this community of people who enjoy yoga and live nearby. It makes me feel normal and feel happy, and that’s valuable nowadays. See you at spinning tonight!

Try CkassPass for free for 14 days using this link. (If you do, I will also receive some free credits. )

“Yoga in King George Square Brisbane-06=” by Sheba Also 18 Million Views is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

My Friend Just Got the COVID Vaccine

My friend Lidia* got the Pfizer COVID vaccine on Saturday. She is the first person I know to receive it, and her experience was great overall. She said her arm was extremely sore, and she felt feverish for about 30 minutes the day after, but other than that she’s okay.

Lidia is 35 and works at a hospital, where she treats COVID patients. She has been on the front lines all year and, with the combination of a face shield and surgical mask, never contracted the virus. I remember being very worried about her this spring, especially when I heard about nurses wearing trash bags rather than gowns. But her facility had what it needed and she came through okay.

I am very happy for her. Maybe she can worry less now. And we, her friends and family, can breathe more easily too.

The side effects are real, but compared to a case of COVID, it sounds like a good bargain. My friend Jim*, who is the same age, had COVID last month and had headaches and body aches for two full weeks.

I can’t wait for my turn to get this wonderful drug! If anyone out there works at Pfizer, you got a steak on me. 🙂

*Not their real names

“Syringe 1 With Drops” by ZaldyImg is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Christmas Is Like in New York City Now

On Tuesday, I walked through Central Park and down Fifth Avenue, past Saks (great free bathrooms!) and into Rockefeller Center. I saw the tree, decorated with lights and perhaps more beautiful than ever before. I saw something else too: people loving the tree and each other, and being resilient in the face of the biggest challenge we have faced in our lives.

Everyone walking up to the tree wore their masks, joined arms to take a picture, briefly pulled them down and put them right back up. No one had to tell them. And they looked as joyful as any other year. Maybe a little more so.

Some say New York City is dead, empty, a wasteland. Have they been there lately? I see problems, but I also see enormous perseverance and hope.

Our snow is fading in the warmth, and 2020 is fading as well. We will face 2021 with renewed dedication to overcoming our challenges and improving our home. And our home is the New York area, the United States, and this planet.

With confidence in our armed forces with the unbounding determination of our people we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God.

Franklin Roosevelt, 1941

We got through that crisis and we are well on our way to beating this one too. We will celebrate the holidays with a renewed appreciation for life, family, friends, and the chance to be together. That’s my plan, anyhow.

Merry Christmas everyone!

I Found a Secret Gym!

One of the benefits of not travelling in 2020 has been discovering what’s right around me. I’ve made more new friends this year than in the prior 5 years combined. I find myself actually (perish the thought!) saying hello to neighbors! We’re even exchanging baked goods like something out of the 1950’s. And it’s totally awesome.

Besides new friends, I just discovered something else: the building I’ve been living in for 2.5 years has a gym! I peeked through a hole in the laundry room wall, where plumbers were working on a pipe. As I got closer, I could hardly believe what I saw. A secret room filled with…exercise equipment?

I passed through a door marked Meter Room, past our electric meters, and went through a second door…this one unmarked. Inside was a gym straight out of the 1970’s. Rusty iron weights, exercise bikes without a single transistor, and bodybuilding posters from decades ago.

Our superintendent created this gym entirely on his own. It’s not the Equinox, but the equipment is surprisingly varied and of high quality. He made it for himself and shared it with whoever might wish to use it. After his recent retirement and return to his home country of Colombia, he left all this here for us.

Working out in this secluded space alongside exposed pipes makes me feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger at Gold’s Gym in the 1970’s. Until I look into one of the mirrors, at least. 🙂

I wanted to tell you about this to emphasize the wonderful things we gain from being at home more this year. We are not just missing out on travel, concerts, etc. We get something too…a new familiarity with and appreciation for the world right outside our own doors.

It also shows me the great effect one person can have on others, even others they’ve never met, with just a little care and individual initiative. People our superintendent will never see will be healthier because of what he did. What a great example for the rest of us!

How are you guys staying healthy this year? What have you discovered nearby? Let me know in the comments!