What I did on my Isolation Vacation

Getting my kitchen garden started - Photo: N. Bresler
Getting my kitchen garden started - Photo: N. Bresler

The lockdown is pretty much over in Israel. People are getting back to their routine, rejoining the outside world. But I’m staying inside for now. There are a few good reasons. First, I can work from home. I’ve been doing it since early March and I don’t see why that should change right now. With my age and compromised lungs, it seems wiser to stay inside. Resuming my outside life would mean using public transportation, since I am car-less. I used to love riding busses and trains, people watching, listening to my audiobooks, leafing through my New Yorkers, enjoying the ride. But getting onto a crowded bus or train does not appeal to me at the moment.

I am eager to get out again, but I’ll wait until I think it’s safe. I will happily meet friends and family and continue walking and doing my errands, trying to maintain distance. Hopefully, my weekends will once again be filled with cafés, long walks, picnics, and happy little gatherings. But during the week, I expect to stick to what I’m doing now, working online from the comfort of my apartment. I feel lucky I can do so.

Over the past two months I joined the WFH club, working from home, managing my own time, making my own schedule, taking regular breaks. I miss the outside world, of course. I miss the face to face contact with students. But I don’t expect to go back to my old routine any time soon. Up until March I took a bus or train every morning to a different city, teaching courses at client sites – usually one or two different sites per day, meeting with anywhere from 10 to 20 or 30 different people daily. Even if that were possible now, I wouldn’t do it. I’d be happy to see my students up close and personal again, but I’m not rushing into the fray. I will take my time.

So at this point, I choose isolation. And I choose to enjoy it. I’m calling this my Isolation Vacation. Okay, it’s not exactly a vacation. I’ve been working throughout the past two months, and plan to continue. I’m thankful that I can work online, thankful to be busy. But I’ve also been home, inside my apartment for 23 of the 24 hours a day, venturing out only early mornings for my daily walk. The reason I do well with my WFH routine is just that: routine. I set rules for myself and stick to them. I get up early, go for my walk, come home, and make my lunch and snacks for the day. Then I get dressed for work and ‘come to the office’, i.e., the living room. I’ve organized my space like a high-tech office, with different zones for different activities.

My home office – – – Photo: N. Bresler

I work online until the evening; then connect with family and friends on the phone or Zoom or Skype. I have wonderful, long meandering conversations with my Mom in Maine every evening (breakfast time in Portland). The rest of the time I’m on my own, inside my two-and-a-half-room haven. So Isolation, yes. But Vacation? Well, also yes… Staycation, if you must.

Setting my own teaching schedule means that I can determine when I work and when I stop. I teach online sessions that range from 30-minute mini-sessions to 2-hour course segments. I sit on my favorite straight-backed chair, look at the screen and focus on my students without the distractions of teaching in a glassed-in conference room at a client site, with people walking by and waving. I take breaks at least every 2 hours. At lunchtime I enjoy a fresh salad eaten out of a glass bowl with real cutlery – not the takeaway boxes I usually eat from at client sites. When it’s not too hot out, I eat on the roof – elegant outdoor dining. On my breaks I jog around the apartment, do my exercises or hula hoop for 5 minutes at a time. That might be why I haven’t gained weight during my Isolation Vacation. In fact I’ve lost a kilo or two, despite that one week back in April when I had lotsa matza every day.

I’ve been cooking up a storm most weekends, but mostly healthy dishes: salads, stir fry, roasted vegetables. I gave myself a challenge in early March I called “a salad a day”, inventing new combinations to create a different dish every day. I’ve come up with some colorful and tasty creations. And in addition to cooking, I’ve taken up a few new hobbies. Averaging around 6 teaching hours a day and increasing my sleep time from under 5 to a full 6 hours, still leaves 12 hours of the day of leisure time. And I make the most of it – writing, drawing, gardening and even learning to read and play music.

I’ve gotten back to drawing and doodling, decorating everything from face masks to some of the random objects I uncovered during my household excavations. (One of my first Isolation Vacation projects was ‘a drawer a day’ – cleaning out various drawers and shelves, with stuff accumulated over 40 years in this apartment.) I have a new art project waiting for me: My friend, Nurit, brought we wonderful watercolors, brushes, and exquisite art paper a couple years ago when I threatened to retire. Since I failed miserably at retirement, I put those art supplies aside. Now I’ve gotten them out and I’m eager to start using them. I’ve saved them for dessert when I finish the current project: starting a kitchen garden.

Last weekend in my first actual outside social event, my friend, Yael, joined me for a long morning walk. Yael is a culinary journalist, cook and gardener. She pointed out some of the herbs growing in my neighborhood: lemongrass, rosemary, scented geranium and even capers! We picked a few herbs and that gave me the urge to try to grow my own kitchen garden. City girl that I am, I’ve never been a gardener, but with time to spare and sunshine streaming through my kitchen window, I might as well give it a try. I started with the herbs we foraged on our walk, but only a couple stalks had roots enough for planting. So I made a trip to the garden shop for supplies.

My friends and family are my inspiration: Stephanie sends me inspiring photos of her amazing garden on Long Island; Doris has a wonderful herb garden on her little balcony in Hong Kong. Linda Jo posts beautiful pictures of her garden in Seattle. And my sister, Ellen, has managed to grow a gorgeous green jungle in the front room of her house in Vermont. If Ellen can make things grow in the frozen tundra of Vermont, I should be able to manage here in sunny Ramat Gan. The first item in my kitchen garden is the basil plant my friend, Tal, gave me for my birthday in February. It’s still alive, so that’s encouraging! Oh, and in my spare time, I’m learning to play the recorder, which means teaching myself to read music for the first time. So far, I’ve only got a few notes, but it’s a start. Now that I’ve mastered Au Clair de la Lune and Hot Cross Buns, the sky’s the limit. Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto in C Major, here I come!

So that’s what I’ve been doing so far during my Isolation Vacation.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a trainer and business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, she was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. In her spare time, she manages communications for the non-profit, NATAN International Humanitarian Aid. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives happily in Ramat Gan.
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