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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Growing Older, Growing Bolder

I recently ran across a Facebook post by a woman with whom I used to work.

It included a link to an article in a magazine called Growing Bolder. I've read only the one article, but the magazine is about people discovering -- and living -- their passions in life. The article I read was about a group of women who get together for a variety of outdoor adventures, some taking them out of their comfort zone. Sometimes this group of women went hiking someplace new. Sometimes they went kayaking or engaged in other outdoor activities.

This is a very appealing idea to me. Sadly, I don't have women in my life who are interested in such activities. But I really like the idea of not just growing older (something I can't do anything about), but also of growing bolder (something I can do something about).

I'm not really a bold person. Doing new things can make me uncomfortable. But sometimes I like to push myself and once in a while step a toe or two out of my comfort zone. This is why, years ago, I signed up to run the San Francisco Marathon (all 26.2 hilly miles of it). This is why I signed up to do a three-day, 60-mile walk (from San Jose to San Francisco) to raise money for breast cancer research. I went to Ireland on a bicycle tour despite having not ridden a bicycle for many years. (I did get a bicycle and I trained before the trip). I volunteered to represent the federal government agency for which I worked for 3-1/2 months in Moscow. Then I settled into a comfortable, not very challenging life.

But in the past few years I went snowshoeing for the first time (I had a blast). I rode a camel twice, in Jordan and in Morocco. I hiked in Ethiopia at more than 12,000 feet, even spending a short amount of time at 14,000 foot elevation. I walked 50+ miles of Spain's Camino de Santiago (the Way of St. James), a pilgrimage route through Spain and France since the Dark Ages. 

I have, since retirement, rediscovered my passion for photography. I also have discovered a passion for travel, especially international travel. Despite rarely traveling with someone I know, I have decided that it's much more important to travel with strangers than not to travel at all.

These things are not exceptionally bold, but they're not bad for a single woman in her 70s. I traveled alone on each of these trips, but I met up with other travelers taking the same trip. My excursions would have been much bolder had I traveled on my own, arranging hotels, transportation, etc., on my own. But I'm not that bold.

One trip that I do want to take before I get too old is to ride the Trans Siberian Railway across the massive breadth of Russia. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time. I do speak Russian, not fluently but passably, so that would be a big help.

Being bold means different things to different people. I am happy with where I am now. I have a full schedule already booked for 2020 (or I did until the coronavirus pandemic hit), as well as a couple of trips scheduled beyond that. I will continue to travel for as long as I am able. I will continue to enjoy photographing beautiful places and wonderful wildlife, and use the proceeds from sales of photographs and calendars to support charity.

So maybe what I'm doing isn't really bold. That doesn't really matter. What does matter is that I am living my best life, enjoying myself, pursuing my passions and contributing to make the world a better place.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020


I don't scare easily.

I have sat in an open safari vehicle as male lions walked quietly by just a few feet away. I have been in a similar vehicle as a large bull elephant charged my friends and me. I have peered through bushes at a rhinoceros and at an elephant during a walking safari. I have photographed mother grizzly bears with two one-year-old cubs just yards away in Alaska. 

I was, of course, aware that any of these animals could easily kill me. I followed instructions from our guides or group leader. I was attentive to the actions and moods of the animals at all times. But I wasn't scared. Rather, I was amazed and thrilled to be in the presence of these amazing animals. I trusted my guides to keep me safe.

But do you know what does scare me? A tiny virus, far too small to be seen without a very powerful microscope. What scares me is the coronavirus. And what scares me just as much is the ignorance, greed and self-centeredness of far too many Americans. And let us not forget the incompetence of the current administration that refused to prepare the country for the coming pandemic and in fact declared it to be a "hoax."

We in the US, and most of the world, are at war with this virus. This is a war for which, despite warnings that we would be attacked and face a viral pandemic, we did not prepare. This is a war that finds us without the equipment our front-line fighters, the doctors, nurses, paramedics and respiratory therapists, need not only to save patients' live, but their own. Fighting this war without sufficient medical equipment is akin to sending our military off to war without adequate weapons and ammunition.

So yes, I am scared. I am scared for myself as part of a high-risk group. And I am scared for everyone else, because this virus attacks people in every age group, from infant to senior citizen. I am scared for people exposed to the virus on a daily basis as they stock grocery store shelves, bag our groceries, and tend to the sick. And I am scared for workers who are unable to work because their employers have had to close up shop temporarily. 

I also am scared because this is a new virus, so the epidemiologists and virologists don't know what it will do or how long the pandemic may last. Perhaps the greatest source of fear is of the unknown. And having no control over this virus, being unable to get vaccinated against it (yet), only adds to the fear. I have no control over others' behavior, which too often leaves innocent people at greater risk of contrasting this disease.

I am scared because far too many people refuse to take this pandemic seriously, refusing to stay at home and to avoid large groups of people. I wonder every time I venture into a grocery store whether I will bring the virus home with me. I wonder whether I should change clothes every time I come home from grocery shopping (and I don't go shopping very often). Perhaps the greatest source of fear is of the unknown. I have made arrangements with friends to care for my dogs should I become hospitalized. Just in case, you know. One less thing to worry about.

So I control as much of my life as I can. I do what I can to stay safe. I avoid going to public places unless really necessary. I order as much as possible online. I wash my hands frequently. I disinfect frequently touched surfaces in the house. I try to keep occupied with chores, with reading and sometimes, with watching television. I make sure to have sufficient food and other supplies without hoarding. I stick to my routine, and I exercise every day. I have been looking for interesting things to photograph in my neighborhood. And I write.

In the end, that's all I can do. I can't make this fear go away, but I can minimize its impact on me.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Making It Easier To Handle

You know what would make this pandemic easier to handle?

Here are a few things:
  • Competent leadership of the federal response. 
  • Leaders who aren't petty and hand out federal (not personal) medical supplies to states that most need them, regardless of the political affiliations of the governors. 
  • Knowing that medical personnel have all the personal protective equipment they need to safely treat patients with Covid-19
  • Knowing that hospitals have enough ventilators -- a number determined by physicians, not politicians -- to treat hospitalized patients
  • Good weather to make it more conducive to spending time outside
  • People following recommendations from medical experts  
  • Politicians worrying more about people dying from Covid-19 and less about the stock market 
  • So-called religious leaders not continuing to hold services despite recommendations and government decrees to avoid large gatherings 
  • An end to hoarding 
  • Most of all, everybody doing their part to bring this pandemic to an end.
I, like millions of others, are staying at home except when it's absolutely necessary to be in public, such as to buy groceries. I, like millions of others, wash my hands frequently. I sanitize things inside my house that I touch a lot, such as door handles, the doors of the refrigerator and microwave, etc. 

Yet people still congregate in large groups. Certain churches still hold services attended by large numbers of people. And to no one's surprise, the virus spreads through these groups.

Medical personnel are getting sick and several have died due to lack of adequate protective equipment. The least we can do is stay home and stop the spread of this virus. The longer people ignore the recommendations of public health officials, the longer we all will have to deal with this pandemic.

This isn't fun for anybody. Not for businesses struggling to survive. Not for employees who aren't getting paid. Not for first responders and grocery store employees and truck drivers. Not for medical personnel who risk their lives, and the lives of their families, every day.

I know this is boring. There is no end in sight. But the least we can do is stay home, wash our hands, and help bring this pandemic to an end. Please. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

I Am Scared

I am scared.

I freely admit it. I am scared of the coronavirus. But I am more scared of the complete lack of leadership of the current administration, its sole focus on the economy and its obsession with getting reelected. The barely literate president now is talking about getting the economy moving again by having businesses reopen, despite the opinions of physicians, epidemiologists and public health officials that returning to business as usual will see a huge increase in cases of covid-19. This will completely overwhelm our ill-prepared and under-equipped health care system.

I am scared of this virus. I am in a high risk group because of my age, and I'm not ready to sacrifice my life just so a bunch of greedy Republicans are worried about their stock portfolios. The lieutenant governor of Texas, a Republican (of course), thinks older people should be willing to sacrifice their lives so their grandchildren can grow up in a booming economy. So much for the so-called pro-life crowd. I am disgusted. 

And Moscow Mitch and his fellow senators are upset because Democrats refuse to pass their version of legislation (written with no input from Democrats) to help people struggling due to companies shutting down. Moscow Mitch's idea of 'help' includes a $500 BILLION gift to corporations that he and the corrupt president will hand out in secret and with no oversight. The president refused to pledge that he wouldn't accept a handout for his struggling hotels. In the meantime, workers who were barely getting by before the pandemic would get crumbs.

I am staying at home except for an occasional quick trip to the grocery store and walks outside by myself or with my dogs. I have washed my hands so many times they are raw. I sanitize door handles and countertops. I steam mop my tile floors. I change hand towels frequently. I bought 6 pounds of mandarin oranges so I can get more vitamin C in my diet. So no, I am not willing to sacrifice my life so the rich can get even richer. 

I am scared. And although I don't easily get stressed, I am stressed. I have lost 3-4 pounds (which is OK as I need to drop a few pounds). I am eating less and exercising more. And I am really angry about the way this pandemic is being handled in the US. From the president and his team ignoring early warnings about the coming pandemic, to the shortage of ventilators and protective equipment for our medical personnel, to governors refusing to shut down beaches and large crowds despite the warnings (all because of the money), I am angry. Knowing that the response to the pandemic has largely been left to the governors (and many have really stepped up to the challenge) and that the federal government is doing little to help -- that makes the situation worse and even more stressful.

So yes, I am scared. But if for no other reason, I intend to live long enough to see this entire group of greedy, heartless, self-serving bastards voted out of office.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Finding Gratitude In A Time Of Fear

We in the United States, as in much of the world, are in a battle against a virus that already has altered our way of life, killed thousands of people worldwide and threatens our economy.

As restaurants, shops, bars, schools, libraries and pubs close, as people are told to approach others no more closely than 6 feet, as people panic and buy every roll of toilet paper they can find, and as I and others in the high risk group of senior citizens are told to self-isolate, I've been working to find things for which I am grateful.

  • I am grateful that one recent afternoon I got to enjoy a walk outside on a fairly warm, sunny day. I can do this without endangering my health because of the area in which I live. Exercise and being outdoors are two things critical to both my mental and physical health. 
  • I am grateful for the beauty of nature.
  • I am grateful that I have a well-stocked pantry and a full freezer. I have picked up extras of a few items, and I bought an extra bag of food for my dogs, but I had no need to start hoarding things. 
  • I am grateful that I remain healthy, with the only ongoing medical condition I have an issue with one eye. 
  • I am grateful for the medical teams that are working tirelessly to assess and treat those afflicted with this virus. 
  • I am grateful for the scientists feverishly working to find a vaccine to prevent future coronavirus pandemics. 
  • I am grateful that I am mobile and able to go out for a walk, to walk my dogs each morning and to drive when I need to go out for groceries.
  • I am grateful for friends and family who help keep isolation from becoming overwhelming through phone calls, e-mail messages and encounters outside at a safe distance.  
  • I am grateful that I can check on friends overseas via e-mail and Facebook, who are facing the same threats as are we in America.  
  • I am grateful for the truck drivers who deliver goods, food and supplies to grocery stores, hospitals and restaurants. 
  • I am grateful for grocery store workers who show up for work each day despite their exposure to many people who may have the virus, and to people who complain about the lack of goods in the stores. 
  • I am grateful to those who continue to prepare and distribute breakfast and lunch for students who can no longer get meals at schools (all of which are closed until further notice). 
  • I am grateful to live in a beautiful, spacious house with a large yard where my dogs and I can spend outdoor time. 
  • I am grateful for police officers, correctional officers and firefighters for whom 'social distancing' is not an option.
  • I am grateful for local restaurant owners who are using their supplies and their kitchens to feed first responders and those in need.
  • I am grateful for local bakeries that have increased production of bread, which is difficult to find in grocery stores.
  • I am grateful for today's sunshine, which, despite the wind and cold temperatures, makes this situation a bit easier to handle.
  • I am grateful that I can look out the window of my office and see mountains and the beautiful pink blossoms of one of my peach trees.
This pandemic has so many of us feeling sad, maybe even hopeless, and frightened. We don't trust that our government is prepared to help us weather this storm (it clearly isn't). We are not getting words of reassurance and hope from the president. Social isolation and job loss are taking a toll on many people. Small businesses are struggling to survive, and many will not. We fear being one of the many who will get sick from this virus. We worry about our families and friends. No one has any idea how long the shut-downs, shortages and isolation will last.

There are so many things we cannot control: Hoarding by others. How others behave. The lies our federal government continues to spread. What products are available at grocery stores. When we will be able to buy essential products. Whether there will be enough test kits, ICU beds and protective gear for medical staff.

But there are things we can control: Our own behavior. Whether we follow rigorous adherence to hand washing and social distance recommendations. Stepping away from the news, whether online or over the air. Limiting time on social media. Finding safe activities outdoors. Exercise to relieve stress. Maintaining a healthy diet. Staying in safe contact with others. Doing fun things or things we enjoy at home. Maintaining a positive attitude. If you're so inclined, relying on your higher power. Finding ways to safely help others (such as picking up supplies for an elderly or house-bound neighbor).

For me, fighting social isolation includes daily walks by myself and with my dogs. Weather permitting, spending time in the yard, even if it means raking the end of last year's leaves, or pulling weeds. Lots of reading. Spring cleaning a little each day. And once I find the motivation, continuing to learn Lightroom to edit my digital photos. I've also been checking in on my older friends who live alone.

Life as we knew it won't be back to normal for a long time, perhaps several months or longer. This pandemic will challenge each of us. It will challenge our nation, our medical services and our humanity. 

Until this pandemic is over, and beyond, it is up to each of us to be the best humans we can be.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Keeping On Keeping On

I'm trying really hard not to freak out about the coronavirus pandemic.

I really am. I don't freak out easily. Staying at home isn't difficult for me, as I live alone and I am retired. I spend a lot of time at home during normal times. But despite knowing that both my pantry and my freezer are full of food, going to the grocery store yesterday during shopping hours reserved for those age 60 and up stressed me out. I needed some dish washing soap and a couple of other non-food items. I was in and out quickly. But the realization that if something isn't done to stop the hoarding and to ensure that truck drivers don't stop delivering items to stores and restaurants made me realize that we could actually face real food shortages, especially if this pandemic continues for a long time.

Seeing video and photographs of college students crowding beaches in Florida, totally unconcerned about the very real possibility of spreading the disease to others, left me feeling nauseous. And state officials are more interested the money to be made from spring break revelers than in closing the beaches to protect people. Don't forget that Florida has a huge population of elderly who are at greater risk of Covid-19 than the general population.

I am lucky in that I can still go outside for a walk. I can still walk my dogs. If I encounter a neighbor and stop to chat, we stay more than 6 feet apart. I wanted a pizza on Monday, so I ordered online from a local (non-chain) pizza place, paid for it online and picked it up at the drive-through window. I am constantly washing my hands, but then I realize that everything I touch may be contaminated. I use Lysol spray on door handles, on the refrigerator and microwave handles. I wipe down the kitchen counters with Lysol spray cleaner. But then I open the mailbox and pick up the mail. I unpack a box from Amazon and wonder how contaminated the box and the items are.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I am well-supplied with food. I can enjoy going outside on a nice day. I'm not homeless or low-income. I have a vehicle, I can drive and I am mobile. So all in all, I'm fortunate. If the weather improves, I plan to do some longer walks along the river, perhaps going to a national wildlife refuge for the day.

But let's be honest: this is scary. It's unlike anything we have ever lived through. And our government, especially on the federal level, is woefully unprepared for the coming tidal wave of sick people needing to be hospitalized. Medical personnel are running out of personal protective equipment such as gowns, gloves and masks. Some are being told to use a scarf or to reuse masks to protect themselves. There is a severe shortage of ventilators. There aren't enough beds in intensive care units. There aren't enough kits to test people for the virus. So in reality, we have no idea how many are infected by this virus.

I am not one to panic easily. But this situation is terrifying. An early morning trip to the grocery store yesterday (at 7 a.m., when the store opened for people age 60 and older) found empty shelves where there should have been bread, milk, butter, eggs and meat. Even the vanilla almond milk I drink was not available. And forget about paper goods. 

The situation is out of control. There is nothing I can do except to isolate myself, keep up with my normal exercise and eating routine, and try to stay calm. 

Oh, and keep washing my hands.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Stupid, Stupid People

You stupid, stupid people.

We are in the early stages of a pandemic in this country, people have died of this disease (217 in the US so far) and far too many people just don't get it. Thousands of college students are cramming Florida beaches, ignoring pleas to stay at least 6 feet from others. One ignorant student told a reporter "If I get coronavirus, oh well. Until then, I'm going to party." I guess this little shit doesn't care if he carries the virus to his parents, his grandparents, his aunts and uncles or other family members, or to other vulnerable people.

Americans continue to hoard toilet paper, water, bread and meat (?), while at the same time businesses are refusing to allow truck drivers to use their bathrooms or walk up to the take-out window. Truckers can't simply use the drive-through; their big trucks and trailers don't fit. So what happens when truckers get fed up and stop driving? Without regular deliveries of supplies, restaurants and coffee shops still open for drive-up service will close, as will grocery stores.

The bottom line is, DON'T BE STUPID! Don't hoard food, water and toilet paper. If you're a restaurant owner, think about what you will do when you run out of supplies for your business and no truckers are willing to bring more to you.

Stay home unless it's absolutely necessary to go somewhere. And to the state of Florida: CLOSE YOUR BEACHES AND SEND THE SPRING BREAK CROWD HOME! Their selfish insistence on being shoulder-to-shoulder on the beach and in parties is threatening thousands, if not millions, of people. You may be young and feel invincible. You're not. Even if you feel fine, you can spread the disease to others.

Those of us who are taking this pandemic seriously are staying home. If we must go out for groceries, we keep a safe distance from others. I know this is inconvenient. I know it can be boring. But you can go outside for a walk, a bike ride or a hike, but maintain at least 6 feet between you and everyone else. Catch up on reading or your hobbies. Start spring cleaning. Go through your closets and set aside items to donate once the pandemic passes.

We are all in this together, and working together is the only way we will get through it. I am in the high-risk group, and I'm not willing to end up on a ventilator or dead because some people think their spring break is more important than my life. This situation is stressful enough already. We don't need a bunch of self-centered partiers making things worse.