Shopping for the Apocalypse

A few days ago, I realized that if I was going to bake a cake for my husband’s birthday, I’d need a few ingredients. With that in mind, I decided to stop by my local Fred Meyer store after work. Social distancing and COVID-19 pandemic be damned.

What a nightmare.

The first red flag, the one that should have made me turn around and get out of there, was the fact that there were no shopping carts available. I had to stand in line in the lobby and get someone’s cart as they left the store. Not only was half the free world shopping ahead of a possible quarantine, but the store was severely understaffed. (And who could blame them? Would you want a cashier’s job right now, where you get to touch stuff that other people have touched all day long?)

And yet, I persisted.

When I finally got a cart, I noticed that there was no Purell available anymore to sanitize the cart handle. I was not the only one in that store that was pushing the cart with my shirt sleeves. A lot of people were wearing masks, too, and many were swerving as far away as they could from other patrons that they passed.

I had a hard time finding the products I required. As you can see from my photo below, whole aisles were empty. A lot of items were in unexpected places. I spent an hour finding what I needed, and as I fed off the tense atmosphere, I started grabbing things that I didn’t need, just in case. Because you never know.

All the paper products were gone. And hand sanitizer? Forget about it. The milk had been picked over, and the soup aisle was sparsely stocked. The only bread available was of the French variety. Oddly enough, there were plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables to be had. But you couldn’t buy a fruit rollup for love nor money. The section of the store where they sell clothing, auto parts and small kitchen appliances was completely deserted.

I saw two women arguing over the last bag of flour. It occurred to me that I’ve never been in a position where I couldn’t obtain whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, as long as I had the money. The thought of having the money and yet having to go without is new and scary. How fortunate I’ve been.

After spending an hour desperately searching for everything (whether I needed it or not), I felt like weeping. It was just so overwhelming. Our world has changed so quickly that it feels impossible to keep up. But my adventure had only just begun. Now it was time to see the cashier.

The lines were so long that they snaked down the aisles. And everyone was quiet. So quiet. I realized, suddenly, that the store did not have music playing as they usually do. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. It felt like a riot could break out at any minute, but how do you blame an invisible virus for turning your life upside down?

While standing in line, the thing I dreaded most happened. I had a coughing fit. I tried to suppress it by clearing my throat. I pulled my stomach in so far it felt like it was trying to pass my spine. My eyes were watering. And I had left my cough drops in the car. I coughed helplessly into my elbow. I suddenly felt unsafe.

Everyone around me looked at me nervously, and some tried to move away. I was afraid someone would call security or something, and I’d be dragged out of the store without my hard-won purchases. So finally, I broke the silence.

“I swear to God, y’all, this isn’t COVID. It’s allergies. I’m being treated by a doctor. There’s no lung involvement, and no fever. I swear to God.”

That confession seemed to break the tension. Everyone started talking at once. About their allergies. About their relief. About how crazy all of this is. One woman actually apologized to me for her visceral reaction to my cough. I told her that I didn’t blame her. I’d probably react the same way under the circumstances.

Finally, I was able to check out. Someone was waiting for my cart at the door. I have never been so happy to go home in all my life.

I told my husband about the crazy experience. I had dinner. I watched a little TV, and then I went to bed early.

Around midnight, the dogs started barking. My husband was coming in the front door, laden with grocery bags. He had been shopping at a store that stays open late. Because you just never know.

For the first time, I feel like I’m not writing for you, dear reader, but for future generations who will wonder what this pandemic was like. They’ll be able to read all the articles about disaster preparations, deaths, and political maneuvers, but there will be fewer things about what the experience was like for the average person. We are living history. So if you’re reading this decades from now, hello from across the years and miles, from Seattle, ground zero of the American outbreak. May heaven help us all.

shopping

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Sightseeing in Your Town

I am in the process of planning a trip to Italy with my husband. I’m very excited. I’m sure we’ll be seeing our fair share of cathedrals and museums and art galleries, and we’ll also be experiencing new culinary delights.

I am ever mindful of how lucky I am to be able to do this. Not everyone gets to travel. They may not have the time or the money, or they may have very valid responsibilities that prevent them from doing so.

As I plan to poke my head into every publicly accessible edifice that I possibly can, and wander through every park, it occurs to me that I haven’t done so in the Seattle area. Not by a long shot.

There’s a botanical garden that I drive past at least once a week that I keep meaning to visit but I never quite get around to it. I have no idea what the largest churches in town look like from the inside. There are great works of art hanging in local galleries that I have yet to gaze upon. And heaven knows there’s a whole host of restaurants that I’ve never patronized.

So here we are, spending a fortune to fly halfway around the world to experience the new and exciting, when there’s plenty of that stuff in our own back yard. And a lot of these things are experiences anyone can have if they make the effort. Often museums have free or discount days. Most parks are free or very affordable. You can wander into pretty much every church, (but I wouldn’t advise doing so if a service is already in progress).

I wonder why so many of us think the only sights worth seeing are those that are far away? Is it because we know the local things will always be within our reach, and we assume we’ll get to them someday? Do we place a higher premium on all things foreign? Or are we simply too invested in our Netflix stream to get up off the couch?

If you’re reading this, I challenge you to get up and go experience something near you that you’ve always been meaning to experience. Go on! You’ll be glad you did.

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A garden near me that I have yet to see.

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Your Eighth Decade

More and more of my friends are in their 80’s now. The older I get, the more that will happen. I see them as precious gifts.

I have no idea what life must be like in one’s 8th decade. I hope to find out myself one day. But as it stands, I have a great deal of admiration for all of these people.

Making it to 80 is no small accomplishment. It means you are overflowing with life experience. You are a survivor. You have seen and done things that most of us can only dream of. You have lived and loved and laughed and cried and fought and struggled. And here you are. Did you imagine you’d reach this mountain top? What a triumph!

You have watched the world unfold, and have been an active part in its unfolding. You have been there and you have done that. You know what it’s like to live at a time that was less comfortable and convenient. But because of that, you know that it’s possible to live without a cell phone and a microwave and 257 TV channels. Does our dependency on such foibles make you inwardly laugh?

You have most likely not been appreciated nearly as much as you deserve to be. People think they’ve heard all your stories, but they’ve barely scratched the surface. They probably aren’t asking the right questions. Shame on them.

When I see these friends, I know I’m gazing into untapped depths, and I wonder what I’m missing. People in their 80’s are diamonds walking amongst us, and should be cherished as such. The rest of us can only hope to travel that many times around the sun, and do it with such style!

Diamond

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The Ultimate Zero Sum Equation

It’s rather interesting, when you think about it, how much time we waste worrying about how much time we’re wasting. I mean, what a waste! That time would be much better spent being wasted in some other way.

Time marches on. Life is the ultimate zero sum equation. You can expend all the energy you want in trying to be efficient, trying not to waste time, working, planning, plotting, organizing, or watching cat videos on Youtube, but in the end, time is going to pass regardless. It can’t be stopped. We’re all going to get older and eventually die.

Am I suggesting that we should just give up and give in to those cat videos? On the contrary, I think the way we spend our time is important. If we focus on giving joy to others, and trying to make the world a better place, and doing the things that we love the most, then it will have been time well spent.

But stop beating yourself up over it all. Just be in the moment. Just live.

Because you can’t control time. You can’t “spend it” or “save it”. You can only experience it. So make it the best experience that you possibly can, and stop stressing out over it all.

time marches on

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Realtors — The Inside Scoop

People don’t give Realtors much thought unless they’re buying or selling a house. At least, I never did. And then I went and married one, so needless to say, I have some newfound insight on this particular career.

It’s a unique job that requires a unique skillset. 90% percent of the people who get their license do not renew it at the end of two years. And only 1% of Realtors make it to 25 years. My husband has been at it for16.5 years, so I’d say he’s at the upper end of the bell curve.

He also happens to love his job. That, of course, helps in any profession. But it’s a particular boon in this one, because it’s a challenging job to succeed at.

First of all, you only get paid if the sale is made. You might work with someone for months, and in the end walk away with nothing. Only half the people you work with result in a paycheck. A lot of the time it must feel like volunteer work. That would drive me insane.

Your paycheck isn’t steady. It’s either feast or famine, and that must make it difficult to pay your monthly bills. But my husband is quite good at long term planning and budgeting.

And then every time he does get a paycheck, he’s unemployed again. Much effort is expended in finding new clients. Fortunately he gets a lot of referrals from old clients, because they recognize how good he is at what he does.

He spends tons of time and money in continuing education, advertising, and marketing. So that big commission gets divided in a lot of ways. The profit margin is extremely slim, and it gets even more strained during an economic downturn.

He’s also never off the clock. He gets calls all hours of the day and night, seven days a week. If you want to do this job well, you have to strike while the iron is hot. And you never know when that will be.

People who go the “for sale by owner” route don’t realize how much they shortchange themselves. Realtors earn every penny they make. They increase your home’s exposure, they give advice in staging it so it looks desirable, and they are up to date on all the legal issues so you don’t make a horrible, expensive mistake. They are familiar with the market in the area so that you can be sure that your home is not priced too high or too low. They make sure all the t’s get crossed and all the i’s get dotted. They also have well known contacts in other parts of the industry so that you have a competent team on your side. When you try to go it alone, the real nightmare often comes when you forget to do something and it comes back to bite you after the sale is closed.

If you’re looking to buy a house, I cannot stress enough the importance of finding the right Realtor for you. The term Realtor is misunderstood by many. When people get their license from the Department of Licensing they are a real estate salesperson, aka Brokers. But only those that become members of the National Association of Realtors® are Realtors. Brokers don’t bother to correct people when they are mistakenly called a Realtor, but there is a higher standard and a Code of Ethics that Realtors adhere to. So don’t just pick some random person off the internet, or latch on to someone that you’ve only just met. Do your homework. Find someone who has worked in the field for several years, and knows your area well. Choose a someone who is a member of the NAR and who loves his or her job and will give you all the attention that you need.

The interesting thing about the job, the thing I would have never guessed, is that it’s really a helping profession. I think that’s what my husband loves best about it. You are helping people find a home that they can afford, and that they will love.

When he was helping me find my home, he spent a lot of time listening closely to what I was looking for. He quickly learned that it was important to me to have a big bathtub, a fireplace, and a dishwasher. On the other hand, I didn’t really care if I had a garage. But I did want off street parking (which is an important consideration in the Seattle area.) He figured out that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in one of those neighborhoods where all the houses looked alike. I would have stuck out like a sore thumb in a gated community. Because he took the time to learn all those things about me, he was able show me listings in my price range that fit the person that I am. That counts for so much. No two people get the same image in their heads when you say the word home. My husband really understands that. A good Realtor always will.

Another thing that a good Realtor will do is tell you to walk away from a house that he knows is not right for you. My husband did that several times, even though he knew that would delay his getting a commission. That’s when I knew he was a keeper, professionally speaking.

He also understands that the house buying and house selling process is stressful as all get out. There were two points in my process where I had a complete meltdown. I’m learning that that’s not uncommon. Sometimes my husband takes on the role of counselor or bartender. He listens. He advises. He reassures.

He also enjoys getting to meet new people. He shows them that he’s honest and really has their best interests at heart. For a long time, he couldn’t figure out why he felt a slight let down after a sale. Shouldn’t he be feeling triumphant? But then he realized that his clients quickly become his friends, and he was going to miss seeing them every day. Many of them are still friends years later.

I think the best part, for him, is getting to be his own boss, and being able to work with good people, knowing that their success in this monumental life task will also be his own.

If you are buying or selling a house in the Seattle area, (basically from Everett to Tacoma), contact me and I’ll put you in touch with my husband. You won’t regret it. And if you are located in any other part of the country, he can also help you find a reliable Realtor in your area.

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Ancient Wisdom

It amazes me that so many of us are wont to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is this view of ancient wisdom that seems to go like this: “Everything from long ago was inaccurate and based on myth and magic, so it shouldn’t be taken seriously.”

We come by that belief honestly. No doubt about it, a lot of what was considered truth hundreds of years ago has turned out to be bunk. Bleeding people by hand or with leeches, when they are already weak from illness, generally will not have a happy ending. Dumping sewage into waterways is not a good idea. No sacrifice is required during a solar eclipse in order for the sun to come out again. Drilling holes in one’s head is more apt to scramble the brains and introduce infection than relieve the pressure. Backbreaking child labor does not make for strong, healthy adults. Not every tooth that causes you pain must be yanked from your mouth. Killing all the predators in your area causes unexpected consequences. And yes, sometimes there are answers that are less extreme than amputation.

Those things mentioned above are the bathwater. Feel free to throw those habits out. But, now, more than ever, we need to take the babies where we find them. We need good ideas if we’re going to survive.

For example, I don’t really understand why so few westerners are willing to try acupuncture. We may not understand how it works, but it’s been around for centuries. I’ve written about this before. I swear by it, and I know a lot of people who have had positive results with acupuncture when no Western medicine seems to be working. So why not try?

I’ve also written about bee pollen. I recommend it to people all the time. But I’m usually ignored. Which is a shame, because I haven’t had an allergy problem in 5 years, and have only had two colds. That’s saying something.

And as this article attests, there’s a lot of native knowledge out there that we’d benefit from if only we took it more seriously. For example, having a holistic view of the ecosystem, as aboriginal peoples do, is very important to species survival. They know that an increase in beaver populations will reduce spawning habitat for salmon and that means less prey for whales. The great web of life should not be ignored.

Indigenous people have much to tell us about how to cope with climate change. They know about the use of controlled burns to manage our forests so that catastrophic wildfires will not occur. They are also more sensitive to altered migration patterns, which are early warning systems of change. They also knew about the importance of biodiversity long before we even considered the concept.

It’s about time we checked our egos at the door and take wisdom where we can find it. Before it’s too late.

Ready to Dance

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Devictimization

I just read an amazing article by Lucy Purdy, entitled, “Birth rights: sisterhood and sexual empowerment in Kenya”. Even more gripping were the additional photographs by Dean Bradshaw. It’s really worth a look.

The article describes how the women of Kenya, who historically have been subjected to female genital mutilation, are becoming empowered to effect change for themselves and their children. Because they are at ground zero, they’re better able to come up with solutions that culturally work for them. Brilliant!

A great quote from that article: “When people portray us as victims, they don’t want to ask about solutions. Because people don’t ask victims for solutions.”

That’s a pretty profound realization. I think it applies in a lot of situations. Unfortunately.

I always get frustrated when I see people in shelters or refugee camps, sitting around looking shell shocked with nothing to do. This is not helping them. This is victimizing them.

Just by dint of sheer numbers, these “victims” can be a great resource. For example, there was much talk about women getting raped when they went to use the bathrooms in the Houston Astrodome post Hurricane Katrina, because there simply wasn’t enough security. I bet that wouldn’t have happened if about 50 women formed a committee and all of them had gone to the bathroom together. Try raping us now, buddy. We’ll tear you limb from limb.

And when it becomes obvious that a refugee camp is going to be around for a long, long, long time, why not give these people the tools to plant crops, even if it’s a tiny garden, and allow them to maintain sanitation and security, rather than make them stand around knee deep in their own feces, waiting for your sparse handouts and indifferent protection?

People don’t want to be victims. They don’t want to sit around, wallowing in their own despair. They want to have some feeling of agency. They want to be able to make decisions about the quality of their lives.

When you are faced with an entire community that is suffering some sort of tragedy, rather than looking at them as a burden to be dealt with, perhaps look at them as an enormous font of human knowledge, experience, and ability. Allow them to attempt solutions. Let them take the lead, and then, if necessary, provide them with what they need to blaze their own trail.

Without power, it’s impossible to have dignity. Without dignity, you start to lose what it means to be human. That’s the real tragedy.

Refugees

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So Lucky to Miss You

A lifetime ago, I was traveling with a friend and having a wonderful time. But at one point I did mention to her that I missed my boyfriend. (I can’t even remember who the guy was, which tells you a lot about the passage of time.) To my shock, my friend got really, really angry with me.

Apparently, she was of the opinion that if you are busy missing someone, you can’t also be enjoying yourself, and I was therefore allowing myself to spoil the trip. To this day, I can’t relate to that mindset at all.

You see, when I am having a great experience, that’s when I tend to miss people the most, because I would dearly love to have the people I care most about with me to share in those joyful times. I can’t imagine thinking otherwise. It seems like a natural conclusion to draw.

I’m not going to start avoiding the good times, just so I won’t miss my loved ones. That would be absurd. And besides, I don’t think that yearning for someone’s company is necessarily a negative emotion.

I genuinely believe that I am lucky to have people that I miss. It means I’ve built up strong relationships over the years. It means that there are people who matter a great deal to me. It means that I know what it is to love.

Life will take you to many places. Sometimes the people most significant to you will be unwilling or unable to follow. They have their own journeys, after all. And sometimes their lives will be cut short, leaving you to forge a path on your own.

So cherish the missing. Revel in the fact that you have someone to miss. Be glad that love is a part of your life. What a gift! It doesn’t get any better than that.

i_miss_you_like_crazy_by_musiciseverything16-d3d6e4r

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Having Something to Say

It occurred to me recently that before you can be a writer, you must first have something to say. You have to have opinions and thoughts and ideas. You have to be good at explaining and/or describing things. You can’t be hesitant to speak your mind.

I’ve always had something to say. No doubt about it. Even when I would take those tests at school that are supposed to help you decide what career path to take, mine would always come out “writer” and nothing else. I mean, seriously, while my friends would have 5 or 6 suggested career paths, all I’d have was writer. (I strongly suspect bridgetenders are not even on the list of careers for those tests. Most people don’t even know we exist.)

My whole life I’ve been told that I have very strong opinions. But that was meant as an insult. As in, “Shut up, female, and leave the thinking to the rest of us.” People rarely accuse men of having strong opinions. And I would get that criticism from men and women alike, because a lot of women don’t realize how complicit we can be in our own oppression.

Well, I thank God for my strong opinions. Without them, this blog wouldn’t exist. And I’d be a heck of a lot less interesting.

Fortunately, I’m not the kind of person who expects everyone to share my opinions. People like that are insufferable (in my opinion). I don’t think I’m very good at pointing that out, though. It’s definitely something I need to work on. It never occurs to me that some people view opinions as coercion.

I don’t see opinions that way. I also don’t think of them as being right or wrong. Opinions are simply points of view. No two people will see things from the same angle. The world might be easier to live in if we did, but it would sure be monotonous.

If you want to be a writer, I urge you to get out there and experience life, and, yes, form opinions about those experiences. Listen and learn as much as you can. Be open to unique people, places and things. And most of all, don’t be afraid to express yourself, even if the whole world tries to shut you up.

oh-i-offended-you-with-my-opinion_-you-should-hear-the-ones-i-keep-to-myself

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Who Was That Person?

Have you ever looked back at your past and not recognized yourself? As in, “Why the hell did I do that?” “What was I thinking?” “Why did I make that choice?” “How stupid was I?”

That’s perfectly natural. Because, here’s a concept: You are the best version of yourself right this very minute. I guarantee it.

How do I know? Do the math. At no point in your life have you had more life experience than you have right now. With every minute that passes, you are learning and growing as a person. Even the idiotic stuff, even the mistakes, the good, the bad, and the ugly, all combined, have turned you into the person you are right this second.

So of course you’re able to look back at your past with a critical eye. Not only do you have more maturity and knowledge now, but you also have the benefit of hindsight. When you think about it, it’s really rather unfair that you pick on the past you in such a heartless fashion.

Here’s a thought. Maybe give the old you a break. Look back at her or him with some compassion, and maybe thank her (or him) for getting you this far. Because life is cumulative. It’s a process. You’re getting there. Never stop trying. Onward!

Look Back
Only look back if you can do so with compassion.

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