Raccoon Dogs?

Had you ever heard of these things before this pandemic?

The general scientific consensus is that the COVID pandemic most likely began in a live animal market in Wuhan, China. That makes a lot more sense to me than the theory that it came from a lab, regardless of its careless reputation. First of all, the first cases of COVID in humans were clustered all around that market. And scientists confirm that this virus doesn’t have markers that indicate genetic modification.

I think the primary reason that people are so resistant to the animal market idea is that they’d then have to realize how little control we actually have over nature. And it’s always nice to have some intentionally evil entity to blame for a worldwide catastrophe, isn’t it? But without the cooperation of China, we’ll never be exactly sure where it came from. Based on the evidence we have, though, I believe it came from the natural world. More specifically, it seems to have originated in raccoon dogs being sold in that market.

When I read that, my first thought was, “What in the sweet, suffering baby jeebus is a raccoon dog?” Had you ever heard of these things prior to this pandemic? I hadn’t. And you know me. I just had to find out more about them.

It turns out that raccoon dogs, also known as tanuki, aren’t raccoons, and they’re more closely related to foxes than to dogs. Given their beautiful fluffy coats, they are often sold in the fur trade, and in China, they’re also sold for meat. Some people have kept them as pets, but it’s a really bad idea for multiple reasons.

These creatures are wild animals. They don’t cope well with being penned in. They range widely. That, and they use scent to communicate, so let’s not mince words: they often stink. They also hibernate, mate for life, are very adept at climbing and swimming, and are escape artists. They don’t pose a physical threat to humans, but at 16 pounds, they can terrorize small livestock.

Their primary threat to humanity is that they carry disease, including various forms of the coronavirus. They’ve been linked to SARS. They also carry enteric viruses in their fecal matter, and harbor fleas, ticks, tapeworms and other parasites, as well as rabies, distemper, anthrax, tuberculosis, and mange.

Raccoon dogs originated in Eastern Asia, but they have become an invasive species in Europe. They were originally brought there in the 1920’s for fur farms. They eat pretty much anything from fruit and other plants to bugs, small mammals, fish, birds, amphibians, carrion and trash. (In that way, as well as in the color patterns on their face, they’re very much like raccoons.) Their litters usually contain 5-12 young, and their gestation period could be as short as 60 days, so once they got into the wild there was a population explosion.

Even though many of us have never heard of this species before, they’re rather a big deal. It is illegal to import one into the United States, and in all 50 states it is illegal to own one unless you’re an accredited zoo. Zoo Atlanta had two of them, but I can’t confirm that they’re still there. From an article in 2017, that zoo said it was the only one in America to house them. But they’ve sort of become silent about all things tanuki since then.

We’ll never know for sure if raccoon dogs are the primary culprits in causing a pandemic that killed at least 7 million people to date. Either way, these beautiful creatures are best avoided. Let’s hope they never gain a foothold in North America.


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Revenge Travel: Finally, I’m on Trend!

As you read this, I am at the tail end of a luxurious trip to Hawaii with Dear Husband. Rest assured, I’ll be blogging about it within an inch of my life upon my return. We are pulling out all the stops; leavin’ it all on the tourist trail, so to speak. (And in case you’re getting any funny ideas about emptying my house in my now publicly-revealed absence, please know that a dog sitter and two dogs are there, and they would most definitely take exception to that plan.)

I have wanted to visit Hawaii ever since the Brady Bunch did so in 1972. That’s kind of interesting, because my main memory from those three episodes is the part where a tarantula is crawling up Peter’s bed while he sleeps. You’d think that would have put me off Hawaii for life, but no. (Incidentally, there are no tarantulas native to Hawaii, so if you see one, it has gotten out of someone’s dry aquarium. Hawaii has its fair share of other types of spiders, though.)

Long after we started planning this trip, which will be full of volcanoes, waterfalls and lush canyons, along with snorkeling, ziplining, mountain tubing and swimming with manta rays at night, I stumbled upon this article entitled, “The Summer of ‘Revenge Travel’”, and I thought, “Yup. That’s what we’re doing.”

For once, I’m on trend. Usually I don’t start doing stuff until everyone else has, and at this point they’re over it and have moved on to something else. I do these once-trendy things years later and then blog about it, and am amazed anyone continues to read. I will be the first to admit that this blog is an acquired taste. Anyway…

According to the article mentioned above, so many of us had to scuttle our travel plans during the pandemic that more people than ever will be traveling this year. I’m still emotionally recovering from the fact that we had everything booked to go to Italy, but the pandemic hit just two months prior to departure, and everything fell apart. Weirdly, Italy was one of the hottest of the hot spots for COVID, so it was a good thing it didn’t hit after we there. First world problems, I know, but I did blog about my profound disappointment here.

We’ve all been cooped up. Now we want to fly. We’ve learned that we should never take travel for granted again. So when we travel now, we tend to be livin’ large.

Our trips, on the average, will be more expensive than usual, longer than usual, and will include more adventurous activities than usual. Even though the cost of plane tickets are steadily rising due to the increased cost of fuel (Thanks, Putin), none of us seem to care. To add a big ol’ cherry to the top of this sundae, travel restrictions seem to be loosening everywhere. It is time to go!

Now that I’ve heard the phrase “revenge travel”, it seems to be popping up everywhere. I wish a better term could be coined for this phenomenon. This one seems so negative. We’re not trying to get back at anyone, even though we’re kind of thumbing our noses at COVID. These trips won’t be negative experiences. They will be triumphant ones. After a pandemic that we’ll never forget (and should still be taken seriously, by the way), we all deserve an adventure that we’ll never forget.

So carpe diem, dear readers, and brace yourself for a lot of Hawaii-themed blog posts in the near future! Here’s hoping that tarantulas don’t appear in any of them. (I’m not home yet, though, so I can’t make any promises.)

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American Cruelty

You have to eat or be eaten.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world. At the rate this pandemic is going, I might never be able to travel internationally again, so I’m losing perspective. But I certainly have ample opportunity to observe my fellow Americans from my exclusive perch in the tower of my drawbridge, and I also read enough of the news to believe this to be true: Americans, in general, are getting increasingly cranky to the point of being really terrifying.

I get it. This pandemic has us worn out. The state of politics, especially since Trump came along, has our nerves shredded. And the way that we have all been forced to answer certain moral questions of late is revealing that a lot fewer of us are decent human beings than I previously imagined.

Even though this post is not strictly about masks and vaccines, I do have to say that it seems like a no-brainer to me: If I’m asked to do something that I’m not thrilled with, but that thing will potentially help to prevent someone from dying, I’m going to do that thing. I got vaccinated. I wear a mask. But there are people out there who genuinely believe that they should not be personally inconvenienced just so someone else might live. It astounds me. Public health isn’t about just you. If the golden rule means anything at all, it means, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have a hand in bringing about someone else’s demise.

The whole mask and vaccine thing is just the tippy top of a huge iceberg of cruelty that is becoming increasingly evident. I’m seeing more people shouting at each other from the bike lanes and out of car windows. More horns are blaring. The schizophrenics among our homeless people, who I view as the human equivalent of canaries in coal mines, are starting to rage even more as tensions increase. It’s like we are now in a constant state of full moon. All bets are off. It’s impossible to predict who will lose it next. All that you can do is hope that you’re not anywhere near ground zero when it happens.

My friends who work in the medical field are being screamed at more often, and sometimes even assaulted. Here on my drawbridge, more pedestrians are refusing to cooperate every day. To hell with the 3000 gross ton gravel barge that’s bearing down on us. They have places to go and people to see. Screw the flashing lights and warning gongs.

More people are cutting in line in general. More people are blowing through red lights. The other day I saw two guys engaged in a fistfight on a street corner in broad daylight.

I can’t emphasize this enough: There is NO EXCUSE for yelling at and/or assaulting someone for doing their job. You may not like the policy they’re having to enforce, but they’re just trying to make a living. You want to shout, shout at the rich person who probably owns the company. Rich people should be shouted at a lot more often, if you ask me. They certainly deserve it more than cashiers or wait staff do.

It’s getting so I’m afraid to ask anyone a question, even one as innocent as, “How late are you open?” because responses to any type of question seem to be hostile these days. I spend a lot of time wondering what I’ve done to people. But it doesn’t just happen to me. Not that that’s any comfort.

I just read a fascinating opinion piece by Umair Haque, entitled, “Why America is the World’s Most Uniquely Cruel Society.” It really made me think about how America is set up to operate. It also made me think about how this country came to be the way it is.

In that article, the author posits the theory that we have a very unusual origin story, even for a colonial country that has been trained to utterly ignore the native people who were here first. Throughout colonial history, America has been colonized by people who were leaving home because on one level or another they were not wanted.

Everyone’s immigration story is different, of course, but we didn’t tend to attract the rich upper classes. Royalty wasn’t trying to move here. Some common reasons for coming to America included getting away from religious or political persecution, or avoiding violence at home, or desperate poverty and no opportunities in their homelands, or they were criminals. Let’s face it. There’s no need to pursue the American Dream unless you’re living a nightmare.

One thing that all desperate people have in common is the desire to no longer be at the bottom of society. They want to experience dignity, respect, and a sense of belonging. Who doesn’t? But in order for you to rise up in the hierarchy to the place where those things are obtainable, someone has to be below you, and that person doesn’t want to be there either, so it becomes a fight. And as more and more waves of immigrants washed up on these shores, more people had to get stepped on, and, the author suggests, this cruelty has since become a habit that has been passed down through the generations.

The English settlers hated the Native Americans. Then they had to hate all the people that came after them and threatened their place in the societal pyramid. So the English hated the French, the French hated the Germans, the Germans hated the Irish, who hated the Italians, and on and on. And of course, slaves got to be the scapegoats for everyone even though they never asked to be here in the first place. Then came the Asians who did the great service of also not looking like us, so they, too, were easy to spot and be cruel to. When we took the West from the Spanish-speaking people who had taken it from the Native Americans, we hated them too.

And through all of this, which is still ongoing, we have learned, consciously or unconsciously, that you have to be cruel to survive. You have to be violent to get ahead. You have to eat or be eaten.

Over the centuries, the cruelty has become institutionalized. Homeless? What a shame. Glad I’m not you. Less than desirable as a neighbor? Lock ‘em up and throw away the key. You don’t deserve universal health care. Higher education is only for those who can pay for it. Can’t get a job? Well, then, join the military and become cannon fodder or the good of the country.

We have one of the lowest life expectancies of any rich nation, and while that’s embarrassing, nothing need be done about it unless it starts impacting ME. We have the highest rate of mass shootings in the world, but hey, that helps decrease the surplus population. The only country that has a higher death rate per capita due to drug use is the Ukraine, and yet we put very little money into our substance abuse infrastructure. Let ‘em eat cake.

Based on this hierarchy of ours, the conservatives should encourage immigration, not attempt to squash it. Because if they are successful in their policies of exclusion, one day they may look around and realize that they no longer have anyone to step on, and it’s awfully lonely at the bottom.

We need to find a way to break this cycle of cruelty and hate. We need to lift each other up if we want this country to succeed. We need to realize that our current behavior is not serving us well.

But most of all, I think we all need to take a deep breath, pause, and grow the f**k up.

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Why Public Health Should Not Be Politicized

People are dying as you make your political point.

As I wrote this post, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard, 4,264,652 people have died worldwide in this horrific pandemic, and 615,276 of those were in the US. Those numbers are even higher by the time you are reading this, and they most likely only represent the tip of a very huge iceberg, because some places are better at reporting than others.

It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around a number that’s up in the millions, but imagine this: If each of those people were buried in a standard sized coffin, and you lined them up end to end, you’d have a line of coffins that would stretch from Seattle, Washington to Cochabamba, Bolivia. As the vulture flies. If you drove 10 hours a day at the rate of 50 miles per hour, it would take you more than 11 days to get past that line of coffins. And that isn’t even allowing for bathroom breaks or stop signs.

I say this because I really want you to understand that that’s a lot. A whole lot. And so much of it could have been prevented. But we chose to politicize it instead.

Public Health should be considered a basic human right by all of us. It has nothing to do with your freedom to not wear a mask or your right not to be vaccinated. It’s about being a responsible human being on the planet earth.

If COVID-19 weren’t transmittable from one human to another, and you wanted to dive headfirst into a fetid pool of the stuff, I’d say have at it. I’d even provide you with the rubber duckie. You do have every right to be as stupid as you want to be. But in the case of COVID, you’d be diving headfirst into that pool and a long line of people, some who are less capable of swimming, some who don’t want to even get wet, some who have more important things to do with their time, would be tied to you against their will. You’re just yanking them in with you.

How dare you? Seriously. Explain it to me, because I don’t understand.

There are some basic health rules that everyone on the planet does their best to follow. For example, when is the last time you defecated on the turkey at your family’s Thanksgiving Day gathering? I’m guessing never. Because you’re not an animal. You’re civilized.

Aren’t you?

Health issues should not be mixed with politics, but they have been. As a result of that, I could go on and on with statistics that show that the more red the state or country, the more people have died of COVID, but you don’t want to hear me, do you? You just want to prove that you’re free.

It seems awfully self-destructive to want to be free to die a horrible death. That doesn’t bode well for the life of your political party. If it were only people who agreed with you politically who were dying off, then I wouldn’t be so upset. You all would have volunteered for it. But there are people out there who are dying without having made that choice. There are people dying who have tried to do everything to save themselves, and yet they have the misfortune of bumping into some idiot who wants to be “free”. It’s just not right.

And this is not the first time that the far right has not cared whether people live or die, and it won’t be the last. That’s what’s so truly terrifying about them. Their lack of caring even for their own.

If you read a very upsetting story that I wrote back in 2014, entitled How the Republicans Helped Kill My Boyfriend, you’ll notice a disturbing similar pattern. All I’m saying is that you may want to consider saving yourselves instead of trying to make some point. You can just think of the side benefit of saving humanity as an extra little perk.

Our Altered Life Rhythms

This pandemic has certainly made us evaluate the pace of life.

Make no mistake: we are still in the throes of a pandemic. People are still dying every single day. But as more of us are wisely becoming vaccinated, society is beginning to open back up. Watching this process is making me think a lot about the rhythm of my life.

When the pandemic first started and we were all in some version of lockdown or another, I felt trapped in my home. That genuinely surprised me, because I’m an introvert, and something of a homebody. But one thing is choosing to be isolated, another is having no choice whatsoever. I thought my life moved at a slow pace up to that point, but coming to a screeching halt made me realize just how wrong I was.

As things progressed and safety precautions became a habit, I began to get used to the rhythm of this crisis. I actually settled into the slower pace, and often enjoyed it. I began to relax at home a lot more than was my habit previously.

Wearing a mask became my standard operating procedure. I got used to not seeing the lower half of people’s faces, and therefore being unable to gauge their moods. I got used to no handshakes and no hugs. I got used to standing farther back when talking to people than I had pre-COVID. I did miss seeing friends and having human contact, so there were definitely good days and bad days, but I coped better than I anticipated. A lot of that is because I don’t live alone, and had to continue to go to work. Your results may have varied.

Now, like I said, things are starting to ramp up again, and I’m not going to lie: the change feels rather abrupt. One day I was wearing masks, and the next day I was not. It kind of feels like that dream where you’re caught naked in a public place. Vulnerable. Slightly dangerous. Definitely uncomfortable. Especially since the very people who should continue to wear masks are the antivaxxers that never would in the first place.

Things are still moving slower than they did in my pre-pandemic life, but it’s kind of like being deathly ill, and then getting back in a car for the first time in weeks. Twenty mph feels like sixty for a while there. I’m socializing more. I’ve gone to the movies. I’d forgotten how much I missed those old routines.

I don’t think life will ever be 100 percent the way it used to be. I doubt my sense of personal space will ever shrink down to what it once was, for example. And maybe that’s a good thing. We needed this wake-up call to evaluate public health and the pace of our lives. It’s good to take stock every now and then.

I’m also seeing people lose their tempers more and more. I think we got used to being a little bit mentally unhealthy during the worst of it. But now the expectation is that we should all instantly snap out of it, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s leading to frustration, anxiety, and anger.

If you’re feeling any of this, and it’s mild, consider exercising, taking a break from news and social media, prioritizing sleep, and/or slowly increasing social interaction again. But if you are still really struggling (which is nothing to be ashamed of), if you feel like your mental mercury is lower than it should be, if your appetite or sleep isn’t what it used to be, if you’re experiencing survivor’s guilt, if you’re losing interest in the world, or, worst case scenario, you’re thinking of suicide or violence, then you may want to talk to your doctor about therapy or medications.

We’ve all been through trauma at one level or another during this pandemic. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to others. We can get through this. I promise.

Update: This post was written weeks before I posted it on my blog, and since then, due to the highly contagious Delta variant, I’m back to wearing masks. We’re definitely still in the woods, folks. Please remain vigilant.

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West Coast Wander: The Aftermath

An adventure doesn’t start when you set out, and it doesn’t end when you get home.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

In many ways, an adventure doesn’t start when you set out, and it doesn’t end when you get home. There’s often much planning and research involved. I’m really grateful that I have a partner who gets into this portion of the trip as much as I do. Gone, forever, are the days when I did all the research and reservations and the other person just sat comfortably back and enjoyed the ride. If you are going to take a trip with someone, I strongly suggest you take a deep dive into the vacation prep. That’s a good part of the fun, and greatly adds to the anticipation.

In fact, not only does Dear Husband do much of the reserving after mutual discussion, but he also prefers to drive, just as I prefer not to. So I must admit that he drove all the 2250 miles himself. Suits me. But I did feel a tiny bit of residual guilt, because I’m sure I got to see more than he did.

He also did about 85 percent of the ritual schlepping of the luggage from car to hotel to car… rinse… repeat. Believe me, it didn’t go unnoticed. And he often has to do a great deal of work as we travel. He continues to bring home his fair share of the bacon even as we feast upon it. I’m ever so grateful for him.

I must confess that DH has a lot more energy than I do. By way of example, when we got home after this epic journey, I sat glued to the recliner, with my dachshund snuggled up against me, as if I had been dropped from a 50 story building. DH, on the other hand, immediately unpacked 90 percent of his stuff. In my single days, I had been known to leave things in my suitcase for months after a trip had ended. Since I no longer live alone, I wouldn’t think of putting things off that long. But the same day? Nope.

I did manage to put a load of our dirty clothes in the washing machine, though. I even turned it on. That counts for something, right?

Since I have a luxurious amount of vacation time (Union strong!) I have also gotten into the habit of having an extra day at the tail end of the trip to chill out at home before getting back onto the work treadmill again. So that night I went to bed knowing that I’d be able to sleep in. What a gift.

I woke up around 3 am for my mid-sleep pee, noted the time, and thought, “That’s cool. This hotel has its alarm clock in the exact same location as I do at home.” But wait! I was home! Yay!

As more evidence of the difference in energy levels, DH woke up bright and early, met up with some family to tell them about the trip, and, with their help, removed the trash from two miles of roadway in front of our house.

I slept ‘til noon. Traveling can be taxing.

In the previous posts, I didn’t talk much about the souvenirs we picked up along the way, so some photos thereof appear below. Neither of us are really into stuff, so we tend to focus on fridge magnets, stickers, and postcards, as they don’t take up very much space. And we do often get a Christmas ornament or two. They’ll provide us with many happy memories over the years. I hope that makes up for the mild post-vacation depression I am known to experience.

Ah, but what an amazing trip we had! The pandemic put its stamp on it in a lot of weird and unexpected ways. I never realized how I used to dance through life assuming that places would open themselves up and draw me in. Now, it gets a lot more complicated. Often reservations are required. Just as often, places are locked up tight, with no anticipated reopening in sight. I don’t think our world will ever be the same. That gave the trip a curious aftertaste. But I think it’s safe to say that, on the balance, a good time was had by all. As it should be.

One thing I just realized is that after two weeks driving along the west coast, with the Pacific as our constant companion, we never once touched the ocean. (Well, unless you count getting our shoes slightly wet when we visited the tide pools of Duxbury Reef.) How did we manage that? That’s practically a crime.

Hmmm. I guess we’ll have to go back someday. If so, I’ll be sure and tell you all about it.

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West Coast Wander, Day 6: San Francisco, California

The day I hit a wall.

We had a two-week vacation, and decided that it would be fun to drive down the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California and then drop off our rental car and take a train back home. I’m calling this journey the West Coast Wander, and plan to blog about it every other day so as not to totally alienate those who have no interest in travel, and yet allow those who do to travel vicariously with us. Here’s the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning.  I hope you enjoy it, dear reader.

There comes a point in every long-ish vacation when I sort of hit a wall. I get tired and cranky and frustrated and homesick. It’s usually triggered by the fact that nothing is going according to plan. Today was that day. My notes on what we did today are full of expletives that I don’t feel the need to share.

We actually did do a lot of fun things, despite my foul mood, but I’m not going to whitewash the day, because I think it’s fair for people who don’t travel as much as I do to understand exactly what it can be like, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Travel can be exciting and invigorating and fun, but it can also sometimes be stressful and disappointing. So, fasten your seatbelts.

We woke up this morning to discover that due to COVID, our high-end hotel was no longer serving continental breakfast. And the restaurant across the street had a line stretching down the block. Oh, joy. So we set off to explore San Francisco on an empty stomach. (I should never, ever, ever do anything on an empty stomach.)

We planned to catch one of those iconic trolleys and find something to eat, but eventually found out that, due to the pandemic, no trolleys were running. So I wouldn’t even get to see the trolleys, let alone ride on one. That was a disappointment, given this was my first San Francisco visit.

Well, now what? Even though we already knew that the ferry to Alcatraz was booked solid through early August, we decided to go see if we could get standby tickets. Maybe they’d have cancellations. And sure enough, they sell them, without a guarantee of passage, but with a full refund if you don’t get on. Worth a shot.

We purchased our tickets and wandered around the dock, looking at the extremely cool Alcatraz diorama and the other informational displays, along with some amazing California succulents that were as big as my head. It was a great way to kill time while waiting for the ferry to show up. And then waiting for all the passengers to board. It turns out they had room for 6 additional passengers, and we were tickets number 10 and 11.

Rather than get our refund just yet, we decided to try our luck with the next ferry. We’d now be 4th and 5th on standby. But that was an hour out, and by now we were really hungry, so we decided to run down the street and grab something to eat.

But every restaurant in the area was shut up tight. We had to walk all the way down to the IHOP, which was quite a hike, and my feet and back were already killing me. I felt like kicking puppies (not that I actually ever would, no matter how out of sorts I became, but such was my mood).

We ordered a rather unpleasant take out breakfast sandwich and practically ran back to the ferry as we ate it, which made me feel slightly queasy. I already knew we weren’t going to make it, and the running was stressing me out. Dear husband even paid a cycle rickshaw to haul me the last 2 blocks. But yeah, we missed the ferry.

The ticket taker told me that if we had been there, we’d have gotten on. I wanted to cry. You have to understand, I’ve wanted to see Alcatraz ever since seeing Burt Lancaster in Birdman of Alcatraz when I was very young. And getting out to see the city from the water would have been fun, too. Can you imagine the photos I would have taken?

The clerk did say that we’d be first on standby for the next ferry, but we already had parking reservations for Muir Woods, and my husband really wanted to see more trees, so we got a refund. We really did give it a try, and it’s his trip, too, so I tried to swallow my disappointment. It was quite filling. It stuffed me.

But we had a little time to kill before heading out for the parking reservation, so we went to check out the very cool wave organ. Here’s a Youtube video of what it should sound like. But naturally, we came on a day with very little wave action, so we didn’t hear much of anything. A long, long walk out to the jetty for pretty much nothing. But the organ itself was interesting and the view was amazing. We did get to watch the fog roll in on the Golden Gate Bridge, and a sailboat regatta, so there’s that.

To add to this stellar day, it was windy and freezing cold. It reminded me of that quote attributed to Mark Twain: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

I could certainly relate to that. I was fearing hypothermia and getting a migraine. But, as befits a day of disappointments, according to Snopes, Mark Twain never said any such thing. So there’s another myth busted. You’re welcome.

Off we went to the woods, passing first through Robin Williams tunnel, which is decorated with the same rainbow he used to wear in the form of suspenders when he played Mork. I miss him. He should still be with us. What a tragic waste that never fails to upset me when I contemplate it. Onward.

I have to admit that Muir Woods was absolutely gorgeous. I highly recommend it. But given my mood, I don’t think I gave it a full chance. It was extremely crowded, and the raised pathways, while comfortable to walk on, took away from the natural feeling. I felt as though it was a cross between the most gorgeous forest in the world and Disneyland. And since we had seen so many more natural and beautiful forests in recent days, I was kind of unappreciative, although I really did try to keep it to myself.

We had a nice picnic amongst the redwoods, and then one of the staff told us we couldn’t do that even though we were not leaving garbage behind, because we’d attract chipmunks. We apologized, but the deed was already done. I was thinking I would love to see chipmunks. We visited the really nice gift shop, but all I could think was, “I wonder what Muir would think of this place, selling things made out of bits of his beloved trees.”

Oh, come on. It’s a legitimate question, even if it was inspired by my grumpy brain.

We also saw a very cool sculpture of the wingspans of various birds. Fascinating.

After having “done” the woods, and having had a nice, albeit rebellious lunch, we decided to head on back into the city, enjoying the views as we went, and then drive around the Presidio. We enjoyed the gorgeous vistas from Inspiration Point, and drove around to look at Fort Winfield Scott and the National Cemetery.

Lots of fascinating history in the Presidio. We did not get to go to the welcome center, however. Guess why?  $#@%$ this pandemic, anyhow.

I had also wanted to see the house from the movie Pacific Heights, but after a certain point you just want to pack it in, you know? Whew, but I was clearly tired. We decided to go back to the hotel and chill out for a bit, and I got a good nap in while dear husband worked. The nap did wonders for my attitude, and the meds knocked back my migraine.

That night we went out to have Crab Louie and calamari at Betty Lou’s Seafood and Grill, in the quirky neighborhood of North Beach with its many gorgeous murals and buildings. Many of the restaurants in the area had tables outside in spite of the bracing wind. The food was excellent and the vibe was good, despite the fact that for some odd reason this restaurant does not serve coffee. All in all, though, it was a great way to end the day.

I’m not going to lie. I was happy to go to bed that night, and even happier to close my eyes on the disappointments of this day. I hope we get to come back to San Francisco again in healthier and more fortuitous times.

The seventh day was much better. Check it out here.

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Reverse Engineering Your Life

Three cheers for utter devastation!

They say that the top five stressors in life are:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Divorce
  • Moving
  • Major illness or injury
  • Job loss

Thanks to this freakin’ pandemic, along with life in general, many of us are experiencing several of these stressors at once. It can be devastating. It’s a fragile time, and an all-time low. Under the circumstances, you can’t be blamed for feeling like a starfish that has been washed up onto dry land.

If the hits just keep on coming for you, it’s important for you to understand that you’re quite likely in a state of mourning. You are grieving the life you once had that has been ripped out of your hands. It’s perfectly natural to be upset, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, and afraid, by turns, or all at once.

Be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as though you’ve just come out of major surgery. Give yourself time to heal and breathe. Let yourself feel all the different emotions. There’s no shame in that. It will take time to regain your bearings.

But once your feet are back up under you and you have a renewed sense of the compass points of your life, dare I say it? You have a unique opportunity. Yeah, I know. Hard to believe. But hear me out.

Your life has been stripped down in such a way that you are practically reborn, and yet you’re no baby. You are a capable, imaginative, creative creature who has just been stripped of its shell and perhaps everything that you’ve held dear up to this point. You are naked and vulnerable in the world, but you still have your brain and your character and your life experience. No one can take that away from you.

That vulnerable state also means you have more options than you ever have had in your life. And options equal opportunity! Even though you might be feeling like you’re at the bottom of a blast crater, you can now rebuild your life any way you want. You are at the foundation. You can build something amazing out of that crater. The land has already been cleared for you.

Believe me, I speak from experience. In 2014, I had hit rock bottom. Someone I loved more than life itself died quite unexpectedly. I also had just gotten my third college degree and was realizing that, like the other two, it was completely worthless in terms of starting me on a career path. I had a job that I knew would not be able to sustain me financially moving forward, and I had been kicked out of my apartment and had no idea where to go. The few days I experienced homelessness was enough to make me understand how I didn’t want my life to be. I had nothing left but the ringing in my ears after the explosion that was my life.

But that’s when I had an epiphany. (Don’t you just love a good epiphany?)

If ever I was to have the life I wanted, I needed to start now. Rather than scrambling through life, desperately clutching at whatever handholds came my way to get me out of this pit, I needed to reverse engineer everything, and I mean everything, about the way I chose to live.

I needed to think deeply about what it is that I truly wanted out of life, and then position myself to achieve those goals. I thought about where I wanted to live. (A liberal place, definitely not Florida). I thought about what I wanted to do. (Be in a stable, healthy relationship and build a solid home base from which to travel. I thought about what that would look like in detail.)

Your goals might be very different from mine, but one of my major realizations was that my job should not be my life. My job should be what allows me to live my life. I didn’t want a job that made me so miserable that that feeling bled into my off hours. If I was miserable, how would I be attractive to a healthy and positive life partner? I wanted a job that sustained me financially, but I also wanted one that I didn’t have to bring home with me. I wanted time to explore and have adventures and read books and focus on the people I love. I wanted time to write. I wanted to be able to turn off my phone whenever desired, without consequences.

I needed to do several things. First of all, I had to stop settling for the crap jobs that continued to put me in the waiting room of life. Waiting for change and not being the change was getting me nowhere.

I also needed to break free of toxic people. If I wanted to have a good life, I needed to be surrounded by good people, and those people would never present themselves if they had to swim through a sea of poisonous drama to get to me. I needed to put myself in places where I was most likely to meet the kind of good people I want in my life. That process was an emotional spring cleaning of sorts, and it wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.

But most of all, I had to take chances. I needed to have a clear vision of what I wanted, and I needed to say no to negative things and break old destructive habits, and say yes to opportunities. I needed to move. And now was my chance, because I basically had nothing and no one. While traveling through life without baggage can be scary, it can also be liberating.

If you’re at ground zero, down there amongst the smoke and rubble, there’s nowhere to go but up. This may seem counterintuitive, but I’m telling you to stay in that crater for a bit. Take some time to carefully plot out your course so that when you reach the rim of that crater, what you’re looking out at is exactly what you want to see.

I’m not saying that my path from 2014 was easy, but it was carefully plotted out. I now live in liberal Seattle, have a job I love that I don’t have to think about after the shift is over, I’m happily married, and life is good. For the first time in my life I feel as though I’m exactly where I need to be, and it took total effing devastation to get me there.

I never thought I’d say this, but three cheers for devastation, and a hearty thank you.

It can be done. Don’t just let life happen to you. Make it happen. There will be better days. But take some time to figure out what a better day would look like for you, and only then go there, step by step.

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If there’s one thing our current technological age has taught us, it’s that you can feed, clothe, and entertain yourself without having to interact with the wider world. As a result, the need for healthy habits, chores, routines, and decent hygiene seem to have disappeared for some people. Social isolation is not just a pandemic thing. It’s been an increasing phenomenon since the turn of this century.

Hikikomori is a Japanese term for this phenomenon. It seems to be more prevalent in Asian countries, and more common among young adult males. Many of them say they can’t handle the extreme pressure that society exerts on them to be successful. They hole themselves up in one room, and don’t emerge except to use the bathroom. Many of these people reside in the homes of their parents. Others just simply live alone. It is estimated that there are about a million Hikikomori in Japan and about 320,000 Hikikomori in South Korea alone.

Many people start to isolate themselves because of shame or defeat. They feel they’ve failed to achieve goals. They’ve had broken relationships. They fail exams. They can’t get or keep a job. In cultures where there’s an expectation of cultural uniformity and social shame, the pressures are even more intense.

Some people reenter society on their own, but that seems to be extremely rare. Others need more help, such as in one extreme case where the young man stayed in his room for 10 years. There are now more communal living places that are set up to help resocialize people, give them counseling, prepare them for jobs, teach them, once again, how to talk to one another. That’s a good thing. But the need still seems to be outstripping the availability. And Hikikomori isn’t designated as a mental illness, like depression or agoraphobia, so there’s no standardized treatment at this time. Health care providers are struggling to understand what to do.

Unfortunately, this pandemic is not helping people who want to get back out into the world. It’s harder to find jobs. It’s harder to even find places that are open. It reinforces that feeling that being isolated is the only way to be safe. COVID-19 may even be encouraging more people to become Hikikomori.  

Most recovering Hikikomori seem to regret how much of their life was wasted in isolation. They miss out on so much. The internet can’t keep you warm at night. And yet it must be hard to seek the warmth of human connection when you can’t even remember how to talk to people. It’s a hard spiral to pull out of.

Not everyone can or should be prom king. There is a lot of middle ground between extreme introversion and extreme extroversion. The ruler by which we measure people should be more flexible, but also it should allow someone to say, without shame, “I need help.”

Sources for this post:



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What Will the New Normal Look Like?

We have all been changed by this past year.

I’ve heard much chatter of late as to what the world will be like once we’ve finally developed herd immunity from COVID-19. Some people seem to think everything will revert back to the way it was when we were all more naïve about viruses, their transmission, and their impact. I don’t see that as a possibility. First of all, sorry to say, but COVID-19 will never be completely eradicated. And other pandemics are sure to follow sooner or later.

So this gives me the opportunity to make some predictions about our new normal. I’m sure I’ll look back on this blog post someday and either laugh at my foolishness or think, “Dang, you’re good!” (That’s one of the drawbacks of blogging. There’s nowhere to hide from your past idiocy. But sometimes you also get to say “I told you so!”)

The reason I’m fairly certain that we will not return to days of yore is that when my boss suggested that we’ll all probably be vaccinated by the end of the month and should therefore be able to revert back to our old shift-change-in-a-teeny-tiny-little-room habit, I had a visceral reaction. Panic, if I’m honest.

First of all, due to HIPAA, we’ll never know for sure if everyone has been vaccinated. Second, as of this writing, the scientists are not yet certain that vaccinated people cannot still be carriers of COVID, and even they say that these vaccines are not 100% effective. The news changes daily, but until I have more reassurance than that, I don’t feel like marinating in my coworkers aerosol, thankyouverymuch.

The smallest lesson from this is that a lot of us are going to find it hard to unmask. I’m struggling with the concept, and I HATE wearing a mask. I’m tired of my glasses fogging, and I feel claustrophobic. But I do it because I know that it has been the safest, most responsible thing to do. It will be difficult for me to gauge when that safety and responsibility is no longer needed.

We’ve all been changed in various negative and positive ways by this past year. We’ve slowed down. We’ve isolated ourselves a lot more. Many of us have worked from home. We’ve all learned that it is possible to do these things. Some of us have liked it, and some of us have not. I suspect that a certain percentage of those who don’t like it will find that they like it a lot more when it becomes voluntary, and they’ll adopt a sort of hybrid lifestyle.

I suspect a lot of people who have been telecommuting will resist going back to the office 5 days a week. That, and businesses will have learned that there’s a lot less overhead to pay when you don’t have to maintain as much office space. And, surprise! The work still seems to be getting done.

On the real estate front, many people who have been allowed to telecommute have sold their houses in the big cities and have moved… well, anywhere they’ve wanted to move. A lot of people have gone rural. It’s going to be really hard to persuade them to come back. (It’s sort of the opposite of, “How will you keep them down on the farm, now that they’ve seen ‘Paree’?”)

And now that I’m more aware of virus vectors, I don’t see myself ever being as comfortable going to large concert venues again. Don’t get me wrong. I miss live performances. I just don’t miss sharing my airspace with a thousand strangers.

I’ll never get used to being crammed into a crowded elevator or subway again. When people cough, I’ll feel a flashing red alert inside my head. I doubt I’ll ever enjoy long air flights again. (But then, they’ve been going down hill since the 80’s, anyway.)

Now, when I forget my mask, I don’t get very far. I feel naked and exposed and vulnerable. I’m horrified. I turn right back around and I get it. I think it will take more than a minute for me to get past that feeling.

I suspect that this virus has changed us in ways that we have yet to see. Personally, I’ve enjoyed not having a single solitary cold all year long. I wouldn’t mind continuing to wear a mask in more crowded places if I could stay on that path.

I suspect, at a bare minimum, a certain percentage of us will continue to wear masks, at least some of the time. I also suspect that those of us who do are going to get bullied for it by various factions. But we are living in a different world now, and that’s just a hard fact.

These are my predictions. What do you think? In any event, time will tell.

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