To Travel or Not to Travel

I’ve been thinking about traveling lately. Getting out and seeing different parts of the world is really good for my soul. It reminds me, at the same time, of how much similarity there is in all these places, as well as how different places can be. For example, on my field trip last weekend, I saw many of the same kinds of trees I do here (post oaks, live oaks, cedar elms, eastern red cedar), but I also saw many kinds of plants that were very different, like the rattleboxes (repeated from yesterday, but they are so cool!

These make all sorts of sound when it’s windy out by Edwards Lake!

Now that we are mostly working from home, it seems to me that I could travel and work at the same time. As long as I have the laptop and Wi-Fi, I’m set! Zoom is only a click away!

So, I have booked some travel that’s not vacation, just living in a different place. I’ll just have to be really careful getting where I’m going, but that’s not impossible. Once I’m there, I can get all cozy in my rental accommodations, look out the windows at different scenery, and pretend I’m someone else, in a less awful time. At least I’ll be somewhere else!

London, January 26, 2020. People wearing a face masks to protecting themself because of epidemic in China. Selective Focus. Concept of coronavirus quarantine. MERS-Cov, middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV.

I don’t want to get sick, which means, boo hoo, my shopping habit won’t be indulged in. But I can certainly take walks on paths and trails that are not crowded, enjoy parks, and order fun food delivered to my room, right? I’m hoping that this “middle way” of not acting foolish, but not sacrificing the few years of being able to travel that I have left, will get me through the rest of this year and next year.

So many people I know think the risk of getting COVID isn’t real. They aren’t taking precautions, and that’s their right, I guess.

Knowing people who’ve had it, I can’t say that nothing will happen to travelers. But I also think the reasonable solution to the problem is avoiding crowds and keeping clean. That, I can do. And I won’t go anywhere that doesn’t have a lot of safety measures in place. (I’ll tell you where I’m going when I get there!)

I’m not going here, though I’d like to. Image by @omom via Twenty20.

Feedback? Am I being foolish? Do you have any fun ideas for out-of-town activities one can do?

Things I Want(ed) to Do

As I find ways to do more things that help me feel like a regular person again (while still being COVID-aware), I’ve started making a mental list of things I want to do, and figuring out whether I can actually make them happen. Have you been entertaining similar thoughts?

But Wait, I’ve Done So Much!

I managed to get out of town for a weekend with family successfully, so that knocked one off the list. I’m going to spend more time away soon, and I’ll fill you in on that when the time comes. The plan is to not do my beloved shopping and eating out, but still enjoy another place.

Another thing I want to do is hang out with fellow Texas Master Naturalists. The annual meeting starts tomorrow, and I’m taking time off from work to sit at my desk and hang out virtually. I think that will be a good time, but I’ll have to figure out how to get all my movement goals made! If it were in person, I’d be there hiking around Houston already!

I’ll be there virtually!

Some members of our group are also planning some outings to other counties to count what wildlife can be found there. I hope that will bring us together safely, outdoors, and let us enjoy ourselves while doing some valuable work!

More along the lines of vanity, I really wanted to get my nails done by my friend, Tina, at the nail salon. I hadn’t gone since I had St. Patrick’s Day nails put on. That’s because there are often lots and lots of people there, along with their families, friends, and such. We wanted to avoid crowded spaces, because we wanted out clients and their families to be sure that they knew we were putting their safety ahead of our vanity.

Happy, shiny me.

Luckily, Tina came up with a plan for me to go one evening at the end of their open hours (which happens to conveniently be when her husband is disinfecting things), when no one else is there. So, yay! I have nice new nails on my hands and feet, and we got to catch up on a LOT of each other’s goings on. Masks were worn and hands were washed obsessively.

Looking autumnal.

Another thing I want to do is buy fresh fruit and vegetables. I’m a little put off by farmers’ markets, since around here there isn’t a lot of mask wearing. And I seem to always have meetings on Wednesdays, when there’s a lovely small market here in Cameron. However, I did hear about a place nearby that sells hydroponically grown stuff. Maybe they deliver! I’m checking it out.

This probably sounds selfish, but I miss wandering through art galleries, too. I just love to look at hand-made stuff, whether paintings, pottery, jewelry or sculpture. I managed to sort of do it today, when I managed to go to the new antique store in town when it was just about empty. I found a painting of trees that I just loved. $25. I thank the woman who painted it, wherever she is.

Trees and rivers. Not a masterpiece, but I like it.

I also got a piece of Navajo pottery by A. Joe, who I can’t find anything about other than he’s contemporary. It is just what my fireplace wanted, however. I think this satisfied my desire to enjoy art, since I even brought some home! Check out Chelle’s if you’re ever in Cameron!

It makes the blue in the rug under my desk not look quite so out of place!

I realized I have very few other things on my list, other than eating out at a nice restaurant and having our book club indoors without masks, so that all the members can hear each other. Masks are really difficult for the hard of hearing! But, no wonder I feel better. I’m finding ways to do what makes me happy. And I got a flu shot, so that’s one less thing out to kill me.

It’s funny, I intended to write about things I want to do, but ended up writing about how I’ve done so much of what makes me happy already. What have you figured out a way to do, while keeping to your personal standards of safety? What do you still want to do?

Baby Steps to a Comfortable Life

Work Comfort

I’m realizing that my life is coming back, slowly. It’s different, but things I care about keep coming back. For example, going back to my Austin office has let me visit my tree friends in the courtyard (even if we can no longer see them from our desks).

Courtyard oaks.

I’ve known the trees since I moved to this area. We used to drive by them all the time while they were building my house. Then they were mottes of trees in beautiful meadows. Now they got saved when an office complex got built.

So restful.

I saw extra cool honey mushrooms in the rocky karst area.

Home Improvements

Our Bobcat Lair house has been stuck in February mode. The front tree has had Valentine decor, and there was a broken statue on the dining table for months. I was hardly ever home, and Anita stayed downstairs.

Farewell February!

But tonight Declan and Rollie came over and fixed that. We put up all the decorations we have, and Rollie really wanted orange lights, so we have them.

And we did the mantel. Yay.

It felt so good to be doing something together. I miss having the kids around. And they helped so much. We may have been wearing masks and keeping our distance, but we were doing fun seasonal stuff. Time has stopped freezing.

Spooky young people. They ARE smiling.

And we all walked the dogs together. That has always been my favorite family activity, ever since I was a kid. Traditions continue. Life goes on. Love can’t be stopped!

Sending air hugs to all.

Little Progress toward “Normal”

Just a little. I’ve felt a lot better the past few days, and I think a lot of it is because life has become just a wee bit more normal, at least it feels that way. Being able to take the trip out of town and see different scenery was really refreshing for my soul, and with just a little care, we hardly interacted with anyone, and those we did interact with were either so far away we had to yell, or we were all masked. I felt like we were starting to get the hang of this pandemic safety thing.

This was my Facebook post last night. It fits the theme for today…

After work yesterday, I headed up to Austin, because part of my new “normality” is going there at least twice a month, seeing Anita, and working in the office. That also gives me Vlassic time, which we both appreciate (except when he insists on going out to do his doggie business at 3 am).

When I arrived, the extended neighbors (including folks who live nearby) were having a happy hour, a thing they used to do regularly by the pool. I appreciated them doing it on a day when I could attend. And, of course we weren’t around the pool, since the HOA has banned us from going there, because they fear lawsuits (with reason, given some neighbors’ proclivities).

We cleared out the center parking area and made plenty of space for everyone to gather. We sat in family units (except I deserted Anita due to sun in my face), neatly arranged six or more feet apart. Everyone had their own drinks of choice and had fun.

Happy neighbors on a beautiful evening.

The main downfall of this is, of course, that the hard-of-hearing folks didn’t get to participate as much. I saw a couple of people who just sat quietly, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they couldn’t hear, or read lips through masks.

Nonetheless, we heard some funny stories, got caught up on each other’s ups and downs, and didn’t die from heat or mosquitoes. October sure is nice in Texas. And doing at least a LITTLE socializing, while taking sensible precautions, was a lot of fun.

Telling stories.

I have to share one little story that made me chuckle. One neighbor loudly declared that he was NOT going to wear a mask, because his doctor told him that it wouldn’t keep him from getting sick, and only helps a little in preventing you from getting others sick. Another neighbor said his doctor encouraged mask wearing, so he was going to keep on doing what he was doing. The first guy just bellowed, “You need to get another doctor!”

Yes, changing doctors is all you need to be safe…or at least have the illusion. I just smiled and declared I’d keep using common sense.

Poor deserted Anita.

The main thing is that my life feels a little more normal, even though many thing are still different. I think we’re adapting to the way things are, and that’s what counts. At least my nightmares aren’t about COVID anymore (no, it’s still kanban cards and more kanban cards).

Mask Etiquette Dilemma

I bit the bullet and got my hair cut today. The place I go made a lot of changes for safety, like a whole bunch of plexiglass, so I wasn’t too worried about going. I waited in my car until I was called in, then went over to the stylist’s station. I stated that I wanted my hair cut, then we headed over to get it washed.

Hair is much shorter but still pale blue.

That’s where I saw it. Some lovely young woman was sitting in the chair closest to the hair-washing sinks. She had her mask on, all right, but her perky little nose was poking proudly out above the top of the mask. It surprised me, because I guess I thought her stylist would have reminded her how one is supposed to wear a mask to protect others from your germs.

Proper mask wearing, though crooked (pre haircut)

Since I was so surprised, I just gave her a long look through my squinty li’l Suna eyes, hoping they conveyed my disapproval.

As I sat in my chair watching Dan cut little triangles of hair, I kept wondering if I should have said something to the nose displaying woman. Excuse me, but your mask has slipped down? Hey, I can see your appendage!

Gaudy mask with giant earrings. Still safe!

Then I countered myself with the fact that I was far from her and she was facing the other way. And is it any of my business to tell her how to behave in public? People are pretty edgy about masks in the US, after all. Why start a fight? She wasn’t coughing on me.

On the other hand, we were indoors, which is risky even with all the plexiglass. She was being inconsiderate, at the least. Dangerous to some people’s thinking. What to do?

I look as tired of pictures of me in masks as you probably are. Also my eye size discrepancy is getting worse as my eyelids droop.

Well, I did take care of the people around me. I kept my mask on, even when big hunks of hair fell in it. I even tightened it when it began to slide. So, I was a good role model.

I wore this sloth mask today.

But I keep second guessing myself. What would you do?

Zoom Zoom

Are you tired of people going on and on about their online meetings? Me, too, but I still have things to say about it. In the past few days I’ve had a number of talks with friends and colleagues (mostly on Zoom) about how the pandemic and issues around it have changed their interactions with others. I’ve found it pretty interesting.

I pretend this is what I look like on Zoom with my headphones all jaunty and wearing lipstick that would stain the heck out of my mask if it were real.

This week I spent at least half of every day with my headphones on smiling at little square images of people who are smiling back at me. At least on Zoom, people can tell you are smiling, which is good, since my mask only accentuates my resting grumpy face. And I smile a lot, hoping it helps the moods of my friends and coworkers.

Since I work (and volunteer work) Zoom so often, I limit my personal Zooming pretty strongly. I have the world’s comfiest headphones (by Jabra), but they still get to me after many hours. Most of my personal conversations, like with my son and sister, are by text and Facebook Messenger, because that lets me multi-task, and frankly, I type more coherently than I talk. I can fix typos, but not speak-os.

Un-retouched Zoom me. Note wrinkles and frown lines.

Phone calls I just do with a couple of folks (hi Mike). I don’t mind them as much as some younger people do, but I don’t like yelling at the speaker phone where people can hear my whole conversation as well as what the other person says, but my ears need a rest from those headphones, so I don’t want to hold up the phone. And of course my fancy iPhone earpieces make me sound like I am talking from inside a well. Thanks, technology.

The COVID Effect

I’m pretty sure, though, that I communicate more often, and also communicate more deeply with others since the pandemic started. The threat over each of us that an invisible thing can come get us any time, anywhere, really makes me, at least, treasure my connections more.

What happens when I am on Zoom all day then open SnapChat. This is scary.

Many of my recent work meetings have turned into personal conversations, as well, since we agree that we need someone to safely talk about our concerns who doesn’t live in the same house with us. I’ve heard a lot about the difficulty of negotiating the current list of hot topics with relatives, talking to children about illnesses, and how important our pets are to us (see, it’s not just me!).

In some ways, I’m getting to know people better than I did before, when you tried so hard to just stick to the topic at hand. We all realize we NEED a little down time and that building relationships is important. Now, that’s a great bonus from all this isolation, for me.

Being able to see each other’s homes, our personal work spaces, our pets, or our back yards, reminds us that coworkers are way more than the spreadsheet maker, the project manager, the programmer, or the writer. That’s a key for greater understanding among all of us, which I’ve repeatedly stated: we all have more in common than we often realize. When you see that people in Israel or South Africa have the same collection of kitchen stuff on their counters as you do, the world gets smaller.

This meme hits way too close to home, doesn’t it?

2020 really has been a challenging year so far. Maybe these new connections will help us as we figure out what to do in the brave new, potentially even scarier, world of next year. Until then, I’ll keep on Zooming, texting, chatting, and writing.

How about you?

Testing My Resolve about Good Intentions

I keep telling you one of my rules for life is to assume good intentions. I want to make the assumption that everyone I interact with is doing the best they can with the information they currently have. I want to assume the vast majority of people don’t set out to be mean, rude, arrogant, or unkind on purpose. I like to think that nearly everyone is capable of caring for the health and well being of others.

I can dream, can’t I? This whole pandemic thing seems like a big test of humanity, and one that is supporting the “man’s inhumanity to man” viewpoint (I’m quoting, so forgive me for the sexism).

Yes, what this donkey is telling us.

Like many of my friends, my convictions have been tested strongly by people who come across as unconcerned about making friends and family members sick from a potentially deadly disease. No matter how hard you try to isolate, wipe things down, go nowhere, and see no one, it just takes one person who isn’t as careful to get you all infected.

I keep thinking of people I know who are essential workers, and have to be out in public. You know, the grocery store workers, the health care professionals, the police, the delivery drivers. They never know when a person who just doesn’t care will walk in and cough all over them. That then puts their own families at risk.

This doesn’t protect you from people who don’t care.

No longer is this just theory. Every single day I hear of a person who “doesn’t believe in” germs, or something, who gets infected and goes on their merry way. Not somewhere else. No, in the places where my loved ones live. They infect people I care about, and I can’t go help them or be with them. That makes assuming good intentions quite difficult.

Of course I’m not alone in this. Most people I know feel this way. Even people who are philosophically opposed to taking certain precautions don’t seem to want to make other people sick.

Where was I going with this? I guess the thing is that even if nearly everyone is coming from a place of good intentions and trying to do the right thing (even if their different backgrounds might cause them to choose differently from me), all it takes is a couple of people who honestly don’t give a flip about the rest of the world to ruin lives.

Let’s just get out of here, like Sara and Apache are here.

Is there nothing we can do about this? Should we just throw out the idea that people are doing the best they can? Maybe, just maybe, we can learn something and build a better future. I guess that depends on who’s left after all these viruses and other contagions (racism, fascism, random divisiveness, etc.) run their course.

Asking for Input in Troubled Times

While I do try to remain upbeat, some days are easier than other. And the daily grind is challenging. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that right now!

Every day I hear grim statistics about COVID-19. Every day I read about people who “don’t believe in” the virus. Every day I see people scurrying around in masks trying to complete their business and get back home. Every day I see people playing contact sports, walking in large groups, and choosing to ignore social distancing practices.

Everyone has their own ideas of what’s safe, it seems.

Such contrasts!

The NY Times says fighting over masks is the new national pastime. That’s so sad.

How do you deal with the conflict that’s so obvious in our state and nation during this pandemic? I don’t think yelling at each other is a good idea. Shaming doesn’t seem to work. Everyone’s stressed out enough as it is, and being yelled at and shamed won’t make anyone change what they’re doing. I totally understand that, but I also understand how people react that way.

So, I’m looking for input. What are some ways of coping and maintaining an even keel that you’ve tried? Here are a few of mine (which aren’t working too well right now):

  • Deep breathing
  • Limiting reading of social and news media
  • Spending time with animals
  • Reading cheerful books and magazines
  • Writing letters
  • Doing kind things for others (I ordered some herbal supplements for a young friend, for example, since I could get them at a discount)

This is a good start, maybe!

Be good to each other. We’re all we have!

Pandemic Pouting

Honestly and truly, I have been doing my best to be a good citizen (or sheep, depending on who’s perspective you’re taking) about this whole COVID-19 issue. I really haven’t gone anywhere other than back and forth from the ranch to the office, I’ve Zoomed with people I want to talk to, I’ve dutifully sat on the porch and enjoyed nature…all that stuff. And I’m truly grateful for the family and friends who care for us all.

Yes, I still have the dogs.

Still, it’s okay to mourn things you’ve lost, even if you know it’s for the best. Here’s a great blog post by Rev. Joanna Crawford that hits home. She concludes:

You can’t logic away feelings, nor should you. We have to just live with complexity. Relief that the government is doing the right thing to protect lives. And sadness for the loss of the ordinary dumb things that before we could just take for granted.

You Can Be Sad With Decisions You Agree With, Boots and Blessings, April 20, 2020

So right this minute I want to declare to the world that I’m really, really sad to see more and more of my favorite Austin restaurants closing forever. Sure, it’s all for the best that we can’t eat out (and in my case can’t even be in Austin), but damn, I will miss the Threadgills Old Number One where so many of my friends have played, the Magnolia Cafe in the beautiful (but expensive) location, etc. I’m very sad for all the people who worked there, their suppliers, and the people who owned the place.

I still have sunsets, even ones with ominous clouds.

I’m sad that oil futures went negative. Income from wells was the source of income that let Lee retire to focus on doing good in the community. Everything’s closing down. Whether I agree or not that fossil fuels are great, I know many people who earn their livings in that business, and who will not be bringing home paychecks for their families. (I am relieved that our nephew, Chris, has many skills that are useful outside of oil fields and can start his business renovating old houses soon.)

Nature is still everywhere, even in our dirty little pond, which is full of tadpoles and bugs.

I’m pissed off that because people are unable to pay their rents (Lee’s second source of income), we’ve had to lay off Mandi (who is fine; she’ll make more on unemployment than we pay her, and we do plan to bring her back). Laying off your friend is never the highlight of one’s day. Speaking of layoffs, I’m also pissed that my boss in Austin, you know, the best boss I ever had, got laid off, leaving a big hole in my team.

Did I mention I still have dogs?

And darn it, I miss seeing my friends and my family. I miss Anita and Declan and Rollie and my Austin neighbors and coworkers. I miss my Cameron friends and my sister.

While we’re at it, I want to GO SOMEWHERE. ANYWHERE. I think I’m gonna get in my car and just drive down dirt roads for a while, just to see some other scenery than FM 485 and Travis Avenue in Cameron.

And I have the Hermits’ Rest. And the porches. And Kathleen, heading to the porch.

Yeppers, I still have many wonderful small things to be grateful for, and I am glad I am able to keep myself relatively safe (many don’t have that chance; have you read about how the Navajo Nation is overwhelmed by the virus?). But:

It is absolutely okay to mourn the many small things you’ve lost.

I’m not gonna dwell on this stuff. Just putting it out there to help me let it go, take a deep breath and get back to that one step at a time thing. Hoping the same for you.