Monday, March 30, 2020

Survival Training

In the last three weeks, it feels like three months have passed! Every day our lives are changing as we face a deadly pandemic in our country. Although we are confined to home, and seem to have lots more time than usual, the time we have crawls.
Maybe it's the fear we're all feeling that changes our perception of time. We're all wondering if any of us will survive; whether we will survive.
To help you feel less afraid, I want to give you a message of survival, but be warned: it is not a message about how great you are, how you can accomplish your dreams, how this will all go away if we close our eyes and sing Kumbaya. (Confession: I love Kumbaya. My family has accused me of singing it at every funeral and pet grave. Hmm. Maybe they're right?) Still, this is not that kind of message.
Once, on vacation with friends, we visited Arches National Park in Utah. The scenery and hikes were spectacular. We decided to hike to the top of that famous arch that is in all the scenic magazines. I believe we intended to watch the moonrise. However, as darkness settled in, members of our group became uneasy. By full dark, they were just plain scared.
"There are mountain lions here," one woman said.
I shrugged. "We are four women chattering, they'll stay away from us."
"But what else is out there?" She didn't seem comforted by my mountain lion assessment, and had gone on to worry about bears.
That night I wondered why I was not afraid. In fact, I realized, I have very little fear of the wilderness. I am aware of dangers – such as the mountain lion that might have been watching our little group huddled in the dark on top of a giant rock – but I feel prepared with knowledge and experience to survive any encounter.
So where did I acquire that knowledge and experience? How did I gain confidence in the back country? When did I learn survival skills?
I learned as a child.
From my earliest memories, my family went camping, as far away from human habitation as my dad could get. We all learned to catch fish – my first catch was at 7, after my two little sisters! – to stay within shouting distance of camp, and to go downhill to water if we were ever truly lost. We were warned about the dangerous animals in the Rocky Mountain forest.
So much that I learned, I cannot even remember! I must have been told that screeching magpies and blue jays usually signal a predator nearby. I must have learned that if lost and hungry, I could always search for grubs in dead logs (Eww!). I must have learned how to use leaves and even pine needles for toilet paper, and to climb a slope carefully so that I wouldn't break a leg.
These lessons did not come as cheerleading: "Atta girl! Good job!" They came as calm, clear warnings. They were about my survival, not about my self-esteem.
There's a difference, isn't there?
I believe I am confident about being in the wilderness because I was taught survival skills, not how to accomplish something. The language of survival training is precise: "Here's what you do if you get lost: go downhill until you get to water and stay there." While my parents obviously hoped I would never get lost, they prepared me for it by explaining exactly what to do. If I actually became lost, they would not be there to cheer me on, I would be on my own.
We are in a time of survival. We are separated from each other, from the very social networks that often sustain us, encourage us. We lack comforts, such a TP, and food. We wish this whole thing would end tomorrow so we can get back to our lives. We obsessively watch the news or news feeds, counting the virus cases and deaths in the country, in our state, in our town. Our fears build.
Here is a survival message from me to you. By the time this pandemic is over:
·         We will have learned how to wipe our butts in inventive ways. (Personally, I'm saving up newspapers. Aint' comfy, but gets the job done.)
·         We will have improved our skills at Scrabble, Monopoly, jigsaw puzzles, Trivial Pursuit, chess, backgammon …
·         College dormitories might be obsolete! And also college cafeterias! (I did a lot of flirting in my college's cafeteria, so – Dang!)
·         We will appreciate our jobs, bosses, co-workers more than ever, or else we finally will leave that crummy job.
·         We might choose a new career path, such as health care; or leave a career path, such as health care.
·         We boomers will finally learn how to be on the internet beyond email and Facebook.
·         We will value Social Security and health care more than ever.
·         We will all have stories about our version of the illness: the fever, the fatigue, the lack of eggs in the house, the cough.
·         We will all know someone who died of coronavirus, probably from our own circle of friends and family.
Like being in the wilderness without survival skills, this is a scary time. Prepare yourself by being informed, keeping your family informed. Like my parents taught me what to do if I got lost, you can teach your kids about the reality of their lives right now. "Stay inside, keep a 6 foot distance from others, hands away from face, report if you feel hot or have a cough."
If I had a magic wand, I would load it with magic to reduce fear, and wave it over the whole world. I don't.
But I do have confidence. By this time next year, people will once again shop for toilet paper when they feel like it. The economy will be crawling back to health. Most of us will get sick, but we will be alive by this time next year.
See you next year, on the other side!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Chickens and Bedtime

Chickens wake up at the crack of dawn. Literally, as soon as a teeny, weeny bit of light creeps across the sky, chickens open their eyes.

This is a blessing and a problem for people with roosters.

Roosters, when they wake up, lift up their lovely, red wattled heads and announce to the world that the sun is coming up. "Cock-a-doodle-do!" they shout in English.

Roosters -- well, all chickens -- are very dumb, so they must think that the rest of the world is as well. They shout about the sun coming up over and over. "Cock-a-doodle-do! Cock-a-doodle-do! Cock-a-doodle-do!"

If you live on a farm, and getting up early is helpful, you might not mind this organic, annoying alarm clock. You might welcome it in the same way city folk welcome the loud, clanging of their mechanical alarm clocks.


Does anyone welcome the sound of an alarm that wakes them from a deep and happy sleep? Doesn't matter the alarm, does it? We all dread it.

Sidebar: This is something retired people look forward to: no alarm clocks any day f the week. Unless we fill up our schedules with volunteer commitments and grandparenting obligations, we get to sleep in. I recommend this. End sidebar.

So roosters and hens awake with the first tiny glimmering of the sun. Roosters crow about it, which is why most cities, if they allow people to keep chickens, don't allow them to keep roosters. Can you imagine the racket if every other home had a rooster crowing at the sun every day?

Hens don't crow. Probably they blink their eyes, stretch out their wings, turn to each other to start gossiping and planning their exciting day of eating.

On the other end of the day, chickens put them selves to bed.

No kidding!

They are very dumb creatures in so many ways, but this is one great thing about chickens: at dusk they head for their roosting spots. By dark they are safe in their chicken house, nestled up against each other, falling asleep.

One time, my sister watched our house and chickens when we went on vacation. After the first day, she called us in a terrible panic. "I've been chasing the chickens to get them to bed, but I can't get them into the henhouse! They're all gonna get eaten by coyotes! I'm exhausted! What should I do?!?!"

We said, "Oh, dear. Take a deep breath. Make yourself a cup of tea. Wait. Wait a half-hour or so. When you go outside, you'll find that the chickens have put themselves away for the night."

She was very offended that we hadn't told her this vital, and surprising piece of information about chickens. She was right, but we are so used to this wonderful chicken blessing, that we hadn't thought about it.

I sometimes wonder if people would be as enchanted by chickens if they had to round them up every night and carry them to the roosts.

So besides giving eggs so generously, this is a great reason to have chickens: they put themselves to bed at night without any complaining or whining or requests for bedtime stories.

Did you know this about chickens? It's a great reason to get some, don't you think? Go tell you parents, siblings, city council.

Monday, March 2, 2020

My Vaccination Story, Part 2: No Joking

Last week I told the story of how I contracted hepatitis as a child after the kids in my school were vaccinated.You may recall that my parents, for religious reasons, chose not to have us kids vaccinated. Because of inadequate sterilization of needles, our entire community became ill with hepatitis, including everyone in my family. I have been infected with hepatitis every since.
Fast forward from my six-year-old self to my young adult self. I was teaching at a tiny rural school, married, and expecting to start a family one day. That's when I learned about measles, which had just erupted among the students in my school, and pregnancy.
Measles, when contracted by a pregnant woman, affects her baby in serious and deadly ways. These babies are born with complicated mental and physical defects. Many of them don't survive into adulthood.
I was terrified. I didn't want my future babies to have birth defects – especially if I could prevent it. Other diseases were similarly bad for gestating babies, but the information about measles really shook me up.
I went to our school nurse, who was a county health nurse, as well as a ranch wife. She was absolutely unflappable and no-nonsense with children. I asked her how I could get vaccinated.
Okay, she was flapped by that. She wanted to know why I was asking such a thing, why I didn't already have vaccinations, etc. After hearing my story, and accepting that I wasn't teasing her, she and I planned for me to receive the normal round of vaccinations along with the children when they got theirs.
So there I was, standing in line with the Kindergartners to get my vaccinations. They eyed me skeptically, like maybe I had forgotten to get in the teacher line or something. I assured them I was there to get my vaccinations, just like they were. Fortunately, me and the five-year-olds were not stuck with needles, but only had to stick out our tongues and swallow the vaccinations put there.
I have never, ever regretted this decision.
According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS) [German measles] can affect almost everything in the developing baby’s body." Because of the vaccinations I received at that little, tiny school, I didn't have to worry, when I was pregnant, about being around someone who was sick with measles that could infect my baby. Maybe my baby would have disabilities anyway, but I had taken significant action to prevent that. The relief was huge.
I made sure my own children were fully vaccinated. Would I have done so if I knew the pain for babies of getting shots at the tender age of six months, and later shots for ____? You bet. The pain of the shot is nothing compared to the pain of coping with a child with birth defects.
I read the material about possible side-effects for my babies, and I was willing to deal with those side-affects from vaccinations in order to make sure my children were safe from terrible diseases, particularly measles. Remember, I had side effects from a vaccination I never received, and recovered and led a normal life 
What if I had known about the possibility of vaccinations creating autism?
I believe I would have gotten the vaccinations anyway.  The fear of my babies or grandbabies being infected by measles – or something worse – far outweighed my concerns about potential personality problems such as autism.
Autism is a serious condition. I have a sister who probably fits on that scale and maybe I do too. (I prefer to claim that we come from a know-it-all, nerdy family.) Remember, we did not receive vaccinations, yet have autism attributes anyway. 
The evidence showing that vaccinations cause autism is not nearly as strong as the evidence that measles causes extremely serious birth defects.
Birth defects have been an area of social concern for decades. My uncle was born in 1936 with one leg longer than the other, and his sister – my mother – gave donations every year to a birth defect foundation. Parents are much more savvy now, and they try to figure out why their child has a birth defect. They challenge the system, including the FDA, about medicines dangerous to unborn children.
Certainly, more babies are now born without the effects of measles. Thank goodness!
To all parents who are feeling reservations about getting your children vaccinated, I urge you to protect your grandchildren by getting your girls vaccinated at least. I urge you to get your sons vaccinated to keep them from getting measles and possibly infecting unborn babies they may come in contact with.
If you are a young adult and you were never vaccinated – and you do not have a religious concern -- consider doing so immediately. If you can't afford to go to the doctor, please find a clinic and tell them your story. They will help you. There are many, many programs available to help people maintain healthy lives, and vaccinations are part of that.
Young women in particular, you will not regret protecting your future babies from birth defects.
My relationship with vaccinations is complicated. Yours doesn't need to be. 
Get your children vaccinated, get yourself vaccinated, make sure your grandchildren are vaccinated, as soon as possible. 
Protect our unborn babies.