Traveling smart in today’s world

Today, more people are traveling than ever before, and total numbers are expected to surpass pre-pandemic levels this year. Traveling always involves decision-making and at least a modicum of planning. If all goes well, it can be a joyful and exhilarating experience.

Unfortunately, the reality is that travel isn’t always painless. Schedules go awry; tempers flare and complications arise even during the shortest and best-planned trips. Weather delays are common, and there are growing logistical and safety concerns during peak holiday and summer travel seasons.

But that in no way means one should stay home. Even if you’re not a seasoned traveler. Even if you’re a senior citizen. Even if you’re traveling with small children. Even if you opt to travel alone to an unfamiliar destination. It does mean, however, that you should have a plan. No matter what your individual situation, the smart way to travel is to think beforehand about how you might deal with some common travel scenarios.

Think of it as an adult contingency plan, or enlist the kids or grandkids in a make-believe “travel drill.” Discuss why it’s important to know what to do and how to find help. Be matter of fact and confident. Travel should not provoke fear; travelers should exude confidence.

Some of the more common travel concerns today involve changed schedules, missed flights, petty crime, and credit card fraud. On our recent journey to South America and Antarctica, my husband and I encountered all of those, and dealt with other annoyances as well. Here’s how we coped:

Changing airline schedules and the potential of missed flights

Yes, travelers today are at the mercy of weather, overbooking, traffic jams, mechanical problems, and a number of other contingencies that can ruin a plan. Those things happen, and it does no good to give way to anger. Neither should you be consumed by fear of what might go wrong. The antidote to such delays, for us at least, is to plan to arrive at a destination well in advance of the time we need to be there. Wiggle room, even if it involves a night or two at a foreign hotel, is well worth it!

That being said, when we were told that the first leg of our three-flight itinerary from from Little Rock to to Santiago, Chile, would be delayed due to airline mechanical issues, we could not help but groan. Our trip had not even begun, and we momentarily thought it might end then and there. 

The first leg of our journey was to have been a relatively short flight to Charlotte. Then, another flight on to Miami where the plan was to meet up with another couple coming from Pennsylvania to board an overnight flight to Santiago. Making all the connections on time was a requirement, but we had sufficient time in each airport, and the weather forecast was for clear, dry conditions the entire way.

Rule 1: Never trust that your plans will fall perfectly into place. When we were told that there was no timeline for the needed aircraft repairs, we were concerned. With the announcement of a new scheduled arrival in Charlotte that was later than the anticipated departure of the connecting flight to Miami, we were upset.

Rule 2: Don’t lose your cool. I was one of the first in line at the airline counter to ask what could be done to enable our late-night international connection in Miami. I smiled as I asked! As it turns out, there was no way to make that connection. The alternative — suggested by the American Airlines passenger service rep who had helped us check our luggage — was to travel to Dallas and then board a non-stop flight to Santiago, with only about a two-hour layover at DFW Airport. It was a serendipitous solution and he made it happen. In fact, we would arrive at our destination about an hour earlier than previously planned. I asked about rerouting our checked luggage, and was assured that the airline knew where our bags were and where they needed to go. We were issued new tickets and boarding passes. 

Rule 3: Relax and reassess your options. We left a text message for our friends and made our way to our new gate, waiting for the flight to be called. Only then did we breathe sighs of relief. The flight to Dallas was short and uneventful. As promised, we later took our seats on the international flight out of Dallas, and we even slept a bit after being served dinner, awaking to see the sun rise over the Andes Mountains before landing at our destination. Our bags awaited us, as promised, in Chile.

The story doesn’t end there, however

A taxi transfer from the airport to our hotel in Santiago for the four of us had been booked and paid in advance. We had a company name and a confirmation, and we had a phone number. We made our way to the arrivals waiting area, where we expected to be greeted by a driver holding a card with our name on it. Because we were early, we were not overly concerned that no one was waiting.

One of the warnings we had received from previous travelers to Santiago focused on inflated taxi fares charged arriving passengers. We had followed the suggestion to book in advance and not fall prey to unscrupulous operators. We had heeded the warnings, and felt confident about our next moves.

When our friends arrived, it was nearly the time that our driver was to meet us. We were tired, and perhaps impatient, unfamiliar with the language and the airport layout. We tried, to no avail, to call the phone number we had. We checked our email and found nothing.

The details are not important here. Suffice it to say that we knew better, all four of us, but we still were victimized. We gullibly accepted help from a “charming” but ruthless con artist who offered to call our contact number from his phone. He looked at the number and made a call, speaking in Spanish. He reported to us that the company had apologized for the delay, but no car was currently available for us, It would be, he said, more than an hour until another car would be available. He then said that an associate of his had a van available, and would transport us to our hotel for a sum that was less than the charge for the ride we had booked, and that we could pay by credit card. Because we had no Chilean pesos in our possession, it seemed a reasonable solution.  

Should we have known better? Absolutely. We made a mistake, one we will not easily forget.

WARNING: Heed the specific warnings you receive about what to do and how to act in a foreign country. Ignore those warnings and deal with the consequences.

Awareness comes from unintentional mistakes

In our case, the consequences included having to respond to fraud inquiries from three separate credit card companies within hours of our arrival at the hotel. The driver of the van brought us to our hotel as promised, ran one credit card through a portable machine and reported that the charge (for $25) had been declined. Then, he tried another card, and another, with the same result, until we finally offered cash in American dollars, and the offer was accepted. (We actually tipped him a small amount for his trouble.) He unloaded our bags quickly and drove off immediately. 

We are grateful that we had phone service and that our respective credit suppliers are watchful and responsive. The attempted charges — just to make the extent of the problem clear — amounted to several thousands of dollars. (The fare for the cab ride we had originally booked was just under $50. Should we have questioned the $25 offer? Probably.) Our final liability — loss of the prepaid taxi fare. We later received email acknowledgement from the original company and driver that the scheduled pickup was deemed a “no show” after a 30-minute wait for us at the airport arrivals gate.

We consider it a relatively small price to pay for a big lesson learned. Other travelers have not been so fortunate. The experience was sobering, and we are still dealing with the fallout in some ways. It was not a pleasant introduction to a country that we had been prepared to like. Note that we did subsequently find much to like about Chile and its people!

Rule 4: Believe in the good, but prepare for the worst. From hidden money belts to a small cash reserve in the currency of each country you visit, from a credit card with a zero balance and an international reach to emergency numbers stored both on your cell phone and in your wallet, do what you need to do to keep in touch with your financial and personal resources at home.

Rule 5: Leave expensive, showy personal items at home. That includes jewelry, watches, extra electronic devices, and miscellaneous “toys.” Make use of hotel (or ship) safes for passports and travel documents, credit cards and cash, and look up local numbers for the embassy and consulate of your home country in the cities you plan to visit.

Rule 6: Don’t be paranoid, but, figuratively, “watch your back,” and the backs of fellow travelers. Petty crime — including theft of cell phones and cameras, and elusive pickpockets — is rampant worldwide. Again, we had been forewarned about such problems in the South American cities we were to visit, but we were not prepared to be approached by complete strangers in Santiago, in Valparaiso, in Montevideo, and in Buenos Aires, who told us in halting English to hold our phones tightly, to not sling our cameras casually across a shoulder, to remove wristwatches and flashy jewelry, and to hold our daypacks tightly against our bodies. In a way, such admonishments confirmed to us that most people are good; in another way, it was infinitely dismaying that residents warn visitors against the threats posed by their own countrymen. Vandals and bullies exist in all cultures. But I cannot help feel a lingering sadness that it is a way of life in some countries.

Rule 7: Opt for insurance.  Only you can decide what kind of insurance or how much is necessary. But to travel without the peace of mind that can be yours is an unnecessary gamble. Whether it’s reimbursement for lost luggage, coverage for trip delays and cancellations, or provision for medical treatment and emergency repatriation, most people consider some type of protection a necessity.

Whether you travel on your own, with a small group of friends or family, or as part of an organized tour, be aware that bad things can and do happen, perhaps more often than we realize. Don’t give in to fear, and certainly don’t stay home. Talk to others about their trips and their plans, and learn to know the people you encounter as you travel, as well as those you travel with.

Travel is still the best way to meet and learn about other people and other cultures, see new places, enrich your life, experience the wonders of this planet, and have stories to tell that will last a lifetime.

Now that we are home, will we travel again? You can count on it — as often and as far as possible!

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December 7 . . .

This day has always held unique meaning for me. From early childhood, I knew that the man who would become my father was on a military ship bound for The Philippines in the early morning hours of December 7, 1941. Before I realized the significance of that day, I knew that his ship had received new orders to turn back immediately and return to its West Coast port of embarkation. Had the ship not returned to U.S. waters, who knows how its fate, or mine, might have been different?

That was perhaps the first of the stories that were a part of my upbringing and the proud military traditions of my family. As I have grown older, the day has also grown more meaningful because it represents a time that, I believe, served to rally Americans in a way that few other events have united us. Our nation was thrust suddenly into a war that was not of our making. My father and my uncles served in that war, in Europe and the Pacific. Others of my family served in World War I, and still others wore the uniform proudly both in peacetime and during other campaigns fought by their country.

On a whim, as I thought about the events of Pearl Harbor those many years ago, I checked to see what else had occurred in history on December 7. It was on this date, also in 1941, that Adolf Hitler authorized the secretive “Night and Fog” campaign, aimed to arrest and execute citizens in territories occupied by Nazi Germany.

I was more than surprised to learn that, on December 7, 1917, the U.S. Congress approved a resolution which led to a declaration of war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Senate later approved the resolution 74-0, and the U.S. was officially a player in the “war to end all wars.” That’s a date in history I was never required in memorize in school.

It was also on this date — in 1972 — when NASA launched the last manned flight to the moon, carrying a crew of three — Command Module Pilot Ronald Evan, Lunar Module Pilot Harrison Schmitt, and Commander Eugene Cernan. Schmitt and Cernan landed on the surface on December 11. The crew returned safely to earth December 19, with Schmitt and Cernan still the last human beings to have walked on the moon. That’s an event I cannot forget, although that mission was 50 years ago!

No doubt others have their own memories tied to December 7 — that’s the way it is with dates, whether they have historical impact or only personal significance. Sometimes, we are caught up short by the memories they provoke, and occasionally a date that should be marked in some larger way slips by unrecognized. Either way — whether it’s of lasting import or only a fleeting thought — perhaps there is more to celebrate and think about on this day than on most.

Several years ago, I was privileged to attend a ceremony at the small Veterans Memorial Plaza in Burleson, Texas. It was a moving tribute to those who served in World War II. The speaker was Don Graves, then a 93-year-old Marine Corps veteran who fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima, and was present at the ceremonial flag-raising on Mount Surabachi.

He was lucky. He survived. He noted that he would never forget the words of President Franklin Roosevelt the day following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was 16 at the time. He could not enlist for another six months, until he turned 17. “We were just kids,” he said, adding that he and his buddies signed up to fight for their country without thinking of the future or the consequences. “It was just the way we were brought up,” he said.

Now, that’s something to think about, isn’t it?

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Being at home in the world

Growing up, I had no home. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t homeless. But I never had a “home town,” a sense of belonging anywhere in particular. As an Army brat. I learned early on that home was wherever I might be at the moment, and that my address was apt to change at a moment’s notice.

“. . . at a moment’s notice.” That’s a bit of an exaggeration, and I realize I was luckier than some. I was uprooted far less than many of my early friends. Nevertheless, throughout my life I have invariably stammered and stumbled a bit when someone asks where I am from. It wasn’t until sixth grade that I completed an entire year at the same school. I found it hard to introduce myself to new classmates and neighbors, but I finally mastered an answer to the first question — “Where are you from?” I either named the state of my birth without further comment, or I opted to claim the last state I had lived in.

Even though I was fortunate enough to spend six years in Seattle, from sixth grade through my senior year of high school, my time there was spent at three different addresses. It seems somewhat surreal now, looking back over the span of years.

If there has been one constant in my life, it has been moving. Until relatively recently, actually in 2019, I had not lived at a single address for as long as five years. That milestone passed and stretched on to a sixth anniversary. And then, shortly after, my husband and I moved once again across a state line and into a new-to-us home in an established community.

It feels right, somehow, this new address. Now, after two years here, we feel truly at home.  I have no intention of moving on. I know that may change but, for now, I am content, and I no longer hesitate when asked where I am from. I am from right here! I have come home, and I plan to stay.

That in no way means I don’t want to travel. In fact, the urge is stronger than ever, and as COVID fears are diminished, I know my husband and I will take to the roadways, the airways and the seas as often as we can.

Ask any military kid where home is, and you’re likely to be greeted either with a blank stare, or a quick laugh before launching into an explanation of where s(he) was born and where she started school, the city where he learned to drive or first kissed, and other similar trivia. Military kids mark time by events and places, or through shared experiences independent of time. That doesn’t mean we don’t make good friends. Those friendships simply are, more often than not, among those who truly understand the concept that “home” is anywhere you unpack for longer than a week.

Those of us who loved the life thought it was entirely normal rather than disruptive. Yes, we collected plenty of stuff to assure that our memories of other places and other times were kept alive. Much of my stuff has traveled with me through the years, only to remain packed away in trunks and footlockers for decades. I regret not having “grandma’s attic” somewhere, where it all might have remained, safe and undisturbed, for decades. Some of my stuff has disappeared along the way. But the memories remain.

Now, after all these years, I am determined to rid my life of all that stuff. It’s difficult, because with every box that I tote up from the basement, or bring home from an overflowing storage unit, a small piece of my former life threatens to unravel. I’m having trouble making sense of it all, and I view everything with different eyes.

Sometimes an old photograph prompts giggles, sometimes grimaces. I snort in disbelief on occasion, sinking deep into half-forgotten memories from my childhood, and reliving what I recall fondly as some of the best of times.

The good times are far more vivid than any other experiences of those growing-up years. I seldom was lonely. My early life (actually my entire life) seems an unending adventure story. Perhaps that is why I pack a bag and board a plane, book a cruise or plan a road trip so readily. It was a habit formed through necessity at an early age, and I still embrace it.

I have to laugh now, every time someone asks where I’m from. I no longer pause or stammer with an answer, but I sometimes have to turn to my husband and wink. When we launch into the explanation of how we met and where we’ve lived, our listeners think we’re “spinning a yarn,” pulling their legs with a well-rehearsed fictional story. Not so, folks — It’s all true. Truth, as is said, is often stranger than fiction.

We recently returned from an extended trip three years in the making — a cruise to the Norwegian fjords and the Arctic Circle. We had postponed the journey twice and rescheduled out of necessity due to COVID. It was a memorable experience, but it’s good to be home.

It feels right, and we look forward to being right here, at home, for the foreseeable future.

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Time Lost and the Road Ahead

It has been far too long since I boarded an airplane or walked up the gangplank to a ship. It seems like forever ago that I last hailed a cab in an unfamiliar city, or booked an excursion in a foreign land. It’s been longer than I’d like since I last threw an overnight bag in the trunk of my car for a quick trip just for the fun of it.

Don’t get me wrong. We moved to a new home in another state during the pandemic. That was an experience I had not planned. I have truly enjoyed forging a new life in a new community over the past six months. Moving from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to small-town Arkansas was the right decision at the right time, and my husband and I have no regrets. We are happy to be here.

We have made many friends, and we are busy with our new lives.

But I miss traveling.

Setting out on new journeys is not only a familiar lifestyle, it is part and parcel of my being, embedded in my DNA.

Staying put is not something I ever mastered. The old restlessness has returned in spades. Luckily, I have now had both doses of a vaccine that promises to get the world on the path to recovery from this virus and from the fear and uncertainty that have gripped us over the past year.

I know that others have dealt with far more important issues this year. I, too, grieve for the lives lost and the the lives disrupted by this terrible illness. But for a year now, as COVID-19 dominated each nightly newscast, permeated our waking hours, limited our activities, affected people’s livelihoods, and invaded the collective consciousness of the nation, it also had an effect on our well-being that had little to do with the physical pain or the threat of physical illness. It has taken an emotional and psychological toll that we are only now beginning to realize, confirm and understand. Those effects may be the most difficult to combat.

I am now quite certain that “normal” will not return — not soon, probably not ever. The melancholia I face centers around missing the sights and sounds of new places. I miss exchanging pleasantries with others who stand in line at airports to check in for flights and wait patiently at terminal kiosks to collect luggage. I even miss the cramped seats and the lack of leg room, because I know that they are only temporary, and they are the price of new adventure. I miss the the thrill of unfamiliar horizons and faraway places. I miss meeting new people and making new friends. Most of all, I miss the dreams, the expectations; the ability to pack up and leave the familiar behind at will has been a gift. I understand that. I yearn for those times to return.

I know that one day I’ll be back on the road. It will not be the same, and it’s long overdue. Because, after all is said and done, embracing the unknown is what life is all about.

I am curious about what this year has meant to others. What do you miss the most? The closeness of family, the ability to meet others and be a part of a crowd at a concert or a baseball game, the freedom to go and be and do what you wish when you wish? Or do you miss hugging your grandchildren and being with your parents, your classmates or your coworkers?

When the restrictions are eased, what is it that you will do first?

It’s time to think about the next step. Because the “new normal” will not be what normal once was for any of us.

As some restrictions are lifted, it’s now up to each of us to shape the future. Hopefully, your future will turn out the way you want it. I hope it will be good for all of us.

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Inauguration Day

How awesome it is to be an American today.

I have to admit that I have been somewhat worried over the past two weeks about how this day would dawn, and about how it would end.

I’m breathing calmly, now that dark has fallen outside my window, and with a sense of relief that the events in Washington, D.C. today unfolded as they did, that the 46th president and vice president took their oaths of office, celebrated quietly, transacted some business and are about to settle in to their new residences and get on with the governing of the country.

I am pleased also that the 45th president and his wife are now at home in Florida, surrounded by family and, hopefully, enjoying their evening as private citizens.

No matter what your political views may be, Inauguration Day has always seemed to me to be the one day that we all believe in the greatness, celebrate the history and look forward to the future of this country. Any nation that has carried on this tradition since February 1793, when George Washington was unanimously elected to serve a second term, must be doing something that its citizens find worthy of preserving.

Tonight I will sleep knowing that this country I love has once again peacefully transferred leadership to a new president. We currently have a deeply divided country, one that in many ways is similar to Washington’s young country. We, as a nation, are no stranger to dissent and political unrest. If you think the past four years, or 12, or 20 have been outside the norm, all you have to do is read your history.

But the enduring truth is that for 232 years this system has served us well, although not without some strong dissent.

I will leave the rest to the pundits and analysts, the newscasters and the history-writers, but I am proud of our country this evening, and I am heartened by the low-key handling of the events of the day.

Incoming President Biden was gracious enough to express gratitude to outgoing President Donald Trump for the traditional note left for him in the Oval Office. He declined to discuss its contents, saying it was private, which seems appropriate under the circumstances.

In November 2016, following the unexpected victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, I wrote another post. It followed another bitter campaign and another time of turmoil in this country. It was the beginning of four years of “Not my President” anger and disappointment.

I choose to repeat that post today, as we move on, with the belief that it is as pertinent now as it was then.

What to tell the children . . .

Posted on November 9, 2016 by Adrienne Cohen

What to tell the children?

I may be old-fashioned, and my answer may be simplistic.

But why is there any question about what to tell the children?

I would tell them that yesterday, our country elected a new president. Some people were for one candidate and others were for another but, in the end, the winner becomes everyone’s president.

It is not necessary to agree with everything he says, does or stands for. But, because he won fair and square by following the election procedures that have been established and by which we have elected our leaders for more than 200 years, Donald Trump IS the president-elect.

His opponent called him late last night to tell him that she understands and accepts that fact. He was gracious last night and she was the same this morning.

The current president has invited the president-elect to the White House tomorrow to talk about the orderly transition of power in the most democratic and diverse country on the face of the earth.

America’s strength is, and will continue to be that every four years we go to the polls to elect, in a more or less peaceful and civilized manner, the person who will lead us. We are blessed to not have to endure periodic coups or military takeovers. We still possess the right to disagree, to criticize, to poke fun; we are allowed to be disrespectful and overreactive – even to be nasty to one another – but why would we want to prolong that atmosphere? Innuendo and loathsome behavior ran rampant this year during an overly long campaign. I think it is time to tell the children that the time for that is over.

Be disappointed in the results, if you are, but leave aside the drama and the invective. Be sad, but be ready to move on. This is not the end of the world, nor is it the end of this country. The morning dawned and the only thing that has changed is that the campaign has ended. The potential still exists that, with a can-do attitude, a positive spirit, and the willingness to put aside the name calling, we can relearn a way to talk to one another with respect and thereby to forge understanding.

Pouting, ranting and bitterness have no place in the post-election landscape. Not if we want to demonstrate to our children the underlying strength of this nation. Telling someone that their opinion is not wanted, needed or valued only exacerbates the hurt and elevates the rancor. Telling our children anything other than the facts perpetuates our own prejudices and contributes little to our children’s understanding.

Unfortunately, as I roamed through Facebook posts this morning, I saw too many attempts — still — to silence opposing views and to inflict hurt rather than seek understanding.

We do not have to agree; we simply have to listen.

And then we have to grit our teeth and get down to business. That is what we should tell our children.

This is a great time for all of us to learn how to talk about politics, about our experiences, our hopes and dreams and visions for a better world. It’s important!

I see today as a great opportunity. And I look forward to the future of our country. Hopefully, our children will grow up with a sense of how great it is to be an American.

It is my belief that we are, always have been, and will continue to be, a great nation. All we have to do is believe it and play a part in making it so. I can’t help but wonder what the past four years would have been like had every citizen of this nation joined in welcoming Donald Trump as “our president.” Perhaps we can take a lesson from the past four years and come together to support President Biden as “our president.”

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Resolutions, regrets & new beginnings…

It happens every year. As the solstice approaches, before the new year begins, I always feel a tug of remorse for what was left undone in the current year. A long time ago, I resolved not to make resolutions; it was because I no longer wanted to feel the guilt of not keeping them. It was a vow I have not broken.

But that doesn’t mean that I can turn that calendar page from December to January without considering the things I should do differently in the new year. Last year, the dawn of a new decade was especially poignant. This year my hope is that sometime soon I can retire my mask and feel confident hugging a new friend.

As this year has progressed, it becomes increasingly important to recognize that, as individuals, we may have little control over our circumstances. The one thing I had planned for 2020 was to travel more, to new places further away, and more often. Several trips were planned, actually, and I had the dates circled on my calendar.

Although my husband and I were able to sneak in a quick five-day getaway in January, those other eagerly-awaited trips to more exotic destinations were canceled.

Not by choice.

We did, however, manage to move to a new home in another state this year, despite the unexpected restrictions mandated by a new virus.

But, if there is any good lesson to be learned from a pandemic, it is simply this:

Life goes on.

Yes, people are affected in terrible and unexpected ways. Individuals sicken and die. And, this year, the uncertainty continues. Our world, and nearly every life on the planet has been touched in inexplicable manner by a virus so tiny — and so unknown — that it has confounded top scientific minds across the globe. We also faced a political campaign that was nothing if not unusual, major storms and natural disasters in our country and on other continents, demonstrations and violent uprisings in our own nation, and a growing sense that unrest is rampant and change is the new normal.

It is confirmation, come crashing into our consciousness, that — as my grandmother might have said — “We’re not so smart, after all!”

But, life goes on.

That was confirmed in another way, quite unexpectedly, earlier this year. I received a friend request through Facebook, from a person I did not know. I am leery of accepting new friends, preferring only a small circle of social media acquaintances. But, I was intrigued when I went to her home page and recognized the family name of some of my forebears among her friends.

Yes, you guessed it; I pushed the accept button.

Then I received a personal message — from Norway — from a person whose name I had never heard, living in a place I did not know from family records. She sent a photocopy of a letter written some 72 years ago by my grandmother in Montana to her cousin in Norway. And that letter brought tears to my eyes.

The long-ago correspondence proved, once again, that across the ages, through good times and bad, life does indeed go on. People go about their business, raise families, worry about the future, and hold on to hopes, dreams and memories of the past.

I’ll share just a snippet of that letter, written December 6, 1948: 

My dear Cousin Kari,

Oh, how many times I have thought of you and asked God to bless you! I hope you are well and happy. We are, especially happy the last two years since all our boys are back from Europe, Panama, and China & India after the war closed. Glenn was the last one to come [home] July 2, 1946. They all came home without any scar or hurt but they had seen and mentally suffered a lot. Glenn was in India & China and he was as poor as a stick when he returned. Clifford was with the 8th Air Force in England and Lloyd with the Navy on a mine sweeper in Panama. I pray God will save us from having to fight the world again — but I have two little grandsons so I fear they will come in for a world fight when they reach the age.”

The letter goes on to tell of other family members in the United States and to wish everyone in Norway a “very happy Christmas.”

So, now you might ask exactly what the point of this post might be. It is simply this.

We must continue to make plans, to hold onto those hopes and dreams, to cherish family and friends, both old and new, and to treasure each moment of our lives.

Finally, we must always be open to new experiences, to finding new friends and family, and to embracing the future, no matter what it might hold.

That’s what life is all about. And no tiny virus can change that!

Life goes on.

Note: I have since added others who are somehow related to me to my list of Facebook friends and spent time trying to piece together additional branches of a family tree that has grown during the past 70 years. It will take some work, but it is fascinating and rewarding. When worldwide travel is once again authorized, I hope to plan a trip to Norway to reconnect with this branch of the family I only discovered during a worldwide pandemic that kept us all at home. What a quirk of fate that is!

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When will we learn?

I am crying for our country this morning.

I have seen my share of protests over the decades; I have witnessed horror – assassinations, riots, wars, campus uprisings and police brutality. Too many times. I remember when peaceful demonstrations in the past have turned destructive. As a people, have we all been too quick to forget the lessons we should have learned?

These widespread out-of-control demonstrations accomplish little, but I have the sense that this time the demonstrations will continue – to the point that recovery will be much more difficult, if not impossible. I hope I am wrong.

Because I love this country.

But I watched the morning newscasts with tears streaming down my cheeks, even though I had gone to sleep last night with hope that no more violence would erupt after curfews were ordered and relative calm had come to some cities around the country.

This morning, I could not help but gasp at shots of windows breaking, unrestrained looting in the darkness of night, scenes of streets filled with tear gas clouds and both police and National Guardsmen standing with weapons drawn.

I cried anew at the graffiti sprayed on churches, public buildings and shop walls all across the country, and the wanton destruction of retail stores and groceries just beginning to reopen after months of pandemic closure.

I listened carefully to the pleas of officials asking demonstrators to go home, stay home and remain safe, both from a killer virus and from the possibility of injury or death on the streets.

Too many people have already suffered and died on both fronts.

None of it makes any sense to me.

The way George Floyd died was unconscionable. The police officer who has been charged, and the three who stood by and watched must be brought to justice. The incident was horribly, terribly wrong. But what is happening now in more than 100 cities across this nation will in no way make anything right. These demonstrations, I fear, will only spark more hatred, more resentment, more discrimination, more divisiveness.

When will we learn? What can we do? Can we begin now to talk about it?

Those are the questions that haunt me this morning.

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A bit of deja vu . . .

I wrote this for a client a few years ago. When I recently came upon it in my file, it prompted memories, a bit of surprise and more than a little sadness. It was first published in an online magazine (which no longer exists) on October 10, 2014.

Beware of Men in Masks (and Hazmat Suits)

The journey of one Liberian man, in seemingly good health, to Dallas to die of Ebola has set off a firestorm of debate not only in this Texas city, but across the nation. The city today represents the epicenter of concern about infectious disease. It also is a center for debate about treatment protocols, hospital admitting procedures, care for the uninsured and for non-citizens, and about race relations, open borders and quarantine precautions.

There are more unanswered questions than there are answers now in Dallas. Dr. Tom Frieden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday called Ebola “a fluid and heterogeneous epidemic,” saying that in 30 years in public health he has seen nothing like it since the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Thomas Eric Duncan traveled from Africa to Dallas the end of September. Apparently, he had no idea that he had contracted the viral disease that has killed nearly 4,000 in West Africa. Other facts are not so clear.

As unlikely as the chance may be that either has contracted the disease, two other men — one a county sheriff, one homeless — were transported to Dallas hospitals for testing by men in masks and full hazmat suits. The apartment where Duncan stayed was “sanitized” by a cleaning crew, also wearing head-to-toe protective suits and respirators, over a four-day period.

Dozens of “low risk” individuals are being monitored by health officials. Those who were in direct contact with Duncan prior to and during the early days of his illness, are in quarantine. Ambulances and vehicles used to transport the family to secure and undisclosed quarantine locations have been thoroughly sterilized.

Many in Dallas are on edge. Rumors circulate. News anchors and talk show hosts dutifully report the latest developments. Meanwhile, every headache and every bout of indigestion brings with it a passing thought: “Is there a way I could have come in contact with the Ebola virus?”

As that concern grows, fueled at least partially by some of the misinformation being circulated, sales of respirators and protective clothing are reportedly increasing around the country.

Is this the look of the future?

*Note: At the time this was written, a second diseased man was scheduled to arrive for treatment at a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. As it turned out, only two people died from Ebola in the United States in 2014. Seven people with the disease were evacuated from other countries for treatment in the U.S., and four laboratory-confirmed infections were recorded. Nine patients recovered fully.

According to the BBC, during the 21-month period after the first case was confirmed in March of 2014, more than 28,600 people were infected, and 11,315 deaths were confirmed in six countries other than the United States: Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Mali.

**Update: As of December 19, 2019, more than 3,300 cases and 2,200 deaths from a new  Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) had been reported since mid-2018. The new outbreak was declared a “public health emergency of international concern” by the World Health Organization in July of 2019.

It was less than two weeks later that the first case of COVID-19 was reported in China.

Since September 2018, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the CDC, and several other government agencies, provided technical and financial support in an amount of more than $250 million for disease response in the DRC. In 2014, the U.S. led the response to the initial Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

So the question remains: In a shrinking world with ever-increasing mobility, is this the new normal? Are more frequent outbreaks of contagious disease, with masks and stay-at-home orders the price we will all pay? Is this our introduction to the future?

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And now it’s personal . . .

Before the current Coronavirus pandemic ends, we will all be affected in ways we could not have imagined as little as a week ago. That has been brought home to me in a dozen different ways over just the past few days.

In many ways, for many of us, technology has become a lifeline. I find myself spending more time on social media than I would ever have thought possible. It helps me keep in touch with friends when I don’t really feel like talking. But it can also be a source of misinformation, false claims and skewed perceptions. Be wary.

We all cope in our own ways.

Whether your style is hibernation or virtual partying or dressing up in your Sunday best90403242_10219393911072811_7856556990493884416_o for an early-morning Walmart shopping trip, if it makes you feel better and restores your spirit, it’s okay. If such behavior prompts smiles from complete strangers, it’s even better.

Some, the braver souls among us, continue to work, out of necessity or by choice. Those who must work surely have their own fears,  but they push through them out of a sense of duty. I offer them my thanks, and pray that they remain safe and healthy.

Many are learning new ways of working from home, telecommuting, and reinventing their businesses. Others fervently hope that they’ll be in business when current restrictions are lifted.

Some of us write as a way of venting our emotions, and to record the realities of these times for those who might be interested a decade or two from now.

Saturday morning, my husband and I received word that a friend from our community lost his battle with COVID-19. He and his wife, sadly, had been quarantined in California after disembarking from a cruise aboard Grand Princess. She was ill, but recovered. I did not know him well, but somehow that made the loss even more poignant. I could not help feeling that I should have made time to get to know him (them) better. I cannot shake the feeling that they both should have been able to return home to Texas after what was, reportedly, a wonderful vacation.

But this virus does not play fair.

It is another dramatic example that health and life are fleeting, that nothing is promised to us, and that we really ought to live in a way that celebrates every moment, every experience and every relationship.

It’s harder now than it was last week, much harder than it was last month. It may not become easier for a long time. Is anyone else wishing for a more tangible lifeline? I feel as if we’ve all been set adrift on a stormy sea, with only a shaky handrail to hold on to.

Coping strategies vary greatly, from balcony concerts in Italian cities to a virtual — and unforgettable — performance by members of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. In Germany, a similar concert took place. Beethoven’s Ode to Joy has become a theme. It is amazing.

Just listen.

And watch and listen to this.

Learning to live again.

I refuse to believe that this is the new normal, and I hope the time will come sooner, rather than later, when we can greet family and friends with hugs, when we once again celebrate life and good times in large groups and in public places.

Some resist the directives of local governments and thumb their noses, figuratively and literally, at the authorities. Some retreat silently to their homes, while others follow the recommendations under protest. Some complain bitterly; others demand greater restrictions. There are the planners, the hoarders, the blamers, the fearful and the hopeful — we are a great mix of personalities, a patchwork quilt of individuals. For now, we must all just persevere, keep calm and carry on in our own way.

There are no easy answers, and lives will never be quite the same — not for any of us.

But, still, life goes on.

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The wisdom of an older age . . .

There may be a crack in my armor, but I’m still in one piece. Truth be told, I sometimes feel as if I’m improving with age, like fine wine. I keep discovering things about myself, insights that took time to unlock, strengths that have grown over time, developed in part by the need to keep moving on when life’s little (or large) setbacks threatened to take me out for a time or even keep me down for the count.

I understand that I am fortunate to be able to say that. I understand that others have floundered and been lost encountering the same sort of setbacks and difficulties I have faced. I do not see myself as stronger than they; perhaps just luckier. Maybe it’s grit, or just old-fashioned mulishness. I also recognize that what I call trials and tribulations are, on a scale of 1-10, somewhere under 5, compared to what others have suffered.

Lessons taught, lessons learned

But I have learned some things along the way that may be helpful to others. And I have met many others who’ve shared some of their wisdom with me. I confess that most of what I’ve learned has been not in the classroom, nor even from books, but from the past and from my elders. It took a long time, but the messages passed down from previous generations have taken hold. I am now of an “older generation.” And I feel a bit wiser. For that I am grateful.

This, then, is nowhere near a formula to follow, but just some thoughts to consider. Each one of us walks a singular path. It requires balance and patience, fortitude as well as zeal, and the determination to wake up each morning and get out of bed. After each stumble, one must stand up, push on and look ahead, without getting stuck in the muck. Take that literally or figuratively — it’s good advice. It may be particularly pertinent today, as our world seems to be imploding — or exploding — all around us. There is much to be concerned about right now, and many reasons to be fearful.

Disappointment about ruined plans — travel, graduations, celebrations, even sold-out groceries and toilet paper — is minor stuff right now. Concern about global health is far more serious, both human health and economic health.

Moving forward in difficult times

Wisdom, fulfillment, knowledge, self-control, patience, serenity, acceptance: Those are worthy aspirations. And those are the things that contribute to a sense of hope. Add in a lot of hard work, a belief that the current viral spread will be contained, and a mindset that we truly are all in this together. That’s a recipe for hope, a reason to move on, and a mandate to stay strong and help one another in any way possible.

Wiser people than I have offered the way: We must change our daily habits, take extra precautions, honor the directives of local, state and national governments, support our leaders, help our neighbors, take care of our families — and wash our hands!

Oh, and yes, we ought to wear those troublesome masks!

We must strive to find ways to recover, rebuild and resume our pattern of life in a new way, a way that is kinder, more inclusive, more friendly and less confrontational.

Yes, we are all in this together.

Let’s resolve to replace despair with hope and hard work, to adopt the “can do” attitude that helped previous generations survive pandemics, depressions and wars, to cure diseases and put a crew on the moon, to explore the earth and its oceans, to discover new lands, and build new nations.

The daily experience of living continues. Let’s all try to live as well as possible, despite — or perhaps because of — today’s challenges.

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