I came across this word today, and knew I had to find out more: Coined by scientific researchers in 2020, it refers to the impact on wildlife that Covid-19 has had; specifically, the pause of mankind on a global scale through lockdowns and travel restrictions.
Whales have changed their conversations – it’s quieter out there, with fewer cruise ships (those massive floating cities can drown out every other sound in underwater monitors for an hour as they pass by); Pumas have been spotted roaming through Santiago, Chile, and flocks of Flamingos have landed in the waterways of Mumbai, India. The wild animals that live in cities, coming out only at nights in normal times, have started coming out to play in broad daylight. Birds, who have had to learn to call louder to attract mates in areas with traffic, can suddenly be heard loud and clear.
Not all changes have been positive, however; we live in a complex world, and in a world where some people will take advantage of the situation: Poaching has risen, as has Amazon deforestation. But on the whole, wildlife has benefited from the absence or reduction of human activity and presence. Roadkill has been reduced, and in those areas near nesting sites, such as beaches, birds have been laying more eggs than in previous years, possibly because they feel safer and are less disturbed by human noise pollution. Studies are beginning to emerge about just how the withdrawal of humans on a mass scale is impacting the environment and wildlife, and I hope that one of the results of such research is a plan for making our lives on a global scale become more compatible with, and supportive of, nature and natural rhythms.
In the meantime, with lockdowns continuing in many parts of the world (and because one never knows when and how travel restrictions will return, and no one wants to get stuck paying for a hotel in a foreign country for weeks on end of quarantine, travel is largely self-restricted), mankind is safely behind closed doors, and wildlife will come out to play.
Have you ever played musical chairs? If yes, you know that feeling: Everything’s going along, the music’s playing, and suddenly it stops – you have to change your plans immediately or you’re too late and out of the game.
In a way, this describes the past few months for me: If you’ve read my past few posts, you’ll know that my husband was diagnosed with colon cancer in March. Life had been running relatively smoothly up until that moment, the music purring right along. Then screech, it stopped, he had surgery in April, and a piece of colon had to leave the game. The music had started again: After six weeks of him recovering and us thinking things were on track for a smooth ride, screech, the music stopped and we had to take immediate counter-action. He was in and out of hospital with infections, problems with the stoma, ups and downs, changes of plans several times (sometimes several times in 24 hours), and the stoma (thankfully) finally had to leave the game. Every time he was in hospital, because of Covid regulations, I was the only one allowed to visit him, which meant that every other day I took an hour’s trek there, maximum one hour’s visit, and another hour to reach home again. For three weeks, the music played along as he healed from surgery and began to regain weight bit by bit (he’d lost around 12 kgs. by then, not one of which was “extra weight”, I might add). Then the chemo started; we had everyone and their friends praying, worldwide, that there would be no dire side effects, and into the third round, that’s exactly what’s been happening – basically nothing! Nothing negative, I should say; all he’s really felt is a bit “blah” on the third day in, and a bit of tingling in his fingertips, and that’s it! PTL!
In all of that, I was holding the fort here; trying to keep friends and family updated, keeping the house clean and making sure we had food in the cupboard in case my husband got his appetite back, and then cooking whatever he felt like eating at the time. We had three weeks of holidays (here in Switzerland, we’d refer to them as UHU [Ums Huus Uma] Ferien, meaning “around the house holidays”; in English, one term is staycation): We took day-trips out as my husband had energy for: We took a day trip on Lake Zurich, with lunch on the lake; we had a picnic at a local bird sanctuary park that has mainly storks and ducklings; we took driving tours, went to a pocket-sized zoo, and then, as his energy returned, he started going on small (for him) hikes, then longer ones, as well as longer bike rides, building his energy and his appetite again.
As his energy improved, mine took a breather! I’m sure all of you can relate – at some point in your life, when a pressure is removed, your adrenaline subsides and you suddenly start feeling like you’re deflating. I’ve had several Covid flare-ups in the past few weeks, which hasn’t helped (I had a mild case of Covid-19 back in March 2020, and after months of bone-deep exhaustion, it started tapering off, with flare-up days happening less frequently now, but still rearing up occasionally). So far, vaccination has been a questionable option for me because of other health considerations; but more research is required – if it will eliminate flare-ups and the other long-term symptoms, I might just get it over and done.
All of this may help explain why I’ve been silent here for a month. I don’t like it – I’ve been having withdrawals; but when I haven’t had the energy to dive into an interesting topic for this blog, I’ve tried to work on my current novel’s manuscript (though on flare-up days, I can kiss any creative endeavour goodbye!). Now that life is starting to settle into some semblance of a routine once more, I hope to meet with you here more often again!
In the meantime, take care, and stay healthy! I will see you very soon, so keep your eye on the blog!
Several years ago, I wrote about this topic; but viewed from today’s perspective, I thought it might be worth ruminating on, so here’ goes:
Everyone has three places they spend time in: The first place is the home; the second is either school or the workplace; and the third is a place that feels comfortable – a home away from home, or a place we can unwind. The third place varies from person to person; it might be your local hairdresser’s, a pub, Starbucks, a small café, a favourite park bench, a nearby spot out in nature, or a library or museum. Companies like Starbucks have capitalized on people’s need for an environment of comfort; they have couches and armchairs and free Wi-Fi, and don’t make you feel like you need to drink up and move on. Your third place might even be virtual – Facebook and other social media sites where you like to “hang out” and connect with friends. It might be your local community centre; such places are crucial to a neighbourhood, whether or not we realize it, because they facilitate a sense of group identity. When a local crisis arises, they have been the places people gather to distribute clothing or food to those hit; meeting others, encouraging them, helping and being able to contribute to the greater good are all important to our sense of humanity; we all want to feel useful and needed in some way.
Thinking about that topic now through Covid-coloured glasses, at some point we’ve all lost our third places through lockdowns; the rules that govern social interaction have changed drastically, and it has effected the psychological health of both individuals and communities alike. While some of you may have been able to return to business as usual more or less, other regions have had multiple lockdowns; in either case, the subtle changes have made third places less inviting: Regulations about masks, needing to make reservations in restaurants that are half-empty, filling out contact tracing forms, etc. Perhaps your favourite haunt didn’t survive the financial strain of months of forced closure, or it closed because the owner passed away. More than missing that physical place, many people have suffered because of social distancing: Not being able to meet up with friends, spend time in good company, and, in the advent of mass home-office work, even the absence of spontaneous encounters with co-workers around the break room. Having a drink together over Skype or Zoom just isn’t the same; the spontaneity is missing. Those people who thrive on physical contact, such as a hug or a pat on the back, have suffered deeply on a psychological level whether they realize it or not.
Some positive effects have also come from lockdown: Many people have intentionally invested more into their local community; we’ve shopped locally or supported the local restaurants by ordering delivery or take-away more often than we normally would have, or bought from local farm shops (we’re blessed with an abundance of those in our area); by working at home, carbon emissions have been reduced by thousands of daily commuters (usually only one per car) not being on the road. Our holiday budgets have taken a breather. We’ve wasted less money on impulse-shopping. More and more people have felt the growing need to be off-grid and self-sufficient for future times of crisis, and the tiny home and homesteading movements are booming. More people are planting gardens, or they’re spending more time with their family.
Pre-pandemic habits made it easier to compartmentalize life: We had the home and the workplace in separate physical locations, which made it easier to leave the stress of one behind when returning to the other and, depending on your home or work environment, the relief of change might have been a subtle but necessary transition for your mental health. The potential emotional or mental strain that happened when those two places merged, at the same time losing our third place possibilities through lockdown, is not to be glossed over. The thing about the third place is that it’s also a responsibility-free zone; there are no expectations or obligations placed on us there; that kind of environment also inspires productivity and creativity, and many people have lamented becoming more “lazy” or “lackadaisical” in their habits over the past year; why get dressed up if you don’t have to go to work or be seen in public? Maybe you’ve grown comfortable in your “junk around the house” attire, or not wearing make-up or not shaving. The old adage of “Fine feathers make fine birds” is true: If you want to feel creative, dress for it; if you want to mean business in your schedule, dress for it. Even if you’re alone at home. Then, the transition to being seen by friends and strangers again might not be so daunting.
Returning to those third places may not be as easy at it sounds; we may never perceive such places the same ol’ way again. While some people can’t wait to get out and mingle, many of us have become cautious around groups of strangers – will they observe healthy social distancing and hygiene rules? Will they stay home if they’re sick? One thing I will never miss is someone giving me the Swiss three-kisses-to-the-cheeks greeting and then telling me they forgot to mention it – they have a cold. I’ve been far less sick in the last year, because of social distancing, than ever before*! I’ve been relieved to know that people are not wiping their noses on their hands and then offering it to me in greeting; hand disinfectants are ubiquitous now, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
[* I was recently chatting with my doctor about that topic, and she said that serious cases of influenza and pneumonia are already beginning to increase, even though it’s summer here; the suspicion in the medical community is that, because we’ve been disinfected and protected from fighting the minor cold viruses throughout the year, they’ve learned to hit aggressively if they get the chance. So talk to your doctor, or educate yourself through serious medical websites, about how you can support or encourage a healthy immune system.]
Today, while we were out for a day trip on the Lake of Zurich, I noticed that while many people have the typical pale blue medical masks, a variety of colours are becoming more common; they’ve at length become a fashion accessory. You can buy cloth masks in shops everywhere here now, or sew your own like I do. Back when this all started in 2020, many people scoffed at the idea of wearing a mask in public, and now it’s so engrained in us that we stare if someone forgot to put theirs on (here, they are required inside any building as well as when using public transport). Despite the hygienic regulations, things are slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy here; restaurants are open again (though masks can only be removed while you’re seated at your table); street cafés are popular because, as of right now, masks are not required outdoors (though that may change again now that the dangers of infection through aerosols are better understood and greater than previously assessed); and third places are becoming available again. People are cautious – and frankly, they have reason to be (I say this from the perspective of one who has long-term Covid symptoms that flare up every 3-4 weeks), but they’re starting to emerge from their hibernation, and that’s a good thing.
I recently heard of an unusual historical connection between a tribe of survivors from the Trail of Tears, and those struggling with survival half a world away during the Irish Potato Famine, 1845-1852.
The Choctaws were one of the Native American nations who were forcibly displaced between 1830 and 1850, along with Cherokee, Creek (Muscogee), Seminole and the Chickasaw nations. Basically, any land the white insurgents wanted, they took, driving out tribes from their ancestral homes; thousands died of exposure, starvation and disease on the road to their designated reserves.
But in the midst of their own sorrows, the Choctaw people heard about the plight of the Irish famine, and they responded with generosity. They collected $170 (which would be around $5,200 today) and sent it to the Irish in 1847. While gifts flowed to Ireland from various sources, the gift of this native tribe touched the Irish deeply; despite their own tragedies, they reached out and gave the Irish people hope – hope that they weren’t alone and that others cared.
Fast-forward to the Covid-19 challenges facing many Indian reservations: Many people are unemployed and barely scraping by; a lack of running water or electricity is common, so you can imagine how challenging it is for them to keep their hands clean and to be able to meet hygiene requirements – as a result, the Corona Virus has swept through these impoverished communities. A Navajo woman, Ethel Branch, started a GoFundMe, hoping to raise money to help support reservation families; she set the goal at $50,000, thinking it was far too ambitious and expecting only about a thousand dollars to come in. But the Irish heard about it, and they’ve been paying it forward, back to the people they never forgot and who they teach about in their history lessons; so far, over $5 million has been raised.
One tweetmade all the difference in this new chapter of an intercontinental friendship. This story reminds me that when we respond with empathy and generosity, even the smallest acts of kindness can encourage others, and, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep an eye out for those who need an encouraging word or deed – you may change a life.
With everything that hit the fan last year worldwide, I know that many of us have been missing the opportunities to go out and get some stimulation: Restaurants in many places are closed or reduced to take-away; concerts and theatre productions are cancelled until further notice; museums are closed; if shops are open, they may be closing earlier. For many of us, our “third place” has had to close its doors to us.
So I thought I’d take you along on virtual tours: Tours of factories to see how things are made, of museums, of beautiful places around the globe, of interesting architecture, of historical moments, or of quirky bits and bobs that make this world a colourful and interesting place.
To start off our tours, let’s take a walk-through on the Titanic, as it was before it let in the passengers for its maiden voyage. It embarked on that voyage on 10 April 1912, hit an iceberg on 14 April at 23:40, and 2 hours and 40 minutes later, on 15 April, finally sank forever. The final survivor of the sinking, Millvina Dean, aged two months at the time, died in 2009 at the age of 97. What I find interesting about her story is that her parents, from Branscombe, England, were planning to settle in Wichita, Kansas – where I was born and raised. Her father had relatives there, whom they were planning to join. They weren’t supposed to be aboard the Titanic, but due to a coal strike, they were transferred to the ill-fated ship. To read more of her story, please follow her link.
If Covid’s limitations were lifted right now, and if you had a spare £86,000 ($ 105, 030) burning a hole in your pocket, you could take a real tour of the Titanic and take part in diving expeditions. But barring those two factors, I’ve found a few simpler (and FREE!) alternatives (Just click on the images below each description):
This first link is a 22-minute tour; if you are easily seasick, I’d recommend pausing it occasionally.
This second link is for a slower and smoother version, at 116 minutes (1:56).
This third link is a fascinating documentary following the lives of some of the passengers aboard the Titanic, focusing on 14 from the same Irish village. Three survived to tell the tale.
I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did; I don’t know if “enjoy” is the right word in such a situation, but I hope it was at least a satisfying, intriguing glimpse into history. I’ve got slews more tours on the agenda, so buckle up!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been more or less in a state of limbo for several months: COVID-19* has thrown a spanner in most people’s schedules. Events postponed. Then cancelled. Then re-scheduled. Then cancelled again. And again. Or maybe in a few weeks? Not likely, but things still need to be decided, planned as-if, and prepared for. But it’s challenging to work toward a goal that’s too fluid to pin down; is it happening or not? Will it be worth all the effort to prepare, or will that all come to nothing? [*Shouldn’t we now be calling it COVID-20? I think 2020 deserves to be known as the year of COVID more than 2019 when most of us had never even heard about it last year.]
One event I am planning for (maybe) is our semi-annual Christmas craft fair at our church. I usually provide a variety of options, and this year is no different; but now that I’ve found out it’s actually happening (as far as we can tell at the moment), I’ve been scrambling to make various-sized face masks and mask mates (button/ cloth extensions to relieve pressure from the ears) in time for the last November weekend. Part of my mind – that part a bit gun-shy from on/off plans – has wondered what I’ll do with so many masks if we don’t end up having the fair! But I can’t let that stop me from preparing for it, anyway.
My husband and I are both active in the leadership of our church; he is an elder, while I am in the team that organises / produces the church services. By “producing” in this context, in normal times it would simply mean coordinating the various teams beforehand to make sure everything runs smoothly on the Sunday; but with Corona, it now also means that – at least for now (as in March/April for a while) – it is once again restricted to livestream. But for how long? Or will we soon be back at full capacity? And how long will that last? Our quarterly planning sessions have become an exercise in limbo… in how many ways we can say “maybe”. The production side of such an event has taken on another quality: We are responsible for ensuring that the security measures are followed; we have also shifted from service leaders to producers of a video. It’s a learning curve, as there are a lot of considerations to plan for that were not necessary in a live service.
In the first wave, most people in general were supportive of governments’ restrictions such as lock-downs and closures of events (concerts, exhibitions, weekly food markets) and restaurants, pubs, etc. Many probably thought it would soon be over. But as the second wave hit Switzerland, and we became a “hot spot”, I think people have not only begun to feel tired of it all, but also are beginning to think in terms of long-term preparation and planning that needs to be done. The first wave brought on panic-hoarding of things like loo rolls (toilet paper) and canned foods; at least here, the second wave has been met with calm pragmatism. Facemasks were scoffed at back in spring; now, they’re becoming a fashion accessory and an accepted part of our collective psyche.
If you or someone you know has been affected by COVID, then you’ve learned that “recovery” is also a limbo concept: There are longer term effects that could not have been anticipated, such as heart problems, breathing problems, effects on the brain, exhaustion, hair loss, rashes, smell and taste disruptions, achy joints, brain fog, headaches, and even depression. This isn’t just a flu virus. I myself had a mild case back in March, and I still have achy joints, exhaustion, occasional headaches and brain fog. I have no desire to test the hypothesis of herd immunity; I think that’s been debunked by now, anyway… it’s possible to be re-infected, so that’s enough for me to err on the side of caution.
Eventually, we’ll emerge from the fog of 2020; in the meantime, we can choose how we approach the current events: Some will buck against being told to wear a mask and wash their hands and keep their distance; some will hunker down in a food-stuffed bunker; some may focus on the not-haves and become impatient and depressed; some may choose to find a new hobby or something to positively focus their mind on; and some will do all of the above at various phases along the way. I think it’s similar to the process of grief or loss: Denial, shock, anger, bargaining, mourning, acceptance, peace. Wherever you’re at, I think we’re in this thing for the long haul, so I hope you arrive at the positive phases soon.
With what energy I have (which, admittedly, is a lot less than pre-Corona), I will try to keep a positive outlook, and do what I can with the time given to me. I hope you are well, that you stay healthy, stay safe, and that you can find creative ways to approach the upcoming holiday seasons within the restrictions of our times.
To end this with a smile, take a look at a few fun face masks!
It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted a blog – my deepest apologies! It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes life takes over a bit too much to think straight. Just like for everyone else on the planet, life as we knew it has come to a grinding halt, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just different, and it takes some adjusting time. For me, that’s meant recovering energy from a mild case of Covid-19 – it mainly just wiped out our energy for about a month, giving me achy joints; in the meantime, I’ve been getting used to having my husband at home 24/7 as he works from home. It means we get to have lunch together, but it also means that I’ve spent more time in the kitchen than usual. Even with all the adjustments, I could get used to it all and enjoy it! The introvert in me is fine not having a loaded agenda; I’ve had more time to write, to do a bit of “urban” (read “indoor potted plants“) gardening (mainly kitchen herbs), and tackle a bit of spring cleaning.
When you slow down, you tend to notice things in more detail; you might think of old friends that you haven’t contacted in a while, and you pick up the phone to call, Skype, Zoom or message. You notice things around your own home that, as busy as life usually is, you’ve overlooked or ignored as a non-priority.
But now there’s time. Time to look around, time to observe, time to do something that hasn’t been a priority before. You know what I mean… you’ve walked past something in your home that’s out of its place a dozen times or a dozen weeks without putting it where it goes. Those little nick-nacks and thingamabobs that go somewhere else; a book that you’ve been intending to read and have dusted off a time or two in the meantime; that glass jar that came out of the dishwasher a week or two ago that you’ve intended to use… you get the gist.
Speaking of glass jars, I’ve always held on to large ones or unusual ones, thinking I’d put them to use someday. Well, that day has arrived: About a month ago, I started battling those horrid little kitchen moths; likely arriving in a package of dates or a package of Asian noodles (where they’ve been found thus far), they kept appearing every time I thought I’d finally dealt with them. So I did a bit of research, and ended up emptying and taking the cupboards apart! Every glass jar I could find now has something in it – dried beans, rice, spices, flour, grated coconut, etc. Any other time, I would be able to go out and buy large jars; but in this time of lockdown, the only source I’ve had is our local grocery store – and even they have such selves cordoned off… only things that are necessary have been for sale (so I’ve bought them anyway – yes, I ignored the restriction, which was there to keep one from buying things at a grocery store that other shops, forcibly closed, might sell you – but I would have bought them in the same store, anyway. Maybe they took the hint, because last week they started selling 2-5 litre Fido canning jars, and I’ve stocked up “legally” now!). It’s been good – I now know what I’ve got in the pantry. I have TONS of spices (which I use), at least 7 varieties of rice (yes, they are all necessary!), and a good collection of dehydrated foods (all homemade). My husband’s a happy camper, as I’ve made our kitchen decorative shelves into a veritable candy store, with snacks galore: dehydrated snacks like watermelon, bananas and candied ginger; dates, figs, nuts. The glass jars look nice, and you can see how much you have, take what you want without leaving an open package (a neon sign for crawlies), and have something healthy within sight when you get a snack craving. Yes, it took moths to get my kitchen more decorative.
I’m curious: What have you been doing around your house during lockdown that you might not otherwise have undertaken? Please comment below!