Get Your Road Trip On

You know what I think is kind of funny? That Americans are suddenly “rediscovering domestic travel.” Umm…What? Well, it really shouldn’t surprise me, with “influencers” (ugh, I strongly dislike that term) all over social media blasting the human race with professional selfies in front of picture-perfect settings eight thousand miles away and telling us, “You can be like meeeeee! Just read my blog and I’ll teach you how!” One has been traveling for seven years, waitressing in Thailand in order to spend several months there, another one is teaching English in Hong Kong so he can afford to live there. Now, they’re all home trying not to lose followers and stay relevant while we, the rest of the world, stick closer to our own backyards. What is it about some people that think the further away they are, the better?

I know, I know, I’m one to talk! Until cancer almost took my life and COVID19 followed, I was running around the globe every chance I got. But I never, ever pushed domestic travel aside. In fact, there’s still nothing better for me than a road trip in my beloved American West! I didn’t get there this summer because of the virus, but I still had me a nice drive to South Carolina. I have not been out of the country since last summer. Do I miss it? Yes. But what I yearn for most are my hiking trips to Southern Utah and several other closer to home destinations. The wonder of domestic destinations was never lost on me!

Here are three ways to enjoy America, still the greatest and most beautiful country in the world in my eyes!

The Full Road Trip

What the heck is a “full road trip?” Well, if you’ve spent years behind the wheel like me, the “full road trip” is when you drive your own vehicle from your own house and go a long, long way. You can probably guess that these are the gold standard. I’ve done several of them, and the fact that I live in Massachusetts makes for some major drives if I want to get to my favorite places in the west. How long do you need to do a bang up job of seeing America? If you’re really lucky you have all the time and money in the world and you don’t ever have to go home. If you’re like me and most of the rest of humanity, you’re on a budget and you might actually have a job you have to get back to. My advice is to take a minimum of four weeks to have a decent trip in. For me, the perfect time is five to six weeks, though my longest road trip to date was seven weeks. Understand that you aren’t going to see “everything,” so start making your wish list of most coveted sights and connect the dots if you can. The worst thing you could do is try to stuff too many sights into too little time. Better to see a few things well than many things hardly at all, though not everyone will agree with me. Add in some hiking, and your time in one place gets even longer. To me, driving too much in a day is also a major sin. It’s stressful and you don’t see anything. Don’t be one of those road trippers that rolls down the window to take a picture of the Grand Canyon then rolls it up and drives on. Please?

The Fly/Drive

I fully realize that when some people read “a minimum of four weeks” above, they started gasping for air. For those folks, I introduce “the Fly/Drive,” the type of domestic trip that I have taken too many times to count at this point. The Fly/Drive is just what is sounds like: You get on a plane and fly to a starting point, where you rent a car or RV. The trick is to start from a convenient location to what you want to see most. Las Vegas is a terrific place to start. I’ve also grown very attached to Albuquerque as “go.” I guess my love for the west continues to shine through! Then again, I’ve had fantastic Fly/Drives from Miami, El Paso, and Seattle. I suggest at least two weeks even if you’re road tripping this way, though I usually do three. Once again, it’s all about what and how much you want to see. I highly recommend checking air and car prices from different cities. A few years back I rerouted an entire trip because Salt Lake City offers were much better than Denver’s. The Fly/Drive allows you to skip over some parts of the country you might not be as interested in and get to your personal nitty-gritty!

City Slicking

I don’t usually include cities in my road trips, and if I do, it’s pretty quick. Maybe an overnight to break up a long drive, or a special museum or show. What I have done is jet to a city just to see the city. I can remember flying in and out of Chicago numerous times and thinking, Someday I’m going to fly into Chicago just to see Chicago. And I did, and was thrilled with what I found! Some cities are car friendlier, like Dallas, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Others, like Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., and New York, have excellent public transportation systems that will add some extra adventure to your trip. One of my more memorable city trips was to Dallas to do my own investigation into the JFK assassination. In these uncertain times we live in, you will obviously want to call ahead and be sure that you aren’t planning a trip around something that is closed. Even so, filling your day pack and pounding the city pavement can uncover some hidden gems that make lasting memories!

Hmm…I’m getting inspired to get back to writing that little book I started last year, “How to Road Trip.” I’m even more inspired to plan my next Southwestern Fly/Drive!

COVID19: A Teacher’s Perspective

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Aside from writing my wildly popular blog (wink-wink), fighting Stage IV Lung Cancer, and continuing to figure out how to put my life back on track during the COVID19 crisis, I’m also a teacher. Yes, it’s my bread and butter, a major part of my existence, and I have my opinion on what direction this upcoming school year should be going.

Last week, my school system announced that we would start the new school year remotely and would reassess each new quarter. This news brought mostly cheers, with a smattering of jeers. Those same jeers have also been all over social media since March, many of them coming from parents, and aimed at teachers.

Listen mom and dad, I understand your duress. Now, understand mine.

For the purpose of safety, I was locked out of my classroom as well as my school in mid-March. That means that the only materials I had were whatever I had on my laptop, which suddenly became my forum for teaching my special ed students, all of whom are intellectually disabled and require any number of accommodations to be successful. Nearly one hundred percent of what I teach is on paper, with assistance from other live human beings, a Smartboard, laptop computers, and manipulatives. Suddenly, I and thousands of other teachers around the globe were thrust into a situation where we had none of our usual supplies to guide us in our pursuits to teach your children (and ours!) in the manner they deserve. Over the next three months we were told one thing, which we would start doing, only to have it change five minutes after we perfected it. We found new ways to do old things. They weren’t as good or as effective as the old tried and true way, but then again, when have any of us dealt with a pandemic that shut down the world? All due respect, but we didn’t reinvent the wheel, we made a new one, one that will come in very handy as we make our ways back to our mostly virtual classrooms.

I know parents have pressing woes to think about. Loss of jobs, childcare issues, health concerns. Here are just a few of the many woes of a teacher in September 2020.

Every single child that a teacher comes in contact with in the classroom, in the hall, at the buses, and in other common areas of a school building is a potential health threat. Multiply that by every single other individual a single child comes in contact with in or out of school and the risk balloons. Teachers know darn well that even though it’s a rule to wear a mask, school is for breaking rules. This never changed and it isn’t going to change now. The new “behavior” will be some kid who doesn’t want to wear a mask. How about kids with health issues? Teachers with health issues? Improper ventilation? Buildings not up to standards of cleanliness and sanitation?

Is your head spinning yet? Mine sure is. And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Did I mention that every single one of these things is also a risk to the health of your child…and you?

I’m not lazy, and get no particular thrill from making my paycheck sitting at my kitchen table. In fact, I love being in a room with my students engaged in face to face lessons. Love to see their hard work all over the walls and hear their excitement when they get a question right or learn something they didn’t know before. No, sitting in front of a computer is no match for that and it never will be. But the risks involved in putting hundreds of adults and children back under one roof is too overwhelming to even imagine. We’ve already seen the results of the rush to “get back to normal.” How many more examples do we need? I also understand the concerns about students falling behind. But what’s the alternative? Keeping a virus circulating instead of being realistic and following the rules until we can all be safe? Teachers writing wills and obituaries? (Yes, this is real!) Pretending that COVID19 is fake and invented for political purposes? See-through shower curtains between us and students? (Don’t even get me going on this one!)

The hopeful news is that we now have a starting point, due to the hard work of many dedicated professionals and savvy parents who worked together last spring. Now, we will be allowed into our rooms and buildings to get what we need to be more successful in this unprecedented time. No, it’s not going to be the same, at least not for the time being. But we will figure this out and in the end, being safe is better than being sorry. It’s the rule we’ve always been taught. Why change now?

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What’s So Good About Quarantining?

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Howdy again! I guess it’s kind of weird to be writing about quarantining when the country is opening back up, but dare I say that this might not be over? Sure, we’re showing up in droves to book an outside table at our favorite restaurant, and gathering together in relief that this weird thing that has happened to the world has come to an end, but let’s face it, COVID19 is not over. I’m not sure that I’m ready to say that the world is never going to be the same again, but who knows.

What are you supposed to be doing right now? Me, I had a whole new world to deal with already before this virus came along and added another new type of weird to my life. Cancer came a callin’ for me in October of last year, and shortly after that a bit of a miracle occurred that put me back on the map of life. I’m supposed to be packing for a summer of fun, of getting back to the me that cancer tried to strip me of. Instead, I’m cancelling and rescheduling trips with my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to get some travel time in later this year. But I’m also figuring out new ways to enjoy life, because I have to. We all have to! And believe me, if I can find alternatives to the crazy awesome life I was leading a year ago, you can, too!

Here are some of the things that I’ve adopted to keep busy.

A Walk in the Woods

Hiking and walking is nothing new for me, but I’ve stepped up my game even more now that I have to be home so much. Truth is, “quarantining” for me has never meant being shut up in the house 24/7. I decided early on that I would not give up my time outside, as the likelihood of catching COVID19 on a hiking trail is slim to none. What I have been basically forced to do is to find new trails to explore as well as new parks and towns to check out. I’m so used to being in some exotic or amazing locale several times a year, that hiking in the same five or six nearby places in between trips worked. Not anymore! I needed to get creative, so as not to get bored. And guess what? I’ve found some excellent stuff! I always said that someday I was going to take a summer off from globetrotting and enjoy New England, and what do you know…it happened! (Of course, I kind of wanted to have a choice…) What hidden gems are in your backyard? Look around! I know they’re there!

Reading

If I could sit around and just read books all day, I might. Lately, I’m rereading old favorites and finding new obsessions to fly through. Now is the time to start that epic classic you’ve always wanted to conquer. Or, maybe indulge in something fluffy to take your mind off the craziness in the world. There’s always the option too, of learning something new that you’ve always wanted to know more about. Books have so many great functions!

Journaling

We’re living in historic times! Why not write about it? I’ve been filling notebooks for years, and I still get excited when I purchase my next one. I look for ones with fun covers on them, or interesting sayings. You could also buy a plain covered spiral and decorate it yourself. Purchase your favorite pens that write to your specifications and comfort. The Pentel RSVP Fine Point in black is my must have pen. Less than a buck apiece and they last a long time! (And by the way, I’m not making any moolah off that link!) While what you write inside the journal is the most important thing, take it from someone who has been doing this for forty years: what you use to do it is almost as crucial! There’s no worse killer of great journaling than pens that don’t work!

Art Projects

Folks, I’m no artist…believe me! But know what? I don’t care! I’m painting and creating my little heart out! Not everyone loves the message rock thing, but because I’m in the woods all the time, I find them magical, and have been making my own. As a teacher who has had her share of talented kids, I was at a loss with remote learning, so had to get my art fix without them. Rocks, hubcaps, flower pots, so many things around the house are up for beautifying with some cheap acrylic paints or cans of spray paint. Go ahead, find your inner Picasso!

Pictures

Do you still print pictures? Many people don’t, which I think is sad. Because we rely on our phones for so much, photo albums are getting a lot harder to find. Just had to order one from the ‘Zon because I couldn’t find any without going out of my way to a specialty store that may not even be open.  Nevertheless, now just may be the time to start printing your memories again. I’m convinced that paper pictures and albums are still the only trustworthy way we can save the special moments that we want to remember for a lifetime and pass on to future generations. Clark Color Labs allows you to upload images right from your computer, their developing costs are excellent, and their service is fast.

What are those things that you wanted to do “when you have time?” The “time” has arrived! And if the department store shelves are any indication of what Americans are doing with their extra hours, it can safely be said that we’re taking really good care of our cars, prettying up our homes, working in our yards, and spending a lot of time with family. Not such a bad thing, you think?

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Not Quite Quarantining

Hey, how are ya’ll doing? Going cuckoo yet? Me, I was okay for the first few weeks, getting a little jittery now. Initially, quarantining was kind of fun, plus it gave me time to heal and rest after receiving pinpoint radiation to the tumor in my lung. Yeah, I was limping around for two weeks, but was staying active, walking about twenty-five miles a week while in treatment. All better from that now, but getting some cabin fever, and truth be told, I’m not even in one hundred percent female balls to the wall quarantine.

I live in Massachusetts, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic, and I have a serious illness that makes me more likely to get COVID19, but I’m still not staying in all the time. Here’s why.

First of all, chances are nil that you’re going to get or pass the virus to anyone else if you obey social distancing outside. Folks, I’m no medical professional, but this is the truth. You aren’t going to get corona virus from a tree or a rock. And being inside everyday, all day, is an absolutely mind boggling thought, especially if you have to think about losing your job, how you’re going to be paying your bills, how to keep kids happy, etc. I’m lucky that I have not lost employment (I’m a teacher) and will continue to get paid as school systems around the country switch over to the uncharted territory of “remote learning” (cue eye roll emoji.) In between uploading lessons and talking to parents I’m walking almost daily, close to thirty-five miles a week most weeks. But I know a lot of people who aren’t even leaving the house, when a nice stroll or bike ride would relieve some worries, even if it’s only temporary. Please just remember that if you decide to turn to nature, be kind to those trees and rocks and animals and don’t take advantage of the beauty you see, even if you’re only seeing it because you can’t do what you usually do. Nature is what some people turn to all the time. I’m one of them. Save it for me, if not for your children. Throw your used masks and gloves in the trash, not on the ground! Thank you ahead of time.

The other reason that I’m not totally in quarantine is that, quite honestly, I can’t be because of the actions of others. Yes, I’m recovering from cancer and treatment and really should not be in public places because of my weakened immune system. However, people who could safely do their shopping in person are doing it online and blocking up all the time that elderly folks and compromised individuals like me need so we don’t have to go into enclosed places and rub elbows with a lot of others who could put us at extreme risk. Add to that the fact that so many Americans are not taking the threat seriously and flat out refuse to wear a mask and gloves and the risk goes up even more for us who need to be careful. For what its worth, I’m asking you that if you are in good health, please put on simple protective items and do your shopping in the store, thus leaving store pickup and delivery time slots for those who really need them. A couple of weeks ago I had to give up my bid to have my food delivered or readied for pick up because Walmart was booked solid for over a week. We all have to eat, and I couldn’t wait a week, so I made a special bag with masks and gloves that my sisters and I collected when we thought I would need to have chemo, and went to the store myself. So, the next time you see me, don’t tell me to stay home, okay? The truth is, I can’t. And maybe someone you love can’t either, for the same reason!

Don’t even get me going on toilet paper.

Jeez, I was supposed to be finishing up my radiation and getting back to traveling. We’re living in some pretty weird times. BUT–

Let’s all pull together and get through this and learn something from it and think of our fellow Americans and not just ourselves. We ALL have to do this, not just some of us. As of today, I know someone who died of this virus. It’s no joke, just ask the smarty that licked a toilet seat to be funny and ended up with the very illness he was mocking.

Fingers crossed that we can all soon get back to normal.

Sending best wishes.