COVID Treatments and Denial

This essay was prompted by a question someone asked on Quora: Why do so many people not comply with COVID treatments? This is what I replied, plus a few other thoughts on the situation.

One reason is that there is no simple treatment that cures people. Until you are so sick that you’re in the hospital and require drastic treatments including ventilators, which increasingly have to be rationed, all you can do is treat the symptoms – cough, fever, sore throat, congestion, etc. – with over-the-counter remedies and hope that you are one of the lucky ones that experience only a mild case of COVID, like me and my husband.

Since there are no treatments (or only drastic, not always effective ones), people need to take measures to help prevent the spread of the illness, to themselves and to others. Unfortunately, these precautions have become controversial. Various news sources and social media have been claiming that such measures are violations of personal freedom (which is, after all, an American ideal).

Large segments of the population have over the years become deeply suspicious of the truthfulness or good intentions of government, medicine, and “big pharma,” to name just three institutions that are increasingly doubted. Since much of the information on COVID comes from these sources, people are skeptical. They turn to home remedies they hear about from friends and family, as well as news sources they do trust – which often give less-than-sound advice.

The pandemic is like nothing we have experienced in our lifetimes. People feel – and have been – isolated. They turn to easy answers for a complex problem, whether that be complete denial or horse-dewormers. Denial makes them think that the pandemic does not really exist, or is exaggerated by people and institutions with an agenda. They want to return to a “normal” way of life so badly that they grasp at anything that promises that normalcy. They don’t realize that by avoiding the harsh realities of the pandemic, they are ensuring that it continues to spread and they continue to be vulnerable.

This denial is so strong that, even on their deathbeds, some people refuse to believe in the disturbing reality that COVID exists, is ravaging our society, and can only be stopped by taking preventive measures rather than denying it exists or trying home remedy solutions to what is a devastating medical problem that affects all levels of society.

I know that this is a difficult, touchy subject and that some people will disagree with what I say – even disagree violently, unfortunately. I understand some of the motivations of people who refuse to accept ways to prevent the spread of the pandemic. And my words are not likely to convince them otherwise. But this is what I believe. I don’t agree with the COVID deniers. I believe that our medical professionals are right more often than they’re wrong. I believe that until or unless people do what is necessary to stop the pandemic – wear masks, isolate to keep from spreading it, and vaccinating – it will continue. New variants will keep cropping up. Ways to keep these new threats at bay will take time to develop and also be subject to denial and disinformation.

I’m afraid – genuinely afraid – that the pandemic will claim even more lives and keep doing so. My husband and I have been afflicted with COVID and so have many other people, from all levels of society. I hate to sound defeatist, but I can’t help it. Defeating the new plague, which I believe COVID is, and getting back to something approaching, but never fully reaching, “normal” will continue to elude us and the political aspects of the problem will continue to delude us.

There are no easy answers, though the steps to reduce COVID are simple. I don’t know how to get through denial. Perhaps no one does, if the number of people ill or dead won’t do it.

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These Are Words?

No, I’m not going to complain about neologisms such as “yeet,” which are actually useful, even if I do have to look them up in the Urban Dictionary. Instead, I have some things to say about recent words I’ve encountered that make little sense to me or that I have misread as something else entirely. I find these words perplexing, for a variety of reasons.

One I encountered recently is “sewist,” which is easy to mistake for “sexist” if you’re skimming (or typing, if you’re very bad at it). I think it is an attempt to replace the possibly-problematic-gender-wise “seamstress.” You can’t just retrofit it to “seamster,” I guess, in the way that “actress” has been. (I must admit that it is still difficult for me to refer to Angelina Jolie or Maggie Smith as an actor. I suppose I’ll get used to it, though it’s going to take me a while. But I digress.) There’s always “sewer,” I suppose, though that’s as unlikely to catch on as “sewist,” probably because, pronounced differently, it already has an entrenched (sorry not sorry) meaning.

I must point out that there is another, already existing, term that conveys the same content in an equally nonsexist manner: “fabric artist.” Admittedly, it does have the drawback of being two words and four syllables, which is difficult for speakers to handle in this fast-paced modern world. But the term also conveys the idea of someone skilled in making beautiful things (as well as useful ones) in a way that “sewist” just doesn’t.

The next candidate for Worst New Word is “sanism,” which I thought at first was shorthand (or a mistyping) of “satanism.” After reading further in the passage, I realized that “sanism” was one of the many “-ism” words that refer to offensive, discriminatory practices – like ageism, sexism, lookism (not kidding), racism, colorism (which is different from racism), ableism, and the like.

“Sanism” refers to the oppressive dominance of sanity, over what or whom, I’m still trying to determine. Surely not insanity, which is, these days, a legal term (not guilty by reason of) and not one that should be used to refer to people with mental health issues. Perhaps it refers to the presumption that everyone is sane until proven otherwise, which sounds to me like another class (sorry not sorry) of privilege.

Perusing Merriam-Webster’s words that were added to the dictionary in 2021, one comes across “copypasta” (which does not refer to stealing recipes); “teraflop” (which is not an unsuccessful dinosaur); “halotherapy” (which is not a religious term); “hard pass” (which is not a football term); and “gig worker” (which is not someone who spears frogs).

Of course, none of these may catch on the way “truthiness” did after it was introduced on The Stephen Colbert Show. It was just so darn useful, and resonated with those observing the political scene in 2020, when M-W noticed the word.

One other word that has been resurrected this year, though not with its previous meaning, is “oobleck.” This, of course, was coined by the illustrious Dr. Seuss (one of my first (and still) all-time favorite authors) in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, where it referred to a kind of goopy green snow. Now it means a substance made from cornstarch and water that behaves like a solid at times and like a liquid at others.

Personally, I approve. I think Dr. Seuss would have been proud. Or chuffed, if he were British.

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When You Have the Flu: Some Unsolicited Advice

I first posted a version of this almost exactly four years ago. I’m revisiting it now because…well, you can probably guess.

Say you’ve got a touch of the flu. Keep far away from me – you feel awful and I don’t want to feel awful too. I know you don’t want visitors, but here I am, and at least I’ve brought a gift: a few suggestions for entertaining things you can do while you suffer in peace and quiet, except for, you know, the coughing and sneezing and assorted other noises you’re making. Relative peace and quiet, if you know what I mean.

Drink tea. It really doesn’t matter what kind, since you can’t smell it anyway. Earl Grey will smell just like jasmine. Peppermint and English Breakfast, the same. And if you want to, you can use any variety as the base for my father’s restorative tonic, which consists of tea, bourbon, and horehound candy (tea optional), or boring old lemon and honey, if you insist, though my father would not approve.

Cuddle large, fuzzy cats. Do this even if you’re allergic to them. You’re already sneezing as much as humanly possible, so you have nothing to fear from dander. Bonus: A large, fluffy cat makes an excellent substitute for a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Read. Or pretend to. Actual reading may distract you from how miserable you are (unless you’re reading Les Miserables). Pretend-reading will encourage people to keep their voices low, plus it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep with the book elegantly displayed on your chest. (Make sure it has a classy dustjacket, even if the book inside is Fifty Shades of Gray, which I don’t recommend, unless it’s for pretend-reading. It can lead to barfing, which may be in your future anyway.)

Eat chicken soup. Tell everyone that you need it for the fluids and the electrolytes, which is true. Egg drop soup is an especially good variety – if you can’t convince someone in your household to make it and bring it to you, you can always convince the Chinese take-out down the street to do it. Nibble saltines daintily, or the little fried things that look like Chinese tortilla strips.

Hit the Nyquil. I don’t mean the non-drowsy kind – sleep through as much of the illness as possible. Warning: Do not mix Nyquil with Southern Comfort or the bourbon-horehound mixture (see above). You’ll barf and you may be doing that already. Also, don’t mix Nyquil with cough syrup, which can cause unintended psychedelic effects and more barfing.

Squash tissues. Let them blossom all around you in a protective ring that no one will want to cross. If you try the tissues with built-in lotion, don’t use them to wipe your glasses before trying to read (see above).

Call the doctor. Don’t go see the doctor. You’ve got a virus and there’s nothing she can give you for it. Just ask how long it is until you can get an appointment and rest assured that your ailment will be over before then. You may want to actually go if you start making a sucky (in both senses), moist kind of wheezing sound when you breathe. The advantage is it will keep people even farther away from you, but the downside is that you may have pneumonia, which is even less fun than flu.

Use Vick’s Vapo-Rub. You won’t be able to detect the scent because your nose is busy with something else (snot), but other people sure will, encouraging them to keep a respectful distance. If you don’t have Vapo-Rub, try Ben-Gay. Bonus: nice warm feeling on your chest. Note: If you use either Vapo-Rub or Ben-Gay, do not cuddle the large, fuzzy cats (see above), unless you want to look like Bigfoot. Just sing “Soft Kitty” instead, or insist that someone else sing it to you.

Whine. Punctuate with coughs and sneezes. Again, the goal is to get people to leave you alone. If this tactic isn’t working, move on to even more disgusting symptoms. Keep a bucket by your bed, just so people get the idea that you could use it at any moment.

P.S. I’ll give you one guess why I wrote this. If you don’t get the answer right, I’ll start whining. And coughing. And sneezing. And barfing. Just bring me some egg drop soup and leave quietly.

You wouldn’t want to catch what I’ve got.

Keep me in Nyquil!

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A Cat in the Night

Cats have a reputation for being aloof and unemotional. I’m here to tell you that’s not true. (They also have reputations for being graceful, which anyone who’s seen a cat fall off a window ledge can testify is unfounded. There are plenty of online videos that prove it too. But I digress.)

Actually, cats have wide emotional ranges, which can include anything from passive to pissed-off. One of our previous cats, Maggie, could snub a person so thoroughly that they knew they had been well and truly snubbed.

But every now and then, a cat will read your emotions and give you exactly what you need.

We have a cat named Toby. He’s generally happy-go-lucky, with a trace of skittishness. He doesn’t purr much, but he makes crazy sounds like “ma-weep” that I don’t know how he can do without proper lips. He does like to cuddle when we’re on the sofa or the comfy chair, either nestled in my husband’s arms or draped across my capacious bosom. (If I were a different sort of writer, I would have titled this “Bosom Buddies.” But I digress. Again.) At night our other cat, Dushenka, snuggles up by Dan’s head, while Toby sometimes curls up by my feet, to be joined by Dushenka if Dan starts rocking and rolling too much in his sleep.

This day, though, I had simply had enough. Dan forgot to pick up something I needed when he went to the store. I was still suffering the aftereffects of dental surgery and was sorely sick of eating broth and mush, enlivened only by peanut butter or the occasional scrambled egg. Something I ordered arrived but wasn’t right. It wasn’t a day when big problems unexpectedly dropped in my lap. It was a day when I felt like I was being nibbled to death by ducks.

I sat on the sofa beside Dan, tears slowly trickling down my face, which he didn’t see. Later he claimed he did but didn’t know what to do about it, which is in some ways worse.

At last, we went to bed and Dushenka curled up next to hubby as usual. Dan went promptly to sleep, a thing I can never manage to pull off. I lay in bed, tears still trickling, making small puddles in my ears.

Then Toby came, and lay next to me, his furry little head resting on my arm. And he stayed with me. He would sometimes move a little, twist around to find a better position. But he always ended up in some configuration with his head on my arm. He was a soothing presence, giving me just what I needed – silent comfort and undemanding physical contact.

We stayed like that for hours. Once in a while, I reached to touch him, but it didn’t seem to disturb him. It was me and Toby, communing through the long, dark hours of the night.

Eventually, I was calm and reassured enough to sleep, and I turned on my side, the only way I ever sleep. Toby retreated to his usual position alongside my feet, close enough to return to his protective, gently soothing position if I needed his presence again. But I slept through the rest of the night, dreamless, and awoke calm, ready to face the next day and all its ducks. Knowing that Toby was there if I needed him.

More gushy food for Toby! (And Dushenka)

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Watch Out! Phone In!

My husband is the last person in the universe who still doesn’t have a smartphone. He says it’s because he doesn’t want a phone smarter than he is. Personally, I think it’s because he likes to flip it open and yell, “Beam me up, Scotty!” just to confuse the telemarketers.

Not that he gets calls from telemarketers. He always gives my phone number when asked for his, making me effectively his secretary. Confirm a doctor’s appointment? The mechanic says the car is ready? Someone from work? I take a message. Sometimes it’s his own mother who calls me, if Dan’s not answering his phone (he usually isn’t) or she can’t leave a voicemail (he doesn’t know how to retrieve them).

But, as usual, I digress. I meant to talk about the evolution of watches and what we call them.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, it was simple. There were watches. You kept them in a pocket, usually attached by some sort of chain. Then someone invented a watch you wore on your wrist, so someone else had to coin the terms “pocket watch” and “wristwatch,” just in case you couldn’t tell from context which kind was meant.

Watch technology was far from reaching its zenith, however. The next innovation was the digital watch, which lit up numbers the way your bedside clock does (at least until we got rid of the ones that had numbers on little cards that fell over as the minutes and hours changed). Some bright person realized we needed a way to tell that kind of watch from the kind with hands. Thus were born the “digital watch” (which has sort of died out) and the “analog watch,” the kind with hands that people under a certain age can’t read. Neither of the new watches made that comforting ticking sound.

Next came the mobile phone, which were actually really phones, not watches, except you could use them to call the time and temperature line, which still existed. At first, a mobile phone was a rich person’s toy, anchored somewhere in the car to impress passengers. Then completely mobile phones were invented. They began as big, blocky things with an antenna sticking out, which you can sometimes still see in old movies or episodes of Ab Fab. They got tinier and tinier, until they could fit in your pocket (assuming you were a man and had pockets in your good clothes).

That’s when watches began to morph into phones. Flip phones, such as my husband has, featured the time on the outside panel. Watches were on the way out. Larger watches still existed, aimed at teens. These were in bright colors and were called “Swatches.”

Suddenly, watches were obsolete. Everything now is done by phone. We’re up to smartphones, which everyone except my husband has, and which can tell you not just the time, but the weather in Istanbul, how to say “What’s the weather in Istanbul?” in Turkish, “What’s the best restaurant in Istanbul?” and how to get there. Unfortunately, smartphones can no longer fit in a pocket (unless you’re a man in a suit). Women have to carry them in their purses, where it’s almost impossible to hear them ring, unless you’re sitting near them in a restaurant. Fortunately, these phones take messages for those who, unlike Dan, know how to use that function. (To be fair, I hardly ever look to see if I have voice messages, which I guess makes me little better than Dan on that point. But I digress. Again.)

Now, however, there’s an even newer kind of watch, which you wear on your wrist (how retro!). I suppose it will tell you the time, if you ask it nicely, but its main function is to keep track of your bodily processes as you jog, walk, sleep, or whatever. It keeps track of your heart rate, your breathing, your oxygen sats, the quality of your sleep, your body mass index, your blood sugar, your exact position on planet Earth, and how much you’d weigh on the moon. (And probably some other parameters I don’t know – and don’t wish to know – about.)

I think these are called fitwatches, by analogy with fitbits, a trend from ages past (last month, I think).

But I call them snitchwatches. And I’m not getting one. I swear.

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Spoons and Showers

This is one of the most popular posts on my other blog, bipolarme.blog. I thought I’d share it with you today to see what you all think.

It is fairly widely known that people with bipolar disorder and/or depression (like me) have trouble taking a daily shower. It’s not that we don’t know what’s involved in taking a shower, or why it would be good for us to do so, it’s simply that showering uses up a tremendous number of spoons.

(Spoons are a measure of how much energy a person has each day. For the full explanation, go to https://butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/ for Christine Miserando’s post. It applies not just to mental disorders, but any kind of chronic illness.)

Here’s what showering looks like according to Andrew Solomon, author of the now-classic The Noonday Demon:

I ran through the individual steps in my mind: You sit up, turn and put your feet on the floor, stand, walk to the bathroom, open the bathroom door, go to the edge of the tub…I divided it into fourteen steps as onerous as the Stations of the Cross.

I performed a similar exercise in one of my blog posts (Brain vs. Brain: http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-iF) and here’s my version:

First I have to find a clean towel and a bar of soap, get undressed without seeing myself in the mirror, fiddle with the water temperature, wash and shampoo, dry off, find clean underwear, and that’s not even thinking about drying my hair and figuring out what I can wear! Oh, my God, I’ve used up all my spoons just thinking about it! I should just eat Cocoa Puffs and go back to bed.

Now let me say, first of all, that I don’t really like showers. I grew up taking baths and have never enjoyed the sensation of water spraying in my face. But with my bad back and bad knee, getting up from sitting in a bathtub is nearly impossible these days. (Please don’t ask me why anyone would want to sit in dirty water. Everyone says that when I say I prefer baths. I have a nice long soak, steeping in the clean water like a big teabag, and only then wash up and get right out. Used to, I mean. But I digress.)

To most people, showering is a single act that requires the expenditure of a single spoon. Take a shower; that’s it. But for those of us with invisible illnesses, each separate step may require its own spoon. Take something as simple as finding a towel, for instance. Go to the linen closet, grab a towel and voilà! Only a fraction of a spoon, if that.

But surely you don’t think I have had the spoons to fold and put away my laundry. It is all there in a jumble on top of the dryer. (Who needs a wrinkle-free towel anyway?) I have to root around to find one, and maybe twice if a cat has thrown up on the first one I pick. (They love sitting on clean laundry.)

If I have to go to a business meeting I force myself to use some of those spoons showering and getting dressed and acting respectable. But I will pay for it later, collapsing after the meeting in need of a mega-nap.

Now here’s a little secret I’ll tell you. Most people believe you gain spoons by going out of the house – walking in the fresh air, meeting friends for lunch, shopping, going for a drive (does anyone do that anymore?). But the fact is that, according to Spoon Theory, you get a certain number of spoons every day when you wake up. You cannot gain, buy, beg, borrow, or steal any more, not even by breathing fresh air. You can only spend them.

Given the mathematics of spoons, I don’t spend a single one that I don’t absolutely have to. Not going out? No shower. Have to go out for a loaf of bread or a drive-through meal? Wash up in the sink. If I need a shower between outings, my husband reminds me and facilitates by, for example, rummaging on the dryer for a clean towel and clean clothes or a clean nightshirt.

I need those spoons for doing my work at home in my smelly pajamas more than I do for the ordeal of showering.

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Oatmobile, Not Oldsmobile!

A friend of mine, while being driven home after a colonoscopy, remarked, “When I get home, I know what I want to have – a bowl of oatmobile. No, oatmobile. Damn it, you know what I mean – oatmobile.” (They were driving a Toyota, not an Oldsmobile. But I digress.) All of us had a good laugh about it then and for many years to come. My husband and I still say “oatmobile.”

The reason I bring this up is that I, too, am on a diet of oatmobile. And yogurt. And Jell-O. And pudding. And chocolate milk. None of these are amusing or pronounced in humorous ways, unless you count what my husband and I sometimes call “beef brof,” which I am also having a lot of.

As you may guess, this is because I recently lost a number of teeth. No, not in a rowdy bar brawl (though that’s the entertaining story I will probably tell people). I had quite a number of teeth extracted. My teeth were never good, my parents having been unable to afford orthodontia, and over the years, they have steadily gotten worse.

I had IV sedation for the extraction, or I wouldn’t have been able to get near the dentist’s office. I have severe dental-phobia, another reason that my teeth needed this kind of attention. The only person with worse dental-phobia than mine is my sister, who once cleared an entire room of prospective patients by screaming loud and long before the dentist even gave her Novocaine.

So, the IV sedation. Before the process started, I checked to make sure they had backup oxygen available, and that I wasn’t in procedure room eight. (I’ve seen Coma one too many times.) I was extra-nervous, too, as I hadn’t been allowed to take my Ativan the night before or the day of, in case it interfered with the sedation.

They did give me nitrous oxide, which has no effect on me. Once I was at the dentist and the hygienist said, “Bubble gum or cotton candy?” I gave her the “You’re from Mars and have two heads” look. Then I learned that scented nitrous oxide existed (or perhaps scented nose cones). Ordinarily, they offered these options to children. Perhaps I was acting childishly. I chose “toothpaste,” which was at least minty.

Then they had to choose a vein for the sedation. My veins are notorious for rolling around when trying to be stabbed. I probably would be too. It turned out the IV infiltrated and I went home with a large purple lump in my elbow. It’s not entirely gone yet.

Because of COVID restrictions, Dan wasn’t able to come into the treatment room with me, which he usually does, being my Emotional Support Animal. In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to come into the building. For two hours, he sat outside in the car, reading and napping, until finally the hygienist brought out wobbly me and gave him several sheets of directions on aftercare. The rest of the day is a blur. A painful, drooling blur.

Tonight he has promised me a dinner fit for an invalid – turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, and ice cream – all baby food except the ice cream. He does realize that the baby food will need some doctoring, such as salt, pepper, cinnamon, maybe garlic, and perhaps other herbs and spices, to be palatable.

I swear, when this is over, I’m going to Red Robin and order their biggest, juiciest burger and their bottomless fries.

I’ll pass on my usual milkshake, though.

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The Wacky World of Proofreading

I’ve done a lot of proofreading in my life. I’ve worked as a writer-proofreader-editor for a small publishing company – so small that I sometimes had to fill all those functions to get an issue out. I’ve bartered proofreading academic papers for someone who offered guitar lessons in exchange. And, God help me, I’ve had to proofread my own work, which is by far the worst kind of proofing.

Now I’ve entered into an entirely new version of the practice.

It started like this.

While working on my novel (still unpublished), I needed a gig to make a little money (very little money, as it turned out). So I turned to a transcription service. This company did not transcribe medical dictation or court cases, as many think when they first hear the term. Rather, it involved transcribing mostly business meetings and occasionally interviews or podcasts. As you might guess, when the pandemic hit, business picked up because so many businesses were teleconferencing rather than talking in person. In fact, I wast kept quite busy four days a week, and sometimes extra jobs on the weekends or holidays if there was additional work that needed doing.

(When I talk about this, people sometimes think that it sounds terribly interesting. It isn’t. I hated business meetings and conferences when I had to attend them, let alone listen to them over and over as I transcribed audio files. I privately gave awards for “the world’s longest run-on sentence,” “the most ‘you knows’ and ‘I means,'” and so forth. But I digress.)

Of course, the company employed proofreaders, too, to check the work that the typists had done. But typing paid more per minute of audio than proofreading did, so despite my truly crappy typing, I signed on as a typist. (I never took typing in high school, and back then, they didn’t have keyboarding. Typing was considered a “business” or “secretarial” course at the time, and I was on the college track. Entering college as an English major, I soon learned the error of that way of thinking. English majors are required to write – and, of course, type – dozens of papers per semester. But I digress. Again.)

Two phenomena threw the typing arrangement into disarray. First was the (perhaps ill-advised) resumption of in-person business meetings. The other was the progress made in AI audio dictation software. I once used a dictation function to transcribe an interview that I did. The output was mediocre at best.

Dictation transcription software was supposed to have gotten better since the early days. And I suppose it has – but not enough to make proofreading obsolete, for which I am profoundly grateful.

What I do now is listen to the audio and edit the computer-transcribed version. It’s really editing, but they still call it proofreading.

And – wouldn’t you know? – all those run-on sentences and “you knows” and “I means” are still in there and need taking out. There are speaker names and company names that the AI attempted to spell phonetically that I need to look up and correct. There are passages from speakers with a foreign accent that aren’t transcribed even close to what the speakers said. The paragraphing is dubious and the punctuation appalling. Once, the software even transcribed “yearend” as “urine.”

All told, it doesn’t take me quite as long as typing it would have, but I usually need to do a first proofing pass and then one or two proofing-proofing passes.

It’s a drag. It still beats proofreading my own writing, though.

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Adventures in Finding Stuff

Back in the day, I used satellites to find Tupperware in the woods. It was called geocaching.

Basically, you get a GPS unit and go to the Geocaching website. (No, you don’t need the GPS to get to the website. Just a browser. And a computer or mobile device.) Satellites in orbit around the Earth send signals that help you pinpoint a location and an approximate route to it. (They’re not dedicated geocaching satellites, of course. They perform some other function like mapping or spying.)

When you go to geocaching.com, you enter the zipcode of where you live or are traveling to, and it will tell you whether there are geocaches in that area and where they are. The trick is, you only get latitude and longitude coordinates.

You make your way to the site, which usually involves car travel and some walking, through city streets or neighborhoods or woods or swamps or off overpasses or in parking lots. When you reach the destination, you find…something.

And what is the cache? Well, it can be a Tupperware container or an ammo box or a film canister or a pickle jar or anything waterproof. Depending on the size of the container, there may be trinkets inside. The rule is take one, leave one. There is also a sheet of paper where you list your name and the date you found the cache. Then you return to the website and log that you found the cache – or how many times you tried and failed.

What makes any of this fun? You get to feel clever if you find the cache. You get out in the fresh air and walk around, while still avoiding other people. And you get to rack up points on the website boasting of the number of caches you’ve found. You can geocache alone, with a partner, or even a group.

What types of geocaches have I found?

First, there are the regular caches – the ones I mentioned that come in Tupperware and ammo boxes. These are usually relatively easy to find, located in hollow trees, dense brush, and once under an overpass. That one I missed at first, but a moment later realized where it had to be. I used the excuse of accidentally dropping my keys over the railing as an excuse to go back for it, so that no one would question why I was rooting around down there.

Another popular cache is the mini-cache. These are the ones that come in small containers. The smallest mini-cache I ever saw was a mouthwash-strips container that held only a log for leaving your name. That one was in a shrubbery in the median of a residential street.

Then there’s the micro-cache. These are so small that no trinkets can possibly fit within – just the log. I once found one of these logs wrapped around a 10-penny nail loosely stuck in a fence post.

Hide-in-plain-sight caches are often attached with magnets to some metal thing at the destination, such as an industrial station near a street or highway, or a lighting fixture in a parking lot. The back of the magnet or a strip of paper hidden behind it is where you leave your name.

Photo caches. For these caches, you take a picture of the location that corresponds to the coordinates – usually a scenic or historic building. You don’t post the picture on the GPS website, just the fact that you found it and the date.

Foreign caches. When my husband and I vacationed in Eastern Europe, we took along the coordinates of some caches there and we brought some trinkets to leave. One cache we absolutely knew the location of, but were unable to get to because a pile of snow intervened.

Puzzle caches. These may involve solving a code to get the coordinates or knowing (or looking up) the answer to a clue. Some are even more elaborate. One I remember was an acrostic made from the names of a series of books.

Wheelchair-accessible caches. There aren’t a lot of these, but they do remind us that the pastime isn’t just for the able-bodied.

Dan and I haven’t geocached lately, but our days of indulging may not be over. We intend to place a geocache in a nearby park. Will we use Tupperware? Maybe, but more likely a film canister with a scroll log and a pencil stub.

Too bad our GPS unit is as ancient as we are. We could also relive our glory days of hunting and finding.

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What’s Wrong With Introverts? Nothing!

So I sit in the corner at parties, eat lunch by myself, and keep my nose in a book. That doesn’t mean I’m an introvert or unworthy of human company. I just prefer socialization on my own terms.

Introverts have gotten a bad rap over the years. They’re said to be shy, uncommunicative, anxiety-prone, fearful of crowds, friendless, and alone (except for the occasional cat). They don’t go out much or talk much. They have boring hobbies like knitting and reading and stamp collecting. Some people even believe introverts are suffering from a mental illness.

Extroversion is touted as the norm. Extroverts, it’s said, have more friends and better conversations. They go out more and have social calendars, or in some cases, social secretaries. They have exciting careers in business or law or politics. (They’re also known to have “Type A” personalities, prone to stress-related illnesses – or giving them to others.) Extroverts are widely admired for their accomplishments. They “blow their own horn” instead of fading into the background. They’re people-persons (though not always people-pleasers).

There are lots of books about overcoming introversion, as if it’s a thing to be conquered or cured. They purport to change introverts’ communication styles so they can get along with “normal” people or even with extroverts.

I’m not saying that it’s bad to be an extrovert. I’m just asking why introverts are so discounted in society. Where are the books that teach extroverts to be more introverted? Where are the seminars? The podcasts?

Introversion doesn’t mean the person is a hermit. It doesn’t mean introverts are unhappy being the way they are. It doesn’t mean a person is lacking in intelligence or afraid of relationships or dull to speak to. In fact, those are qualities that can be found in extroverts as well. Extroverts can be unhappy if their relationships are superficial. They can have trouble toning down their enthusiasm in order to have a private, meaningful conversation. And they can certainly be dull to listen to.

Get inside an introvert’s head, however, and you may find a rich and interesting place. Those hobbies and interests that extroverts consider boring have subtleties that an introvert can unlock. An introvert can be extremely knowledgeable on a variety of topics – some seemingly useless, like the complexities of poetry. Others may be more broadly interesting, such as how language affects business or political behavior. And some of their hidden interests can just be fun, like which amusement parks have the best rollercoasters.

Introverts may seem hard to get to know, especially at parties. But there are secret passwords that can unlock their vitality. Read any good books lately? is a good, reliable one. What’s the weirdest movie you’ve ever seen? Are cats better than dogs and why? What’s your idea of the perfect vacation? If you’re an extrovert, you can probably think of ways to work these into conversations – for example, when you’re talking about your recent fabulous vacation or when your kids want to get a dog.

When you hit on a topic that an introvert knows or cares about, you can see their eyes light up and their faces become more animated. Their voices change from dull and quiet to enthusiastic and interested. They may even venture a question about your favorite author or childhood pet or dream vacation. Once you get an introvert started on a conversation, it can be as interesting, vibrant, and knowledgeable as anyone else’s.

You may even make a friend or find a resource. If you ever need to know something about journalism or psychology or model trains, you have a person to turn to – and maybe even a budding friendship.

The trick is not to automatically assume that an introvert is dull or has a one-track mind. An introvert may be into both gardening and archaeology, or both blues music and what the best restaurants in town are. Include an introvert in a group outing. He or she may say nothing at first, but can really open up with a few well-chosen questions or comments and follow-ups. (I studied that in college, but I never really understood XYZ. My friend says that movies are all about superheroes these days – why is that? My kids want me to take them hiking. What’s a good place to do that? What should I wear to a winter wedding? Which should I get – a PC or a Mac?)

Above all, do not assume that introverts are all alike. They’re as varied as extroverts. They may take a little more time to get to know, but in the end, it’s worth it.

And if you are an introvert, don’t despair. You don’t have to turn yourself into an extrovert to be worthwhile. You’re fine just the way you are!

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