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100 Resolutions for the New Year

100 Resolutions for the New Year

H. Bradford

1/30/18

I like making New Year’s Resolutions.   In the past few years, I have had about 50 resolutions.  I accomplish about half of them.   And, to be honest, my New Year’s Resolutions tend to be more like a a giant “to do” list.  So, many of the things on the list are things I hope to do over the year.  Another portion of items on the list of resolutions are things to track.  For instance, last year, I tracked the books that I read, birds that I saw, and political events that I attended.   This year, I am going to be even more ambitious and have made a list of 100 New Year’s Resolutions.  (I am a little short of 100 in case I think of anything important to add to the list).  Some of this requires data tracking.  Some is more like a check list.  There is no science behind this.  I don’t expect that it will make me a better person.  Perhaps, it just creates a weird frenzy in my life to check things off or write down data.   But, I think it does shape the year and gives me things to think about or plan.  Here is my 100 Resolutions for 2018!


    1. Travel to Romania and Moldova:  This will be my big trip of the year- in late August.  I will visit a few other countries as well on this trip.

 

  • Take an additional trip:  I am not sure where else I will travel, but I would like to take a mini trip somewhere….

 

 

  • Read 30 Books

 

 

  • Read a Classic Non-fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a Classic Fiction (among the 30)

 

 

  • Read a socialist feminist book (among the 30)

 

 

  • Continue Ballet Lessons

 

 

  • Attend Yoga Classes

 

 

  • Play Soccer in the Fall or Summer

 

 

  • Take up Fencing Again

 

 

  • Run a 5K

 

 

  • Try Fat Tire Biking

 

 

  • Go to Two New State Parks

 

 

  • Try Paddleboarding

 

 

  • Go Camping Four Times

 

 

  • Go Snowshoeing

 

 

  • Go Skiing

 

 

  • Practice Violin

 

 

  • Study Russian

 

 

  • Study Spanish (so it is easier to travel to Central and South America)

 

 

  • Study Romanian (for my trip)

 

 

  • Find 50 Geocaches

 

 

  • Add 50 New Birds to My Life List

 

 

  • Substitute Teach

 

 

  • Visit the Planetarium

 

 

  • See a Meteor Shower (this did not make my list last year, but was on it the year before)

 

 

  • See the Northern Lights

 

 

  • Create a Painting

 

 

  • Celebrate International Bog Day

 

 

  • Celebrate International Squirrel Day  (I already failed at this goal!)

 

 

  • Write a poem about each book I read this year.

 

 

  • Get a Snowy Owl Tattoo

 

 

  • Get an additional tattoo

 

 

  • Take saunas for self care

 

 

  • Plant a tree

 

 

  • Attend Zumba

 

 

  • Do Polynesian dance with my DVD or in a class

 

 

  • Watch a Classic Film

 

 

  • Plant a Free Garden

 

 

  • Attend 50 Political Events 

 

 

  • Keep a Food Log

 

 

  • Try a Vegan Challenge (1 week?  1 month? Every Monday?)

 

 

  • Really Clean my Room

 

 

  • Donate 2 bags of clothes

 

 

  • Get rid of one tote bin of belongings

 

 

  • Try to survive one month on the USDA food budget challenge

 

 

  • Try to spent Less than 10% of my income on food  (yeah, yeah, I eat out too much…)

 

 

  • Attend the ballet

 

 

  • Attend a musical event

 

 

  • 365 Mile Challenge (hike, bike, swim, kayak, canoe, etc. 365 miles in one year)

 

 

  • Volunteer

 

 

  • Write 50 Blog Posts

 

 

  • Regularly Floss

 

 

  • Reduce Junk Food 1/2

 

 

  • Try a New Activity

 

 

  • Regular Dr. Visit

 

 

  • Regular Dentist Visit

 

 

  • Regular Gyn visit

 

 

  • Save Seeds

 

 

  • Successfully Dehydrate garden produce

 

 

  • Visit a New State

 

 

  • Visit a National Park

 

 

  • Attend an artistic event

 

 

  • Visit the Museum of Russian Art

 

 

  • Finish Book 5

 

 

  • Promote the Christmas Spider tradition

 

 

  • Focus on a Fungi of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Butterfly of the Year

 

 

  • Focus on a Spider of the Year: White Lady Spider

 

 

  • Attend a Conference

 

 

  • Hang out with someone new

 

 

  • Hang out with someone old (someone I haven’t spent time with for a while)

 

 

  • Send Valentine’s Day Cards

 

 

  • Focus on a Fern of the Year: Lady Fern

 

 

  • Focus on a Tree of the Year: birches in general?

 

 

  • Learn to Make Jam

 

 

  • Learn to watercolor

 

 

  • Grow in Domestic Violence advocacy

 

 

  • Grow as a patient educator

 

 

  • Try something new each week

 

 

  • Make a travel album

 

 

  • Start buying for x-mas in July

 

 

  • Do something towards teaching re-licensure

 

 

  • Try a new fitness class

 

 

  • Try a new food

 

 

  • Put more money away for retirement

 

 

  • Buy a kantele (this has been on my list for a long time, but I don’t really need any new hobbies…)

 

 

  • Read the news each day (already failed, so perhaps just try to do it more often!)

 

 

  • Try a new restaurant

 

 

  • Create a podcast

 

 

  • Go Shooting

 

 

  • Take a self defense course

 

 

  • Write an article for S.A.

 

 

  • Write something monthly for the Northern Worker

 

 

  • Take vitamins

 

 

  • Study Finnish (I have to many languages on my list, but we can dream…)

 

 

  • Learn to identify 50 birds by their song

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 

  • TBD

 

 


There you go!  I am sure I will fail at some of these resolutions.  Perhaps others will create new patterns in my life.  A few will just continue the trends that I have already started!  Overall, I am always hoping to be a healthier, more knowledgeable, broader, more creative, and more traveled person each year!  I hope that 2018 is a great year.

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2017: Year in Review

2017:  Year in Review

H. Bradford

1/26/18

It is hard to believe that another year has ended.  When I stop to think about it, this felt like a marathon of a year.  I feel tired.  I would say that it was generally a good year.   At the same time, I have the creeping sense that something in 2018 will go amiss.  I suppose it is simply the regression to the means.  I have had several good years, but nothing exceptionally good (or exceptionally bad) lasts forever.  So, while I have an ominous feeling about the future, I will take a moment to reflect upon the past!  And, I can only hope that 2018 continues the stretch of happy years.


 

154 Political Events:

I think that this year will mostly be remembered for the flurry of political events that I attended this year.  In the end, I attended 154 political events this year, including meetings, marches, protests, vigils, etc.   I basically did something related to activism every 2.37 days this year.  In 2016, I attended just under 90 political events.  Suffice to say, the presidency of Donald Trump has been the catalyst of a great deal of organizing, such as the Women’s March, March for Science, and Climate March, Immigrant Solidarity Marches, etc.   But, there have been plenty of local issues that have warranted attention as well, such the program cuts at UWS, Homeless Bill of Rights, Graham Garfield domestic violence case.  The largest expansion of social movement organizing was in the area of feminism this year.  Unfortunately, there is next to nothing in terms of anti-war activism.  I suppose war is just normal at this point, seeing as we have been in Afghanistan for 16 years.  I appeared on the news several times for organizing/participating in various events.  I was even interviewed by a British socialist newspaper.  I spoke out at a county board meeting and also did a radio interview about domestic violence.   So, I think that it was a big year of activism and I was in the spotlight far more than what is normal for me and this challenged me to be less quiet and introverted.  Looking back, I can be proud of this and I am sure in the years to come I will remember this as a time of dutiful activism.   For now, I am a little worn out and disappointed.  There are massive, startling, systemic problems.  Activists are rising up to challenge some of these- but so much more is needed.  Most importantly, we need a political program capable of energizing and emboldening social movements beyond the status quo of our dual capitalist political parties.

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A sign I made for the Climate March- one of the 154 events that I attended last year….


Central Asia Trip:

A major highlight of the year was that I spent most of June in Central Asia.  It was an extremely fascinating part of the world.  I saw astonishing things, like the Gas Crater in Turkmenistan, Ashgabat-Turkmenistan’s white marble capital, the remnants of the Aral Sea, Kiva, Samarkand, Bukhara, and Tashkent.  Honestly, this was one of my favorite trips in my lifetime, simply because of all of the surreal and strange things that I saw.  The world is always different and new, with many things to see and learn, but this part of the world is not heavily visited by tourists.  It felt unique and much more remote than other places I have been.  The trip also challenged me since it involved some bush camping and dry, hot conditions.

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Camping in the basin of the Aral Sea


Continue Birding:

I saw over 200 species of birds this past year.  I was very engaged in birding throughout the year.  Highlights of my birding include attending an International Migratory Bird Day bird count at Wild River State Park, attending Hawk Weekend at Hawk’s Ridge, birding at the Sax Zim Bog for the first time, various return trips to both Hawk’s Ridge and Sax Zim Bog, birding at Rice Lake Wildlife Refuge, and casually birding in the Caribbean and Central Asia.   I am impressed with the number and variety of birds that I have seen this year and that my birding skills are slowly growing.  There are a number of species that stand out, but I was most impressed with seeing a Northern Hawk Owl and Great Gray Owl at the Sax Zim Bog as well as a pair of Spectacled Owls in Costa Rica.  Interestingly, my very first bird of the year for 2018 was a Snowy Owl and the last for 2017 was also a Snowy Owl.  I guess it is a good year for owls!   Otherwise, Rosy Starlings, Red-billed streamertail hummingbirds, Yellow-crowned night heron, and Pied-Billed Grebes (since they are cute) are some of my other highlights for the year.

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New Job:

In December, I applied for and began a new part time job.   I already work full time at domestic violence shelter, but on a whim I decided to apply for an additional part time job as a Patient Educator in the field of reproductive health.   I will say that it is pretty exhausting working two jobs.  But, back in my late 20s I worked four jobs, so…I know I can handle this.   Really, I am pretty excited about this new position.  I often feel that I am stagnating or that I don’t do enough- so this is a great opportunity gain new knowledge and skills.  It is also a new way for me to learn more about reproductive health and an expansion of my feminist activism.   I enjoy learning new things and this really is a wonderful opportunity.   The job itself is unique.  I do not have any experience working in the health field, but I have enjoyed challenging myself to pick up new information.  Plus, I get to wear scrubs.  I have some awesome sloth scrubs…as well as Ninja turtle and dinosaur scrubs.  You know, because wearing fun scrubs is also important….


Raven Tattoo:

This is a pretty minor detail, but I got a new tattoo this year.  I decided that when I hit my 200th bird, I would get a new bird tattoo.  I chose a raven.  I really love the tattoo.  Now, I am just one bird away from my 300 th bird.  What will I choose for my next tattoo?  Perhaps a snowy owl?

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Blue Hair:

For many years I have kept my hair black.  This year, I decided to mix it up and dye my hair blue.  Thus, I have had blue and black hair all year.  This is another minor detail, but I have enjoyed the new color.  It has inspired me to wear more blue (rather than my typical red and black).  The only downside is that dying my hair black was far easier and took far less upkeep.  Nevertheless, I am getting the hang of it.


Try Two New Activities:

Every year, I try to attempt at least two new activities.  This year, I tried geocaching and snorkeling for the first time.  As far as geocaching goes, I think it is a fun distraction and something easy to do when I am hiking.  I began geocaching in March and by December I had already found 100 caches.  As for snorkeling, I am not a water person.   I don’t like swimming.  I don’t like being wet.  I am not a strong swimmer.  I get sea sick.  Water and me are not friends.  But, I don’t want to live my life entirely in fear (even if I am not always ready to dive right into water sports).  So, I went snorkeling for the first time.  It was sort of neat.  I was surprised by how many fish I could see from the surface of the water.  I was also astonished by how salty salt water actually tastes (when I accidentally dipped my head a little too low for a closer look at a fish).   I would go again.  I am not in love with the water, but it interested me enough to give it another go.  I saw some sort of parrot fish, which was a pretty sight.   My goal is to try snorkeling again when I (hopefully) visit Iceland in 2018 (as tourists can snorkel between the North American and Eurasian plates meet).  As for diving…hmm…well, baby steps.


Four New State Parks:

In recent years, I have tried to visit a new Minnesota state park each year.  This year, I visited four new state parks.  I visited St. Croix State Park, Wild River State Park, Savannah Portage State Park, and Mille Lacs State Park.   At least two of them I visited when I was a teenager, but since that was so long ago, I will count them as “new.”  They are new to my adult life anyway.  I also visited Copper Falls State Park in Wisconsin as well, bringing the actual total to five.  With the exception of Copper Falls, I visited all of these state parks by myself.  These solo adventures were a peaceful escape from work and activism.  I enjoyed Savannah Portage State Park the most, since I liked hiking around the lake, hiking the continental divide trail, and walking along the bog walk.

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Solo Camping Trips:

I went on several solo camping trips to the previously mentioned State Parks.  The first adventure brought me to Wild River State Park, where I hiked and birded for International Migratory Bird Day.  I later went on a trip to Mille Lacs State Park.  It rained during this camping trip, which I undertook shortly after my trip to Central Asia.  Oh, it was also plagued with flies.  I also went camping at Tettegouche State Park- where I went on a wildflower guided hike and hiked the second tallest peak in Minnesota (not that impressive, I know.)  Finally, I went camping at Savannah Portage State Park, where it also rained, but I still had a lovely time hiking and enjoying the autumn leaves.   My solo camping trips gave me a small dose of adventure and independence, offering escape and peace of mind.

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Bog Awareness Week:

I celebrated the heck out of Bog Awareness Week.  I did more for Bog Awareness Week than for…Christmas.  But, bogs are cool.  I went to Savannah Portage State Park’s bog walk, I participated in Sax-Zim Bog’s Bioblitz, and I convinced my friends to head to Cable, WI with me to check out a bog there.  I bogged myself down with bogs.  A highlight of bog week was realizing that Pitcher Plants produce flowers.  I had never noticed this before.

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A pitcher plant at Savannah Portage State Park


Color Run and Pride 5K:

This year I tried the Color Run for the first time.  I love it, since it is not timed.  Although it is crowded with enthusiastic runners and walkers and the que to begin is pretty long, it was a fun time.  Various parts of the run are marked by groups of people who douse the participants with colors.  There are also foam bubbles, unicorn mascots, group dancing, and medals for everyone.  I loved it.  I also ran the Pride 5k.  The race was rather hot.  It was timed.  But, I did it!  Even if I did it terribly, I ran it and hopefully next year I will do better!

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At the start of the Color Run!


 

Go to the Ballet and Continue Ballet Lessons:

Speaking of things that I am terrible at…I continued ballet lessons this fall.  Continuing ballet lessons was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017.  Another resolution was going to the ballet.  Well, I went and saw Stravisnky’s Firebird.  It was super.  I enjoy Russian folktales and liked how Koschei the deathless was portrayed.


Write Poetry:

Last year, I began writing poetry.  My goal was to write two poems, but I ended up writing at least two dozen poems.  It is a neat experience, since I never really cared for poetry when I was younger.   I often objected to it because it was too flowery and emotional. A lot of poetry takes itself too seriously.   I try to look at it differently now.  To me, poetry is just a short story.  A story about a moment, an emotion, a passing idea.  It expresses what narrative does with frugal words but ample meaning.


33 Books:

To many of my friends, 33 books is a light reading list for the year.  However, 30% of Americans do not read a single book in a year.  The average number of books read in a year is 12.   This average is skewed by some super readers, as the median number of books read each year is 4.   All of the books that I read this year were non-fiction, which is something that I hope to change in 2018.  The BEST books from this list include The KKK in Minnesota  by Elizabeth Dorsey Hatle, Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America by Mamie Till, An Environmental History of Russia by various authors, and Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici.  I read four books about witches, eight books about Central Asia in preparation for my trip there, four books about the Caribbean, including two about Puerto Rico, two few books about mycology, two books about birding, and several books on a variety of topics.  I will say that I came out of 2017 with greater knowledge of birds, mushrooms, Central Asia, the Caribbean, and witches.  I would love to read 50 books in a year, but with my work schedule, other hobbies, and activism schedule, it would be difficult.    

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Some graffiti on a bridge in Superior


Create Four Works of Art:

Another resolution for 2017 was to create at least four works of art.  I did this by dabbling with watercolor (the results weren’t awesome, but it was a start!).   I also painted four bird houses for the Solidarity House.  Beyond that, I framed some photos that I have taken.  I will say that I am not especially great at watercoloring or photography, but it is worthwhile to shamelessly create.  Through practice, I would like to improve my skills in these areas.

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This watercolor painting is still wet!  It depicts a magpie, mulberry tree, and fountain in Ashgabat.


Study Russian:

One of my goals was to continue studying Russian, or at the very least brush up on it from time to time.  Generally, I am not at all disciplined at studying languages.  There were a few times throughout the year wherein I tried to teach myself some new words or review some old ones.   Traveling through Central Asia helped me to brush off the cobwebs in my brain and try to remember how to speak some Russian.  I was able to communicate a few times, so knowing some Russian was certainly pretty helpful.  An elusive goal is to attend the Friday night Russian table at Sir Ben’s.  Alas, I lack the confidence to go!  I feel so foolish and incompetent when I try to string together what I remember.  Still…I sort of worked on this goal, at least by using Russian on my trip.


Attend Yoga Classes:

Attending yoga classes was on my resolution list for the year.  I squeezed in some yoga at the very end of the year.


Go Snowshoeing and Cross Country Skiing:

I did not go cross country skiing a single time in 2017.  As for snowshoeing, I only went twice.  But, the two times that I went snowshoeing were pretty awesome!  Back in February, I went for a full moon snowshoe hike organized by UWS.  I did not go again until Christmas Eve Day, when I went snowshoeing along a trail at the Sax Zim Bog.   Each year, I try to make a point of doing both of these activities so that I can better embrace winter.

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Snowshoeing over some icy, sand covered mounds at WI Point.


New Car:

A major event of the year was purchasing a car in March.   My car is a Volvo V70 and I love it!  It is the first time that I have purchased a car/financed a car loan all on my own.  I like my car.  I like having reliable transportation and my car took me on many adventures this year- such as the camping and birding trips.  I will say that the car is not great in the winter and since it is very low-set the passenger door bumps against the curb.  However, I am generally very happy with the car.  It has a moon roof and heated seats- which seem pretty luxurious compared to other vehicles that I have owned.

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Not my actual car- but similar model, year, and color.


50 Blog Posts:

I actually wrote 77 blog posts in 2017 and had between 350 and 1000 viewers each month.  My goal was to write 50.  The numbers don’t matter all that much.  However, I do like sharing my writing and opening up myself to others in this way.  I have had quite a bit of feedback that people enjoy reading my blog or at least find some of the posts interesting.


 

Texas/Caribbean Trip:

In November, I went on a cruise to the Panama canal, which also visited Jamaica, Aruba, Curacao, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Colombia.  I really wanted a vacation that felt like a vacation- where I could de-stress from the 150 political events I had attended/everyday stress of working with survivors/victims of domestic violence.  In other words, I wanted a super easy trip.  To that end, I went on a two week cruise.  It was really wonderful to relax and feel a true sense of easy escapism- even if cruises are consumerist monstrosities.  I saw many birds, especially in Aruba, which was an added bonus for the trip.  I have a lot of happy memories from the trip.  Once the trip was over, I spent a half a week visiting my brother in Texas.  We once again hiked at Government Canyon and visited the Botanical Gardens.  These are two of my favorite places to visit in San Antonio.  My brother will be moving to Minnesota in May, so this will probably be my last opportunity to visit him in Texas!

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Two spectacled owls in a public park in Costa Rica


Union Organizing:

Another highlight of the year, which also relates to my political events, was being more active in my union.  I have been a union steward since November 2016 and this year, went through contract negotiations in October.  I will say  honestly that contract negotiations was extremely stressful.  I worked night shifts, then would have to spend the morning to early afternoon in negotiations.   It was hard to fall asleep after negotiations, then return to work for another night shift.  Negotiations themselves were tense.  The whole thing felt very intense.  I was not overly fond of being on the negotiations team, but it is an honor to have the privilege of fighting for the interests of my fellow workers.  I feel that the negotiations went well and the contract was better because of our hard work.

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Loved Ones:

I often do not highlight this, but my year would not have been as great without my loved ones.  Yeah, I am not the gushy sort.   I am fortunate to have had some good times with Adam and Lucas.  We went to Copper Falls together as well as on an adventure to explore the bog near Cable, WI.  Of course, they also attend many political events with me.  Adam probably went to 200 political events last year- but unlike me, he does not keep a tally.  Another great friend is Jenny, who is my collaborator in feminist and bisexual activism.  She pushes me to show my emotional side-but being a rebel- I usually stubbornly resist this.  Dan is patient and supportive- sometimes even partaking in my adventures with some coaxing.  Lonnie always offers a fun time when I visit him in Texas.  I enjoy our long hikes together and that he humors my interest in birds and plants.  I have wonderful coworkers, some of whom I have attended fitness classes with, invited to trivia, and invited to political events.  They tolerate my eccentricities and listen to my newest ideas.  This year, I went to the State Fair with my mother.  I was crabby the whole time- as I was deprived of sleep.  But, she did not let my bad mood get in the way of a good time at the fair.  There are many others, like Chris, Angie, Amber, Carl, Jared, my grandma, Tiffany, Alexa, and many more.  I can be a real weirdo and anti-social turd.  I am fortunate to have people to enrich my life.

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How to Be a Sneaky Secret Santa

How to be a Sneaky Secret Santa

12/31/17

H. Bradford

The internet is full of tips of how to figure out what gifts to buy for a workplace Secret Santa gift exchange, but there are not a lot of pages with advice on how to be a sneaky Secret Santa.  That is, what if you want to put extra effort into hiding your identity as a Secret Santa or want to make the gift exchange itself more mysterious?  This holiday season I felt like being a little extra sneaky in our Secret Santa gift exchange at my job.  Here are some ideas of how to add a little ho, ho, ho to the average ho hum gift exchange:

The False Flag:

I did not set out to do anything special this year for our annual Secret Santa gift exchange.  However, I became aware that one of my co-workers was disappointed that she had not yet received a gift from her secret Santa.  Worse, she believed that I was the negligent party!  I didn’t want her to believe that I had forgotten to give her a gift (over a week into the exchange), so I concocted the idea that I would give her a secret Santa gift- even though I was not her actual secret Santa.  This spiraled into the idea that I should give a gift to another co-worker who had been pretty vocal about having been forgotten in the secret Santa exchange.  From there, the idea grew even bigger…


The first rogue secret Santa gift to my coworker “S”  was designed to be a false flag.   Well, not in the very literal sense.  A false flag is a an operation that is designed to appear that another group, organization, nation, etc. has carried out the action.  In this case, I wanted to make it obvious that I was the person behind this Secret Santa gift.  The idea is that by doing so, I would mask my other actions and confuse my ACTUAL secret Santa recipient  into believing that I was “S”‘s secret Santa.   I wanted S and my other coworkers to think that I was her Secret Santa even though I was not her actual secret Santa.   It was false evidence meant to distract from my actual activities.  While it does not quite fit the military or cyber definition of a false flag, I will use that term since I used my identity in one context to conceal or distract from my identity in the other context.


My first false gift involved a Scavenger Hunt to find two gifts hidden in my work place.  This Scavenger Hunt comprised of a message left on her desk, a second clue with a gift, and a final gift hidden in a hard to find location.  The clues in the Scavenger Hunt were written in three foreign languages and also provided GPS coordinates to the final gift.  Since my coworkers know that I like to travel and that I also do geocaching as a hobby, the Scavenger Hunt was purposefully made to make them believe that I was the Secret Santa behind “S” ‘s gift.   I think that this worked out pretty well since “S” sent a group email thanking the Secret Santa for the scavenger hunt and gift- which was helpful in making everyone aware of the ruse.   My only regret was that the Scavenger Hunt may have been a little too difficult.  It took two days to find the final gift (since reasonably most of my coworkers would not be able to use GPS to find a location in the workplace).

Big Idea: Pick someone to be your fake secret Santa gift recipient and provide obvious clues that you are the one behind this false gift.  Better yet, provide clues that lead everyone to believe that another one of your co-workers is behind the gift!

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The Informant:

Early on in my Secret Santa schemes, I enlisted a co-worker who works on the night shift with me to provide me with information and collaborate.   I don’t often speak to all of my coworkers, but “C” the informant, is much more social and closer with them.  She had a lot of great information that I would never have had access to.  For instance, many of my coworkers had confided in her who they had been paired with in the Secret Santa gift exchange.  I took notes based on her information (which helped me to plan my own actions).   Aside from providing me with information, “C” helped me by writing notes for me.  Obviously, I didn’t want to use my own handwriting when writing messages to the recipients of my gifts.  Therefore, I had her write some of the notes for me.   This was also useful as it might have led coworkers to believe that SHE was their Secret Santa (a distraction that benefited us both). Big Idea:  Enlist a trusted coworker in the schemes.  However, be careful, as they could spill the beans to your other coworkers!


Disinformation:

There is always the chance that “C” would tell others about my Secret Santa shenanigans.   To avoid that, I told her that I was “S”‘s Secret Santa.  Since she had already told me the gift exchange pairs that she knew, I knew that she did not know who “S” ‘s real secret Santa was.  So, I pretended to be “S” ‘s secret Santa when talking with “C” so that she would spread disinformation if she happened to tell others who I was paired with.

Big Idea:  Strategically plant false information.

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Dead Drop:

One of the challenges to being a secretive Santa is that workers have set schedules.   I have a very predictable and repetitive schedule wherein I work for eight days on and six days off.  Anyone with deductive reasoning can start to figure out who their secret Santa is or is not if they pay attention to work schedules.  For instance, if a gift always appears in the morning or afternoon, there is a good chance that it is from someone working one of those shifts.  If a gift only appears on weekdays after 10 am, it is easy to start to narrow down potential secret Santas.  Because I have six days off, I had to be a little bit creative about what to do about the long stretch of days that I am not at work.  I had two solutions to this, but I will only share one of them, which was the Dead Drop.   Basically, on the last night of my stretch of shifts, I hid gifts within my work place.  These had to be good hiding spots, as they would have to remain hidden for several days.


My first Dead Drop a hidden a gift card behind a poster in our office.     The other hiding spot was in an empty metal dresser in the maintenance room.  Finally, a third gift was hidden within our staff conference room.   With the gifts hidden in the shelter, I could choose the time and day that the secret Santa gift recipients would learn of their gifts.  This liberated me from relying on my work schedule.   However, this meant that I had to create secret communication channels to let my co-workers know about their gifts.

Big Idea:  Hide gifts to avoid reliance on a schedule or in-person exchanges.

 


 

Create Secret Communication Channels:

To inform the gift recipients of their hidden gifts, I had to create secret communication channels.  The first one that I created was a fake email account.   I used the fake email account to email “L” about the hidden gift card.   I did this at noon on a day that I did not work.   I figured that noon would be a good time, since as a night shift worker, she might conclude that I would be sleeping at that hour.   Using the fake email account, I sent an email to her which provided the following clue:

She is the one with the cheerless eyes,

 

She is cloaked in porpoises,

 

But what is her purpose or plan?

 

There are many things that start with the letter P

 

Look beyond the painting,

 

Hiding behind Patricia Wyatt

 

You will find a surprise or a disappointment.

The clue was meant to lead her to the framed poster in the office, behind which the gift card was hidden. Image result for patricia wyatt art she dreams in the rhythm of the waves

This is a copy of the poster that we have hanging in the office.

Several days later, I used a friend’s phone to inform another gift recipient (N) that she would find the gift in the maintenance room.   I felt that N would not be offended by getting a text from a mysterious number, since she seems like a pretty good sport.  I would not advise this method for a coworker that you don’t know well or who is not as into the gift exchange, since they may feel violated by a mysterious text message from an unfamiliar phone number.  In my case, N seemed pretty happy to be informed about the gift and intrigued rather than threatened.   My friend has a phone number from out of the area, which added to the mystery.  I made sure the friend immediately deleted the number from the phone and that it was someone that I could trust not to misuse the phone number.


Finally, I used my secret email to email my supervisor to make an announcement at the beginning of our staff meeting.  The supervisor was told to announce that an anonymous source had informed her that there was a gift hidden in the conference room.  Staff searched for the gift at the beginning of the staff meeting, which was turned over to the gift recipient, who also happened to be “N.”   Again, using a fake email to email a supervisor is only advisable if the supervisor is a good sport and on board with the Secret Santa gift exchange.  My supervisor happens to love the holidays and likes to coordinate the gift exchange, so I wasn’t too worried.  The only downside was that my coworkers had a hard time finding the gift, so I had to pretend to help them find it (to avoid taking up too much meeting time).

Big Idea:  Use a fake email, alternative phone, posted message, or other employees to create secret channels of communication.


 

Data Smog:

As my Secret Santa operation evolved, I eventually decided that I would give gifts to all of my coworkers.  Some would be elaborate, such as the scavenger hunt, hidden gifts, poems, anonymous letters, thoughtful cards, etc.  Some would be low-key, such as small gifts that randomly appeared in staff mailboxes with nothing more than a note that it was from Secret Santa.   I decided that I would try to give everyone a gift as a matter of fairness but also Data Smog.   Data Smog is the idea that it is hard to determine what is true or false when there is too much information to sift through.  By providing a lot of information and gifts to everyone, it would be hard for anyone to know which gifts were from a Secret Santa and which were from me, Rogue Secret Santa.   In the last two weeks of my Secret Santa operation, I mostly gave out subtle, anonymous gifts.   On Wednesdays, when all of the staff were gathered for a meeting, I chose to do a more elaborate gift exchange. Big Idea:  A variety of information, including obvious clues that it was Rogue Secret Santa as well as subtle, anonymous gifts given without fanfare was meant to obscure my actions.


Puzzles, Poems, and Messages:

One of my favorite parts of my Secret Santa operation was devising a number of poems and messages for my coworkers.   For instance, prior to our regular Wednesday meeting I baked two dozen cupcakes and set them on the table along with a typed message.  The message told my coworkers to eat the cupcakes and that under some of them, they would find a letter that spelled out the name of the coworker whose gift was on the table.   Everyone helped themselves to the cupcakes, eventually spelling out the letters in the co-worker’s name (which could be found on the bottom of the cupcake wrapper).   The gift itself included a Finnish language Christmas card and a poem by the famous poet, A. Leppanen.   There is no Finnish poet with this name.   I wrote the poem, but attributed it to a fake Finnish poet.  (The recipient of the gift had a Finnish background).   I created several poems or rhymes during the course of my secret Santa operation.   Each used a different style.   For instance, when “L” complained that she had been forgotten by her secret Santa, I provided her a small gift and the following typed Haiku:

Forgotten no more. I was called out for neglect.  Santa is Sorry

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Miscellaneous:

Aside from the techniques listed above, I tried to remain sneaky by keeping notes of my activities.  This helped me to keep track of what I had done, who I had given gifts to, how they reacted, and plans for the future.  This aided in the timing of my gift giving and make sure that no one was forgotten.   I typically typed my messages to my coworkers, as this disguised my handwriting, but on two occasions I had other people write my messages (one was C-the informant, and the other was my housemate).   I also used pre-made Secret Santa labels that I found on the internet, with one of my Secret Santa gift recipients.  Generally, I tried to be consistent.  For instance, I typically used decorated brown paper bags and printed labels for my gifts to N. Big Idea:  Take notes to keep track of your activities, use a variety of styles of packaging and messaging.  Avoid using your own handwriting.


Conclusion:

My Rogue Santa activities did concern some staff.  A few staff were worried that they had the wrong name in the exchange or were somehow doing the gift exchange wrong after mysterious gifts appeared from the Rogue Secret Santa.   The panic meant that my supervisor had to send an email warning staff not to worry and that there were some pranksters in their midst.  I genuinely enjoyed watching as the staff discovered their gifts, especially if they liked them.   I also enjoyed some conversations with staff.  For instance, one of my coworkers told me about a poem and gift card she had received.  She was convinced that they came from B., our supervisor.   I had to laugh a little to myself.   I also enjoyed doing little things such as hiding bags of candy under the seats of my coworkers before a staff meeting and making them the cupcakes.  My actual Secret Santa recipient did not know that I was her Secret Santa!  So that was also fun.  The main drawback is that I can only be a Rogue Secret Santa once!  Next year, if I do anything tricky, they will all know that it is me!  Another drawback is that because I bought at least a small item for each of my coworkers, it was a costly little operation.   While I won’t be playing the role of a Rogue Secret Santa next year, hopefully this list of ideas inspires someone else to make Christmas a covert operation.

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Embracing Winter Solstice

 

Embracing Winter Solstice

H. Bradford

1/21/17

In an earlier post, I discussed feeling down about winter and some strategies of overcoming seasonal shock (as I prefer to frame winter blues).  Winter does come as a bit of a shock.  Thankfully, I have adapted to winter and there are even some days that I thoroughly enjoy it.   Today was one of those days.  It was the winter solstice today, so I woke up eager to make the most of the day.  I wanted to celebrate the shortest day of the year.  In a way, there is something almost instinctual about wanting to put the darkness behind me.  It is a primitive drive of yearning for light and warmth.  Yet, here we are- still very much in the early half of winter.   I could hardly sleep- even after coming off of eight consecutive midnight shifts.  This is how I made the most of Winter Solstice.

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This photo was actually taken last week during a snow storm- but reminds me of hardship and beauty of winter.


 

A Winter Walk:

After doing a few errands, I went for a winter walk along the Lake Walk, a paved path along Lake Superior.  The temperature was about 28 degrees F, so comfortable enough to make outdoor activity easy.  The lake itself is still open and was deep blue and wavy today.  There were others out and about, jogging and walking as well.  Although the clouds were heavy and gray, there was a prettiness to the day.  Winter seemed to have a weaker grip on the Northland today, despite yesterday’s fresh snow.  There are many people out to challenge it.  Even ducks and gulls actively defied winter by floating on the steely waves.  As I looked back at the Lift Bridge, taking in all of the gray and white, I felt happy.  That summer version of myself- that person who begins dreading winter around the 4th of July- seemed weak and foolish.  It isn’t so bad!

Yoga:

I have not been to a yoga class at all this year.  I know this because attending yoga classes was one of my many New Year’s Resolutions last year.   Well, 2017 isn’t over yet!  Two of my co-workers from the domestic violence shelter met me for an hour yoga class at Essentia Health.   It was my first time attending fitness classes there!  Also, this month the fitness center is offering discounted day passes.  A day pass only costs $3 and gives a person access to the fitness center, fitness classes, pool, and sauna!  Wow!  I purchased 20 passes and may buy some more since it is such a great deal.


Anyway, the class was perfect!  The fitness studio has large windows which overlook Lake Superior.  Since the class began at 4:15, I was able to watch the sunset (or at least the dimming of the light and transition to darkness).  The room itself was dimly lit, illuminated by battery operated candles.   Throughout the class, the instructor adjusted the heat.  Needless to say, the room had a warm, peaceful ambiance that perfectly matched the quiet, thoughtfulness of winter.   I can’t say that I was awesome at the class.  But, I really enjoyed the bear pose.  This also seemed symbolic of winter- as bears hibernate in the winter (spare an angry bear that attacked three people in Northern Minnesota two days ago).   The Greek word for bear is Arctos- which we find in the word “Arctic.”   While Ursa Major and Ursa Minor are easy to spot year round, because they are circumpolar constellations, they are more easy to see in the winter because of the darker and longer nights.   Thus, bears are very deeply connected to winter.   The class itself had some challenging moments, but was generally relaxing.  I felt the class feeling that I had purged my insides of a lot of stress and negativity.

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I thought a lot about bears and winter during the yoga class…

Sauna:

After the yoga class, I used the sauna at Essentia.   There is really something special about saunas.  Because I am mostly Finnish, I feel that taking a sauna harkens back to some distant, primitive part of myself passed down from generations.   In the deepest reaches of history, there were distant relatives who 2000 years ago took saunas- back when they were a sacred and ritualistic part of life.  Of course, sweat baths are not unique to Finland- so they are a tradition to many people.  On the solstice, it is a way to embrace warmth and feel renewed.  It is a way to reconnect with the past.  I expected that I would be disappointing by the sauna at Essentia, but I found that although it was small- it was pleasantly hot.  Unfortunately, I had a meeting to run to- so I was only able to enjoy it for about 15 minutes.

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A Finnish wood carving of a Sauna scene.

The County Board Meeting:

I raced from the sauna, dressed, and drove back to the Superior government center for the county Board Meeting.  I literally ran from my car to the meeting room- with less than five seconds to spare before the meeting started.  I guess I took up a bit too much time at the sauna.  The reason for the race to Superior?  Well, the County Board was scheduled to vote on a resolution regarding the cut to 25 programs at UW-Superior.  I  have missed other meetings due to my work schedule or conflicting events, so it was important that I attend today.  I arrived in time to listen to the Chancellor of UWS defend the suspension of 25 academic programs, comparing them to products that were not selling.  I felt incensed by her words, so I volunteered to speak.   Mind you, I had no intention to speak before the board nor had I prepared ahead of time.  So, I just stepped up to the mic and spoke from my experience.   I am an alumni of the sociology program (a program that is being cut) and went on to get a Master’s degree in sociology.  I wanted to make the point that education has qualitative value that is hard to measure.  It is more than a product, like Big Macs or ceiling tiles- it enriches the human experience and our communities.  This issue is bigger than UWS.   UWS is symptomatic of a larger, business model of education that seeks to shrink education- or for there to be less education or fewer people with access to education.  The vote was an opportunity to take a stand against a larger trend in society wherein education is diminished.  I know that I did not collect my thoughts perfectly, but I was proud of myself for speaking up.  In the end, the County Board voted 13 to 3 in favor of a democratic process for determining which programs are cut.


Bentleyville:

I have already visited Bentleyville three times this winter, but I thought that it would be a great way to celebrate winter and add some more steps to my step counter.   So, after the county board meeting- I went home, debriefed about the meeting with my roommate, then returned to Duluth to stroll along the light displays.  It was my best visit to Bentleyville this season since it was far less crowded.  I felt that I could take my time and really take it in.    Bentleyville is free-with free cookies, marshmallows, and hot cocoa.  I love it, since I see people from all walks of life wandering around and enjoying the lights together.  Granted, I think that I am the only solo adult who haunts the holiday display.  Most visitors are families and couples.   Oh well!  Once again, I enjoyed embracing winter and the darkness by surrounding myself with light.

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Trivia:

Twice a month, I get together with friends and play trivia at Pizza Luce.  Tonight, I was short on a team- so I joined up with a group of UMD students.   We didn’t win at trivia- or even get third place- but it was still a fun time.  My friend, Jenny, arrived a bit late and joined the team.  While this wasn’t specific to Winter Solstice, it was still a fun addition to my day of celebrations!


The Samovar:

The grand finale of the day was opening a package that I received the other day.  I ordered myself a 1988 Soviet Samovar from Ebay.  This may seem like a frivolous purchase, which- it is- but I enjoy drinking tea and have a fond memory of drinking dozens of cups of tea from an antique samovar at a dacha during my first trip to Russia.   My hosts seemed so proud of their samovar- which was old enough to be heated with charcoal.   My samovar is electric.  I pulled it out of the package, while my roommate, Lucas- a lover of antiques- watched the pieces emerge from newspaper and packing plastic.  It was beautiful.  It was perfect!  I had looked over several Soviet Samovars online.  Many were ordinary, with a bronzed finish.  This was one special because of its black and gold enamel folk motifs.  It did not seem as industrial as the others.  Because of the folksy currant and golden leaf design, it seemed that it was timeless.    I have never been to Russia in winter, but to me, it seems like a place where Christmas, cold, and darkness must last forever (owing to the old/new calendar, continental climate, and latitudes of some places).   In a way, this object seems to resonate warmth as it invokes Russian history and culture- and quite literally, it creates warmth by heating water.  It is only a material thing, but it was love at first sight!

Well, there you go!  It was a pretty great day!  Maybe winter isn’t so bad after all.

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Beating the Winter Blues

Beating the Winter Blues

H. Bradford

11/30/17

It seems that winter came early this year.  Although I have lived my whole life in either Wisconsin or Minnesota, winter still arrives with shock and disappointment.  This year, it seemed to begin on October 27th with our first snow storm of the season.  The following weeks remained fairly cold and that initial snow didn’t melt until mid-November.  Daylight Savings Time, which sets the sunset back an hour, only seems to worsen the onset of winter, since suddenly it is dark at 4:30 pm.  I escaped for two and a half weeks to warmer climates, so this only added to my “season shock” this year.  (I have coined my experience season shock- which is like culture shock- but about seasonal adjustment).  Yes, upon returning home after visiting my brother in Texas- I felt demoralized by the cold and darkness.  He will be moving back to Minnesota next year.  I wanted to warn him not to.  It is miserable here.  This place is a cold, dark hell.  In some mythologies, it might be akin to the imagined land of death- white, sterile, and quiet- where bones crack in the cold, snapping like icicles off ledges.  My work schedule of night shifts makes things worse- since I live in the the long dark space between sunsets and sunrises.  I felt crabby, lethargic, and disappointed.  Well, I really don’t want to be that way!  So, here are some things I have done to make the most of winter and try to changed that attitude.


Bentleyville:

Each year, Duluth features a free light show- with free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, marshmallows, costumed characters, bonfires, and more!  I have gone twice already this year.  Perhaps, this will even be the year that I finally try to volunteer there.  While winter isn’t awesome, I will say that the darkness creates the canvass for stunning light displays.   I can relate this to the concept of Metaxu (from Simone Weil and Plato), which roughly describes things that separate us in some ways but connects us in others.  Darkness separates us from the visual world.  Night is bothersome since it makes it harder to enjoy the outdoors or do activities that we might enjoy during the day.  In this case, while darkness connects us to the beauty of light displays.  These displays would not be a pretty in daylight.  So, in this way, the darkness connects us to beauty and light.   Plus, there is so little that is free in capitalism!  You can’t complain about free cookies, hot cocoa, popcorn, and wholesome fun!  I think that Bentleyville is wonderful.

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The Night Sky:

Following the same logic as the last point, the darkness of winter and the long nights make it an optimal time of year for stargazing.   While I have not gone star gazing yet this month, I do plan on rescheduling a Feminist frolic for the planetarium and trying to catch the Northern lights (which are predicted to make an appearance early next week).  So, one great thing about winter is that it is a nice time of year for enjoying the night sky.


Birding:

I was a little sad to see all of the birds migrate.  While I was on my trip, I was reminded of all of the birds that were gone for the winter.  I even saw some of the species of birds which had migrated south!  However, on Sunday I drove to Two Harbors to hike around and do some geocaching.  I actually saw quite a few birds.  There were a few Common Goldeneye ducks, diving and bobbing in Agate Bay.  I watched them, getting a closer view than I’ve had of that species.  I also saw a NEW species of duck- a female Harlequin duck.  I was surprised, since I didn’t expect to see many new birds this winter-if any at all.  I think that it was a good reminder that there are still plenty of birds around.  On December 9th, the Sax Zim Bog will open to winter visitors and host a few birding/nature hikes.  I hope to attend.

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Geocaching:

I tried geocaching for the first time in March.  While it isn’t the most educational hobby, it is fun to search around for these hidden treasures.  I am not great at it, but it does bring a sense of accomplishment to me each time I manage to find a hidden container.  While I don’t do it all of the time, I decided to go geocaching on Sunday in Two Harbors and Monday at Pattison State Park.   Today, I found my 100th cache.  I think that winter is a great time to geocache since there is less foliage and vegetation to thwart my view of the caches.  Also, there aren’t any wood ticks.   It is also a nice hobby for winter since it doesn’t compete with birding as much (since there are fewer birds out and about).

Image may contain: tree, plant, outdoor and nature  Just a photo from Pattison State Park, where I geocached earlier in the week

Winter’s Solitude:

On Monday, I went to Pattison State Park for hiking/geocaching.  I was the only at the park.  The park office was closed and the parking lot was desolate.  It was wonderful to haunt the park, wandering the trails as the only soul on the premise (there were park service people somewhere, but I didn’t see anyone at the park office and there were no other park visitors).  In the summer, parks tend to be busier.  The beach would be full of swimmers and the tables occupied by picnic-ers.   On Monday, it was only me.  It was wonderful.  I enjoyed it too much and kept reminding myself of the moral lessons of the Twilight Zone (don’t wish for people to go away.  You might lose your contact lenses).  It was a really enjoyable time.  This is something to really be thankful for- a whole park to myself!  I found a few caches and enjoyed the waterfall (the tallest in Wisconsin- though that doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment for a waterfall).

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, outdoor, nature and water    Image may contain: tree, plant, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Embracing the Indoors:

During the summer, I sometimes feel guilty for sleeping during the day after a night shift.  I feel like I am missing out on a beautiful, sunny day.   In winter, while I still feel like I am missing out on sunlight, this is unavoidable.  So, I guess that if nothing else I can embrace the season because the cold and darkness give me a good excuse to stay indoors.   In my ideal world, I would use this wonderful indoor time to write, read, study, create art, try to practice violin, do fitness DVDs, or any number of other hobbies that I could explore.  But, this is not my ideal world and I am not my ideal self.  I haven’t done many if any productive indoor hobbies lately.  However, I have embraced the indoors by taking advantage of indoor fitness classes.  While I am not a member at any gyms, I have gone to a few fitness classes with my coworkers Kaila and Katie at CSS.   I have attended a dance cardio class and a barre class.  I also try to do a ballet class through Sterling Silver Studio in Superior.   Since it is cold outside, I may as well embrace the indoors by attending indoor fitness classes.  Walking on a track or treadmill is no substitute for a walk outdoors, but it helps to combat the cooped up/inactive feeling that I dislike about winter.


Embracing Winter Hobbies:

Snow does allow for winter hobbies.  We don’t have any snow at the moment, but maybe later this winter I can go cross country skiing and snow shoeing again.  There are other winter hobbies I could try as well.  One of my goals is to try out a fat tire bicycle this winter.  We’ll see if I finally try one out this winter…


Embracing Warm Things:

One positive thing about winter is that it makes warm things far more enjoyable.  I can definitely say that soup, hot tea, hot cocoa, or generally any hot food or drink is much more pleasant in the winter.   Even if I don’t have a cold, Throat Coat is my favorite and most soothing hot tea by far.

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Embrace Seasonal Sweaters:

I like being warm.  A fun way to stay warm is with seasonal sweaters.  The other day, I went to Goodwill and bought a few seasonal sweaters.  By seasonal, I mean the sort of sweaters that an elderly woman might wear- with snowmen, mittens, cats, or cardinals on them- some are embellished with sequins, tiny rhinestones, and puff paint textures.  Having an arsenal of winter themed sweaters/sweatshirts helps me get into the mood of winter.  It is hard to be grumpy when you are wearing a sweatshirt of three snowmen sharing hot cocoa.

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I don’t own this sweater, but it represents the spirit of winter whimsy.

 

Season Shock:

The reason that I feel that I experience “season shock” rather than seasonal affect disorder is because my experience is more of an adjustment issue.    I feel that the transition to winter is disappointing because it means a loss of freedom, outdoors, health, light, and warmth.  It means that life is harder- since the weather is harsh, the day is short, the roads are icy, cars need to be warmed up, and illness spreads more easily.  Adjusting to the “new normal” of winter isn’t an easy process.  But, I don’t feel that for me, it is a form of depression.  To me, the difference is that when winter hits, I want to be active, I WANT to be outdoors, I WANT all of the fun of fall and summer.   Winter is an insult to my drive to live and experience.   When I am actually depressed, I don’t want to do anything….and don’t even want to want to do anything.   I think that by being intentional, setting goals, and taking advantage of the 40 degree weather we’ve had lately has helped me escape my winter funk.   But…we’ll see how it goes when the temperature continues to decline next week- and we see highs in the teens….

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

Oh No, it’s Norovirus!

H. Bradford

11/28/17

(Trigger warning for anyone with emetophobia or an aversion to stories about gastrointestinal illness…and anyone who doesn’t want to read about gross sickness stuff)

I haven’t really written anything this month.  Sorry that the one thing that I took time to write is about…getting sick.  But, it was a big event this weekend.  This narrative is not flattering or fun.  It is the story of me and my pal, Norovirus.  I feel that if we were both characters in a novel, there is enough tension and antagonism that we might even love each other…in that Batman/Joker sort of way (that the “other” defines you).  What a weird thought.  I had a lot of time to have weird thoughts this weekend.   Norovirus is my nemesis, but like any nemesis, it grows familiar through obsession.  It was certainly no stranger on Thanksgiving.


I’ve come a long way in my journey to overcome emetophobia.   In other years, I had panic attacks as the holidays approached since it is prime time for winter vomiting bug…aka…norovirus.  I would fret over my food and stay inside.  But, having come a long way, I didn’t think much of it this year…or at least not as much as other years.  Even though Thanksgiving at the shelter inevitably means norovirus.  As predictable as the shortening days, the shelter will experience norovirus in November.  Sure enough, many residents, though mostly children, vomited through my nine day stretch of shifts.  One person vomited in the kitchen and in the office.  I always find this befuddling.  The kitchen and dining room are the absolute worst places to vomit- seeing as norovirus can spread through vomit particles launched through the air.  Yet, this seems to rank highly on everyone’s Top 5 Best Vomit Spots in the shelter.  In any event, it isn’t really surprising that at 2am on Thursday night I began to feel a little ill.  At first I thought it was hunger, since I hadn’t eaten since 6pm.  I ate some leftover stuffing, but became increasingly bloated and uncomfortable.  At 4am, the liquid diarrhea began.  This was followed by nausea and a single retch.  By 4:30, I had used the bathroom three times and felt that this was just the beginning.  I decided that I needed to leave (leaving my coworker alone and rushing home).


I drove home without incident, hurried to unlock the door, and raced upstairs to the toilet to dry heave twice and turn around for some more diarrhea action.  This was about when the searing stomach ache began.  It felt as though someone was stabbing me in the stomach with scissors.  The next two hours was a lovely relay race from my bed to the bathroom to take turns retching and shitting green swamp water.  (Yes, this is all very unpretty, but this story isn’t meant to be attractive).  I dry heaved hard four times at six a.m.  (I am not sure why nothing comes up, but it had already been four hours since I had eaten so maybe there was nothing to come up.)   My usual sources of relief: emetrol and pepto bismol did nothing.   I felt weak and was not able to drink much, but sometimes sipped tiny amounts of water through my teeth.  The stomach pain continued nonstop for eight hours.  This time was spent in moments of fitful sleep or pitiful whimpering.

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My trusted allies failed me…


I watched the time.  Time is a friend when stomach bugs hit.  The worst symptoms don’t last forever and do tend to slow down over time.  It took time for things to slow down.  It took eight hours for the stomach cramps to go away.  The nausea did improve and the dry heaving stopped (mostly because I willed myself to stop it- as I was too worn out to endure the effort of punching up my innards).   But, the diarrhea was remarkably constant.  Another remarkable characteristic of the diarrhea was how uncontrollable it was.  While I have certainly had my share of the “green apple trots” as my grandpa used to call it, I have never had uncontrollable “trots.”    Yes.  Indeed, the deluge of darkness arrived without herald or the slightest urge.  In other words, I pooped myself….more than once…without even feeling like I needed to go, was going to go, or that “going” was going to happen.   It was as if a magical spigot was suddenly turned on…and ta da!  That was a first in my life time.   Now, admitting this makes me feel like a swamp monster.  But really, it was not in my capacity to predict or control this bodily function.  That is humbling.  And disgusting, of course.  But, as I mentioned earlier, time is a friend.  By the late evening on Friday I was able to suck on ice and everything had slowed down.  However, I was met by a new symptom: severe body aches. Image result for green apple


Being sick is a learning opportunity.  The body aches were severe and made it hard to rest.  Still, they were preferable to the other symptoms.  I could not take any Tylenol because I had no desire to ingest more than ice.  So, I just wined quietly to myself as I curled up into various positions.  These body aches, while annoying, at least show that my body was trying to fight the virus.  The lower half of my body was where most of the pain was concentrated.   I guess that when the immune system makes antibodies, it also releases histamines to the infected area- which dilate the blood vessels and allows for more antibodies to pass through.  But, the histamines can pass to other areas of the body, where they trigger pain receptors.   I am not knowledgeable about health or medicine, but it is comforting to think of when I don’t feel well.   Once I felt well enough to drink enough water and have something in my stomach, I eventually took some Tylenol and this pain subsided (but by then it had been another eight hours).  From then on, I slept until about 2pm on Saturday.  This meant that I spent about 34 hours in bed (or between bed and the toilet).


When I awoke, the sun was shining and it was a balmy 34 degrees F.  I put on several layers and decided that the most logical thing I could do was celebrate my recovery with a brisk, wintery hike in the Superior Municipal Forest in search of a geocache.  This was certainly an ambitious goal after sustaining myself on ice cubes.  I didn’t have my appetite back yet, but set out anyway….since I was done being sick.  Nope, I wasn’t done being sick.  I went for a hike, against my better judgment, feeling weary and light headed.  But, I stayed out anyway (yes, I know this was foolish but I wanted to be better and was tired of staying in bed).  I didn’t find the cache, but was determined that the hike was what I needed.  After an hour of hiking/searching for the cache, I returned to my car.  Even though I felt rather weak, I decided to try to find another cache.  I also failed to find this one.  By the third attempt to find a cache, I felt that I could no longer stay awake.  I promptly went home and fell asleep for several more hours.  However, by the time I awoke, I did have my appetite back and a bit more energy.  By Sunday afternoon, I had indeed recovered (and had a more successful attempt at hiking and geocaching).


The illness gave me a lot of time to think.  My roommates were gone-celebrating Thanksgiving with their families over the weekend- spare one roommate who I don’t know well yet.  The internet was not working Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.  So, I was alone and a bit bored.  Even the television converter box was malfunctioning.  I didn’t have the energy for reading books- so I mostly sat in bed and thought about things.  The topic at the top of my mind was norovirus, of course.  There is something so terrible about norovirus.  Really, there is very little that can be done to prevent its spread.  While it is only spread through the oral-fecal route or by airborne vomit particles, it is extremely virulent.  A tiny drop of vomit or pooh contain millions of viral particles.  It only takes a few to become sick.  At the same time, many cleaners do not destroy the virus.  For instance, clorox wipes do not destroy it.  Alcohol sanitizer does not destroy it.  At work, I bleach surfaces and door knobs at night, but it isn’t actually known how much bleach is needed to destroy norovirus.  The diluted bleach solution that I use to clean the office and shelter may be as ineffective as the commercial cleaning supplies at the shelter.  Therefore, if norovirus is around you…it is safe to assume that you will probably become ill (though hand washing does work and is probably the only way to really avoid it.)

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Kills 99.9% of germs.  Guess what that .1% includes?  Hmmph….I say rise up against the .1% and take back the means of cellular reproduction!!


I also thought about viruses themselves.  Viruses are just plain weird.  Scientists had no idea that they existed until speculations in the late 1800s that there might be something smaller than a bacteria.   There really is something impressive about the idea that viruses were discovered at all- considering they are so tiny and not even alive.  Norovirus was discovered in the 1920s (which seems recent, but ALL viruses are pretty recently known).  Viruses are all around us.  Relatively few make us sick, but they attack all life forms.  Thinking about viruses made me really, really, thankful for vaccines.  I mean…anti-viral drugs are rare and really complicated (involving confusing the process by which viruses replicate themselves in cells).  So, vaccines are pretty awesome and a lot easier to understand and seemingly to develop than anti-viral drugs.  Norovirus does not have a vaccine, but there have been clinical trials for a vaccine in Japan and Ohio.  So, someday there could be a vaccine- which would be pretty awesome- since norovirus kills about 200,000 people in the US each year (and of course, countless more in developing countries).  Plus, norovirus is the second most common illness in the US after the common cold.   Some may say that I am a dreamer, but I want a world where people don’t poop themselves or at least not as much.  But on a more serious note, it would actually end a lot of mundane human suffering/real suffering and death.   Yep, as I sat in bed, I thought- give me ALL the VACCINES.   I also thought about the anti-vaccination movement.  While I know that for those who are against vaccination it is a serious issue- I just have to think- c’mon…viruses suck SOOOOO much.  HIV/AIDS has killed 25 million people!  Influenza killed like 3-6% of the global population in 1918/19!  In the throes of my viral misery, it was very easy to be on TEAM VACCINATE. Image result for norovirus I will admit that this orange tinted version of norovirus is sort of cute.  You are my sunshine…my only sunshine….


Oddly enough, I also thought about Rick and Morty, a cartoon I have seen a few times.  I thought that maybe Rick is such a jerk because he can see himself in the past, present, future, and all universes.  I can only see myself in the past and present.  I thought that if I could time travel, my advice to myself would be “don’t be afraid.”  One of my fears has been throwing up, but there are lots of little things.   I was too miserable to even fear throwing up.  This is what actually happens when I am truly sick.  The anxiety really happens in the expanse of calm moments between illnesses.  And, norovirus is unpleasant and traumatic enough to worry about- but, it does end.   It may take a day or three days, but it ends.  Ultimately it is hard to control and possible to survive, so it is not worth fearing or worrying about.    So yes, past self- don’t be afraid.  Don’t be so fearful.  I really want past self to know that.  Present self is not really an adventurer.  I like tea, birds, books, hikes, quietude, etc.  Past self was always too afraid.  I want to be a jerk to past and present self.  I wish present self liked scuba diving, parasailing, rock climbing, roller coasters, sky diving, etc.  I don’t.  I am more of the bookish, timid sort.  Present and past self- you suck.  See, I only see two parts of myself and I am already a jerk.  So, maybe Rick just sees so many versions of himself that it lends itself to being awful.  I mean, in at least several multiverses I am still pooping myself.  That is gross and intolerable. All humans are limited by their own mediocrity, mortality, and social conditions.  Even if I were entirely fearless, I would be met by the limits of being born into this particular place and time- this person-this body- this class and gender within patriarchal capitalism.  To live is to come to terms with limitations of what is possible and to compromise wants against realities.  At least I can only see two worlds of disappointment, but if I could see all versions of myself I would probably become soured by the infinite pointlessness of all of our struggles.   So…that is what I thought about.  Rick and Morty and how it relates to norovirus.


I thought about other things as well, but it would be boring to write about all of my thoughts.   I am happy that I am feeling better.  At least I probably won’t get norovirus for a few months (immunity does not last very long).   I survived it.  It was the second worst bout of stomach illness I have had in my life.  The number one worst was only worse because it was on an airplane.   Now that I am feeling better, I had some fun outdoors and even saw a new bird yesterday.  Things aren’t so bad.  Norovirus won a battle, but didn’t win the war….

 

My Raven Tattoo

My Raven Tattoo

H. Bradford

10/27/17

This year, I decided that I should mark my bird listing by getting a bird tattoo for every 100 species of birds that I identify.  I like the idea of earning rewards.  The life of an adult lacks enough little rewards.  When I was young, I could get girl scout badges, letters on my letter jacket, or certificates of participation.  Now…well, not a lot!  Aside from rewarding myself, this plot to earn bird tattoos seemed like a good idea, since I already have an archaeopteryx tattoo, which historically was believed to be the first bird.  The name Archaeopteryx means “first wing.”  There are other fossils that have since been found, but archaeopteryx remains an iconic bird/dinosaur because it helped scientists of the 1800s connect birds and non-avian dinosaurs.  Plus, the Berlin specimen really is an elegant fossil.  It is like a prehistoric dancer, passionately arching backwards and shrugging its arms.  Thus, although it was not my intention when I got the tattoo, archaeopteryx can be my first “bird” and a marker for the first 100 species on my list.


I have identified about 230 species now.  Therefore, I have “earned” another tattoo.  To mark this milestone, I decided to get a raven tattoo.   Now, there are 229 other birds that I could have chosen from.  The very first bird that I added to my list was a stray Ivory gull that found its way to Duluth a few days after I began birding.  The pretty white gull from the arctic might have made a nice tattoo or could find its way in one in the future (perhaps with Lake Superior).  However, I wanted something that matches my aesthetic a little better.  I tend to wear dark colors and dye my hair blue and black.  Perhaps if I wrote jaunty sailor costumes all the time, a gull would be a good tattoo.  But, that isn’t me…at the moment.   A nautical themed version of myself is probably not going to happen any time soon as I hate water and am prone to seasickness.  Ultimately, I decided to pick a raven because they are attractive, interesting birds.

 


That is a shallow reason to choose that bird, I know.  They just look cool.  But, ravens and other corvids ARE cool.  They are incredibly intelligent birds- and some of them have the ability to problem solve, make tools, identify themselves in the mirror, remember where food is stored and try to trick competition with fake caches, and learn new behaviors-like safely crossing the street.   Many cultures have stories about ravens, often connecting them to death- since they eat carrion.  (Though Native American cultures seem to connect them to creation and trickery).  I suppose that I like this connection to death over say….the bluebird of happiness or a patriotic bald eagle.  I think about death too much.  Not in a dark, suicidal sort of way- but in an existential, everything is meaningless, how to do I live a good life sort of way.   Finally, I saw two ravens last spring when I was camping at Wild River State Park.  For most of my life, I was not able to differentiate ravens and crows.  I think that I am finally able to tell the two apart by the way they fly (crows flap quite a bit and ravens soar), their faces (ravens have a thicker, more square looking bill), and their sound (ravens have deep, almost barking  voices).   So, in a way it is a milestone bird since it represents the sorts of things that I have been trying to train myself to pay attention to when I see a bird.


As for the tattoo itself, I think it turned out beautifully.  I had it done at Ink Tattoo in Superior, which is where I went for my archaeopteryx tattoo.   I will say that I don’t particularly like getting tattoos since the buzzing noise and stinging pain can be a bit much.  It starts off alright, but after a while, it is hard to sit still and distract my mind.  Still, I feel very comfortable there and it helps that two of their artists are female (I am not sure if they have other artists at the moment).   Jill did both of my tattoos and was able to really capture what I had imagined.  I also like that the shop is full of LGBTQ themed art.  It creates a welcoming, positive, progressive atmosphere.  I think that tattoo shops can be a little intimidating since they may seem dark, aggressive (sometimes with skulls, dragons, flames, or other motifs in the signage.).  Overall, it was a great experience and I can’t wait until I get to 300 birds.  (Admittedly, it is harder to add more to the list as the list starts to grow).

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What will my 300th bird be?      There are many wonderful birds!   A chickadee would be nice, as it is symbolic of winter and our ecosystem.  A blue jay is another corvid- and would also be a nice symbol of winter and our region.  Or, perhaps I could choose birds that are symbolic of my travels as well.  A rosy starling could be symbolic of my trip last summer to the ‘stans.   The Asian magpie is the national bird of South Korea (a trip that I remember fondly).   The whooper swan is the national bird of Finland and steeped in cultural meaning,  as The Swan of Tounela is a song by Sibelius about the mythical swan floating on a river in the land of the dead.   Hmm….  well, who knows!

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My First Hawk’s Ridge Weekend Festival

My First Hawk’s Ridge Weekend

H. Bradford

10/15/17

Although I have lived in this area of Minnesota/Wisconsin for most of my life,  I have never actually gone to Hawk’s Ridge in Duluth until this fall.  For those who don’t know, Hawk’s Ridge is a bird observatory and nature area that is one of the best places in Minnesota (and North America in general!) to watch migrating birds of prey.  Each year, over 90,000 pass over the ridge during the fall migration.  This is pretty amazing!  And yet, I never bothered to pay a visit to the observatory.   This year, I was finally drawn there my interest in birding and had hiked several times in August and September.  However, the thing that I was really looking forward to was their Hawk’s Ridge Weekend Festival event, a three day event of birding field trips, hikes, presentations, and bird watching.  The event happens each year, but I had never attended as my interest in birds is fairly new.  Hawk’s Ridge is a great place to watch hawks and other birds migrate, because the sun warms the basalt rocks that form the ridge creating thermals that the birds can use to ascend into an easier glide (i.e. flap less or expend less energy in moving).   The ridge also serves as a natural highway that the birds can follow along Lake Superior, rather than crossing the cold, expansive lake as they head south.  Well, I signed up for a weekend pass on their website as well as a membership.  This is how the event went:

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The view of Lake Superior and fall colors from Hawk’s Ridge

 


The event started on a Friday, but I did not attend the first day of hikes and presentations since I was tired and stressed from work/activism and the weather was gray and windy.  Saturday also turned out to be a gray day, but I went on a guided hike.  The bird activity was not too intense, but we did see many Sharp Shinned Hawks.  Now, I am really terrible at identifying birds of prey.   That was the appeal of attending the festival: to learn how to identify hawks.  With that said, the birds fly pretty high.  Somehow I imagined that the hawk migration was going to be something more like a scene from The Birds.  I imagined that there would be dozens of birds flying all around me at close range.  After all, if there are thousands of birds migrating, it must be like a swarm!  Not really.  While there were various falcons and Sharp shinned hawks that came closer to us, it really wasn’t how I imagined it.  Most of the birds are watched from a distance.  This meant that even with binoculars, I couldn’t always see them very clearly.  Yet, everyone else seemed able to easily identify the hawks.  This is pretty amazing, but at that distance, other cues are used to identify the birds.  Attending the event taught me to pay attention to details like flight pattern and shape.  Sharp Shinned Hawks, which I saw a lot of that weekend, are long with short heads- making a t-shape silhouette as they pass through the sky.   Their flight pattern is flap, flap, glide.  I heard a naturalist repeat this dozens of time, until it was drilled in my head to think “flap, flap, glide” as the birds moved across the sky.   In another area of the observatory, some naturalists were banding hawks.  A Sharp Shinned Hawk was brought to the crowd for closer inspection.  I was surprised by how small it was, since it seemed larger from a distance or in the sky.  I also learned to start thinking of hawks in terms of genus.  Sharp Shinned Hawks are Accipiters, or forest dwelling hawks that can easily navigate around trees.  Cooper’s Hawks are another Accipiter, which is slightly larger and said to look more like a crucifix in flight.  We saw at least one of them, but I was not be able to identify it at close range or in flight in the sky.  Goshawks are a larger Accipiter, but none were observed while I was there.  They migrate later in the season and I have seen a few on my visits now that it is October.  Despite the slow activity at Hawk’s Ridge, I went away feeling satisfied that I am slowly building my knowledge about birds.

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Clint, a naturalist with Hawk’s Ridge, holding a Sharp shinned hawk.


On Sunday, the sky cleared, making for a gorgeous sunny day.  In the morning I did the Color Run, then I zipped over to Hawk’s Ridge for more presentations and birding.  The warm, clear weather created a massive migration.  I quickly learned a new word as birders kept saying, “Check out that kettle of Broad Winged Hawks.”  That was the theme of the day, as 20,000 Broad Winged Hawks passed over Hawk’s Ridge on Sunday.  The Broad Winged Hawks were very high in the sky, flocking together or “kettling.”  They were so high up, I could not see them with my naked eye.  With binoculars, they looked like black specks or Amazing Sea Monkeys.   My binoculars are not very powerful, but it was pretty amazing to have dozens and dozens of birds come into view as they peppered the sky.  Again, they were high enough in the sky that it would be impossible for me to learn to identify them through markings.  As the name suggests, they have broad wings.  They also have short-ish tails.  Sunday was the biggest migration day that Hawk’s Ridge has had (at least that is what I overheard).  When it comes to identifying Broad Winged Hawks, I would have much more trouble.  I learned that they are in the genus, Buteo.  They have a thicker profile in the sky and a much shorter tail.  However, from a distance, I found that their shape looked pretty similar to Red tailed hawks and other buteos, or raptors built for soaring.   I did learn that Broad winged hawks are often seen migrating together, if that offers a clue.

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Some of the birds that were seen that day.


There were other birds viewed that day as well.  One highlight was a flock of Sandhill cranes which honked loudly overhead.  Some Osprey passed over on Saturday, undeterred by the overcast sky.   They look like the letter M in the sky.   There were also turkey vultures and bald eagles.   Peregrine falcons, American kestrels, and Merlins also passed by.  They flew low enough that we could catch a closer glimpse of them.  Still, I would be hard pressed to identify them at a distance or as they are speeding by.   Their profile looks pretty similar to me.   As they season progresses, the species of migrating birds changes.  Since visiting that weekend, I have returned several other times, including twice yesterday!  I really, really, want to see a golden eagle, a goshawk, and a rough legged hawk (since I have not seen any these birds before).  All of these are late season migratory birds, so they may appear more often later in October.  (The first two golden eagles of the season passed over the ridge yesterday…15 minutes after I left for the day!!).    Despite missing out on the golden eagles yesterday, I did see an American pipit, which is a new bird for my bird list.  I doubt I would have noticed it without birders around, since it looks like a drab, brown bird (easily overlooked).

DSCF7649Not the best photo, but here are the migrating sandhill cranes.

DSCF7832American pipit

The more I try birding, the more overwhelmed I am by the amount of detail that a person must learn.  Thus far I have mostly tried to become familiar with birds by memorizing their appearance- though this relies on a close up view of a stationary bird.  Of course, a person does get better at recognizing birds by sight and there are field markings which aid with a quick identification.  I have seen a lot of white outer tail feathers lately.  I don’t need to see the whole bird to identify the flocks of Dark eyed juncos as they dart for the ditch.   Or, when I see a waging, white tipped tail, I think…Eastern Kingbird.   I have since tried to learn some bird songs or calls, but this is daunting as it is like learning another language.   Attending Hawk Ridge Weekend taught me to pay attention to flight pattern and body shape from a distance.  This adds yet another layer to the detail that a person must learn to become proficient at identifying birds.   I am not a natural when it comes to this.  It is a concerted effort to pay attention to the birds around me.  Though, the hope is that someday I can look at some distant bird and know exactly what it is.   This has brought me back several times this season- quietly watching the birds- and trying to learn from the other birders.   The benefit of building my birding skills is that it reshapes my relationship to nature.  Nature is often the background- the repeating, bland landscape of green.  (Sort of like a video game wherein all the trees and rocks look like they are the same- or some variation on a limited template).   By paying attention to the details, nature announces itself- its variety, its sounds, its hidden life forms- that we have taken the time to study and name.   There is something really amazing and overwhelming (soooo much information!) about becoming acquainted with the planet.

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Some Things I’ve done to Travel

Some Things I’ve Done to Travel

H. Bradford

9/13/17

One of the things that I really love to do is travel.  However, I don’t have tons of money.  So, over the years I’ve done a few creative things- and some ordinary things- to afford travel.  Of course, the internet abounds with advice about how people can quit their job and travel…or how anyone can travel if they are simply determined enough.   This is absolutely untrue.  I can’t quit my job.  My bills will not magically evaporate.  I am extremely fortunate that I currently have a job that has allowed me to travel- far more than most Americans are able to.  I am also fortunate that I don’t have children, pets, or anything or anyone to take care of other than myself.  This gives me far more freedom to leave- and to save.  I have a lot of privilege in terms of health, nationality, race, ability, etc. that also allow me to travel.  So, even though I am a working class person- I have traveled much more than most Americans and most other members of my class.  These are a few of the things I have done to travel.  Perhaps some of them might be helpful to some people.  A few make for unusual stories.  And certainly, I don’t want to spread a narrative that with hard working and dedication dreams can come true.  They often don’t on account of systems of inequality.  Thankfully, I have been able to obtain a few of my dreams.  Here is how…

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(One of my favorite pictures- outside of Chernobyl Reactor 4)


1. Donate Eggs:

I discussed this in an earlier blog post, but back in 2008 I donated eggs to pay off some bills and to help save up money for a trip to Cuba.  At the time, it was illegal for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba because of the trade embargo.  However, there were a few exceptions to this rule.  It was possible to travel to Cuba for research (as well as journalism and cultural exchanges).  So, I traveled to Cuba with Global Exchange on a research delegation.  It was designed to be a research delegation centered around education.  To qualify, delegates had to be working full time in an education field or a graduate student.  Back then, I worked as a tutor for Americorps in a program that served homeless youth in my community.  It was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable jobs I have had.  The trip was rather spendy (especially considering that my Americorps stipend was pretty meager), so donating eggs helped with some of the cost (though I mostly spent that money on bills).  Interestingly, I was in the midst of donating while I was visiting Cuba.   Yep…so I was giving myself daily injections of Gonal-F while touring schools and universities.   The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Center for Sex Education, where I learned about how Cuba approaches sex ed.  Shortly after returning to the U.S., I made me third and final egg donation.  I definitely wanted to donate eggs more than I did, but medical complications got in the way of that.  It was disappointing, but a good lesson that you should not put all of your eggs in one basket.

https://brokenwallsandnarratives.wordpress.com/2017/08/01/my-adventures-as-an-egg-donor/

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2. Medical Study:

I didn’t actually do this to save up for a trip, but to cover my living expenses upon my return.  So…back in 2010 I spent a semester in South Korea, followed by half the summer in Beijing and a visit to North Korea.  The North Korea trip was rather expensive.  At the time, there were fewer companies that traveled to North Korea.  I went with Koryo tours for a ten day trip during the Mass Games (if I remember rightly).  And, while I earned a small stipend while in South Korea, it was hard to survive six months in Asia without regular work.  I literally had spent all of my money upon my arrival back to the U.S.   Worse, a new semester was about to start and I needed money for books.  For some quick cash, I volunteered for a two week medical study.  Although it is closed now, there was a medical research facility in Fargo- which is about a four and a half hour drive from Duluth.  Their website advertised several studies, but I tried for one that was about two weeks long because it paid a few thousand dollars.  So…I went to Fargo, was screened for the study, and was accepted.  The study itself involved trying out some sort of respiratory spray.  Twice a day, each of the patients was administered medication through an inhaler.  Honestly, it was a horrible time.  We sat in a room full of hospital beds.  We were not allowed to leave the beds (to go outside, exercise, etc.) and experienced several blood draws daily.  It was torturous to stay in bed waiting for time to pass.  Our only entertainment was an endless parade of terrible movies.  I remember a LOT of romantic comedies.  I wrote and drew, but was terribly restless.  The days seemed to draw on forever as I watched the sunshine turn to night from a hospital bed.  I also hated how regimented life was.  We had to eat our meals without waste or extras.  Of course, this was all to control the conditions of the experiment.  And, I should also be happy that my inhaler never actually gave me any of the medication.  Others complained of a bitter taste, but my inhaler didn’t have a taste.  I lucked out and was probably a control subject.  I made it through the ordeal, but it was one of the most boring things I’ve endured.  On the bright side, I met a medical student studying in Cuba during the experiment.  She joined the experiment for extra cash for visiting her family, since even though her education was paid for- she did not have money for travel expenses. Image result for black guinea pig

(Random guinea pig image from Pinterest)


3. Work Illegally:

While staying with my friend Rose in Beijing, I worked.  Because I was there on a tourist visa, this was technically illegal.  I didn’t work that much.  I just did some English tutoring for extra spending money.  Rose connected me with the opportunities to do a little tutoring.  She also connected me with an opportunity to earn $200 by pretending to work for a school in Xian.  What happened next is a long story, but it involved a very long train ride, fear that I was being trafficked, and NOT actually ending up in Xian.  If you want to know the long story….well, here it is (copied from an earlier blog post).  If not, read on to the next heading.


“While in Beijing, I did some English tutoring for spending money. This is illegal, as it is illegal to work on a travel visa, but it was done in private homes and at a café. Another way that some people make money is through “white face” jobs. Basically, you can get paid to be white (isn’t that the epitome of racial privilege?). These jobs are temporary positions given to white people, wherein they pretend to work for a school or company to bolster the image of the organization as more international and therefore prestigious. Rose called me about such an opportunity. All I had to do was pretend to be an English teacher. In exchange, I would be taken on a 2 day trip to Xian and paid $200. Sounds good! An opportunity to leave Beijing and see Xian, where the Terra Cotta warriors are….and get paid. So, I arrived at the train station to meet “Chuck” the head of a language school. Chuck bought my train ticket, but didn’t tell me much about the trip or what is expected of me. I asked Chuck if there will be time to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. He became quiet and thoughtful, then stated that we are going THROUGH Xian but our destination is actually Yan’an. We needed to take the train to Xian to get to Yan’an. This revelation marked the beginning of my Kaftkaesque journey.


I got on the sleeper train, which if I recall took about twelve hours to get to Xian. The additional trip to Yan’an was another five hours or so. So, after seventeen or eighteen hours on a train, I was pretty exhausted. I still had no idea what was expected of me. My only instructions were that I was supposed to pretend to be a teacher for his school. The arrival in Yan’an was hazy. We took the train there and visited a temple. However, I was informed that Yan’an was not our final, final destination. Rather, it was a smaller city about an hour away. We travelled there by car, but were now joined by an entourage of unfamiliar people whose position or relationship to Chuck were unknown to me. Chuck sped along at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour, even passing a police car that was travelling too slow for his taste. As undemocratic as China is, there does not seem to be as much policing of everyday things such as driving or littering as there is in the U.S. or this policing is less consistent. As such, not only was speeding by a police car to pass it seemingly acceptable, so is driving on the sidewalk from time to time. We arrived at our final, final destination and checked into the hotel. Chuck informed me that there would be a dinner at six.


Before dinner, I asked Chuck what I should say to his company. He told me not to worry, as none of them spoke English. So, once again, I knew nothing about my position as a fake teacher. No idea about the school or what grades I taught, how long that I worked there, or anything. Oh well. Weary from the long journey, I attended dinner. Of course, I was seated by a diplomat, who spoke English. And, while everyone else watched my reaction to the food, eagerly hoping that I enjoyed it, he asked me questions about my job. The surreal dinner, wherein I felt that I was the dinner entertainment….there to please everyone with assurances that the food is good and eat more as I am given it….stared at the entire time…continued. Only, each time I tried to answer the questions posed in English by the diplomat, Chuck answered for me in Mandarin. They conversed about my position….in front of me….in Chinese. This left me entirely in the dark about the lie that Chuck was concocting about me. It made me anxious. All of it made me anxious. The dinner went on forever. The food was actually pretty good, which seemingly pleased everyone that I ate it. On a side note, I hate feeling the pressure to eat and even more, I hate it when people watch me eat. But, I suppose we all do this when we have guests….eagerly hoping they will like what has been introduced to them.


We all returned to the hotel and I was informed that I must be up at 6 am the next morning. I talked to Chuck at the door of my room about this. He tried twice to push himself into my hotel room, but I blocked him with my shoulder and door. I really didn’t want to be alone in my room with Chuck. The next morning involved an award ceremony to celebrate the anniversary of a school. This is why so many politicians, school administrators, and important people were there. This cleared up a little what exactly we were doing there. At the same time, the two day trip had already been three days. Oh well. I assumed that we would return after the ceremony the next day.


The following day there was a ceremony, complete with children singing and dancing. There were speeches and a band. It was all a pretty big to-do for the anniversary of a school. When it was over, I asked Chuck when we will return to Beijing. He told me that it might be a day or two. He doesn’t know. A day or two?! After my very long train ride, enduring a couple of meals, complete isolation from everyone that I know- in fact, no one in the world even knows where I am, a ceremony, and now an uncertain return….things fell apart. The whole thing had been pretty uncomfortable to begin with. Never have I felt so powerless and isolated. I began to think that maybe I would not be returned to Beijing. Chuck went on to inform me that I must attend another meal with him.


I snapped. I informed Chuck that I would not eat until I return to Beijing. He said that if I don’t eat it will embarrass him. I told him that I want to go back to Beijing and can’t eat until I return. This was my only tool. A hunger strike. Chuck begged me to eat. I reluctantly agreed to at least attend the lunch. I attended the lunch, but only nibbled. The Chinese guests offered me some apple juice that was made locally. It tasted warm and fermented. More misery. However, at the end of this meal, Chuck magically produced some train tickets and announced that we would be returning to Beijing that afternoon.


17 long hours later. I enjoyed the crinkled yellow brown landscape of the Loess Plateau and the snaking Yellow River. The landscape became less like a curtain of sandy mounds and flattened. There were farms and nuclear reactors. Yan’an was the end of the Long March. I feel as though I had been on a long march of uncertain roles, awkward meals, fear, and isolation. We arrived back in Beijing. Chuck asked me if I wanted to grab breakfast with him. I said no. I took my $200 and left.”

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(Image of Terracotta warriors from the Chicago Tribune.  I never did get to see them…)

4. Work- Really Hard:

This heading is not as interesting as the others, but there were times that I just worked really, really hard.  One of those times was…once again…when I was saving for the Cuba trip.  Despite the money from egg donating, I still ended up working WITHOUT A DAY OFF from March until June.  This was hellish.  But, it was back when I was doing a year of Americorps service.  The monthly stipend was about $800 a month after taxes.  Still, going to Cuba was important to me.  Everyone who I knew who had visited Cuba tended to gush about it- with the exception of Adam.  He hates being warm.  Travel to Cuba seems to be a leftist rite of passage.   Activists often want to travel there to see for themselves what this tiny, embargoed, island nation has done in terms of healthcare and education- against all odds.  So, I worked very hard that spring.  I did my Americorps services on Monday through Friday, then worked double shifts at a hotel over the weekends.  It was exhausting.  And, there is something quite demoralizing about looking at a calendar and seeing an endless stretch of work without a day off.  But, I survived it- and definitely earned that trip.

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(Random image stolen from a google search.)

5. Join a Mission Trip

This is pretty embarrassing at this point in my life, but back when I was 19 I was still religious.  My friend Libby invited me to join her church on a mission trip.  I joined the trip more for the travel experience than any calling to save souls.  Yep, so I went on a bus trip to Mexico with her church.  Although I was religious at the time, I really didn’t fit in.  I didn’t dress conservatively enough and had to be told to cover up more.  I also wasn’t socialized into her church, so I suppose there were theological and behavioral norms that I didn’t conform to.  But, we did help with some minor construction on a church and I was able to see a really awesome cave in a mountain while everyone else went to a water park.  The cave was called Grutas de Garcia and was fascinating in that I took a cable car up the mountain, then entered a cave which at one time was under a prehistoric sea.  Various marine fossils could be seen on the walls of the cave.  The mountains were pretty and it was an interesting social experience.   Still, in retrospect it was a weird thing to do, especially since it hardly seems that Mexico is in need of spiritual or religious help from U.S. missionaries.   But, it was a two week trip to Mexico for under $500.  It was also one of the last memorable religious activities that I was involved with (as I stopped going to church or attending religious events in the subsequent years).  Finally, it was a happy memory with my friend Libby- who was my best friend since the first grade.  Maybe I wasn’t the best at being religious, but it was certainly worth it to share an experience with her.

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(Image from Tours in Monterrey)

6. Tax Refund

I usually spend my tax refund on travel.  To ensure that I actually get a tax refund, I claim zero on my taxes so that more money is taken out of my paychecks each month.  I have read that this is not good financial advice, as if a person simply saved more, they would earn interest on the savings.  However, since I am not always that great at saving- having more taken out of my paycheck in taxes has resulted in much larger tax refunds at the end of the year.  I think that this scheme will dwindle once I start substitute teaching and now that I can’t claim a credit for being a graduate student.  But, in previous years, I usually received $1000- $3000 back in taxes.  I used that money towards going to Eastern Europe and the Balkans for a month back in 2014 and the Baltic Countries/Ukraine/Belarus in 2015.

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7. Second Savings Account

One of my strategies in the past has been to have two savings accounts.  The second savings account was located at an out of the way bank (in an area I don’t often visit in Duluth) and did not have an ATM card.  By making my money harder to access, I did not dip into the savings.  It also kept the money separate from my regular savings- so the money was earmarked specifically for travel.  I have since closed the second account, but I found this to be a very useful savings strategy and one that I want to employ in the future (probably a non-travel savings account).



8. Regular Saving and Working…

This is mainly what I do now to travel.  It doesn’t make for a good story.  Save and work.  Blah.  To that end, I picked up some extra shifts at work this month.  I try to pick up extra shifts when I can.  The other day, I worked a sixteen hour shift followed by a twelve hour shift the next day.  I might try substitute teaching in my free time as well.  (Though typically I only work 40 hours a week).  On the saving front, I will admit that I am terrible at saving.  I have too many hobbies and eat out way too much.  But, I’ve been using Mint since March and find that it helps me track my spending and set saving goals.   Each month I try to squirrel away money.  But, it seems that once I save up enough- I spend it all on travel.  So, perhaps I could add “living irresponsibly” to my list of things I do to travel, as I am definitely NOT saving up for retirement or a rainy day.   My goal is to eventually become good enough at saving that I can put money away for BOTH travel and responsible adulthood.


There are probably many other ways that I could travel.  I could work overseas, such as teaching English in South Korea.   I could try to find work that somehow involves travel.  But, for the most part, I am content right now to save, work, and dream of future trips.  Provided that my current job continues to allow me to take vacations each year, I continue to travel as long as I am able to.  It challenges me socially, emotionally, physically, and intellectually.  While it is a selfish endeavor, it allows me to re-dedicate to activism and my work.   That is why I like it and why it has been worth the effort.

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I also love this photo-in Kazakhstan, since I look badass- masking the fact that I am a dorky, fearful, and unfit.

Missed Connections: The Social Challenge of Travel

 

Missed Connections: The Social Challenge of Travel

H. Bradford

9/9/17

I remember back when I was a flag twirler for marching band (at Cambridge-Isanti High School), sitting alone on the school bus as it carted me to march in a parade.  I always sat alone.  I always sat alone for soccer.  I sat alone for track as well.  I have many memories of sitting alone on school buses as I traveled to track meets, games, speech meets, or whatever else.  I also have memories of “pairing up” for projects in college and high school, or just “pairing up” for whatever else.  I was always the last person to find a pair.  I even took a community education ballroom dance class where I danced alone with an invisible partner- simply because I had no pair.  I am like a mismatched sock.  Thankfully, I tend to enjoy my own company.  My best days are often the days that I spent alone- hiking, camping, watching birds, writing, etc.  At the same time, there is something painful and mysterious about my inability to “pair up” or how it seems that there is a natural force field around me that deters others from sitting with me.  Normally, this doesn’t matter as I do have a core of good friends.  This is something I lacked in other eras of my life.  It only becomes a problem when I leave them.  As such, I find that this is one of the most challenging aspects of travel.

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My last two major trips were overland trips.  One visited southern Africa.  The other visited Central Asia.  These trips both involved meeting a group of strangers, camping with them, and spending long hours on a truck with them.   In fact, most of my travel experiences involve meeting strangers and confronting the painful truth of my life: I am a misfit and I lack social skills.  The social dance of travel follows some patterns.  Firstly, everyone expresses excitement to meet one another.  There tends to be bonding early on over a meal and drinking.  Conversation is light, centered mostly upon small talk and travel.  This pattern repeats itself, generating stories that create situational bonds.  For instance, a generic story might be something such as “the time we ate X, then drank X, got so drunk, and stayed up all night doing X.”  The story might be made more interesting by such mishaps as getting lost, getting harassed, a misunderstanding, getting sick, or positive things such as making a local friend, discovering a cool place, or some other adventure.  The sum of these experiences tends to be friendships, vows or plans to see one another again, and teary eyed departures home.  95% of the time I have been an outsider to this experience.  I have watched it unfold, like a flower opening, with the predictability of spring time.  And, I have watched, usually from a solitary seat on a bus, truck, or train, as the friendships others have built end in tears.  I am left to feel my own sadness- but generally that of the perennial outsider.   I wonder what is wrong with me?  Why can’t I connect?  And worse, I feel the existential pain of not mattering- of existing in no one’s memory.  Of simply vanishing without consequence and failing to invoke warmth and connection.

 


 

Why can’t I connect?  I think it is complicated.  I am slow to open up to people.  By the time I begin to feel comfortable opening up- most people have already made their connections within the group.  I am terrible at small talk.  I tend to get bored with small talk.  I would much rather start off talking about something political or sociological.  Unfortunately, most social situations require political neutrality.  I do a lot of activism.  My political identity takes up at least half of my time.  I am aware that the things that are the most important to me tend to be alienating to others.  I am a feminist.  I am a Trotskyist.  I am an atheist.  I am a sociologist (well, in the sense I have an M.A. in sociology and can’t NOT analyze or critique social norms.  Sociology does not have an off switch).   I am an unmarried adult with no children- who lives in a shared house with adult housemates- which also serves as a makeshift food shelf.    I have a belief system and lifestyle that is shared by very few people.  Because polite conversation tends to avoid controversy, debate, or politics, I feel that I can’t share 75% of who I am with others- at least not upon first meeting them.   In this way, social situations can feel like a straight jacket.  There are other peculiarities about myself.  One, I don’t drink alcohol and never have.  I have never in my years of travel met another traveler who is also a teetotaler.  Drinking is an important part of the bonding process.  It loosens people up and makes conversation easier.  Another area of bonding is television shows.  However, I usually limit my TV or Netflix watching to less than an hour a month.  I find little joy in binge watching shows (except once a year I do watch the previous season of the Walking Dead).  I don’t really like watching shows and don’t know or care to know what is popular.  I am a vegetarian.  I am also bisexual.  I tend to keep my sexuality to myself as I am often paired with female travelers as tentmates or roommates.  I once had a bad experience wherein a fellow traveler once mistakenly believed that I was trying to see her naked.  This wasn’t true.  But to avoid that, I tend not to advertise it.  I think that a barrier to making connections is the fact that I feel that there is a lot about myself that I can’t talk about AND even if I could- I am pretty unusual.

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This sock probably doesn’t have a match since it wants to talk about communism when people really just want to talk about tv shows and places they’ve been.

If I can’t talk about politics or ideology, who am I?  Who am I outside of my activist identity? Well, there is my work self.  I work at a domestic violence shelter, so, that can be interesting to talk about.  However, intimate partner violence isn’t a “fun” topic of conversation and not a topic most people want to delve into right away upon first meeting.   I do have quite a few hobbies.  I enjoy reading, writing, learning about nature, bird watching, outdoors, learning in general, gardening, drawing, and have dabbled in activities such as ballet lessons, soccer, writing poems, other dance or fitness classes, violin, etc.  Despite the hobbies, I often feel that I am a little boring.  I mean, my latest “dabbling” was creating watercolor images of birds.  I think I have the tastes and interests of a fussy, tea drinking, great grandmother.  All things considered, I don’t expect that others would actually want to be my friend.  So, I tend to be reserved and observant, making little effort to exude the warmth and welcome needed to attract friends.  This all becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.  1.) I feel that I am too different to make friends.  2.) Based upon this belief, I don’t make an effort at it.   Following this internal logic, I tend to make the most of my situations by keeping to myself or trying to find the joy in my own companionship.


The social aspect of travel is frustrating because it seems to serve as a microcosm of my relationship to society at large.  I don’t fit in.  This is often masked by the fact that I have a few close friends who are also…misfits.  I also feel that maybe there IS something wrong with me.  This sense of something wrong with me sometimes causes me to disengage with people for fear of rejection.  Oh dear!  Why does this have to be so complicated?  It would be easier if my friends enjoyed international travel.  I could then travel with a buddy and would not have to worry about how I connect with others.  However, travel is spendy.  Even if it wasn’t, no one I know is all that keen on traveling.  For the foreseeable future, I will be either traveling alone or meeting up with a group of strangers as I travel.  But, I don’t really mind.   And, perhaps there is hope that I can grow and become better at socializing/connecting.  This summer, I feel that I fared much better at my attempt to befriend others.  In fact, I actually left the trip a bit teary eyed.  That was the first time that has ever happened on a trip.  I don’t even know what to think.  Usually, I am the outsider watching emotions as they happen for other people.  I can’t say that I am overly fond of feeling sad upon departure.  But, I think sadness is better than distance or emotional vacancy.


A part of me will always have times when I feel like a lonely child.  I will always have moments where I am reminded of the times that I sat alone on a bus or hid during lunch hour because I had no one to sit with (at Cambridge-Isanti).  Usually, I am too busy with work, activism, and my friends to feel lonely.  I actually seek out alone time because my life is too full.  I do enjoy my own company.  A benefit of my lonely past is that I am not at all shy or self conscious about eating at a restaurant alone, camping alone, hiking alone, or going to a movie alone.   It is only when I am away from my friends for an extended period of time and thrust into a situation where I am with strangers that I am confronted with my insecurities and the demons of my social struggles.  It is in these situations that I struggle with the haunting pain of being a misfit who is socially deficient.   The bright side is that it is a learning experience.  Maybe I will never learn the lessons that I need to learn, but it does challenge me by pulling me away from my confidence and comfort.  I suppose that is one of the purposes of travel- to leave one’s comfort zone.  Well, I will say that I do- but in ways that are painful, unseen, and unspoken.  (Though I have just spoken of it now!)


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(Generic image of a lonely person on a bus stolen from the internets)

 

 

 

 

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