writer, teacher, traveler, and lazy gardener

Tag: bugs

Tidying Up: More Than A Clean Garage

In my effort to lead a minimalist lifestyle, I’ve been falling into a cyberhole–specifically watching lots of YouTube videos. From decluttering, tossing, photo organizing, drawer porn, to creating your own capsule clothing collection (is it really possible to only wear 30 items, including accessories, per season?!), these videos offer the promise of leading a serene life in a totally white kitchen with nothing on the counters except a bowl of limes, for that pop of color, and a sparse closet of black and white clothing on blonde wood hangers. At some point, you have to stop watching, get brutal and dive in.

It’s really not difficult to de-junk closets and a garage if you embrace the Marie Kondo of it all. That old lawn mower sparks more despair than joy, especially since we removed our lawn and created a xeriscape years ago. Until I got to the shoeboxes of letters and postcards I’d received over the decades. Before email and texting, we wrote letters. Remember that time? Handwritten letters filled with stories, anecdotes, and humor. And the emotion is incredibly poignant, honest, and so drama filled. As I started sorting through these gems from my past, I laughed out loud, got teary, and marveled at the effort placed in these missives.

Before I tucked into the organizing task, I had a plan: to keep the best letters and toss the rest. But once I started … well, could I really throw away the love letters from long-gone boyfriends and long-distance romances? These scribbled out pronouncements of love and detailed descriptions of everyday tedium on lined notebook paper? Long-distance phone calls were really expensive back then, so we had to keep our loved ones and friends filled in on the minutiae to keep the “relating” part of the relationship going.

I did manage to toss some letters from high school and travel pen pals; all filled with angst about homework, restrictive parents, and college applications. I felt no nostalgia for that time in my life however, I kept a few from the summer after 8th grade. I was 13 going on 14, puberty hormones were raging and no surprise, boys were the hot topic. My best friend at the time wrote me while I was away at music camp. She talked about going to the movies at the multiplex with two boys she and another friend liked. They saw Jaws for $2!!, then attempted to sneak into these horror “classics,”  Bugs and Sssssss, the same evening. Who sees double features these days let along three movies in one evening?!

Her description of the evening was so vivid and detailed down to the seating arrangements. Who sat next to whom! This stuff mattered to teenage girls!

Not only did this letter catapult me back to that summer but it also reminded me that letters and cards are records of our lives. While some letters were cringe-worthy and painful to read (particularly those from college friends who never got off the party train and who are now deceased), most were beautiful expressions of friendship, shared experiences, and love … all sparking joy.


Away We Go: Travel Necessities

I’ve got a trip to the Philippines coming up and I’ve started to think about what to pack. The Philippines has basically two seasons: dry (March to May) and rainy (June to November). There’s ostensibly a “cold season” (December to February), but temps are well into the 80s-90s and humidity is around 70%, so who are we kidding?

For me there is only one season that matters the most: bug season. And it’s all year round! Mosquitoes, black flies, no-see ums, devour me. If I’m in a room of 50 people and there’s one mosquito, it will find me like a heat seeking missile. During one trip years ago, my leg was so chewed up the bites had merged into one gigantic itchy welt. I recall whimpering, a lot.

Besides the usual passport, money and camera, insect repellant is my tropical must-have. Many swear by Deet-based sprays. After some of the toxic liquid spilled in my backpack and melted the inner plastic liner, I swore off the stuff. Imagine what it does to your flesh! I now use only citronella oil-based sprays and my secret anti-bite weapon: coverage. I wear long, lightweight pants and no shorts. The less juicy, exposed flesh, the less temptation for those wretched bugs.

Throughout my years of going to faraway places, I’ve picked up some tips. Here are a few that will help make your journey easier:

Forgo checked luggage and take carry-on whenever you can

Bringing only a carry-on bag forces you to travel light. I follow designer Diane von Furstenberg’s packing rule: if you don’t plan on wearing an item more than three times, leave it at home. With just a carry-on, you can waltz off the plane and avoid the slog at the baggage carousel. And you never have to worry about the airline losing your stuff.

Learn your hellos, please and thank you’s

Knowing these few phrases in the language of your destination will go a long way. Before a trip to Korea, I watched YouTube videos to learn them. Proper Korean pronunciation is super hard, so I had to practice a lot.

Speaking these phrases, shows your hosts and people you interact with that you respect their culture and made the effort to learn about it. In turn, you get positive interactions and better service. This is especially true in France. Entering a shop without saying hello to the owner or sales associate will peg YOU as rude, and not worthy of civility in return.

Alert your bank

Let your credit card company and bank, if you plan on using your ATM card to withdraw money, know when and where you’ll be traveling. Being unable to withdraw money is heart stopping, so contact them before you go. Otherwise you might get stuck without cash.

Bring a copy of your passport

If it’s lost or stolen—mine was, long story—a copy will come in handy at the U.S. Embassy. I usually keep the passport in a safe place where I’m staying and roam about with the copy.

Enjoy the moment

After all the preparation—I admittedly do a lot of research: what to do, where to go, what to eat—let the now unfurl. It’s the unexpected moments that make traveling such an excellent adventure.

Do you have some travel essentials? Please share!

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