Category: Advice (you probably should not follow)

Flu advice circa 2018

I had a little bird

Its name was Enza.

I opened the window,

And in-flu-enza.

Children’s nursery rhyme, circa 1918

There is nothing I like more than when history, science, medicine, and travel interact, although in this case, it’s not me doing the traveling, it’s the flu virus. Although I mostly write about travel, occasionally about history, less occasionally about other things, my day job [so to speak] is being a registered nurse.

It’s 2018 and even if you aren’t a medical science/history junkie like myself, you’ve probably still  have heard of the Influenza Pandemic of 1918.  It’s the illness that killed more people than WWI and the Plague [the Black Death Plague of the middle ages] combined, and while the exact strain of the 1918 flu was never isolated, we do know it contained at least one strain of H3N2.  And that my friends is what is circulating now. And why the 2017-18 flu vaccine is so ineffective. [But still, 10-25% effective is better than 0% effective].

Ok people, real advice from a real RN: The flu is real this year, Read carefully and stay at home if you feeling sick and if at all possible! So sorry for those of you who have had it or are currently experiencing its wrath. Hope this is helpful for those of you who have so far avoided it, are caring for family members, or have contact with people on a regular basis–so pretty much everyone.

THE LOWDOWN ON THE FLU:

  1. You CAN get the flu even if you received the flu vaccine. This is true every year,but especially this year, since this year’s vaccine has a range 10%-25% effectiveness. [The H3N2 strain is particularly difficult to grow and add to a vaccine and that is the predominant strain of the circulating virus.]
  2.  If you find yourself victim of the flu, you have a virus. It lasts 7-14 days during which you are going to feel like you want to die; you may/will have fever, chills, severe headache, sore throat, chest congestion, nasal congestion, coughing, sneezing, sore throat, severe weakness/lethargy, nausea/vomiting, diarrhea and severe body/joint aches. Viruses DON’T get treated with antibiotics; it has to run its course.                                                    
  3. Go to your primary care doctor, urgent care, or telephone triage nurse FIRST, but know there is little they can do to help you. The only thing they can help you with is medication for severe coughing unresponsive to over the counter medications or severe diarrhea/vomiting. You do not need antibiotics unless you develop a secondary lung infection.
  4. DO. NOT. COME. TO. THE. ER… UNLESS you have shortness of breath, cannot keep down fluids for 24 hours, have persistent liquid stools accompanied by dizziness, have a sustained fast heart rate or low blood pressure.
  5. Tamiflu is an antiviral drug that is found to be mostly ineffective, and comes with significant side effects and price tag.  It’s also only effective if taken within the first 48 hours of contracting the virus.  Most people don’t know they have the flu until after this window has closed.
  6. DO take Tylenol AND Advil/Motrin/Aleve [pick one; don’t take all] at MAX doses [unless contraindicated by other health issues or allergies] to alleviate fever, headache and body aches.
  7. DO take over-the-counter flu remedies. DO be careful taking combinations of different medications to avoid overdosing and over treating [example; some flu medicines already have Tylenol (Acetaminophen) in them; read the bottle].
  8. Use home remedies such as “hot toddies” [whiskey/lemon/honey, if appropriate, and obvs… FOR ADULTS ONLY], hot showers, vapor rubs, vapor humidifiers, essential oils, onions around your neck, potatoes under the bed, ect.
  9. Drink fluids! All kinds of fluids. At every waking moment. DO NOT underestimate the  power of fluids. Hot liquids and soups may be helpful. Try to maintain nutritious intake. Milk products may thicken mucus and worsen coughs. If your urine is yellow or darker, you are not drinking enough.
  10. Coughing… this is IMPORTANT: If it’s productive [stuff coming up], DO NOT suppress it with meds. If it’s non-productive [dry and annoying], DO suppress it. Make sure you’re properly hydrated, especially with a productive cough. Proper hydration thins out secretions and makes them easier to cough up and out. Elevate your head when you sleep to decrease coughing/secretions.
  11. PLAN AHEAD.   Stock up on medications, juices, drinks, soups, popsicles, and broth so you’ll be ready. This time of year it is not unusual to find store shelves empty. You will not feel like going shopping when you are sick… which brings me to my next point.
  12. DO NOT GO OUT IN PUBLIC FOR ANY REASON!  Someone with a compromised immune system, an elderly person, an infant, or someone in poor health can easily die from the flu. You don’t want to be the one who exposed them. For the love of all things holy, DO NOT send a child with a fever to school during flu season. DO NOT go to work with a fever.  Or church. Or anywhere else where you think it might be OK.  Fever means you are in the contagious period where you can spread the virus to others.
  13. PLEASE. PLEASE. PLEASE. WASH YOUR HANDS WITH SOAP AND WATER!! OFTEN.

Professional disclaimer:

[Take meds responsibly. My advice is my opinion from personal and professional experience. I am not liable for any actions taken or not taken based on these recommendations.]

Take Photos of What You Love

From time to time I get reflective and think about what real motivates me to get out of my [oh so comfortable] bed, and while I’ve pursued many hobbies over my life, the one consistent one has been photography. I got my first camera in first grade, and have been happily snapping since.

My ‘day’ job doesn’t allow for much creativity, my written notes aren’t meant to be creative. In fact brevity and details are praised much more than creativity and embellishments.  This blog [and its predecessors] was started as nothing more than a creative outlet.  I like being a writer and photographer; I also like saving lives. My ‘day’ job requires me to talk to people all day long, and for a natural introvert, that’s hard. Writing and photography are more solitary pursuits and combined with hiking, these are the passions that have stuck with me throughout my life.

I love storytelling, and I love being creative. I thrive on taking risks, stepping into the unknown and exploring new places, and if I end up inspiring others to do the same, well that’s just the icing on the cake. I would never call myself an ‘artist’, but in some way I think all photographers are artists to some degree.  I may not be able to draw a straight line with a ruler, but perhaps I can see things in a different way, and that may inspire someone in some way.

I do almost no post-processing.  I used to use Flickr a bit, but they had some issues last year, and I do love the new flickr. However, I have nearly 4000 photos on the site so I still visit it from time to time. I’ve never used Lightroom or Photoshop but I’d like to learn . This is what I’ve learned in 30+ years of snapping photos

  1. Animals are where it’s at

I don’t like taking pictures of people.  Maybe it’s because I live alone.  My entire family could fit inside a thimble.  I don’t want to take photos of strangers, and I don’t want to be one of those self-obsessed selfie taking insta-grammers either.  So yeah–people aren’t my favorite subject.  But animals. How many  people say that they do not like animals?  Almost no one. And those people who say they don’t like animals, well I probably wouldn’t like them either.

Glance at almost any travelers’ bucket list and you’ll see animals predominantly featured. Maybe not explicitly, but ask anyone who has listed African Safari on the list what part of the African Safari they’d  like to see, and most will respond ‘Lions’ or ‘Elephants’.  My point being, the animals are the draw.  Same with visiting the Arctic.  The main draws for the frozen tundra are northern/southern lights and polar bears, grizzlies bears, penguins and puffins. I mean even I’d brave the cold for a chance to see that.

I think seeing wild animals is a great appeal to travel. And for me it certainly makes a good story. How can you begin to compare seeing a lion sleeping in a zoo with tracking a pride of wild lions on safari in Africa? Or seeing lemurs on fake tree branches versus seeing them in the wild of Madagascar.  And most of the time, animals carry on about their business paying you no attention so you can shoot to your heart’s content.  And after about 100 shots, you may just get ‘the one.’

2. Have the right equipment

Despite what people say, there is no “right” camera. The best camera is the one you have with you. Growing up, I would have sold my soul for a Nikon D90,  but I never got one.  Instead, I once I had enough money, I went to the local pawn shop and bought two Pentax camera  bodies and 3 lenses. I learned a lot using those cameras, and some of that knowledge sticks with me today. I’ll shoot with whatever is in front of me. I used to be staunchly anti- camera phones, but have been in situations where that was  the only camera I had available.  I’ve used all sorts of different cameras and lenses over the years when shooting wildlife and I have only one piece of advice – get a good zoom.

 

Using a telephoto lens, I’m talking more than 100mm or its equivalent, is something I feel strongly about; I’ve seen too much bad behavior concerning wildlife and personal space. For example, National  Parks have signs all over the place telling you what distance to keep between you and animals, but do people listen? Nope. They do not.  And then they wonder why the bear takes a swipe at them.

I currently use an Olympus Mirrorless 4/3 camera set-up, and one of my favorite lenses for animals in the 150-300mm.  I can safely keep my distance, yet get up close and personal.

3.  The right time, right place, and lost of patience is key.  On that note,  be proactive and eager.

You can’t force wildlife photography – that means being in the right place at the right time. Whether you  plan your trip around a specific event or make sure your schedule is  flexible enough to accommodate spending extra time here ort her, it’s up to you. Also make sure you’re prepared with all the equipment you might need including enough memory cards and batteries. You can never have too many batteries.

Giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo

Always take more photos than you mean too. Always. When you are out in the elements looking at the tiny screen on the back of your camera, it is really hard to tell what’s in focus, what isn’t, and if you have it composed how you want to, and if it’s properly exposed if you are in a harsh environment or if the animals are on the move.

Even when I want to stop, I fire off a few more clicks of my camera. Sometimes I even go back another day if possible. Everything is changing, and wildlife photography is so unpredictable so it’s important to keep trying because even when you think you nailed the shot, you might not have or there’s an even better shot just around the corner.

If you are really passionate about wildlife, then it’s easy.

4. Practice and focus

If I know that I am going to be snapping animal photos, I like to use my portrait lens. It’s a Olympus 25mm [50mm DSLR equivalent] and I wish it was the first lens I ever used. It’s perfect to learn on. Because you can drop the aperture down to 1.4 (which is really big) and you can get the most beautiful portraits with stunning depth of field. This means that the face is really sharp and focused and the background is blurry.

In fact, if you are shooting at f/1.4 it’s so sharp that you have to focus on the eyes because the nose will blur a bit and vice versa. Learning to shoot focusing on the eyes is hard, especially with animals and takes practice – the details are always in the eyes. In fact, shooting wildlife in general takes practice because you have no control over their behavior and you have to be fast and prepared for anything.

So if you have any pets, practice taking their photos. I’ve spent hours practicing with my new lens on my  cat. Anad not just my cat either. I take pictures of friends’ cats and neighbor’s cats too.  I want to get as much practice as possible photographing animals that aren’t familiar with me so that when I encounter animals in their natural environment. For me, the hardest thing is getting the focus right so I practice as much as possible whenever I can.

To me, wildlife photography is essentially the same as portrait photography, except animals don’t listen  and might eat you given half the chance. Kind of like photographing children, I guess.

5. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Wild animals are in fact wild animals.  They deserve our respect and when we are in their territories, we should play by their rules.  We live in a world where people are obsessed with the perfect selfie or snapping the most amazing photo ever–consequences be damned. But if an animal bites you or scratches you, then you are at fault and  have no one else to blame when you end up in the hospital for months receiving IV antibiotics. Be patient, give them space, and let the animals come to you.  Unless it’s a bear. Or a lion.

 

6. Keep learning, be open

Just when I think I’ve mastered the art of taking photos, someone shows me something I never seen or even thought about before. So much of what I have learned has come from talking to other photographers, asking questions, trial and error, and watching video tutorials online. Even now I still download courses and am always Googling photography tips trying to get better.

Photo tips 2

Often I wonder if I travel to take pictures or do I take pictures as an excuse to travel.  For me the two are intimately interconnected and I almost always have a camera on me no matter where I am.  I freely admit that I prefer taking landscape and scenic photos to photos of people, but it is the photos of people that make for a more telling story.  So when I travel, I really try to do both.  Below are my non-technical tips for taking great photos.

    • Don’t ask people to pose. Captured shots look so much better.  Yes, sometimes people will get angry if you take their photo without asking, but take that risk.  The results are worth it.

Would this photo have worked if the little girl looked up and smiled?  Maybe, maybe not?  But this way definitely works.

 

    • Go where the people are. [ok, this one is obvious]
    • Stop. Observe. Take a step back. Wait.

Had I just been taking photos of the parade I would have missed this decorated [and almost] naked lady dancing her way down the street.

  • Never go with the first shot.
  • Try a different angles–get on the ground, climb a few [hundred] stairs, get in the middle of the road or river.  Use glass or water as a mirror and have the image reflected.  Get close.  Or step back. A change in perspective can sometimes make all the difference.  You’ll never know until you try out different ways of photographing the same thing.

  • Show off the results.  Especially with kids–>Kids love to see photos of themselves.  Even if you delete them all showing off the results can result in a little good will that may lead to a spectacular photo
  • Edit with vengeance.  Nobody really wants to see 500 of your travel photos.  Not even your mom or best friend.  Even you will start to go cross-eyed after looking at them.  Edit to about 25-50 and not only will people think you are an awesome photographer, but they will be easier to show, too.

Paddle harder

Love many, trust few, and paddle your own canoe.

“You have to sign this release and watch the safety video, and then will be on our way, and make sure you check the box that says ‘no guide’.”  I looked at my friend Greg, and said ‘No guide?’ and he said ‘Yep, no guide.’  I wasn’t so sure.  I probably needed a guide, and extra time with that safety video, if I’m being honest.

nantahala-river-4

I always feel apprehension and anxiety before any new adventure because let’s be honest, I’m not the most graceful person in the world.  There’s always the chance that the boat I’m in will capsize, the equipment I’m using will malfunction, or I’ll trip, fall, and break something.  Usually once I get started, I’m fine, but those moments before, I’m a giant scared-y cat.

nantahala-river-2
Although floating down the river is nothing to be afraid of.

I took some solace in the fact that the Nantahala is one of the easier whitewater rivers  to raft in the eastern US.  It’s great for beginners [like me!].   The run is 8 miles of Class II rapids with one tiny little bit of Class III rapids right at the end.nantahala-river-3

The water was fast and mostly flat. I am not a good front boat paddler. I’d probably be a worse rear paddler. I got yelled at several times… “paddle harder, paddle harder”. I paddled harder; I paddled my little heart out. I don’t think anything I did mattered. We made it 8 miles down the river without anyone falling out.

I suck at paddling a raft. I’m decent in a kayak, but rafting, I completely suck. But every adventure isn’t always about experiencing the biggest adrenaline rush or taking it to the edge. I don’t have to be the best at everything or have the greatest story to tell. Sometimes doing something I’ve never done before allows me to challenge myself. It allows me to let go a fear… Fear that plagues everyone at some point in life. Sometimes it allow me a chance to be humble and reconnect with my inner self.

Life isn’t always a contest.

nantahala-river-1

How to travel in any kind of weather

Keeping in contact with the weather Gods

Whenever I plan a trip especially a short one, I always check the weather forecast, and plan accordingly.  However, when traveling longer term and in varying climates what’s a girl to do.  Have a sense of humor of course; the weather gods most certainly do.

I’ve traveled in the rain, snow, heat, and cold, and it’s all been completely wonderful!  I’ve traveled in warm, sunny weather and it’s been awful.  So there’s that.

Varying weather makes the stories and memories from travel even more rich. Sure, unbelievably gorgeous skies are nice and make for fabulous photos [but it’s also hard to photograph sometimes… overcast skies are amazing], but how often do you find yourself recounting your stories tears of laughter a story from a picturesque day where nothing went wrong as opposed to that time you tried to wander a city in a torrential downpour when you’d completely lost your way? 

Despite the fantastic memories that can come from times like these, it’s still better to be a bit more prepared than not, so here’s what you can do to be ready without feeling like you’re hauling your parka, umbrella, bug repellant, and sunscreen with you at all times: 

    • Read up on what the usual weather patterns are for where you’re going. London’s reputation is pretty much a city beneath a giant water spout? Maybe it’s a good idea to pack some waterproof shoes even if meteorologists are predicting a sunny day.

      Look at those blue skies near the tower of London on a beautiful October day.
    • Beautiful snowy days in the French Alps…
    • Keep an eye out for stores carrying what you may need. You don’t have to buy everything at home and carry it with you.  Nearly every location in the world has exactly what you will need. Don’t be a paranoid lunatic glancing with crazed eyes from one shop to the next jotting down addresses for where umbrellas are being sold, but be aware. Make a tiny mental note if you see a place selling basic knit gloves, or ponchos, or sunscreen. That way, if a rumble of thunder shakes the area, you already know of a few places that might have what you need.

      Target and Primark are my favorite stores for travel goods.
    • Layers are your friend. If the place you’re traveling to has varying weather, and really, even if it doesn’t, try planning to layer. It’s easy to shed a button-up or add a light sweater if needed. It’s so much better to roll up a layer and stick it in a bag than to be hot wearing that now-too-warm shirt you’d picked in the cold morning once the afternoon heat has arrived.
    • Embrace rain or snow. It’s a beautiful thing and can add a whole new dimension to the way you see a place  [Paris’ lights reflecting on wet cobblestones, anyone?  Snow covered tombstones?]. Rather than putting the camera dejectedly away, why not embrace the wet and love it too? And what about snow falling softly in a town in the evening? Ahhh, cozy bliss.

      camellia in winter
    • Always have a bag for camera or other sensitive items that is water proof. You just never know and for these kinds of things it’s just not worth the risk.
    • Most importantly: keep an open attitude. You never know what weather your will get on a trip, but don’t ever let something like a gray sky ruin your experience. Roll with it, and try to make it a part of everything by exploring cozy cafes… or searching for shady woods to escape the heat rather than laying on the beach burning all day… or build snowmen when life gives you a blizzard.

The romance and wonder of travel comes from embracing whatever comes your way. Quirks and kinks are how you know your on adventure! Don’t shy away from having an epic story to tell when you get home.

5 steps to survive taking an electric shower

2018 Michelle checking in here:  The electric shower is a scary occurrence in several areas of central/south America.  One one hand, I’m grateful for hot, flowing water; on the other hand, I was seriously scared for my life. BUT figuring out how to work this calamity was one of my greater travel achievements.  I don’t think there will be electric showers in Rwanda, but if there are, it’s OK. I’ve figured that out once before.

It's a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die
The shower in my hostel in Bogotá. It’s a toss-up: You may get clean; you may die

Either this was such a traumatic experience for me before that I’ve put it out of my memory or this is some Colombian designed torture device; this is what greeted me the morning after my arrival to Bogotá.

It’s a large electrical time bomb hanging above my head; luckily all the ends of the electrical wires were covered in electrical tape. I have since found out that this is not always true nor is this device confined to Colombia.

5 steps to surviving an electric shower

  1. Is it high enough so that you will not hit your head?  I’ve had problems with showers before that were mounted for people no taller than 5 feet tall. Luckily, all the electrical showers I’ve encountered are way up there out of the way of an errant splash.
  2. Are there any bare wires that could come in contact with water?  Did you bring electrical tape?  If not, a  wash cloth and the sink might be the best option.
  3. Get naked. Do your thing, and get out.  If you have rubber soled sandals, wear them.  This is not the time to reminisce about the day.  Chances are the water won’t be at optimum temperature anyway.  The only way I’ve found to control the temperature of the water is to control the flow of the water.  There’s a science-y explanation for this but essentially the water needs time to roll through the metal plumbing to heat it up before it before comes out.  So you can have warm water flowing like maple syrup in winter or cold water flowing like a fire hydrant.  But not both. Your choice.
  4. If the pop off valve does indeed pop off– DO. NOT. SCREAM. Like I did the first time this happened to me. Uninvited visitors will show up and cause some slight embarrassment.  It is supposed to keep water from spraying up into the wires which could save your life,. However, I have found that they just pop off whenever they feel like it.
  5.  Yay! You are clean, but also soaking wet.  How to turn off the faucet?  You will only reach for the metal knobs once before muscle memory kicks in and you will remember why you never want to do in again. Nobody in these parts have ever heard of grounding wires.  My suggestion is to have a small towel–hand towel sized–that you use for turning off the knobs.

No need to fear the electrical, non-grounded shower.  I, like several before me have survived; you can survive it too.