About Steph

Your author, part-time, work-at-home writer.

Oregon Equinox

Two days ago, I got back from a week in Oregon, where I was staying at my mom’s house as she recovered from knee surgery. While I was gone, North had their own medical adventure.

Friday: Arrival

The alarm went off at 5:30 so I could catch an 8:30 flight. Medford is small airport, so it always takes two or three flights to get there. I was lucky to only have one layover, in Denver. As I mentioned earlier it was my first flight since covid. The last time was in February 2019, when Noah and I flew to Boston to tour Boston University.

The flights were uneventful. The most notable thing about the first one was that there was a passenger dressed as a jester, complete with the stick with ribbons on it (but no hat) and the most notable thing about the second flight was that I spilled half a can of seltzer all over myself. I also managed to read about a third of Stephen King’s latest, Fairy Tale, which was a nice way to pass the time. There was a tight connection between the two flights, but I made it and arrived in Medford early in the afternoon local time.

My sister Sara, who had been looking after my mom the previous week, picked me up at the airport and took me on a series of errands. We went to Home Depot for mulch because, though she lives in Davis, California now, she and her husband haven’t sold their Ashland house yet, and they’re trying to keep the property looking spruced up. We spread the mulch and she got the sprinklers watering the lawn and fruit trees and then we tried to go to Trader Joe’s, but it was closed because of a power outage.

We went to Mom’s house and socialized for a while. Sara had more errands to do and while she was gone, I took an hour-and-fifteen-minute nap—I’d been up since what would have been 2:30 a.m. in Oregon and I was exhausted. I woke around seven and I could have easily gone back to sleep for the night, but I needed to adjust to Pacific time, plus Sara had made pizza from a kit, so I got up and had dinner with Mom and Sara.

Starting when I was in my early teens, Mom, Sara, and I had pizza every Friday night. My mom was a single working mom, and she was in grad school to boot so she was busy. I’m surprised we didn’t eat takeout more than once a week honestly. The Friday night pizza tradition lived on after my mom married my stepfather and then in my adult family, but it’s been a long, long time (maybe almost forty years?) since it was just me, my sister, and my mother around the table eating pizza on a Friday night. It was nice, like old times, except completely different.

Sara showed me how to help Mom with her PT exercises and how to massage her leg and where things were in the house and then they watched a movie, but they started it at 9:30, and I was considering it an accomplishment to stay awake until ten, so I had a shower and went to bed.

Weekend: Settling In

The next morning, I woke a little after five, which was earlier than I would have liked, but not surprising. I stayed in bed until almost eight, first trying to get back to sleep, then looking at Facebook and blogs and texting with Noah. He’d sent me two dozen pictures he took at a wildlife sanctuary he’d visited with Ida, the other boarder at his house, and some of her friends. There were koalas, kangaroos, capybaras, an ostrich, a lemur, a red panda, a Komodo dragon, a crocodile, and other animals, and the photos were gorgeous. It made me happy he’s getting out and doing things besides going to class and hanging out at his house because he tends to be a homebody.

Sara got up around eight and once we’d both eaten breakfast and talked some she went grocery shopping for me and Mom before heading back to Davis. I went for a walk and got a latte and a small chocolate cookie from a nearby coffeeshop and picked up some things Mom needed from the drug store all the while admiring the mountains that ring Ashland. There’s one arid ridge and one covered with evergreen trees. I knew there were wild blackberry canes all over Ashland from previous visits, but I was surprised to learn they’re still producing edible (and quite tasty) berries in mid-September. I sampled them all week during my rambles.

Over the course of the day, I helped Mom with her exercises twice, massaged her leg, folded laundry, swept the leaves off her porch and driveway, and walked with her to her mailbox (which is in a bank of them a short block from her house). She also folded some laundry and said with satisfaction, “We’re getting things done today.”

It rained a little in the afternoon, which is not so common in Ashland until the fall, but it was almost fall. The equinox was my second to last day there. Fall did seem closer in Ashland than at home anyway. It was cool enough for long sleeves most days and a few vanguard trees were already turning red or orange. Mom and I settled down with our books in the living room and read while the dryer hummed, and rain ran down the windows that look out on her back patio. It was very cozy, and she even dozed in her chair for a bit.

I made chili for dinner, and we watched State of Play, which was the movie Mom and Sara had started but not finished the night before while I was in bed. (Mom wanted to see how it ended so we started it over from the beginning.) It’s a twisty journalistic thriller, good but not great. Because it takes place in D.C. I was occasionally forced to say things like “No one calls it the subway, it’s the Metro.”

Sunday was similar. I did little chores around the house, read, and took a longer walk. I wandered through a cemetery, walked along the railroad tracks, saw a community garden, and ended up near the same coffeehouse where I’d been the day before. This time I got chocolate ice cream with slivered almonds and whipped cream. I made a cream of mushroom soup and salad for dinner, and we watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ The U.S. and the Holocaust. I so seldom watch broadcast tv it felt strange to have to be ready at a specific time. Mom had been experimenting with different levels and timing of her painkillers, trying to balance pain relief and side effects, but as a result of skimping on it, she had some pretty bad pain that evening.

Monday to Thursday: A New Routine

Monday was the first morning I managed to sleep until a time that started with 6, which correlated to feeling rested for the first time, and that was convenient as I started working that day. There was no reason not to, as I had my laptop, a little office with a door that closes (which is more than I have at home) and enough time. Sara left an extra monitor for me, but I found I missed having a mouse. It also would have been nice to be able to figure out how to get my laptop to communicate with Mom’s printer because I am the sort of old school person who likes reading things on paper and marking them up with a pencil.

Monday morning while I was out on an errand to drop off an application for a handicapped parking permit at the DMV (a failed mission, as it turns out that location is closed due to staffing shortages), Mom went for twenty-five-minute walk with her walker alone. One the one hand, I was encouraged she was able to do it, but on the other I wished she’d waited for me to come home so I could accompany her, just in case.

Mom had a physical therapy appointment that day and the good news was her pain and mobility were improving and the swelling in her leg was completely gone. The bad news was she and the therapist thought she wasn’t getting enough flexion in her knee and that scar tissue might be the culprit. They decided to reduce the frequency of PT appointments until she can get a doctor’s opinion about whether she needs a manipulation (or worse, more surgery) so as to save some of the appointments her insurance covers for after further treatment, if needed.

That night I made a stir-fry for dinner, and we watched a PBS show called Animals with Cameras, which is just what it sounds like. We saw footage from cameras mounted on cheetahs’ heads, seals’ backs, and baboons’ necks. The point is to learn something about the animals’ behavior, sometimes just for the sake of science, but sometimes to learn how to possibly alter it (as with baboons who raid farmers’ squash fields and who are in danger of being shot if the scientists can’t get them to stop).

The days rolled on. I worked two or three hours a day and took walks, short ones with Mom, and longer ones alone. I got coffee or tea most days, sometimes at the coffeehouse, once at a Dutch Brothers kiosk in a parking lot because I understand that’s a quintessential Oregon experience, and sometimes at a Starbucks inside a supermarket because it was the closest coffee-selling establishment to Mom’s house. I made a homemade tomato sauce with garden tomatoes a neighbor brought by to eat on whole-wheat spaghetti Tuesday, burgers with side dish of cauliflower, broccoli and carrots with cheese sauce on Wednesday, and a curried zucchini soup Thursday night. We finished watching the Holocaust documentary series and watched some more Animals with Cameras. Whenever Mom introduced me to anyone (a friend from Peace Choir who came by, a neighbor we encountered on a walk, her housecleaner) she told the person I was her daughter who came “all the way from Maryland” to stay with her. She raved about my cooking, even though it seemed pretty run of the mill to me.

By the end of the week, Mom was walking much better, not using her walker at all and only using her cane on walks outside the house, but she was still concerned that if she did need a manipulation, it would set her recovery back.

Meanwhile, At Home

Things were more eventful… Beth and North got the new covid booster on Saturday, the day after I left, and North was tired and achy for days afterward. On Saturday they made a plum pie for the Takoma Park farmers’ market annual pie contest (held for the first time since covid), but by the next day they were feeling too unwell to attend, so Beth delivered it for them. It didn’t win but it was delicious—Beth bought and froze a slice for me so I could have it when I got home. North missed school Monday and Tuesday, mostly because of lower back pain. Then late Tuesday afternoon, North lost the ability to urinate.

If you’ve been reading this blog at least two years, you probably remember this affliction. We still have catheter supplies, but they had expired, I suppose because they can’t guarantee sterility beyond a certain point. Beth and North went to the emergency room, where they had an excruciatingly long wait to be seen. They had an ultrasound in the evening and an MRI the following morning to rule out physical causes. As expected, there was nothing. They arrived in the late afternoon, and it was the middle of the night before anyone would use a catheter to empty North’s bladder so they were quite uncomfortable.

Both Beth and North brought phone chargers to the hospital because this was not their first rodeo in the ER. At first, they couldn’t find an outlet but then North did so I was able to communicate with them throughout the evening and the next day. I felt a little guilty going to bed that night when I knew Beth was likely going to be up all night in the ER (and she was) but not as much as I would have in the past. We learned two years ago how to spell each other by taking turns on hospital nights and while I expected and hoped North would be at home when I got home three days later, I knew there was a small but non-zero chance that I’d be taking a turn sleeping (or not sleeping) in their hospital room at some point.

What I didn’t expect was that Beth and North would be in the ER, not admitted, from Tuesday afternoon until the wee hours of Thursday morning. Apparently, one of the doctors thought they could not be sent home with catheter supplies without retraining both Beth and North on the procedure and this could not happen unless they were admitted. And they could not be admitted because the hospital was over capacity. By the second night, I was starting to feel guilty I wasn’t there. North managed to get several hours sleep here and there but Beth didn’t sleep for forty-three hours, when they were finally trained (without being admitted after all) and sent home with supplies.

North slept most of Thursday and stayed home Friday as well. Beth made arrangements with the school for them to be able to use the nurse’s bathroom when they return next week.

Friday was North’s half-birthday. We always celebrate the kids’ half-birthday with cupcakes, and this year was no exception. Early in the week I asked North to save me one and they said I had to eat one on the right day, so I got an almond flour cupcake with rose frosting from the natural foods store near Mom’s house and sent North a picture of it, as proof I’d honored the day that they tipped closer to seventeen than sixteen. I’ve always enjoyed the fact that their birthdays and half-birthdays occur on or near the equinoxes as the Earth is making a similar transition.

Thursday to Friday: Departure

Thursday evening Sara returned to Ashland, with Dave and Lily-Mei. They were all attending a wedding on Saturday, so they were staying the weekend with Mom (who was also going). Sara drove me to the airport Friday morning. My flight was delayed by twenty minutes, then forty minutes, and finally an hour and twenty minutes, which was concerning because my layover in Denver was exactly that long.

There was plenty of time to observe my fellow travelers before we boarded the plane. I think the prize for most interesting went to the young man wearing a graphic t-shirt with a plague mask (but no mask for our current plague), a necklace with a plastic bird skull, leather bracelets with hardware, and knee-high leather boots with a spider design embossed on them. He was painting with watercolors in a tiny leather-bound book.

I had a window seat and the flight from Medford to Denver was beautiful, with many mountains and canyons. I didn’t read at all and just looked at the landscape unfold beneath me. As the plane approached Denver and then as we sat on the tarmac waiting for an open gate, various passengers with tight connections commiserated about their chances of making their flights. Mine was scheduled to take off about ten minutes after my seatmate’s, so I don’t know if she made her flight to Wisconsin, but I did make mine to Baltimore, even after getting turned around in the airport and having to figure out how to take a train from one concourse to another.

I wasn’t the only passenger with a late flight (or even the last one to arrive) and they held the plane for us. I got to the gate about ten or fifteen minutes after the plane was supposed to have taken off. Then there was a lot of confusion about seat assignments, with someone in my assigned seat and someone else in the next seat the flight attendant thought should be empty. I ended up seated between a woman in a Mennonite-style prayer cap and a man in a ball cap who was cursing and loudly protesting the delays and who later tried to order more than one alcoholic drink (you can only have one). Once the plane took off, he was calm and friendly, but I was nervous about him for a while.

We ended up sitting on the ground for an hour after I was seated because another passenger had to be removed from the plane under mysterious circumstances. Rumor was spreading through the plane that he was on the wrong plane—but how could that even happen? At any rate, he wasn’t belligerent, but he did appear impaired in some way, possibly sick, drunk, or on drugs. I saw him while the flight attendant was taking me all over the plane trying to find a seat for me and his seatmate piped up that she thought he was in the wrong seat. Another mystery—why would you even look at anyone else’s boarding pass—but she said she had.

But the happy ending was my second plane landed around 11:45 p.m. in Baltimore, only about thirty-five minutes late, and even though she was still dragging from having missed a whole night of sleep a few days earlier and I told her I could take a Lyft home, Beth was there to pick me up. Our family may have been scattered between Australia, Oregon, and Maryland on the day the light and dark were equal but being with Beth always helps me feel balanced.

2.5, or Mostly Normal: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 76

At the end of the last school year, I stopped using the Coronavirus Chronicles subtitle—back today for a guest appearance—on my blog posts. I’d originally intended to retire it when the kids went back to full-time, in-person school at the beginning of that school year. I thought that milestone would make life feel normal, and it certainly made it feel more normal, but at the same time everything felt very precarious, like we could go back to remote school at any point. Ithaca had a week of online classes in January and the public schools here probably should have done the same around the same time as school was just a hot mess for a while there, with so many teachers out sick that a lot of North’s classes became unchaperoned study halls, and the school buses just didn’t come as often as not. I can’t remember how long this went on, but it feels like it was most of the month.

This year feels different, as friends of mine who teaches middle school recently commented. It seems to have taken a whole year back in the classroom for everyone, teachers and kids and parents, to regain their footing. That was why I stopped using the subtitle. I expect the kids will stay in school and I’m used to Beth working at home most days, so it didn’t feel as if covid was relevant to every post anymore.

But of course, covid isn’t over, people are still contracting it and dying of it every day. The Post stopped including the graphs with the covid case numbers and death toll on a daily basis sometime last spring. It’s weekly now, on Sundays. The death toll hit one million in May and as of last Sunday, it stood at 1,046,656. I heard on a science podcast this week that more than 400 Americans die of covid a day. That’s still a lot of people.

And I think more people I know have had it in the past year than the year and a half before that, though thankfully, they have mostly been mild cases. My mother had it in June. A lot of you have had it. Since we’ve hit the two-and-a-half-year mark of the pandemic, (a quarter of a decade!) I thought I’d look back at how covid has affected us since I last did a covid round up six months ago. But instead of chronologically, I’m going to do it thematically this time.

Mom Gets Covid

The only close family members who’ve had covid are my mother, Beth’s brother, and her sister-in-law—John and Abby had it early on. (A lot of my friends and members of my extended family have had it at one time or another.)

6/26

While we were gone, my mom called and left a message letting us know she had covid. She only found out because she was over at my sister’s house helping her pack for my sister’s family’s upcoming move and she casually mentioned that she wasn’t tasting things as well as usual and my sister immediately fetched a covid test she had on hand and sure enough it was positive.

My mom says she felt fine, but was isolating when we spoke. She just got back from a trip to Morocco and she’s not sure if she got it there or at home, but she had to test to get on the plane home and that test was negative. Maybe she got it on the flight or she had it before she flew but it was too soon to show up on the test. I’m glad her vaccines and booster did their job and kept her safe from serious illness, even though she caught it.

Covid Creates a Job Opportunity

6/13

Mike was filming a documentary and they were in a church recording someone giving a speech about climate change. Noah was filling in for a member of the crew who had covid.

Tests

I found it kind of strange Noah didn’t have to take a covid test to get on an international flight, since my mom did to fly to and from Morocco and North had to take one to go to camp, but requirements do vary quite a bit.

4/9

North came down with some kind of virus the middle of the second week and missed four days of school—the last two days of the third quarter and the first two days of the fourth quarter. They took a rapid covid test at home the first day they felt sick and it was negative. The next day we all went to the Silver Spring Civic Center for PCR tests. Beth’s and North’s came back negative and mine must have fallen through the cracks because I never heard back. I wasn’t particularly worried once we got North’s negative results, though, because they’re the one who comes into contact with the most people, so I didn’t pursue it. I’d had a sore throat and some congestion around the time North got sick but it never got more serious than that and Beth wasn’t sick at all.

8/13

She dropped North’s required covid test for sleepaway camp in the mail, and then she picked up the kids at the movies and me at the house and drove us to dinner at a make-your-own-bowl place out on the highway, and drove us all plus my mom to Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt and then home.

Shots

We’re vaccinated and double boosted as of April. We are going to get the bivalent booster soon.

4/9

Two days after we were tested Beth and I got our second booster shots.

Masks 

This is the one that comes up the most often, even though it can seem trivial. We still wear masks at stores and on public transportation and North wears one at school and on the school bus. I still notice when people are wearing them or not and I’m often thinking about whether I need one in spaces that are outside but crowded, or semi-enclosed.

3/27

Noah going back to school after spring break: Later that morning Beth and I took Noah back to the same parking lot where we’d picked him up eight days earlier. He went into the mall to get some baked ziti for lunch, but he didn’t have time to eat it before the bus came and he’s very strict about not taking his mask off on the bus so I have no idea when he ate it, maybe at a stop along the way.

4/18

Leaving for our Midwestern road trip: Back to our travels: we hit the road around 10:30 and immediately turned around because a block or two from the house North and I realized we had not packed any masks. We were the only people wearing masks when we stopped at The Blue Goose Fruit Market and Bakery for treats and I was one of two masked customers when I went into Taco Bell to pick up our lunch order.

5/3

Watching Noah’s band concert online: I was actually thinking as I watched it was good the three masked percussionists were in the back row because they were behind, rather than in front of all those wind and brass instruments blowing air out toward the audience. (Audience members were asked to mask even though Ithaca’s been mask-optional since March, possibly for this reason.)

5/30

While berry picking: We’ve been to Butler’s to pick berries a couple times during the pandemic, but this was the first time they were running the wagons instead of having people drive out to the fields. We deliberated about masks. The wagons are open-sided and we generally don’t mask outside, but the benches can get crowded. Three out of four family opted to mask on the wagons and we were in the minority of riders, but not alone. North wore theirs in the field, too, but I think they may have just forgotten to take it off. (They’re so used to wearing one at school they sometimes leave it on for a while after they get off the bus.)

6/26

Looking back at the school year: They were sick several times in the winter and spring, once, in April, very sick with a high fever. That last time was probably due to the school going mask-optional in March.

A message from the director of North’s outdoor drama camp: In an email Tuesday night she said in case of rain they’d work under the gazebo, perhaps focusing on making costumes and props, and in case of severe weather, they’d retreat to her porch or go inside her house (with masks).

8/29

In Hershey Park: We got to Chocolate World a little before ten. I expected we’d be in a very small minority of people masking indoors and we were, but it was even fewer people than I would have guessed, almost no one, even in crowded spaces where you stand near the same people for a long time (for instance in the line for the factory ride).

9/3

When North went back to school in August: They say only about a quarter of kids are still masking and when I asked if that was enough for them not to feel self-conscious, they said yes.

9/11

A text from Noah, commenting on mask usage in Australia: Masks required on the domestic flight, lots of masks at the airport (about 50%) but very few at the mall

At Wolf Trap concert hall: The seats were near the back in a sparsely populated section and the pavilion is open on the sides we didn’t feel the need to put on our masks.

Covid as a Marker of Time

We are still experiencing first-time since covid events, as recently as this month.

3/27

First Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin: The petals were perfect, puffy and white to pale pink. It was crowded, but not mobbed. We hadn’t been as a family since 2018 because three years ago Noah had too much homework and North had some injury– I packed a lunch and went alone that year—and then covid kept us away for two years—we went to the more spacious National Arboretum instead those years.

4/9

First Easter Care Package: I decided to send Noah a planned care package of Easter candy a little early, in hopes that a chocolate-hazelnut bunny, peanut butter eggs, mini eggs, and jelly beans would be cheering. I did not mail it in an Easter basket, for reasons of space, but I did pack the box with Easter grass. Noah was home last Easter and the one before because of covid so this was his first Easter-in-a-box from me.

6/13

First Pride: If North hadn’t had a birthday party to attend it might have been nice to go from the rally to the Pride parade and meet up with them there. Pride was cancelled the past two years because of covid, but the two years before that we went to the festival and I thought the parade would have been a nice change of pace.

9/11

First Back to School Night: On Thursday we went to Back to School Night at North’s school. It was the first year since before covid that this event was in person.

First Folk Festival: Sunday we attended the first Takoma Park Folk Festival to be held since before covid.

Today

Finally, I boarded my first airplane since before covid this morning to go visit my mom in Oregon. She had a knee replaced a couple weeks ago and her recovery has been difficult. My aunt and sister have both stayed with her already and I’m taking my turn. More on this visit in a future post…

Meanwhile, some traditions have not returned:

6/26

Drama camp cast party: Pre-covid, there was often a cast party at our local pizzeria, but we hadn’t hear anything about it until the middle of the rehearsal when North texted me about whether I wanted to go and I said yes and then almost immediately afterward, North texted back to say it wasn’t happening, so I packed a picnic, which is what Gretchen had suggested in an email to all the parents and what has happened the past couple years, but it turned out I was the only one to bring food.

Fingers crossed, I won’t add another covid post until March, when it’s been three years. Until then we’ll go on with our lives, vaccinated and occasionally masked, but mostly normal.

Lucky

Labor Day Weekend

After Noah left, we had a three-day weekend. It was low-key, but nice. We all watched The Edge of Seventeen on Friday night, Beth went kayaking on Saturday morning, and on Saturday evening I listened to my friend Becky’s radio show on Takoma’s community radio station while making dinner. I almost skipped it because when Noah isn’t here, this show reminds me of our routine of cooking together and listening to it on Saturday nights and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that, but Becky and her co-host were giving away tickets to see Neko Case and Patty Griffin and I thought I might as well give it a try. There were four pairs of tickets and you had to send an email after they played a song by one of the artists. I kept trying, but I realized toward the end of the show I’d inserted an extra period in the email address, so I tried once more with the right address, and I won! The first three winners were announced on the air, but I didn’t find out until after the show was over. We were all watching Gilmore Girls and I got a message from Becky.

That same night Noah landed safely in Australia, got through customs, and boarded his third and final flight, from Sydney to the Gold Coast. We were relieved there was no issue with his visa or his medications. “What a night!” Beth said.

North hung out with Sol on Sunday afternoon and evening, first at the mall and then at our house. Beth and I went to the pool while the kids were at the mall. It was only the second time I’d been to an outdoor pool this summer, so I was glad to do it. Unlike the last time we went, the water temperature was pleasant. I swam fifteen laps—I would have done more if we’d had more time—and went down the water slide a couple times, which was fun and made me wonder why I don’t do that more often when I’m at a pool that has one.

On Labor Day, Beth was doing some straightening up in the basement and she gave me two boxes. One contained student papers, teaching materials, and dissertation research notes from 1997 to 2001. During this time, I was finishing my PhD at the University of Maryland, teaching there and at George Washington University. I had no idea I still had any of those papers. I thought I’d gotten rid of them long ago, but I guess a missed a box. I went through it cursorily just to make sure there was nothing in it I wanted, but not too carefully because spending too much time thinking about my academic past sometimes sucks me down into a shame spiral.

The other box was of mementos that spanned from childhood to my mid-twenties. Some were things I’d thought were lost, like my high school diploma and my senior year yearbook. There was also some artwork, mostly not done by me, including a portrait of me at age eleven, which my sister remembered was drawn by a stranger we met at the playground. And there were letters and a folder of printouts of email I’d exchanged with a work friend when I used to work at Project VOTE (a now defunct non-profit that registered low-income African Americans to vote) back in the early 90s. I read the email rather than the letters, because it was easier to read than handwriting and because it looked like about the right amount to read in an evening without going down a rabbit hole that would last longer than that. Reading it was a more emotional experience than I expected. I remembered David and I were close, but I’d forgotten how close. Working in that office was intense and when he left to take another job, it wasn’t the same and we drifted apart pretty quickly. This is the kind of moment in which you can feel sad about a faded friendship, or you can appreciate what it meant to you while you had it, and I managed to go with the latter for the most part.

We usually have a picnic in the back yard on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day, but it was raining, so we ate our veggie dogs, baked beans, deviled eggs, corn-on-the-cob, and watermelon on the porch instead. It was actually nice, to sit and watch the drizzle and hope it would bring cooler, less muggy weather.

Report from Australia

Meanwhile on the other side of the world… Noah arrived at his place, which is a boarding house. He has his own room and shares a kitchen, bathroom, and common areas with the landlady and another boarder, a Norwegian, but not the same Norwegian he’d been corresponding with earlier about sharing an apartment. This one is a young woman. Noah said the landlady is nice, that she took him to the mall so he could get some things he needed, and she took him on a tour of the university. There wasn’t a desk in his room, and he wanted one, so he bought one, which I guess he’ll leave for the next boarder.

His orientation started Tuesday with some online modules and continued in person on Wednesday through Friday. He said most of the international students are Americans or Norwegians. He’ll start classes on Monday. He sent me a picture of the gate of the university and said, “Good to know it’s real and I haven’t fallen for an elaborate scam.”

Here are some of his observations about Australia, from the first days he was there:

  • Light switches are backwards (up = off)
  • At the mall I went to the escalators were like airport conveyors but at an incline. The airport had stair-style escalators so it’s not universal
  • Masks required on the domestic flight, lots of masks at the airport (about 50%) but very few at the mall
  • Even as a non-driver, cars driving on the left is disorienting. Also, I assume that means the cultural standard is to walk on the left when possible
  • The spoons in this house are all very small or very large. But that’s probably just the house

An Unexpected Package

I was on the porch, reading an online trade magazine for work Wednesday afternoon when a UPS delivery person dropped off a small box. When I saw it had a pattern of Hershey’s kisses on it, I had a sudden inkling of what it might be.

Two days after we got back from Hershey Park, I realized I’d lost a coin purse containing my debit card, my ID, a SMARTrip (a bus and train pass), and a twenty-dollar bill. The last place I’d spent money was Chocolate World, right as we were leaving the park. I considered calling to see if there was a lost and found but I thought at such a big complex it would be a bureaucratic ordeal, so I didn’t do it. I cancelled the debit card and transferred the money on the SMARTrip to another card, but I hadn’t managed to order a new ID because of ongoing computer problems at the MVA (speaking of bureaucratic ordeals).

And, then as you have no doubt guessed by now, someone found the coin purse and turned it in, and the Customer Service department at Chocolate World mailed it back to me, free of charge. Nothing was missing, not even the cash. So, I didn’t need to wrangle with the MVA’s recalcitrant online system anymore, I had twenty dollars I thought I lost, plus a coin purse I rather like. Between winning concert tickets and this, I was feeling pretty lucky.

We also found out that same day that North’s application to be a theater reviewer for local high schools was successful, so they are going to be doing that. It should be fun, and they will get to go to a lot of plays throughout the DC metro area.

Back to School Night

On Thursday we went to Back to School Night at North’s school. It was the first year since before covid that this event was in person. Since North’s a junior, and we missed two years, this means it was our first time meeting their teachers at their high school and we had to learn our way around the building. (It was also our second to last Back to School Night ever I realized as we walked back to the car. That was a startling thought.)

Because North is not at our home high school there were fewer parents we knew than we knew at their elementary or middle school (or Noah’s high school), so I was surprised when Talia’s parents walked into the AP World History classroom. Talia went to preschool with North, played on a basketball team with them through most of elementary school, was on the costumes crew with them for the fall play last year, and her mom Megan is a good friend of mine. North hadn’t mentioned she was in the class. Chatting before the teacher’s presentation we learned Talia’s folks were going to the same concert we were the following night. (The presentation itself was the most detailed in terms of the curriculum. So far, it also seems to North’s hardest class.)

It was nice to get to see the teachers in person. North’s Astronomy teacher is fresh out of school and so young I wasn’t sure she was the teacher when I saw her standing in the classroom door. The AP Lit teacher wasn’t present because she’s eight months pregnant and was attending an infant CPR class. She made a video for parents to watch. The French teacher is quite energetic, and the math teacher seems enthusiastic about math and down to earth. The tech teacher basically said it was a gut class and there was no excuse not to get an A, if the kids made an effort. The painting teacher told us to let her know if our kids are interested in painting with oils, because it’s not part of the regular curriculum. (When we told North later, they said they are interested.)

I was glad to have gone, even though I had to miss book club (and we were reading Octavia Butler).

Concerts

The weekend was quite musical. Friday night we went to the Neko Case/Patty Griffin concert and Sunday we attended the first Takoma Park Folk Festival to be held since before covid.

Late Friday afternoon we said goodbye to North and Ranvita who were settling in for pizza and a movie (they watched Call Me By Your Name) and we drove to Virginia and picked up our own pizza and some mozzarella sticks for a picnic on the lawn of Wolf Trap. Beth had made a Caprese salad with a tomato and some basil from the garden to go with it. We also got some soft serve from the concessions stand.

The weather was really nice, just a perfect temperature (when we arrived) and not too humid. When the sun set, I actually wished I’d worn long sleeves and socks. I lay on the blanket and read a few chapters of Gwendy’s Final Task while we waited for the concert to start. I’d been texting with Megan to see if she and her husband Tom were on the lawn or in the pavilion. They had seats inside, but she said they were in line for merch, and they’d come visit us on their way inside. Then they ran into other friends, ran out of time, and we didn’t end up connecting.

While all this was going on, I happened to look at the tickets for the first time. I just wanted to see how much they cost (and it didn’t say, just “complimentary”) but then I noticed they had seat numbers on them. Despite what the radio station manager said, they weren’t lawn tickets after all. After some brief consideration—because it is nice on the lawn on a pretty night—we decided to move inside, where we’d have a better view. Also, I thought it might be a little warmer in there (and it was). The seats were near the back in a sparsely populated section and the pavilion is open on the sides we didn’t feel the need to put on our masks. Before the music started, I spotted our around-the-corner neighbor Chris and Beth went over to talk to her. Then Chris came to sit with us for a while during intermission and she and Beth talked shop—they both work in the labor movement—and about Chris’s daughter’s adjustment to middle school.

Patty Griffin came on first, but I’m not sure I’d say she was opening for Neko Case because their sets were almost equal in length. Both shows were great. I know more of Neko Case’s songs than Patty Griffin’s, but it’s easier to make out Griffin’s lyrics so I was following along a little better during her part of the show. There was a nearly full moon that night, so Griffin sang “250,000 Miles” and Case sang “I Wish I Was the Moon.” Patty Griffin had a song about Bluebeard I liked, and I was glad to hear Neko Case sing “Last Lion of Albion.” It was a very nice evening, and we got to bed by 11:45, which is quite late for us, but at least we didn’t turn into pumpkins, which may well have happened if we’d been out at midnight. It’s been so long I have no idea.

Two days later we were watching live music again at the Takoma Park Folk Festival, which was cancelled for two years running because of covid. It was raining in the morning, but the festival carried on with the performers under tents. When we arrived around one, the rain had stopped, and we spread our blanket on the wet grass under trees that occasionally dripped on us. Overall, it wasn’t as well attended as usual, probably because of the weather, but we had fun. We saw Ruthie and the Wranglers, some people from the Folklore Society of Greater Washington singing Celtic songs, and Holly Montgomery and I enjoyed them all.

North got a plate of noodles and a Thai iced tea when we first arrived and then between the second and third set, we got ice cream. As always, we saw a lot of people we knew, the mother of a preschool classmate of North’s, the younger sister of their best friend from elementary school who was working the information booth, and another elementary school friend and her mom, who were also volunteering. I would have liked to stay a little longer and hear some more international music, but North got a headache near the end of Holly Montgomery’s set so we left. Still, I was glad to be back on the familiar grounds of a local middle school listening to live music for the first time in years. When we saw Leila and her mom Shaneena, we talked about how this year life is really starting to feel normal. More than a recovered coin purse or free concert tickets, that may be the luckiest thing about right now.

The Next Chapter

It was a big week around here. North started eleventh grade on Monday and Noah boarded the first of three planes that would take him to Queensland on Friday evening. As I write on Saturday morning, he’s on the second one, from Los Angeles to Sydney.

Back to School

Beth thought North would wear eyeliner on the first day of school because they’ve only been allowed to wear eye makeup since they turned sixteen last spring, and it was a big deal to them at the time, but they said they didn’t want to get up any earlier than they were already, plus they didn’t want to “set expectations too high” right off the bat. (It was Thursday before they wore any makeup to school.)

North didn’t have too much to report when they came home other than that their painting teacher was the only one to ask for students’ pronouns (the English teacher asked on a subsequent day) and based on a story about his glory days playing high school football, they think their AP World History teacher is going to be full of boring stories.

More information trickled out over the course of the week: They’ve switched from taking Spanish to French, and they can now say, “I prefer cats,” when asked if they like cats or dogs better. They had to research different kinds of computers based on buyer specifications for their tech class. AP World History started off with a geography unit and then moved on to the Song dynasty in China. Their AP Lit class is mostly seniors (because they chose to take it before AP Comp instead of the other way around). They had to pick three celestial objects to research for a poster in Astronomy and they went with dwarf planets, moons, and black holes. The fall play is going to be Clue. They’re auditioning for a part, and they’ve also applied to be costumes manager, so we’ll see which they end up doing. (If they get an ensemble part, they may do both.) They’ve also applied to be a play reviewer (for plays at other high schools). They say only about a quarter of kids are still masking and when I asked if that was enough for them not to feel self-conscious, they said yes.

To a Land Down Under

Meanwhile, Noah continued to tie up loose ends for his trip. He got the letter he needed to take meds into Australia on Monday, four days before his departure. (Speaking of letters from doctors, the letter North needed to take their meds to camp arrived a few days after they got back from camp. I’m glad it wasn’t the other way around because I think customs would be less likely to bend the rules than North’s camp.) Beth got him some Australian cash. The bills are made of flexible plastic and feel strange in your hand if you’re used to paper money. He got his hair cut on Wednesday and he wasn’t happy with it because it was shorter than he wanted. Independently of each other, Beth and I both said it wasn’t as bad as the shortest haircut he ever had (in eighth grade). Apparently, that’s the benchmark.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, in different combinations of people, we got halfway through season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (our revised goal for the summer), finished season 6 of Blackish and season 2 of The Strain. Any show that anyone was watching in a group that did not include Noah was put on hold while we made progress though shows he was watching. He and I finished reading Sourcery (from the Discworld series) on Friday morning. It was the eighth novel we read this summer, all of them fantasy, science fiction, fantasy-adjacent (Terry Pratchett), or science fiction-adjacent (Cory Doctorow). My favorites were all three books in The Magicians trilogy, but I enjoyed everything we read. To finish Sourcery in five days, we had to read for about an hour a half a day, instead of our usual forty-five minutes to an hour, so it was a bit of a rush, but we both wanted to finish one more book.

On Thursday, Noah’s last night at home, we went out for ice cream again and he chose Ben and Jerry’s. The kids split a brownie sundae. At the patio table Beth quizzed North for their geography quiz the next day. After we got home, Noah and I watched The Strain and North read aloud from the almanac desk calendar we read from at bedtime, Noah started printing his boarding pass and other official documents.

Noah had a late afternoon flight. North had wanted to come to the airport, and we considered picking them up from their bus stop or directly from school, but in the end, we decided it would be cutting it too close, so they settled for waking him up to say goodbye (with his consent) at 6:30 when they left for school.

We read the last sixty-odd pages of Sourcery. I did one last load of laundry with his clothes in it, and he folded it. Beth and I worked, and Noah finished packing. He wanted to know if when we took his by-the-gate, back-to-school photo for college departures if we included luggage or not, so I checked my blog photo folder and the answer was there one with and one without (and no gate photo for sophomore year, because he spent that year at home). I asked how he’d prefer it and he said with, so around 2:15 we piled his luggage around him at the front gate and took his picture with it before we put it in the car. Ten minutes later we were on our way to the airport.

As Noah was checking his baggage at the international counter, the clerk wanted to see his visa and then commented that the paper Noah produced wasn’t a visa, but a letter stating a visa had been approved. Sounding doubtful, he said he’d see if that was good enough, typed on his computer, asked some questions, and after an uncomfortably long silence, told him to start loading his bags on the scale. So, that was a little nerve-wracking.

Beth and I watched Noah go through the security line, load his things on the conveyor belt, and go through the body scanner, and then he was walking away from us with his carry-ons, headed for another continent. I only teared up a little in the car on the way home. Saying goodbye at the beginning of a new school year is still hard, but it’s gotten easier each time we’ve done it. Or maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet.

Friday also marked one year since my last period, so I am officially postmenopausal. When my mom hit this milestone (also at age fifty-five), my sister told her she was a crone now and she was not pleased to hear it, though Sara just meant she had entered the age of wisdom. In the maiden/mother/crone progression, though, I feel mother is still the most relevant stage for me, as I have a kid at home, at least for a couple more years.

As if watching my eldest embark on a fourteen-time-zone journey and reaching menopause on the same day wasn’t enough, it was also the one-year anniversary of my diabetes diagnosis. My most recent bloodwork (done a couple weeks ago) was good. My 1Ac (a measure of average blood sugar over the past three months) was a smidge higher than the last test, in February, but still in the lower half of the prediabetic range. That doesn’t mean I don’t have diabetes. It just means that with medication and dietary changes, my blood sugar is the same as an unmedicated prediabetic. My nurse practitioner seemed pleased and said I should keep doing whatever I’m doing.

So, the kids and I have all started a new chapter. I’m glad North continues to be active in theater and the GSA and is taking some challenging classes. Somehow junior sounds a lot older than sophomore, doesn’t it? Suddenly we’re in the second half of high school. And Noah has jumped forward, too, launched into an international adventure and his last year of college. I am proud of both of them and I am eager to see how the year unfolds for all of us.

Perfect Week

North had one week between camp and the start of the school year. They didn’t have any babysitting jobs or social engagements, though they did go to school on Thursday evening to staff a table for the GSA at the picnic to welcome incoming ninth graders and other new students. North is going to have a leadership role in the GSA this year and building membership is one of the organization’s goals. They said it was a success. They talked to a lot of people, got ten signups, and talked to a faculty member about the campaign to replace the annual powderpuff football game with something less sexist.

Creek Walk

On Wednesday afternoon, the kids and I went on a creek walk, which we do almost every summer, usually near the end. Occasionally these outings end in mishap, as when I fell and hurt my knee six years ago (it has never been quite right since then) or when Noah got fifteen bee stings last summer, which is why Beth urged us to “Be careful!” when we left shortly before three. We promised we would be.

We walked Starbucks for refreshments and then we made our way to the creek. It was quite pleasant. No one got hurt and it was nice to be in the water on a warm day. We found some deep places, where North submerged themselves almost completely by sitting on the creek bed and we walked further than I thought they’d want to, all the way to the bridge closest to our house. We would have gone under to arrive at our side of the street—it’s always kind of cool to be under the street, or I think it is—but North spied a man under the bridge who seemed to be relieving himself, so we gave him some privacy and backtracked until we came to a place that was clear enough of underbrush to get out onto the path and walk home that way. Walking in the creek always makes me nostalgic for when the kids were younger and used to pretend there were trolls under the footbridge where we typically start. Even if that sort of imaginative embellishment is in the past, I’m glad neither of them feels too old for this activity.

Hershey Park

Friday afternoon Beth and I quit work early and we all piled into the car to drive to Hershey Park for one last, quick trip of the summer. We arrived in time to check into our hotel and spend a couple hours in the park. We got pizza for dinner, rode a few rides, and everyone but me got desserts, either ice cream or in North’s case a chocolate-covered frozen banana. (I would have ice cream the next day, when I was able to space it apart from other carbs.) We got two rooms so the kids could have their own space and we could have ours. We also had a king-sized bed and a fancy shower that didn’t have a curtain or wall because it was big enough to have its own entryway. It was deluxe.

We said goodnight to the kids and told them to be ready to leave the hotel at 9:30 the next morning. The park doesn’t open until eleven, so we thought we’d do the factory tour ride at Chocolate World beforehand because it opens earlier. Beth and I went down to the hotel breakfast bar around eight, but there wasn’t a single thing I could eat, at least not in the morning when my metabolism is very reactive. The vegetarian fare was all muffins, waffles, flavored yogurt, and a couple unappealing looking apples. Beth got a little container of vanilla yogurt and some juice. We’d decided to go to a nearby grocery store in search of food, but there was a Starbucks in the parking lot so I was able to get a latte, kale and mushroom egg bites, and some string cheese, which I supplemented with some mixed nuts I’d brought with me, while Beth picked up a few items for herself at the grocery store.

We got to Chocolate World a little before ten. I expected we’d be in a very small minority of people masking indoors and we were, but it was even fewer people than I would have guessed, almost no one, even in crowded spaces where you stand near the same people for a long time (for instance in the line for the factory ride).

Shortly before eleven we left Chocolate World and got a wheelchair for North from customer service. They used one when they went to Hershey Park on a camp field trip earlier in the month and wanted one because it would be a long day of walking. They also had a pass for expedited entry on some rides, which hadn’t expired yet. We were able to accompany them and avoid the lines. The way it works is you can enter your first ride of the day without a wait and then the ride attendant writes on the pass how long you have to wait before entering another ride. It’s based on the average wait time for that ride. As North said, “you wait after instead of before.” It saves you from having to stand in line if that’s difficult for you and it also saves some time because you can use your wait time for getting to the next ride or eating or going to the bathroom.

So there were some advantages to using the chair and the pass, but also some disadvantages. It was work pushing it uphill (Beth, Noah, and I took turns) and we often had to split up and leave someone behind to watch the chair. We only did this later in the day because of what happened while the kids and I were riding the smaller of the two flume rides. We left the chair at the bottom of a staircase, and three teenage boys stole it. Beth, who was waiting outside the ride, actually saw them leave with it, and she wondered if it could be North’s, but she wasn’t sure, so she didn’t confront them. It wasn’t until we got off the ride and found it missing that we all realized what had happened. Beth texted security and they tracked down the culprits and returned the chair before our kids had even returned from their next ride.

It was a busy day. We made a list of rides we wanted to do in the morning but as the day progressed, we had to keep paring it down. I was sorry that we skipped the mine ride because it’s one Beth will do. She is the least adventurous of us at amusement parks and as of this summer I am the second least. When North was at Hershey Park during camp, they rode the Candymonium,  the newest and biggest coaster in the park, which at 210 feet, is just a little taller than the biggest coaster I’ve ever ridden, the Magnum at Cedar Point. (I have not been on that coaster since I was twenty-two, for the record.) Given the fact that Noah rode the Great Bear, his first big coaster, on a band field trip in middle school makes me think that being with peers and not your parents makes you more daring when it comes to amusement park rides (and other things of course, for good and for ill).

North tried the Great Bear this year for the first time, Noah rode the Candymonium with North, and the two of them also did the bigger of the two flume rides for the first time. As the kids pointed out, it’s because they keep adding rides that we can’t find time for all our favorites in one evening and one day anymore. The kids and I also rode the Wild Mouse, the Comet, the smaller of the three wooden coasters in the park, and the Sooper Dooper Looper, the smallest looping coaster. It has just one loop, but it was one of the first looping coasters ever built, so it has historic significance. These rides are at the very edge of my own comfort zone. (After some consideration the day before about whether I didn’t want to be the kind of person who wears my tie-dyed Sooper Dooper Looper t-shirt while riding the Sooper Dooper Looper or whether that’s exactly the kind of person I wanted to be, I went with the latter.) We all rode the swings and the Ferris Wheel, which is Beth’s favorite. She took the picture of the park from up there.

We also went to the waterpark, but the lines were so long we gave up on doing a waterslide or the lazy river, but the wave pool had no line or just a short one when different members of our party arrived. It was nice to get wet, though, because by late afternoon we were all hot and tired. Beth and I took turns watching the wheelchair so everyone could go into the pool.

As we left the park, North took one last ride on the Candymonium while Beth returned the wheelchair and Noah and I did some shopping at Chocolate World. We were intending to eat dinner there, but the place we usually eat—it has several vegetable side dishes you can use to make a meal—was closed and the only option was pizza. Neither Beth nor I wanted pizza two nights in a row, so we went to Panera before hitting the road for home.

There wasn’t much traffic, so we were home by 10:15, which was good because Beth and I are usually in bed by ten and because Noah had scheduled a call about another place to live in Australia at eleven. If you’re thinking, wait, I thought he found somewhere to live, that fell through. This one is a room in a house where the owner also lives, a ten to twenty-minute walk to campus. He was offered the place on the phone and accepted, but he hasn’t paid the deposit yet, so I’m still a little nervous about it. Meanwhile he has an AirBnB booked for his first week and we’re not cancelling it quite yet, just in case.

Last Night of Summer Break

Sunday evening, after we enjoyed a nice summery dinner of barbequed tofu, fried okra, corn on the cob, and sliced tomatoes that Beth cooked, we went to Sweet Frog. We’ve always taken the kids out for ice cream (or occasionally frozen yogurt) on the night before school starts. It’s something my mom used to do for me and my sister and the tradition continues.

I finished first, having taken a relatively small amount of soft serve from the dispenser. I got up and walked up and down the block because I was short on steps, and when I returned Beth got up and did something similar because she was short on activity minutes. When she returned, she showed us that her Apple watch told her she’d had “a perfect week.” I’m not sure North would agree that a week brought their summer break to an end was a perfect one, plus we weren’t at the beach, but we were all together after a week split up into three groups and on the cusp of a longer separation from Noah, and we got to enjoy natural and not so natural amusements, so I’d say it was pretty near perfect.

Home Again, Home Again

The week after our beach trip North was at camp and Beth was staying at her mom’s house in Wheeling while attending a convention in Pittsburgh, so Noah and I were on our own.

Beth and North left on Sunday morning. I was tired because I hadn’t slept well and a little melancholy to have gone from a group of eight to two in the space of twenty-four hours. But I managed to occupy myself. I went to the farmers’ market, tended to load after load of trip laundry (there were four total), and spent a long time reading the Sunday paper. Noah and I read A Desolation Called Peace and watched The Strain, as we did almost every day. (Later in the week we also watched Midsommar and The Babadook.)

Monday I got back to work, outlining some web copy for a supplement company, and took advantage of the cool weather to weed the Black-Eyed Susan patch in our front yard, making a bouquet with the flowers I pulled up accidentally. The weather was relatively cool from the weekend through Thursday, which was a welcome relief from the two weeks of miserably hot and humid weather we had before leaving for the beach.

Heatwave flashbacks: One day in late July Beth and I went to the pool but after just ten laps in the tepid water, I gave up on exercise and decided to sit in the shade in my damp bathing suit and read instead. Another day I found myself exhausted by a thirty-minute walk, which is on the short side for me. We found refuge from the heat in various ways. Beth and North went camping one weekend in the Catoctin mountains and the kids and I went to see Nope in an air-conditioned theater.

Sometimes I have a hard time knowing what to cook when Beth’s out of town, but we brought a lot of vegetables back from the beach, because we were driving and had a cooler while everyone else was flying, and some of these vegetables were nearing the end of their useful life, so I focused on those. I made tomato-dill soup on Monday with two going-soft tomatoes and dill from a plant that went wild while we were gone, a veggie stir-fry on Tuesday, and an assortment of raw and steamed vegetables with Sara and Dave’s peanut sauce on Wednesday. We had abundant leftovers of all those meals—apparently I don’t know how to cook for two– so we ate some of those on Thursday and we got pizza on Friday and ate still more leftovers on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Noah was occupied with finding an apartment and other matters he needed to attend to before he leaves for Australia in a week and a half. There have been a lot of bureaucratic difficulties he’s had to navigate this summer, more than I remember having to deal with when I studied abroad in college. Here are a few:

  1. Class registration opened the last week in July but he couldn’t get the online system to recognize that he had a valid visa (even though he did) so it was a week and a half before he got registered. Luckily, none of the classes he wanted were full when he finally broke through the impasse.
  2. That same week in July he located and submitted an application for an apartment, which was supposed to be binding, and that potential commitment stopped him from looking for another place for a long time but he didn’t hear back and he didn’t hear back, so he started looking again last week. He interviewed for two apartments (one in a location convenient to campus, the other less so). These interviews took place on the phone at crazy tines (ten p.m. and midnight respectively) because of the fourteen-hour time difference. On a message board he also found two other international students, one from Germany and one from Norway, who are also looking for housing in the same city. They agreed to look for a place they could share while also pursuing individual leads. Then the German got into campus housing off the waitlist (a list Noah is also on) so I was glad to hear there is movement on that list, because a dorm room would be simpler, since he will only be there for three and a half months and the minimum rental period seems to be six months. Then on Sunday morning he told me that the upshot of his midnight interview the night before was that he was offered the less conveniently located apartment with five days to decide while he waits to hear back about the more conveniently located one (or to see if he gets a dorm room off the waitlist). So nothing is nailed down yet, but we all feel a lot better about his housing prospects.
  3. Finally, still he needs to get a letter from his psychiatrist stating he has a prescription for his ADHD meds in order to be allowed to bring his existing supply with him. He also needed to figure out how to get those prescriptions renewed in a foreign country, which will involve securing an appointment with a psychiatrist there. He’s researching all this on his own, which really drives home that he’s an adult now.

Finally late Sunday afternoon, a week after they’d left, Beth and North returned. That morning I went to the farmers’ market again to get peaches and in the afternoon I made a cobbler to welcome them home. I adjusted my usual recipe, subbing almond flour for half of the whole-wheat to reduce carbs.  It didn’t come out the way I hoped, but everyone ate it when I told them they didn’t have to, so I guess it wasn’t too bad. When Beth and North went camping in July I welcomed them home with an (almost) no-sugar blackberry cheesecake. I don’t bake as much as I used to, partly because North bakes so much and partly because of my diabetes, but I do like to celebrate our reunions with dessert, especially in the summer, when there’s such a bounty of fruit. That night for dinner, Noah and I also made whole-wheat spaghetti with cherry tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella. It was nice to eat a meal all together.

North was full of stories about camp. The sixteen- and seventeen-year-old kids are in a different group than the regular campers. They go on a lot of field trips—to visit a museum about Amish culture, do goat yoga (which North says is “cheering”), go Hershey Park (where North rode the biggest coaster in the park) and an escape room complex (where the group managed to escape from both rooms they tried) and go shopping at a mall (North came home with a lot of earrings). But they also participated in leadership seminars where they learned skills such as how to facilitate a meeting. They also did normal camp things like attending the all-camp campfire, swimming, and making a tie-dye pillowcase.

Beth spent her time away working first at her mom’s house in Wheeling and then at the Netroots Nation convention in Pittsburgh, but she found time to hang out with an old friend, too. (She took the sunset picture in Wheeling.)

Finally, I have good news and very sad news. For everyone who had well wishes for my cousin’s daughter Annabelle, thank you. She came off the ventilator a week ago today and is home and well. But my mom’s boyfriend Jon, who was also hospitalized while we were at the beach and was supposed to be released last Tuesday, took a turn for the worse and by Wednesday he was in the ICU with a bacterial infection, viral encephalitis, and kidney failure. The doctors said he almost certainly wasn’t going to make it, so on Thursday evening, following his wishes and those of his adult children, he was moved to hospice care at home. He died early Friday morning, surrounded by his kids. My sister, brother-in-law, and niece (who moved to Davis, California last month) all traveled to Ashland to be with my mom for a few days to comfort her.

I never met Jon, but I know a little about him. He was well read, loved opera, and played the tuba. He was married twice and had two children, two stepchildren, and two grandchildren. He lived down the street from my mother and they had dinner together every night, plus breakfast on Sundays. They traveled together often, everything from a trip to the Olympic peninsula to an African safari. They were considering Mexico or Costa Rica as their next destination. My mom will miss his companionship terribly, but she said they had “four wonderful years together.” That’s no small thing.

Take the Win

Saturday

Around quarter to five in the afternoon, I settled myself on the damp sand, close to where the last little edges of the waves were reaching. My mom, sister, brother-in-law Dave, and niece Lily-Mei were in route from Philadelphia where they’d flown in the day before, Beth was out getting some groceries, and North had started making dinner. I don’t remember what Noah was doing, but he didn’t want to come with me.

I was wearing my swim bottoms and a t-shirt. I didn’t intend to go in the water because I wasn’t staying long—though if the waves looked good I probably would have, bathing suit or no bathing suit. As it was, the water was pretty calm. I sat and stared at it for a solid half hour and managed to get my mind nearly empty of thought. I think that might what it’s like to meditate, though I’ve never tried.

I walked in the front door just behind Sara and the others, having timed my exit from the beach just right. We showed them around the house and since there was a ping pong table in the basement and we had a nine year old who’d been cooped on planes and the car for much of the past two days, we had to play right away. While Lily-Mei was playing with my mom, she said, “You realize I’m going easy on you,” even though Sara had come up with a co-operative way to play. Rather than trying to score points against each other, each pair tried to keep a volley going as long as it could.  The room also had a dart board, which North used throughout the week. They liked it so much they want one for Christmas.

North served a casual feast: veggie cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, watermelon, and a tomato-mozzarella salad with pesto. They also made a pitcher of watermelon agua fresca. We ate at the long dining room table, which was in a room with a soaring wooden ceiling and a wall of windows overlooking a narrow finger of Silver Lake. Throughout the week we’d see herons, geese, ducks, turtles, dragonflies, and enormous fish that swam with their backs sticking out of the water (looking like small eerie alligators) either from the dining room windows, or the lawn behind the house.

Once it was dark, Beth, North, Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei and I went for a short walk on the beach. There was a group of teenage girls standing in a circle near the water singing Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” with surprising enthusiasm. I wondered they were buoying one of their number whose boyfriend had recently cheated. I also wondered why girls so young even knew this song, but Beth speculated that maybe someone has remade it recently.

Back at the house, Noah and Sara’s family started a game of Sorry, but Beth and I were ready for bed, being an early-to-bed-early-to-rise sort of people. Sara and Dave were keeping Lily-Mei on West Coast time, so she was up later than us every night.

Sunday

Beth went kayaking in the morning. She’d rented a kayak for the week and this day she explored the waters right outside our house. I organized people into putting items on a grocery list and helped Mom brainstorm ideas for her meal for our party which included four vegetarians, one person with diabetes, one person with a gluten sensitivity, and at least the requisite amount of likes and dislikes in a large group (only the diabetes is new since the last time she cooked for all of us but it seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back because she was stumped). Then Sara and Dave went out to buy the groceries. Mom and I took a walk to the tea and spice store to get a tea ball to infuse herbs and Parmesan rind into a soup Noah and I would be making later in the day.

Mom, who is going to get a knee replaced soon, needed a lot of stops to rest, but that wasn’t a problem as there were benches and shaded pavilions all along the boardwalk and it gave us a chance to talk. She picked up a strawberry-banana smoothie to sip as we rested at one of them.

When we got back Noah and I read a little and then Beth, North, and I went to the beach. I couldn’t stay long because it was my night to cook, but we all waded together for a little while and then North and I went out deeper for a bit. The water was still on the calm side, but it was nice to be in the water on a hot day. I walked home on my own, leaving Beth and North at the beach.

Back at the house, Noah and I made minestrone. When Beth and North got home, Beth settled into the hammock we’d brought from home and set up near the water. She stayed there until dinner. The after-dinner entertainment was a screening of North’s drama camp performance of Pippin and a slideshow of Mom’s pictures from her trip to Morocco this spring. It looks like a very beautiful country.  After that, Sara and Dave and Lily-Mei made a Candy Kitchen run. Beth and I were in bed before they returned.

Monday

Beth left to go kayaking in the canal in Lewes (having decided Rehoboth Bay was too rough) before anyone but me was up. Around 10:35, Lily-Mei and Dave decided it was the day for the water park and they wanted to go right away, but North wasn’t even awake yet and it’s possible Sara wasn’t either. In any case, they both needed to eat breakfast and get ready, so the actual departure was around 12:15.  While they waited, Noah pushed Lily-Mei in the hammock like it was a swing. She kept saying, “higher” and he said, “I don’t want you to fall out,” and she replied, “higher!”

Mom and I took a walk to the turtle bridge, so called because turtles congregate in the water below. It was within sight of our house, so a very short walk. (Mom though she might have overdone it the day before.) We saw a lot of turtles, but also ducks and geese. One had a quarter of its shell that was a completely different, more colorful, pattern than the rest. I wasn’t sure if it was molting—do turtles molt?—or if the shell was broken and that’s what was underneath or if it that patch was just cleaner than the rest. The turtles, especially the bigger and presumably older ones, were all covered with muck and algae.

After the water park party departed, I headed to a pavilion on the boardwalk to blog in a scenic, shaded, breezy place. Once I got caught up I went back to the house to change into my suit. When I got back to the house, Beth had returned from kayaking and was eating lunch out back by our little sliver of lake.

I returned to the beach and stayed from three to six. I swam for about an hour. The waves were a little bigger than the day before and close together so it was hard to get in, but once I did it was nice. After my swim, I got a pistachio gelato on the boardwalk and sat on a bench looking at the ocean to eat it. As I did I encountered my inner child in the form of a three or four-year-old boy who was explaining to his parents, “We should build a house here so whenever we come to Delaware, we don’t have to leave” in the tone of one explaining the obvious solution to people who are slightly dim-witted. When I got back to my towel, I started Piranesi, which is the first book I’ve read on my own since the last time we were at the beach in early July. It’s short, so I read about a third of it and then it was time to head back for dinner.

Dinner was Beth’s traditional beach meal: gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, olives, baguette, and a cheese plate. It’s always much anticipated. After dinner, we split up. Sara’s family played ping pong, while Beth and my kids went to the boardwalk for ice cream. I stayed behind because I’d already had a boardwalk treat and it was my turn to do the dishes.

I watched Sara, Dave, Mom, and Lily-Mei play Pictionary, then took Mom’s place when she’d had enough, then Noah took mine when my family got back from the boardwalk. Dave said he wasn’t sure what it meant that he was “burning through partners.”

Tuesday

Beth, Noah, and I took a long walk the next morning. It was already very hot and humid when we set out around nine a.m., but we were undaunted. We hit Café a Go-Go, where I got an iced latte, Beth got a chocolate chip cookie, and Noah got a cranberry-orange muffin. Next we went to BrowseAbout, where I picked up a couple books I’d ordered and Beth tried to decide how to spend the gift certificate I got her for our anniversary and decided to hold onto it for now, and Noah got the third book in the Game of Thrones series and looked at an extension kit for Settlers of Catan he’s had his eye on for a while. (They’re surprisingly expensive.) Finally, we went to the farmers’ market and got some excellent raspberries and two giant soft pretzels, one for Noah and one to take home to North. I was intending to get the blueberry doughnuts I resisted in July since there were more people in the house this time to eat them up, but they didn’t have them that day.

Back at home we had lunch, I folded laundry on the ping pong table, which I recommend if you find yourself with a ping pong table and laundry to fold—it’s just the right height and it’s divided into neat quadrants. Noah and Dave finished the puzzle, which consisted of images from Funland. It must have been an easy one because we’d only started it that same day. I put in three pieces and fitted two together outside the puzzle, which is more than I generally do, which may also be an indication that the puzzle was easier than usual.

In the mid-afternoon  I went to the beach, joining North, who was already there. We swam about an hour in small to moderate waves, then North went up to the boardwalk to wait for Beth to come pick them up and drive them back to the house. I went up to the boardwalk a little later to read another forty pages of Piranesi on a bench in the shade.

When I got home, Lily-Mei was showing off the impressive haul of stuffed animals she won at Funland, almost more than she could hold. Mom made fruit salad and three asparagus quiches for dinner and we ate two of them. (The other one disappeared over the course of the next couple days.) North had gone to bed with a headache and didn’t come to dinner. After dinner, Beth went for a walk, Noah and I watched Only Murders in the Building, and Sara’s family played a board game called Outburst and went to the boardwalk. After we’d gone to bed I could hear Sara animatedly reading a Harry Potter book to Lily-Mei. I couldn’t make out any of the words, except “Gryffindor” and “Slytherin” over and over so I’m guessing it might have been about a Quidditch match.

Wednesday

In the morning Beth went kayaking on the lake outside the house again. This time Noah walked along the shore, following her and taking pictures and drone footage. It was good she got some time in nature because she had to spend a lot of the afternoon and evening ferrying people around. She drove my mom and me to our traditional lunch spot because the walk would have been too much for Mom. After lunch all eight of us met up for ice cream and funnel cake on the boardwalk and she drove our kids there. Then everyone but Beth and me went to the movies—they saw Marcel the Shell—but even though she didn’t go to the movies Beth drove our kids because Sara and Dave’s rental car wouldn’t fit six. She dropped North’s required covid test for sleepaway camp in the mail, and then she picked up the kids at the movies and me at the house and drove us to dinner at a make-your-own-bowl place out on the highway, and drove us all plus my mom to Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt and then home. On that drive, we all admired the gorgeous moon, huge, golden, and nearly full, hanging low in the sky.

Earlier that day, while most of our party was at the movies, I went to the beach. It had been sprinkling a little while Mom and I were walking and it started again while I was in the water. It was such a light rain it was hard to tell it even was raining, since I was wet already, but I could see the rings forming and spreading on the surface of the slate gray water. Parts of the sky were blue, with puffy white clouds, but most of it was full of dark clouds. The water was very still, with the smallest swells. I floated on my back and studied the cloudbanks. When the lifeguards blew the five o’ clock whistle, I got out of the water and started to read on my towel, but the sprinkles turned to drizzle and I sought refuge in a pavilion one block down the boardwalk. After I spread out my towel along the back of the bench and got my book out, I looked up and noticed a huge rainbow over the beach. It was a day of beauty in the sky.

Thursday

We had bad news from my cousin Holly in the morning. Her fourteen-year-old daughter Annabelle, who has multiple disabilities and is medically fragile, was in the hospital with unexplained breathing problems. (It turned out to be septic pneumonia.) The hospital was in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, only three hours away, and Holly’s a single mom without a lot of support in the area, so Sara was thinking of leaving the beach to go be with her, but then she found out Holly’s adult stepdaughter was going to come out, so she didn’t.

Meanwhile, Mom took my kids out to breakfast at Egg. When they got back Beth took North to an urgent care to get a camp physical because despite weeks of trying to get the required health form signed and faxed to camp, we’d found out from the camp nurse the day before that it never arrived. The short version of this story is that our pediatrician is on leave and her substitute had promised to send the form but never did, despite multiple calls. The week before we left for the beach, when the form was already overdue, Beth even dropped into the office, unannounced, and tried to stage a sit-in, but she left when assured the form would be sent. Anyway, it never was.

This urgent care did not take appointments, so Beth and North had to sign in and then sit in a hot car for almost three hours until they were called in and told the doctor could not sign the form because of North’s complex medical history and multiple prescriptions. They came home very discouraged as camp was starting in three days and it was seeming as if they might not be able to go.

While they were gone I walked to Café a Go-Go, got myself a latte and brought one home for North. I also had half a piece of coffee cake and saved the other half for Beth, who was having a rough day, for reasons beyond what I’ve mentioned.

Mom, Sara’s family, and I went to the beach. Sara and I had a nice talk, mostly about our kids, while in the ocean, and then she read a Harry Potter book to Lily-Mei, and then she and Dave and Lily-Mei made a sand castle with dribble towers and series of pools and canals and walls that captured water to use for the dribbles. Mom and I read our books and I texted back and forth with Beth about the camp problem and other problems and then I went for a walk along the shore and back down the boardwalk.

When we returned from the beach, Beth was on the phone with the camp nurse. She’d explained that her next step was to drive back to D.C. and attempt another sit-in at the doctor’s office when the nurse said if she could just see some kind of official record of North’s prescriptions, they could waive the form. Within seconds Beth was on the Children’s National Medical Center portal and making a PDF of the records and sending to the nurse. The nurse texted her “See you on Sunday” and there was much rejoicing in the house.

Sara and Dave set up a make-your-own spring roll station for dinner, which was fun. I actually skipped the wrapper and ate only the fillings and sauce because we were having S’mores after dinner and I came into dinner with higher blood sugar than I anticipated, due to a poorly timed afternoon snack.

We made the S’mores over the backyard propane fire pit filled with volcanic rook and blue glass pebbles. It was very pretty with the flames dancing among the colored glass and reflected in them and it was peaceful to sit by the water, surrounded by tall oak trees. However, those trees were blocking our view of the sky, and North wanted to see the moon because it was full that night and a super moon to boot. So Noah and North walked to the turtle bridge to see if they could see it from there, but it wasn’t high enough yet.

People peeled off gradually. Mom went inside to call her gentleman friend Jon who was recovering from his last radiation treatment and wasn’t doing well. Sara, Lily-Mei, and Noah went inside to watch a Harry Potter movie (#3). Beth called her brother. North and I went back to the turtle bridge and this time we could see the moon and it was lovely. Finally, North went back inside and Beth came out for a little bit, and then she and I went to bed, and Dave was the last one lingering by the fire.

In bed Beth was speculating about why the camp nurse had agreed to waive the signature on the form, when there was more on it besides the prescriptions, then she decided not to think about it, saying she’d “take the win.”

Friday

Friday morning Beth went kayaking on the lake one last time and then Noah helped her get the kayak up on top of the car so she could return it. I caught up on my blog, and then everyone but Mom and Sara went out for crepes or pizza for lunch.

After lunch, we dropped by Candy Kitchen to buy taffy and truffles and then Beth left and Dave and I accompanied the younger generation to Funland. We rode the Haunted Mansion twice in a row because both Lily-Mei and North wanted to sit with me. I could let you think I’m that popular, but it was because I was wearing my glow-in-the-dark Haunted Mansion t-shirt and they wanted to see what it looked like inside the Mansion, even though there’s black light in there so North’s whole white shirt glowed, as did the white trim on Lily-Mei’s shorts. She yelped when the big bat swooped down at us and at some of the other jump scares, and afterward she said it was scarier than she remembered from last year. She’d been telling us before we went in that it was “tame.” In my experience, eight to ten is the perfect age for the Haunted Mansion, and she’s nine.

The kids did some more rides (the Paratrooper and the Freespin) and then we took a break for games, because apparently Lily-Mei hadn’t won enough stuffed animals yet. (She came home with two more.) At that point, Noah and I walked home and read, while Lily-Mei and North went on more rides and then North called for Beth to give them a ride home, leaving Dave and Lily-Mei there. When Beth and North got back, my family of four plus Sara all went for a quick trip to the beach. Steps from the boardwalk, we ran into Dave and Lily-Mei who were returning home from Funland, so Lily-Mei switched parents and came to the beach with us.

It was almost five when we got there and we were going out to dinner so we only stayed a little over an hour, but it was a nice time. The weather was lovely—the heat having let up a couple days earlier—and Sara and Lily-Mei discovered a set of large, interconnected holes (big enough to climb into) with walls that rose a little above ground level that someone had dug and they set to work decorating the walls with dribbles. North and I got into the water and enjoyed the best waves of the trip. I got out just in time to read the last fifteen pages of Piranesi, which was gratifying, while Sara and Lily-Mei splashed in the water.

Earlier that afternoon Noah had reminded us that we hadn’t taken the family portrait yet, so after everyone was home and showered, he set up his tripod behind the house and we took it.

Sara and Dave went on a dinner date by themselves, while the rest of us had pizza and stromboli on the patio of Grotto. It was pleasant out there, with strings of white lights crisscrossed over the tables. Some people got dessert on the boardwalk and then Noah and I walked home, while everyone else drove. Noah and I stopped at the turtle bridge on the way home to look at the now-full moon.

Back at home Mom was trying to get information about Jon, who was now was in the hospital with a bacterial infection, probably due to the radiation suppressing his immune system. She was talking to the neighbor who she’d asked to check in on him and his daughter throughout the afternoon and evening. It was a hard week on people we care about.

We set to work folding laundry (on the ping pong table again) and packing, but we finished in time to show Mom the movie Noah made in his Advanced Cinema Production class last spring. In the middle, Sara and Dave came home so we started it over. Once everyone had seen it, Beth and I went to bed, around the same time Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei were leaving for one last trip to Funland. They managed to stay on West Coast time the whole trip, but this meant we’d be checking out of the house the next day at what would feel like seven a.m. to them. I wondered how that would work out.

Saturday 

Despite this obstacle and the usual chaos packing up and emptying the fridge, we did manage to get out of the house only fifteen minutes late. We said our goodbyes on the front lawn and went our separate ways. The West Coast folks were going to Philadelphia where they’d visit the Harry Potter exhibit at the Franklin Institute, stay overnight then fly home on Sunday, all except Sara who was going to visit Holly. (This was planned before Annie got sick.)  We were headed for Maryland, at least until today, when Beth is taking North to camp and then driving to Wheeling, where she will stay with her mom for a week while attending a conference in Pittsburgh.

Speaking of Beth’s mom, we were all sorry she wasn’t able to join us this year and it wasn’t the most relaxing vacation with all the stress about North’s camp and worry about Annie and John and others, but it was also the first time I’d seen my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and niece in over a year, and that time is always precious. And I got to go to the beach every day and Beth kayaked most days, so even though we didn’t build a house so we wouldn’t have to leave, I count that as a win.

Everything That Came After

We’ve been home from the beach now for almost two weeks and while I can’t say we’ve had as much fun as we did there, life here is not devoid of fun. Here’s what we’ve been up to recently:

Week 1

The weekend we got back, the kids and I watched the last two episodes of Stranger Things. Noah refused to watch it at the beach because he considered the resolution on the television there subpar and as a student of media, he takes the visual elements of entertainment seriously, at least for some shows. It was worth the wait. I mean, that last episode… Wow. Now we just have to wait another two to three years for the next season.

That Sunday, North and Ranvita had a picnic dinner/stargazing date. North made a peach-blueberry galette for the picnic (and we got to eat the leftovers). North and Ranvita been dating for several months now, but I only just received permission to mention that. I also learned recently in a very interesting conversation that in between North’s sixth-grade boyfriend Xavier and Ranvita, there have been three other romantic relationships I didn’t know about at the time. Beth and I had guessed one of them was an unrequited crush (“because she seemed to make you so unhappy,” I said when North told me and North said “She did make me unhappy.”) The other two just flew under our radar, including a relationship that lasted more than a year and a half, without us realizing the girl in question was more than a friend. They’re still friends, as it ended amicably.

The next Monday was 7/11, so Noah partook of a free Slurpee from 7-Eleven. He had to go alone, though, because I wouldn’t have minded the walk, but didn’t want the sugar, and North wouldn’t have minded the sugar but didn’t want the walk.

That Friday it was the thirty-fifth anniversary of Beth’s and my first date, which we celebrate in addition to our wedding anniversary. I’d spent the week we were at the beach thinking about what to get her and I considered several options but when she told me she’d been to the bookstore to see if they still had t-shirts that say “Let Summer Begin” to replace a favorite of hers that’s getting a hole and that she hadn’t seen one in her size on the rack, I decided to go back and enquire if there were any in storage. The answer was no, but since Beth’s had this shirt for years and they’re still carrying it, it seemed possible they might restock before we go to the beach again in August, so I got her a gift certificate she can use if they do and for something else if they don’t. In a funny coincidence, she got me a t-shirt, too. I’d mentioned back in June that I don’t have enough gay t-shirts so she got me a purple one with the rooster that’s the symbol of Takoma Park, surrounded by the colors of the progress pride flag, arranged into a color wheel-type design.

We went out for pizza that night, sans kids. (They had Little Caesar’s delivered to the house.) We got a caprese salad, a vegetarian sausage and mushroom pizza, and gelato and ate it at a table tucked into in the alley next to the restaurant. I had two pieces of pizza and considering how my glucose monitor runs low, I probably went out range on that plus the gelato, but it was considered decision. I decided I wanted to just have what I wanted and except for a lemonade (I couldn’t quite go there), I did just that. I have no regrets.

While we were out, North was at their first babysitting job of the summer, for a two-month old baby girl. They sat for her again yesterday—it’s looking like it might be a semi-regular thing. North seems quite smitten with the baby—“so cute!”—and happy to have a source of income.

The other thing that happened that day was that Beth bought Noah’s airline ticket to Queensland, Australia. He’s leaving the Friday before Labor Day. He still needs to find housing and register for classes, but that step made it seem much more real that he’s actually doing this. I am happy for him to have this adventure, as he’s wanted to do it for a long time and it was delayed a year by the pandemic.

Week 2

Sunday we went blueberry and blackberry picking. I wasn’t sure we’d go because it’s unusual for us to go berry picking twice in a year and we’d gone to pick strawberries in May. I’m glad we did, though, because it’s a fun family outing and we came home with two quarts of blackberries and five pounds of blueberries, plus produce, egg noodles, cheese, and treats from the farm market. I froze half the blackberries and most of the blueberries and we are working our way through the rest. I made the blueberry kuchen I make every year after berry picking on Monday night, substituting almond flour for half the flour and coconut sugar for half the sugar. It turned out a little more cakey than usual, but it was still good.

Tuesday I voted in the Maryland primary. It was the first time in a long while that I voted in person on Election Day but I didn’t get my research done in time to vote early and I didn’t get around to requesting a ballot to drop in a box, as Beth and Noah did. It was a really long ballot, with twenty-one offices to consider and for some offices you could vote for multiple people.

There was an advantage to going in person, though. It’s nice to see other voters and the poll workers and the people campaigning outside the polling place; it’s like watching the wheels of democracy turning. I told North that even though voting in the primary is more work than voting in the general (because there are actual decisions to make), it’s also more fun because the choices are generally good, and while I want the candidates I voted for to win, it will be fine if they don’t, so there’s less stress than in a general election when there’s more at stake. I anticipate the midterms, with control of both the House and the Senate in question, will be kind of agonizing.

North had applied to be a poll worker, but never heard back. I told them that at least at my polling place it looked like they weren’t short-staffed, so there probably wasn’t much need for new workers. They went to the movies with Ranvita that day instead.

On Wednesday North started the lengthy process of making focaccia (it requires multiple rises over two days) and babysat again, while Beth, Noah, and I finished season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Originally I was hoping to finish two seasons this summer, but that’s looking unrealistic at our current pace, so now my goal is reaching the midpoint of season 5.

Today we ate the focaccia at dinner, with a Caprese salad. The focaccia was outstanding and it was nice to have a cold dinner, as we’re in the midst of a heat wave that’s only supposed to get worse. We might get into the triple digits on Sunday and we’re currently trying decide if that’s too hot to go to the pool, which we haven’t done all summer. (Will it be mobbed? Will the water be gross and warm? Or will it be the only thing worth doing on a day like that?) And that brings us up to date.

On our anniversary, I wrote on Facebook:

Steph Lovelady kissed a girl for the first time 35 years ago today and this morning talked with a roofer about repairs to the roof of the house where she has lived with said girl (plus kids and cats) for the past twenty years and tonight went out to dinner with her to celebrate the kiss and everything that came after.

Some of what came after is fun, like picking berries with our young adult and nearly adult children and gaining insight into their lives, and some is mundane, like talking to roofers about home repairs, but it’s all part of the life we’ve built together, day by day, over three and half decades.

Fun Days

Saturday

Around five in the afternoon I was on the beach photographing my feet. The first picture I took to mark the moment the first little waves rushed over my sandals. Touching the water is often what makes it seem as if we’ve arrived at the beach. Shortly after we got to the little mint green house where we’d be staying for the week, Beth and Noah got back in the car, to get groceries and visit the Crocs outlet. North went into their room and closed the door, presumably to nap, so I made the ten-minute walk to the beach by myself.

The second two photos I took to remind myself of what the jetties near the beach access path I’d need to find again looked like because there were a lot of paths and few good landmarks on this stretch of beach, no houses, just scrub pines, and even the lifeguard chair had no number, which is kind of unusual. I ended up putting three of the photos on Facebook because I was taken with them. I took a walk along the waterline, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smell of the beach, before turning back to the house, walking in the back door at 5:50, the exact moment Beth and Noah were stepping through the front door. This was satisfying because it meant I’d had as long a walk as possible without making my cooking partner wait.

Noah and I had planned to cook dinner together, a soba noodle salad with tofu and vegetables. He’s been on a soba noodle salad kick. This was the third or fourth variation he’s made this summer. (His cooking leans heavily on pasta and the buckwheat noodles agree with my blood sugar better than white, which might be part of the reason he keeps planning them.) After dinner we watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which in combination with having just arrived at the beach, is a truly superior way to end an evening.

Sunday

Beth was up early the next day. She had gone for a walk and then left to go kayaking before anyone else made it out of the house. North and I went to the beach late in the morning. It was mostly overcast with the sun breaking through every now and then, so I wasn’t too worried about being on the beach near noon. The water was cold, but not forbiddingly so, and the waves were moderate, not quite as big as I’d like, but still nice. In the water and later on the towel, where we retreated to warm up, we had a nice long conversation. They told me about things that happened at the day camp where they’d been volunteering as a junior counselor the week before and what might happen at the overnight camp where they’ll be in a leadership program in August. (The answer is they’re really not sure, as they’ve never done it before as it’s for sixteen and seventeen year olds, but it’s at a camp for kids with LGBTQ+ parents they’ve loved as a camper, so they figure it will be fun.) It was nice to have an unusually large chunk of one-on-one time with them.

Back at the house we ate lunch and then Noah and I read a couple chapters of The Magician’s Land, the third book in the Magicians trilogy, which we’ve been reading since late May. We watched the television series a year ago, so it’s a little strange to be reading the book, because it feels as if I should know what’s going to happen next, but I don’t, because the plots keep diverging and coming back together. I do recommend it, though, if you’re a fan of fantasy.

I headed back to the boardwalk afterward, to check out a new coffee place on the boardwalk Beth told me about. I’m always on the lookout for a shaded place with an ocean view where one can hang out for extended period of time and if they serve coffee, that’s a bonus. It was closed when I got there, but the tables were still out, on a brick platform overlooking the boardwalk, and I had my water bottle full of ice water and a book to read (Rhode Island Red—my book club always reads a mystery in July) so I had nearly everything I’d wanted. I read three chapters and headed back home where Beth was making her traditional beach week dinner—gazpacho, a cheese plate, olives, salt-crusted new potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and baguette. We ate this delicious feast out on the spacious deck, under the leafy cover of the big trees that grow there.

We ate a little on the early side so I could get the dishes done in time for a seven p.m. departure. Rehoboth was having its fireworks a day early (presumably so tourists driving back home on the last day of the three-day weekend could attend and spend money in town). The display wasn’t supposed to start until 9:30 but we wanted to get ice cream and secure a spot on the sure-to-be-crowded beach. I’d been experimenting with ice cream in the past week or so, after not having more than a few bites at a time since my diabetes diagnosis ten months ago. I knew a child-size portion with nuts on top would be fine, especially if I walked a little before or after, and having learned our lesson about never driving into or out of Rehoboth on the Fourth eight years ago, we’d walked there. I got a peanut butter-chocolate twist, to go with the nuts I’d brought.

It was good we got there when we did because the beach filled up with people, as did the street that surrounds the nearby bandstand, where a group was playing classic rock covers (Average White Band, Beatles, Van Morrison, you get the picture). I was glad the music wasn’t patriotic, as it’s a little hard to muster much patriotism these days, with the recent Supreme Court rulings heavy on everyone’s mind. Beth said they played “Proud to Be an American,” but from the beach the music was sometimes faint and I didn’t hear it, which was just as well because it would have been hard not to yell “Unless you’re a woman of reproductive age!” after the chorus “at least I know I’m free.”

I told the kids to bring something to entertain themselves and they both brought books. Noah was reading Game of Thrones and North had The Iliad. (They got interested in it because they read part of The Odyssey for their English class this past school year.) I read another few chapters of my mystery, until it got too dark to read. It was a lovely evening. It had been humid earlier in the day, but it wasn’t any more and the light on the ocean was lovely before the sun went down and when it did you could see a crescent moon rising in the west.

There were a few drones up in the air, against the rules, but apparently it wasn’t impossible to fly, as it is in permanently restricted areas around D.C. The show started around 9:40, by which point I was impatient because it was ten minutes late and under normal circumstances, I’m in bed by ten. It was a nice display, not as fancy as what you’d see in D.C. but probably comparable to Takoma’s fireworks, though I haven’t seen those in years, as they haven’t happened in years. (They didn’t have any this year either, but it was the first time Takoma’s parade happened since 2019. We missed it, of course, being out of town, but I saw pictures on Facebook.)

Monday

Monday was the actual Fourth and Beth suggested we get the before-lunch ice cream we usually get on the Fourth, even though it wouldn’t be from the ice cream trucks that gather at the end of the parade route in Takoma. She’d gone kayaking again and returned around eleven-thirty. I broke ranks and ate an early lunch before she got home because I wanted to stay on the boardwalk afterward and I didn’t want to have to come home for lunch. Beth said since I was not partaking of before-lunch ice cream as tradition dictates, I should take the picture of those who were, so I did. I did have some frozen custard, though, strawberry-banana twist, even though there’s no photographic evidence.

Everyone else went home, but I went back to the boardwalk café, which was open this time, so I got an iced latte and read, blogged, and watched dolphins leaping in the sea from my seat in the shade for two hours.

When I got back to the house, I found Beth and Noah working on a puzzle of Mount Rushmore they’d chosen from the house’s selection of puzzles and North frying tofu for a late lunch. They wanted to go to the beach and so did I, but they didn’t want to walk, so Beth drove us.

We had another nice swim and talk, starting with their immediate job prospects (a babysitting gig they’re interviewing for when we get back) and moving onto college and career plans. In one scenario, they attend culinary school in Rhode Island, then study abroad in France, then open a bakery in Provincetown. They have given some thought to how they will afford the astronomical rents in this gay mecca: “Step one: I marry rich… Solid, right?” In another scenario, they major in pre-law, go to law school, become a public defender, and reform the legal system. In both scenarios, they foster kids before having their own.

When we got out of the water, I was tired, having been up late two nights in a row, so I lay down and closed my eyes. We were sitting next to a loud group and I kept thinking I’d like to move the towel so I could hear the ocean, but I was comfy on the sand in the sun and I couldn’t muster the energy to move. North texted Beth to come pick them up but I stayed a while before walking home.

When I arrived preparations for our Fourth of July picnic were underway. Everyone had a cooking assignment. Mine was boiling hot dogs and devilling eggs. We ate out on the deck again and then we finished a movie we’d started at home, Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga. It was fun, if you’re in the mood for something light.

After the movie, Beth, Noah, and I headed for the boardwalk where he got ice cream and she got almond bark. The main purpose of the outing was to go sit on the beach and see if we could see fireworks from any of the neighboring jurisdictions that were having theirs on the actual holiday. The answer was yes. We could see the Dewey fireworks to the south and Cape May’s far to the north. Plus people were setting off their own private stash just north of us in Cape Henlopen, and at one point there were more going off just behind the big hotels to our west. Sometimes it was hard to know which direction to look. But because the fireworks were further away than the night before they were of course smaller and quieter. The beach wasn’t empty—it’s never empty, not even in winter—but it wasn’t packed either. It was eerie and beautiful to be sitting there, almost alone, watching the distant bursts of color lighting up the night in three directions.

Tuesday

Beth and I went to the farmers’ market the next morning to get tomatoes, cucumbers, peaches, berries, and giant soft pretzels for the kids. I was tempted to get some cucumber starts because ours are growing very slowly, not even flowering yet, but we weren’t sure the little plants would survive four to five days in their tiny pots, plus a stint in the hot car the day we left the beach, so we didn’t buy any. I also resisted the siren song of some tasty-looking blueberry doughnuts.

Later in the morning Beth took the kids to the water park. I puttered around the house, starting laundry, and after lunch I went back to the boardwalk café and got mint chocolate chip ice cream—and not a child’s size this time because my experiments with ice cream had gone so well. It was good and I stayed in range. I can’t tell you how cheering this was. It must be all the fat, slowing down the impact of the sugar. In addition to eating ice cream, I read a few more chapters of my mystery, and then I hit the beach.

The day was overcast and the water was choppy. The waves weren’t big but they were close together. The water was a uniform gray, without the blue, green, and golden-brown highlights you see on sunnier days. In the water I watched a preteen boy do tricks on his boogey board. He stood on it like it was a surfboard and when it crested a wave, he’d jump off, do a somersault in the air, and land in the water. It was really something else.

By four, I was out of the water and it had started to sprinkle. People were packing up and leaving and I considered staying because I do enjoy a less populated beach, but Noah and I hadn’t read that day, and there was laundry to cycle, and it was my night to cook, so I left, too. It was cozy on the sun porch reading while intermittent rain hit the windows, and the dryer hummed.

For dinner I made veggie burgers, green beans, and a tomato-cucumber-mozzarella salad. After dinner we watched a couple episodes of Blackish (all of us) and Only Murders in the Building (me and Noah).

Wednesday

Rain was predicted in the afternoon, so I made sure to get to the beach in the morning. Beth was kayaking, Noah was doing something on his phone, and North was still asleep when I left. The water was much calmer. I would have liked more waves, but there was an advantage, which was that I could see a lot of dolphins, swimming out past where the waves would normally block my view, and I saw one jump all the way out of the water, tip to tail. It was a stunning sight. There were pelicans and osprey, too, quite the nature show.

Beth brought home Italian takeout for lunch. The kids had pasta and Beth and I split a rolled, breaded eggplant appetizer with cheese and tomato sauce, making the rest of our lunches ourselves. There were Italian cookies, too.

It was at lunch that we realized my online book club meeting that evening was going to conflict with our plans to go to Funland. (I’d forgotten about book club when we made these plans.) But then I double checked and the email about book club was ambiguous, saying the meeting was Wednesday, July 7, a date which does not exist this year, so I wasn’t sure if it was Wednesday or Thursday. I wrote the leader and not getting a response, called the library, which organizes the club, but the librarian wasn’t sure, so I called the community center where the room for the people who attend in person is booked (the meetings are hybrid). Eventually I found out book club met Thursday so we could go ahead with Funland, as planned.

Beth and North went to the beach while Noah and I stayed at the house to read, but when we were done, I joined them for a short swim. Beth had texted me that the waves looked big. She actually has an app on her phone that reports wave height that she uses for kayaking. I wasn’t sure if five-foot waves were bigger than average or not, and it turns out they weren’t as big as I thought they’d be, but I can’t really regret a second ocean swim in one day. Afterward I walked to town to buy some candy at Candy Kitchen, and to get an iced latte. I took it to the tables at the now closed café (I know now it closes at two) which I was starting to regard as my personal office and blogged some more.

When I got back to the house at 6:10, I was a little surprised North wasn’t making dinner yet, but Beth told me they’d gone to bed with a migraine, so it turned out we didn’t go to Funland that night after all. The rest of us made our own dinners (Noah had pasta, I made scrambled eggs with tomatoes, vegetarian bacon, and potatoes, and Beth made herself tacos, which was the planned meal) and then we watched an episode of Buffy. Afterward Noah settled in to listen to a tech podcast, Beth went for a walk, and I continued to blog.

Thursday

Thursday I was out of the house for most of the day and barely at the beach. We had brunch at Egg. Noah and I both ordered the lemon-blueberry crepes and I gave him half of mine, which turned out to be about the right amount of crepes for both of us. (He really likes crepes.) I supplemented mine with poached eggs and a glass of milk for balance and walked immediately before and after the meal and I didn’t get a big spike.

Where I walked after brunch was BrowseAbout Books, where I’d promised to buy both kids some books. (Beth split off the group to go get a massage.) North got Her Body and Other Parties; Noah got Clash of Kings and Rule of Wolves.

From there we walked to Funland. It wasn’t open yet, so we all read on a bench nearby—and then I took a short walk on the beach—and then the kids rode the Paratrooper (a mutual favorite) and tried out the new Free Spin, which has replaced the Free Fall. They disapprove of any change at Funland on principal, but otherwise they liked it, I think. Noah went back for a second ride on the Paratrooper while North rode the Sea Dragon and the Graviton (which I heard a little girl called “The Stick to the Wall,” which is an accurate description as any). North lost their phone on the Graviton and the ride was halted for five minutes while employees searched for it, which North says was embarrassing, but worth getting the phone back.

We took a break for funnel cake and it turns out a quarter of a funnel cake is still too much for me if I don’t add a protein or exercise much, but now I know. Noah headed home and North and I went back to Funland to ride the Haunted Mansion and to buy a puzzle of images from Funland and a Haunted Mansion t-shirt I’ve had my eyes on for years. It’s the only ride I go on there and I love it. (I wore the shirt to bed the first night we were home and made the delightful discovery that the moon behind the haunted house glows in the dark.) North said I should use the subhead “Fun Day” for this day because we went to Funland and had funnel cake, but I wasn’t using subheads beyond the days of the week and I didn’t have a title yet, so now I had one.

Beth picked us up and Noah and I had time for two chapters of The Magician’s Land before it was time to leave for dinner. We had 4:30 reservations because it’s really hard to get reservations for the roof at The Cultured Pearl and we decided we’d rather eat outside than at a more traditional dinner time. It’s really beautiful up there with reeds and koi ponds between all the tables and drapery on top of and around them. In a day full of culinary risks, I tried tempura, and by eating a lot of edamame beforehand, I was able to manage it without a spike. Two successes out three’s not bad, I reasoned. Oh, and if you ever have the opportunity to try edamame with Old Bay seasoning or smoked mayonnaise, go for it. It’s a fun change from just salt.

Beth and the kids got dessert afterward and I came along but didn’t indulge. Afterward everyone else drove home, but I walked along the beach. When I got back, Beth and North had left for the Crocs outlet since North didn’t go when Noah did, Noah worked on the Mount Rushmore puzzle, and I logged onto my book club.

That night I took my first shower in the house (I’d been using the outdoor shower) and it didn’t drain. The toilets wouldn’t flush either. Beth emailed the owner of the house and we went to bed. I thought I noticed a faint, swampy aroma wafting from the bathroom but I told myself I was imagining it.

Friday

Maybe not though, because in the morning sewage had started backing up into the shower. Just a little, but any sewage in the shower is more than you want. The owner called a plumber and he was at the house by 9:15. The longer he stayed the less cheerful and communicative he became, which was concerning, but at 10:25, he came in and said the problem was fixed. I trusted him enough to start a load of laundry and no soapy water came up out of the shower drain, so everything seemed to working as it should. (The owner of the house rebated us $500 for the inconvenience, which was quite generous.)

By the time the plumber left, it was getting to be the time of day I try to avoid on the beach, especially if it’s sunny, which it was, so I stayed at the house, read with Noah and did laundry again. When Beth got home from kayaking, she brought home Grandpa Mac for the kids. We all ate lunch and by two p.m. all four of us were at the beach together for the first time since the fireworks. The waves were actually big that day, so Beth just put her feet in the water for a bit and Noah was in and out pretty quickly. The two of them retreated to the sand and his book and her magazine.

I swam for two hours, mostly with North, with a break in the middle to get ice cream and water ice at the snack bar on the beach access path. The waves were absolutely amazing, the best I’ve experienced in years. It was somewhat less conducive to conversation than our previous swims. In fact, once North asked me a question just a big wave towered over us and I just said, “No talk!” before we dived under it or jumped into its swell to be pulled up and over it, I don’t remember which.

There was a strong northward tug in the water so we had to get out of the water when we got close to the red flag and walk back to the other end of the lifeguards’ range several times. It was one of those times we decided we needed a rest and frozen treats. As I headed back into the water, full of cookies-and-cream ice cream (and alone this time, though North eventually joined me again), I told Beth “I’m so happy!” and she laughed and said, “I know.” The next time I got pulled too far north and had to get out of water I thought I might be done, because I was tired and cold, but North was waiting for me on the beach and it wasn’t hard to convince me to get back in the water. Some years, many years, we spend a whole week at the beach without waves like this, so I thought we should seize the day. The next time we had to get out, though, I collapsed on my towel. Everyone was heading back to the house to shower and get ready to go out to dinner, but I lingered a bit, resting and watching the waves hurl themselves on the shore.

We had dinner at Grotto. We got a table on the patio right away, much to our surprise, and we had to put off the server who wanted our order a few times while we waited for Beth to arrive—she’d been looking for parking. Everyone had mozzarella sticks, the kids split a pizza, and Beth and I split a salad and a stromboli. I felt happy and kind of stoned from my swim, but it gradually wore off when I started thinking about needing to pack and clean out the refrigerator and all the leaving-the-vacation-house chores we had to do. Despite this, we watched a movie when we got home, Kramer vs. Kramer. I hadn’t seen it in a long time and it’s so evocative of its time, perhaps especially for a child of a late 1970s divorce (though my parents’ divorce wasn’t much like the Kramers’).

Saturday

We did all the aforementioned chores, left the house a little after ten, and split up. I’m actually not sure where the kids went, but Beth went for a walk and before I had one last swim and before we all had a lunch of fries and crepes and pizza, and before the kids and I went down to the water one last time to put our feet in the ocean and say goodbye to it, I did some errands, which included picking up the two gift certificates I promised my sister for her birthday in March. One was for the bookstore and one for the tea and spice shop. She’ll be able to redeem them in August when we return to the beach for another week, this time with extended family. It’s never easy to leave the beach, but it’s certainly easier when you’ve had such a string of fun days and when your next trip is only four weeks away.

Finales: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 75

The Last Day of School

North’s last day of school was a week ago Friday. When they came home I asked how the last day of tenth grade was and they said three out of their seven teachers brought either doughnuts or doughnut holes. I guess it was that kind of year, meriting more than the customary amount of treats.

When Noah came home for the summer, I almost wrote about how happy I was he had a whole school year of in-person classes uninterrupted by covid (except for one week of online classes in January). But North had more than a month of school left at that point, and I didn’t want to jinx them. So I’ll say it now. I’m glad both kids were in school all year. I’m glad Noah played in a band, joined the drone club, and had an on-campus IT job. I’m glad North served as costumes manager in two school plays, was active in the GSA, took a rec center painting class, made some new friends, is learning to drive, and is looking for a summer job. That’s a lot in the positive column for this year.

Re-entry had its bumps, though. Starting sometime during the second quarter, North started missing a lot of school and it continued through the end of the year. They were sick several times in the winter and spring, once, in April, very sick with a high fever. That last time was probably due to the school going mask-optional in March. I guess their immune system needed to recalibrate to being around everyone’s germs. Other days they were fatigued or had joint pain.

But mostly it was migraines. The pattern their migraines had followed since they were a small child has changed. Instead of almost always occurring in the late afternoon or early evening in the fall, winter, or early spring, and generally on days when there was a big drop in temperature, now they often come in the early morning—North wakes with them—and they seem unrelated to weather. The upshot of all this was that on average they missed school about one day a week from December through June. Sometimes they would recover and go to school for part of the day, but more often they didn’t.

They were conscientious about making up work and their grades didn’t suffer in most of their classes, but as a former teacher I know how much that’s intangible but still valuable goes on in the classroom. That’s why the mostly remote year was so awful for many students and teachers, North included. I’m hoping we can find a solution that has them in less pain (this would be ideal, of course) or that they can find better ways of coping with pain so they can be in the classroom more often during their junior year.

We had pizza from North’s favorite pizza place on Friday night, at their request. We also watched a movie of their choice (Athlete A), though that was a coincidence. It was what got drawn from the hat (well, bicycle helmet) that night.

The First Week of Summer Break

Saturday afternoon, Beth took North out to practice driving and they drove on a road for the first time. Up to now, they’d been driving in parking lots at the University of Maryland, which are fairly empty because school is not in session. They seemed pleased with how it went.

Sunday afternoon they went to the Museum of Natural History with Sol and saw “mummies and rocks and insects.” While they were looking at natural (and cultural) things there, Beth and I communed with nature another way, by kayaking at Black Hills Regional Park. Beth’s been kayaking a few times this year already—the season starts in May—but it was my first time since last year. We saw a Great Blue Heron, several turtles, a cormorant,  and a big flock of geese. It was windy and in places the water was choppy and paddling was challenging, but we had a good time. The weather was lovely, sunny and in the seventies.

While we were gone, my mom called and left a message letting us know she had covid. She only found out because she was over at my sister’s house helping her pack for my sister’s family’s upcoming move and she casually mentioned that she wasn’t tasting things as well as usual and my sister immediately fetched a covid test she had on hand and sure enough it was positive.

My mom says she felt fine, but was isolating when we spoke. She just got back from a trip to Morocco and she’s not sure if she got it there or at home, but she had to test to get on the plane home and that test was negative. Maybe she got it on the flight or she had it before she flew but it was too soon to show up on the test. I’m glad her vaccines and booster did their job and kept her safe from serious illness, even though she caught it.

Monday was the first day of North’s drama camp, but it was a half-day camp and Beth had the day off because Juneteenth is a federal holiday now, so we planned an afternoon excursion to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County where the Patapsco River meets the Chesapeake Bay. My goal for this excursion was to make both kids happy, which would mean going somewhere you can swim and fly a drone (this last condition means you have to be at least fifteen miles from DC and not in a Maryland state park).

When North got home from camp they were tired and wanted to rest a bit before we left, so it was almost 2:15 by the time we left. We arrived a little after three and set up our towels on the beach before wading into the water. It was sunny and around eighty degrees, just about a perfect day.

There were rocks piled up to delineate a pool, which was crowded with kids, but there was an opening in the wall so you could go out farther than that and we did. The water was about chest-high at its deepest, brackish, and cool but not cold. For a while the kids were out deeper than we were, and when Beth and I approached them, Noah said, “We think this outing should involve ice cream,” and it wasn’t the kind of day we wanted to say no, so we said yes, even though I had reservations about ice cream in the late afternoon, mostly for myself.

Noah got out of the water to fly while the rest of us continued to soak in the salty water. North and I talked about drama camp and they said “Finale” was their favorite song. After drying out on the sand for a while, we piled into the car and went in search of frozen treats. We stopped at Rita’s and I decided to try a child-sized chocolate frozen custard. I happened to have peanuts in my bag, so I piled them on top, in an attempt to add some balancing protein to my dessert. (It seemed to work. I didn’t go out of range, even though we had a late dinner just a couple hours later.) Overall, I think the expedition was  a success.

Tuesday evening we watched Pippin because we wanted to familiarize ourselves with the plot. The performance would be five songs and some connecting dialogue so it seemed like we’d follow it better if we watched the whole thing ahead of time. There is no feature film version, but Noah found a filmed stage performance from 1981, nine years after it premiered on Broadway. (Allison, it was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario, which made me think of you and Eve.) During all the sexy bits—and there was a surprising number of them—North would inform us, “We’re not doing that part.”

After it was over, Beth said, “That was very 1972” and it was. It kind of reminded me of Godspell stylistically, but with a plot and more sex and less religion and set in the Middle Ages. Did that even make sense? Maybe it was like more Hair, with a similar amount of anti-war sentiment and dancing and sex, but set in the Middle Ages.

Anyway, I was a little surprised North liked “Finale” best because it wasn’t their biggest number. They had a much longer solo in “Extraordinary.” They were playing Pippin. They found out several days before camp started, in an email from Gretchen, the director, saying rather than having auditions on the first day as she usually does, she’d cast three of the parts ahead of time (most of the non-ensemble parts) and given them to the three oldest campers, who are all rising eleventh graders. It turns out there was a big age gap between those three and the rest of the campers who were all in middle school. I guess having worked with the three older kids for many years—one is her own daughter—Gretchen figured she already knew what she needed to know to cast them.

Wednesday and Thursday rain was forecast, which is a concern because the camp is held outdoors in a park near Gretchen’s house. In an email Tuesday night she said in case of rain they’d work under the gazebo, perhaps focusing on making costumes and props, and in case of severe weather, they’d retreat to her porch or go inside her house (with masks). It did rain Wednesday, but not until after camp had dismissed for the day. Thursday it was already drizzling when Beth drove North to camp. It rained most of the morning and North said they spent the majority of their time sitting under the gazebo, “sewing and singing.” I said that sounded very wholesome, like a quilting bee.

Friday was performance day. Noah and arrived at the park a little early so that he could set up his tripod and camera before the audience arrived. While he did that, I watched the actors rehearse “Finale.” Parents and friends started drifting into the park. Beth came with our camping chairs. I spotted Zoë and A.J. (another friend of North and Zoë’s) on the grass.

The show started promptly. It was maybe a third of the play, but it hung together pretty well, I think, in terms of plot continuity. It was nice to see North act and sing because I hadn’t seen that since last summer’s drama camp and this was a more substantial part than they’ve had in several years. I was also glad they had a scene with Grace, who was playing Catherine, because I think they have good chemistry on stage, maybe because they’ve been acting together at least once a year since they were three years old and in a preschool drama class.

Anyway, here are two of North’s big numbers, “Corner of the Sky” and “Extraordinary,” with Grace and North’s scene in leading into the second song. Elia, who played Leading Player (the one in the top hat), is also a drama camp old-timer. If you can make out an adult voice in “Corner of the Sky,” that’s Gretchen standing behind the audience and singing. I liked the effect of voices coming from more than one direction. Also, the girl in the sparkly silver outfit with braids reminded me a lot of North when they were younger. (In the opening, not included, she did cartwheels across the stage.)

Pre-covid, there was often a cast party at our local pizzeria, but we hadn’t heard anything about it until the middle of the rehearsal when North texted me about whether I wanted to go and I said yes and then almost immediately afterward, North texted back to say it wasn’t happening, so I packed a picnic, which is what Gretchen had suggested in an email to all the parents and what has happened the past couple years, but it turned out I was the only one to bring food. Most of the actors just left when it was over, but I asked North if they wanted to eat, since I had food and they said yes, so Beth and Noah went home, and North and I stayed and ate yogurt and leftover quesadilla, and shared our cucumbers, strawberries, and grapes with Elia, Zoë, A.J., and Liliana, Zoë’s girlfriend who’d turned up to meet Zoë after the show was over. When people were done eating, I left the teens to hang out in the park for a couple hours, and headed home.

On my way out of the park, I chatted with Gretchen, who was picking up props and costumes and she said she thought this would be the last year for the older kids and she’d just do her younger kids’ camp next year. She has said this the past three years running but I think this year I believe it because so many of the kids who did this camp year after year didn’t this summer and the fact that there wasn’t a cast party or a group picnic afterward made it seem like a certain amount of esprit de corp has gone out of it. So it was all a little bittersweet, but I think overall North enjoyed it and I’m glad they did it one last time.

Second Weekend of Summer Break

Saturday we went to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for the first time in several years. It had been cancelled the past two years and we’d missed it the year before, so it had been at least four years since we’ve gone. I always have the same three goals for this experience: I like to listen to music, preferably from another culture; I like to eat interesting food; and I like to get a picture that includes the kids in front of the Washington Monument. We fulfilled all three goals.

The themes this year were the culture of the United Arab Emirates and “Earth Optimism.” We stopped at the first music stage we encountered and listened to NOON, a three-piece band from Dubai, consisting of musicians playing the oud (which looks like a mandolin), electric bass, and drums, with “echoes of funk, African and Indian rhythms, and the improvisatory impulses of jazz.” I liked it.

After that we wandered through some of the exhibits, we saw baskets and fishing nets from the UAE and a hooded falcon, and learned about bird-friendly coffee in the Earth Optimism area. (It’s grown in a way that doesn’t impact bird habitat.) I have to say nothing in the Earth Optimism area actually made me feel that optimistic, but that’s a high bar, with the climate crisis being what it is.

Next we got our Washington Monument pictures, and food. The kids got pizza and fries and we all shared a mushroom and cheese sandwich, eggplant in tomato sauce, a salad, and some basil limeade. It was all very good.

While North rested, Beth, Noah, and I went to browse the Marketplace where Beth bought some Middle Eastern and eco-friendly chocolate bars, and I got a little something for my Mom’s birthday. (Hint to Mom: it was from the Earth Optimism area.) After that, we got dessert, rosewater soft serve for North and gelato for everyone else. Beth and I split an Arabian coffee gelato. It was a fun afternoon.

Sunday Beth and I went to the Farmers’ market, where in addition to our normal shopping we picked up some more plants for my herb garden (cilantro, dill, parsley, and rosemary), and we went to the rain-delayed Takoma Pride festival. It was a small affair, just a few tables, but one of them was for the Rainbow Club at two local elementary schools (one of which is a K-2 school) and I wondered—are kids in that club already out or supporting parents and siblings? Both, I guess. You can definitely say gay in Montgomery County public schools.

Then we saw a children’s pride parade and it was very cute and cheering, and I could use a little cheering because with the fall of Roe v. Wade and the really horrifying reasoning of the opinion, it’s hard not to worry about the future of gay marriage in the United States. I don’t think Maryland will go back, but it does seem possible gay marriages could at least potentially be dissolved on the federal level and then we’d be considered married for some purposes and not for others, just like we were for half of 2013, until DOMA was overruled. And while we’ve had a lot of finales in the past couple weeks, such as the end of a challenging school year and a beloved summer camp, I hope the end of marriage equality is not on the horizon.