About Steph

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

Spring Colors: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 37

Tuesday: Easter Eggs (Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, Purple, Orange)

The second night we were back from Deep Creek was a Tuesday, which is family activity night, and it was Beth’s turn to choose. She went with dyeing Easter eggs. Last year when Noah was unexpectedly home for this endeavor, I told him it was nice to have him here, but I hoped he wouldn’t be doing it with us next spring. Oh, naïve early pandemic self… I think I said the same thing when we carved jack-o-lanterns in October, by which point I should have known better. So this time I didn’t jinx him and I did not comment on his presence or speculate on when he might go back to school. It’s strange starting the second round of annual milestones, like the spring birthdays and Easter, but that’s where we are, at least for now. I have to say, though, being vaccinated and seeing the numbers of vaccines administered go up every day does make it seem like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, even though I know there’s still a long way to go.

We dyed the eggs a wide spectrum of pastel and deeper shades and then we decorated them. We have a collection of little felt hats we put on Easter eggs and three of our eight eggs sported those, with stickers for facial features. A couple of the eggs were adorned with stickers of butterflies, ladybugs, flowers, and the sun, for a spring theme. North made a trans flag egg, for International Trans Day of Visibility, carefully dyeing each stripe and letting it dry before applying the next one. It came out really well.

Wednesday: Vaccinations (Red, Gold, Black and White)

The next day, Beth and I set out around 9:40 to drive to Hagerstown. Our appointments were at 11:30 and 11:45 and we didn’t want to be late. It started to rain about halfway through the hour and fifteen minute drive to the mass vax site, a big empty room that used to be a furniture store showroom. We waited in the car for a while to avoid arriving too early (per the instructions), but around 11:10, we went inside, where we progressed through various checkpoints where our QR codes were scanned and our identification checked, and we answered some health-related questions. The QR code was scanned at every stop, at least three times, maybe four. I guess they didn’t want anyone without an appointment sneaking in. There was virtually no wait, other than going through the stations, even though we were early. In fact, we were moving along so briskly I slipped and almost fell on the wet floor where people had tracked in the rain. By 11:25, Beth and I were both vaccinated and sitting in folding chairs in the post-vaccination observation area. We were out of there in forty minutes total, including a visit to the restroom afterward and a stop at the selfie station. The letter O in the GoVax sign is in the colors of the Maryland flag, for all you non-Marylanders.

It was still raining when we left the shopping center. We’d planned to have a picnic lunch and we were going through with it, 55-degree, rainy weather and all. Beth had located a state park with tables under shelters. We got drive-through Greek food and ate our veggie gyros, cheese pie, Greek salad, and baklava, while watching the rain fall on the lake at Greenbrier State Park. We could see fish jumping out of the water and three ducks swimming and a gull circling around over the lake. The whole time we were there I saw one other person, a man walking alone on the beach in the distance. It was a very covid experience.

Back on the road, Beth saw a sign for a Krispy Kreme and remembered you can get a free doughnut if you show them your vaccination card, so it seemed incumbent on us to do that. You should know you don’t get a choice of flavors if you’re planning to take advantage of this offer. It’s all glazed. I saved mine for later, as I’d already had dessert and Beth gave hers to the kids to split when we got home. There was a Starbucks and a Mom’s Organic Market in the same shopping center, so I got a honey-almond milk flat white and Beth got a few groceries we needed.

I had only very mild soreness in my arm that evening, not bad enough to stop me from sleeping on my side. I was kind of foggy-minded the next day, but it might have been because I was up earlier than usual two days in a row. Beth said she had some aches and pains but nothing outside the usual range, so neither of us knew if we had any side effects. And because it was the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, we don’t need a second dose.

On Thursday, Governor Hogan opened preregistration to all Marylanders sixteen and up, and Noah registered that very day.

Saturday: Cherry Blossoms (White and Pink)

The cherry blossoms in D.C. peaked the weekend we were in Deep Creek and we weren’t able to get to the National Arboretum to see them until the following weekend. We’d decided not go to the Tidal Basin because the path is quite narrow and it’s really impossible to avoid close contact with other people when it’s crowded. And it’s almost always crowded when the cherries are in bloom, unless you’ve missed the peak by quite a bit or it’s pouring rain. The Park Service was discouraging people from going down there, although as far as I know, they didn’t actually close it off, like they did last year.

We found the National Arboretum an acceptable substitute last year, so we went there again this year. Beth wanted to go in the morning and when the teens were unenthused about her plan to leave the house at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, she bribed them with the promise of Starbucks. Now you know what to offer my kids if you want them to do something–they’ll do it for an iced almond milk latte with toffee syrup, a doughnut, and some lemon poundcake.

There are more kinds of cherry trees at the Arboretum than at the Tidal Basin, so the bloom is less synchronous. Beth printed out information about the different kinds of trees for a self-guided tour and sure enough, the trees the pamphlet identified as early bloomers were all finished and leafing out, the middle ones were either at or past peak, and the late bloomers were still tightly budded. We walked for over an hour among the pretty white and pink blooms in the bright sunshine of an April morning.

It’s been a very cheering week. I hope you are feeling of some of the hope of early spring, too. Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

What Happens in the Cabin: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 36

The kids don’t have spring break at the same time this year, partly because Noah doesn’t have a spring break at all. Like many colleges, Ithaca canceled break to discourage the students who are in residence from leaving campus and coming back with contagion. Instead of ending the semester a week early, though, they spread five “rest days” throughout the semester and one of them fell on the first Monday of North’s break, so we decided to plan a three-day getaway to Western Maryland, where we rented a cabin near Deep Creek Lake.

Friday

We arrived around six o’clock, after a three-hour drive that ended with an ascent up a steep gravel road. There were a lot of lake-themed or cabin-themed plaques on the walls, like several in each room. You see that sometimes in beach houses, but this was more over the top than usual. Two of them said, “What Happens in the Cabin, Stays in the Cabin.” Well, not much I can’t tell you about happened while we were there, no drunken shenanigans or drug-fueled hijinks, so I will proceed as usual.

After we explored the cabin and its deck overlooking the lake, we ordered pizza, (and calzone, spinach salad, and four slices of cake) from a pizzeria just down the hill. It was six-thirty by the time we submitted the order and we were surprised when the website gave a pickup time of 7:55. Beth even called to make sure that was accurate, but it was, so those of us who were already hungry snacked on fruit I’d brought from home and we watched the rest of Boy Erased. Then Beth and I went to get the food and we had a fashionably late dinner. Later Noah and I watched a couple episodes of Death Note and discussed the dearth of decent female characters in it—a shame, since it’s otherwise a good show, if supernatural anime seems as if it would appeal.

Saturday

Beth was up early and ate her breakfast on the deck and then went for a walk. When everyone was up and had ordered groceries, she left to go shopping. Noah and I were reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes when my phone buzzed. It was a text from the state of Maryland asking if I wanted to schedule an appointment for a covid vaccination. I certainly did! When Beth got home with the groceries I asked her to check her texts and she had an identical one. Beth and I were pre-registered with both the county and the state and if we’d waited for a county appointment, we would have gotten one closer to home—this one was an hour and fifteen minutes away in Hagerstown—but we didn’t care. We weren’t turning down a bird in hand for two in the bush. This was our ticket to see our mothers for the first time since July 2019 (mine) and December 2019 (Beth’s). Almost two months ago we rented a beach house with room for ten for a week in July, taking a gamble that all the adults would be vaccinated by then. At the time, none of us were, but now both of our mothers are, and my mother’s boyfriend is, and soon we would be, too. So now we know at least our family and the grandmothers will be there.

After everyone had eaten lunch and Noah had flown his drone off the deck over the lake, we set out for Swallow Falls State Park to see waterfalls. There are a few in the park, but we’d decided on Muddy Falls (the biggest one) and Swallow Falls (the one that gave the park its name). North wanted to know why the park wasn’t named after the biggest fall and Beth ventured a guess that Swallow Falls sounded more euphonious than Muddy Falls.

I was pretty sure we’d been to this park when the kids were two and a half and seven and a half, but when I saw Muddy Falls I knew for sure. I remembered toddler North, who must have never seen a big waterfall, kept exclaiming, “The water is slipping down!” and that later we got grocery store cupcakes for Noah’s half-birthday. It was the first week of November and we got clearance Halloween cupcakes with spiders on them, which delighted him. So that was a nice little trip down memory lane. It made me wonder what I will remember about this trip, twelve and half years from now.

North opted to stay on the observation platform while Beth, Noah, and I climbed down the wooden stairs for a better view of the bottom of the falls. The steps and the ground below were quite muddy and Noah said he saw where the falls got their name. Later I heard a stranger make the exact same joke. The falls aren’t as big as Blackwater, but they are still quite pretty.

We came back up the stairs, collected North, and walked to another observation area for the same falls, then we proceeded to Swallow Falls, leaving North at one of those big stone picnic shelters with fireplaces at each end that you see at state parks all over the country, thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps. Meanwhile, Beth, Noah, and I went down to see the second waterfall. This one had a lot of boulders you could walk out on for different views. There was a young woman far below us in what appeared to be a prom dress, having her photo taken.

There were signs for one more waterfall, but I didn’t suggest we go, as it had been a lot of up and down climbing and North was waiting for us. We walked back to the shelter and Noah and I kept North company while Beth went to get the car and we came home, ordered dinner (so we could get it before eight this time), and Beth, Noah, and I set out for Garret State Forest, where we hiked the Maze Rock Trail. I highly recommend this trail, if you ever find yourself in Western Maryland. You can wander through these narrow alleys between boulders covered in green and rust-colored moss. The temperature drops immediately when you slip between the rocks (which would be nice in summer). Noah flew his drone off the top of one of the boulders. I was sorry the hike was beyond North’s current capabilities. Even though they’ve made great strides, they still miss a lot, not being very mobile.

Beth picked up dinner shortly after we got back, but both the kids had ordered baked ziti and before they were a couple bites in, North discovered pork in it and we had to order new meals for them. (We’d missed the pork in the menu description, as baked ziti is usually a safe vegetarian choice, although when it isn’t, the culprit is usually beef.) As Noah was getting stuffed shells as his second choice meal and that’s what I had, I split mine with him while we waited for the new food and then we split his when it came. North made do with bread and salad until Beth fetched the new food.

After dinner we had a campfire in the firepit by the house and made S’mores for the second time in a week, which is considerably more than our usual allotment of S’mores. I had another chance to get one perfect and didn’t quite achieve it. Vegetarian marshmallows don’t melt quite as well as the standard ones, but I did get one toasted on the outside, and about half-melted inside. The other one burned on top, but wasn’t too bad. It was nice to sit outside and watch the fire. I tossed some dry leaves in as kindling and became fascinated with how the burned away to their network of stem and veins inside, which would glow red before collapsing into ash. I kept throwing in more to see that. We went inside and watched a couple episodes of Blackish and then Beth and Noah watched For All Mankind while I took a bath.

Sunday

The next morning was rainy and gloomy. Beth took a walk because she’s admirably dedicated to her morning walk. (I am, too, but for me it’s a weekday thing.) In the afternoon she went to visit a former colleague who lives in the area now and they had another long walk in the woods on his property. The rest of us had a lazy day in the cabin. Noah and I read two more chapters of our book, I wrote most of this, and in the mid-afternoon, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, wrapped myself in a blanket and for a solid three hours, I read The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl on the couch. Occasionally, I’d look out at the lake and notice a fog had rolled in or back out or that there were tiny little whitecaps on its usually still surface. The reason I stopped reading when I did was because the power went out around 5:30 and the book has long chapters and I didn’t want to get stuck mid-chapter when it got dark.

Beth found out from the power company that the outage had been reported and the estimate for recovery of power was 9:30 p.m. We were glad it wouldn’t be out overnight because it was supposed to go down to the twenties and the cabin probably wasn’t well-insulated. As it turned out, the power came back on at 7:00 and Beth was able to cook her planned dinner of chili and cornbread and Beth and I were able to attend an informational meeting about North’s sleepaway camp (which seems like it will be in session) and Noah, Beth, and I were able to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’re in the second season now).

Monday

We didn’t have to be out of the house until one p.m., so the next morning Noah and I watched an episode of Death Note and then around eleven, Beth and I went for a walk in Deep Creek State Park. The two-mile trail we took went parallel to the lake alongside the bottom of a hill for a while and then there was a series of switchbacks to rise up the slope until the path straightened out and covered the same ground it had before except higher up. We might have taken the spur that goes to an old mine but it was getting late and I hadn’t packed, so we headed back to the cabin, where we packed, ate lunch, and cleaned, as directed by the host.

On the way out of town, we stopped at a coffeeshop. Noah and I went in while Beth and North stayed in the car and I was startled when North casually asked me pick up an iced mocha for them. I’m just not used to hearing that. It seems very grown up, especially since Noah doesn’t like coffee and doesn’t drink it.

We drove a few hours, got home in the late afternoon, and spring was bursting out all over. I mean, there were a lot of flowers already in bloom (daffodils and hyacinth) when we left, but only one cherry tree on our block had petals and it was the one that always blooms early. When we got back the whole block was a riot of puffy pale pink blossoms. Plus, my herb garden had visibly progressed and I haven’t even planted anything new this year. I have rosemary that overwintered (with the occasional night inside), plus chives, mint, oregano, parsley, and thyme all coming back. Oh, and there are doves nesting on our porch again, for the fourth spring in a row.

I don’t know if it was the get-away, the exuberant new life all around me, or both, but I felt lighter than I have in several weeks. And today, just two days after we returned from our cabin in the woods, Beth and I drove west again for our vaccinations.

Ready for Fifteen: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 35

A few weeks ago, North said that sometimes when they have a birthday they feel as if they just had one, but now “I feel like I’ve been fourteen forever. I’m ready for fifteen-year-old North.”  Well, fifteen-year-old North is here, as of Tuesday.

They did not have a slumber party this year, just as they did not last year, for the obvious reason. The first time it happened we felt really sorry for them, thinking their birthday poorly timed, and we made promises about a make-up slumber party later, even as they celebrated with their friends, who came one at a time to visit with them on the porch and eat cake. Now that everyone in the world has had a pandemic birthday, it doesn’t seem like as much of a hardship, although I suppose those of us with spring (and summer?) birthdays will have the misfortune of having two pandemic birthdays. Anyway, North traded the make-up slumber party for an outdoor half-birthday party (with several guests allowed to come simultaneously) in late September, when it had become apparent that restrictions weren’t ending any time soon.

Saturday Afternoon: S’mores

For North’s fifteenth birthday, they had two small celebrations. Over a month ago, Beth made a reservation for one of Montgomery County’s Picnic in the Parks Warm Up Days for the Saturday before North’s birthday. You can rent a portable firepit and up to six chairs or a picnic table with a patio heater for an hour and a half in one of two parks. County employees come by periodically to tend the fire for you.  The program started in February and the last one is next Saturday. I think all the slots are reserved, but it might be worth checking for cancellations if you’re interested. There was one empty firepit when we were there and neither of the tables was in use.

North decided they wanted the whole family to attend. That left two more people and after Zoë, they couldn’t think of anyone they wanted to invite without leaving other people out, so we were a party of five. When Zoë’s dad dropped her off, North yelled across the parking lot, “Look, it’s my best friend!”

Wheaton Local Park is a narrow field between Georgia Avenue and the Wheaton Public Library parking lot. Its winter-brown grass was dotted with campfires ringed with people. At first it felt funny to have a campfire so close to a busy thoroughfare and not a more sylvan location, but eventually you forgot about the traffic and focused on being outside on a beautiful day with a fire to watch (or I did). We didn’t really need the fire for heat, though, as the day was sunny and in the fifties. Most of us didn’t even wear jackets and Zoë was in a t-shirt.

We’d brought takeout from California Tortilla and so we ate that, and then we made S’mores. The fire was really hot, which made it hard to toast the marshmallows without burning them. My first attempt was black and bubbly on the outside and reasonably melted inside and my second was perfectly browned on the outside and raw inside. North achieved perfection after abandoning their first, burned marshmallow, which Zoë deemed good enough to eat. Noah busily made and ate more S’mores than I could count.

Noah took some pictures and when I told North and Zoë to put their masks back on so they could get closer, I said something I sometimes say to my kids when I take a picture of them together—“Look like you like each other.”

“We do like each other!” North exclaimed. And they do. They’ve know each other since they were on a kindergarten basketball team together, the Pandas, as long-time readers may recall. (Zoë was only on the team that first season, but North was a Panda through fifth grade and the team went on to play for three more years.) North and Zoë became good friends after attending basketball camp together the summer they were six and they’ve been best friends since sixth grade. While we sat by the fire, they reminisced about the Spanish immersion trip they took to Colombia the spring of seventh grade and talked about which classes they like this year and which ones they don’t like and what they will take next year in tenth grade. A (mostly fond) conversation about the mother of a mutual friend left me wondering if North’s friends ever talk about me, and if so, what they say.

If they do, they probably say that I am very strict about what movies and television North can watch. North mentioned that when they turn fifteen they can watch some carefully selected R-rated movies and Zoë said they watched Spinal Tap when they were ten, but she didn’t understand it. I said Noah’s first R-rated movie was probably something he watched for school because he was assigned to watch a lot of movies when he was in a communications magnet in high school and he said, yes, it was The Matrix, which he watched in ninth grade. North went on to list their first PG-13 movie, School of Rock, which I let them watch when they were eleven because they were acting in the play (they had to wait two years to watch any others), and their first PG movie, which was Frozen, which they had to wait to see for several months after it came out because they weren’t eight yet, even though all their friends had already seen it. I think this kind of deprivation helps build character or perhaps it will fuel their art when they return to acting.

Tuesday Morning: Caramel Macchiato

Three days later, North turned fifteen. They dressed for the occasion in a lavender long-sleeved t-shirt and a short gray jumper, both of which are hand-me-downs from me. I recently let them shop my closet because I have a lot of clothes I don’t wear anymore, but it’s still startling to see them in those clothes, especially the jumper, which I mostly wore during the Clinton administration. It drives it home how much closer they are to being in their twenties than I am.

In between their sculpture and biology classes, we walked to Starbucks so they could claim their birthday reward. They had their first cup of coffee, another new fifteen-year-old privilege. They got a caramel macchiato and a doughnut. I had a latte and a birthday cake pop because I can be literal like that. On the walk there we talked about past birthdays, when they were two and had an Easter birthday (which they say they remember), when they were five and the birthday theme was butterflies and birds and we took their birthday party guests on a birdwatching walk, and their first slumber party, when they were eight. They said wistfully that they hope to have another slumber party someday.

Tuesday Afternoon and Evening: Cake

After school, Zoë, Miles, and Maddie came over for cake. It was another warm and sunny day, which was a stroke of luck as the weather can be iffy this time of year. The guests arrived at three and around three-thirty, Beth, Noah, and I joined them in the back yard for cake, ice cream, and lemonade. The cake was strawberry with strawberry-cream cheese frosting and as I was setting out plates, forks, glasses, etc., Zoë was talking up Beth’s cake, saying she always makes good cakes for North’s birthdays. I guess she’d know, having been to all of North’s birthday parties since first grade. While they ate the cake, North and their guests reminisced about Rainbow Alliance at the middle school North and Zoë used to attend and Miles and Maddie still do (well, virtually). They were all members and it’s where they became a friend group. After we’d finished our cake, the mothers and brother went back inside.

I made a tater tot-topped vegetarian chicken casserole for dinner, because it’s a favorite of North’s. They opened presents after dinner. They’d already received money from both grandmothers. First they opened a set of scented candles from one of their friends: lavender, fig, lemon, and spring. Noah wanted to know if that last one smelled like asparagus, but North said it was floral. Next they opened a graphic novel from my sister and chocolate frogs from Noah, which he got because North liked the ones they got for Valentine’s Day (they come with Harry Potter character trading cards), a tie-dyed t-shirt in rainbow stripes, some red-and-white striped summer pajamas, and a rose and black modest bathing suit from me and Beth. But the big hit was a membership to the Donor Sibling Registry, which they can use to locate and contact half-siblings from their donor. This is something they’ve been wanting to do for a while. That evening the kids had seconds on cake while we watched the first hour of Boy Erased, North’s first rated-R movie. We’ll try to finish it sometime this week.

After two low-key birthdays, North says for their sixteenth birthday they want to “go all out.” I’m not sure what that means, but I guess we have a year to find out. Still, there was plenty of sweetness in this one and not just the sugary treats.

Journal of Our Plague Year: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 34

It’s been a year now. It was kind of hard for me to pinpoint the date on which I’d say the covid era started for us as a family. Was it the Friday in early March when Noah came home for spring break, a stay we thought would last a week, but which has stretched out to over a year (and will last five months more, assuming he goes back in August)? Or was the first inkling five days later, when Ithaca announced it was extending spring break for a week and then conducting classes online for two weeks after that? Or was it North’s last day of in-person classes at their middle school a couple days later? They remember telling their friends, as they all cleaned out their lockers that Friday in mid-March, that they might not be coming back to the building ever and no one believed them. But they were right. (They were virtually promoted from eighth grade in June.)

I think the real beginning for us was the first weekday with the four of all at home together in what’s been our normal configuration ever since then. That was Monday, March 16. This was the day I chose to count from when I was doing my quarantine reports at forty, eighty, and one hundred sixty days, so it seemed the best choice for an anniversary. (I actually meant to do a three hundred and twenty-day report, but I forgot, so here we are with a year-in-review post instead.)

Here’s what I had to say about covid just before our year at home started. 

How has our year been? We’ve been very fortunate. Beth and I have been able to work from home, we haven’t lost any income, and the kids have been able to take their classes online. None of us got the virus. North has faced a lot of health challenges, however, starting in July and these are not completely resolved, but they are much, much better. North experimented a lot in the kitchen, learning to make Mushroom Wellington and many new kinds of desserts. (My favorite was the toffee.) Noah developed a new hobby (drone photography) that’s been a lot of fun for him. We took five road trips, all of them just moving our pod of four from one place to another, not visiting anyone. We haven’t seen anyone from our extended families since 2019, and we miss them dearly.

I coped by reading a lot of books about pandemics, mostly about bubonic plague, but one about polio. I started with Albert Camus’ The Plague in the spring, moved on to Philip Roth’s Nemesis in the summer, read Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonders this winter and I’m currently reading Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year. I have a couple more on my list, though I imagine I’ll stop or at least give it a break if covid’s done before I am.

Meanwhile, here’s our covid year in review:

March: Our second weekday all at home together, Ithaca announced it was going online for the rest of the semester. A week later North turned fourteen and the Billie Eilish concert that was supposed to be their main present was cancelled so we had a virtual concert at home, with videos, glow sticks, and a concession stand. North had a slow motion birthday party, with guests coming one at a time for a visit on the porch and a slice of cake. The Tidal Basin was closed to visitors when the cherry blossoms bloomed, so we saw them at the more spacious National Arboretum instead. Near the end of the month, I got my first refund for summer camp, the first of several. It felt like a harbinger of things to come and it certainly was.

April: We started wearing homemade cloth masks that first North and then Beth made. I took a lot of pictures of flowers on my daily walk and came up with names for neighbors I don’t know (e.g. Red and Blue Plaid Pajama Bottoms Man). We made masks for our Easter eggs. We started playing a lot of games. At first it was mostly Cards Against Humanity, by summer it was Clue, and eventually Beth, Noah, and I established a running date to play Settlers of Cataan. (It started off every other week, but now it’s about once a month.)

May: We made a May Pole and danced around it. Noah turned nineteen and got a drone. Over the spring and early summer we took to visiting parks in Maryland so he could fly it. We went almost every weekend at first and continued less frequently through fall and early winter. (I think his last flight was in January, but I expect we’ll go more frequently again when the weather warms up and his semester ends.) Our school district announced the rest of the year would be virtual. I turned fifty-three. North organized a one-day pop-up café in our house. The adults served the kids at lunch and the kids served the adults at dinner. There was a car accident in front of our house and a car crashed through our fence. George Floyd was murdered by police, leading to nationwide protests that lasted throughout the summer.

June: North was promoted from middle school and shaved their head to mark the occasion. They organized a Pride-themed family scavenger hunt. (We had to find little pieces of paper in all the colors of the rainbow.) We went to two Black Lives Matter protests. I thought we’d go to more, but events overtook us in July. The death toll for covid reached 100,000.

July: Our cat Matthew died, after developing circulatory problems that paralyzed his back legs. North attended a two-week outdoor drama camp (their only camp that didn’t cancel) and played Frederick and one of the Major’s daughters in a revue of songs and scenes from Pirates of Penzance. We drove to Ithaca to collect Noah’s belongings in the middle of the month. We visited a lot of waterfalls and lakes. While we were swimming in one of these lakes, in a freaky echo of what happened to Matthew, North lost control of their legs. We drove back to Maryland and they were admitted to Children’s National Medical Center, in what would be their first of three hospitalizations between July and September. Shortly after the first one, we left for Rehoboth and spent a week figuring out how to navigate the beach, boardwalk, and (a nearly empty) Funland in a wheelchair, and how to get a partly-paralyzed kid into the surf in an inflatable ring. By the end of the month, North had learned to stand with support in physical therapy.

August: I had a friend over for a backyard visit for the first time during covid times, and served iced tea made with mint from my herb garden. Once I did it I realized how much I’d needed it and I had another friend over soon after. North learned to stand unsupported and to walk with a walker. This was encouraging, but around this same time, they started having frequent seizures, dozens in a day. We ended up in the ER when they had one that lasted an hour and a half. North was admitted to the hospital for a second time for an overnight EEG, which determined their seizures were non-epileptic in nature. They were diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder, which means their symptoms have no organic cause but are a somatization of stress. Shortly before the fall semester was supposed to start, Ithaca announced it would stay online until the spring.

September: Both kids resumed school online. North’s first week of school was interrupted with a new medical problem, the inability to urinate without a catheter, and they were hospitalized again. They had several MRIs to determine if anything was impinging on their urethra, but they seized during the first two and they needed to have a sedated one. By the end of the month, North’s walking had returned to almost normal. They had several friends over at the same time for a backyard/front porch half-birthday party.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and we were heartbroken. We finally got the fence (where the car crashed through it) fixed and then the kids and I painted it. The death toll for covid reached 200,000.

October: North had a final MRI, of their brain, as a precaution to rule out any possible physical cause for their continuing neurological symptoms. As expected, there was none. We got the columns, steps, and floor of our porch painted pale green. Noah helped a local filmmaker shoot and edit a short movie called Hugo Cabret’s Big Fix and when we went to the outdoor showing we got to hear the filmmaker, director, and actors gush about his skills and work ethic. There was no Halloween parade or costume contest, but we put out candy for trick-or-treaters on a table in front of the house and North was able to navigate Zoë’s neighborhood with a walker and the two of them were able to find enough candy from neighbors who’d also put out offerings.

November: North spontaneously regained the ability to urinate on their own and developed some verbal and facial tics. Joe Biden won the Presidential election and we rejoiced. Ithaca announced it would re-open for the spring semester, but Noah opted to spend it at home because three of the four classes he wanted to take were online, the cafeterias were operating on a grab-n-go basis, and his best friend wasn’t going back. His decision made sense, but it also made me sad he’s lost so much of his college experience to this virus. North stopped shaving their head, but decided to start wearing their hair covered when in public as part of their observation of modest paganism (so you can’t see that after four and a half months, it’s grown long enough to curl a little). We spent Thanksgiving week in Rehoboth and celebrated Beth’s fifty-fourth birthday there. There was no holiday sing-along, but I spent a lot of time on the beach and Noah used his drone to take the holiday card photo from the air

December: I wrote my one thousandth voter turnout postcard since September 2018. The last batch was for the Senate runoffs in Georgia. We made gingerbread, pizzelles, and buckeyes and delivered some of them to friends’ houses and served some to friends who came to visit on the porch. We spent Christmas at Blackwater Falls State Park, where we enjoyed many walks in the woods. The death toll for covid reached 300,000.

January: Noah took a winter term class in Philosophy and Cinema. It was fun watching some of the movies with him. The Democrats flipped the Senate and there was an attempted coup in which rioters tried to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the Presidential election. A week later, the President was impeached for a second time, for inciting the riot. We spent MLK weekend in Ocean City, where we walked on the beach and boardwalk and went to Assateague to see the wild ponies. Joe Biden was inaugurated and we rejoiced. The death toll for covid reached 400,000.

February: Sadly but predictably, the ex-President was not convicted. We got each other record amounts of chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Our school district announced plans for a slow reopening, with different groups of students returning from early March to mid or late April, (depending on how well the early phases go). Ninth graders are near the end of the line, so if all goes as planned and we decide to send them, North should be back in school (four days out of every ten) by mid-April. The death toll for covid reached 500,000, but vaccinations started to pick up speed. We decided to gamble on renting a beach house that can sleep ten for a week in mid-July. We hope to see both our mothers, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece there. We might even meet my mother’s boyfriend.

March: A year later, we are still all in the house together every day. It’s not a big house and sometimes it feels cramped and crowded, but sometimes it feels cozy. Over the past year, we’ve played a lot of games, watched a lot of movies and television, and baked a lot in this house. It’s been a safe harbor. There are reasons for hope, both for our family and the country. North’s physical symptoms are much better. Their seizures are infrequent now. It’s been over three weeks since I’ve seen one. They still have the tics and chronic pain, so they use forearm crutches when they leave the house, but they’ve recently started exercising daily on our stationary bike. We don’t know how much longer the pandemic will last. 533,463 Americans have died of covid, but 109,081,860 doses of the vaccine have been administered. There’s real leadership in the White House. The end isn’t right around the corner, but it’s imaginable now.

How was your year?

A Greater Need: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 33

Before Valentine’s Day

Some years I really like Valentine’s Day and some years it leaves me lukewarm. It’s not like Halloween, which consistently delights, or Christmas, which can make the whole month before seem cheerful. This year, though, I guess we all needed it. Ten days before the holiday, Beth went to the grocery store. Part of her mission was to pick up some heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for North’s three best friends—Zoë, Miles, and Maddie. While she was in the candy section, she picked up a rainbow-striped box of chocolates for me, and gave it to me as soon as she got home.

It had six pieces. I picked the two most unusual—Roman nougat and molasses chew– to eat right away. I had to look up what Roman nougat is, so there would be no surprises—it’s cherry with nuts. I recommend it, if you’re not one of those anti-nougat people. I offered Beth the chocolate cream, but she declined, so I had it the next day with the coconut cream. I gave Noah the caramel and North the vanilla cream, because I was feeling generous.

We were all full of Valentine’s plans, more than a week before the holiday. Sunday is Beth’s cooking night and she wanted to make a special dinner, though she hadn’t decided what to cook yet. North volunteered that Valentine’s Day dinner is often a tomato-based soup and grilled cheese cut into heart shapes. I said I thought Beth might have something fancier in mind and Noah said, “What could be fancier than heart-shaped grilled cheese?”

Inspired, I think, by the pretty pink-frosted cookies my blog friend Nicole makes every Valentine’s Day (Hi, Nicole!), I was planning to make heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. North said they wanted to help. I posted on Facebook that it seemed we had “a greater need of Valentine’s Day than usual.” And who wouldn’t, after eleven months of semi-quarantine? Beth also has some pent-up snow frustration, I think, because she wants more snow and less sleet and freezing rain, which she considers “a waste of precipitation.”

At the end of my last post, I mentioned there was a chance of snow for six out of the next nine days, and it so happens it’s been exactly nine days since then. Well, we didn’t get six days of snow. We had a half-inch of slushy snow on Wednesday and an ice storm on Saturday, and that’s not counting whatever fell while we were asleep or not looking, because often it did look as if something wet had fallen from the sky but it was hard to say exactly what.

The ice storm was pretty, though. Everything in our yard was encased in ice. I knew it would melt quickly, so I suggested to our resident photographer that he go out and take some pictures of it and he did, even though it was sleeting. I didn’t think I’d have to go out in the messy weather, but just as North and I were getting started on the cookie dough, I noticed we’d caught a mouse in one of the humane traps in the lazy Susan. Its tail had gotten stuck in the door and it was struggling, so I didn’t think I could in good conscience set the trap on the porch and go release its occupant later. I left North to finish the dough, pulled on my boots, grabbed my umbrella, walked down to the creek, crossed the bridge, and walked a little bit into the woods where I released it into some dry leaves in a hollow under a stump. I left the peanut-butter smeared crackers that had lured it into the trap there, too, because North thinks that’s only fair. On my way back, I noticed the first crocuses I’d seen in bloom this year, closed, but poking up out of the icy grass.

The dough had to refrigerate for two hours, but we managed to get the cookies cut, baked, and frosted by three-thirty, at which point Noah and I watched The Shining. We’d read the book over Christmas break, so it was fun to see the (very different) film version, especially on a day of wintry, if not snowy, weather. He told me the song played in the opening sequence, “Dies Irae,” is often used to signify death in film because it’s played at funerals, and then he wondered if the overhead shots of the car on the mountain road were taken with a drone, because 1980 seemed too early for drones, but the shots looked too close for a helicopter. ( I looked it up. It was a helicopter.)

Noah and I made dinner—pasta with a turmeric cream sauce and a salad—and talked more about the film. I contrasted the characterizations and symbolism in the novel and film versions. I used to teach the novel, so I had a lot to say and he was a good listener. After dinner, the four of us finished watching 9 to 5, which we’d started the night before. North was continually surprised by the lawlessness of the main characters.

It was a nice day, with one-on-one time with both kids, and some family time, too. It was marred only by the Senate acquitting former President Trump in the impeachment trial. I mean, I wasn’t surprised or anything, but it’s still galling. I really wouldn’t care if I thought he was just going to crawl under a rock and never be heard from again, but I’m not counting on that. Can I say, though, how proud I am to be Representative Jamie Raskin’s constituent?

Valentine’s Day

The big day was Sunday. Beth left to go grocery shopping before both kids were up, so we decided to exchange gifts after lunch. Our usual Valentine’s Day protocol is that Beth and I get each other presents and we also get presents for the kids and the kids get a gift, usually food, for the whole family. It ended up being a festival of chocolate. I got chocolate caramels for Beth and she got me ganache-filled chocolate hearts. We got chocolate frogs for North and chocolate-covered almonds for Noah. Noah got the family two loaves of bread, one sourdough, and one chocolate sourdough. He suggested we freeze the chocolate sourdough loaf so when we finally finish all the chocolate we won’t have to be sad because there will be more. It seemed like a good idea.

Even Xander got some cat treats, because we celebrated his eighteenth birthday on Valentine’s Day. We don’t know the exact day of his birth, but the shelter said he came from a mid-February litter and at some point North decided his birthday should be Valentine’s Day.

After the gift exchange, Beth drove North to deliver baggies of heart cookies and boxes of chocolate to their friends and they had a short, outside visit with Miles and Maddie. I took advantage of the relatively empty house to take a nap because I hadn’t slept well the night before and I was tired. The nap was short but restorative. Beth got home just as I was waking up and she told me, laughing, that the twins had made a pan of brownies for North. You might think more chocolate was the last thing we needed, but I, for one, was not going to say no. I had one, and it was gooey and good.

I had a nice talk with my mom in the late afternoon. She’d gotten her first vaccination the day before. We capped off the day with a tasty Lunar New Year’s-themed dinner Beth made, consisting of a tofu and vegetable stir-fry on curly noodles and shiitake mushrooms braised in oyster sauce and then Beth, Noah, and I watched an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which we do every Sunday now, much to my delight. While we watched, North was baking little chocolate lava cakes with powdered sugar hearts on them. It was their gift to the family and we ate them all together. It was a very satisfying Valentine’s Day, and just what we needed.

Winter Weather: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 32

Snowfall: Sunday to Tuesday

We had a little snowstorm that started on the last day of January and continued on and off for through the first two days of February. It was a desultory kind of snow, so even falling on and off for that long, it only came to five inches, but it was pretty and fluffy and didn’t cancel school, so it was fine by me.

In the two days before it snowed, completely by coincidence and with various members of my family, I watched a movie (Weathering with You), and a television show (His Dark Materials), and read a book (Trail of Lightning) in which one or more character could control the weather. There was one who could stop the rain, one who caused lightning strikes, and two could create wind. Noah said it must have something to do with the fact that we were awaiting “a major meteorological event.” Now maybe where you live, five inches of snow does not qualify as a major meteorological event, but we haven’t had that much snow in a couple years, so people were excited. I have to say, though, if Beth had the power to control the weather, it wouldn’t have been that long a wait.

The first inch of the snow fell early Sunday morning and by lunchtime, we had two and a half inches. Beth shoveled the walk (for the first of three times over the next three days). She and North made a smiling snowman in the front yard and then they went to the back yard where Beth made a snow angel, and the two of them threw snowballs at the fence, and finally Beth lay in the hammock, watching the snow fall down on her. Then they came inside and played an online mystery-solving game (Jenny LeClue). North and I made three-layer crème de menthe brownies over the course of the day. There’s a brownie layer, then a mint frosting layer, and a hard chocolate coating on top. Each layer needs to cool before you can apply the next one, so it’s an long project. North said it was “the best day.”

Monday there was some freezing rain before it began to snow again and a lot of sidewalks were glazed with ice. (Not ours. Beth takes a great deal of pride in keeping our walk clear in winter weather.) I needed to go to the post office and I thought I’d take a bus and then walk the mile and a half home, but after creeping forward one careful step at a time in the slick spots and still slipping and almost falling several times, I decided it was too perilous and stopped at a bus stop about halfway home. I felt like an old woman, afraid to break a hip, but I guess it was the sensible thing to do.

Tuesday it was still snowing and we had a nice soft new layer on top of the frozen crust. The sidewalks were either clear or slushy, so walking was easier. North and I took a stroll to Starbucks, where I got a mocha and a croissant to dip into it and North got a slice of red velvet loaf, and inexplicably, an iced pink drink. It was Groundhog’s Day and apparently it was sunnier in Punxsutawney, because Phil predicted six more weeks of winter. For once, I didn’t really mind.

Sunny Skies: Thursday

After a solid week of cloudy skies and frosty temperatures, on Thursday it was sunny all day and by the afternoon it got up into the mid-forties. Knowing it was going to be a mild day, I hung laundry on the line in the morning before it was above freezing out and the clothes froze to the pins. Undeterred, when I took my daily walk I left my winter coat and gloves at home and was warm enough in a hoodie, and then I read the newspaper in a sunny corner of the porch. I actually do this even when it’s pretty cold—and my threshold for what’s too cold has lowered during covid times, as I have a greater need to find a little corner of the property where I can be alone for a bit.

But even though it wasn’t novel, my porch sitting was more pleasant than it had been earlier in the week, when I’d head inside after ten or fifteen chilly minutes. When I’d been reading almost a half hour I noticed the gurgling of snowmelt in the downspout next to me. That inspired me to get up and go around back to see how the laundry was doing. Most of it had thawed, all except the pieces that were still in shadow and hanging stiff on the line. When I brought the wash in late that afternoon, it had all dried except a pair of jeans, which is a good success rate for February.

Snowfall (again): Sunday

After almost a week on the ground and three days with highs in the forties or low fifties, the snow had pretty much completed disappeared by Saturday afternoon and the snowman was a lump about the size of a basketball. Beth was happy, though, because more snow was predicted early this morning, possibly as much as three inches.

I woke at 6:30 today, went to the bathroom, and noticed it was raining and there was no snow on the ground. I felt sorry for Beth, went back to bed, and slept until almost eight. When I woke again, it was snowing. Over the course of the morning and into the early afternoon it kept changing from snow to sleet to rain and back to snow. It didn’t stick to the sidewalks or roads and just barely to the grass, where it turned to a thin layer of slush, probably never more than a half-inch at a time. There were dramatic bursts of heavy snow, though, sailing in big lazy flakes through the air. I spent some time at the window of the front door, watching it and I saw Noah doing the same thing. I wondered if it reminded him of being in Ithaca last winter, before covid sent him home for an extended spring break eleven months ago. By two o’clock, the snow had stopped falling and melted almost completely, leaving an even smaller remnant of last weekend’s snowman.

It was the kind of weather that seemed more appealing to watch from inside than to go out in, so except for Beth, who went grocery shopping, no one ventured out. But according to my weather app, there’s at least some chance of snow on six of the next nine days. After what Beth calls a “snow drought,” we’re finally getting some winter weather.

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 31

So…. there’s certainly been a lot going on, but as you can probably get all the political analysis you need elsewhere, I’ll stick to our domestic goings-on for the most part. In between the shocking assault on the Capitol and the inauguration, we had a small celebration and a weekend getaway.

Anniversary: 01-11-21

On the second Monday of January, North looked up from their computer screen and asked me why I was so dressed up. For the record, I was wearing a white button-down shirt and tan corduroys. That’s what passes for dressed up around here. “It’s a special day,” I said, and gestured for them to turn their attention back to their English class.

Around lunchtime, they asked again. Apparently, my first answer wasn’t good enough. It was Beth’s and my winter anniversary, the double one, twenty-nine years since our commitment ceremony and eight years since our legal marriage. I didn’t notice this until after the fact, but the date, 01-11-21, makes a pleasing pattern.

But as North pointed out, we weren’t going anywhere. Beth and I would be working in separate rooms and she “would barely see” me.

Anniversaries during covid are tricky, or they have been for us. This was our second one as we celebrate our dating anniversary in July. (Not wanting to have three anniversaries was part of the reason we got married on an existing one.) During that last one, North was hospitalized (the first hospitalization of three last summer) and we basically skipped it, exchanging gifts well after the fact. All we had planned for this one was cake—I make the spice cake we had at our commitment ceremony every year—and presents, but at least these would be exchanged on the actual day.

I made sautéed Brussels sprouts and white beans for dinner because these are two of Beth’s favorite foods. North helped me with the cake frosting and in between dinner and cake, we opened gifts. I got Beth a mortar and pestle because she’d recently said the one we had is too shallow and she got me Red Hot and Blue, an album we used to have that wasn’t available until recently on Apple Music. It’s a thirty-year old collection of Cole Porter remakes that was an AIDS benefit. I’d been missing Annie Lennox’s version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” for years. I played part of the album while I did the dishes, and then we all played a text adventure. Normally, we’d go to dinner or a movie (or both) to celebrate our anniversary, but as we got married in our living room, maybe that was an appropriate place to end the day, with everyone who was there (minus the officiant).

Ocean City

Friday: 21842

Four days later we were on the road and the reason was indirectly related to North’s aforementioned health troubles. In August, my friend Megan offered us a three-day, off-season stay in an oceanfront condo in Ocean City she’d won at a school fundraising auction. She said we deserved a get-away after all we’d been through last summer—North’s paralysis and seizures, the car that crashed through our fence, our cat’s death. Beth was a little reluctant to accept such an extravagant gift, but she said it was up to me, and my answer to Megan was “Hell yeah!”

Speaking of North’s health, I haven’t done an update in a while, so here’s the current situation in a nutshell: They’ve been able to walk normally for a few months, but have pain that was recently diagnosed as fibromyalgia, so on longer walks they sometimes use crutches or the walker. They are trying to exercise every day for a half hour. The urinary issues have been cleared up since early November. They still have non-epileptic seizures, sometimes several a day, but often none for several days in a row. Overall, they seem to be getting less frequent. For the past couple months, they’ve also had some verbal tics, in which they involuntarily say things like “woo hoo” “hello there,” or “good morning.”

So, back to the beach. We arrived at the condo a little after six and after we’d explored it, admiring the stunning ocean views in the upstairs bedroom and the living room and bay views in the kids’ bedroom, Beth went out to get some groceries and pick up pizza for dinner. While we were trying to figure out if we in a delivery area for Grotto we needed the zip code and had to look it up. Only later did we notice Ocean City’s zip code—21842—was on a piece of art on the kitchen wall. I found this amusing.

I unpacked food and distributed linens while Beth was procuring more food. After we ate, I sat on the balcony, nineteen stories up in the air, and watched the waves crash on the shore for a half hour until I got chilled and had to come in and watch the ocean from my bedroom window instead. While I was doing this, Beth and North watched The Fosters.

Saturday: 99th to 119th & Inlet to 3rd 

The next morning all I had to do was reach out and part the drapes to see the ocean. I didn’t even need to get out of bed. I did eventually, though, and ate breakfast and went down to the beach for an almost two-hour walk. It had been foggy when I first woke up, but eventually the sun broke through the clouds. When it hit the sea foam on the sand it turned it opalescent with pinks, purples, and greens. I watched a seagull hunt and eat a fish, or part of a fish, as it set it down too close to the water and its meal was swept away before it could finish. I actually saw this exact same thing happen twice. It made me wonder why they don’t take their prey to the dunes the way I often see osprey do.

Ocean City is a lot different than Rehoboth, architecturally speaking. It’s high rise after high rise, with the occasional smaller building tucked between or in front of the mammoth ones. When I set out on my walk, I studied our building, so I wouldn’t miss it on my way back, but this turned out to be an overabundance of caution, because 1) there are regular signs that tell you what intersection you’re at, and 2) the buildings are more different than I thought, both in height (ours at twenty-five stories was one of the taller ones), color, and materials, but also shape. Most are rectangular, but one was in a horseshoe shape and a couple were wedge-shaped, to allow for units with side views. At one point while I was looking at the buildings and comparing them, I did something I would have told the kids never to do, at least not in January. I turned my back on the ocean while quite close to it and got soaked almost to my knees. I considered going home at that point, but it wasn’t that cold—mid-forties and sunny—so I kept going.

I discovered a path that ran for a long stretch parallel to the ocean, between the dunes and the high rises, with regular intersecting paths for beach access. I found a snack bar and public restrooms (both closed) and various playgrounds and empty swimming pools, most of which wasn’t visible from the beach. It was like a little secret world and I was pleased to discover it. At one point the path rose slightly and you could see over the dunes. I noticed a surfer in a wetsuit, so I stayed and watched him ride the waves for a while. By this point I’d come twenty (very short) blocks, from 99th street to 119th, so I turned back.

At home I changed into dry pants and socks and left my wet things on the balcony and had an early lunch since my walk had left me hungry.

In the afternoon, Beth, North, and I went to the boardwalk. Noah had a paper to write for his film and philosophy winter term course, so he stayed at the condo. We weren’t sure what, if anything, would be open, as we’ve only been to Ocean City twice before, both times in the spring. The answer was, surprisingly, a lot of indoor entertainment (arcades, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, and the mirror maze), but not much food. I would have guessed the other way around since many of the stalls are open air and seem safer. Anyway, we didn’t go into any arcades or Ripley’s, though North said wistfully they would like to go back there someday.

Thrasher’s was one of the few food vendors open and I could have gone for some hot, vinegary fries, as I’d put my still-damp shoes back on and I was feeling chilly. Also, we didn’t get fries on the boardwalk when we were at the beach over Thanksgiving and it felt like a missed opportunity. But I have never seen such a long line for Thrasher’s, maybe half a city block long, and I didn’t want fries that badly. We did find a funnel cake place and North got one.  There was an open Candy Kitchen, too, and I popped in to get some treats for everyone, after waiting in line outside because only ten customers could be inside at once. Beth was hoping to find ice cream and for some reason (it was a cool, cloudy afternoon in January perhaps?) no ice cream stalls were open, so we stopped on the way home at an ice cream place on the highway and she got a sundae. There were at least two signs near the window where you order that said “No profanity” which made us wonder what had happened to make that necessary. Beth joked about ordering “fucking coffee ice cream with god-dammed Oreos.” 

The whole time we were on the boardwalk, I kept remembering the time the kids got lost there, when they were six and almost eleven. Everything reminded me of it—the benches where we sat and ate ice cream right beforehand, all the sunken restaurant patios where I looked for them in a blind panic. This was a less eventful visit and I did not mind that one bit.

At home, Noah continued to write his paper and North did a little homework and drew Harry Potter characters with a drawing program they like while Beth read The New Yorker and I read The Winter Soldier, which my book club is discussing tomorrow. It takes place in WWI field hospital and does a good job of making you really glad you never worked in a WWI field hospital.  We ordered Italian takeout for dinner and then Noah and I finished I, Robot and after that Beth, North, and I watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

Sunday: 99th to 79th & 40 Feet 

It was clearer when the sun rose the next day and the light that came through the gap at the top of the curtains threw a vivid orange triangle on the wall, near the ceiling and filled the room with a rosy glow. I pushed the fabric aside and saw orange-red ball that seemed to rise out of the water.  Beth and I were both awake by seven-thirty but we lazed in bed for a while before we got up. I made myself a hearty breakfast—a broccoli and Monterrey Jack omelet, veggie bacon, grapefruit, and orange juice. Fortified, I went for another long walk on the beach.

Since I’d gone twenty blocks north the day before, I decided to go twenty blocks south this time, down to 79th Street. Noah said he was going to follow me with the drone and I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, but I didn’t see it. Later he told me by the time he got it set up it was too windy to fly it as far away as I’d gotten.

On my walk I saw a building that looked like a Mayan pyramid and one that looked like a spaceship, also a Little Free Library at a dune crossing, which is about the most delightful location for a Little Free Library I have ever seen. In the last five blocks or so of my walk the high rises petered out and there were more two and three-story buildings. Coming back, I found a beach chair someone had left around 84th Street and sat in it for ten minutes or so, watching the ocean.

Back at the house, Noah and I read the first seven chapters of Trail of Lightning, a story about a Navajo monster hunter operating in a post-apocalyptic landscape. (Psst, Allison, I think this might be up your alley.) Beth made a Chipotle run because North wanted a burrito, but everyone else ate leftovers or other food we had in the condo. 

A little before two, we left for Assateauge Island National Seashore in search of the famed wild horses and some pretty trails to hike. We’ve been to this park twice before (the last time on the same trip when the kids got lost on the Ocean City boardwalk) so I was confident we’d find both. There were plenty of signs forbidding feeding the horses or getting closer than forty feet to them, but we saw people doing both. Some people were throwing apples out their car windows and we saw a half-eaten pumpkin and some stubs of carrots left along one of the trails.

We hiked the marsh, forest, and dune trails. North only felt up to one and chose the forest trail, waiting for us in the car while we were on the other trails. They chose wisely as it was the only trail where we saw a horse. Or more likely, they just got lucky because based on the presence of horse poop, the horses roam all three trails, and the roads, and the parking lots and pretty much everywhere in the park. The horse in question was reddish-brown with a shaggy coat and a flaxen mane. It was grazing in a marshy area just outside the forest.

Even though we didn’t see horses on the other trails, we saw some very lovely landscapes. As we drove across the narrow bridge off the island, looking at the late afternoon light on the water, I felt a little drunk with the beauty of the world.

We picked up Starbucks on the drive home. At the condo, North worked on Japanese, and then we watched Locke and Key, while Beth made Pad Thai for dinner. This was the first installment in what qualifies for me as tv/movie bingeing. After dinner, Beth, Noah, and I watched Predestination, which he needed to watch for class. The professor is on a time-travel movie kick. They’re also studying The Time Traveler’s Wife, Back to the Future, and Time Crimes. It’s enough to make me wonder if she wrote her dissertation on time travel films. Anyway, have you seen Predestination? It’s something else and I can’t explain why without major spoilers. We rounded out the evening with an episode of Buffy because it’s our Sunday show and Noah didn’t want to skip a week.

Monday: Countless Gulls & 21 Waves 

The next morning when I pulled aside the curtain to peek at the sunrise, there was a band of dark clouds on the horizon, but you could see where the rising sun was because threads of reddish orange light leaked through cracks in the clouds. It looked like molten lava under black rock.

Usually on the morning we leave a beach house, it’s all hustle bustle, but we had no set checkout time, so we were more relaxed. After breakfast, Noah flew his drone off the balcony again and then we read a chapter of our monster-hunter book. We packed up everything but the kitchen, since we’d be eating lunch at the condo, and then Noah and I took a walk through a bayside neighborhood intersected with canals. There was no beach access except through private property, but we were able to get pretty close to the water and we saw an egret in a marshy area. There was a huge flock of seagulls floating on the water and we could hear their cries, even from far away. As we were walking back the sound changed to a loud rustling. We both turned around to see the whole flock rising into the air. Noah was quick with his camera and got a shot of them.

We ate lunch and finished packing up and moving out. (North was quite taken with the building’s garbage chute.) We drove to the boardwalk and found the line for Thrasher’s much shorter so I got in it, while Beth went to get funnel cake and some dark chocolate almond bark, and we sat on a bench and ate our treats. Beth walked on the boardwalk and along the edge of the closed-for-the-season amusement park while North and I went down to the water. We’d had a long discussion about whether the kids should put their feet in the water, per the Lovelady-Allen Goodbye-to-the-Ocean ritual, because none of us was sure whether this was just a Rehoboth tradition or if it applied to other beaches. I think we might have come to a different conclusion if it wasn’t January and if had been able to locate my rainboots before this trip, but North and I decided we’d stand at the shore and count twenty-one waves without actually standing in them, and I put my hand in the water for the first and last one, thinking more than that would pretty much guarantee I’d soak the shoes that had just dried out.

Around three o’clock, we left the boardwalk and drove home. We crossed the Bay Bridge around 5:25, just as the sunset was starting to fade. I felt very content. But there was more happiness just two days later, because of course, the number that has most of our attention now is forty-six.

Inauguration: 46

Beth, North, and I watched the inauguration together. North had an early dismissal and was finished with classes around 11:25, but Noah’s 11:30 class went on as scheduled, so he had to miss it. We turned on the television during Amy Klobuchar’s speech and we watched the rest of the ceremony: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks singing the national anthem, “This Land is My Land,” and “Amazing Grace” and the startling youthful and talented Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb.” We spotted many former Presidents in the audience. We watched Justice Sotomayor swear in Vice President Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Roberts swear in President Joe Biden.

Let’s just pause and take in those last three words—President Joe Biden. It was an unusual inauguration, even more heavily guarded than usual, sparsely attended as these things go, with the audience all masked and on the lawn at least, seated in distanced clumps. The parade was tiny. There will be no inaugural balls tonight. But in the end, the pomp of an inauguration isn’t the point, it’s the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another. And after January 6, I was not taking the peaceful part for granted.

In other ways, it was a completely normal inauguration. In his address, our new President sounded hopeful and determined, coherent and rational. He sounded like a President. That’s something we haven’t heard in a long time. I was more than ready for it.

Tonight Beth and I watched the inaugural concert on the mall on television, eating chocolate-peanut butter ice cream because we read somewhere that’s Biden’s favorite flavor. At the very end, when Katy Perry sang “Firework,” we could actually hear the fireworks that were going off behind the Washington Monument. The broadcast must have been on a delay because we heard them start before they did on tv. It reminded me that on January 6, we could hear the helicopters heading for the Capitol. That’s the distance we’ve travelled in two weeks.

 

Commencements: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 30

New Year’s Eve Eve

After we got home from Blackwater, there were another five days before work and school resumed. We squeezed in a little more holiday spirit on Wednesday night by going to the Festival of Lights display at Watkins Regional Park in Prince George’s County. My initial thought was to go on New Year’s Eve as the neighbors’ party we usually attend was not taking place this year and we had no plans. But then I realized a lot of other people probably had no plans on New Year’s Eve either, given the circumstances. So we thought it would be less crowded the night before New Year’s Eve.

We’ve never been to this display before. Last year we went to the walk-through one at Brookside Gardens for the first time and it was really magical. In non-pandemic times, I’d choose Brookside, but this one was nice, too. There was about a fifteen-minute wait to get in and then the display took a half hour to drive through. It was more extensive than I thought it would be and very pretty. In addition to the Santas, gingerbread people, and reindeer you might expect, there were also a lot of tunnels of lights, a big tree, and a few scenes from The Wizard of Oz. This is a tribute to the Wizard of Oz-themed playground in the park, I learned ahead of time from a review. The show is over now, but I recommend it for future years if you’re local and looking for this kind of thing. I wasn’t able to get any pictures because I didn’t want Beth to hold up the line of cars behind us by stopping, but there’s a video here if they haven’t taken it down yet by the time you read this. 

New Year’s Eve 

Thursday afternoon, Beth, Noah, and I went for a walk near the Rocky Gorge Reservoir in Howard County. The main purpose of the walk was to make sure Noah’s drone was working, after the trouble he had with it at Blackwater. We do usually take a hike on New Year’s Day, but New Year’s Day the weather was predicted to be in the thirties and rainy, so instead of taking the first hike of the year, we took the last.

The first trail where we stopped near the reservoir was closed so we had to look for another one and while we were deciding where to go next Beth had to take a work call about the union that CWA has organized at Google. The announcement was going to be made the first Monday in January and preparation for it has been a big focus of Beth’s work recently. Noah and I ambled around a field near the parking lot while we waited for her.

Eventually we found another trail, and after a walk through the woods, we found ourselves in an austere and slightly spooky spot along the Patuxent River, where Noah flew the drone over the water and among the bare (and oddly shaggy-barked) tree branches with no problems. The river was still and flat as glass and there was very little sound other than occasional light drizzle hitting the dead leaves, two woodpeckers tapping on the trees, and the honking of geese in the distance.

North made rice noodles with tofu and broccoli for dinner and then we watched Soul, which seemed like a suitable film for thinking about new beginnings. The kids stayed up to see the new year, but Beth and I didn’t. I was half-tempted to do it, even though I don’t like staying up late, because it would have been satisfying to see 2020 make its exit. When Beth and I were still up at eleven, which is late for us, North was trying to convince us to stay up, as it was only another hour. We went to bed instead, but not before drinking a toast to 2021 with sparkling juice and eating twelve grapes, for good luck in the new year. The kids saved their grapes for midnight and then forgot to eat them.

New Year’s Day 

Taking no chances with lucky foods, I made black-eyed peas the next day. Usually this is what we have for dinner on New Year’s Day, but as with Christmas, it fell on a Friday and that’s pizza night, so we had the black-eyed peas for lunch. I have been known to burn them some years so I hovered over the pot nearly the whole time they were cooking just in case.

We also have a fancy cheese tradition for New Year’s, which isn’t supposed to be lucky, we just like cheese. That afternoon I got out my cheeseboard, which always makes me happy, and I set out Brie, Manchego, aged cheddar and gouda, along with a pear spread and rosemary crackers my sister got us for Christmas so Beth, Noah, and I could have a mid-afternoon repast. (North’s not so big on the fancy cheese.) That night we watched The Banker, or most of it. We finished the next night.

Weekend 

Beth went grocery shopping and went to the Apple store to try to get North’s cracked iPad screen replaced, but I don’t think any of the rest of us even left the house Saturday and Sunday. Instead Noah and I finished reading The Shining and started I, Robot. We both have a lot of new books but he has more—we stacked them next to each other to check. And then he and I finished watching the second season of What We Do in the Shadows and he and Beth finished the second season of The Mandalorian. I read a couple stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and we all watched the second episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, several weeks after we watched the first episode. Beth and I watched this show when it was on the air, starting in 1997, and it’s always been a favorite of mine. It’s fun to be watching it again. We’ve decided to make it a regular Sunday night activity.

The other thing I watched over the weekend was a one-hour video of my high school graduation a classmate put on Facebook. When I clicked I thought it would be a short clip, but it was the whole thing, and I thought, well, I’m not going to spend an hour watching this, I’ll just watch a little. But it turns out watching your high school commencement thirty-five-and-a-half years after the fact is oddly compelling and I watched the whole darn thing. All those young faces and familiar and half-forgotten names stirred something half-pleasurable and half-painful in me. High school wasn’t an easy time in my life, especially the first two years, but it was formative.

And I have a little anecdote that I think says something about human nature, or maybe just my nature. If you’d asked me before I watched the video if I won any awards at graduation, I would have hesitated, thinking maybe but I couldn’t remember, and if I did I wouldn’t be sure which one. What I did remember clearly is that I didn’t win a Spanish department award I thought I would. Watching, I learned I did win an English department award, sharing it with three classmates. Why should I remember the disappointment and not the recognition? Happening so close to New Year’s, it made me wonder if I should resolve to see the good that’s right in front of me. But that was more or less my intention starting this blog, almost fourteen years ago, and I think it has often served that purpose.

Monday

Monday we were all back in the saddle, attending classes and working online. North had English, ceramics, yoga, and Algebra. Noah attended the first class meeting of his winter term class on philosophy and cinema and practiced his drums for the first time in almost two weeks. Did I mention he’s taking online drum lessons at his old music school? He started in early December. I reviewed background materials and worked on an outline for a white paper on a sleep remedy. But no one had a longer or more profitable day than Beth. She set the alarm for 5:30 because the article in the New York Times about the Google union would be released at 6:00 a.m. She spent virtually the whole day on the phone with reporters from other news outlets. Here’s the Post’s story, which quotes her. It was an exhausting day for her, but she was pleased with how the launch went—“about as well as it could go,” she said.

2021 is off to a promising start so far. Fingers crossed for Georgia.

Update: Wednesday, January 6

In re Georgia: Yippee!

In re the armed insurrection in the Capitol today: I really don’t know what to say. On the one hand, I’ve been afraid of something like this for the past four years. On the other hand, I was still shocked when it actually happened. And many people have said this already, but if it had been black or brown people trying to storm the building, it would have been a bloodbath.  

January 20 cannot come soon enough.

It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad!: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 29

Since the year is almost out
Lift your hands and give a shout
There’s a lot to shout about today
Since it’s Christmas, let’s be glad
Even if the year’s been bad
There are presents to be had

From “It’s Christmas! Let’s Be Glad,” by Sufjan Stevens

Before Blackwater and Arrival: Tuesday and Wednesday

The day before we left for our rented cabin in Blackwater Falls State Park was busy. I had time-sensitive work for both Sara and Mike, after working on back burner projects for Sara for weeks and not having had any substantial work from Mike since spring. I was a little stressed about that—and I’d woken with a bad headache that day to boot—but it turned out neither project was that time-consuming and the headache dissipated, so by mid-afternoon I could turn my attention to wrapping presents, attending the parents’ portion of a telemedicine psychology appointment for North, and making a black bean enchilada casserole for dinner. In the evening, everyone packed for the trip.

Packing the car the next morning was a mighty endeavor. We needed room for presents, boxes of tree ornaments, and more food than we usually bring because we were hoping to minimize grocery shopping while in West Virginia. It only worked because North didn’t need the wheelchair or the walker, just crutches and the shower chair, and because we didn’t buy our tree in Maryland and transport it on the top of the car as we usually do. We were even able to bring most of the presents from Beth’s mom, which we’d originally intended to open at home. The past four Christmases we’ve spent at Blackwater with YaYa, but this year it would be just the four of us, thanks to covid. We were all very sad we couldn’t be together.

Much to our surprise, because we usually open presents from anyone we’re not going to see over the holiday before we leave town, North strenuously objected to opening YaYa’s presents early. In their mind, the tradition was we open YaYa’s presents on Christmas (as in recent years, we’ve always been with her). They felt so strongly about it, we accommodated them and found a tree farm in West Virginia that could set aside a tree for us (they weren’t open on Christmas Eve day).

We hit the road around 11:15 and arrived at the park at 3:45, with a stop to pick up a to-go lunch order from Sheetz, which we ate in the car in the parking lot. There was a sandwich (mine) missing from our order so I had to go back inside and just as they were starting to fix me a new one, the person who’d taken it by mistake came back in with it and since all he’d done with it was open the paper, I took it from him. I was thinking how given two store employees and two customers were involved in trying to untangle the mix-up, there was potential for someone to get rude or snippy but no one did. Not quite a Christmas miracle, but worth noting and appreciating.

Around an hour and a half into the drive, we started seeing patchy snow, and then it came and went as we rose and fell in altitude, until, about three hours in, snow covered all the ground we could see. At the park there was about a foot on the ground.

We settled into the cabin and immediately started to discuss whether or not we’d stayed in this one before. There are two styles of cabin and I don’t know about the rustic ones, but the modern ones are identical, so it’s really impossible to know.  They are set off from the road along semicircular driveways in clumps of four or five, and as North pointed out, we’re always in one of the inner cabins, never an end one. In case we ever have this discussion again, I am stating for the record that in 2020, we stayed in cabin #29.

Beth and Noah watched an episode of The Mandolorian and then she made chili and cornbread for dinner, while Noah and I read a chapter of The Shining. I’m happy to be reading it with him because it’s one of my very favorite books and a good one to read while in the snowy woods, though I wasn’t anticipating a similar outcome.

That night we watched The Muppet Christmas Carol, as we’d made enough progress through the required Christmas viewing list that we could afford an optional one. Whenever we do watch it I’m struck by how surprisingly faithful it is. I like hearing Dickens’ prose woven through it.

Christmas Eve

Thursday was warmer and it rained intermittently throughout the day. Almost all the snow melted off the back deck and the ground behind the cabin was a soupy, muddy mess, though in front it held up better. Beth and Noah were gone most of the morning, fetching the Christmas tree from the farm (and meeting the friendly farm cats) and grocery shopping. They went to three different stores in search of eggnog, because Noah loves it so, and eventually found some.

North and I took a short walk along the park road and then into the woods by the road to peek into the canyon. We couldn’t see the river, but we could hear it. I told North not to stand on the boulders that are right on the lip of the cliff as I didn’t want to watch them seize and then topple into the abyss and they indulged me.

Along the side of the road, there were places were water was running in smooth canals of ice, with straight edges that looked as if they’d been constructed, though I’m pretty sure it was a natural phenomenon. In other places, there were ragged potholes in the snow through which you could see the current that was mostly buried, rushing along and making the long grass wave under the water. When North wanted to return to the cabin, I accompanied them and then took a longer walk down to the Pendleton Point observation area. I could see the lodge across the canyon, one of the many waterfalls in the park, and the river. 

After lunch, while we waited for the branches of the Christmas tree to fall, the kids and I made gingerbread cookies with the last third of the dough I’d made at home, and decorated them with hard candy, dried cranberries, and nuts. We made our initials into cookies and North made a Y for YaYa because we would have done that if she’d been here and we sent her a picture of it.

Beth wound the tree with lights and then we loaded it with ornaments. For a while it was in doubt whether they would all fit on the tree, but they did. North usually has the honor of putting the angel on top and this year was no different.

North made a vegetarian beef and mushroom stroganoff for dinner and afterward we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and Face Timed with YaYa and Beth’s aunt Carole. The sisters live two doors apart from each other, so they’ve made a covid bubble. We’re all glad about that because they each live alone and it would have been a lonely year for them if they couldn’t spend time together. During the call, the rain changed over to snow and YaYa showed us it was snowing in Wheeling, too.

After the call, North went to bed and we sent Noah to his room so Beth and I could fill stockings. I remembered we’d forgotten to read “A Visit with St. Nicholas,” which Noah always reads aloud for us on Christmas Eve and I was wondering if there was any chance the kids would agree to do it on Christmas day, and thinking probably not—when a sleepy North wandered out of their bedroom headed for the bathroom, and I rounded everyone up and Noah gave us a spirited reading of the poem.

Everyone was back in their bedrooms for the night by ten-thirty, though I had to get out of bed when I remembered the cookies, milk, and carrot for Santa and the reindeer needed to be nibbled and drunk. Yes, we still do this. No, I’m not sure why. I guess because North wants us to and the kids go along with a lot of what I want. For example, they went to bed in coordinated pajamas that night, Noah in green and white stripes and North in red and white stripes.

Christmas

It was still snowing or snowing again when we woke. There was what looked like six inches of fresh snow on the deck. I think this was just about all Beth would have needed to have a merry Christmas, but there was more. Everyone was awake by eight, so we opened our stockings. Everyone had candy, both a handful of Hershey’s kisses and some individual kind of candy.

Beth and North made Christmas breakfast—a cranberry-lemon loaf, poached pears, and vegetarian sausage or bacon. I contributed by peeling a few pears. We ate and then opened presents. Books, socks, tea, and flannel pajama bottoms were popular gifts, with multiple people getting each. Among the other gifts, Beth got her subscription to The New Yorker renewed, I got some clothes (a belt, a white button down shirt, and black low tops), Noah got a new computer monitor (or, rather a note that said it was at home, because we didn’t want to transport it), and North got a bunch of things, including headscarves and a robe and a crocheting kit, but seemed most surprised by the pumpkin-praline-waffle scented candle we bought because YaYa always brings a candle with that scent at Christmas and North loves it.  After we opened presents, we Face-Timed with YaYa again to thank her for her gifts.

Noah and Beth watched a Star Wars movie—don’t ask me which one, I think it was one of the recent ones—while I did the breakfast dishes and then Beth and North made homemade pizza for lunch. The fact that Christmas was on a Friday this year had presented us with a conundrum because we always have pizza for dinner on Fridays but it didn’t seem quite right for Christmas dinner, so this was how we solved the dilemma. After lunch, North embarked on the final Christmas baking project—chocolate-peppermint cookies. They’ve made these before, but in the past have been disappointed that the tops didn’t crack the way they’re supposed to, so they were pleased to have achieved the crackled look this year. While they were making the cookies, I read a story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, one of my Christmas books.

In the mid-afternoon, Beth and I took a walk down to the overlook and Pendleton Lake. As we started down the park road she asked if I was having a merry Christmas and I said yes. I returned the question and she just threw her arms apart to indicate the snowy scene before us. It was all the answer she needed to give.

It was a cold day, about ten degrees when we left the house, but tramping through the snow was hard enough work that I didn’t feel that cold (except for my forehead). We went to the dam at the end of the lake because the water running out of the culvert often makes interesting ice formations. There wasn’t much ice there that day but it was still a very pretty and peaceful walk. We were out for over an hour and only saw two other people—two women with two very excitable dogs. When we got home, I discovered my scarf had frozen to my hair and I had a little trouble getting it off.

Beth and I made spinach lasagna and garlic bread for Christmas dinner. It’s what YaYa usually makes and in fact, she was having the same thing for dinner in Wheeling. After dinner, we settled in with bowls of cookies and eggnog ice cream to watch our last Christmas movie of the year, Christmas is Here Again. It was a sweet end to a merry Christmas.

Second Day of Christmas: Saturday

On Saturday morning Beth and Noah started a puzzle, as is their wont on vacation. It was a whimsical street scene of little shops selling different kind of treats. Beth got it by offering a trade for a puzzle she and Noah had already done on the neighborhood listserv.

In the afternoon, Beth, Noah, and I took another snowy walk, this one two and a half hours long. The day was a little warmer—sixteen degrees when I thought to check. We started on the cross-country ski trail that runs behind the cabins and followed it to the lake and then took a trail that had caught Beth’s eye the day before. The trailhead is near the dam and goes through the woods to Pase Point, a outcropping of rock from which you can look into the canyon.

The path was narrow and in places crossed through domes made where snow weighed down evergreen boughs. There were towering rhododendron bushes, their leaves snow-covered and curled against the cold. Some of them were twelve or fifteen feet high but where their branches were bent down with snow, we had to duck under them—once Noah crawled on his hands and knees. We saw some impressive icicles on the rock front and there were a few little wooden bridges that went over creeks and a couple little runs to ford by walking on rocks or just stomping through the inch-deep water. (This choice was dictated by how waterproof one’s boots were.)

It was overcast at first but as the sun started to come out we saw blue sky through the snowy branches and the snow on the path sparkled in front of us. We saw more people than the day before, more than a dozen hikers, skiers, and snow-shoers. A group of snow-shoers arrived shortly after we got to Pase Point, so we admired the beautiful view, but we didn’t linger.

I was tired when we got back so I took a little nap while Beth and Noah watched The Mandalorian. Noah made baked macaroni and cheese with broccoli for dinner.

More Days of Christmas: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

We had two more days at the cabin. Sunday was warmer, above freezing all day. Beth and North took a little walk down the park road in the morning and Noah and I walked along the trail behind the cabin until it connected to the road and then took the road home in the early afternoon. Later in the afternoon, Beth, Noah, and I walked to the Pendleton Point overlook so Noah could fly his drone into the canyon. We’d been waiting for a mild day without much wind because those are the conditions the drone likes. But just after the drone took off, Noah got a message on the controller about something being wrong with the propellers so he brought it back. It had only just cleared the railing on the overlook when he turned it around. He made some adjustments and tried again, but got the same message, so we went back to the cabin, so he could trouble-shoot.

He ended up replacing one of the propellers (he has a spare parts kit) and then took it outside and flew it over the house. I watched it rise through the air from the kitchen window while chopping kale for Portuguese kale and potato soup. Noah thought it was good to go, but after walking back to the overlook he got the same message for a different propeller and by this point it was too late in the day to try again so we came home and I finished the soup and we ate it. After dinner we played Taboo, using first a website then an app because we’d forgotten to bring the game from home. The app works better if you’re curious. Then we split up to watch The Fosters (Beth and North) and What We Do in The Shadows (me and Noah).

Monday morning, Beth and Noah worked on the puzzle. It was almost finished but the part they had left was the trickiest one, the background of trees. While they worked on it, I ran the dishwasher and started the last three loads of laundry of the trip, and folded two of them, which is less work than it sounds like because the cabin’s washer is tiny.

When they’d finished the puzzle, Beth, Noah, and I went back to the overlook to try to fly the drone, which now had two new propellors, into the canyon for the third time. The wind was gusting as we walked down the road, so it seemed possible this would be another thwarted attempt, and it was. We arrived and waited for five or ten minutes for the wind to die down, but it didn’t so we went back to the house.

North was making their lunch, but once they were finished, we all got in the car to go to see the majestic Blackwater Falls. There are two trails you can take to do this. We were going on the short, accessible one so North could come along, and also because sometimes the wooden steps that get you closer to the falls are closed when they get coated with ice. But when we got to the accessible overlook, we could see people across the river on the lowest platform, so Beth, Noah, and I decided to brave that trail after lunch.

The steps were mostly covered with packed snow and ice, but they were open and we descended them carefully, not just resting a hand on the railing, but sometimes clutching with both hands and walking sideways. I didn’t mind looking like an old woman because I saw a few people fall, mostly teenagers or people in their twenties, who would laugh and spring back up. When we got to the viewing platform that’s about three-quarters of the way down, Beth and I decided to stay put and look at the falls from there, but Noah soldiered on, tempted, I think, by the opportunity to get some good pictures. I saw him fall once, but he got up and kept going.  We saw him get to the lowest platform and start to photograph the falls and the ice on the rocks. I pointed out to Beth how the snow on the other side of the river was light brown with the tannin-infused water that had splashed on it and said it looked like toasted marshmallows.  After Noah had left the lower platform but hadn’t appeared on ours, we looked around and found him on the trail above us, apparently waiting for us to turn around so he could take our picture. We walked back via a snow-covered but somewhat less slippery service road rather than taking the rest of the stairs up.

When we got back to the house, Noah and I read a few chapters of The Shining (we left off as Hallorann is racing back to the Overlook) and then Noah and Beth watched some more of The Mandalorian and then Beth and the kids took the decorations off the mantle and stripped the tree of its ornaments and dragged it to the deck while I read and finally finished this behemoth of a book, which I’ve been reading since September. I’d gotten seven books for Christmas so I wanted to finally finish it to clear the decks for them.

Dinner was leftovers and afterward we looked at Noah’s photos from the falls and watched the drone footage he’d shot from the porch. I didn’t realize he’d flown it as far away from the house as he had. You do get a glimpse of the canyon on the film. Next we turned to packing what we could because we were leaving the next day.

Tuesday we woke to flurries, but it didn’t amount to much and the roads were clear. We drove out of the snowy woods, through a mountainous landscape and eventually to exurbs and suburbs and home, where many of your Christmas cards and big box of presents from my sister, brother-in-law, and niece awaited us.

Making Christmas: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 28

You think I’d be used to things not happening by this point in the pandemic, but I’m finding I miss the usual busyness of this time of year, the school concerts and plays and holiday parties. I feel like Mrs. Claus in The Year Without a Santa Claus when she complains to Santa about the lack of seasonal activity, saying “it just isn’t natural this time of year.”

Of course, we have not been completely idle or really very idle at all. Beth’s very busy with work and I’ve been less busy but also working, and the kids have been attending classes, or in Noah’s case, taking finals. He had his last two classes on Monday and because Ithaca has no reading period, he dived right into finals the next day. He had a presentation in his audio production class on Tuesday, a computer science exam on Wednesday, another assignment for that class on Thursday, and asynchronous philosophy exam and an essay for ethnomathematics both due on Friday. I excused him from most of his chores during the last week of class and exams week, so North had to clean the kitchen and I had to clean the bathroom and sweep the porch. The fact that this felt unusual shows how much I’ve gotten used to his help around the house since he’s been home.

We’ve also been decorating and baking. Beth started putting up the outside lights last weekend and finished this weekend and she and North decorated the living room with pine garlands, strings of lights, candles, and various nutcracker, Santa, and snowmen figures. I made gingerbread dough last Sunday and baked a tray of cookies, then Beth and North helped cut and decorate two more on Monday. I froze the rest of the dough so we can take it with us to Blackwater Falls State Park, where we’ll be spending Christmas. Meanwhile, Beth and North made pizzelles, and North and I made peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses and buckeyes. We were planning to give away cookies and candy, so we baked earlier than usual.

North’s been engaged in various holiday-related craft projects. Last month when the long-delayed Billie Eilish concert that was supposed to be their birthday present back in March was finally cancelled, we got them a replacement for their old 3D pen as belated birthday present. They’d recently started using the old pen, which had been lost for years, when Noah reorganized his bedroom (which used to be North’s room) and found it, but then it broke shortly after they starting making things with it again, so a new one seemed like a good gift. When it broke they were right in the middle of making a model of the Eiffel Tower and the surrounding park and after they got the new one and finished that they started making ornaments and other little holiday trinkets.

North also made ten-day Advent calendars for everyone with little treats or gifts in each bag. On Tuesday, the first day, I got a dark chocolate square and a mini Reese’s peanut butter cup, Noah got a couple peanut butter cups and a Hershey’s miniature, and Beth got a blue ornament of West Virginia with a gold heart in the center that North had made with the 3D pen and it went on that way. On the third day, I got a packet of salted caramel-flavored sugar from a tea and spice shop I like and on the fifth day, some coffee scrub soap, purchased in Rehoboth over Thanksgiving at our (and Joe Biden’s) favorite soap shop.

It snowed Wednesday, the first snow of the year, unless you count some flurries the week before. We got about an inch and a half before it turned to freezing rain, but it was pretty and novel. I took two walks that day, my normal morning walk just as it was starting to snow, and a shorter walk with North in the afternoon. That was a soggy walk as the snow had turned to rain by that point and the snow on the ground on the path by the creek was slushy and muddy. But North walked fifteen or twenty minutes without any mobility devices, which was encouraging.

When we came home I shoveled the walk so the slush wouldn’t refreeze overnight and then North braided my hair while I worked a little, trying not move my head too much as I looked back and forth from computer screen to printouts. Then North and I made bulgur chili for dinner and peanut butter cookies to add to our stockpile of sweets. After dinner, Beth and I divided up the three kinds of cookies for distribution to friends. I thought we had a lot, but once we started filling up bags and tins, the pile dwindled quickly.

Thursday my friend (and North’s preschool music teacher) Becky came over for a porch visit. I made tea and set out three kinds of cookies. The day was cold but sunny and our yard was bright with snow, so it was nice to sit outside and talk and catch up.  Becky’s been working as Zoom coordinator, overseeing online school for two first graders and organizing activities for them when they’re not in class so their parents can work. That was interesting to hear about. Just before she left, our Christmas lights came on, giving the twilight a cheery feel.

Friday Noah finished his last exam so we had time to watch a Christmas movie that night. This set off a long discussion over our pizza dinner about what Christmas specials and movies we would watch this year and when because there are a lot in our regular rotation, and North doesn’t like to watch them after Christmas, but also wanted to watch one (The Polar Express) that’s not in the watch-every-year family canon that night. Noah argued we should watch all the obligatory ones first to make sure we don’t miss any. So Beth got out a piece of paper and wrote down all the specials and movies and all the available time slots between now and Christmas and determined we could make it work. Interestingly, there’s no disagreement about what’s in the canon and what’s not. So we watched The Polar Express.

Saturday afternoon we went for a long drive, going from house to house dropping off cookies and buckeyes. We went to the houses of two of North’s friends (Zoë and the twins Miles and Maddie), where North got out of the car and had five-minute outside visits with them, exchanging gifts as well as dropping off sweets. We also left some on the doorsteps of several other family friends. As our final stop, we got warm drinks, lemon cake, and chocolate toffee almonds from Peet’s. Noah and I made a cheesy spaghetti pie for dinner, which was very popular, and then we watched The Year Without a Santa Claus, which is canonical.

Today Beth did a huge grocery shopping so she can minimize time spent in the grocery store in West Virginia and I finished a batch of get-out-the-vote postcards for the Georgia Senate runoffs. It put me over my year-end goal of one thousand postcards since September 2018, when I started writing for Postcards for Voters. Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, also canonical, is tonight’s entertainment.

We’re leaving for Blackwater in a few days, but before then I’m having my friend Ellen from book club over for tea and some buckeyes I set aside for her porch visit. And North is planning to make a special dinner for Yule—a soup made with tomatoes and oranges (red and orange ingredients to honor the return of the sun), a cranberry-apple drink and honey cakes for dessert. North’s been a pagan since last February and sometime between the election and Thanksgiving they decided to start covering their hair (which they’re growing out) as a religious observance, in case any of you who’ve seen photos on Facebook in the past month were wondering about that. We will also be opening some of our Christmas gifts that night so we can fit everything in the car and to mark the holiday.

Happy Solstice! May the new season bring you health and happiness.