About Steph

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

Bow Down to Her on Sunday, Salute Her When Her Birthday Comes: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 40

Bow down to her on Sunday
Salute her when her birthday comes
For Halloween, buy her a trumpet
And for Christmas, get her a drum

From “She Belongs to Me,” by Bob Dylan

Noah’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and my birthday are all clustered together. Depending on when Mother’s Day falls in any given year, it’s three celebrations in a span of nine to twelve days. North has commented more than once that they are the only one in the family who does not get any presents during this span of time. I clean up, with presents from multiple people on two occasions. No one actually bowed down or saluted me, but that would have been weird, and sufficient tribute was paid.

Mother’s Day Weekend: Friday and Saturday

Friday was Noah’s last day of classes and he was finished by mid-afternoon so he had time to read and vacuum and play his drums before dinner. We got pizza and gelato and watched the beginning of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds, which we drew out of the pile of index cards with the titles of films we’ve agreed to watch. There’s a complex nomination and veto process but I won’t go into that now. Coincidentally on a celebratory day for him, it was one of Noah’s picks. He’s interested in the works of Hayao Miyazaki. This the fourth of his films we’ve seen this year. (The others were The Castle of Cagliostro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo.) Anime tends toward the weird, which is part of the charm, but this one was probably the strangest of the four. I think as a whole, Miyazaki leans into the fact that it’s animation, so anything can happen. It was a little hard to follow in places, but very imaginative and visually appealing, and it had pacifist, environmental themes I appreciated.

Saturday Beth worked in the garden, digging up a weed tree stump and daffodil and tulip bulbs we’ll relocate so she could make space for a new tomato bed. North spent much of the day in Zoë’s back yard (and porch when it rained). Noah and I read about thirty pages of The Light Fantastic, one of his birthday books, from the Discworld series—over the course of the weekend we read almost half of it—and watched the last available episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. I made oatmeal-raisin muffins because we had some leftover oatmeal from breakfast and then I made some progress on The Sympathizer, which I’m reading for book club. Noah and I made vegetarian Bolognese for dinner. (Crumbled cauliflower stands in for the beef and the sauce is made rich with butter, milk, and parmesan and salty with tamari.) And then we all watched the end of Nausicaä, which was a fun way to end the day.

Mother’s Day Weekend: Sunday

We scheduled the opening of Mother’s Day’s gifts for Sunday evening because Beth had a busy day. She went grocery shopping in the morning, leaving before the kids were up, and she was home just long enough to drop off the groceries and eat lunch, then she was out of the house from one p.m. until eight p.m., because she was taking a kayaking class at Seneca Creek State Park. It’s a new kind of outdoor exercise for her and something she’s wanted to try for a while. Later she told us she saw a lot of blue herons and turtles (these were the children’s symbols at their nature-based preschool—North was the Great Blue Heron and Noah was Painted Turtle) so the kids were there “in spirit.”

While she was gone, I finished putting away the groceries, made myself a nice lunch—farmers’ market strawberries and Brie I’d put on the grocery list for just this occasion on crackers with apricot jam—and then I read the Outlook section of the Post, continued to chip away at The Sympathizer, and did some cleaning in the kitchen, not as much as I intended, but hey, it was Mother’s Day. Beth picked up takeout Burmese on her way home. I told her to choose the restaurant because my birthday would be in two days and I’d be choosing then. The restaurant was quite backed up with people waiting for takeout orders and she had to wait almost an hour.

But she finally got home with the food. When I unpacked it we found we were short a noodle salad and two orders of sticky rice. Beth called and the restaurant agreed to deliver the rest of the order. We ate our entrees and while we waited for the rest of the food to come, Beth and I opened our presents from the kids. Beth got two dark chocolate bars, coconut-almond and plain—from one of her favorite chocolate companies and a tofu press. I got a Starbucks gift card and Stephen King’s latest, Later. Because my book had gotten bent during shipping, Noah put it in the tofu press in an attempt to flatten it. Just as we were finishing, there was a knock on the door and the rest of our food arrived.

After dinner, Beth, Noah, and I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is our normal Sunday evening activity, but also my favorite part of most weekends. (In fact, I announced at dinner that part of what I’d like for my birthday on Tuesday, was to watch an extra episode of Buffy, not on a Sunday, which seemed like a luxury.) Beth teased me right before we started the show, asking if I really wanted to watch it, saying sometimes she couldn’t tell. I maintain there’s nothing wrong with being clear about what you want.

The Day Between: Monday

Monday North went back to school, after a week at home. There continues to be no yoga in yoga, but students had the option to walk around the track and some of them, including North, did. They struck up a conversation with a girl who was also walking laps and in history, they apparently had a lot to say about redlining. In-person school is so much better for their personality and learning style—I’m happy they’re going in, even if it’s only four days out of every ten.

Another notable thing that happened that day was the Brood X cicadas started to emerge. Beth mentioned seeing some shells on the yard waste bags she’d put out for collection when she went for her early morning walk. When I went for my mid-morning one I saw a few shells on our fence and a nearby telephone pole, and a freshly emerged white cicada on a cherry tree trunk. I also saw direct and indirect evidence of cicada predation. Little sparrows were flying around with cicadas nearly as big as their heads in their beaks and the sidewalk was littered with cicada bits from messy eaters. It wasn’t until I got home, though, that I saw that in our side yard, in the little wildflower meadow I’ve instructed Noah not to mow, nearly every daisy stem had a shell or a live cicada (some turned black, some still white) on it. It was quite a sight.

I took pictures and sent Noah out with his camera to take more. When I revisited the flowers an hour or so later, it was like a buffet, with birds were swooping in from all directions and taking their lunch to the sidewalk along the side of the house to eat. The cicadas don’t seem able to fly yet, so I’ve only seen them either where they shed their shells or lumbering clumsily along the ground or sidewalk.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for twelve-to-fifteen year olds that afternoon. Beth was right on it when she saw the notification and she thought she’d managed to snag an appointment for North after school on Wednesday. However, the system cancelled it because apparently they weren’t making appointments for under-sixteens yet. (But just a couple days later Beth was able to make another appointment for this afternoon, at Six Flags. Now between us, we’ve been vaccinated in an out-of-business furniture store, a stadium, and an amusement park.)

Beth baked my birthday cake and the frosting in the afternoon and that evening North frosted it. I’d requested a chocolate cake with cookies and cream frosting and that’s what Beth made.

Birthday: Tuesday

North went to school again on Tuesday (which still seems novel enough to mention explicitly), bearing their Japanese tea bowl, an in-progress ceramics project. Even though in-person school has meant the disappearance of yoga in yoga class, it has meant the introduction of ceramics in their ceramics class. Up to now it’s been a sculpture-with-found-materials class. I’m not quite sure why the students couldn’t have been working with clay before now, as there have been occasional days when the school distributed materials for various classes on a drive-through basis, but I am focusing on the positive. North is working with clay, which was their reason for signing up for this class. And the teacher even asked if they were an experienced potter and when North said no, he said they had a knack for it.

I had a fairly normal, if abbreviated work day. I read a Raymond Carver story on the porch for book club, rode the exercise bike, finished a blog post about a line of stress relief and sleep products. I knocked off early and Noah and I walked to North’s bus stop, which is several blocks from the house and more to the point, about halfway to a Starbucks, and I claimed my birthday reward (and bought a bunch of other items, as the kids were with me). North had to be back at the house by four for therapy and I thought the timing would all work out pretty well, but then the bus was ten minutes late, so we had to hustle. We got home with our booty (I got a chai latte and a blueberry scone) with a minute or two to spare. When North was out of therapy we watched an episode of Locke and Key, because it was dinner-making time and I wasn’t making dinner.

We ordered takeout Mexican. I didn’t even have to tell Beth I wanted the spinach enchiladas because that’s what I always get, but we also had plantains, and I got a virgin mango daiquiri, which isn’t part of my usual order. North tried one, too.

As happened on Sunday, part of the order was missing, so we ate in courses and while we waited for the rest of it to arrive, I opened presents. North made me this lovely painting of cherry blossoms (there are real dried blossoms incorporated into it), Noah got me Gods of Jade and Shadow, and Beth got me Kate and Anna McGarrigle’s Love Over and Over (which disappeared off Apple Music last summer or fall and I’ve been missing ever since) and two more books, Pull of the Stars and Station Eleven. I did ask for more books about pandemics, in case you’re wondering.

My mom called while we were eating dinner and we had a brief conversation, during which I thanked her for her gift, a Starbucks card, and she thanked me for my Mother’s Day gift, a gift tray of nuts, and later in the evening, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece called and serenaded me with their rendition of “Happy Birthday” and enquired about my day.

Beth instructed the kids to take care of their own dishes (I am the family dishwasher) and she did hers and mine and after a break for digestion, we had the delicious cake. Beth got the frosting just right, I have to say. It tasted just like the inside of an Oreo, maybe because of all the mashed up Newman’s Os in it.

And then we watched Buffy, just like I wanted.

Now the Boy is Twenty: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 39

So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through

From “The Circle Game,” by Joni Mitchell

Noah’s twenty, as in two decades, as in not a teenager any more. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Okay. Ready to proceed?

This is how I opened Noah’s birthday blog post last year:

So, back in the Before Times, we thought it was sad Noah would be at school for his nineteenth birthday and we were wondering whether to order him a cake from a local bakery or if it would be better to have the cake late, but at home, where we could all partake. So, that’s a decision we won’t have to make until next spring. (He’ll be at school a year from now, right?)

Well, that decision got kicked back another year. Noah’s at home, has been at home for almost fourteen months. And it does seem as if his college experience has lost some grandeur coming true so far, but there are two years left and he will be back on campus next year. He’s registered for classes and he has a housing assignment. He’s taking Cinema Production II, Media Law and Politics, Utopias and Dystopias in Emerging Media, and Band for non-music majors.

The loss of a year plus half a semester on campus makes me glad we encouraged him not to graduate in three years. He had enough AP credit to do it, but the timing of the required classes for his major would have made it difficult. All that work taking AP classes in high school wasn’t for nothing, though. It got some requirements out of the way and allowed him to take the classes he wanted to take right off the bat, plus he can take a slightly lighter class load, which is good for our deep but slow thinker. His thirteen-credit schedule for next semester reminds me of when he was in seventh grade and having a challenging year academically and Beth asked him what his ideal class schedule would be and he said, “All media and band.” So, eight years later, he’ll be living the dream.

He’ll be living in an on-campus apartment with a roommate. He’s never met the roommate– they were matched by the college. All he knows about him is that he’s a non-smoker from New Jersey. It will be nice for him to have a little more space and a kitchen, though he’s going to stay on the meal plan at least for the fall semester.

Noah’s birthday was yesterday. The timing wasn’t ideal. It’s the last week of classes before finals and Monday is his busiest day. All four of his classes meet, the first one starting at nine a.m. and the last one finishing at 8:30 p.m., so it makes for a long day. In the morning I asked him if he thought he could take a break to go for a walk get his Starbucks birthday reward from the one closest to our house and he said no, so I offered to pick it up for him if he ordered it on the app, as I had to go to the post office and that would take me near a different Starbucks. While I was there getting his guava-passionfruit drink and lemon pound cake, I got myself a birthday cake pop, because it was someone’s birthday, if not mine. But I didn’t get a drink because I wanted to get a Thai iced tea from Kin-Da. Beth and I had Thai for dinner the night I went into labor with Noah (two decades ago!) and now I have Thai food on or near his birthday whenever I can. Since I can no longer have caffeinated drinks at dinner if I want to sleep at night, I usually steer clear of Thai iced tea, even though I am fond of it. So I was pleased to have an opportunity to have it around noon instead.

Around 5:35, at my encouragement, Noah took a study break and went down to the basement to practice his drums for twenty minutes. He’s taking online lessons at the local music school and doesn’t practice as much as when he was in a highly ranked high school band with a driven teacher, but I’m always glad when he does because I think it’s good stress relief for him.

For dinner we got takeout from Noodles and Company because it’s one of Noah’s favorites. I got the Pad Thai, of course. He got buttered noodles with broccoli and tofu, which is his standard order (well, sometimes he gets carrots instead of broccoli). Then he opened his presents. He got a fancy tripod with flexible legs that you can wrap around irregularly shaped things like tree branches, gift cards for Amazon, Starbucks, and Panera, and five books: The Magicians trilogy, (which I thought would be fun, since we watched the television series early in the pandemic), the second book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and The Space Between Worlds. When we were done, he went back into his room to attend his last class of the day.

After he emerged, we had cake and ice cream. Beth made the cake, chocolate with fresh strawberry frosting, a family favorite, and North frosted it. It was delicious, as always. My mom, who has now been a grandmother for two decades, called to convey her birthday greetings shortly after we finished eating.

Noah got his second shot last Friday (in the Ravens’ stadium again), so by the time he’s finished his finals a week and a half from now, he’ll be fully vaccinated. He’ll be heading out to Wheeling to visit Beth’s mom until Memorial Day for some well-deserved R&R.

When he gets back, I hope he leaves the house more often than he has been. At the very least he’s got some money to spend at Starbucks and Panera. I also hope we’ll go back to hiking in nearby parks and flying the drone on the weekends like we did last summer and fall because I really enjoyed that, and he did, too. And he may have a summer job, assisting the local filmmaker who he worked with on Hugo Cabret’s Big Fix last fall. Mike is married to one of Beth’s colleagues at CWA and Noah’s worked with him on a few other small projects over the last several years, starting with filming the CWA contingent at the Women’s March in 2017. When Beth ran into Mike at a rally in support of the PRO Act (to protect the right to organize) last weekend, Mike said he was short-handed and he thought he could employ Noah. It’s not for sure yet, but I’m hoping it works out. It sounds like the perfect way to spend his last few months at home.

And when he goes back to school, he’ll have new dreams, maybe better dreams to pursue.

Anticipation: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 38

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasin’ after some finer day

From “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon

Things are slowly starting to seem, well, not normal exactly, but as if normal is on the horizon. Hopeful signs are everywhere on the pandemic and other fronts. Here are a few, plus one not so hopeful one:

Vaccination

Just a little over a week after Beth and I got vaccinated, Noah got his first shot. Like us, he had to travel outside Montgomery County, which does not seem to be getting its fair share of doses. I guess I shouldn’t complain, though, since the state seems to have enough, and it’s a small state so no site is that far away. Beth drove him to the stadium in Baltimore where the Ravens play. His second shot will be on Friday, so when that’s taken effect in mid-May, three out of four of us will be fully vaccinated. Now we just need to wait for a vaccine to be approved for twelve-to-fifteen year olds, which may happen soon. If North and their peers are able to get vaccinated sometime this summer, that should mean school will be more like regular high school in the fall, with the whole class and the teachers all in the same room at the same time. The mind boggles.

My sister and her husband are partially vaccinated, too, and they bought their airline tickets to come East to visit my cousin Holly in Pennsylvania and then to join us at the beach in Rehoboth in mid-July. All the adults in the beach house will be vaccinated, which is the condition we set.

Celebrations

Zoë had an outdoor birthday party the second weekend in April. It was in her grandparents’ backyard, which is bigger than her family’s backyard. It also has a zipline. There were about ten guests, which is probably the biggest group of teens North’s been in since drama-camp-in-the-park last summer. Beth said when she went to pick them up afterward, North seemed really, really happy. Then about two weeks later North went to Miles and Maddy’s birthday party, which took place around their family’s firepit. North has a lot of friends with spring birthdays so their dance card has at least one more upcoming birthday party plus a quinceañera on it in the next month and a half. This is a happy thing because last spring there was a dearth of parties and now they are happening, albeit in different forms than they would have pre-pandemic.

Mini-Vacation

The third weekend in April, Beth and North went camping in West Virginia, where they stayed in a camper cabin and explored Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown. Until Noah started college, Beth used to take each kid on a solo camping trip every year (Noah in the fall and North in the spring), but this was the first camping trip during the pandemic. When Beth decided to go, it occurred to me wonder why they hadn’t camped earlier, as it seems like a pretty covid-safe activity. Beth said she’d been worried about crowded campground facilities, and sure enough they encountered several drunken, beer-toting and unmasked women in the bathroom (as well as unmasked but presumably sober folks in the camp store). Of course, North couldn’t avoid the bathroom, but when only one person needed to go inside somewhere, like the camp store or a grocery store, Beth did it. They also ate at a restaurant (outdoors) for the first time since last summer, when we did it in Ithaca. Beth and North both found this very cheering.

I felt really unsettled when Beth and North left for their trip, even knowing it was just for two days, because we are always all together now and have been for over a year. The only nights the four of us haven’t spent under the same roof have been the ones North spent in the hospital with one mom or the other last summer. I have to say, I prefer a camping trip to that.

Left to our own devices, Noah and I read six chapters of Ninth House and watched four episodes of Death Note, and two movies. On Friday we ordered pizza and watched Pan’s Labyrinth. We were originally going to order from a place that used to be our go-to for pizza, but which we haven’t patronized in a long time. However, in the process of ordering we discovered they don’t deliver anymore—it’s carryout only. The name of the place is Pizza Movers. Think about that for a second. As Noah said, “It’s right there in the name. They’re supposed to move the pizza.”

The next night we made penne with an asparagus-cherry tomato sauce. After dinner, I made banana pudding on a whim, and then we watched Daughters of the Dust, which Noah needed to watch for a cinema class he’s taking. So, even though I did miss my wife and youngest, I can’t say I suffered terribly. It was nice to have so much one-on-one time with my firstborn.

It also made me think about all the little trips that will have us split up in different combinations over the next several months. After his finals in mid-May, Noah is going to go to Wheeling to visit Beth’s mom for two weeks. North will probably do the same thing some time this summer, though we haven’t set a date. North may also be able to start sleeping over at friends’ houses when kids in their age group start getting vaccinated (and after we’ve compared ground rules with other parents). Plus, their sleep-away camp will be in session this year in August, whether campers are vaccinated or not. The biggest change, of course, will be when Noah goes back to college, also in August. I imagine I will be simultaneously overjoyed and gutted when that happens, so I guess it’s good we’ll have these little practice separations first.

Occupation

The day after Beth and North got back from camping, Beth did an unusual thing. She went to her office. She’s been back there a couple times, but only to fetch things she needed. The office will be slowly reopening, possibly allowing some people to opt into returning starting in June. She wants to ease into this transition and she had a dentist appointment in the city that day, so she decided go into the empty office to work. She said the Metro platform was “less crowded than I remember” and the office was nice and quiet, which was probably because she was the only one on the whole floor.

Presentation

Beth was trying to get home from the office by 5:20 because Noah was participating in an online undergraduate symposium and she wanted to see him give his paper on what plot changes would be needed to resolve the philosophical paradoxes of time travel in Back to the Future. She ended up having to watch part of it on her phone on the bus and the rest of it at home on my computer, where I was already watching. I was glad when she got home because I’d been unable to access his complicated graphics representing branching timelines and she got them on the screen. If you know Noah, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it was all very Noah. He sounded confident while he presented and he came in within the time limit. (He’d spent a lot of time editing the paper down to ten minutes.) Beth said all the oral presentations he gave in his high school communications magnet program paid off.

Education

Meanwhile, the same Monday Beth went into the office and Noah gave his paper was also the first day of in-person classes for the first group of ninth graders, the ones who are in the red group. North is in the blue group, so they had another week to wait. The most notable change was that three of their four classes (Japanese, Algebra, and History) all met for the full hour of assigned class time, or nearly so, and this has been a pretty rare occurrence during remote schooling. However, the yoga teacher announced at the beginning of class she was going to focus on the in-person students, so she took attendance and dismissed the online students. I wondered if that was just a first day thing or if North will only have yoga now every other week. Three days later, which was the next time yoga class met, it was the same. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I figured it is what it is.

On Tuesday, North’s English, Sculpture, and Biology classes all met for the full hour or within a few minutes of it. Even in the advisory period, during which students usually check in and are immediately dismissed, the students stayed for twenty minutes, during which they got information about people running to be student members of the school board. I am hoping this pattern of longer classes points toward more academic engagement for North this quarter, whether they’re in the classroom or at home. That would be welcome.

When I asked North what seemed different with students in the classroom, they said the obvious things, that the teachers were wearing masks and they were switching back and forth between talking to the in-person group and to the online students. They also said the Algebra teacher wandered too far from his mic sometimes and was hard to hear.

Reproduction

On Tuesday afternoon I noticed that there was no dove sitting on the nest on the ledge of our porch. The mother and father bird have been taking turns on it continually for more than three weeks and I’d been afraid the eggs might be duds. (This did happen one year.) So I climbed up on the porch wall and had a peek and there were two tiny, fluffy chicks in there. I didn’t see the chicks again for five more days, as usually one parent (and sometimes both of them) was usually sitting on the ledge at angles that hid the babies.

Deliberation

Just about an hour after I first spied the chicks, the triple guilty verdicts in Derek Chauvin’s trial were announced. It won’t bring George Floyd back, but as a friend of mine, a white woman with two mixed race kids about the ages of mine, said on Facebook, it’s “three small steps in the right direction.” I don’t want to imbue one verdict with too much meaning, but I think Naomi got it about right. It did make me feel hopeful. And I don’t even want to think how depressing it would have been if this egregious case had gone the other way.

More Education

North went to school, in a school, for the first time in thirteen months and thirteen days today. (Their last day of in-person school, in March 2020, was Friday the 13th.) That spooky detail aside, it went pretty well.

Because the students who opted to remain all-virtual plus the red team, which goes to school on alternate weeks, were at home, the class schedule was the same as it was when everyone was virtual—four one-hour blocks a day, with breaks between them so those four hours of class occur between nine a.m. and two-thirty p.m. However, on the first day North needed to be there early because there was a tour of the building for ninth graders at 7:45.

Beth was driving them to school so they wouldn’t have to be on the bus at the crack of dawn and I got up a little earlier than usual to see them off. I took the traditional first-day-of-school photo at the back gate instead of the front gate because that was the gate they’d be walking through to get to the driveway. That small difference (and the fact that it’s April and not August) should remind us of the strangeness of this year when we look back at the picture—though I doubt we’ll need any reminding.

North came home on the school bus, arriving a little before 3:30. It’s a long ride because we live out-of-boundary for their school. They said their day was “not horrible.” They recognized someone from their middle school art class on the tour. There were only two to six in-person students in each class. They took a quiz in Japanese and got an A. In Algebra, they came up with a way to solve a problem that was different than what the teacher had in mind and he praised their ingenuity. They were allowed to eat lunch outside and they did. They were pleased with the pesto and fresh mozzarella sandwich and fruit salad they’d packed. Turns out the yoga teacher isn’t teaching the in-class students either, at least not today, and she took attendance and had them sit on the bleachers with no explanation. I am baffled by this and hope it doesn’t continue. Tomorrow North will have their other classes. The Biology teacher isn’t teaching in-person, so they will attend on their laptop in the school building, but the other classes will be in person.

Predation

While North was at school, I checked on the nest and it was empty, and I know those chicks were too little to have fledged. There was no bloody, feathery mess to clean up, as happened the first time we had doves on the porch, but something must have carried them off. I took it hard, as I’d gotten attached. I always do. I hope their end was quick.

Life is fragile and uncertain, as we’ve all come to appreciate this year.

Anticipation

I know the pace of re-opening varies a lot depending on where you live. Some of you have had in-person classes since fall or have being going in and out of lockdowns, some of you are still waiting to be vaccinated, and one of you is anxious for the U.S.-Canadian border to open because your son is at school on the other side of the border. It seems like we’re all in different phases of the pandemic, and of course, no one knows if the rate of vaccination will be able to outstrip the appearance of new, more virulent variants. But despite all this, most days I am more hopeful than not that finer days are on their way. I hope you are, too.

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.