About Steph

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

Commencements: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 30

New Year’s Eve Eve

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

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

New Year’s Eve 

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Day 

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

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

Weekend 

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

Update: Wednesday, January 6

In re Georgia: Yippee!

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

January 20 cannot come soon enough.

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

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

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

Before Blackwater and Arrival: Tuesday and Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Day of Christmas: Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

More Days of Christmas: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Christmas: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 27

Saturday

When we passed the statue of Jesus with his arms raised at the intersection of Piney Branch and New Hampshire Avenues, I said softly to Beth, “Go beach.” We pass that statue just five or ten minutes in the trip to the beach and North always said that when they were little and we’d drive by it, even though most of the times we passed it we were not in fact headed for the beach but on some more mundane errand.

It had been stressful for Beth getting out of the house, figuring out how to fit everything we’d need for a week in the car around the wheelchair, walker, and shower chair. She wasn’t in the best mood, but she gave me a little smile anyway.

But as the kids disappeared into their headphones, she and I listened to a playlist of 60s hits from a podcast she listens to and by the time we got to the Taco Bell and Dairy Queen just past the Bay Bridge around 2:15, she seemed more cheerful. We got a late lunch from the drive-through windows and ate it at the picnic tables outside the DQ. This is our new pandemic beach drive tradition. I guess it’s a tradition, as we’ve done it twice now and as a family we form traditions easily. Noah and I got pumpkin pie-flavored confections because this was a Thanksgiving trip. (Though the kids both had classes through Tuesday and Beth and I were going to work, too, so it was going to be something of a busman’s holiday.)

We rolled into Rehoboth about 4:45, picked up the keys for the house in a box outside the realty, and drove to the house. It’s the same one where we stayed in July, so the wood-paneled walls and soaring ceiling in the dining room were a familiar and welcome sight. I knew just where the hook was to hang my mask when I walked in the front door.

After we’d unpacked, North and I walked down to the beach for a quick hello. I stood briefly with the toes of my rain boots in the foamy water, but stepped back so I wouldn’t end up with soaked feet, as they were ankle boots. It was cloudy but we could still see a lot of stars and something golden in the sky that might have been a planet.

Beth went out to pick up some groceries for breakfast and Grandpa Mac’s for dinner. I got the mac-n-cheese with broccoli, celery, and mushrooms mixed in; I never get anything else, though I vary the vegetables. We watched the middle third of The Castle of Cagliostro, an anime film we’d started the night before at home.

Sunday

The next morning we ate breakfast and menu planned for the week so Beth could go on the main grocery shopping trip of the week. She wanted to try out their curbside delivery system but after she’d filled out the form it said there were no pickup slots available, so that was disappointing. Before she left to go shopping, she went for a walk on the boardwalk.

North and I took also took a walk around the same time. It was a nice day, mild and sunny. North wore a sweater and I was wearing jeans and a wool shirt; neither of us needed a jacket. It’s a short walk from our house to the beach, only a block, but I was still encouraged they’d made it down there twice without any mobility device because they’ve had some setbacks with pain recently, which is why we had to bring the wheelchair and the walker. Beth’s making an appointment at the pain clinic soon. I have a feeling a new round of physical therapy may be in their future.

When North was ready to go back to the house, I walked them there and then turned back to the beach because I wanted a longer walk. I spent almost two hours rambling down the beach and boardwalk and then sitting on the sand with my back resting against the fence the divides the beach from the beach grass. It wasn’t too crowded and virtually everyone on the boardwalk was wearing a mask—it’s required there. On the beach, where it’s not, it was more like half and half.

I was particularly charmed by two little girls who winter hats on but were barefoot and barelegged up to the knees, wearing matching flowered capris. They were running up to the water, getting their feet wet, running back to the sand and jumping in a big puddle the tide left there. Their joy (and constant movement) reminded me of my own kids when they were small and on the beach and made me a bit nostalgic for those days.

I went back to the house to eat lunch and read three chapters of The Fated Sky and watch a couple episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale with Noah. By 4:15, I was ready to hit the beach again and North wanted to come, too. This time we took the walker and went further down the boardwalk. And again, when they wanted to go home, I walked them home and went right back. I was out until well after dark, sitting on a bench on a stretch of boardwalk where the dry grass was short enough to see over and watching the white tops of the waves shining in the glow the streetlights cast on the beach.

Beth made chili and cornbread for dinner, then we finally finished The Castle of Cagliostro. My favorite thing about it was the setting of the castle, which is very well realized. Then we watched a couple episodes of Blackish. We’re at the end of season 3, just about up to the part where Zoey goes to college.

And speaking of college, the day before we left for the beach, Noah had to decide whether to go back to Ithaca in the spring. Three of the four classes he registered for are meeting entirely online, the cafeterias are going to operate on a grab-and-go basis, and his best friend is not going to be on campus, so he decided to stay home. One thing that made the decision hard was the one in-person class was Cinema Production II, which can be hard to get into and which is important for his course of study. Still, it didn’t seem worth a semester of taking classes and eating meals mostly in his dorm room when he could be taking classes from his room at home, where the food’s better and he’d at least have his family to keep him company.

I’m really sad for him, not being on campus for a quarter of his first year of college and the whole second year. I just hope with two (or is it three now?) new vaccines on the horizon and the promise of real leadership at the federal level, he’ll be able to go back for his junior year next fall. He’s already decided if he goes abroad it will be in his senior year so he can have a whole, uninterrupted year on campus. And I hope he gets into CP II again, so he can get more use out of the film studios that drew him to Ithaca in the first place.

Birthday

Monday was Beth’s birthday and it was such a complicated day we needed to write down the schedule. Everyone had work or school, but in addition, North wanted to go out for bagels for breakfast, I had to pick up the birthday cake I’d ordered for Beth’s birthday from the bakery, we were going to get takeout Italian for lunch and have a picnic, plus go to Starbucks for Beth’s birthday reward. In the afternoon, we had a virtual teacher-parent conference with North’s new English teacher (the original one quit early in the school year and they had a medium-term sub until a long-term sub was hired). After that, we were going to do a Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. Finally, I was making breaded tofu sticks and applesauce for dinner, which Beth had requested for her birthday dinner, followed by cake and presents.

So the day went more or less like that, with some minor variations. North and I left the house for the bagel place at eight, shortly after I rolled out of bed, so they could be home by nine for their English class. But it turns out it’s only open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the off season, so we came home without bagels. I can’t say I minded much as a morning walk on the boardwalk is never amiss and I was just as happy to eat cranberry granola at home.

I worked on a technical sales sheet for a blood pressure supplement on the screened porch in the morning and then Beth drove me to the bakery to get her cake—a chocolate cake with cookies-and-cream frosting and mini Oreos on top. I might have gone to get it in a sneakier fashion, but while we were still in Takoma the bakery returned my call and she’d picked up the phone, so there wasn’t much point in secrecy after that. Soon after Beth and Noah went to pick up the Italian takeout, which took longer than we expected to be ready so there wasn’t time for a picnic before our parent-teacher conference. We’d requested one because the teacher was new and we wanted to explain more about the accommodations in North’s 504 plan. He seemed very nice and was impressively fluent with North’s pronouns.

After that, Beth and North walked to Starbucks and brought home treats for everyone. I got a latte and a doughnut. I worked some more and then took a walk on the beach and Noah and I read a little before I started cooking dinner. (We didn’t do our Christmas card photo shoot that afternoon because Noah wanted to use his drone to take some of the pictures and it was windy.)

After we’d eaten dinner, we had cake and ice cream and Beth opened her presents. I got her a pair of pajama bottoms with Peanuts characters on them, Noah got her a bottle of fancy olive oil, and North got her some French drinking chocolate. She seemed pleased with the cake and presents. She just turned fifty-four, so I’m hoping her fifty-fifth year will be better than this past one (on many fronts). I’m feeling optimistic that it will be.

The birthday girl chose the evening’s entertainment, so we watched The Animaniacs before splitting up to watch The Handmaid’s Tale (Noah and me) and The Crown (Beth). Beth and North also took a walk down to the beach to look at the stars in a clearer sky than when North and I took our night walk.

Tuesday

Beth, North, and I went on another breakfast expedition at eight, this time to Café a-Go-Go, where we got takeout coffee, hot chocolate, and pastries and had a nice walk on the boardwalk. It was well past sunrise when we set out, but the light still looked new and golden and where it touched the swelling waves it turned them a translucent green.

We ate at home, supplementing our sweets with eggs, yogurt, and banana. I settled into my corner-of-the-porch office again to work. North’s last class for the week was over around eleven and Noah’s just before three, which was around the time I finished the sales sheet. The kids still had homework, but I was finished with work for the week, and happy about it.

It was less windy, so once North woke from an afternoon nap, we headed down to the beach and Beth and Noah took turns taking pictures of us in pairs or all together (using the drone for the group shots). It was a sunny day and the sea was a brilliant blue. I’d told the kids to pack red or green clothes but I hadn’t said anything to Beth because often the photos on the card are just the kids. When I decided it would be nice to have all of us, I was pleased that I happened to have a red flannel shirt and Beth had a green sweater, so we made a festive mix. We did some photos with masks because I thought it said something about the past year, but in the end we decided not to use any of those. After we were finished, Noah and I strolled up the boardwalk to Funland so he could fly the drone over it because North wanted to know what it looked like in the off season.

North made Mushroom Wellington for dinner, which other than Thanksgiving, was the fanciest dinner we had all week. After dinner we looked at the drone footage and noted with interest which rides at Funland have been stored off the premises and which are still there but partly disassembled. The drone is really the gift that keeps on giving. Beth made a fire and we roasted marshmallows for S’mores and watched the last episode of season 3 of Blackish, the one in which DeVante is born. Sorry for the spoiler if you, like us, are three and a half years behind in this show.

Wednesday

Wednesday was a little less busy than the last two days. We ordered takeout from Egg for breakfast (I got pumpkin praline French toast) and Japanese for lunch (I got seaweed salad and udon noodles with vegetables and tofu). While we were still at home and planning the trip, Beth and I decided we’d only get takeout for dinner two nights and cook all the other nights, but we failed to specify how many times we’d get takeout for breakfast and lunch and once we were there everyone had favorites they wanted to have, so we ended up getting takeout more days than not and sometimes twice in a day. It might have been because we weren’t going to do a lot of the things we often do on this trip, like going to the holiday sing-along or shopping in the downtown stores on Black Friday, so this was something we could do.

In between breakfast and lunch, Noah and I read a couple chapters of our book, and after lunch and a conference call Beth had to attend, we made a foray into downtown Rehoboth. Beth, Noah, and I got pumpkin-cinnamon frozen custard at Kohr’s stand and North got ice cream on a some kind of European pancake-like confection. We made stops at several stores we decided we would visit: 1) Candy Kitchen where I went in alone with a list of what everyone wanted, 2) the bookstore, where Noah and I had placed orders for Christmas gifts online ahead of time and picked them up at the counter, and 3) a store or maybe two North wanted to visit and could not identify because it was to get something for me, but Beth approved and accompanied them.

I was in and out of the bookstore pretty quickly, but I was there long enough to see the store had gone all in for its native son President-elect. As I stood at the counter which also had a big display of President Obama’s new book and some RBG merchandise, I heard one harried sounding staff member tell another she had to go to the “Biden table” to see if they had sold out of “I’m a Biden Girl” hats. I also spied Biden earrings (in case you wanted his face dangling from your earlobes) and—I swear I am not making this up—Joe Biden scented candles. I was trying not to touch things I wasn’t buying so I didn’t find out what it smelled like, but the label said it was “just like that weird dream you had.” Later I read this article in the Post about how Rehoboth, where Biden has a vacation house, has gone kind of Biden-crazy and I learned the candle smells like orange Gatorade, which I’m guessing is a favorite of his. Anyway, if you’re fond of Rehoboth or Biden, the article is worth a read. It was fun to hear the owners of so many businesses we frequent (Browseabout, Egg, the soap store) talk about him.

Noah and I headed back to the house, laden with candy and books, and he did some homework while I puttered about for a while, attending to the three loads of laundry I had going, and just before dark headed down to the beach to watch the sunset. It was a cloudy afternoon and when I got there the sky was white and light gray, gradually darkening to slate with a smudge of pink at the horizon. I sat on the sand for about a half hour and then walked a little on the boardwalk, watching the moon’s bright edge occasionally slip out from behind the clouds and then slide back.

Noah made pasta for dinner and afterward he needed to work on an assignment for his audio production class that was due that evening, so Beth and North watched The Fosters while I curled up on the couch with a comforter and some escapist fiction. I’ve been reading this rather long book for two months and I’m only about two-thirds of the way through it so maybe I will still be reading it at Christmas.

Thanksgiving

North made pumpkin cinnamon rolls with maple-cream cheese frosting for breakfast, which we ate with veggie sausage. The morning and early afternoon were rainy and Noah was taking a day off from homework, so we spent a few hours reading our book and watching The Handmaid’s Tale. We are close to the end of the third season and if you’ve seen it you know some episodes are almost unbearably suspenseful. When we finish it’s going to be hard to wait for the new season, which doesn’t even have a release date yet, though it’s supposed to be sometime next year, maybe spring.

I went down to the beach to sit and watch the ocean for a bit before it was time to cook. In the space of about forty-five minutes, I saw a family, and then a lone woman get into the ocean and swim (albeit briefly). It was a very warm day for late November, in the high sixties, but I can’t imagine the water was warm, so that was surprising. On the way back to the house I was noticing all the footprints in the sand—human, canine, and avian—and how the afternoon shadows filled them.

Back at the house, we made our traditional turkey centerpieces out of apples, toothpicks, raisins, dried cranberries, and olives and everyone pitched in to make a feast of tofu roast, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and rolls. Before we ate we shared our gratitudes and there was a lot of overlap—family, the ocean, and the changing of the political tide.

After dinner, Beth, North, and I took a walk down to the beach. The light reflecting off the undersides of the cresting waves was so bright that at first North thought it was phosphorescent seaweed. Then we came home and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Mayflower Voyagers.

Black Friday

I knew Black Friday was going to seem strange because we had no plans to shop or to attend Rehoboth’s holiday sing-along and tree lighting. The origin of this traditional off-season beach trip was an annual Christmas-shopping-and-see-Santa-on-the-boardwalk weekend in early to mid-December we used to take when the kids were small. Then, six years ago it became a long weekend over Thanksgiving, so we could have a little longer at the beach, and we’ve come at Thanksgiving every year since then except one. This year’s week-long trip is probably a one-time thing, made possible by the fact that no-one has to go to work or school anymore to do work or school.

But ironically, even though we probably had time to most or all of our shopping, we only did the very little we did on Wednesday.  Instead of shopping on Friday, we took three walks.

In the morning North and I walked to Dave & Skippy’s to get a bagel and an iced tea for them and to Greene Man to get an apple-beet-carrot-ginger juice for me. Or rather, I walked and North wheeled. Over the course of the week, they ended up using the wheelchair for all trips that were more than a few blocks long. We ate and drank on a boardwalk pavilion right next to the tent under which television news reporters had been camped out since Wednesday. Beth suspected they were using the boardwalk as a background for stories about Joe Biden, who was in town for Thanksgiving, though they weren’t broadcasting while we were there.

When we got back, I hung the laundry up on the clothesline behind the house and Noah and I read. Then we had a lunch of Thanksgiving leftovers before Beth, Noah, and I headed out on the second walk of the day, Gordons Pond Trail, which goes through a salt marsh. The trail is just over three miles long. We walked about half of it and then turned back, stopping along the way at an observation platform. We usually see a lot of water birds here, but this time there weren’t any except ducks. Beth pointed out we usually come in the summer. Noah was going to fly his drone over the water, but the airspace was restricted, possibly because Biden’s house is quite close. In fact, we were hoping to drive by it on our way home, but the street was closed off. It made me think with some sympathy that it’s going to be harder for the President-elect to enjoy his favorite places in Rehoboth for the next several years, though I hear that shortly after the election he did manage to take a bike ride on the same trail we’d just hiked.

The combination of a big lunch and a long walk made me sleepy so when we returned to the house, I had a nap and surprised myself by sleeping pretty deeply for almost an hour.  We got pizza delivered for dinner. The night of the holiday sing-along we usually have Grotto pizza and then wander through the restaurant, looking at little Christmas trees local charities decorate and deciding which ones to donate to, but not this year. It’s possible Grotto is open for inside dining and the trees are there. I didn’t check, but we noticed a lot of restaurants in town were serving people inside, though others were outdoor seating or takeout only. (Greene Man had someone taking orders on the porch and passing the food around a plexiglass divider.)

The sing-along was canceled, not that we would have gone if it was taking place. Scroll down to the color photo with the bandstand if you want a look at how crowded it often is. We are probably somewhere in this photo. We were there that year. For our third walk of the day, Beth, North, and I went to visit the lit up tree, sans singing crowds. They were playing recorded music from the Nutcracker in the vicinity of the tree. It was a little sad to be there without people singing or families lining up for a chance to visit Santa’s little house on the boardwalk, which was not there this year, not even the letterbox. The boardwalk lights were not up this year either, maybe to discourage crowds, though Beth and I have noticed the display seems to get smaller every year, so maybe they’re phasing it out by attrition as the lights break down.

Even so I wasn’t too sad to have a pizza dinner, a walk with my wife and youngest on the boardwalk with the moonlight glinting off the waves again, and a pretty tree to admire. One thing 2020 has taught us is how to appreciate what’s at hand, even when it’s not what we usually have. Back at the house, we watched our first Christmas specials of the year, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Saturday

We packed up and left the house in the morning. The kids and I went down to the beach one last time while Beth returned the keys to the realty. They stood barefoot at the waterline and let twenty waves wash over their bare feet, while I stood a little behind them in my rubber boots, trying not to get my socks or jeans’ cuffs wet. The number of waves in this ritual is determined by the final digits of the year. The kids got into a discussion about whether it was the last two or the last three and if in 2100, they will need to stand barefoot in freezing cold water for one hundred waves or none. I pointed out that in 2100, they will be ninety-four and ninety-nine and, maybe, just maybe, it won’t be an issue. “We’ll still be coming to the beach,” North assured me. I guess they really are my kids.

I know if I’m still around when I’m ninety-nine, I will still want to go beach.

Sky Full of Stars: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 26

Well, that was a wild ride, wasn’t it? I mean a four-day wait to find out who won the Election shouldn’t seem that long when I lived through five tense, stressful, and eventually heartbreaking weeks to see who won the 2000 election. But that was twenty years ago and while the stakes in the Bush/Gore contest seemed high at the time, we had no idea how high they could get.  It’s satisfying that the baby I was pregnant with back then just voted in his first Presidential election and that it was such a momentous one.

I had to think hard about what to serve for dinner on Election night. In 2016, we had tacos—because of the memes about taco trucks on every corner if Clinton won—and I have not eaten a taco since then, much to North’s distress because they really like tacos. (I did consent to make them on their birthday every year since, though I always ate something else.) North advised me not to make anything anyone particularly liked. Then I was listening to a podcast about the history of voting in the U.S. and I learned that George Washington, when he was running for local office in Virginia, used to throw big parties to sway his neighbors to vote for him. This was in the days of voice voting, so he’d know how his guests had voted after he fed them. Anyway, one of his favorite things to serve was barbequed beef and corn pudding. Now I do like barbequed seitan, but I thought since it was a food choice that wasn’t inspired by this particular election, if Biden lost, I wouldn’t have such a strong negative association so I chanced it. And corn pudding is not in my regular rotation, so there was no real risk there.

Dessert was more obvious. Tuesday was Noah’s half-birthday and we always have cupcakes on the kids’ half-birthdays. This year we had a selection of red velvet and cookies and cream cupcakes from the grocery store. We ate them separately because we ended up splitting into two groups on Election night. North and Beth chose not to watch the returns come in and watched The Fosters instead in hopes that it would be less anxiety-inducing. Noah and I watched MSNBC. He started while I was still doing the dishes and when I came into the living room at 7:20, two states had been called: Indiana for Trump and Vermont for Biden. I won’t go through the blow-by-blow because either you watched it or you didn’t, but either way, you know how it went. By eleven (an hour past my normal bedtime), it was clear it wasn’t going to be decided any time soon and probably not that night, so I went to bed, jittery but holding on to hope. Noah stayed up until 12:30. I woke up around the time Noah was going to bed and checked the count on my phone, but when I woke again at four, I resisted the urge. It was better than four years ago when I was waking up every hour, checking my phone and being sick in the bathroom.

In the morning I heard Beth telling North it wasn’t decided yet but she thought Trump might win a second term. I listened, considering the fact that because of her work, Beth knows on a more granular level than I do what the returns in various places mean, but also considering the fact that Beth has a tendency to catastrophize and trying to weigh these two facts about my wife.

Then something completely unexpected and unrelated to the election happened on Wednesday. North spontaneously regained the ability to urinate normally, after two months of only going through a catheter. We have no idea why it happened, but as North said, it was “a good thing about today.” It’s been five days now and so far, so good. We’re all very happy about this.

And then the days dragged on. We went to bed without knowing the outcome again on Wednesday and then again on Thursday. But as time passed, it began to look better and better. When Biden pulled ahead in Pennsylvania on Friday morning, Beth texted me “Ice Cream Time!!!!!!” This was because we’d saved the emergency/celebratory ice cream until we had an answer and she intended to eat some whatever time of day that happened. North had gone to the bathroom during their Japanese class and walked by our bedroom (where Beth works) and Beth called out to them that Biden had won.

North, still wearing their headset and carrying their laptop, came into the living room (where I work), crying and almost unable to speak, but when they did, they said, “He did it! He won!” This time I was the cautious one, saying the chances were very good but it wasn’t for sure yet.  Beth was on the phone a long time but eventually came down to the basement to fetch the ice cream from the chest freezer. I was on the exercise bike down there and we had a long hug.

We thought it might be called later that morning, but it wasn’t. North finished their Japanese class, and attended History and Biology, while Noah attended Computer Science, Ethnomathematics, and Philosophy and did some work for ICTV, and Beth and I worked and still nothing. North had a tempting one-day-only star offer on their Starbucks app and talked Beth into a Starbucks run. Noah was still in class, so he didn’t come, but we picked up an iced tea lemonade and a cake pop for him.  We got takeout pizza for dinner and watched the first half of Emma, after which Noah and I read a chapter and a half of Quichotte. We were close to finishing the book at ten, but I was exhausted and went to bed.

The next morning, while Beth was off for a long walk in Wheaton Regional Park (which has become a Saturday morning habit for her in recent weeks) and Noah and I were watching The Handmaid’s Tale, she texted me again, no words, just her bitmoji blowing a noisemaker, surrounded by confetti. I knew what it meant. The race had been called for Biden.

That afternoon, we went on a family outing. We went to Catoctin Creek Park in Frederick County, which is further from home than we usually go, but it had a couple things to recommend it. There was a paved loop trail, which was convenient because North’s been having more pain the past several days and wanted to use the wheelchair. And it’s near Catoctin Mountain Orchard, which has a farm market with a lot of baked goods. (We visited it once before, on our way home from a Unitarian retreat in Catoctin Mountain Park last fall.)

As we drove, we counted Biden/Harris signs and Trump/Pence signs. Frederick County is more purple than our home county, Montgomery. (It went 55% for Biden, versus 83%.) Eventually we lost track, as we passed back over some of the same roads, but I think it was pretty even. My main observation was that the Biden signs were somewhat more numerous, but tended to be smaller (and Beth added, not in all caps).

We’d gotten a later start than we intended so we could only spend about forty minutes in the park if we wanted to get to the market before it closed, but that was long enough for Noah to fly his drone, for Beth and me to amble down to a peaceful stretch of the creek surrounded by boulders covered with lichen and trees with yellow leaves glowing in the sunlight, and for everyone to draw joyful noise from the percussion instruments along the trail.

At the farm store we got three pies to freeze for Thanksgiving (pumpkin, pecan, and apple), and some treats to eat over the next few days (apple cider doughnuts, apple dumplings, apple caramel bread, and popcorn). We found a picnic table near a covered bridge and drank cider and ate doughnuts. Even though we’ve been exploring parks in the Maryland suburbs and exurbs ever since Noah got his drone, at first weekly, now more like once a month or so, this outing felt different, suffused with deep relief and joy.

We got home around seven, so dinner was on the late side, but no one was starving after those doughnuts. Noah and I made sauteed gnocchi with Brussels sprouts and brown butter. I think it was really good, but who knows? Anything might have tasted good that day. We’d hoped to finish Emma before watching Vice President Elect Kamala Harris and President Elect Joe Biden give their acceptance speeches, but there wasn’t time, and no one really minded. I don’t need to describe the speeches. You watched, right? You saw Harris looking radiantly happy in her white suit, telling people “While I may be the first woman in this office, I won’t be the last,” and you heard Biden sounding coherent and rational and compassionate.

After the speeches, we watched the sky over Wilmington, Delaware light up in red, white, and blue stars. The country is still in the midst of a pandemic that’s killed 237,618 Americans, economic uncertainty, and what I hope will be a true reckoning with systemic racism. There’s a lot of hard work ahead, and I do still have my worries and sorrows for my country, but at least right now, every now and then I feel as lit up as that sky. I hope you do, too.

Also, tomorrow we’re having tacos for dinner, with blue shells.

Once in a Very Blue Moon: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 25

So in the end I wrote another twenty postcards to Michigan voters and seventeen to Iowa voters (that last number was how many stamps I had left). I mailed the Iowa batch Friday morning. Time’s up for getting things in the mail and I voted a week and a half ago (via drop box), so all I can do now is wait, but Beth is going to phone bank on Monday night.

We’ve been trying to decide what to do on Election night, as watching the returns come in and not watching the returns come in seem equally impossible. Beth bought “emergency ice cream” and when I asked her if that meant we couldn’t eat it if Biden won, she said then it would be “celebratory ice cream.” What I remember about snacking during the night of the 2018 midterms, though, was that I thought I’d overeat Halloween candy but when it came down to it I was too nervous to eat much at all.

Okay. That’s all I’m going to say about the election. The rest is all Halloween. Though we were all sad about the cancelled parade and costume contest, I think we salvaged a half decent holiday.

On Wednesday night I made soup in a pumpkin. The kids aren’t fans of this soup, which consists of evaporated milk, rye bread crumbs, swiss cheese, onion, mustard, and horseradish, served with chunks of the cooked pumpkin, but Beth and I like it so I make it most years around Halloween and feed the kids canned soup.

Around 5:45 Thursday afternoon, I was asking Noah about his evening plans when he remembered we’d all been invited to the outdoor premiere of the movie he’d been helping some local families make and it was going to start at 6:30. The film is based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret. There’s a group of families that traditionally put on a play around Halloween (not always Halloween-themed), but this year they decided to make it a film, so people could watch it remotely. Noah did some of the filming and lot of the editing. The gathering was just for people who were involved in making the film and their families. After some hurried consultation, we decided Beth and I would go and North would watch the film later. The screening took place on the deck of a house. There wasn’t room for people to stand six feet apart, but I managed at least three feet most of the time and everyone was masked. After the screening, there was carrot cake and a little awards ceremony. Noah got a statuette that said “Miracle Editor.” When the director presented him with it, she said he’d made “a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,” working under tight deadlines without a lot of direction. It was a fun event and it’s always nice to see your kids recognized, so I’m glad we made it, even if I was little nervous about the contact.

Here’s the film, if you’d like to watch it. It’s thirteen minutes long.

When we got home, the cinematic fun continued.  We watched a series of vintage short horror films the city of Takoma Park was screening, while decorating paper bags with Halloween-themed stickers and filling them with candy, stickers, stamps, and temporary tattoos. The first film was from 1896 and consisted a thirty seconds of a dancing skeleton, whose pieces come apart and then reassemble. We watched a about an hour and fifteen minutes of films, ending with a 1912 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In that span of sixteen years there was a lot of innovation in how to tell a story on film, including the introduction of intertitles to provide dialogue or explanations of what’s going on. In the earlier films, it’s often a little hard to follow the plot. In a funny coincidence, a lot of the films were by George Méliès, who is character in Hugo’s Cabret’s Big Fix. When The House of the Devil (by Méliès) started, Noah said, “I’ve seen this.” When I asked when, he said in his sixth grade media class. It was this class that got Noah interested in silent film. (I remember one night when he was eleven, he showed us several of his favorites. I probably should have had an inkling then that he’d be a film buff.)

Friday night AFI was screening Nosferatu and that was also fun, especially since we’d just watched Dracula the week before and Beth and I had an interesting conversation comparing the two afterward. I have a soft spot for classic horror, so it was nice to watch so much of it this month.

In other Halloween observances, we did decide to enter the yard decoration photo contest and we didn’t win, but those are the breaks. Our letter carrier told me that we have the best yard on his route, so there’s that. On Halloween afternoon I had Noah set up his tripod so we could get a picture of all of us in the Halloween masks Beth made and we’ve all been wearing for the past few weeks, since they probably won’t be getting much more use (unless we still need them next year). North had a seizure during the mask photo shoot and fell to the grass, which seemed to encapsulate the year we’ve been having. (By the way, the brain MRI came back normal.)

Noah and I watched Rosemary’s Baby that same afternoon, which was fun. He decided not to accompany North (dressed as a galaxy) and Zoë (dressed as Hawaiian Punch—a Hawaiian shirt and a boxing glove) trick-or-treating, but North did fine with the walker and didn’t need the wheelchair.  They came home with just a little less candy than a usual year, though they had to walk a long way to get it because there were fewer houses giving out candy.

Back at home, Beth, Noah, and I set up our candy table and took turns supervising it from five to nine. We decided to have only six bags of candy out at a time in case anyone got the idea to grab it all. (One teenager did make off with four, which made me wonder, if you’re going to be greedy, why not just take them all? I mean, the karma wouldn’t be much worse.) After every group of trick-or-treaters, we’d restock the table. I didn’t expect anyone in the first hour, but we started getting customers pretty soon after we were set up. During my shifts, I saw a couple Power Rangers, skeletons, and kids in Scream masks, Bat Girl, a hunchback, a devil and angel, and a unicorn with a light-up rainbow horn. At least half the time, though, I couldn’t make out what the costumes were because it was dark and I was on the porch, probably about ten feet from the table. That was a little sad because seeing the kids’ costumes is one of my favorite parts of Halloween. Some of the kids were perplexed by the bags because they couldn’t see what was inside, and that led to their exasperated parents saying things like, “Just take the one you already touched.”

By 8:05, we were down to five bags of candy and I thought we might run out, so I bagged some more candy in undecorated sandwich baggies, but we didn’t need to put them on the table. There were only two more trick-or-treaters before we closed up shop a bit after nine.

North came home a little after nine and put a mason jar of water outside in the moonlight to make moon water because in addition to being Halloween, it was also a full moon, and a blue moon to boot. That hasn’t happened since 1944 and won’t happen again until 2039. This unique Halloween wasn’t all bad—it was actually pretty good considering—but given the reasons we were all avoiding crowded parades and close contact with dressed up neighbor children seeking candy, I wouldn’t mind not having another like it for a long time. Once in a very blue moon is plenty.

Moon photo credit: Gretchen Weigel Doughty

Things Frightful and Hopeful: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 24

Do you need a little break from sickening dread about the coming election or is that just me? I mean the polls look good, both for the Presidential race and the Senate, but I can’t quite trust them after the last time.  I’ve been churning out postcards to voters, mailing one hundred to Pennsylvania, sixty to Florida, and twenty to South Carolina in just the past week. Noah and I watched the final debate on Thursday. Beth couldn’t bear to do it but I watched all but the dueling town halls, mostly with Noah (He skipped the vice presidential debate and missed the fly.) And I voted on Wednesday, so there’s not much else I can do, unless I find time for more postcards before they stop giving out addresses, which I imagine will be soon.

Well, if you do need that aforementioned break, this will be a post about our Halloween preparations and not much else, if I can help it. (I don’t even have any medical news to report, other than that North had the brain MRI a little over a week ago, but we haven’t gotten the results yet.)

It’s going to be a strange, somewhat austere Halloween, with no parade, no costume contest, and curtailed trick-or-treating. The city arranged some alternate activities but they are mostly online. There’s a Walk and Chalk event on the afternoon of Halloween which I think might be kind of like a parade, but more dispersed, with people in costume strolling down the street during a two-hour stretch but not all marching in the same direction at the same time. I’m a little less clear on the chalk part, but it involves drawing on the street.

I thought it might be fun to go and see other people’s costumes and if I had younger kids I might have pitched it harder, but North wasn’t interested, because they’d chosen a costume that will be covered in glow-in-the-dark paint and not that impressive in daylight. (They are going to be a galaxy.) Noah’s not making a costume this year. Without the contest it’s not the same. Well, he’s probably not. North and Zoë are planning to trick or treat, but only at houses where people have set candy out. They’ve been instructed not to knock on doors. I’m not sure how many people are going to do this, but it’s what we plan to do, and North’s trying to enlist Noah to push the wheelchair so if he goes with them he might come up with a costume or he might just go without one.

Anyway, this is what we have done this month to mark one of our favorite holidays: we made cookies with our Halloween cookie cutters and frosted them, we went to our usual farm to get pumpkins for our jack o’ lanterns, and we carved them.

We made the cookies about a week and a half ago on a Thursday, because that’s our designated family activity night. It couldn’t all be done in one evening, though, so earlier in the day North made the dough and cut most of the cookies, with Noah and me pitching in a little bit, too. North also made the frosting and then both kids tinkered with the food dye to get just the right shades of orange, green, purple, and gray, while I did the dinner and cookie dishes. The actual frosting and decorating was an all-hands-on-deck project. The cookies were a little brittle so we had a bunch of broken bits, but we frosted those, too.

When we finished making the cookies, I said to Noah, “It’s nice to have you here for this but I hope next year you’re not here.”

“Me, too,” he said. (I think we may have had the exact same exchange when we dyed Easter eggs.)

We got our pumpkins last Sunday. This was something else we never expected to do with Noah again, and it felt like a small, bittersweet gift. We drove out to Northern Virginia, to our traditional farm stand, making surprisingly good time. Apparently, when there’s almost no traffic it only takes a half hour to get there, though some years it’s taken us over an hour. There weren’t as many pumpkins on the pallets as usual, and some of them had moldy spots. Possibly this should have given us pause, but there seemed to be more than enough to find four good jack o’ lantern candidates and a big white pumpkin to cover with little metal spiders. We also got several little pumpkins for Noah’s, North’s and my desks, freshy pressed cider, pear butter, and pickled vegetables. For the past few years this outing has involved dinner at Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, and Dessert Story, where we’d get bubble tea or macarons or cheesecake or waffle sundaes. We did get a feast from Sunflower and ate it in a nearby park, but sadly, Dessert Story has gone out of business, a victim, perhaps, of the pandemic.

After eating we wandered around the park a bit. Behind the mansion we found some community garden plots where tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and flowers were flourishing. Noah had brought his drone, but it turned out we were too close to D.C. or maybe the airport so it wouldn’t take off, just displayed a restricted message. It’s too bad because it would have been fun to see the little gardens from above.

We drove back to Takoma got dessert from Mark’s Kitchen and ate it at one of the picnic tables near the gazebo. I got my favorite early fall dessert, the gingerbread sundae. They were out of the ginger sauce, so it was just vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on gingerbread, but it was still good. The whole outing was highly satisfactory.

During the past few weeks, we’ve also watched Young Frankenstein, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and Dracula (the 1931 Tod Browning version). The Peanuts special we watch every year. The films are special favorites of mine so it was treat to watch them this year. I’ve loved Young Frankenstein since I was younger than North (though I admit parts of it have not aged well). When I taught a college class on horror, I used to do a Frankenstein unit that consisted of the novel, the 1931 James Whale film, Bride of Frankenstein, and Young Frankenstein. We also read Dracula in that class and while I didn’t teach the film, I always had a few students writing research papers on it, so it was familiar and nostalgic as well.

Last night we carved pumpkins. We got takeout from Chipotle for dinner because there was  a fundraiser for North’s school that night and it made for a quick dinner before the carving. When we lifted them from the porch wall where they’d been waiting almost a week we were alarmed to discover three of the four had soft spots that weren’t there when we bought them, and two of them had rotten bottoms. But we persevered. My pumpkin is the political one. Beth’s is the flaming skull and the kids did the witches (Noah’s is on the left and North’s is on the right). As I said when I posted the picture on Facebook, they represent things frightful and hopeful.

As we were finishing up, Noah said cheerfully, “I hope I’m not here for this next year” and we discussed whether he could carve a jack o’ lantern in Australia, and decided probably not as it would be spring there and pumpkins would not be in season. Then I told the story of how the fall of my junior year of college I was studying abroad at the University of Córdoba and the Spanish students in my dorm got the idea to throw a Halloween party for the Americans, but as they weren’t that attached to the actual date of the holiday, it kept getting delayed and didn’t happen until mid-November. The kids thought this was pretty funny.

When we’d finished carving, Beth had the idea to slice the soft bottoms off her pumpkin and mine and replace them with foil so the rot wouldn’t spread as quickly. We also spread petroleum jelly on the cut surfaces to protect them. These are the tricks you learn when you live somewhere where it sometimes gets almost up to eighty degrees in late October, as it did several days last week. Fortunately, it’s not supposed to get warmer than the mid-sixties next week. Fingers crossed the jack o’ lanterns will last a week.

We are not finished celebrating. Friday night AFI is going to stream Nosferatu and we’re going to watch it. The yard decoration isn’t complete—the project stalled for a while but I’m hoping to work on it soon. The recreation department is having a photo contest for best yard. We could enter and given how over the top our yard usually is, it seems we should. I hesitate only because I’ve always found it hard to capture the overall effect in one photo and you can only enter one. I actually wrote the rec department to see if a short video panning the yard would be accepted. (I haven’t heard back yet.) One nice addition we have this year is the set of solar-powered colored lights we have to spotlight certain areas of the yard in purple, green, and red.

And of course, we’ll also be giving out and collecting candy (in a socially distanced fashion) on the big night. We’re going to set up a table at the front gate with little goody bags of candy so people don’t have to reach into a communal bowl. We’ll sit on the porch and watch so we can see the kids’ costumes (and so no one gets the idea to swipe all the candy at once). I hope you all have a very happy Halloween, with just the right amount of fright and hope.

Surprisingly Okay: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 23

Medical Tidbits

Beth’s colleagues often ask how North’s doing at the beginning of phone calls and the other day I heard her answer, “Surprisingly okay” and for the most part, that’s true. Not much changed for a long while and we all adjusted to the new normal, as much as we still want the seizures and other symptoms to end.

The long-awaited urology appointment was the last Monday of September and it was kind of a bust. The doctor went over the results of the spinal MRI, noted there was no compression on the urethra contributing to North’s difficulty urinating and said she’d see North again in three months if nothing changed. We were all disappointed by the lack of a treatment plan. In the interim, though, Beth got a new diagnostic MRI scheduled, this time a brain MRI with a spinal tap. It’s happening later this week.

Then two days later, in dual setbacks, North was diagnosed with a second UTI and dropped a pasta sauce jar on their bare foot and bruised it badly. They were back to using the wheelchair to get around the house for a day or two. We got their foot x-rayed, but it was not broken, so their physical therapist gave them some exercises for it. It’s still bothering them, but it seems to be getting better.

Scholastic Snippets

On the upside, North’s interim grades (for the midpoint of the first quarter) were good, all As and Bs. This was a relief as the quarter got off to a rough start because they missed a lot of class, due to being in the hospital, and had trouble keeping up.

Noah’s doing well, too. His classes seem more challenging than last semester but he’s not overloaded with homework. His philosophy professor was so impressed with his work he suggested he consider majoring or minoring in the field, and Noah likes the class well enough to consider doing it. It would be a second minor, as he’s already declared one in computer science. He also attended an online informational session about study abroad programs and is seriously thinking of going to Australia next fall. He’s working as a video editor for several shows on ICTV and he’s also going to help a local filmmaker shoot and edit a play his neighbors are putting on, based on The Invention of Hugo Cabret. (It’s being filmed because there will be no live audience.) A friend of mine said he seems to be “flourishing” and he is, though of course I wish he could be back at school with his friends (and using the film studios that drew him to Ithaca in the first place).

An Outing

The first weekend in October we visited Benjamin Banneker Historical Park and Museum, mainly because it’s adjacent to a trail we intended to hike and we thought it might offer a wheelchair accessible entrance to the trail, but we detoured into the park and it ended up being an interesting side trip. An educational one, too, as it turned out neither of the kids had heard of Banneker, a very famous Marylander. We walked up to the reconstructed Banneker family cabin as a Brownie troop was taking a tour and as Beth, Noah, and North waited at a distance outside, I explored the vegetable and herb gardens.  When the Brownies had left, the park ranger offered to let us in the cabin and give us her talk about it. We took her up on it and then we browsed through the little museum nearby before tackling the trail.

Trolley Trail #9 trail, as you might guess from the name, is built on the track bed of an old trolley line. It’s part boardwalk, part asphalt, and goes through a wooded area along a creek. Noah flew his drone to a little waterfall and over the tree canopy. The trail is sloped, so the whole mile and a half down, knowing we’d have to push the wheelchair back up, I was fretting a little, wondering if we were biting off more than we could chew. But with three of us to take turns, it wasn’t as bad as I feared and it was a pretty walk.

Home Decorating

The following week we got our porch painted a new color. When we moved into this house in 2002, the house was tan with gray trim, or at least I thought it was gray. I learned just this week that everyone else in my family perceived it as a sort of olive green. It’s amazing the things you don’t know about the people you live with, I swear.  Nine years later we painted most of the trim dark green but left the porch floor, columns, and steps gray/green. My first idea this time around was to match the porch to the trim again by having it painted dark green, but on consideration, we decided if it wasn’t quite matched it would look funny so we went with a very pale green we thought would complement the darker green. I think I like it. It reflects more light into the living room, which is nice, but it also shows dirt more. I am trying not to let the fact that we painted at this exact moment because we were cited by the city for peeling paint take the pleasure out of this little makeover.

Once the porch was painted we started decorating it and the lawn for Halloween, and if you know my family in person or through this blog, you know that’s cheering. We don’t have everything out yet, but we’ve made a good start. We all bought one new item this year and mine was the charming fellow in the third picture. I picked him because he looks like he’s wearing a plague mask and that seemed just perfect for 2020. I even violated my own no-more-Halloween-decorations-that-require-batteries to buy him.

In other seasonal news, this weekend we made pumpkin ravioli from scratch. I roasted two little pumpkins and made the filling and a pumpkin-walnut-sage sauce to go on top. Beth rolled out the dough in Noah’s pasta machine and he used the hand tools to fashion the ravioli out of the sheets. It was quite a project, but the results were delicious.

Visitation Day

Today was Columbus Day, or Dia de la Raza, or Indigenous People’s Day—take your pick. In normal times in our school district, parents are invited to observe their kids’ classes on this day (because a lot of parents have it off but the schools are still open). At some schools it’s called Visitation Day. I’ve always enjoyed watching the kids’ classes and the name is pretty amusing, too. It’s as if we’ve been invited to watch a séance.

This year there was no notification from the school about being invited to watch your kids’ classes on Zoom, but I know a lot of parents of younger kids are doing it every day and nothing was stopping us, so we decided to observe two of North’s classes—English and yoga. We chose English because it was kind of unorganized for a while when the teacher quit and we wanted to see if the sub had got her footing yet. I’ve been curious about yoga because North usually does it in their room and we’ve never seen or heard little bits of it, the way I have with most of their other classes.

On the morning of Visitation Day, North woke up with a new symptom. Their right hand was clenched in a loose fist and they were unable to open it. My first thought went to the two complex migraines North’s had that left their hands and feet paralyzed but this was just one hand and the affected hand was not cold to the touch the way their paralyzed extremities in past episodes.

This was discouraging, but we carried on with the day. English started at nine and at the beginning of class, the teacher instructed the class to read “The Lottery,” annotate it, and write a paragraph about it. She gave them thirty-five minutes to complete this task and said she’d take questions at that point. I was a little disappointed in this lesson plan because it seemed like discussion would be a better use of  scarce and precious class time (each class has two one-hour slots a week, if the teachers use all their allotted time). The reading and writing could have been done before or after class, as homework.

Anyway, there wasn’t much to watch, so while North worked I read the paper, checked my email and some blogs I read regularly, and eventually since it was an English class, picked up Beloved, which my book club will be discussing on Zoom later this week.  At 9:40, the class reconvened. There were no student questions so the teacher asked a few, mostly about setting, and then just as things could have gotten interesting, she dismissed them to finish other work. North took an online grammar quiz and aced it. And then class was over. The discussion of “The Lottery” took a little over five minutes of class time. The whole experience made me glad North had already read this excellent story in middle school and this wasn’t their whole exposure to it.

Since we watched so little of English, I asked North if we could watch sculpture but they were insistent the agreement was two classes, so I didn’t push it. I did come over to hold their head up during at least two seizures, and I saw the teacher holding up a polyhedron that seemed to be made of folded paper, but North was wearing their headset so I don’t know what she was saying about it. I’m guessing North might be making something similar some time. Sculpture wrapped up after twenty-five minutes.

Yoga started at twelve-thirty. The teacher showed the class a yoga video and had them follow along. The sequence started with tabletop and included (not in this order and with most poses repeated) cobra, extended side angle, lunge, plank, warrior one, and warrior two, ending with corpse pose. North said it was physically harder than usual. Often the class meditates instead of or in addition to doing yoga poses. The class lasted about a half hour. Usually North attends this class in their room, on their bed, but after watching them do it on our bed, noticing how it was hard to balance in the standing positions on a bed, we are reconsidering this set up. During yoga class, North’s hand unfurled. After class I told them, “See. Yoga is good for you,” and they laughed, but I meant it. I think it could be good for them, physically and mentally.

After yoga, Beth and I went on a little date, our first since before covid, probably since our anniversary in January. We were nudged into the realization that we should do this by the fact that we always have a lunch date on Visitation Day in between spying on the kid(s)’ classes. It was rainy and in the high fifties, so not the most inviting weather for a picnic, but not forbidding either if we had shelter.

We left before North’s last class of the day, algebra, which met during a gap between Noah’s ethnomathematics and philosophy classes so we left him in charge of sitting in the living room and making sure North was in a comfortable position if they had a seizure.

We got arepas, plantains, and teqeños from Arepas Pues in Silver Spring (highly recommended if you’re local) and ate them in a pavilion in Wheaton Regional Park. Afterward we took a little walk through the woods and down to a pond. The path was scattered with the first of the season’s fallen leaves and pine needles. We picked up coffee and hot chocolate on the way home. It was nice. It was better than okay.

Plateau: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 22

After North’s last ER visit almost three weeks ago, things have plateaued. This is both good and bad. The good part is that no new symptoms cropped up, North didn’t need any emergency medical care, they were able to start attending class regularly, and life calmed down. We got to have two more low-key weekends than we’d had in a while.  During the first one I wrote postcards to voters in Colorado and Noah and I started watching The Handmaid’s Tale, which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

That weekend we all went for a walk at Font Hill Wetland Park in Howard County, which is apparently famous for its dragonflies. We did see some, but not a remarkable number. We also saw a heron, a deer, a bunch of turtles, and some ducks. Noah took some drone footage and when North wanted to throw sticks into an algae-covered pond, he filmed them splashing into the water from overhead. I thought of all the time I spent when the kids were younger watching both of them throw sticks and rocks into water or through ice. Minus the drone (and the masks and the wheelchair), the scene could have taken place a decade ago. It felt sweetly nostalgic to me.

 

The bad part of the plateau is that North’s two main problems, the seizures and the bladder issues, remain unchanged. The seizures are more dangerous now that North’s walking is almost back to normal.* Now that they can walk, they want to and we want them to, but this means they sometimes they fall if they seize while standing. They know it’s going to happen just a fraction of a second before it does and luckily they’ve been trained in stage falls, so they can usually manage not to hit their head, but some days they fall several times. If they are going to stand for an extended period (while cooking for example) they put the walker behind them in the locked position so they can fall into it. Outside they usually use the wheelchair, for safety.

Tuesday of last week was a good day, or what passes for one these days. We finally got the sedated MRI scheduled. Beth had been calling and calling about this for almost a week and a half. It wasn’t clear why it was so difficult, but Urology didn’t want to see us until spinal compression causing the bladder difficulties was ruled out, so having it on the calendar was a breakthrough. The same day, we had our second telemedicine appointment with the psychologist who’s doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with North. She spoke to us together, then alone with North, then alone with me and Beth. She seemed to be hearing what we were saying, which has not always been this case on this journey, so that was nice. North, who’s been having trouble concentrating in class some days, due to their chronic pain and fatigue from the seizures, had a focused and efficient school day. Finally, we’ve been having some home repairs done—because in the midst of all this, we got cited by the city during the summer for peeling paint on our porch and some other issues—and the stucco people finished on Tuesday, two days earlier than planned, which means I could schedule the painters.

Of course, things couldn’t go well forever so the very next day when Beth, having secured the MRI, got an appointment with Urology, it was for early November. That’s a really long time from now, so we were discouraged all over again.

We had another relatively calm weekend, though we were of course saddened by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and more than a little alarmed by the political implications. Honestly, I get more terrified about the election every day and this doesn’t help. I wrote postcards to voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania and that helped a little. On Sunday, Noah painted part of the section of fence we had replaced after the car accident last spring (helping to continue to chip away at our home repair to-do list) and then we watched a couple episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale. We’re trying to finish it before our three-month Hulu subscription expires—we’re two-thirds of the way through the first season.  I’m enjoying it, but as I watch I do find my mind wandering to worst-case political scenarios, especially when we were at the part that covers the backstory of the Waterfords’ role in the coup that installs the theocracy.

On the positive side, that night Beth made a very satisfying late summer/early fall dinner of matzoh ball soup with fried green tomatoes and apple slices and then I watched the first half of the Emmys with Noah, while eating popcorn and writing more postcards, which was fun. Another nice thing about the weekend was that I slept in my own bed for the first time in about a month. North had been sleeping there with Beth, but we had them experiment with sleeping in their own bed Friday and Saturday night. They agreed, but wanted to return to sleeping with Beth for several nights after that. (On Thursday, with some encouragement from the psychologist, we all switched back to our own beds again, for good, I hope.)

Monday morning North went to Children’s for a covid test (#5 for them) which was required for their MRI on Wednesday. They continue not to have it. We all had to quarantine for two days after the test, which wasn’t a big change, though we did have to postpone some errands and Beth and I skipped our morning walks. The MRI itself went smoothly, though we don’t have the results yet. I was sad, but not surprised of course, to see the total of covid deaths in the U.S. hit 200,000 that day.

Wednesday was also North’s half-birthday, so we had cupcakes after dinner. This is a family tradition. There was a virtual Back to School Night for their school that night. The beginning of the evening was extremely glitchy, but eventually we got to hear from all of North’s teachers, except for their English teacher because she’d resigned earlier in the week. She’d found trying to teach and keep her own two elementary school-age kids on task unworkable. And really, who can blame her? Instead of the teacher, the chair of the English department explained the course objectives but it seemed she would not have mentioned the missing teacher except a mother brought it up during the Q&A. (Class the next day consisted of a screen saying to keep working on a personal essay the students are writing.) It was good to see the rest of the teachers and get a feel for their classes, though. I always enjoy Back to School Night. It turns out North’s history teacher is six months pregnant, so there will be a lot of subs in North’s near future.

Thursday was “a great day” in North’s words. They got an A on an algebra quiz and got completely caught up on homework. (Noah has been helping them with algebra when they get stuck and it seems to be paying off.) North’s friend Charlotte unexpectedly dropped off twenty-three homemade cupcakes, with a note that said they were for their half-birthday. Charlotte bakes for Bakers Against Racism and we’d ordered a dozen, so I wondered if the exact number of the extra ones were because the half-birthday was on the twenty-third. I’m still not sure. In addition to all that, North’s case manager at Children’s—we have one now—secured an earlier urology appointment for North in mid-October, out in Howard County, which is a schlep but it was an improvement over November, so we took it. Finally, we got takeout from Italian Kitchen for dinner, at North’s instigation.

Friday Noah and I spent over an hour moving furniture off the porch and stripping ivy from it so the painter could come power wash it in preparation for painting and North had a little backyard party. (Well it started in the yard and then rain moved it to the porch.) Back in March, when the lockdowns were startling and new and half of humanity hadn’t already had a scaled-back birthday, North turned fourteen and we let them see several friends one at a time on the porch to eat cake and promised them a proper birthday party when it was feasible. Three months later, I asked if they’d rather have a small, outdoor party instead of holding out for a sleepover and they said no. When I made the same offer recently, to my surprise, they said yes.  I guess sleepovers are seeming impossibly far away. So they invited four friends over, all at the same time, to drink root beer and eat Cheetos, pizza, and cupcakes. Three of the guests had celebrated with North six months ago, but one was a friend whose mom has been very strict about seeing friends so North hadn’t seen her since March. Norma even brought a present, which North wasn’t expecting.

And in another bit of good mojo, on that day the urology appointment got moved to next week.

 

*Bolded after the fact. As Nicole picked up in the comments, I seem to have buried the lede.

Back at the Hospital: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 21

In the past nine days, North’s been to an urgent care once, the ER twice, and admitted to the hospital for two days and three nights. It’s gotten to the point where when discussing some mundane family plans, like when Beth, Noah, and I will finish our currently-in-progress game of Settlers of Catan, we’ll append things like “assuming North’s not in the hospital.” 

Before the Hospital: Wednesday

North’s online classes meet Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Wednesday is supposed to be a day to do homework and go to teachers’ office hours. The first week of school, North didn’t have much work, so they used Wednesday to finish the last of their summer homework assignments. We also had a 504 meeting for seizure-related accommodations, with the ninth grade counselor and several of  North’s teachers. It went surprisingly well. We tried to get a 504 plan for Noah’s ADHD twice, once in elementary school and once in high school, but were denied both times. We thought this accommodation would be easier to get, but not to have it granted in the meeting. I didn’t even know that could happen.

ER Visit: Wednesday Night to Thursday Morning

I was feeling happy both about that and the summer homework finally being done, so of course on Wednesday evening, things went sideways. Beth was at the grocery store when North told me they needed to pee, but they couldn’t. They’d already tried running the faucet in the bathroom, so I suggested a warm bath. By the time Beth got home, North was very distressed, so we decided they’d go to Children’s. I stayed home because there’s still a one-parent rule in the ER, but Beth and I were texting through the evening.  Apparently it was a strange night at Children’s, very crowded in the ER and there was a group of twenty-somethings who seemed to be having a tailgate party, playing music and smoking pot in the garage.

It took a while to get seen because of the crowd, and when they finally were, the doctors wanted to do a bladder ultrasound. If you’ve ever been pregnant, you know that means your bladder needs to be full, so it was 1:30 in the morning before North finally got a catheter to empty their bladder. They didn’t feel as if was completely empty, though, so they went to the bathroom and were able to go on their own. Because of that and because the urine sample and ultrasound didn’t show anything unusual, North wasn’t admitted and they came home.

Back to the Hospital: Thursday Night to Sunday Afternoon

However, the next morning when North woke up they were unable to go again. Beth called our pediatrician for advice. We tried another bath, this one with candles and rose petals (from our rosebush) floating in the water. I was trying to make it as relaxing as possible, but no go. It was dinner time before we got a call back from the pediatrician, who sent us back to the hospital, calling ahead to let them know we were coming and recommending admission.

This time Beth drove us there and dropped me and North off at the ER. One of the intake people recognized North from the night before. (This reminded me of the paramedic who came both times we called 911 this summer. And then sometime during the hospitalization I’m writing about now, one of the neurologists actually remembered North from the complex migraine that paralyzed their hands and feet in fifth grade). What can I say? North is well-known in greater metropolitan Washington area medical circles.

While we were talking to the triage nurse, North seized and all of a sudden all kinds of people rushed in offering oxygen and asking if we had rescue medicine on us, so I had to explain it wasn’t epilepsy so there is no rescue medicine and this wasn’t the problem that brought us here. It wasn’t even a very long seizure, something we’d pretty much shrug off at this point.

Once we got in an exam room, they wanted to do another ultrasound, so again, there was a long wait for the catheter. By this point it had been something like twenty-one hours since North had peed.

Now something I haven’t mentioned yet is that North had been feeling sick to their stomach since Sunday morning after breakfast and it was now Thursday evening. During this whole time they hadn’t eaten except to suck on some candy Sunday afternoon. They were drinking but probably not as much as usual. Still, they were very uncomfortable and as the doctors and nurses discussed whether or not they were dehydrated and needed iv fluids—opinions on this issue were divided—I kept asking everyone who came in the room, over and over, if they could get a catheter. Finally, they did. They also got some anti-nausea medicine and then they were hungry for the first time in days, so I asked a nurse if we could get something to eat. She came back with apple juice and an assortment of crackers. North ate a bag of goldfish and some saltines.

After the ultrasound, two different medical personnel told me North did not have a tumor blocking their urethra—that was something I hadn’t even thought to worry about yet. North got their fourth covid test of the summer, and we got a room. It was one a.m. before we got to bed. Then North was being examined and catheterized again with the lights on from four to five a.m. and a med student came in and woke us up at seven-thirty, so neither of us got much sleep.

Friday was kind of blur, honestly, as I was really tired, but there was a parade of medical personnel who came by, nurses, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, neurologist(s), urologist(s), etc. Beth came by in the late morning and we overlapped for a couple hours and listened to doctors and played Clue with North. I left for home in the early afternoon. Once home, I put in a load of laundry, slept, and updated my mom on the situation. I’d hoped to work but I was just too wiped out, even with the nap, so Noah and I ordered pizza and watched The Witch.

Back at the hospital, North had an MRI but seized during it, so they didn’t get the images they wanted. The doctors wanted to do a test to see if going an extended period of time without using the catheter would cause North to be able to pee, but it only caused them a lot of pain, so we never repeated the experiment.

I slept nine hours Friday night and stayed at home long enough Saturday to keep doing laundry, menu plan for the next week, make Beth a grocery list, and to work some—with a nifty new two-monitor setup Noah made for me—and I went back to the hospital in the late afternoon. While I was gone, they tried another MRI, with Valium, but it didn’t keep North from seizing. Apparently it’s harder to get slots for the MRIs with an intravenous sedative scheduled because you need a different kind of tech to do it. In their down moments, North tried to watch some of the classes they’d missed Thursday and Friday and do homework.

Beth and I overlapped again for several hours that evening during which we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls with North. Beth needed to stay at the hospital because a nurse was going to show her how to use the catheter. If she could do it successfully that night and the next morning, North could be discharged. She got it on the first try and went home. I spent another night at the hospital with North and then Beth came back in the morning, used the catheter successfully again and North was discharged. We had lunch in the hospital cafeteria– which, strangely, is a treat for North– and went home.

Back Home (Mostly): Sunday Afternoon to Thursday

We were all very glad to be at home together, but frustrated that the new problem had not actually been resolved. North still needs to have the MRI, which is supposed to rule out any spinal compression from their herniated disk, and we need to secure appointments with neurology and urology.

We had most of Sunday and nearly all of Monday at home. North got caught up on schoolwork, Beth grocery shopped, I wrote a batch of postcards to Florida voters and Noah and I made dinner (pasta with basil-mint pesto and fresh mozzarella) on Sunday. Then we went out for frozen yogurt, which we’d meant to do the Sunday prior. Ice cream or frozen yogurt the night before the first day of school is a family tradition, but North had been either sick or in the hospital for a week and we are not people to skip something like that just because it’s a week late.

Monday, Beth made homemade waffles for breakfast because she always does that on three-day weekends and I made a peach-berry cobbler to celebrate the end of the first week of school. Noah and I watched the series finale of The Magicians. Zoë came over for a three-hour porch visit with North and had some of the cobbler with us. We had a backyard picnic for dinner and then went out for Noah’s last-night-of-summer vacation ice cream at Ben and Jerry’s.

On the way home I said something about everyone getting to sleep at home two nights in a row. I should not have said that. North suddenly developed symptoms of a painful UTI shortly after we got home. She and Beth tried an urgent care but they couldn’t handle a catheter, so they had to go back to the ER. It was “uneventful” in North’s words because they were diagnosed with a clear-cut ailment and treated for it. It did keep both Beth and North up late, though. It was two-thirty before they got home.

Meanwhile, in news of the other kid, Tuesday was Noah’s first day of the semester. He only had one class, Audio Production II. On Wednesday he had the remaining three: a computer science class, Ethnomathematics, and Intro to Philosophy. We weren’t able to get much information about his classes out of him. They are all “fine.” They’re all small, roughly twenty-five students each, except for Audio Production, which is about ten. He thinks this audio class might be more hands-on than the one he took last spring, which he would like. He declined to take Cinema Production II this semester because he’d rather have it in person. This makes sense, as the excellent film studios are a big part of what drew him to Ithaca.

North says their favorite class is Japanese because it’s interesting learning such a different language. But they also appreciate that yoga is the only class they are allowed to attend in bed. One day in sculpture class they were assigned to make an assemblage of items that represented their morning. North chose Sunday morning, the day they were discharged, and arranged their mask and some medical debris around their stuffed monkey Muffin, who always goes to the hospital when they do.

Tuesday we also had our first appointment with North’s new psychologist. She seems nice and she does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which has been recommended to us for Functional Neurological Disorder by more than one person, so for now, we’re hanging our hopes on it.

Wednesday morning we couldn’t wake North for their first or second class, despite repeated efforts. They slept fourteen hours, from ten p.m. until noon. This was worrying, but when Beth called the pediatrician she thought it could just be fatigue from fighting off the UTI. This would be less of a problem if all of North’s teachers posted video of their classes for students who’ve missed them, as they are supposed to do. But not all of the teachers are doing it and North has been missing a lot of class.

Wednesday at dinner North said high school is hard, but I told them not to judge it based on two weeks full of medical drama. We trust it will get better—we just don’t know when. And in small sign of normalcy, North was able to attend all their classes on Thursday. (Only three out of the four met because their algebra teacher’s house flooded in the torrential rain and he had to cancel class.) It was the first time they’d been to all their classes since Tuesday of the previous week. I’m taking it as a win.