About Steph

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After Dark: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 65

We’ve had two weeknight excursions recently, which is unusual for us these days. We used to have more school events (concerts, plays, meetings), but between being down to one kid and covid, these are now either online or rare occurrences. But this month, we patronized the arts, taking in an outdoor art exhibit and a concert.

Outing #1: Winter Lanterns

On the first day of February, the Lunar New Year, we went to the Kennedy Center to see the Winter Lanterns display. It’s the second time we’ve done it. The last time was two years ago, shortly before covid struck. I think it was cancelled the next year. We considered going the weekend before or after when there would have been food trucks, but it was supposed to be warmer during the week and the idea of going on the actual date of the new year appealed, so that’s what we did. I made a tofu, fennel, and shiitake soup and a cabbage-Asian pear slaw from a Korean vegan cookbook North got for Christmas, so we were not without culturally relevant sustenance before we left. It was a more involved dinner than I usually make so I had to knock off work a little early to prepare it.

I wasn’t sure if it would be the same lanterns as the first time we went or new ones. The answer was a mix. We wandered around the terraces outside the Kennedy Center looking at the colorful flowers, butterflies, pandas, sea creatures, and birds lighting up the night. I especially liked the owls, flamingoes, jellyfish, and turtles. One of the rectangular pools was frozen solid, which surprised me because it had been up in the forties that day—North poked it with their cane to verify. It was all very beautiful. It’s a shame Noah’s always at school when it happens. I think he’d like it and he’s the best photographer in the family.

Between Outings

Two nights later, still on the new year theme, North made a spicy tofu stew and udon with black bean sauce from the same cookbook. Afterward we watched an online information session about the culinary arts program at another high school in our school district. (This is one of those meetings that would have probably been in person in the Before Times.) North applied and got in through a lottery and was trying to decide whether to attend during their junior year. It’s a one-year, half-day program. If they went, they’d have their academic classes at their current school in the morning, take a bus to the other school, and attend the culinary arts program in the afternoon. During the last quarter of the school year the kids run a restaurant other students, faculty, and staff patronize. North was initially torn, but is leaning against attending, as they’re feeling they don’t want their days split between two schools.

The weekend was pretty quiet. Zoë came over on Friday after school and we had homemade pizza and watched Vita and Virginia. It occurred to me as we watched it that I’ve passed from being willing to awkwardly power through sex scenes in television and movies with my older child, to doing it with my younger child, to doing it with a friend of my younger child. In case that’s a milestone, I will note here it happened when my youngest was not quite sixteen.

Beth went ice skating on Saturday and I went for a longer than usual walk and saw snowdrops in a yard a block or two from the Co-op. I was glad to see them, because I always welcome little heralds of spring in February. We have a little cluster of purple crocuses in our side yard, which we didn’t plant, probably relocated by a squirrel. The dozens of daffodils in our front yard have poked their heads up out of the ground as well, though for their own sake, I hope they stay shut for several more weeks.

Outing #2: Billie Eilish Concert

We went to see Billie Eilish on Wednesday night. We bought tickets for this concert, which was supposed to take place in March 2020, for North’s fourteenth birthday. When the concert was originally postponed, North was so sad they organized an at-home concert, complete with glowsticks, concessions, and homemade concert t-shirts to cheer themselves up. Beth was able to find her shirt and she wore it to the real concert.

Even now, almost twenty-three months later, I had some trepidation about going to a big, inside event with omicron still circulating, but it’s on the downswing where we live and proof of vaccination and masking were required. Plus it was now or never. Sadly, North’s not even as much of an Eilish fan as they used to be, though they do still like her. They’re more excited about the Girl in Red concert they’re going to with Zoë and some other friends next month.

We had an early dinner and then drove to the Metro stop and took the train into the city. We all have the Clear app on our phones, downloaded for this event, because it was the first time since we were vaccinated last spring that we had to provide in-person proof of vaccination. We showed it to the guards at the door and we were admitted. It was all pretty efficient. We walked by concession and merch stands with long lines. North didn’t ask for a $45 t-shirt or anything to eat, so we didn’t buy anything. I wondered if we would have gotten some souvenirs two years ago. I noticed every restroom I saw in the arena had been converted to a women’s room, with laminated signs covering up the regular ones and plastic sheeting covering the urinals. I guess there must have been a men’s room somewhere but I didn’t see one and there probably wasn’t need of many, as the crowd was overwhelmingly female, also young—most concert-goers were in their teens and twenties, with a sprinkling of preteens and a fair number of middle-aged parents, mostly moms, accompanying kids.

It was re-assuring how universal masking was. You had to be masked to get in, but it would have been easy to remove your mask once seated and no one I saw was doing that, except briefly to eat. I think in the whole evening, I only saw one person wearing a mask below the nose in that great mass of humanity.

My other worry about the concert, other than being in a crowd of twenty thousand people, was being out late on a school night. Beth and I are early-to-bed people. We’re usually in bed by ten, ten-thirty at the latest and we weren’t sure how late we’d be out, so I was happy when the lights went down for the opening act, Australian rapper Tkay Maidza, relatively promptly at 7:35. I was surprised to recognize one of her songs, a cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” late in her set, and I had to tell first Beth, then North, “I know this song!” Neither of them was particularly impressed with my familiarity with late eighties popular music, but you’ve got to go with what you have.

After the opening act, there was almost an hour to wait before Eilish came on. I was impatient and kept checking my watch and re-calculating when we might get to bed, but finally a trapdoor opened on the stage and she came bouncing out. I think a trampoline must have been involved. She was wearing an oversized black t-shirt, bike shorts, kneepads, and sneakers and she had her hair dyed black and she wore it in pigtails. In keeping with her entrance, her energy was high throughout the show.

She opened with “Bury a Friend” and I was immediately surprised by how loud the song was. I mean, I knew she was playing in a hockey stadium and not an intimate little coffeehouse, but her recorded music has a quiet if intense vibe, and I was expecting it to be something like that, amplified enough for everyone to hear, of course, but not much more than that. But instead of quiet and intense, it was loud and intense. There were a lot lights crisscrossing the stadium and smoke and visuals on the screens behind her. Once it was cars seeming to speed toward her as a traffic lane lines appeared on the stage. Sometimes a shark swam behind her or a giant spider appeared. Toward the end there was a montage of home movies from her childhood and there was another of images related to climate change. So there was a lot to take in. At one point she got into a cherry picker and it swung her around, close to different parts of the crowd. She also orchestrated a wave of cell phone lights in the crowd by pointing to different parts of the stadium. North and I participated in that. It reminded me of the glowsticks at our makeshift concert two years ago.

I did not know as many of the songs as I expected. Even though North played Billie Eilish in the car for all the time for years, maybe from the age of twelve to fourteen, they haven’t done that recently for two reasons. First, they are listening more to other artists. Second, they don’t play music in the car for everyone to hear much anymore, preferring to use their headphones. And as it turns out, Eilish has written some new material in the two years I haven’t been paying much attention.

If you want to read more about the concert, here’s a review. One thing that struck me was how cheerful her stage presence and banter was, in contrast to a lot of her lyrics, which tend toward the gloomy. Beth said she was probably happy to be performing again. And the name of her newest album is Happier Than Ever (even though in the cover photo she’s crying).

In the end we got home and into bed by 11:40, which was better than I feared. It was a fun outing, but I couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t the same experience it would have been two years ago, when North was over the moon about going.

There are so many things we can’t get back, most of North’s ninth grade year and all of Noah’s sophomore year of college for starters. But I never lose sight of how lucky we were and are. We didn’t get sick or lose any loved ones and there was a sweet coziness to the time we all spent in our bubble of four that I can imagine being nostalgic for some time in the future. Right now, I’m grateful the kids are back to considerably more normal school and social lives. North is back in the theater, working as costumes manager for the spring musical and looking forward to having people inside the house for their birthday next month, after two years of outdoor birthday parties. Meanwhile, Noah is pulling together a crew and actors for a movie he’s making for his advanced cinema production class and his junior project is to make an app that lets you mark what you think is a good take as you’re filming so you can find them more easily as you edit. They’re both back to doing what they love. What parent wouldn’t want that?

After the Outings: Weekend and Valentine’s Day

We had another quiet weekend. We watched the Olympics on Friday night. We’ve been watching more than usual, which is nice because I always enjoy it when I think to watch it. I like the figure skating best, but we’ve watched some speed skating, ski jumping, snowboarding, and skeleton, too.

On Saturday night, we watched the first two-thirds or so of Hair, which I haven’t seen since I was twelve and I nominated for family movie night out of curiosity to see how it would hold up. First, I can see why my mom was so mad at my dad for taking an twelve and eight year old to see this film, with all its celebration of drug use and the sexually explicit lyrics, and I can see why it would have seemed like a lot of fun to a kid to imagine be a hippie dancing and singing in Central Park, which is how I responded at the time. The sexual politics leave something to be desired— especially the way Berger appeals to Sheila by storming past all her boundaries. And the attempts to be transgressive and liberated about interracial love are just cringy now. “Black Boys/White Boys” made North exclaim, “What is this song?” more than once. And I don’t even know what’s going on with the officers of draft board all seeming to be gay. I think that must have gone over my head the first time I saw it. But despite all this, I have to admit I am still fond of this movie. I guess I imprinted on it.

On Sunday North made a Black Forest cake as a Valentine’s Day treat. It was very complicated, involving layers of chocolate mousse, cherries, and whipped cream inside the cake and more mousse and cherries on top and shaved chocolate on the top and sides. We decided to eat the cake and exchange presents when North got home from school on Monday instead of after dinner because it helps me spread out my blood sugar rises not to have dessert right after a meal. Also, we weren’t sure if North would be up at dinner, because in the past few months they’ve taken to napping in the late afternoons and early evenings and then staying up late, so it’s hit or miss whether they eat with us.

That day at lunch North cut their apple slices and vegetarian Canadian bacon into heart shapes to get in the mood and then put together a pink and purple outfit for the next day. When they couldn’t find any pink socks I almost gave them one of their Valentine’s Day presents early, but they found some. After they’d gone to bed (earlier than us that night), Beth attached a heart-shaped balloon she got at the grocery store to North’s chair at the dining room table to greet them in the morning.

When North got home from play practice, Beth and I took a break from work to eat the cake and to open presents. Everyone got a little candy; I got a big bag of loose fruit-and-hibiscus tea; Beth got marshmallow-scented lotion, and a biography of Walt Whitman (an item from her Christmas list she never got); and North got two pairs of socks (one pink with strawberries and one with rainbow stripes on a black background). I told North I was going for a Rainbow Goth look. (Lest anyone worry Noah was left out, we mailed a box of fundraiser candy from North’s school and a card to him.)

Does it go without saying that the cake was delicious? Well, just in case it doesn’t I will say it—it was excellent. I decided before we ate that it was a special occasion and I was willing to go up near the top of my target blood sugar range, which is more or less what happened. (I had to delay dinner while I waited for it to come down.) Dinner was tomato-lentil stew with feta and fresh mint and parsley from my indoor herb garden. I also made little heart-shaped toasts. We ate this festive meal in shifts, as North was asleep and I couldn’t eat yet when it was ready.

Happy Valentine’s Day. I hope you had some sweetness in the day and after dark, too

Ten-Year Challenge: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 64

About a week ago, Nicole posted about the ten-year challenge. Here’s her first paragraph:

Recently I’ve seen a lot of “ten year challenge” posts on social media, which is one of those strange phenomena of our time. A challenge, in my mind, is to be ninety-seven weeks into a global pandemic and to still get out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of the other and keeping hope and optimism in day to day life. A challenge is to parent effectively when there are constant disappointments and changes that are out of anyone’s personal control; a challenge is to keep making dinner, day in and day out, with no end in sight and nothing exciting to anticipate. What about the “ten year challenge” is a challenge, exactly? Is the challenge in finding photos that are a decade apart? Or does the challenge actually lie in the posting of photos that are a decade apart, forcing us all to face the changes that ten years have brought and the vast improvements in our ability to take photos with good lighting and posing? I feel like it’s the latter.

I commented:

This made me go back to my blog archive and see if there were any pictures of me from January 2012. There was one of me and Beth in front of a gay bookstore in Philadelphia, where we were having a weekend getaway while my mom kept the kids.

What’s changed (not just physical):

My mom doesn’t live in that area anymore
I only have one kid at home and that one is almost old enough to be left alone for a weekend (maybe?)
Beth and I were both heavier then

What hasn’t:

I’d still consider a bookstore a fun date destination
I still have the coat and the sweater I’m wearing in the picture
My hair is in a ponytail, which is still how I wear it about half the time

I’m starting to wonder if I could get a blog post out of this.

Nicole encouraged me to go for it, so here we are. The end of January seems like a good time for this post, as we’ve just come through the month named after Janus, the god of beginnings, who has one face looking forward and the other back.

If you have kids, the biggest changes that occur in ten years are going to be in them. In January 2012, my kids were in kindergarten and fifth grade. Now they are a sophomore in high school and junior in college. How did we go from both in elementary school to one in college and the other getting mail from colleges almost every day? Time is relentless, people. Also of note, ten years ago North identified as a girl and they no longer do.

I blogged four times that month. In the first post, we visited the neighborhood in the city where Beth and I lived for ten years before Noah was born and one year after that. We had lunch and bought some books at Kramerbooks and then took in a Degas exhibit at the Phillips Gallery. (This actually happened in December, but I wrote about it in January.) Here’s what I had to say about it:

June enjoyed the ballerina paintings (and looking at herself in the mirrored wall with a barre) but she went through the exhibit at her usual brisk pace, which meant we could not linger as long as the adults might have liked.  Noah liked the sculptures best and was also interested in the computer images of what lies under the visible layer of paint.  When we finished with Degas, we visited some other parts of the museum.  We went into the Rothko room, much to the alarm of the guards, who insisted that June’s hand be held at all times.  (The paintings in that room are not under glass.) June gave the guard an exasperated look when she heard this.  Clearly he did not know how well behaved she is and how many tiger paws she has (twenty-three, third place in her class- not that she’s keeping track).*  For a while the kids played a game of Noah’s invention called “Guess the Medium,” in which he’d have June guess whether a piece of art was done in paint, chalk, water color, etc. I caught a glimpse of them spontaneously holding hands in front of a painting (though later Noah claimed he’d done no such thing).  It was a lovely, lovely day, just like old times, except completely different.

*Tiger paws were slips of paper with a drawing on a tiger paw on them, redeemable for prizes and given as rewards at North’s elementary school. Just a few weeks ago I found a bunch of unredeemed tiger paws from third grade in a drawer. They got less exciting as North moved through the grades apparently. Noah was always pretty indifferent to them.

I haven’t been a museum since pre-pandemic times. During that hopeful stretch last summer when we went to see movies in theaters, and ate inside restaurants, and I’d sometimes go inside stores unmasked, I would have, if I’d thought of it. I don’t know how long it will be until I do again. Next month we’re going to a Billie Eilish concert (rescheduled from March 2020, it was North’s fourteenth birthday present) and that’s more of a risk than going to a museum, but we’d have to forfeit the tickets if we didn’t go, and we are all vaccinated and boosted so we’re crossing our fingers and going.

In the second post, I chronicled the first-ever Panda basketball practice and game.

The Purple Pandas were playing an all-boy team in green t-shirts.  Malachi and one of June’s former preschool classmates were playing on that team and they both got baskets.  (Ram also got a “bleedy nose,” as June put it later.  I didn’t see how it happened but I saw him crying and comforted by several adults and later I saw someone come to clean the blood up off the court.) Actually Malachi didn’t just get a basket, he got the majority of his team’s baskets.  I knew he liked sports and now I know why.  The kid’s got game.  The green team shut out the Purple Pandas, who often looked shocked when the green players knocked the ball out of their hands, despite having been warned by Mike both Friday and today that this would happen, that it wasn’t rude or mean, it was just part of the game.  As the game progressed the girls got better at running to defend their basket when they lost control of the ball, instead of just standing there looking shocked. So that was progress.  A few of them, including Sally (formerly known as the Raccoon*) and her first-grade sister showed some hustle by the end of the game.

*North’s preschool used insect, plant, and animal symbols to identify the kids on their artwork, cubbies, attendance charts, etc. and I used those as pseudonyms for North’s classmates.

North played on the Pandas for six years, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and the team stayed together another three years after that until the pandemic cut their last season short. North’s current extracurricular activity is the spring musical. They will be costume manager again. Rehearsals just started last week. North and Beth are also thinking about taking an art class together either at the rec center or our local community college.

The third post was about Beth’s and my anniversary getaway.

We drove everyone up to Mom and Jim’s house on Saturday afternoon after June’s basketball game, dropped the kids off and enjoyed two nights and one day to ourselves in the City of Brotherly Love.  We had two very nice dinners at the Kyber Pass Pub and Cuba Libre. If you go to the first, the vegetarian meats (BBQ and fried chicken Po Boys) and the fried vegetables (okra and sweet potato fries) are very good. If you go to the second, you must order the buñuelos con espinaca. We visited Reading Terminal Market and had lunch there.  I got a vegetarian cheesesteak at a stand where the service was so bad it crossed over from aggravating to comic, but the cheesesteak was not half bad once I finally got it. We browsed at Giovanni’s Room and came out with a few books. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room and in a local coffee shop reading. We saw a non-animated, R-rated movie, the lesbian coming-of-age film The Pariah, which was well acted and a good story, though there were some odd things going on with the camera work, probably meant to indicate the protagonist’s emotional state.  Our room had a gas fireplace and a Jacuzzi and we employed them both.

We’ve actually taken a lot of road trips during the pandemic, at first just moving our bubble of four from one place to another, enjoying outdoor activities and eating takeout, then after everyone got vaccinated, visiting relatives in West Virginia or meeting up with them at the beach. We might be hitting the road in April during North’s spring break to meet one of their half-siblings whom they met through the Donor Sibling Registry and who lives in Michigan with their two moms. As for a weekend alone, as I mentioned in my comment on Nicole’s post my mom doesn’t live nearby anymore and we don’t feel quite ready to leave North alone for a weekend, but the empty nest is less than three years from now, so I guess by then the world will be our oyster.

The last post was about a day the kids had off school. They always have a day off between second and third quarter. North had two playdates so Noah and I spent the morning together, taking a walk to Starbucks and reading a historical novel, Forge, until his sibling came home.

When June came out of her room forty minutes later she had a stack of Dora books she wanted me to read to her and even though Dora is not my idea of quality children’s literature, the idea of cuddling up in bed and having some one-on-one time with my younger child in between her many social engagements seemed appealing.  Before I read to her I reminded Noah of the items left on his list (homework, percussion practice, typing practice) and I made him lunch. I fixed him some leftover ziti with butter and grated parmesan and a bowl of applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

“Ziti with parmesan and butter. What could be better than that?” Noah said with satisfaction as I placed his lunch in front of him.

“A castle with princesses and ponies,” June piped up.

You’re going to eat princesses and ponies for lunch?” I said in mock surprise and soon she was over at the toy castle, pretending to be a dragon munching on the royals.  But I was thinking silently that I know something much better than noodles or princesses: a morning with my firstborn as he stands on the threshold of midterms and whatever else middle school has to offer.

Well, middle school is long over for both kids. But Noah does still love pasta, and he plays percussion in a band for non-music majors at school, and we still enjoy sharing books together. North’s taste in books runs more to gay and lesbian romance than Dora these days, and they’ve been digging into the books they’re reading in English class, reading more of the Odyssey than was assigned and dipping into the Iliad as well, just for fun. They read The Shining recently and they’re thinking of reading Dante’s Inferno, so I’d say they’re becoming a rather eclectic reader, after several years of not reading much for pleasure.

That was January 2012. In between then and now, Beth and I got legally married, my mother and stepfather moved to Oregon, my stepfather died, my sister adopted my niece and married my brother-in-law, and North came out as non-binary. We lived through the Trump presidency and a global pandemic. Our lives ten years from now are as unfathomable to us now as our current lives would have been then. It’s not impossible that we could have a grandchild, but not if my kids both wait as long as I did to have children or choose not to have kids. There’s only one way to find out what lies ahead and that’s to live through the next ten years. I am up to that challenge.

Second (and Third) Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 63

Second Week Begins

After the week that was mostly cancelled for snow, North had another short school week. Monday and Tuesday they were suffering after-effects from their covid booster and stayed home from school and Wednesday was a half day. I’m not sure why, but if it was teacher planning I am not going to begrudge the teachers anything they need.

Anniversary #30/9

Beth’s and my anniversary was a week ago Tuesday. It’s been thirty years since our commitment ceremony and nine years since our legal wedding. Both ceremonies took place on the same date, the first one in the living room of the apartment in D.C. where we lived when we were in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties and the second one in the living room of the house in suburban Maryland where we’ve lived since 2002.

I like to give anniversary gifts based on the traditional materials. Thirty is the pearl anniversary and this was tough one, because as Beth let me know ahead of time, she did not want a string of pearls. (There wasn’t much danger I would have gone in that direction anyway. It’s not really her style.) This is what I did get—a card with a shell on the front, a confection called licorice pearls (because Beth is on a licorice kick), a cultural biography of Pearl Buck (which I thought might be of interest because she was from West Virginia and Beth has a lot of West Virginia pride), and a gift certificate to Main Street Pearl, a bubble tea place in downtown Takoma. Beth doesn’t care for bubble tea (or any kind of tea), but they do have pastries, including a pretty good chocolate chip cookie. I got it for $9 so it would symbolize both anniversaries.

North accompanied me to the Co-op to get the card and to Main Street Pearl to get the certificate the Saturday afternoon before our anniversary because I promised to get them a bubble tea if they’d walk with me. It was a pleasant outing on a cold but sunny day. I got a warm milk tea with boba. (“You got it warm?” Beth said later, “That makes it even worse.”) We sat outside and drank our tea in subfreezing temperatures and because Main Street Pearl is gay-owned and decorated with rainbow flags year round, North made me take an online quiz about various Pride flags on their phone. I was doing pretty well at first but it got harder as it went along and I ended up with a score of nine out of fourteen. But in my defense, pride flags have gotten a lot more complicated than when I was a baby dyke and in some ways I am stuck in my youth.

Back to the anniversary… because our commitment ceremony was a homemade affair, we made our own cake and I’ve made it almost every year since on our anniversary. It’s a spice cake. The original had white frosting with purple frosting flowers (to match the potted African violets we gave away as wedding favors). However, every other time I’ve made this cake I’ve made the lemon glaze that’s included in the recipe (except the one year I made an orange glaze and North almost lost their mind). This year, as a concession to diabetes, I made even more drastic changes, cutting the recipe in half and making muffins instead of a cake, with no glaze or frosting. I made breakfast for dinner to go with them—kale and mushroom omelets, various kind of vegetarian breakfast meat, and grapefruit.

Earlier in the day Beth and I took our separate morning walks and worked—she had back-to-back meetings all afternoon and I was working on a white paper about vitamin K2—and I read several chapters of Odds Against Tomorrow, the dystopian cli fi (climate fiction) novel I was reading for book club. I had a Zoom meeting with my diabetes nurse during which she watched Beth apply a new sensor to my arm to see if the problem with the monitors is faulty application, but she said Beth’s technique looked perfect.

North emerged from their room in the late morning, took a rapid covid test, ate some chia pudding, and went back to bed. All the students in their school had received tests they were supposed to take the day before, but as North was absent the day before, Beth had gone to the library where they are distributing free tests so she could submit test results (negative) online before North goes back to school.

Once I’d finished working for the day, Noah and I finished The King of Scars, which we’d been reading since a few days after Christmas and then I started making the muffins and the rest of dinner. The cake recipe works pretty well for muffins, it turns out. North said next year I should add a little lemon juice to the batter to give it the lemony taste the glaze gave the cake. I had half a grapefruit and half a muffin at the same meal, which is a splurge for me these days, but it was a special occasion.

Beth and I exchanged gifts after dinner. She tried one of the pearls, which are coated in white chocolate, and she said the licorice filling was salty and intense and she liked it. She got me a gift certificate for Takoma Beverage Company, a coffeehouse in downtown Takoma, and made Saturday lunch reservations in the garden at Zinnia, a new restaurant on the site of an old one in a rambling old house, with a big garden. (Mrs. K’s Toll House, if you’re local.) Now the high temperature on Saturday was predicted to be in the twenties, and while we considered canceling the reservation and doing it on a milder day, in the end we decided to go as there were heaters and it had been much too long since we’ve had a date.

After I’d done the dinner dishes, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan because we hadn’t played the whole month Noah was home and this game was a pandemic staple for us the year and a half he was home. Beth won. She almost always does.

The Rest of the Second Week

When North finally went back to school their bus arrived and it continued to arrive for the rest of the week. (The county has asked for National Guard troops to fill in for all the absent bus drivers. We’ll see if that happens.) At school, the promised KN95 masks had not materialized and North wasn’t called in to receive a rapid test to take at home the way kids who had been absent were supposed to be. I guess it’s a good thing Beth had already taken matters into her own hands and procured tests while North was absent. (This is the kind of planning at which she excels.)

In other medical disappointments, my new sensor seemed not be any more accurate than the last two, both of which I removed before they expired. I didn’t take it off, but I started checking it with finger pricks, which is suboptimal, because one of the main reasons to wear one is not having to do that. Instead of running consistently low, sometimes it was a little low and sometimes it was way too low. (I still have it on because I got some better readings from it and I just didn’t want to make Beth deal with the rigamarole of getting a replacement or do it myself, but it’s still not as accurate as I’d like.)

Also in medical updates: Thursday I went to see the allergist, who still doesn’t know why I break out in hives if I don’t take a daily antihistamine. He advised me to start taking it every other day to see if the reaction is lessening. He says 50% of mystery cases like mine resolve themselves within a year, so it’s a good idea keep checking to see if the medication is still needed. It’s been about six months. He also reviewed the results of my allergy tests from September and said if I wanted I could try going off nuts, as those were some of the biggest reactions after soy, which we’ve already ruled out. It was kind of a tepid suggestion and nuts, like soy, are an important protein source for me to manage my diabetes, so I haven’t decided if I even want to try that. (I have peanut butter for breakfast two to four times a week.) I’m not going to try it until I’ve been on the every-other-day antihistamine schedule for a while, as I don’t want to change more than one variable at a time. (On my no medication days so far, I’ve only had hives one of three days, so that’s interesting—maybe they are tapering off.)

My book club has gone back to virtual meetings, which is half sad (because I like it better in person) and half a relief because I was thinking I probably shouldn’t go in person anymore and the hybrid format is awkward, especially for the folks at home. Anyway, we had a meeting on Thursday, to discuss Odds Against Tomorrow. I realized after it was over that I’d only spoken twice and both times it was to disagree with someone, and then I felt guilty about that and then I wondered if that was a gender-conditioned reaction.

After book club we all stayed up later than three out of four of us (those of us who weren’t still on break) probably should have to watch the last two episodes of Dickinson, because there are lot of shows we wanted to finish before Noah left on Sunday morning.

Friday night we got pizza and since it was his last pizza night at home, we let Noah choose and we got Roscoe’s. It was also our last family movie night with him home, but as everyone else had already had a turn during his month at home, Beth chose and we watched Love and Friendship. She said she wanted something light.

Third Week, So Far

On Saturday morning Noah and read longer than usual in an attempt to finish the short novel (Equal Rites from the Discworld series) we’d optimistically started four days before his departure. We got about halfway through what we had left and decided to pick it up later in the day. Then Beth got home from grocery shopping and we hurriedly put the perishables in the fridge and left the rest on the kitchen floor because we had lunch reservations.

Yes, we did eat our anniversary lunch outside in twenty-one-degree weather. But there were propane heaters by the tables and I spread my cashmere scarf on the metal chair before I sat down on it and it wasn’t too bad. We didn’t even avail ourselves of the blankets the restaurant provided. And we weren’t the only ones dining al fresco. There were people making S’mores over fire pits and a lot of bundled up kids tearing around the garden, and music making the scene festive. I got devilled eggs made with pimento cheese instead of mayonnaise, a Caesar salad, and Oolong tea. Beth got hot chocolate, spinach-potato soup, sweet potato fritters, and we shared a cheese board. It was quite a spread and we had a lot of food to bring home. While I probably would not have chosen to dine outside on a colder than average day in mid-January pre-pandemic, it made me glad we can be hardy and flexible. That’s not a bad thing to consider while celebrating one’s thirtieth anniversary.

In the mid-afternoon, Beth took Noah for the first of two covid tests he needed to return to school. But instead of the PRC test he registered for, he got a rapid antigen test and those are only accepted if taken within twenty hours of a students’ move-in date, so it was basically useless. So he’ll take two more rapid antigen tests in Ithaca. (The first test was negative, by the way.)

While Beth and Noah were gone, I cut several springs from my rosemary plant and pulled the needles off and put them in one of the little glass spice jars my sister got Noah for Christmas, so he could take a bit of home with him to Ithaca. Then Beth and Noah got back, we read some more, and then made pho together. It was kind of a complicated recipe for a noodle soup, but we’ve been making Saturday dinner together ever since he was in sixth grade, and for the past five years we’ve always done it while listening to my friend Becky’s show on Takoma’s community radio station, so that was a comforting thing to do.

After dinner, there was a flurry of television viewing and book reading. Beth and Noah have been watching a Star Wars cartoon and they got in a couple episodes while I did the dinner dishes. Then the three of us watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We were unable to finish a season in the month he was home, but we got to the midpoint of season 3, which was kind of satisfying and may also make it easier to remember where we left off. After that, against all odds, Noah and I finished Equal Rites, which pleased us both. We immediately started to discuss what path we want to take as we continue through this forty-one-book series, which has several sub-series, and therefore no set order. I doubt we’ll read the whole thing, so the order is an important consideration.

It was a very nice last day of having Noah home, just about perfect.

Beth and Noah left a little before ten a.m. Sunday, around the same time North left to go meet Zoë at Starbucks. I found myself alone in the house for the first time in I don’t remember how long. Even though I had a to-do list, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, being agitated and overcome with emotion. Sadness, yes, but also happiness, because the spring semester seems to be happening and Noah’s got a good course schedule and a job I think he’ll be good at and enjoy. College is going well for him and it’s important for him to get back to his fledgling adult life.

Eventually I settled down, stripped his bed before it seemed unbearable to do it, ate some of the leftover fancy cheese from Zinnia, and started blogging. Then I had lunch, took a bus to the library to return a book, walked home through the falling snow, had a nap, tackled the pile of newspapers that piled up while I was trying to finish my actual book club book and my mother-son book club book, and listened to a couple of podcasts, which have also been piling up on my phone. North returned from Zoë’s while I was napping and that evening they watched Love, Simon on a Hulu watch party with a couple friends.

The snow had all but melted, except in patches where it’s shady or the piles the plows made in parking lots, when we got two more inches on Sunday afternoon and evening, but Monday was MLK day, so it did not result in any additional snow days.

I told Sara I’d work Monday even though it was MLK day because she’s got a lot of projects, so I did that, working on web copy for a vitamin D product. But I also shoveled our slushy walk, took a walk by the creek, and saw kids sledding (successfully) on what was more mud and wet leaves than snow. North wrote a short essay on the role of women in the Odyssey, which in their words is “to take the blame for things men do.” After dinner, North and I watched It, cuddled up the couch with Xander. North leaned against me during the scary parts, sometimes reaching over me to pet the cat.

Tuesday North woke up with a sore throat and a cough and stayed home from school. Remember, the whole reason North and I didn’t go to Ithaca with Beth and Noah, a trip I really wanted to make, was so North could go to school on Tuesday, so this was a frustrating turn of events.

Beth texted me that Noah was covid-tested, cleared, and checked into his apartment around 11:00 a.m. She took him grocery shopping and they went for a hike to see Buttermilk Falls in the snow—they got a foot there to our rapidly melting two inches—and she left Ithaca around 2:30. (She made it home by a little before nine, which is good time for that drive.) Over the course of the afternoon I finished the vitamin D copy and started some for a stress relief product.

And speaking of stress… that afternoon it was announced some more schools in our county are going remote, starting Thursday, but not which ones, so that was an exciting bit of uncertainty. By evening the schools (mostly elementary and middle schools) were identified, and North’s school is still in-person for now. My friend Megan, whose daughter Talia attends the same school, texted me “looks like we won the lottery…today anyway!” Not that North went to school today, as they were still feeling under the weather. (Rapid antigen test says it’s not covid.) This makes three weeks in a row they’ve gone to school two and half days or less, because of weather, vaccine effects, or illness. Plus, it’s supposed to sleet or snow tomorrow right before the morning rush hour, so who knows if there will even be school tomorrow?* There are still some bumps in the road of this new year, even though I’m glad Noah’s settled into it.

The certificate for North’s legal name change arrived yesterday. This was a happy moment for them, but a melancholy one for me. It’s been hard for me to give up their old name, which I loved, even though they haven’t used it for over four years. It was the right thing to do, though. It’s their name after all, and this stage of parenting seems to be a long process of letting go, which, ultimately, is a good thing.

*Update, 1/20: It was rain, not even sleet, and school was cancelled.

 

First Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 62

First Day: New Year’s Day

Last weekend Beth and I went on a First Day hike at Patuxent River State Park. These are organized by various state and municipal parks to encourage people to get out into nature on the first day of the year. We go on one most years, usually just me and Beth, as the kids are often tired from seeing in the new year, which Beth and I never do, even when we have a party to attend, which we did not this year for the obvious reasons. We generally either stay home or come home early, leave the kids with many bowls of salty snacks, and go to bed well before midnight, which is what we did this year. I think of it as sibling bonding time.

We chose a hike on a newly made trail that goes past Howard Chapel Cemetery, a small historic African-American cemetery where descendants of Enoch Howard—who bought himself and his family out of slavery and then bought the land of his enslavers—are buried. Despite the wet conditions, fifteen or twenty people (and three dogs, one charmingly named Ruthie for Ruth Bader Ginsburg) had showed up. Because the trail was so new and it had been raining earlier in the day, it was very muddy in places. One hiker slipped and twisted her ankle so one of the two rangers stayed with her until a park employee could come get her back to the trailhead.

The rest of us kept going, led by a very cheerful guide along the wooded path, up the ridge, to the cemetery and then back down. It took two hours and I didn’t slip and fall in the mud until pretty near the end. (I sustained no injury. The mud was quite soft.)

Back at home, I put together a cheese plate, which is another New Year’s tradition of ours, and we ate a lot of cheese. Later that day, I made Hoppin’ John for dinner, because it’s good luck and we are not taking any chances as we approach Year Three of the pandemic.

First Week: Monday to Friday

The first week back after break was an abbreviated one for North. We got seven inches of snow in the wee hours of Monday morning and that was enough for two snow days and a two-hour delay on Wednesday, when they finally went back to school. Thursday there was a full day of school and then it snowed again (three more inches) and they had Friday off, too.

If you’ve read this blog for a couple years or more you know I’m no fan of snow days, but more than a year of remote school has put things in perspective at least a little. Plus, I’m not sure in-person school should even be happening right now, with omicron what it is. I was a little grumpy about the snow days (because I just can’t help it) but I made the best of it. Given that the weather was unusually cold all week, I declared it Soup Week, and we had soup for dinner four nights last week (hot dog and bean, cheddar-broccoli, chili, and curried noodle soup). That was as much festive spirit as I could muster. And the snow did get both kids outside. North took a long walk with Zoë on Monday and Noah went out and took pictures of our yard (some featured here).

The not quite two days of school North did have were disrupted for other reasons as well. There are district-wide school bus driver shortages and their route was cancelled. Beth had to drive them to and from school Wednesday and Thursday, which is more of a hardship than it would be if their school wasn’t a half hour drive away. Two of their teachers (English and Psychology) are out with covid and they say attendance is as low as 50% in most of their classes. I don’t know if kids are out sick or their parents are keeping them home out of caution. I do know people who are doing that, so it was probably both.

The school district was using a metric that if 5% of students, faculty, and staff in any given school tested positive for covid, the school would go remote. Then between Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, it went from just a handful of schools at 5% or higher to 60% of the schools in our enormous school district (including North’s school) reaching that level. And then they gave up on that metric. In-school classes are continuing, but who knows for how long? If the district, albeit under pressure from the governor, changed its minds on a dime once, it could happen again. And the schools are stretched incredibly thin. Teachers have to use their free periods to cover for absent colleagues and sometime there’s just no teacher in the room and the kids just get a message about what work to complete in class. This has been the case in North’s psychology class. In Noah’s old high school (which is huge and has four thousand students) they are down to two janitors.

On Wednesday, before the 5% rule was abandoned, I started a pool on Facebook asking when people thought the school district as a whole would shut down under the weight of all these burdens. Everyone guessed it would be last week or early next week. But that doesn’t seem to be happening. There is going to be distribution of home test kits and KN95 masks to all students on Monday. I’m not even sure what I want to happen. To say remote school was not a good fit for North would be putting it mildly. None of us want to go back to that. But it would be worth it if a short closure, say two weeks or even a month, prevented a longer one later. But is that what would happen if the schools close their doors? I keep remembering how the two-week closure in March 2020 ended up stretching to April 2021. Honestly, I’m glad it’s not up to me.

Meanwhile, Ithaca announced on Friday that the first week of the spring semester will be virtual. It does not affect when Noah goes back because he has training for his IT job the week before classes start and those dates have not changed. Beth’s driving him up to school on the Sunday of MLK weekend and returning on Tuesday, his move-in day. Students (with limited exemptions) are required to be vaccinated and boosted, to test three days before their move-in days, and again on the move-in day, so I feel like the college has a clear, serious plan.  Of course, it’s a private college and it has more freedom to take effective health measures than a public school system that has to be open to everyone, vaccinated or not, and which is subject to pressure from the state government.

Before Noah was assigned his move-in date (just a few days ago) we were hoping we could all go up to Ithaca for MLK weekend and drop him off a day earlier. I do enjoy a road trip and seeing him in his adopted hometown. Plus, Ithaca is a fun place, with a lot of natural beauty and good restaurants (not that we would have patronized them in person). But North has school the day he moves into his apartment, so North and I will be staying behind. I am sad about this.

I’ve been kind of blue and discombobulated all week, truth be told. Partly it’s the disruption of our schedule, partly it’s not knowing what’s coming next, plus I’m still having trouble with glucose monitor reliability, which is really vexing me, and there’s more I don’t care to go into, but I’m hoping 2022 is an improvement over its first week. North got their booster shot today, so that’s a start.

The Party House: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 61

Thursday: Arrival

We arrived at the cabin in Blackwater Falls State Park around quarter to four, almost exactly the same time Beth’s mom and aunt Carole did. As we were driving into the park YaYa texted to say they were at the lodge picking up the keys, so we drove straight to the cabin and started unloading our copious luggage onto the porch while we waited for them.

By quarter to five Beth and Noah had the tree in its stand, North had decorated the mantle, YaYa and I had put food into the fridge and cabinets and we were pretty well settled in, so everyone but North went for a walk up the park road. Carole and YaYa were ready to turn back before Beth, Noah, and I were, so we continued to the Pendleton Overlook where we took in the lovely view of the canyon and a vivid sunset.  As we walked there, Beth noted that although our cabin seemed to be the only one occupied in its cluster of five, the next two groups of cabins seemed more have cars parked in front of most of them.

“No one wants to be near us,” Beth observed.

“It’s because we’re so loud,” I said. “The party house.”

Back at said house, Beth defrosted the frozen chili we’d brought from home and made a pan of cornbread. After I’d done the dinner dishes, we all watched The Year Without a Santa Claus and I risked a few bites of white chocolate Chex mix. (After I checked my bedtime blood sugar, I told Beth, “I could have had more Chex mix,” which made her laugh. Healthy eating seems to come more easily to her than to me.) North, Beth and I were all in bed by 10:30 because as Carole said, we “retire early.” Not such a party house after all, but Noah and the elders stayed up for a while after that and he answered their questions about drones and other things.

Friday: Christmas Eve

Beth went for a walk in the woods, then went shopping and came home with many bags of groceries and cautionary tales of a supermarket in which she was the only person masked. Everyone else stuck to the house. Noah and I read a couple chapters of The Space Between Worlds and watched a couple episodes of What We Do in the Shadows. North was still reading The Shining. Beth strung lights on the tree. After lunch, YaYa and Carole left for a walk and the kids and I made gingerbread cookies.

I’d forgotten to bring cookie cutters and whenever I do this (no, it’s not the first time) they are surprisingly hard to find in stores. Beth looked when she went shopping but didn’t see any. So we cut the dough into circles with glasses and shaped the rest by hand. We decorated with dried cranberries, nuts, and bits of broken candy cane and made six in the shapes of everyone’s first initials.  As soon as we’d baked four trays of gingerbread, North got to work on a batch of chocolate-peppermint cookies. I went for a walk along the path behind the cabins and then circled back to the park road while North was baking.

Next it was time to decorate the tree. Carole exclaimed over our extensive collection of ornaments, to which she’d just contributed two pretty wooden snowflakes. North seemed especially pleased to see the ones they’d picked over the years—the passport from the year they went to Colombia, the theater masks, etc. With everyone pitching in it only took about a half hour to finish and there was some spirited singing along to “Feliz Navidad” which took me back to when the kids were in elementary school in a Spanish immersion program and how that number was always on the programs of the Holiday Sing.

I was the designated Christmas Eve cook and I made salad and two pizzas (with grocery store dough). One had mushrooms, garlic, rosemary, and vegetarian Canadian bacon. The other one had the same toppings on one half and the other half left plain. The evening’s entertainment was Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. YaYa and Carole, who are not in the habit of watching the same 1970s stop-motion Christmas specials every year, tried to remember if they’d seen it when their kids were small, and expressed delight at the voice acting cast, which includes Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney (as they had for Shirley Booth in The Year Without a Santa Claus the previous night). The kids, who do watch these shows every year, sang along with several of the songs with great brio. They know every word.

After the show, everyone but Noah (who objects to this practice) opened one gift and when we’d finished our illicitly premature gift opening, he read “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” to us. Carole said he has such a nice reading voice he should record audiobooks.

Saturday: Christmas

Beth and I were the first two awake on Christmas morning, before seven, but North was up soon after, and they got busy in the kitchen, making our Christmas breakfast of scrambled eggs, vegetarian Canadian bacon and sausage, a fruit plate, and a delicious lemon-cranberry loaf. Noah was the last to rise, shortly before nine, and when he did we opened our stockings. We’d brought a stocking for Carole and she said she hadn’t had one in since the last time she’d spent Christmas with her daughter and granddaughter and she seemed pleased to have candy and little gifts to open.

After breakfast we opened the presents under the tree. Many books, socks, clothes, candles, packages of tea and flavored sugars, jars of jam, bars of soap, and Amazon gift cards were exchanged. Plus Noah got extra propellors and filters for his drone and North got an air fryer (or rather the news that one had been purchased and left at home because it was too big to fit in the car).

After presents were opened, people scattered to take walks, read, nap, and work on the puzzle Carole had brought. It’s a map of West Virginia with illustrations of various attractions and Beth and Noah got to work on it in earnest that afternoon. I’d been intending to take a walk after lunch, but the steady drizzle we’d been having all day had turned to a hard rain and I thought I’d wait to see if it let up a bit.

Yes, it was raining on Christmas in a place where we can usually count on, if not a fresh snowfall, at least some snow on the ground, enough to say it was a white Christmas. But on the drive to Blackwater when we got to the elevation where there’s almost always snow, there were just a few melting patches here and there and a little ice on the roadcuts. I thought that was bad sign and when we got to the cabin, while there was snow on the deck—which I should have photographed because it melted that night—there wasn’t much anywhere else, and no snow fell during our stay. In Ashland, Oregon, where my mom, sister, brother-in-law, and niece live, and where snow is pretty rare, they did have a white Christmas, so I guess they got ours. I’m glad for Sara because she’d been hoping for this for years. And while Beth does love snow, she said it was fine, as long as she was in the hills among the evergreens and rhododendrons, and I will take her at her word.

I decided to brave the rain around 3:30 and I picked a good time to leave because while I was walking, the drizzle petered out and then stopped altogether. I walked down to Pendleton Lake, first to the beach and then over the dam. The day was gray and misty, and the silver, rippling waters of the lake and tall, dark trees were pretty in an austere way. I walked for an hour and didn’t see another soul until I returned to the house and saw YaYa and Carole setting out for their own walk.

When I got home I curled up in bed with a book, not one of my many Christmas books, but one of the last ones I had in my to-read pile before Christmas, The Pull of the Stars, and read almost a third of it before dinner. It felt quite luxurious to read that long. (I finished it two days later.)

YaYa and Carole made YaYa’s famous spinach lasagna for dinner and we all re-grouped to eat that with salad and vegetarian sausage. We toasted to a merry Christmas with wine and sparkling cider or white grape juice. Somehow we got to talking about college—mostly North’s future plans (they want to go to culinary school) and YaYa and Carole’s reminisces about what college was like in the fifties and early sixties, with dorm curfews and dress codes and such. The current college student had the least to say about college of anyone. Then we watched Christmas is Here Again, the last Christmas movie in our regular rotation (though not the last Christmas movie we’d watch at the cabin).

Sunday to Wednesday: A Blur of Days After Christmas

The day after Christmas was the only day we were at the park that rain wasn’t forecast, so we made the most of it. In the morning Beth, Noah, and I hiked down to the bottom of Blackwater Falls. It was beautiful, as always, but there were none of the interesting ice formations we often see along the rockface of the gorge or on the rocks at the edge of the water. I do have to say it’s a much easier descent when the wooden staircase isn’t encased in ice, though. We lingered a while on the lowest platform so Noah could take pictures. When we’d climbed back up, he tried to launch his drone but the wind was too high. (He wouldn’t be able to fly the whole time we were there because of weather conditions and technical difficulties.)  Later on, all six of us took the accessible trail to view the falls from the other side of the canyon and Noah used his tripod to get a group shot.

After lunch, Beth and I headed out for the third and longest hike of the day, up to Balanced Rock. As you may guess from the name, it’s one boulder balanced on another at the top of  a ridge. We started at the lodge and hiked past Elakala Falls and through the forest of towering rhododendron bushes, hemlock and spruce—their needles are what stains all the waters in the park gold to reddish brown. The trail was lined with ferns and moss and lichen-covered rocks.

Like the falls trail, it was also an easier climb than when the trail is covered with slick, packed snow, or obscured by deep, powdery snow, or covered in ice with water running underneath and a camouflaging layer of leaves on top, which are just a few of the conditions in which we’ve hiked it. It was quite muddy, though, so we had to watch our step. It took almost two hours to get to the top and back down. The day was quite pleasant, sunny and in the mid-forties, just about the right temperature for a moderately strenuous hike. Unlike on my solitary walk the day before, everywhere we hiked that day we encountered people and dogs, all taking advantage of the clear day, I guess. (And I made a discovery that day, which is that if you hike for more than two and a half hours, you can eat cookies with almost no impact on your blood sugar. I had a gingerbread cookie at the bottom of the falls and a chocolate-peppermint cookie after we finished our descent from Balanced Rock and they barely showed up on the graph on my diabetes app.)

I spent the late afternoon and early evening reading and folding laundry and reading some more. North made a very elaborate and tasty mushroom Wellington for dinner and we watched the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol because YaYa had fond memories of it. Noah was impressed with the transparent Jacob Marley and wasn’t sure how they did with the technology of the time.

On Tuesday Beth went for a three and a half hour walk on top of the ridge by the lake in the morning and in the afternoon she and YaYa and Carole went for a drive. I took a shorter walk, back to Blackwater Falls, but this time I only went about halfway down the stairs, to the first platform, for another look at the rushing, amber waters. The rest of the day I spent in the cabin, reading and watching tv. I finished three books (two I had in progress and this Frog and Toad parody I recommend if you read Frog and Toad as a child or as a parent of a small child and you’re curious how the amphibian friends have been getting along during the pandemic). Beth bought it as a gift for me and the kids. To top it off all this completion, Noah and I watched the last two episodes of season three of What We Do in the Shadows. Meanwhile, people were working on the puzzle on and off all day.

Noah and I made baked cauliflower with cheese sauce for dinner and afterward we watched two short films, one he helped shoot and edit while he was home last year (because Carole hadn’t seen it) and his final project for his Cinema Production II class this past semester, for which he’d been the audio and color editor. This led to questions about how color grading works and he explained by showing us another school project on that topic. Then we all looked at all the photos he’d taken during our week at the cabin and split into groups to watch an episode of Dickinson or work on the puzzle.

YaYa and Carole left in the early afternoon on Tuesday, after a concerted and successful effort by the sisters, Beth, and Noah to finish the puzzle. (At YaYa’s insistence, North and I each put one piece in so we could say everyone helped.) There were two reasons to finish it before they left. First because YaYa and Carole had been working on it all along and wanted to see it done, but also because the card table we were using as a puzzle table was YaYa’s and she would be taking it back to Wheeling with her.

After we’d all said our goodbyes, North set to work taking ornaments off the tree and there was laundry and some initial packing and more reading. Noah and I started one of his Christmas books, King of Scars, and then I started Nothing to See Here, which promises to be interesting. I took all the decorations off the mantle and carried the evergreen boughs out to the woods behind the house and swept up the needles. Beth unwound the lights from the tree and she and Noah carried it out back. Taking the decorations down is always less fun than putting them up, but it’s part of the holiday cycle.

That evening we had a fend-for-yourself dinner. I had a salad and some leftover pizza. Then we rounded out the evening with a Dickinson-Encanto double feature.

The next day we packed up and drove home and unpacked and I had a nap because I hadn’t slept well the night before. I was feeling down and unenthused about getting back into my usual routine, but we got Chinese takeout and on the drizzly drive to go get it, we saw some Christmas lights in yards I hadn’t seen yet this year and that perked me up a bit. I always like to imagine what kind of festivities other people are having in their party houses.

Moderately Lit: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 60

“Merry Christmas!” Noah said shortly after he disembarked from the charter bus in the mall parking lot just north of Baltimore nine days before Christmas. He was holding out a gingerbread biscotti. Turns out he’d texted Beth from a Starbucks in downtown Ithaca shortly before getting on the bus (to let her know he’d made it to the stop in plenty of time) and she remembered my frustrated quest and asked him to look for one. So I have both of them to thank for finding the elusive pastry for me.

Noah said the bus was not too crowded but he did have someone sitting next to him and this was somewhat worrying because the majority of the students on the bus were from Cornell, which had an even worse outbreak of covid cases than most college campuses, including Ithaca, seemed to have had at the end of the fall semester, thanks to the omicron variant. (Ithaca went from green to yellow to orange alert status in about a week’s time, but they didn’t cancel fall graduation. Cornell did.) I was reading on the IC parents’ Facebook page about students who tested positive getting quarantined and not being able to leave campus when they’d planned while all other students were required to skedaddle within twenty-four hours of their last exam.

It was all a little alarming, so Beth scheduled covid tests for all of us on Sunday, which was three days after Noah got home and four days before we were leaving for Blackwater Falls State Park. Even though we are all vaccinated and everyone is boosted (except North who won’t be eligible for the booster until they turn sixteen in March), we did not want to take the chance of exposing Beth’s mom or her aunt. We got the tests at the same health center where Beth and I got our booster shots in October. It was very efficient—we were in and out very quickly—but the protocol was you swab your own nostrils and I was fretting on the way home that I hadn’t done it right and I’d get an inconclusive result. (I don’t even know if that’s possible, but it’s what I was thinking.) Then I told myself that if that did happen and everyone else’s test came back negative there was very little chance I’d be positive, as I’m not the one who spent seven hours on a bus full of college students or who goes to high school in person. I’m not even the grocery shopper, so I’m rarely inside anywhere that’s not my house for more than five or ten minutes. We were told it would be one to three days before we got the results, which would fall sometime between Monday and Wednesday.

While we waited first to take the tests and then for the results, those of us who weren’t on break yet worked and went to school and we all made merry at home. Earlier we’d discussed going to see A Muppet Christmas Carol or maybe another movie at AFI or going to this event at Nationals Park when Noah came home, but without even discussing it, we seemed to agree these kinds of  indoor or crowded events are no longer in the cards, at least not before we visit with senior relatives. (And depending on how events unfold over the next week or two, maybe not after either.)

So we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Frosty Returns, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which came bundled with this odd little cartoon, so we watched that, too, though we drew the line at watching this. North made apple blondie-cheesecake bars as a Christmas present for Miles and Maddie (and delivered an extra to Zoë). I made gingerbread dough to take to the cabin and froze it. Beth made a big pot of chili so no one would have to cook on our first night there and she froze that. There was some last-minute present buying and wrapping. Beth, Noah, and I took another evening walk through the neighborhood on Saturday night so we could show him some of our favorite lights. We favor houses with a high density of lights and/or inflatables. Though our yard is only moderately lit (the candy canes are my favorite part), we appreciate the efforts of those who believe that when it comes to Christmas decorations, more is more. Someone has to take it up to eleven and we’re the ones who do it on Halloween.

In non-Christmas related entertainment Noah and started to read The Space Between Worlds and to watch season three of What We Do in the Shadows; Beth, Noah, and I picked up Buffy the Vampire Slayer where we left off; and North, much to my surprise, started reading The Shining.

Our covid test results dribbled in one by one. I got mine Monday afternoon—negative. Beth got hers Tuesday morning—negative. Tuesday morning Noah’s came, negative; and finally, Tuesday evening, we got North’s results, negative. The trip was a go.

Because we usually travel for Christmas, and the car is often packed, we have a tradition of opening gifts from folks who won’t be with us on the big day before we leave. Generally we do it on the solstice and that’s what we did this year, after dinner on Tuesday. From my mom and sister, Beth got waterproof bags for kayaking, I got three books, Noah got a big chef’s knife and spice jars with magnetized lids that stick to a refrigerator door for his apartment kitchen, and North got two Etsy gift certificates. (A few days earlier Beth and I had opened a box marked perishable with Harry and David pears and an assortment of cheeses from creamery near my sister’s town.) That was the night we watched the Grinch in the living room lit by Christmas lights and candlelight and ate gingerbread (the cake kind, not the cookie kind) which I’d asked Beth to buy at the Co-op. It was a very cozy evening.

Wednesday was the last day of work and school. That afternoon I finished up a blog post about coenzyme Q10 and read a couple chapters of The Space Between Worlds with Noah while Beth took North to a follow-up appointment at the orthodontist and then out shopping for winter boots. Beth’s dreaming of a white Christmas. The forecast doesn’t look promising, but you never know, and there could be artificial snow on the sled run. When Beth and North got home, Beth and Noah strapped the tree to the car because we hit the road tomorrow morning. I wish you a merry Christmas and I hope it’s lit—moderately or extravagantly-—however you like it.

Something About December: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 59

Lights around the tree
Mama’s whistling
Takes me back again
There’s something ’bout December
 

From “Something About December,” by Christina Perri

The Festive Season Begins…

On the first of December, I put on my Christmas tree socks, took a walk past the neighbors’ house with the giant skeleton (now decked out in a Santa suit), made myself some peppermint tea, and settled in on the porch with Marley, which is a Christmas Carol prequel, partly from Marley’s point of view. I got it for Christmas last year and when I didn’t manage to read it during the holidays, I decided to save it for this December. It’s not a Christmas book really. It takes place over the course of many years, at all different times of year, but the characters—Scrooge, Marley, Fan, Belle, Fred, Bob Cratchit—are all so fixed to Christmas in my mind, it still seems like a Christmassy read. It took me ten days to read and I enjoyed it. Fair warning, though—it’s really sad. I guess it would have to be to explain how Ebenezer got as warped as he is at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.

Continuing in the Christmas spirit, Beth and I went to get our tree from Butler’s Orchard a few days later, on the first Saturday in December. As usual, we’re taking it to Blackwater Falls State Park, where we will spend Christmas. We usually get our tree just a few days before Christmas, but Beth heard there might be shortages, so we’ll be storing it in the tub of water in our garage where it’s been for the past ten days for another nine. I asked Beth if she thought our next door neighbors, who share a driveway with us (but not a garage—they have their own) will find this strange. She said if so, it would be just one more strange thing in a long list they’ve probably noticed about us. I try to remember to visit it every day, to check the water level and just to breathe in its smell.

After picking the tree, we shopped a little at the farm market, where we got some gifts and a pecan bar to share, and then we went for a walk in Black Hills Regional Park.  Beth spotted a possum, which stood perfectly still for an impressively long time when we stopped near it, though it did not appear to be faking its own death. It didn’t fall over anyway.

It was nice to be tramping through the woods with occasional views of Little Seneca Lake on a sunny, mild morning until Beth tripped over a rock or a root on the trail and fell. She hurt her knee, but she wanted to keep going, so we did, and we walked a little over an hour.

After we got home and ate a late lunch, it was time for Noah’s band concert, which was being live streamed. Beth connected a laptop to the television so we could watch it on the biggest screen in the house. Usually at band concerts, we have to strain to see our percussionist at the very back of the stage, if we can see him at all. But the camera roved all over the band and we got frequent, clear views of him playing xylophone, timpani, snare drums, bells, marimba, cymbals, triangle, bongos, and tambourine. The music was not as challenging as the music his high school band used to play, but that band was quite competitive (with a director focused on winning top marks at state festival). Noah’s college band is more laid back, consisting mainly of non-music majors with a sprinkling of music majors playing an instrument other than the one that’s their major. The concert was a lot of fun to watch, and shorter than I expected, running just under an hour.

It had been a big couple days for Noah. The day before the concert, he’d taken a test to become an FAA-certified drone pilot. It was a written test, but he had to go to the Ithaca airport to take it. This will be a handy job credential for him. Speaking of jobs, he got a job with campus IT next semester installing hardware and software.

Even Though It’s Christmastime, We Still Have Medical Appointments…

Last Tuesday North got their braces off. It was supposed to happen the day before but there was a power outage at the orthodontist’s office, so they had to wait an extra day. They were presented with a little box of now authorized treats like gum, Starbursts, gummies, and popcorn. North commented to us that these were all things they ate with braces (especially popcorn which they make several times a week) but they had the good sense not to mention that to the orthodontist. The funny thing was even though I knew full well that they’d already eaten some of the taffy I got at the beach with their braces on, I saved five pieces to give them on the big day. It just seemed like the thing to do. They had a day to enjoy their newly smooth teeth with no orthodontic equipment until they got their retainer Wednesday.

I went to the eye doctor on Thursday. It was a routine annual exam but I have had so many medical appointments over the past several months—with my primary care provider, the allergist, the ophthalmologist, the dermatologist, and finally the optometrist—that it was a relief to get the last one of the year checked off my list.

I do have to go back to the allergist in January. After two months of taking a daily antihistamine, per his advice, I went off the medication on the scheduled day, the Monday after Thanksgiving, and by the end of the day I was sporting a hive on the inside of my left wrist. I didn’t even bother to wait for it to get bad and started to take the antihistamine again. Now since I’d been off soy for this same two months, it seems that wasn’t the problem. As much as I’d like to know what the problem is, I’m really happy to know it isn’t that, because soy is an inconvenient allergy for a diabetic vegetarian.

Meanwhile, North has finished a round of physical therapy to strengthen and stabilize their right knee, so they will have fewer appointments to go to as well, at least in-person ones. They started seeing a pain psychologist online, but so far they aren’t finding it very useful.

More Festivity (and Chores) Ensue…

This past weekend Beth and I threw ourselves into Christmas preparation, with a little recreation as well. Friday evening we went out for pizza (indulging in a rare indoor restaurant dining experience), visited an outdoor holiday market in the parking lot of the Co-op, and watched the first half of a ridiculously cheesy lesbian holiday movie. (We finished it the next night.) It’s called Christmas at the Ranch and it’s so bad it’s good, if that kind of alchemy works for you. As North and I observed when we’d only watched half, the only suspense was whether the ranch hand and the elderly ranch owner’s granddaughter would get together before or after they saved the failing family business. You won’t be finding out which it is from me. You’ll have to watch it if you want to know.

Later in the weekend our Christmas cards finally arrived. We’d ordered them the last week of November and I was so worried about mail slowdowns that we addressed almost all of them all in one afternoon, which we’ve never done before. Beth also did a lot of straightening and decorating, and we both wrapped presents. I’m not quite finished with my shopping, but I’ve got my wrapping caught up to my shopping and everything that needs to be mailed has arrived. After our industrious weekend, I reflected that we’re a good team because I’m better at remembering things like who has moved in the past year and will need a new address on the card and she’s better at remembering things like where we put the new ornaments we just bought.

We haven’t baked anything, but there’s going to be less baking than usual this year, for the obvious reason, so I think starting next weekend should be fine. I plan to make gingerbread dough at home and bake it in the cabin. North’s making chocolate-peppermint cookies but I’m not sure if they’ll do it at home or at Blackwater.

As you can see, I am not completely forgoing Christmas treats. I portioned out the candy I brought home from the beach very slowly and it took two weeks to finish. Then on Saturday afternoon North and I walked to Starbucks. I was after a gingerbread biscotti and the app let me order one but when I got there they didn’t have any and they tried to give me a vanilla-almond one. (This is the second time this happened to me in a week—the first time I didn’t even realize I had the wrong biscotti until days after I bought it, when I got it out to eat. Apparently, there’s a gingerbread biscotti shortage. Consider yourself forewarned.) I took a refund instead as the vanilla one fell into the category of Not Worth The Carbs.

It was a nice outing anyway. We both got our coffee iced. For North this is par for the course year round, but for me it’s pretty unusual in December. It was unseasonably, freakishly, warm, in the seventies. North and I both wore skirts, with no leggings or tights underneath and we drank our coffee at an outside table. On our way home, we took a brief detour so I could show North the skeleton in a Santa suit. I am that taken with it. Beth and I took another walk after dinner Sunday to look at some of our neighbors’ lights.

We’re back into another week of work and school, the last full one before Christmas. Noah’s last project is due tomorrow and he’ll take a bus home on Thursday. Having him home will make it seem like the festivities are in full swing.

Holiday Highlights: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 58

Wednesday 

North asked me shortly after we’d arrived at the beach if it would be sacrilegious to start our Christmas shopping the day before Thanksgiving, as we only had one day afterwards. Our trip was shifted forward from its usual dates because MCPS had to cancel school on Wednesday, due to the teacher and substitute shortage and that allowed us to come earlier than we usually do. Also, we were leaving on Saturday so we could put Noah on a bus in Maryland Sunday morning.

I said it would be fine, so Wednesday morning North and I set out for downtown. Noah stayed home to work. (He was working most of the time he was home or at the beach, unfortunately. I’d hoped for more time to hang out and watch some more Buffy or What We Do in the Shadows or even read a book.) The day was cold and sunny. There was a frozen puddle on the sidewalk near the house, which is still a novelty this time of year. We walked to the beach and along the shoreline until we got to Rehoboth Avenue.

We shopped at Browseabout Books and then got coffee at Café a Go-Go. I was the tiniest bit sad not to get my favorite drink there (café con leche with brown sugar) or my second favorite (Mexican mocha) but a plain latte instead. We went to the tea and spice shop next and then we parted ways. North finished their shopping, not for the day, but completely, while I went to the beach. Once I was on the sand watching the ocean, a shifting patchwork of blue, green, brown, and silver, and sipping my coffee, I started to appreciate how much I like the taste of lattes, even without any sugar.

North and I got home for lunch around the same time, but as I wasn’t finished or even close, I went back out afterward. But of course, I eventually I found myself on the beach again. I stood there a long time, taking in the scene: the crashing sea, blue skies, seagulls circling overhead, dogs chasing each other in crazy loops, people tossing a football back and forth, an elderly woman walking slowly and picking through the wrack line for shells and feathers she put in a plastic bag she was carrying. I came home and told Beth, “The world is a beautiful place” and she gave me the indulgent look she gives me when we’re at the beach and I say things like that.

The house—which I realize I didn’t describe in my last post—in addition to being a half a block from the beach and huge also has a jacuzzi upstairs and a hot tub in the yard. We really didn’t need that much house—there were two bedrooms we didn’t use—but it’s hard to find anything smaller these days, as they keep tearing down the little cottages where we used to stay when we first started coming to Rehoboth in the 90s. Anyway, this is to explain how I found myself watching the sky turn hot pink and then fade to slate in a hot tub that afternoon. I don’t expect you to feel sorry for me.

I got relaxed enough in the tub that a nap seemed in order. I didn’t sleep but it was nice to rest. North, who’d been taking a nap of their own, crossed paths with me, coming into the hot tub as I was coming out. North got more use out of the water features in the house than anyone else, with three hot tub sessions and two jacuzzi baths in the three days and four nights we were there.

We ordered dinner from Grandpa Mac and while of course, I would have preferred my customary mac-n-cheese, I was happy enough with soup and salad and a small slice of Beth’s birthday chocolate-banana bread. I wasn’t able to feel deprived after the lovely day I’d had.

After dinner we made our traditional turkey centerpieces out of apples with cranberry-covered toothpick feathers and legs and olive heads. Then we watched the first two episodes of season 3 of Dickinson and North headed for the jacuzzi.

Thanksgiving

About an hour after I woke up and before I’d eaten breakfast my glucose monitor expired. They last two weeks and I’d known it was going to expire on Thanksgiving but not what time of day. I had a decision to make at that point. I could put on a new one or I could… not.

I’d already told my diabetes coach and the nurse that I did not intend to stay in range at Thanksgiving dinner. It seemed almost impossible without completely changing the menu and I didn’t want to do that. I’d decided to skip making the brandied sweet potatoes because I am the only one who likes them and I planned to have small servings of potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, half a roll, a small glass of sparkling cranberry-apple juice, and a small slice of pumpkin pie. But even at half portions, that is a lot of carbs. The nurse said this was a “reasonable” plan, but I thought I saw the coach’s brow furrow on the computer screen when I said that. But she has this “it’s your journey” vibe going on, so she couldn’t tell me not to eat all those high-carb foods at one meal. She did ask me to set an alternate blood sugar goal and I did, but I also said because I never eat like this I really wasn’t sure how all these carbs would hit me and I was going to try not to feel bad even if I shot past the alternate goal.

That morning it occurred to me I might rather just not know. Plus, the sensors are often inaccurate the first twelve hours you’re wearing them, so I wouldn’t even know if the data it gave me was valid. That clinched it for me. I didn’t put on a new one. As I pulled off the expired one, Steppenwolf was singing “Born to Be Wild” in the background. That seemed like a sign.

I went for a walk on the boardwalk, the full two-mile circuit because unlike Wednesday and Friday I wouldn’t be walking around in town a lot, shopping. Beth was out on her walk and we encountered each other at the north end of the boardwalk and walked toward home together. At our street, I peeled off to the beach while she went back to the house. I think there was some kind of asynchronous turkey trot going on because I saw a lot of people running and many of them were wearing t-shirts from different turkey trot events and they kept saying things like “two more miles” to each other, or stopping at a random place along the boardwalk and saying “We’re done!” On hearing this, an elementary-school aged girl made a beeline for a bench, lay down on it, and then shrieked, “This bench is cold!” She may not have been fully invested in this run.

Once I got home, Noah and I made the stuffing. Beth had found a recipe that stretched the bread out by adding mushrooms and enhanced the protein content by adding pecans. North had already made two small batches of cranberry sauce, one regular and one low-sugar, and Beth had made mushroom gravy. Later that afternoon, North finished the cheddar-broccoli casserole.

I blogged, by hand in a composition book because I’d left my laptop charger at home and my computer had died. (I have either forgotten the charger or left it at the beach house the last three times we’ve been to the beach.) Beth had performed some computer magic that allowed me to select music from my music library using the television screen and a spare keyboard, so I had tunes while I wrote.

At four, which Noah tells us is the “golden hour” for photography at this latitude and time of year, we went to the beach for a Christmas card photo shoot. We posed in pairs by an evergreen tree, in front of a sand castle, on or in front of a jetty, and near a piling. The picture here is one of my favorites that we’re not using. See how I preserve the suspense for those of you on my Christmas card list? Then Noah sent the drone up in the air (startling a flock of seagulls into flight) and had it photograph all of us on the sand lined up by height. North was pleased that in their platform crocs, they are taller than me. This order also allowed us to alternate red and green tops. Noah and I stayed on the beach once the shoot was done, so he could fly some more and I could walk by the water and watch the sky grow pinker and pinker. We left when one of his propellors got bent. This happens a lot. He replaced it back at the house.

There was more cooking, hot tubbing, Christmas card text writing, and eventually, eating. Dinner was delicious and while I ate more moderately than I would have in years past, it was still nice not to have to worry about my exact blood sugar values. I think I made the right decision. After dinner I made a start on the dishes, and then paused to eat pie and watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. Beth and I took a jacuzzi bath and got so relaxed we ended up going to bed early and leaving the rest of the dishes undone.

Black Friday

In the morning I fixed myself a cup of milky tea and little bowl of pecans to fortify myself while I tackled the dishes. Breakfast was going to be late because we were eating out and the kids weren’t up yet.

We went to Egg. There was a short wait so Beth and I walked along the canal while the kids waited in the car. It turns out there are a lot of foods in Rehoboth I like to eat that are out of bounds now, like the pumpkin praline French toast, which is the best French toast in the world. Take my word for it. Instead, I had the “Paleo Pleasure,” which I might have called, “Diabetic It’ll Do” instead. It was basically a spinach salad with a fried egg on top, which was fine. Noah got the lemon crepes, which is what he always gets, but he said he missed being able to finish up my candy-coated French toast because he likes it, too. I hope I don’t sound like a brat, repeatedly complaining about having to eat sensibly on my Thanksgiving weekend in a beach house with a hot tub and a jacuzzi, because I do feel suitably lucky about it all.

Everyone but North went downtown for some more holiday shopping. I was relatively productive at it, not North-level productive, but I checked some people off my list. Back at the house I had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch, minus the stuffing and rolls, but I had a little of everything else and this time with a sensor. The (in-range) reading it gave me wasn’t much different than it was for my conservative breakfast, though, and that couldn’t have been right, so I didn’t consider it as instructive for next year as I hoped it might be. As I said, they’re a little screwy when you first apply them.

That afternoon North and I headed back to town for a Candy Kitchen run and to go ornament shopping. We each get a new one every year. Noah stayed home and told me what candy he wanted (chocolate truffles). North got assorted gummies. We spent a long time browsing the ornaments at the Christmas shop. I got a rainbow-clad nutcracker with a rainbow flag, and North got a sugar plum fairy. Then we picked up a hot chocolate for North and a latte for me. I had mine then, but North took theirs home to reheat and drink during the tree lighting and sing-along that night.

About an hour after the sun went down, I went to sit on the veranda—did I mention our bedroom had a veranda?—to look at the stars through the mostly bare branches of a tree in the backyard. But I didn’t linger too long because it was cold and I didn’t want to get chilled before leaving for the tree-lighting.

Last year there was a Christmas tree in downtown Rehoboth, but there was no sing-along. This year it was back, like so many good things are. As we approached the bandstand, we visited the tiny boardwalk light display. It’s not as extensive as it used to be, but there are still a few surrounding Santa’s house: two penguins, a mermaid, and a sea dollar. 

The sing-along was pretty much like it always is. There’s a group of singers in the bandstand—the year it was the costumed cast of a community theater production of Scrooge—and people gather around the bandstand and the unlit tree and sing mostly secular Christmas songs for a half hour. Some people wear festive gear, such as light up reindeer noses. Some people dance to keep warm. When the tree’s lights come on, people cheer and take pictures. (This year, though, there was a small and puzzling booing contingent. Noah said maybe the Grinch showed up.)

We experienced the sing-along split up because North wanted to sit on a bench on the boardwalk, and Noah wanted to be closer to have a better view. Beth stayed with North and I went with Noah. When it was over, he and I went to Grotto and picked up the pizza we’d ordered. We took it back to the house, reheated it, and ate it in front of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Saturday

We packed up and left the house around ten. Beth and Noah still needed to pick their ornaments, so they went to go browsing for those. He got one of Ted Lasso and she got a kayaking Santa. North and I went to Café a Go-Go and I accidentally got a chai. By that I mean I forgot they are generally sold sweetened because I make it at home from tea bags and don’t add any sugar. I was tempted to drink it because it was right there in my hand, but then I thought about all the things I’d resisted on this trip—the aforementioned café con leche, macaroni and cheese, and French toast, plus peppermint bark, pumpkin pie fudge, peanut brittle, pumpkin-cinnamon frozen custard, boardwalk fries, and apple-carrot-beet juice from my favorite juice bar—all of which I wanted a good deal more than this chai, and I decided it wasn’t worth it. I gave it to Noah when we reunited. (North had a Thai iced tea of their own.)

We all met up on the boardwalk and the kids and I went down to say goodbye to the ocean. The kids accomplished this by immersing their feet in the freezing cold surf for the space of twenty-one waves. I usually do this in rainboots, but I’d forgotten to bring mine, so I participated by watching them and dipping one of my crocs about halfway into one wave. It was lined so the little bit of water that came through the holes just barely soaked through to my sock.

This task completed, we drove home, with a stop at Wawa for lunch. We listened to podcasts and sampled our stashes of beach treats. I had four saltwater taffies, two chocolate and two peppermint. I don’t want to give you the impression I didn’t eat any candy at the beach.

Back at home, I threw myself into laundry, sorting through mail, typing up the Christmas card text, picking photos for the card, and other just-home-from-vacation tasks. No one was up for cooking, but I also didn’t feel like figuring out another restaurant meal, so I found a quart of leftover white bean-vegetable soup in the freezer and defrosted that, and North, who wasn’t in the mood for that, made some mac-n-cheese with broccoli.

After our quick dinner, we got back in the car because we were going to the light display at Brookside Gardens. Beth, North, and I went for the first time two years ago when Noah was at school and then last year when he was home, it was cancelled. Beth had the idea to do it during Thanksgiving weekend so he could come, as we’ll be in West Virginia for much of the time he’s home for Christmas. It’s a walk-through display in a botanical garden, so most of the lights portray plants and animals. The Loch Ness monster is a favorite of mine, but the frog whose throat lights up when it croaks is also very cool.

Noah took a lot of pictures of the lights, but he also took a lot of us. He’s a good photographer and I think taking portraits is one of his love languages. North didn’t walk the whole path, as they needed a rest and they waited for us on a bench near the frog. As we were making our way back to the car, they noticed it was snowing, very lightly. After they said it we all had to look hard in just the right lit-up place, but we did see it. So now it’s official—it has snowed in Montgomery County. It’s a wonder school is not cancelled tomorrow.

Sunday

We left to take Noah to his bus stop in Bethesda around 9:30 a.m. this morning. I gave him a baggie of mixed nuts and dried cranberries in hopes he would eat on this leg of the journey. He also had truffles he’d gotten at the beach and some chocolate-walnut fudge. North opted to say goodbye to him at home, noting that their “soul wasn’t shattered” to see him go. Mine wasn’t either, really. After a three-month separation, my longest ever from him, two and a half weeks seems manageable. Still, I did wear my Ithaca College sweatshirt to mark the occasion. Yes, I was that mom. Beth stayed in the car because she was illegally parked, but I walked him up to the bus and watched him fit his luggage in the crowded compartment. Seeing my sweatshirt, another Ithaca mom wanted to chat. (The bus serves both Cornell and IC students, but mostly Cornell.) Noah tried to sneak onto the bus while I was talking to her, but I called him back and he returned and gave me a decent hug. I left before the bus pulled away, and before the other mom (whose son is a first-year student) did. I did not cry. Inside my sneakers, I was wearing a new pair of reindeer-and-poinsettia socks I got at a beach 5&10, which reminded me that he’ll be back for more festivities soon.

The Road to the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 57

Friday: Return of the Not-So-Prodigal Son

The day before Noah came home for Thanksgiving week North and I were discussing whether they’d come with us to pick him up the following evening in a mall parking lot just north of Baltimore. I was asking again because the first time I thought the bus was coming in a couple hours later than it actually was. They said they thought they could wait until he got home.

“He’s not your child,” I said. “You miss him, but you don’t feel like part of your heart is missing.” They agreed. Then I went on to say I was glad the kids aren’t twins, because then they would have left at the same time and I prefer to do this separation one kid at a time.

“Someday you will have two parts of your heart missing,” they said cheerfully. 

True, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Right now both my chicks are in the nest and I’d like to savor that.

We arrived at the mall around 8:30, ten minutes before Noah’s bus was due so I went inside to use the restroom. The stores had all been closed for a half hour, but there was still a curiously large number of people ambling about, plus workers closing up stores. About three-quarters of store employees were masked, but almost no customers were, perhaps just me, out of dozens of people. It’s always startling to leave our county and see bare faces indoors.

It took me a while to find an open restroom (some were closed) and then when I tried to exit from the door where I’d entered the mall, it was locked. I asked a young woman who’d just ducked out of a store as the security gate came down how to get out and she directed me to a fire exit. There’s no alarm, she assured me. I went down a sketchy looking hallway and out into a fenced area. I thought I was stuck inside the fence until I turned a corner and saw the end of it and I made my way back to the car.

That whole adventure took fifteen minutes and Noah’s bus arrived shortly after that. I met him getting his luggage out of the storage compartment and gave him a quick hug.  He hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was almost nine, so we set out in search of dinner for him. There was a Panera nearby, but it was closing, so we went to a Taco Bell drive-through. As we drove home, he ate and answered our questions. I tried not to overwhelm him with too many, but I learned he’s going to take the test to be an FAA-certified drone pilot in early December. That was probably his most interesting piece of news.

When we got home, North emerged from their bedroom, where they’d just awoken from an hours-long nap. (Getting up at 5:30 on weekdays for in-person high school is wearing them out and they are prone to falling asleep in the late afternoons.) They sat down to eat the pizza we’d left for them on the dining room table.

“How have you been?” Noah asked them. 

“Fine. How have you been?” they returned.

“Fine,” he said. 

There was a long pause, and I coached them. “There are other things you can say. ‘I was in a play’ or ‘I’m in the drone club.'”

North said, “You were in a play?”

Noah said, “You’re in the drone club?”

Beth and I went to bed and left them to whatever conversation they could manage on their own. North said when they went to bed he was on the couch, watching television and cuddling with the cat, who apparently also missed him.

Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend

We didn’t do anything too exciting over the weekend, but it was very satisfying nonetheless. Just having everyone under the same roof made me content. Noah did a little homework on Saturday and more on Sunday. On Saturday morning he and I took a short walk to see the neighbors’ giant skeleton they have had in their yard since mid-September. I am starting to think it is going to be a permanent fixture. 

In the afternoon the kids and I made a Starbucks run. As we walked there, Noah told us about the classes he’s going to take next semester (an advanced cinema production class he’s pleased to have gotten into, a computer science class, a research methods class, and his Emerging Media junior project).  I got a latte and the kids got various autumnal or holiday treats (an iced pumpkin spice latte and a pumpkin muffin for North and a chestnut praline crème drink and a cranberry bliss bar for Noah.)  As we walked home, we talked about the Odyssey, which North is reading in English and as we approached the creek where Noah was stung by bees in August, we vowed never to climb over a deadfall in it again. As we crossed the footbridge that spans the creek I sang:

Over the creek and through the woods
To the Lovelady-Allen house we go
We have no horse, we have no sleigh
There’s no white and drifted snow

The kids appeared mildly amused, but they did not join me in song.

Noah and I made a vegetable-macaroni soup for dinner Saturday, but when we had almost finished both Beth and North were asleep. They woke up pretty soon after, though, and we had the soup with toast and string cheese and then we watched Silkwood. We’d had to check it out of the library because it’s not available to stream. I hadn’t seen it in almost forty years and pretty much all I remembered was the terrifying shower scenes. You never know how a film you saw as a teenager will hold up, but I’m here to say it’s worth watching again.

Sunday my mom called so she could talk to me and both kids, but Beth had taken Noah to get his covid booster so he had to call her back. Beth made a green tomato chili, in an effort to use up some more of our green tomatoes, but while she was cooking it, I went outside and picked another cup of green cherry tomatoes. I probably didn’t even get all of them. We had some extremely prolific plants this year and though we’ve had a few nights below freezing starting the first week in November, the plants only died a few days ago. We’ve been eating stuffed green tomatoes, and green tomato-goat cheese tart, and salsa verde all month.

Monday: One Last Work Day

North had just two days of school this week and they were both half-days. I decided to take Tuesday off to get ready to leave for Rehoboth, so Monday was my only work day of the week, not that I actually worked much. I had to go into the city for some diabetes-related bloodwork and it took most of the morning to get there and back. Plus, I didn’t actually have much pressing work until some arrived late in the afternoon, so I rode the exercise bike, wrapped Beth’s birthday presents, did three loads of laundry, folded one and left the other two for the kids to fold, and read a little before starting to research a blog post on berberine I’ll write after Thanksgiving. 

While I was out of the house, Beth went to North’s school to attend a meeting called Brownies with Brown. It was a chance for parents to ask the principal questions. His last name is Brown and brownies were served. When that meeting was over and school let out, Beth collected North and took them to the county courthouse to file the papers applying to legally change their name. North had asked for this as a sixteenth birthday present and it’s a multi-month process, so we’re starting now. In some ways it was not a difficult decision because they’ve been using the name North for over four years now and they seem pretty set on it, unlike some of their friends who change the names they go by frequently. (One in particular used five different names in two years—I’d be hesitant to take legal action in that case.) In other ways it was very difficult, but it came down to the fact that the way they feel about their name is fundamentally more important than the way we do.

Beth and North returned a little before I started working and for a while I was at my computer in the living room and Beth and North were across from each other at the dining room table in the next room while Beth took work calls and North answered questions about the Odyssey. They asked for help with some of the allusions, which gave me the opportunity to share my strongly held opinion that Clytemnestra was entirely in the right killing Agamemnon after he sacrificed their daughter for favorable winds. (In a strange coincidence, it was the second time in a week I’ve made this argument as it came up in my book club discussion of Vanity Fair. You never know when a liberal arts education with a healthy dose of classics will come in handy.)

During all this, the door to Noah’s room was closed, so I assume he was working, too, at least until he came out to practice drums for his upcoming band concert. It was pleasing to think of everyone busily tying up loose ends before the holiday. (Well, not Noah, as he continued working at the beach.)

Tuesday: A Birthday and a Road Trip

When we went to bed on Monday, I said, “Happy birthday eve.”

“Fifty four is out the door!” she responded.

And it is. We were going to pick North up at school when they got out at 11:30 and hit the road, so we decided to have Beth open her presents in Rehoboth. With a stop to pick up a fundraiser pumpkin pie from Food and Friends in Silver Spring, we were soon on our way. We stopped at the Taco Bell near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is our traditional lunch stop and my first dietary challenge. I haven’t traveled with diabetes yet, so there would be a lot of navigate. I got a salad and stole a few chips from the kids (as well as a few bites of their ice cream at DQ.) 

Once in Rehoboth, we got the keys from the realty and swung by the bakery where I’d ordered four chocolate cupcakes with 55 written in the icing. We unpacked a little and Beth and I went for a walk on the boardwalk. It was getting dark by then, with the last of the sunset fading from the sky and it was cold, but it’s always invigorating to walk by the ocean. When Beth went back to the house, I walked down to the sand to watch the waves and the lights of the ships at sea.

Beth had picked an Indian restaurant in the neighboring town of Lewes for her birthday dinner. It was a very nice place, slightly fancy and in a pretty Victorian house. We all shared an appetizer of delicious fried okra. Beth and I got two curries to share (spinach and lentil) and there were two kinds of bread. Noah got a plate of samosas and North had a tomato curry and they both had mango lassis. I considered the carbs in front of me and decided on a little rice, a little of the whole-wheat paratha, and a few sips of lassi. Because it was Beth’s birthday, the waiter brought a slice of chocolate cake and I had a bite of that, too.

We were very pleased with our meal, but when we got in the car to leave, my door stuck on the curb, because the car was tilted ever so slightly. We’d gotten a tire low pressure message on the way there and we thought it could wait until the next day, but apparently it couldn’t. We had a flat and were stuck there until Beth’s car service could get someone to come out and change it. It took more than a half hour to get even an estimate of how long that would be and when we did get one, we were told to expect another hour’s wait. Beth insisted the three of us go home in a Lyft. We attempted to dissuade her, as it was her birthday and we didn’t want to abandon her, but no one else drives and someone had to stay with the car and she didn’t see the point in everyone staying, so we left in the car of the chattiest Lyft driver I have ever had. He was in favor of getting Beth something from Starbucks when we started discussing with each other whether she’d be able to redeem her birthday reward, and we explained to him we couldn’t use someone else’s reward, but he didn’t seem to get it, explaining he was not that into Starbucks.

As it turned out, the service came earlier than anticipated, and after Beth swung by the grocery store for ice cream and some food for breakfast, she came back and everyone but me had a cupcake (I saved mine for later, based on what fried okra, rice, and bread had done to my blood sugar) and she opened her presents. I got her some kayaking gloves and a t-shirt from our favorite pizzeria she’d admired, Noah got her some fancy olive oil and a loaf of chocolate-banana bread, and North got her some bars of dark chocolate. She was very pleased with it all and said it was a nice mix of things she’d asked for and surprises.

Even with a small bump in the road, we’d made it to the beach and completed our first celebration there. But three more days of holiday festivities awaited us…

Pivoting: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 56

It’s been a week of small milestones.

Firstly, thanks for the well wishes for my mom. She’s been back home since Tuesday. She and Sara managed the drive home from Seattle in one day so they didn’t have to stay in a motel. Mom has an inclining bed she got when she got her hips replaced years back and she thought that would be more comfortable. Jon has moved in with her and her friends are bringing meals to the house. She can get around with a walker and is looking forward to getting out of the house soon, though she hasn’t tried it yet.

Noah’s half birthday was also on Tuesday. Ever since the kids were toddlers we’ve gotten them cupcakes on their half-birthdays and Noah’s first year of college we had cupcakes from a bakery in Ithaca delivered to his dorm. And of course, last year he was home, so we had grocery store cupcakes while half of us watched and half of us avoided watching the Presidential election results. That was a nail biter, wasn’t it? Hard to believe it was only a year ago. Anyway, I ordered cupcakes from the same bakery in Ithaca—one chocolate, one vanilla, and one carrot cake– with the numerals 2, 0, and .5 written in the frosting.

I’ve been wondering for a while how long this half-birthday cupcake tradition will last. I’ve thought maybe until each kid graduates from college, but next year if all goes as planned Noah will be in Australia (or possibly Scotland) in the fall and getting cupcakes to another continent or paying for delivery from a local bakery in foreign currency seems like a logistical challenge, so maybe this was the last hurray for him.

Later in the week, the weather took a turn and we had a couple nights just below freezing. We turned on the heat, I put flannel sheets on our bed, and Beth and I brought in the vulnerable garden produce. We had pots of chives, mint, rosemary, and thyme on the kitchen floor for a couple days until it got warmer and I took everything back outside. I picked most of the zinnias and split them into two bouquets for my desk and the dining room table. The few I left survived the frost, so I may have acted prematurely. They are cheerful, though, and the first day they had a sweet smell I’ve never noticed outside. Beth and I also picked the last of the eggplant and an enormous amount of green tomatoes, searching the sprawling plants with a flashlight after dark. We’ve never had so many green tomatoes—the ones in the picture are only about half of them—and we’re not quite sure what we’re going to do with them, but we’ve been eating them diced in scrambled eggs, and Beth fried some for dinner tonight and I am going to stuff some with cheese and breadcrumbs for dinner Tuesday, and I guess we’ll make a big batch of salsa verde. If you have a favorite way to eat green tomatoes that’s not too high-carb, feel free to chime in.

Beth recently got an Apple watch and so I inherited her Fitbit. I started wearing it Friday evening and I can see why people get obsessed with their steps. I did not make my goal on Saturday, the first full day I was wearing it, and I was surprised because Beth and I spent an hour and twenty minutes taking down our Halloween decorations and packing them in boxes and carrying those boxes down to the basement, which I thought would entail more steps than it did. But today I had a library book to return and it was a nice day so I walked there and later I mowed the front yard one last time and I reached the step goal in the late afternoon. Pro tip: take off your Fitbit if you are trying to take a nap so it doesn’t vibrate and ask you to get up and walk 166 steps to complete an hourly goal.

The school play, Puffs, is in the middle of its run. There were two shows this weekend and there will be three next weekend. North was at rehearsal until ten o’clock for four nights in the days leading up to opening night, even on Thursday, which was a day off school because it was the day between first and second quarter, which is a grading day for teachers.

We went to the show on Saturday night and brought North’s friends Norma, Miles, and Maddy. (We’d made a donation to the theater program and we got some free tickets.) The play’s subtitle is Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic. It’s the Harry Potter story as imagined from the point of view of the Hufflepuffs (some original characters like Cedric Diggory, but mostly new ones). It’s a fun show, especially if you’re familiar with the books. I read them first on my own and then to both kids when they were nine or ten, but Beth has not read them and though we’ve seen the films, the plot is not really in her head, so she was often lost. Of course we paid attention to the costumes because North was the costumes manager. Since the Harry Potter series takes place in the 90s, there was a lot of flannel and scrunchies. It’s kind of a shame North will never get to see the play in its entirety because they’re always backstage helping with costume changes.

Today they enjoyed some downtime at home, with no show or rehearsal. There’s a touch up rehearsal on Wednesday afternoon, but they don’t have to stay late. We’re all glad about this, but especially Beth because North’s school is a half hour from our house and Beth’s been doing a lot of driving up and down University Boulevard to drop them off and pick them up.

The normalcy of North being involved with a full-length play for the first time since 2019 has been comforting. In another cheering development, I’ve enjoyed seeing pictures on Facebook of your under-twelves getting vaccinated this week. It’s nice to think of your specific kids being protected and the increased protection everyone will gain from having fewer vectors. This time of year always feel like a hinge, as we turn from early to late fall. The leaves are peaking, Halloween is over, Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and we’ve switched back to Standard Time so it gets dark early. With covid, anything could happen and the number of people dying every day is still much too high, but the current trend is downward and I hope we’re pivoting in this, too.