Three Days at the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 81

I: Home, with Covid

Friday Evening through Wednesday Morning

Beth and North got back from camp on Friday evening around dinnertime. North was one of two campers sent home that day. The camp reported that three more tested positive at home after camp was over. Over the next few days, North was sick, but not too sick, with a sore throat and some congestion and fatigue. While we were waiting for Beth and North to get home, Noah prepared for their return by consulting the FDA web site that has revised expiration dates for covid tests and he separated our stockpile of tests into expired (4) and non-expired (6) boxes.

We didn’t make North isolate, as that’s just not good for them. We masked when we were in the same room with them and on the first night they ate dinner in the living room, one room over from the rest of us. There’s no door between those two rooms, so conversation was possible. On Sunday North had a headache and didn’t want dinner, then on Monday we all ate dinner on the porch together and Tuesday they had a headache again. For the first couple days we had the A/C off and all the windows of the house open, for air circulation, until both kids requested that we turn in on Monday morning when the weather got hotter and stickier.

Beth, who had the closest contact with North (on the ride home) tested on Saturday and again on Monday and Tuesday, each time negative. Even so, she decided not to go into the office Monday or Tuesday, although partly that was because she had a lot of work to do before our upcoming beach trip and she didn’t want to waste time commuting. Beth and I started masking again when inside stores and places of business, which we had only stopped doing last month. (Ironically, North never stopped.) North didn’t leave the house until Wednesday.

By Monday, North was well enough to work on their online summer math homework packet. I had only stumbled across the packet on their school’s website while they were at camp, and it was surprisingly long, over two hundred problems. It was unclear if it was mandatory or voluntary—outside of magnet programs our experience has been that summer assignments are voluntary, but I’ve always made the kids do them. Also surprisingly, it said it was due five days before school started, which has never happened.

So, on Sunday we discussed what to do about this lengthy assignment due in three days, using brainstorming and decision-making techniques we learned in family therapy. Finishing it by the due date seemed impossible. We landed on having North work on it for about three hours and then deciding whether or when to finish based on what the teacher said on the first day of school. Once North started, they discovered it was dynamic. When you get a problem wrong it explains why and then gives you another similar problem, so unless you get them all right, there are even more problems than we thought. I was kind of glad to hear that, though, because it sounded like an educational design.

I wish I had found the packet earlier, because North had a lot of downtime from mid-July to mid-August and this would have been a productive activity for that time, but I didn’t think to look because there was no summer math homework last year. The fact that it was so poorly publicized was one of North’s reasons to believe it couldn’t be mandatory. However, the fact that it had a due date made me think it might be.

On Wednesday morning North was feeling better and covid test they took was inconclusive. Beth couldn’t see a second line and the rest of us weren’t sure if there was the faintest second line or not. In any case, it was a marked improvement.

North had an appointment with the migraine doctor that morning. We didn’t want to cancel so we requested a switch to virtual. This particular doctor habitually runs late, but even so I was impatient when we had to wait forty minutes for him to open the meeting. The reason for my irritation was that we were leaving for the beach right after the meeting. Anyway, he eventually arrived, and we discussed the path forward. He’s going to increase the dose of North’s preventative and prescribe two more rescue meds for them to try. If none of that works in three or four months, the next step is probably Botox.

II. At the Beach

Wednesday Afternoon and Evening: Happiness

We left the house shortly before noon and arrived at our lunch spot, the Taco Bell just past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, an hour later. It was good timing because Beth had a Zoom call that she had to take in the parking lot. I brought her lunch to the car, and the kids and I ate at picnic tables outside. She was still on the call when we got ice cream from Dairy Queen, so I brought her a mini blizzard, too.

We listened to podcasts all the way there. My contribution was an episode of This American Life I’d saved because it was all stories about the beach. It was called “A Day at the Beach.” Noah’s podcast was a discussion of climate change and North’s was a role-playing murder mystery.

We got to the house about 4:30. After we’d unpacked, North and I made an early dinner. North made a tomato-mozzarella-cucumber salad with pesto while I shucked and boiled corn and cooked vegetarian hot dogs. There was a picnic table on the second-floor deck, so we ate outside. The deck was shaded by big maple and oak trees, so it was like being in treehouse.

After the dishes were done, we headed out to the boardwalk. When we were about a half block away, I said, “I can smell it” and someone said, “The ocean?” and I said, “Happiness,” because for me, it’s pretty much the same thing.

We all got our second frozen treat of the day. This was quite the indulgence for me, but it was going to be a short trip, so there wasn’t a lot of time to pace ourselves. Anyway, I got frozen custard and everyone else got ice cream. The kids and I went down to the beach as the setting sun was painting orange streaks across the sky. Noah and I waded in the water, but North didn’t want to deal with taking their boots off and putting them back on, so they stayed on the sand. I took pictures of both kids in fake pensive poses.

North seemed very happy, laughing harder at my jokes that they merited. I think we were all glad covid had not derailed the trip. Though it should be noted, we don’t easily give up beach trips. We went to the beach the last time North had covid nine months ago. We went when they were semi-paralyzed, three years ago. By the time we arrived at this one, North was feeling better and so far, none of the rest of us felt sick.

I didn’t want to leave when everyone else did so I stayed behind sitting on the sand, breathing in the smell of the ocean, and watching the waves in the gathering darkness until they were illuminated by the lights from the boardwalk and the occasional flashes of people’s cell phone lights. Then I walked the mile or so back to the house.

Thursday: Drinking in Life

Our first morning at the beach we had a late breakfast on the patio of Egg, a favorite restaurant of ours that’s steps from the rental house. (The house is in a cul-de-sac, right behind the restaurant.) Noah and I both got lemon-blueberry crepes and I gave him a quarter of mine. The paper tag on my tea bag string said, “Drink in Life.” Coincidentally, that was my plan for the day.

After breakfast, I biked to the beach on a bike that came with the house. It was a men’s bike and I found it hard to get on and off because of the bar. In fact, I tumbled off it at the bike rack on Rehoboth Avenue near the boardwalk. It was more embarrassing than painful.

I stayed at the beach and boardwalk most of the day. Beth, who spent much of the day working, ferrying people around, and cooking dinner for us, drove North to join me and we swam together. The waves were big, which I like, but a little too rough. North and I both wiped out. Neither of us was hurt, but I lost a ponytail holder I liked, and we both got a lot of sand in our suits. The water had a lot more sand in it than usual. I heard people complaining about it all day, including parents offering helpful suggestions about sand removal techniques and finally one frustrated mom who said, “If you’re going to keep crying about this, can you go stand ten feet away?” Kind of harsh, but to be fair, the kid didn’t try any of her suggestions.

At eleven-thirty, Beth picked North up so they could pick up a lunch order from Grandpa Mac and to visit an Italian bakery. I stayed at the beach. I saw dolphins and pelicans. I got clams for lunch on the boardwalk, read a few sections of the newspaper I found in my bag because I’d accidentally left my book at the house. Then I took a walk, lay on my towel with my eyes closed and listened to the waves, and swam again, not long though because the water was still rough. By this time, it was three and I was missing my family. I texted North and asked if they’d like to meet up at Funland, giving fair warning that it looked like it might rain.

By the time we did meet, around 3:45, it was raining, so we started out under the roof, with the carousel. We both rode it. I haven’t been on one in a while so that was fun. The rain slowed to a drizzle and most of the outside rides were still operating, so North went on the Free Spin, the Paratrooper, and the Sea Dragon. I enjoyed watching their pink platform boots dangling off the seat of the Paratrooper.

Then we went to sit on the boardwalk where it was quieter because they’d gotten a migraine, taken the good meds, and were waiting for them to take effect. We watched the ocean and a rabbit nibbling dune grass. We went back into Funland shortly before five, thinking to get in line for the Haunted Mansion, which opened at five, but the line was crazy long and after we’d waited in it for fifteen minutes or so it was clear we wouldn’t make it through before Beth was coming to fetch North at 5:30. Beth had to record the President of the union making a speech on Zoom that evening and then edit it, so pickup had to be at a precise time. I wondered if North had wasted their meds.

I couldn’t get in the car with them because I had the bike, so I did a little shopping at the tea and spice shop and Candy Kitchen, then biked home, where Beth and Noah had made a delicious dinner of gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and a spread of fancy cheeses for dinner. I did the dishes and then while Beth was working, the kids and I watched an episode of Shadow and Bone. One of the reasons Beth had to work so much on this vacation is that she’s the Communications Director of her union and her senior writer, who would have covered for her, resigned unexpectedly the week before we left. Also, there’s a new President and he needs to consult with her often about speeches and it was an eventful week for the union.

Later in the evening, we had Italian pastries Beth bought and chocolate-raspberry fudge I’d picked up for dessert. I bought the fudge because I know garlicky meals always make Beth crave chocolate and I didn’t think she’d have time to go out and get herself any. I’d had a nice day, but I was sad she wasn’t getting much of a vacation. I stayed up longer than I probably should have, waiting for her to finish editing the speech and come to bed.

Friday: End of Contagion

North wanted to try a coffeeshop that was just a few doors down and we’d never tried because we don’t usually stay in this part of town. I’d said I’d take them but I was up a couple hours before they were so I had breakfast at home and just got a latte there, while they had a lavender latte, tater tots and an açai bowl on the patio.

We came home and Beth had returned from her morning walk, and she said she could drive us to BrowseAbout where Noah wanted to get a book. I was planning to go to the beach from there so Beth and North watched an episode of Heartstopper—she did manage to carve out time to watch tv with each kid during the trip– while I was packing up my beach things and having a little gazpacho for a lunch appetizer, since I didn’t think it would be easy to take that to the beach and I wanted to have some. North took a covid test and it was negative, which was cause for celebration. Meanwhile, Noah, who had seemed sluggish all day, decided he’d better take a covid test before we left, just in case. Also, negative. Beth, Noah, and I immediately shed our masks for the remainder of the trip, though North still wore theirs in public most of the time.

At the bookstore, I bought The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires for North and Silver Nitrate for Noah. Then Beth swung by to take both kids back to the house and I walked to the beach. It was 12:30 and sunny (the day before had been overcast) so I thought I should probably start out under a boardwalk pavilion, where I’d have a view of the ocean and protection from the sun. I ate my lunch and read a few chapters of Robinson Crusoe. I went down to the water a little before two and swam. The water was still rough, but not as sandy as the day before and the waves were fun. Twice I was swept up the underside of one and propelled into the air above it. This is my very favorite thing to experience when swimming in the ocean.

The waves had carved a little cliff into the beach, and I was sitting there with my feet in the water when Beth turned up at my side. I was pleasantly surprised to see her. We sat there watching the water for a while and then lay on our towels. We took a walk to Funland to find out what time the Haunted Mansion opened that day (it varies), and the answer was five o’clock every day for the rest of the season, which meant if we wanted to do it, we needed to do it that day because we were leaving the next day before five. I texted North to see if they wanted to come to Funland and they did. Noah did, too. So, Beth got on her bike and went back to the house to fetch our offspring and drive them to the boardwalk. (Being further from the beach and boardwalk than North can easily walk was kind of inconvenient.)

North and I stood in line for the Haunted Mansion for a half hour. I amused myself taking pictures of its kitschy exterior, which I love.  Meanwhile Noah rode the Paratrooper and then when we got out of the Mansion, North rode the Graviton and the kids rode the Paratrooper together. We still had tickets left but it was time to meet Beth for pizza at Grotto. (One of the great things about Funland is that the tickets never expire. We arrived in Rehoboth with seventy-four tickets purchased in years past—some of the iconic green tickets were faded almost to yellow—and left with twenty-nine, so it felt like all the rides were free.)

We ate mozzarella sticks, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, pizza, and spinach stromboli out on the patio. It was a lovely evening and afterward we migrated to the boardwalk where we got ice cream and frozen custard. I got Nutella ice cream, and it was very good. I was loath to leave the beach because it was the golden hour before sunset, but we’d planned to watch Red, White, and Royal Blue at home, so I tore myself away.

Saturday: Saying Goodbye

The next day we packed up the house, returned the keys, and split up for our last few hours in Rehoboth. Beth went kayaking in the Rehoboth Bay, Noah wandered around downtown, and North and I hit the beach. I had my longest swim of the trip with them. We were in the water almost an hour. This wouldn’t be unusual for me, but I’d been taking shorter swims because of the roughness of the surf. But it was the last day, so we had to seize the day. We had a nice talk in the water, in between diving under waves and I lost another ponytail holder. This time it wasn’t even a scrunchie but a plain hair elastic, which tend to be more secure. I told North that of everyone in the family, they were the one I worry least about in rough water. They are a very good swimmer.

We all met up at our traditional last-day lunch stop, a crepe stall in a little alley off Rehoboth Avenue, where had a feast of crepes, fries, a bagel sandwich (for North who doesn’t care for crepes) and orangeade. We had a few more stops on the agenda. I got a scrunchie to get my wet, tangled hair out of my face, we went to BrowseAbout so North could get stickers to decorate their crutches, Beth got a Rehoboth t-shirt with a drawing of a kayak, and we picked up sea salt caramels, saltwater taffy, and an assortment of gummy candy at Candy Kitchen. The kids and I went down to the beach get our feet wet one last time and just before 2:30, seventy hours after we arrived, we left the beach.

I didn’t want to leave. I never do. But there were compensations. We had to stop for an hour in the middle of the drive at a Starbucks so Beth could work, and it was surprisingly pleasant for me to have a little oasis of time I could read your blog posts and do other things on my laptop without feeling guilty that I wasn’t putting away perishable food, doing post-trip laundry, or sorting the mail.

When we got home, I checked the garden and found new sunflower and zinnia blooms, and we ate takeout Indian we’d picked up on the way home and then I did the aforementioned chores and we watched the last half hour of Red, White, and Royal Blue, which is cheesy but fun. I was grateful to have had this last-hurray-of-summer getaway with my wife and both kids and that we all came home well.

Oregon Adventures, Part 2: Ocean, River, and Bays

Thursday

Mom’s sister Peggy, Peggy’s husband Darryl, their daughter Emily, and Emily’s seventeen-year-old son Josiah arrived Thursday afternoon. After they settled into their guest house and got Peggy and Darryl’s dog situated at the kennel, we met up for dinner at a causal restaurant in Bandon. We needed three tables pushed together for our group. Conversation was lively and featured many stories about the middle generation’s comparatively lax seventies-and-eighties childhoods and a surprising number of accounts of personal injuries, including a recent horrific experience Dave had getting both his contacts stuck to his eyes. (This misadventure led to Sara and Dave spending half the night in the ER, instead of going out for an anniversary dinner.)

Friday: Pacific Ocean, Coquille River

Friday morning, Peggy and Emily met up with Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei, and me to go to Circles in the Sand yet again. It was the last day of this month it was happening, and Emily really wanted to see it. As I told Sara, I would never turn down an opportunity to go to this gorgeous beach. Darryl was feeling ill, so he didn’t come. His symptoms (fatigue and body aches) seemed like they could be covid, but Peggy got him a test and it was negative.

There was a new labyrinth that day. Because the tide was low but coming in, we showed Peggy and Emily the places where you can see sea stars and sea anemones before the water covered them back up, and then we walked the labyrinth. Emily was supposed to meet a friend who was travelling in the area, and they didn’t find each other until after we’d finished, so they talked a while and then I showed Peggy, Emily, her friend, and her friend’s kid the sea caves, but we couldn’t go inside any of them because there were too many people inside them already.

The original plan for the day was for Emily and Josiah to join Sara’s family, me, and North at a swimming hole on the Coquille River, but it was an hour away and Josiah (having come from Idaho) was tired of being in the car and had homework for the Japanese class he’s taking in summer school and then Emily decided to stay in Bandon with him, so it was just the five of us.

We arrived later than we thought we would, just before three, had a picnic lunch, and then we made our way down to the river. It was a scenic spot surrounded by evergreen trees. The river was winding, pebbly, clear, and cold. In the deep spot where people were swimming, there was a ladder you could descend into the water and a diving board, but I chose to enter the water by wading in gradually from a shallower area. I did jump off the diving board later, though. After swimming, we camped out in chairs and towels on both sides of the river, reading and relaxing. (I was reading True Grit, which my book club was going to discuss the day after our return.)  It was a pleasant afternoon and Sara, who loves rivers and swimming holes, was happy to have another one in her repertoire.

On the way home we stopped at A&W for milkshakes (Dave and Lily-Mei), a root beer float (North), and some vanilla soft-serve (me). Sara was saving her appetite for dinner because she and Dave were going out for an anniversary make-up dinner (this time with no ER visit). We also picked up a pizza, because North, Lily-Mei and I were going to have pizza at home while Mom and Peggy’s family went out for seafood.

On returning home, we learned from Mom (who had gotten home earlier than we expected) that Peggy and Darryl’s anxious, high-strung dog got kicked out of the kennel, so they had to keep her on the porch of their no-pets-allowed house (after consulting with the owner) and in her crate in their car overnight.

Mom watched a movie Lily-Mei had chosen with us as we ate our pizza. It was a documentary about men who own cats, called Cat Daddies. North had issues with the premise of the movie, that it was unusual for men to own cats and was exasperated for much of it.

Saturday: Coquille River, Pacific Ocean

The main group activities for the day were a crabbing expedition and a family cookout at Peggy and Darryl’s place. North and I did not care to crab, so Sara dropped us off in downtown Bandon where we visited a café and a candy store. From there we walked to a river beach on the other side of the lighthouse we’d visited a few days earlier. North wanted to rest on their towel and read their book, but I wanted to explore, so I left them there for almost two hours, while I rambled about.

I followed the river beach to an ocean beach, but I got there a rather perilous way, walking over a wide expanse of very slippery seaweed-covered rocks. I fell once and banged my left knee. It was only a glancing blow, but it hurt enough that I didn’t even notice that I had a bruise forming on my right palm and my left foot was bleeding in two places until later. It was all worth it, though, because I came out onto Bandon South Jetty Park, a beach very similar to Face Rock, with sea stars and anemones in the rock formations, and a large table rock covered with cormorants, and seal sunning itself on a rock in the ocean.

I decided to walk back to North via the road instead of the beach to avoid further injury, but it curved away from the beach unexpectedly and for a while I thought it wouldn’t go back, but it did, and I was reunited with my child. Mom and Peggy picked us up and filled us in about the crabbing trip. The group did catch some crabs, but they were all female or too small and had to be thrown back. Also, Peggy had found a dog-sitter to take the dog. (It was a better situation for the dog and she was happier there.)

Back at the house, I had a bath in Sara and Dave’s luxuriously deep tub while North and Mom peeled and chopped nine cups of apples from Mom’s apple trees for apple crisp for dinner that night. Then Mom took a nap while North finished the crisp and then North had a turn in the bathtub. They went to bed with a headache a little after five. I read a little and then Mom and I made a salad to take over to Peggy and Darryl’s.

We had a cookout in the big and well-appointed back yard of Peggy and Darryl’s rental house. Lily-Mei played croquet and other lawn games with various partners and Darryl manned the grill. We all ate burgers and hot dogs, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans, potato salad, green salad, and of course, North’s apple crisp. Everyone raved about it, and it was a little sad they didn’t get to hear that until later. I talked to Emily and her brother Blake, who was the last to join the party, mostly about the kids, and to Darryl, about poetry. I learned that Blake also gets migraines and that he takes the same medication that works for North.

Sunday: Sunset Bay

Our big outing on Sunday was to Shore Acres State Park botanical garden and Sunset Bay. Dave, who needed some alone time, stayed behind to do some work on the house, but everyone else went, so we were a party of ten. (I don’t think all eleven of us were ever in the same place at the same time.)

Mostly what was in bloom in the botanical garden was roses, which were abundant. We compared the scents of different varieties (e.g., one I thought smelled like rose-scented soap, one North thought smelled like lemon balm). We also examined the herb garden and saw dahlias and even some azaleas that had a few blooms left on them. In the gift shop, Lily-Mei got a night light made of translucent colored stone, flattened a penny in a machine, and got a passport for her collection of flattened pennies. Mom got a decorative frog for her garden.

We had a picnic lunch at the tables at Sunset Bay and then got our chairs and towels set up on the beach. Blake and Josiah went exploring and apparently climbed partway up the cliffs. Sara and I did some more sedate rambling through rocks and tide pools where we saw many little crabs.

Sara, Lily-Mei, North, and I waded in the water to varying depths. In Sara’s family they have a tradition of dunking all the way into as many bodies of water as they can in a summer. When you’ve done that you “own” that body of water and they keep a running tally. Sara and Lily-Mei own the Pacific now. North and I do not, as that water is quite cold, even in a protected cove like Sunset Bay. I did get almost up to my waist in the water, though, as did North. North and I went back to our towels and read while Sara and Lily-Mei made sandcastles.

Back in Bandon, we had dinner at Peggy and Darryl’s back yard again. Everyone was there except Blake, who had hit the road.  Lily-Mei jumped rope, first with Sara turning one end of the rope while Lily-Mei held the other. Then when Sara got tired, Lily-Mei figured out how to turn it with her one hand and her opposite foot. It was something else and I’d just been thinking how I hadn’t seen her use her foot as much as she used to when she was younger.

Darryl made a mild vegetarian chili, a spicy meat-based one, and had meat and spice to add so you could customize. After dinner, we had a birthday cake for my mom. Her birthday wasn’t for nine days, but she’s turning eighty and we had a lot of relatives gathered so it seemed like the thing to do.

After everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and ate cake, Darryl, Dave, and Lily-Mei built a fire. It had been misting while we ate so there was disagreement about whether a fire could be built, but they did it and as I was wishing I’d put on another layer over my long-sleeved tee, it was nice to sit around its warmth. Some people made S’mores, but I abstained as I’d already had one dessert. We said goodbye to Peggy’s family that night, as they were leaving the next morning.

Monday: Pacific Ocean

Sara and her family left for a camping trip the following afternoon, leaving Mom, North, and me in their house with the cats for the rest of our stay. (A cat sitter was coming to watch Shadow after that.) They were busy packing all morning and were still at it when Mom, North, and I left to go to Seven Devils Beach around 1:45, so we said our sad goodbyes. Suddenly, our party of eleven had shrunk to three.

When we got to the beach parking lot, I marveled at how few cars there were. There are just so many majestic beaches around Bandon that this marginally less stunning one only rated several cars on a Monday afternoon in July. It took us a while to find the path down to the beach, as it was partly obscured by grass, but it was near a pebbly creek that ran into the ocean. Mom and Sara got settled with their books and I took off to explore. I walked for an hour and fifteen minutes, with the goal of reaching some big rocks in the far distance. The beach was almost completely deserted. Along the way I saw and photographed kelp in different shapes, crabs living and dead, and interesting patterns blown into sand or eroded from rock.

When I got back to Mom and North, North was ready to go and I had hoped to stay another hour and half, so we compromised on forty-five minutes. I’d had enough of walking, and I could read my book elsewhere, so after a snack of cherries and pistachios and some conversation, I spent the rest of my time wading the in water. It was cold but not much colder than Sunset Bay. I waded in about hallway up my thighs. The waves looked tempting, but I couldn’t quite push myself to dive into them. We’d actually chosen this beach because it has bigger waves than the others and Mom likes to watch big waves, if not swim in them.

At home Mom and I walked down to the dock and read for a little while by the riverside. Then we made a dinner of devilled eggs, baked potatoes with cheese and fake bacon, broccoli, and salad. We watched Spoiler Alert, which North chose. It’s a dramedy about a gay male couple, one of whom gets cancer. You find that out at the very beginning, thus the title, and the rest is flashbacks. It’s good, in case you’re interested.

Tuesday: Pacific Ocean

We spent the next morning at the house and then set out in the afternoon to visit a thrift store because Mom needs a granny dress. She’s joined a singing group called the Raging Grannies and she needs a costume, but the store didn’t have anything appropriate. From the thrift store we went out for ice cream at Face Rock creamery (our third visit to this establishment), and then we dropped North back at the house because we were going to the beach, and they’d reached their limit of interest in beaches too cold for swimming. I had not, however, and neither had Mom. We went back to Seven Devils State Park, and she set up her chair close to the ocean, the better to watch the waves. Since I’d gone south the day before, I went north. I saw many waterfalls and rockfalls near the base of the cliff, a lot of driftwood (including whole tree trunks with roots), a big black bird with an orange beak that might have been a California condor, and the ribcage and spine of a large animal that might have been a seal. The vertebrae were almost as big as my fists.

We went back to the creamery for dinner—mac-and-cheese for Mom and North and a quesadilla for me—plus tomato soup and potato chips. I bought North their second ice cream of the day (huckleberry cheesecake), because it was the last day of vacation.

Wednesday: Coos Bay

In the morning Mom, North, and I packed up the house and Mom drove us to the airport. Mom was on her way to Ashland to visit friends for several days before she’d meet up with the campers and drive back to Davis. North and I were flying back East. On the way to the airport, we stopped at a Dutch Bros drive-through, satisfying North’s desire to try this iconic West Coast coffee chain.

As we sat in the tiny Southwest Oregon Regional Airport waiting to board our first flight (to Denver) I looked out the window at a narrow body of water, probably an inlet of Coos Bay, and behind it a ridge covered with evergreens. No matter where you look in this part of Oregon, it’s like a postcard.

We boarded our plane and then another and then a taxi and in the wee hours of Thursday morning arrived home, where two nights and one day later, Beth would return from Wheeling, where she’d flown from Saint Louis to pick up her car and pay another brief visit to her family, and we’d all be united again, after almost two weeks apart.

Oregon Adventures, Part 1: Planes, Cars, and Boats

Saturday: Planes

Beth dropped North and me at the airport late Saturday morning. The car was packed with all of our bags because she was setting off on her own travels as well. She is attending her union’s convention in Saint Louis this week, and rather than spend the Fourth of July weekend alone, she decided to go to Wheeling for several days and visit her mom, then fly to Saint Louis from Pittsburgh.

We had two fairly uneventful flights. They were both a little late, but I wasn’t worried about making the connection because we had a four-hour layover in Chicago. It was around nine when we landed in Sacramento (midnight our time), which is quite late for the likes of me, so after we dropped North off at my sister Sara’s house, Mom and I went back to her house, and I went almost straight to bed.

Sunday-Monday: Cars

I was up before five, unsurprisingly. After trying unsuccessfully to get back to sleep, I finished my last blog post, which I’d mostly written in the airport in Chicago, and then went for a walk around Mom’s neighborhood. She was up when I got home around eight, so I made kale and cream cheese omelets, and she sliced strawberries, and we ate this repast on her deck. I’d picked a few blackberries on my walk, and we had those, too.

Sara dropped North off at Mom’s house, and Mom gave us a tour of her garden. She just moved to Davis this spring, so we’ve never seen it. It’s a small yard but it’s like a tiny orchard. She has an orange tree, an apricot tree, a plum tree, a fig tree, two apple trees, a grape arbor, and a blueberry bush, most of them bearing fruit right now. Plus, there’s a playhouse for my ten-year-old niece Lily-Mei, a chicken coop (currently untenanted), rosebushes, and a redwood!

Mom took us on a driving tour of Davis and then made us apricot smoothies with frozen apricots from her garden before we headed over to Sara’s house, where we got another tour. Sara and her family moved to Davis about a year ago, so it was also our first time seeing her house, which has a swimming pool, trampoline, and ping-pong table in the back yard.

At 1:15, six humans (Mom, Sara, her husband Dave, Lily-Mei, North and me) and two cats (Mom’s cat Tara and Lily-Mei’s cat Shadow), piled into two vehicles and began the first leg of our drive to Sara and Dave’s vacation house on the Oregon coast, where we were going to spend the bulk of our West Coast visit. Sara had decided to split the long drive over two days and got a rental house in Medford, about two-thirds of the way there.

I was in Mom’s car with Sara, Mom, and Tara. I managed to nap a little early in the drive and Sara, who had not slept well the night before, did too. I wondered if driving with her two sleeping fifty-something daughters in the car took Mom back to the days of having small kids.

The drive from Davis to Medford is beautiful. It starts in agricultural land, with fields of sunflowers and olive and almond groves. That reminded me of Spain, which I guess makes sense since California was colonized by Spain. Later there are mountains (most covered with evergreens but some arid) and clear blue-green rivers and lakes. Tara was very quiet in the car and meowed only once, right before throwing up.

We arrived at our house around seven and headed to a Chinese buffet for dinner. There wasn’t much vegetarian fare, but I made do with salad, edamame, and sushi with cucumber, cream cheese, and mango. North had noodles and fried rice. We all sampled the rather strange vanilla pudding, which most people thought tasted more like banana than vanilla and I alone thought tasted minty, until Sara decided it was like banana with an aftertaste of mint.

I was up even earlier the next day, as my body refused to adjust to West Coast time. Early in my pre-breakfast walk, I decided coffee was in order to get through the day, so I found a Dutch Brothers and got an iced latte. It was going to get up over 100 degrees and while it wasn’t nearly as oppressive as a day like that at home would be, because it was a dry heat, you could tell the day was going to be hot.

We hit the road a little before ten-thirty. This time I rode with Sara and Lily-Mei, and we played a game in which the players have to list as many animals as they can that start with each letter of the alphabet until they can’t think of any more. Whoever has more wins that letter. It takes a very long time to play this game, partly because it turns out we can think of a lot of animals and partly because Lily-Mei is loath to give up so there were often very long pauses and we only got up to the letter R. We met up for a picnic lunch at a rest stop and arrived at Sara and Dave’s house in Bandon later in the afternoon.

The house is a nineteenth-century, two-story frame house, painted mint green that Sara has decorated in a shabby chic style. It’s been undergoing structural repairs for the past year, and this was the first time Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei had used it in all that time. The work isn’t done, so the windows were all covered with plastic, which they tore off in some places, so we could see outside.

Shortly after arrival, Sara showed us their dock on the river and then Sara, Lily-Mei, and I went to Face Rock beach. It’s a gorgeous, classic Oregon beach, with towering rocks in the ocean, caves to explore, and tidal pools. Sara and Lily-Mei showed me their favorite places and we saw a lot of sea anemones inside the caves and in tidal pools on the rocks. Sara was looking for sea stars, but she couldn’t find any. We climbed up a sand dune and found a warmer, sheltered area behind it, which was nice because it was cold and windy on the beach.

From the beach we went to a convenience store with a counter that sells Mexican food and got nachos, burritos, and quesadillas to eat on a picnic table outside. Mom and Dave met us there. North stayed home with a headache, but we brought them a quesadilla to eat later.

Tuesday-Thursday: Boats

I managed to sleep until six, which was still earlier than I’d like, but a definite improvement. I took a walk up the road before breakfast, as I was getting in the habit. It’s a pretty road, partly paved and partly gravel, with river views in the breaks between evergreens and ferns, horsetail, foxglove, daisies, and blackberries bushes in bloom growing alongside it.

We had a busy morning planned. The parade was our first stop. It was much smaller than the Fourth of July parade in Takoma, and less whimsical. There were no floats, but there were veterans marching and riding in cars, and people on motorcycles with flags, horses and goats adorned with red, white, and blue ribbons, and a lot of organizations throwing candy to the kids in the crowd as they passed. My favorite part was the person walking in an inflatable eagle suit, walking a corgi.

From there we went back to Face Rock beach. There’s a monthly event there called Circles in the Sand. People rake complex patterns in the sand for several days during the lowest tides of the month, which this year happened to include July 4. This time it was a huge labyrinth decorated with shells, rocks, sand dollars, crab claws, and kelp. Everyone but Mom (who stayed up at the top of the cliff) walked it—Lily-Mei three times, and Sara twice.

Then we wandered around the beach, showing North some of what we’d seen the day before, but there were places they couldn’t climb. I saw some little crabs in a pool up on some rocks I was trying to photograph so I could show North when Sara called to me saying she had found some sea stars. I would need to wade through some cold water to get there and I was rolling up my pants when we realized there wasn’t time because we needed to get back to town for the cardboard boat race, in which Dave was competing.

The race takes place on the Coquille River. People were gathered all along the shore and in a little glass building. Mom and North watched from there because it was warmer and protected from the wind. Sara and I watched most of the kids’ races from the sidewalk and then we joined Lily-Mei down on the ramp next to where the boats launched for a closer view of the adult races.

The initial races were two- and three-boat heats and then there was a final race for all the winners in both age groups. Almost half the kids’ boats sank, but the rest made it out to the designated buoy and returned to shore. The adults fared better, with only a few boats sinking. In one case, a boater who was clearly going to come in last in his race dived off the side dramatically to crowd applause.

Dave was in the last adult group, so we had plenty of time to compare his boat—which he’d made the night before and painted only that morning—to the others, which seemed to have much more sophisticated designs. Most of them were lacquered or heavily reinforced with duct tape. Some looked like real kayaks. You wouldn’t know they were made of cardboard unless you peeked inside. We were all a little apprehensive for him and his fragile-looking boat. Sara and Lily-Mei expressed certainty that he would sink.

Well, we needn’t have worried. Not only did his boat not sink, but he won his race! He had only a short rest before the final race and when it got back into the water, both sides were starting to rip. It held together long enough for him to make it around the buoy and back, and he came in third. This earned him a bronze medal for the whole event, which he wore most of the rest of the day.

The boat was done for, so we collapsed it for transport to Sara and Dave’s recycling bin with the help of a small boy who wanted to help us stomp on it. People kept coming up to Dave and asking how he made the boat. Later someone recognized him in a store and wanted to talk about the race, so I guess he’s kind of a big deal in Bandon, at least for now.

We came back to the house to eat lunch and the afternoon was quieter. Almost everyone took a nap and North and Lily-Mei had baths. Sara made a grid of meals and activities for the rest of the week and Sara and Mom went grocery shopping. When they got back, Mom, Sara, and Dave went on an art gallery walk while North and I made dinner—a tomato-cucumber-mozzarella salad with pesto, and a tomato-green bean-tofu stew.

We were planning to watch the fireworks from the riverside by Sara and Dave’s dock. They’d never done it before so Dave laid in a supply of fireworks for our own personal show just in case we couldn’t see the town show from there. As it turned out, we could only see the top quarter or so of the official fireworks and only when standing out on the very end of the dock, but it hardly mattered because there were neighborhood fireworks going off that we could see, and we had our own. Lily-Mei was more enthusiastic about setting off our own fireworks than the others anyway. She was jumping up and down with excitement as Dave set them off and exclaiming over each explosion and making predictions about them. Plus, Dave had made a fire in the firepit, and we all had chairs and it was very cozy and pleasant.

By the next day I’d adjusted to West Coast time and finally slept past seven. Mom, Sara, and I took a walk in the morning and in the afternoon, we dropped Tara off at the vet. She had continued vomiting not just in the car and she wasn’t eating and Mom was very worried about her. This is a recurrent problem and Mom’s vet hasn’t been able to determine the cause. So rather than order more tests, Mom just asked for IV fluids and an anti-emetic to make her more comfortable. Having an elderly pet isn’t easy.

While we were waiting to pick up the cat, Mom, Sara, and I had lunch. I’d requested that on this trip we do something with just the three of us, since we’re not often alone and they are my original family.

Later in the afternoon, Sara, North and I went to see the Coquille River Lighthouse and the beach there. We’d planned to stay about an hour, but North got a headache fifteen minutes in, so they took the medication that typically takes the edge off for about a half hour and then stops working—they were saving the good meds for nights with late afternoon or evening activities planned—and we stayed another fifteen minutes. We went inside the lighthouse, walked the length of the rocky jetty, saw pelicans, and walked on the log-strewn beach.

Sara and Dave made two kinds of pasta (spaghetti and chickpea macaroni) with three toppings (tomato sauce, pesto, and meatballs) for dinner. And then we watched True Spirit, a movie about the youngest person to try to circumnavigate the globe. Later I was telling North that while they were sleeping we saw a film Beth wouldn’t like and they asked if it was inspirational or if there were children in peril, which are two things Beth doesn’t care for in movies, and the answer was both.

[SPOILER] Even though I knew the teenage sailor didn’t die it seemed like she was going to over and over and in one scene her parents and siblings thought she had, so it was kind of wrenching.

On Thursday morning, Dave, North, Lily-Mei went back to Face Rock to see a slightly different labyrinth that had been raked into the sand. This time the tide was lower, and you could walk to the rock where the sea stars were without wading through water. We saw tons of them, orange ones and vibrant purple ones, plus a lot of cormorants perched on the rocks. It was easier for North to explore one of the sea caves because they were wearing more suitable shoes (on our previous visit they didn’t want to get their orthotics wet, so they didn’t wear them on this trip).

After lunch at home, Mom, Sara, North, Lily-Mei and I went into downtown Bandon while Dave stayed at the house with the contractors. We got ice cream (Lily-Mei got Play Doh which stained her tongue blue), visited a very cool display of art made from ocean plastics (“awesome” in North’s words), hit a toy store, a candy store, a bookstore, a clothes store, and a chocolate boutique where North warmed up with an orange drinking chocolate. (It’s quite chilly on the Oregon coast, even in July.) My mom got Lily-Mei a stuffed narwal and North a book.

Back at home, everyone rested a bit before dinner where we were going to join four more relatives because our party was about to get bigger…

A Wild Ride: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 77

Tuesday: Hello, Covid

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, parent-teacher conference day at North’s school. I was in between my second conference (French) and the third (Foundation of Tech) when I got a text from Beth informing me that while I was gone, North, who’d woken that morning with a cough, headache, stuffiness, slight fever, and dizziness, had tested positive for covid. It sounds kind of obvious in retrospect, but I was surprised. After two years and eight months of dodging this virus, I guess I was feeling we were invincible, even though my mom got it in the spring, and my sister’s whole family got it earlier this month.

Two days earlier we had let North leave the house without adult supervision for the first time since they got back from the hospital. They’d had brunch at a crowded diner with several friends. It was an exception to our no-eating-inside-restaurants policy, though we don’t know for sure that’s where they got it. Given that the incubation period is two to fourteen days, the second most likely option seems like the school play, which we attended about a week and a half before they started to feel ill. And I suppose there was the cat café, and we did go see a movie (Ticket to Paradise), but neither the café nor the theater had very many people in it. Ironically, they’d been around people less than usual during the two weeks before they got sick, first on a closed hospital unit and then at home.

I wondered whether I should bail on the rest of my conferences, being an official close contact of someone with covid. That might have been the ethical thing to do, but I was already there and masked, and given that North’s been out of school for several weeks, I really wanted to touch base with each of their teachers to explain what’s going on and discuss various possible paths forward for North academically. It seemed important, and the conferences were less than fifteen minutes each, so I went through with it.

When I got home, Beth said, “I feel like the degree of difficulty of our lives just keeps getting higher,” elaborating that we were like the proverbial frogs being slowly boiled in a pot. There were a few reasons this was bad timing for our family’s first bout with covid. (Is there such a thing as good timing for it?)

  • We were supposed to have an in-person intake interview at one of the partial hospitalization programs to which we’ve applied the following morning.
  • We were leaving our annual Thanksgiving-at-the-beach trip immediately after the interview.
  • The next day was also Beth’s birthday.

Beth called the hospital and to our surprise, they said we could do the interview virtually, so that was a relief. After a brief discussion, we decided we would go ahead with the beach trip.  It usually involves Christmas shopping on Black Friday at the shops in downtown Rehoboth and we’d have to skip that, but I said it would be worth it to me to go if all we did was hang out at the house, have Thanksgiving dinner, order takeout the other nights, and take walks on the beach. That was what our first pandemic Thanksgiving trip to the beach was like anyway. (On our very first pandemic beach trip North was paralyzed, and we didn’t cancel then either. We are hardy travelers.)

There were risks, of course. Driving there would mean several hours of close contact with North and if Beth got sick in Rehoboth, then the drive home would be difficult or we could even get stuck there, but if you know how we feel as a family about the beach (me most of all), you’re probably not surprised that we went.

So many of you have shared your covid experiences on your blogs or on Facebook that we’ve had a range of models for whether or how to isolate infected family members from non-infected ones. We didn’t even discuss isolating from North. Given their current situation, it didn’t seem like a good course of action. We began masking when we were in the same room with them, but we weren’t avoiding them, and most of the time we even ate together inside, so that made the decision to spend a few hours in a car together slightly more rational.

After that was decided and after we’d filled out some pre-interview forms to scan and send to the hospital, I made Beth’s birthday cake, a chocolate cake with coffee frosting I’ve made many, many times. You’d think I’d remember the recipe well enough that I wouldn’t almost forget to add the egg, actually forget the vanilla, and accidentally turn the frosting into a glaze by halving all the ingredients except the coffee, but you’d be wrong. What can I say? I haven’t been sleeping well and I’ve had a lot on my mind. It was comforting to make it anyway, because it smelled good baking and there were batter and frosting bowls to lick, and it made the stressful day seem more festive.

Wednesday: Happy Birthday, Dear Beth

The next morning while we were packing for the trip prior to the interview, Beth got a call from the hospital informing us it was cancelled because that health care visits can’t happen over Zoom across state lines. The hospital is in Virginia and we’re in Maryland. Later I remembered we’ve run up against this rule before while travelling. I guess there’s some sort of exception for D.C. because we’ve had a lot of virtual meetings with providers in the District. This was quite frustrating. We couldn’t get a new appointment until the second week of December, and we won’t even be on the wait list until we have the interview. But there was nothing we could do about it.

We hit the road around eleven and arrived in Rehoboth around three-thirty, with a stop for a lunch of  drive-through Taco Bell and Dairy Queen eaten at the tables outside the DQ near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We masked in the car and kept the windows partially down. It was a warm day—it got up to sixty degrees—so that wasn’t a hardship.

Near the end of the drive, Beth got a call from another partial hospitalization program where we’d been waiting for an intake interview since North got out of the psychiatric unit almost two weeks earlier. It’s in Annapolis, but they are opening a new location in Prince George’s County, which is closer to us than Annapolis, and they wanted to know if we’d like to interview for that location. Beth said yes. They’re supposed to call back by Monday to arrange it. So, on that front, it was one step back, one step forward. Because the facility is new, we’re hoping there will be less of a wait there.

We got to the house, a two-story yellow frame cottage with pale blue shutters, a living room and kitchen on the first floor and three small bedrooms on the upper floor, a narrow staircase between them, and a screened porch in front. We settled in, unpacking food and clothes, making up the beds, and deciding on our order of Japanese takeout for dinner. I was on the beach by five to see the sunset. When I got back Beth left to get the food and we ate her birthday dinner around the kitchen table.

After dinner, she opened presents. There was imported Spanish drinking chocolate powder from North, three fancy chocolate bars from Noah (one from Colombia, one from India, and one from Tanzania), and a bottle of French olive oil from me. It was all very international. Beth’s a fan of good chocolate and olive oil, so she was happy. Next, we ate cake and ice cream, and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and The Mayflower Voyagers.

Before bed, we took a walk down to the beach to see the stars. We could see Orion’s belt and one of the dippers– we weren’t sure which one. Beth stayed on the boardwalk while North and I went down to the sand. While we were separated, my sister’s family called Beth on her cell and sang “Happy Birthday” to her and let her know her present was on the way.

As we were going to bed, I asked Beth how her birthday had been, and she said it was “a wild ride,” but that it ended well. In my card I’d written (before North came down with covid), “I hope it’s better than getting deloused, or getting your gallbladder out, or getting a flat tire.” I suppose this one will go down as one of Beth’s many memorable birthdays.

Thursday: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving started for me at 4:49. Remember how I said I’m not sleeping well? I stayed in bed until six, trying to get back to sleep, and then I relocated to the living room couch so the light from my cell and laptop where I was reading Facebook and blogs wouldn’t wake Beth. Around 6:45, I decided that as long as I was up, I might as well see the sunrise on the beach, which was only a five-minute walk away.

I used to watch the sun rise on the beach more often, when the kids were younger, and we all used wake at ungodly earlier hours. Well, I can’t exactly say I’m thankful for my recent insomnia, even on a day dedicated to gratitude, but… I was genuinely grateful that morning to see the orange ball of the sun rising over the ocean, touching the beach grass with faint light, putting touches of pink in the sky, painting the wet sand silver with streaks of gold, and making a big, ruffly, clear jellyfish I found at the waterline seem to glow from within.

I walked on the beach until the dawn colors had all drained away from the sky and the sand, went back to the house, ate breakfast, and made a batch of low-sugar cranberry sauce before anyone else was up. Everyone cooked a little throughout the day. Beth made the mushroom gravy and finished the broccoli-cheese casserole that North started. (North felt well enough to cook at first and then got dizzy and had to go lie down.) I made the basting sauce for the tofu roast and Beth made mashed potatoes. We’ve pared down our traditional feast a little over the past couple years since I got diagnosed with diabetes. I stopped making the brandied sweet potatoes because I was the only one who liked them, and we longer make breadcrumb stuffing because the roast comes stuffed with wild rice and Noah was the one who liked the original stuffing best.

Late in the morning, we all made our traditional turkey table decorations from apples, toothpicks, raisins, dried cranberries, and olives. “Will you make these with your kids?” I asked North.

“Yes,” they said. “Will you make them with them?”

“Yes,” I said. It was a cheering vision of the future.

Beth and I had lunch out on the screened porch—leftover Japanese, crackers, cheese, nuts, and fruit. Then we all had overlapping naps. I didn’t manage to fall asleep, but I came close, and it was nice to rest. North slept most of the afternoon. We’d hoped to take our Christmas card photos on the beach that afternoon, but they weren’t up for it. After my nap, I put the roast in the oven and went for another walk on the beach and boardwalk.  When I came back to baste it again, Beth went for a walk of her own.

We ate a little after six and everything was delicious. Before we ate, we offered thanks for North being out of the hospital, for being together, for the fact that though we wished Noah was with us that the reason he wasn’t was that he was studying in Australia, something he’d wanted to do for years, and for the vaccines and boosters that kept North’s case of covid mild and that had protected me and Beth so far.

Speaking of Noah, at seven we had a Zoom call with him. It’s only the third time we’ve done it since he’s been abroad. The first time, with me and Beth, was to let him know North had been hospitalized and the second, with all four of us, was the last night North was in the hospital. He’d been trying to call them at the hospital and between the fifteen-hour time difference, difficulties with his changing between domestic and international SIM cards, and the fact that all the kids on the unit shared one phone and it was usually in use, he had not managed it until we linked him into one of our pre-scheduled Zoom calls.

We asked him if he’d done anything for Thanksgiving and he said no. It reminded me of studying in Spain the fall of my junior year of college and how it’s strange to be abroad on this very American holiday. My celebration that year consisted of a sweet potato boiled on a hot plate in a dorm room. We also found out his last school assignment is due the first week of December and he has two whole weeks of free time before he comes home. Beth and I both urged him to travel. He’s already planning a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, but he hasn’t explored much outside the town where he’s living, so it seems like a good opportunity to see more of the country where he’s been living since September. He mentioned in a puzzled way that a lot of the international students have been taking trips to New Zealand and Bali and missing class to do it.

It was good to talk to him. It was the first time I’ve been to Rehoboth without him since before he was born—in fact I think the last time we went without him might have been the trip when we brought printouts of sperm donor profiles to pick out his. It was also the first time we haven’t been together on Thanksgiving, so I was missing him a lot.

After the call, we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls, and then North and I walked to the beach again to look at the stars. There were seabirds resting on the waves, visible only as white spots bobbing up and down in the distance or occasionally taking flight and streaking across the dark sky.

(Not So) Black Friday

I managed to sleep until 5:30 the next morning, a slight improvement.  Because my daybreak walk at the beach had been so rewarding the previous morning, I decided to do it again. It was cloudy and drizzling so there really was no sunrise to watch, but I never regret a walk on the beach.

I came home, made myself breakfast, and then left again to go pick up a few books I’d pre-ordered from Browse-About before North got sick. I double-masked and was in and out in a few minutes, resisting the temptation to stay and shop a little. On the way home, I detoured to the beach. It was high tide and an extensive network of little pools and channels of water had formed all over the sand. It was very cool, but I had to wend my way carefully to avoid getting stranded somewhere that would soon be covered by an incoming wave.

There was a family on the beach with preschool-aged twins running around, one in a ladybug rain slicker and one in a bee slicker. The hoods of their jackets had antennae. They were adorable and made me miss my little ones, who are not so little now.

When I got back home, Beth drove out to Route 1 in Black Friday traffic to get Grandpa Mac takeout for North. They’d slept all morning, so it was their first meal of the day. (Then Beth drove back when the order was wrong to get a replacement. This is a testament to Beth’s love for North.) I blogged and read and did laundry so we could bring home mostly clean clothes. It felt odd, not to be busy on the day I usually either start or get serious about my Christmas shopping.

In the late afternoon we had our Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. North and left ahead of Beth and went to the boardwalk where we purchased a frozen custard for North. We all met up and took pictures on the sand and jetties. While Beth and I had our backs to the ocean a rogue wave caught us by surprise and we both got our feet soaked. North took a series of photos of us running out of the ocean. I am considering using one of them on the card. After all, we haven’t had a picture-perfect year.

Beth and North went back to the house while I went to Grotto’s and ordered a pizza and mozzarella sticks for pickup. While they cooked, I went back to the beach to watch the sunset turn a bank of clouds in the northern part of the sky vivid pink and color the water and sand with swirls of pink, gold, and blue. I brought the pizza back home and after an hour or so, I heated it up and we had an early dinner before heading back to the boardwalk for the holiday sing-along and Christmas tree lighting.

When we reached downtown, Beth went to get soft pretzel bites for North while North and I found a place to sit away from the crowds near the bandstand. We found a bench on the boardwalk where we could hear the singing and see the tree but without standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of celebrants. We noticed someone was flying a drone near the tree, presumably to get an overhead view when the lights came on.

Although the other people sitting on boardwalk benches and passing by weren’t singing, we did. The first song was “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and for a half an hour, there was a series of mainly secular Christmas songs like “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” At seven sharp, the lights on the tree flashed on, just as they always do. The sameness of this event is deeply satisfying.

On the way home, Beth confirmed that the orange light North and I had been seeing in the sky over the ocean the past two nights was in fact a planet—Mars. We marveled that you could see its color from so very far away.

That night before bed, because I’d had a sore throat all day and I was getting stuffy, I took a covid test. To my surprise, it was negative.

Saturday: Goodbye, Beach

Another morning, another early waking, this time around 5:40, another lovely sunrise on the beach, which I enjoyed along with parents with kids, people with dogs, walkers, runners, and people camped out on the sand wrapped in blankets watching the fiery sun hover at the horizon over the ocean. It’s quite the perq if you have to be up before dawn.

I came home and had breakfast and we packed up the house. Even though he’s busy with end-of-semester projects, Noah texted me the pictures of himself wearing a green t-shirt and standing on an Australian beach that I’d requested. We’ll juxtapose one with our beach photos on the Christmas card.

We stayed in Rehoboth for about an hour after we vacated the house. Beth took her daily walk and North and I had a slower ramble along the beach and boardwalk, with a long rest on a boardwalk bench. It was a wild ride getting to the beach, but once we got there it was actually a sedate couple of days, with more naps and less bustling about in shops than we usually have on Thanksgiving weekend, but I’m glad we went, and I hope it will prove restorative.

Note: Beth and I both tested positive for covid on Sunday morning.

Take the Win

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 

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

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

Fun Days

Saturday

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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…

Secrets of the Sea: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 47

Who can guess the secret of the sea?
Who can guess the secret of the sea?
If you can guess the secret of my love for you
Then we both could know the secret of the sea

From “Secrets of the Sea,” by Billy Bragg and Wilco

Saturday

On the morning of our first day at the beach, while Beth went for her walk, I corralled people into putting food on the grocery list so she could grocery shop when she got back. While she was shopping, Sara, North, Lily-Mei and I went to the beach. (Noah stayed at home because he was editing the film he’d helped shoot the previous week. He ended up working on it from just after breakfast until dinnertime, when he finished it, so he was free the rest of vacation.)

Sara had decided it was the year for Lily-Mei to learn to dive under waves. Their home ocean is the Pacific, and while they have a vacation house on the coast, the water is so cold neither Sara nor Dave ever want to take her past wading depth, so she’d never done it. Lily-Mei was quite enthusiastic about this project and kept yelling “This is amazing!” after diving under each wave. We were all having a good time jumping in the waves and spotting the occasional dolphin or osprey circling above with fish in their talons.

The waves were moderate-sized for the most part but after Dave came to join us and he was with Lily-Mei a big wave knocked them both over and separated them. From where Sara and I were in the water, too far away to help, we could see the panic on his face. They both got up, though, not much worse for the wear, though Lily-Mei did talk a lot later about the wave that was “like a tsunami.”  After a while, everyone got out of the water and Lily-Mei started to dig a hole with my kids’ old shovel I’d brought for her.

After lunch I went into town to get a gift certificate to Browseabout Books for my mom’s birthday, which was the next day. On the way home, I got myself an iced café con leche at Café A-Go-Go, as it’s not really a beach trip without at least one, and I ran into Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei outside Candy Kitchen. Lily-Mei had a spiral lollipop in her mouth. They’d just rented bikes, so we made our separate ways home.

When I got home, Beth, North, Lily-Mei and I headed to the beach. Beth got her legs wet and then retreated to her towel while the rest of us got in the water. The surf was rougher than it had been in the morning, the waves about the same size but closer together, so there wasn’t much time to rest. Lily-Mei was not as ebullient as she’d been in the morning, instead she looked very serious and focused as we ducked under and jumped into waves. We were getting tugged northward out of the lifeguards’ range, so after the second time we’d gotten out and re-entered the water further south, I told Lily-Mei the next time we got near the red flag, we’d get out of the water for good. In response she started swimming south against the current so we’d never reach the flag. “She’s a problem solver,” I said and North agreed. Around this time, Dave and Mom arrived, so Dave took my place in the water and I went to rest and talk to my mom.

When the lifeguards blew the 5:30 whistle signaling they were going off duty, Dave and Lily-Mei got out of the water. When the guards dragged their chair away Lily-Mei was drawn to the big pile of sand it left behind and decided she wanted to eradicate it by stomping and pouring water on it out of her watering can. This project occupied her and Dave for some time.

Mom and North were on dinner duty that night and they made a nice pasta salad with mozzarella, a tomato-cucumber salad with feta, and corn on the cob. Dave had put on a yacht rock station, partly to rib Sara, I think, but it lead to a spirited discussion of what constitutes yacht rock. Beth had listened to an episode of Hit Parade about this and was particularly well informed.

Noah and I cracked open a new book, The Gods of Jade and Shadow, which is about a young woman who accidentally brings a Mayan god back to life and joins him on a quest. It seemed like it would be a fun read. I just counted on Goodreads and we’ve read twenty-eight books together since he came home in March of 2020. This one won’t be the last, but whenever we start a new one now I wonder how many more we’ll finish. My guess is two or three (counting the current one). It feels strange for this number to be so finite and so small.

Secret of the Sea #1: It’s good to have multiple ways to deal with each wave as it comes at you.

Sunday

In the morning I hung around the house talking with people and then went to the boardwalk where I settled into the shade of one of the gazebos and starting blogging until it was time to go pick up my mom’s birthday cake at the bakery. When we got back North was teaching Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei to play Sleeping Queens, a card game my kids loved in elementary school (and that we played a lot last summer when North was in the hospital, maybe for its comforting nostalgia factor).

I took my mom out for a birthday lunch at a boardwalk restaurant where we often go. We were seated inside at the back of the restaurant, where the tables are on a platform so you can look right out over the rest of the tables out to the sea. I got steamed clams in one of my very occasional beachside departures from vegetarianism and she got a crab cake sandwich and we had a nice conversation.

After lunch we met up with the rest of our party on the boardwalk and got ice cream because Beth had mentioned several times in a casual sort of way that Sunday was National Ice Cream Day and I got the idea she’d like to celebrate this fine holiday. She did an excellent job herding six people to the boardwalk on short notice when I texted her. Beth told me I was living dangerously eating ice cream in a white polo and sure enough it soon had a pistachio green stain on the front. While we were eating our ice cream I remembered I’d forgotten to give my mom her birthday card and the gift certificate at lunch, so I gave it to her then.

Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei went to the beach straight from the boardwalk, changing in the restrooms near Funland. Mom and I went back to the house to change and eventually joined them. When we arrived they were on the sand after a swim and Lily-Mei was making repairs to a pool she’d dug in the sand and was hoping the ocean would fill, but she’d dug it when the tide was going out and she was glum that no waves were reaching it, until suddenly a rogue wave did and she was jubilant.

Everyone but Mom went (back) into the water. The waves were breaking closer to shore than the day before, which made for a rough entry, but overall the water was calmer than the day before. While we were in the water, Lily-Mei started to experience a stinging sensation Sara had noticed the day before and they found tiny gray creatures on her skin. Research revealed they were jellyfish larvae, which can get caught in tight-fitting bathing suits and sting when that happens. (Later Sara and Dave got Lily-Mei a rash guard and some board shorts, which mostly solved the problem.)

I stayed longer than anyone else and I only got out of the water because I thought the lifeguards had blown the 5:30 whistle, but it was just for someone out of bounds. It was 5:20 by then and I didn’t want to get in just to have to get out again in ten minutes so I stayed on my towel. Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei were packing up to leave, but Mom and I stayed almost another hour. It was that beautiful golden early evening time at the beach when the light is just lovely and the day was warm but not hot and it was actually kind of hard to convince ourselves to leave, but we did.

Sara and Dave made tofu and veggie-filled lettuce wraps for dinner and they were a big hit, as was the chocolate cake with raspberry puree and custard between the layers. That night my kids and Lily-Mei had a sleepover in the room with two bunk beds. They stayed up late (for Lily-Mei) and watched a movie and played Truth or Dare. In Lily-Mei’s version of this game, if you chose truth, instead of having to answer a question, someone tells you a truth about yourself.

Meanwhile, all the adults except Beth and me watched a different movie, while we elected to take a walk on the boardwalk and beach and watch the heat lighting. It felt like a little date.

Secret of the Sea #2:  The celebrations you plan are important, but the little, spontaneous ones are, too. 

Monday

I slept in the next morning, which for me means I was asleep until almost eight. North was still asleep but Noah and Lily-Mei were snuggled on the couch, playing Truth or Dare. He chose truth every time but from the bedroom I couldn’t quite hear what truths he was receiving, so I asked him later and he said that his nails are long, his arms are big, his pajama top is funny looking, and that if he shaved off all his hair it would be enough to cover his face. Next Lily-Mei wanted to look at his phone and they had the following exchange:

“What’s the bird?”
“Twitter.”
“What’s Twitter?”
“People talking to each other.”
“What’s this?”
“Reddit?”
“What’s Reddit?”
“Also people taking to each other.”
“Your phone is boring.”

So he found her some cat videos and she was happy.

The kids wanted Grandpa Mac for lunch, but the original, walkable location is closed, so we ordered it to the house from the location up on Route 1. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I went to the boardwalk gazebo closest to our house to read The Secret to Superhuman Strength.

Mom and I went to the beach in the mid-afternoon. The ocean was very calm. I swam twice and in between Mom and I had a long talk and read and ate plums and watched a school of bluefish swim up the coast. They made a dark band in the water and you could see the fish jump out of the water occasionally and the seagulls following the school. The lifeguards cleared the water to let it pass.

We got Japanese for dinner, again ordered to the house. We’d hoped to go and eat on the beautiful rooftop deck of the Cultured Pearl, but we couldn’t get a reservation. We needed to eat in the house or outdoors because Lily-Mei is not vaccinated yet and I guess a lot of people with under twelves are in the same boat because outdoor reservations are tough to get.

Secret of the Sea #3: If you seek the truth, you must accept it.

Tuesday

The much anticipated kayak trip was Tuesday morning. Sara, Dave, Lily-Mei, Beth, and I all got up early. My kids were going to come, but opted out when they found out we were leaving the house at 7:30. Something went wrong with our reservations for the dolphin tour, so we ended up renting kayaks and going out on the Bay without a guide. There were small waves, so small Sara called them “undulations,” so it was almost as calm as kayaking in a lake, and I’d learned enough on my two practice trips not to embarrass myself. Sara said, “I wouldn’t call your kayaking bad,” but she went overboard at one point, so I’m not sure how high her bar was.

We paddled toward a lighthouse on a seawall because the young man who rented us the kayaks thought that was our best bet if we wanted to see dolphins. He was hesitant for us to go around the wall because no one from shore would be able to see us, but Sara convinced him we’d be okay. The Bay was very pretty and we saw horseshoe crabs in the shallows, and jellyfish and a variety of sea birds nesting on the seawall. We did see dolphin fins near a fishing boat (I imagine they were after the same fish), but it was pretty far in the distance, no closer than I saw from the ocean most days. It was still a nice excursion, though I think Lily-Mei liked the ice cream she got at the snack bar afterward best.

In the early afternoon, Noah, Lily-Mei and I went to the beach. We swam and then we took a walk up the beach. Lily-Mei was stamping her footprints into the damp sand, circling them and adding her initials all the way from lifeguard stand 15 to 19. She was hoping to see some of them on the way back but the ocean had erased them all, much to her dismay. When we got back to our towel she started to build an elaborate village of sand castles, crisscrossed and surrounded by moats and walls. She’d been working on this for about forty minutes, while I alternately read and watched her, when a boy a little older than her accidentally trampled part of it and then he and his mother helped repair it. Soon, the kids were deep in conversation about how to improve the village. It’s so interesting the way kids will lose themselves in a project like this. They played together a long time and I don’t think they even introduced themselves. (They did establish their ages, however. He’s nine and she’s eight.)

Sara worked at least a little every day and when she finished for the day, she came down to the beach, and Noah and I left to make a quick stop at Candy Kitchen to get fudge for the house. Then we went home. I needed to get back early to help Beth make her signature beach dinner—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, bread, a plate of fancy cheese, and olives. She makes it every year and all the adults, including me, look forward to it. We were cooking in pairs all week and in addition to anticipating the meal, I was also glad not to have to plan any meals and to just have a set of discrete tasks like picking cilantro leaves off the stems, cutting slices of cheese, etc.

Shortly before dinner Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei came back from Funland and Lily-Mei was saying she’d seen Frankenstein and it took me a while to put two and two together to and realize she’d been in the Haunted Mansion. It was her first time.

Noah and I read for forty-five minutes after dinner and then there was an expedition to the boardwalk for ice cream and frozen custard. We left while Sara and Dave were putting Lily-Mei to bed, and I thought Sara, who tries not to eat much sugar, would be glad to be spared the temptation, but it turned out she was disappointed to miss the outing. On the way home we saw several boys in the street riding contraptions they had rigged up by attaching beach chairs to skateboards. I ended up seeing them several times during the week and they always drew a lot of attention. (One day I saw a police officer direct them off the boardwalk—where skateboards are not allowed—and then as soon as she was out of sight they went right back.)  I also saw a little frog in the grass by the sidewalk and when I got too close it jumped into the street and then I had to catch it and return it to the grass because I was afraid it would get hit by a car. The eventually successful rescue effort also drew an audience.

When we got back everyone hung out in the living room and talked until late in the night. Well, late for us. I went to bed around eleven and it was past twelve before Beth came to bed.

Secret of the Sea #4: Lose yourself in exploration and play.

Wednesday

Wednesday morning my mom went to have coffee with my stepfather’s cousin who lives nearby and Beth and Dave took my kids and Lily-Mei to the water park. I headed out to a boardwalk gazebo to blog again.

When Lily-Mei asked if I was going to Jungle Jim’s, I told her it was against my religion. “She likes the real water,” Lily-Mei concluded, correctly, and Sara said yes, that was it, and Lily-Mei, said, “Well, she’s missing out.” Maybe I was, but before we all went our separate ways I didn’t miss out on seeing Sara, Noah, and Lily-Mei play zoo. Sara played the zookeeper, Lily-Mei’s ever-growing collection of stuffed animals from Funland were zoo animals, Lily-Mei was a vicious cheetah who was prone to escape from her cage and Noah was a series of five hapless zoo visitors slaughtered by the cheetah. (The cheetah also captured and devoured many of the other zoo animals.)

While I was at the gazebo, my mom passed by on her way home from the coffeeshop. Jim’s cousin hadn’t showed (she wasn’t sure he was going to because their communication had been confusing). She stopped for a while to sit with me and then went back to the house. I followed eventually and had lunch.

In the afternoon while I was at the beach, swimming and finishing The Secret to Superhuman Strength, the annual beach week puzzle was finished, only a day after it was started. This one had a design of postage stamps. YaYa fitted in the last piece, though it was Noah and Dave who had put most of it together, with some assists from YaYa, North, and Lily-Mei.

YaYa and Noah made linguine for dinner, but it was a small crowd because North was in bed with a headache (they came down and ate later) and Sara and Dave were out on a dinner date. Right before they left Lily-Mei was begging to go to the Haunted Mansion while they were gone and her wish was granted. Sara said yes and North and I took her.

The whole walk there she was chanting, “Haunted Mansion,” alternating with “Frankenstein,” which was clearly the monster that resonated most with her. I’d heard her say to Sara earlier in the day, “Mama, Frankenstein doesn’t have a square head. You know how our heads have no corners? His has two at the top, but not four.” When North was that age, it was the zombie that impressed them most, and Noah has always been fond of the room full of tiny floating skulls because he realized early that the trick was done with mirrors and he liked that idea. As you can see, the Mansion is an important rite of passage in our family and I was glad to be there for Lily-Mei’s second trip through it.

Funland was crowded and we had to wait in line for tickets and then for the mansion itself, but finally it was time to board. I wasn’t sure if the three of us (plus North’s crutch) would fit into one car, but we did. It was the same as it always is, the room of spiders, the skeletons holding a hose that seems like it will spray you but doesn’t, the devil launching into a real estate pitch for hell, the truck that suddenly appears, horn blaring. (Lily-Mei said later she didn’t like that.)

The doors that sometimes open to let you see out of the ride and onto the boardwalk opened this time. Lily-Mei was uncharacteristically quiet for most of the ride, but every now and then she’d squeak when something spooked her. Afterward she was on that joyful and proud post-Mansion high I remember well from when my kids were eight to ten or so.

Secret of the Sea #5: Face your fears.

Thursday

Mom and Sara’s family were leaving a day early because they had an early afternoon flight out of Philadelphia on Friday (all except Sara who was driving up to Northeastern Pennsylvania to visit our cousin) and they were worried about getting caught in traffic on the way there. I realized I hadn’t had any time alone with Sara all week, so I invited her out for coffee, and even though she was busy with packing and hoping to get some work time in, she said yes. We went to Café-a-Go-Go and had a long talk, mostly about parenting.

Afterward, I read to Lily-Mei, about half of a chapter book about a girl who is trying to track down both a vampire and a werewolf in her house, which must be about par for the course when you live in a place called “Spookie House.” It was the fourth book in series and I was reading a big chunk out of the middle, but it was still fun, as it was the kind of book I used to read to my kids, though we hadn’t read this particular series.

Right after that, Beth managed to wrap up some work (I was the only non-retired adult who did not work on this vacation) and we left for a late lunch, a belated anniversary celebration. We went to Green Man and got juice from the juice bar—she got the cantaloupe kiss and I got the love potion (peach-strawberry-orange). She also got a sandwich and I got a piece of quiche and salad. We took it to the boardwalk to eat and then we got ice cream cones from Royal Treat. It was fun to get away with her, even for a short while.

Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei hit the road around five-thirty. Noah and I read for about an hour, then we had a makeshift dinner of leftovers, and Beth, YaYa, North, and I went for an evening swim. Well, North and I swam, while Beth and YaYa watched from the sand. When we turned to the shore we could see the sun going down behind Funland and the orange-gold light was really beautiful on the water. There were other people in the ocean but it was less crowded than in the daytime and it felt kind of magical to be swimming at sundown. YaYa went home after we got out of the water, and Beth and I took North to Funland for one last time. They went on the Freefall, the Sea Dragon, and the Graviton. They probably would have gone on the Paratrooper, but the line was insane.

It was quite crowded there, even more so than the night before, and I wished I’d brought a mask, even though I never wear one outside any more. After wearing one to go up to the counter at Dairy Queen on the drive to the beach, I hadn’t even been wearing one inside. I think being on vacation made me relaxed, also there was no visual cue, as hardly anyone was wearing one anywhere, even in line for the Haunted Mansion where there were a lot of under-twelves standing right up next to each other for upwards of twenty minutes. (Lily-Mei was masked.) I’m going to get back in the habit of always wearing a mask inside public places, though, because of the delta variant and because North’s sleepaway camp is urging caution and I want to be a team player.

After Funland, we went to Candy Kitchen and North got a funnel cake with Nutella and strawberries and whipped cream on it. It was something else. I helped them finish it and then Beth and North played Skee-Ball at an arcade, which we chose because there was less of a line there than at Funland, but it was also considerably more expensive, because you have to buy a twenty-five dollar swipe card. With luck, we’ll remember to bring it to the beach next year, though it could take a few years to use up that much arcade money, as no one plays anything but Skee-Ball.

The moon was almost full and very beautiful as we walked home. It was nice to spend some two-mom, one-kid time with North. We haven’t been doing that much, with Noah at home. It was almost ten when we got home, which is quite a late night on the town for us.

Secret of the Sea #6: Be a responsible citizen. 

Friday

Friday we packed up the house and it seemed to be going more smoothly than usual, with less angst about what food will fit in the cooler and what has to be thrown out, but then the cleaners showed up at ten on the dot while we were still scrambling to get the last few things out of the house, so I didn’t make my last-minute check of all of the rooms for stray items and I ended up leaving my laptop charger in our bedroom.

Beth, YaYa, and Noah went to the Verizon store to go phone shopping for YaYa, while North and I made one last stop at Café a-Go-Go, where we each got a cold drink and split a piece of coffeecake. Then we went for one last swim and met up with the rest of our party on the boardwalk and got our traditional last day lunch of fries, crepes, and orangeade. While Noah was waiting in the crepe line, I made a quick stop at the tea and spice shop to get enough of my two favorite teas to last until Thanksgiving.

We’ll be back then, with a smaller group, to discover more of the secrets of the sea.

Secret of the Sea #7: It’s easier to leave when you’ve made a plan to come back.

Before the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 46

Greetings from the beach! We just arrived yesterday so I’m not here to tell you about our seaside adventures. But never fear, there will be a long post about that eventually. Right now I’m here to tell you about a few things we did before we got here.

Cat

Xander had a checkup two Fridays ago. His skin and ear infections were improved but not completely cleared, so he got an antibiotic shot and Beth gave him eardrops for another week and he seems to be healed up. While he was there they took blood and did a workup to get a general sense of his health. His thyroid is fine, his liver and pancreas enzymes are elevated, but pretty good for an eighteen-year-old cat. His blood sugar was a little high, but the vet thought it could be the stress of a vet visit. He has a heart murmur and a galloping heart, however, and we are considering taking him to a feline cardiologist to see if it’s something that can or should be treated. The fact that Matthew died of heart disease and they were brothers made the vet suggest that.

Kayaks

The next day, the Saturday before we left, Beth, Noah, and I went kayaking again. It was a pleasant outing, this time at Seneca Creek State Park. We saw a heron, a big black bird we couldn’t definitively identify (but I think it might have been a cormorant), dragonflies and turtles galore, and a beaver dam. And there were wild blackberries at the edge of the parking lot to eat when we’d finished.

I’m still not great at getting the boat to go in the direction I want it to—I’m always drifting off to one side or the other and having to correct course and that slows me down so I lag behind Beth and Noah. Still, I think I improved over the previous week. And given my difficulty moving objects through space in general—I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was nine and I still can’t drive despite efforts to learn in my teens and again in my thirties—I think I’m as ready to kayak with the dolphins as I’m going to get.

Camp

Starting Monday, North spent a week of mornings and early afternoons as a junior counselor at tinkering camp, at the kids’ old preschool. My kids have been students, campers, and now volunteers at that school on and off since 2005. The theme for the week was journeys so the campers, aged five to eleven, went on daily field trips to ramble in nearby woods or to sled down the hill by the hospital (did you know you can sled on grass?). They made a time capsule to be opened in fifty years, a sort of imaginative journey through time. They also learned to start a fire with a magnifying glass. I’m not sure how that fit into the theme but from my experience sending my kids to this camp when they were in elementary school, I can say that if there wasn’t fire and/or sharp tools it wouldn’t be Tink camp. The week’s activities also included making ice cream sundaes, a water fight, melting Starbursts over a fire, and plenty of free play.

One of North’s preschool classmates was also a junior counselor and two of the campers were younger siblings of North’s peers.  In addition to playing with the campers, North was helping Lesley catalogue the preschool’s library of eight hundred books. North enjoyed their time at Tink and is considering doing it again next summer, when they might be paid in money instead of student service learning hours (an MCPS graduation requirement.)

Cure (Temporary)

My first mumbled words to Beth after her six a.m. alarm went off on Thursday were “no more itchy spots.” Almost a week earlier I’d gotten a poison ivy rash on my left hand and right arm while weeding in our front yard, between the fence and the dogwood tree. There’s so much undergrowth there I didn’t even see the demon vine.

About five days after I got the primary rash, on Wednesday, I’d started breaking out in itchy welts all over my body and I thought the rash was spreading. But when I considered the fact that the welts would appear and then disappear and then I’d have a whole new set somewhere else, I started to think I was having a separate problem, maybe hives, as a secondary effect of the poison ivy. I took an antihistamine at bedtime and I’d woken the next morning itch-free. (Even the poison ivy blisters were relatively quiet.) That lasted only lasted a few hours, though, so I took another antihistamine and it quelled the new hives. I’m still taking it because the welts keep coming back.

Commemoration

Beth’s first words to me that same morning were “Happy anniversary!” It was the thirty-fourth anniversary of our first date, back when we were mere lasses of twenty. I was actually exactly Noah’s age, twenty years and two months, on that fateful day.

We exchanged anniversary gifts after we’d both returned from our respective morning walks. I was curious to see what Beth had gotten me because a few weeks ago we confided to each other that we each had an idea (me) or two (her) but that we wondered if the other might buy the same thing(s). So we told Noah our ideas and he was supposed to tell Beth which of the two things to buy. He said if there was overlap, he would have Beth buy the gift that wasn’t the one I was getting and if there was no overlap, he’d flip a coin to choose one to tell her to buy. He seemed pleased to be asked to perform this service and said it was “like a cryptography challenge.”

So, I got her Alison Bechdel’s The Secret of Superhuman Strength, which as it turned out was on her list, too, and she got me Anna Sales’ Let’s Talk About Hard Things. The Bechdel seemed like a romantic choice to me, because like Beth and me, Alison Bechdel went to Oberlin (graduating several years before we arrived) and that’s sometimes reflected in her work. Beth and I also both listen to Sales’ podcast Death, Sex, and Money, which I recommend if you’re not already listening to it. We were not planning any other anniversary commemorations because we were leaving for the beach the next morning, but we are hoping to go out to dinner one night while we are here.

Commencement of Travel

In addition to our anniversary, Thursday was the day people in our party from parts West began to travel our way. My mother, sister, brother-in-law, and niece flew from Medford, Oregon to Phoenix to Philadelphia, where they would stay the night before driving to Delaware. Beth’s mom flew from Pittsburgh to National Airport, arriving in the afternoon. Beth and Noah picked her up and let her settle into her hotel room before we went out to dinner.

Code

For the rest of the afternoon, everyone went about their business: work, pre-trip laundry, packing, drumming. Noah was waiting for Mike to drop by with a hard drive containing footage from a short fictional movie about the misadventures of someone buying cryptocurrency. Mike and Noah had been on the film crew the week before—Mike was the director of photography and Noah was his assistant. The film is called Pass Code. The director hopes to shop it around at festivals. Noah was supposed to edit it our first few days at the beach. Even though the timing wasn’t great, I was still glad Noah has some work, because before the film shoot he hadn’t had any since the middle of May (when he did a big video editing job during finals week). He did put in some long days at the shoot, though. He was gone fourteen hours the first day and fifteen the second, though I understand some of that was hanging out at the end. I’m just as glad for him to have the opportunity to socialize (with other people who love film) as for him to have paying work.

Cosmopolitan Dining

Mike’s van pulled up to our house just as we were leaving for dinner and he handed off the drive. We met YaYa in Silver Spring, where we went out for tapas. She said when she visits the DC metro area, she feels the dining options are enticingly sophisticated. Over salmon, a cheese plate, torta española, several vegetable dishes, flan, tres leches cake, and churros, she renewed her ongoing but so far unsuccessful campaign to get North to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and we discussed movies we’ve seen recently. Then we went back to the house to pack some more.

Continuation of Travel 

The following day North went to camp, but only for part of the day. We picked them up at 11:30 (two hours early) and hit the road. By five we were at our beach house. Mom, Sara, Dave, and Lily-Mei arrived while we were still unpacking the car. Once we’d gotten everything inside the house and sorted out who would sleep in which room, we ordered pizza and while we waited for it to arrive, Mom, Sara, Lily-Mei and I took a walk to the beach, put our feet (well in Lily-Mei’s case more than her feet) into the ocean and enjoyed each other’s company for the first time in two years.