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

Second Week Begins

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

Anniversary #30/9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rest of the Second Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Week, So Far

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pivoting: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 56

It’s been a week of small milestones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar, Sugar: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 54

Here are some of the song titles I considered as a title for this largely diabetes-related post:

“Sugar, Sugar”
“Sugar Won’t Work”
“I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl”
“Pour Some Sugar on Me”
“Blood Sugar Sex Magik”

As you can see, I went with the simplest and broadest one because I have had a lot of different feelings about my diabetes over the past six weeks.

For a little over two weeks I’ve worn a continuous glucose monitor on my arm. Here’s how it works, when it works (more on when it doesn’t work later). I have an app on my phone and when I hold the phone up to the monitor it takes a reading, which I can view in various ways: a line graph of the last twenty-four hours (with the line running through, above, or below a green band that represents the desirable range), a color-coded log of all the readings, a graph of my average blood sugar at different times of the day in line or bar graph form, etc.  Beth is quite taken with the cool tech aspect of it.

When I first heard about the monitor, I was a little alarmed at the idea of living with this level of surveillance accountability. Several healthcare professionals–my primary care provider, a nurse, and eventually a diabetes coach I haven’t met yet–all have or will have access to the data. But despite my misgivings, it is educational to have real time feedback and it’s more convenient than the finger sticks I used to do when I had gestational diabetes in 2006. It quickly won me over, in theory.

However… in practice I am having a lot of trouble with the sensors. They expire after two weeks and have to be replaced. Of the first four I applied, only one worked. Two wouldn’t take a reading at all and one gave numbers that were clearly wrong. For instance, it told me my blood sugar had fallen into the 40s, which the nurse told me couldn’t be true because I would have felt quite ill (dizzy, with blurred vision, etc.) and I did not. Later it told me my blood sugar had jumped from 50 to 150 after eating a taco and some salad, which isn’t in line with how I’ve been responding to food, so I discarded that sensor. And whenever I do that, or one won’t start, we, and by we, I mean Beth, spends half an hour on the phone arguing with recalcitrant agents about why we need a new one. I am deeply grateful for this service, as it’s the kind of thing that would cause me to burst into tears and give up.

So after a few days without one, I have a new sensor I’ve been wearing since yesterday evening and it seemed a little off–the values are not completely out of the ballpark, but consistently lower than what I’d expect. So I dug out my old glucose monitor and got some new strips for it (the original ones expired in 2007) and I tested the sensor against the fingerstick method and at least the one time I tried it, my instinct was right. The fingerstick reading was 13 points higher than the sensor. It’s discouraging not to be able to trust the numbers because when it worked, it seemed to be a good tool for helping me stay in range.

And speaking of the range, I found out just the other day that I’d misunderstood the range my primary care provider had given me as a target and I actually have more leeway than I thought. This is good because even though I was staying in range, it was hard. I was very limited in the foods I could eat and I was often hungry (which is pretty much how I remember gestational diabetes).

Now there is going to be a lot of detail about what I can and can’t eat. If that seems unbearably boring, skip to the end of the post for updates on the kids and other non-food related items.

Still reading?

Breakfast is a challenge. When you have diabetes whatever you eat first hits you much harder than it would if you ate it later in the day, so it originally seemed foods I could eat in small quantities later in the day (almost any kind of grain or fruit) I couldn’t eat in the morning, which is too bad because a bowl of cereal with fruit is pretty much my standard weekday breakfast.

I kept experimenting with ways to eat cereal. Could I stay in range if I ate the grain-free cereal in which chickpeas impersonate oats? No. If I tried that cereal with unsweetened almond milk instead of cow’s milk? No. Is hot cereal better? Yes, but not enough. How about a half portion of oatmeal with walnuts in it and eggs and veggie sausage on the side. Bingo. A three-quarters portion of grits with cheese? You should have stopped while you were ahead.

However, when I went back and looked at my chart, I found only two breakfasts put me out of the new range, both of them cold cereal, though the full portion of oatmeal took me right up to the new limit. Smaller portions of hot cereal seem feasible, and in the meanwhile I’ve found a couple protein-rich breakfasts that work (Greek yogurt mixed with peanut butter or eggs with vegetarian sausage). Today I tried the yogurt and peanut butter with half a banana mashed into it and even if I mentally add ten to fifteen points to what the sensor told me, it went fine.

The nurse has encouraged experimentation, even if I go out of range, because everyone’s response to food is individual and if I stick to just a few safe foods I’ll never really know what I can eat. When I said never eating dessert again would not be sustainable for me, she latched onto that word and seemed really happy about it. I guess I stumbled on a buzzword. She suggested I try a small dessert, just to see what happens. So last week I went to Starbucks and bought a pumpkin scone. You know, the ones with frosting and five hundred calories? I love those. It’s my favorite fall pastry and I’d been bemoaning all the seasonal foods I can’t eat to Beth and she’d suggested I try getting a scone and cutting it into small pieces to eat over the course of several days. So I did and to my delight, I did not go out of range (and that was the old range). I had a piece every day for three days in a row. (I gave one to North.)

Besides cereal and dessert, what I really want to eat is pizza. It’s what we have for dinner every Friday. In fact, it’s a tradition that dates back to my family of origin, so a Friday night without pizza would seem very sad. Both times I tried it, eating only one slice with a salad, I thought I’d gone out of range, but as it turned out, I hadn’t.

I’m glad to be able to eat more fruit. I was already eating small portions in the afternoon paired with a protein (e.g. half an apple with peanut butter, half a peach in a salad with goat cheese, fourteen raisins in cream cheese on a celery stick, etc.) but because I wasn’t eating it at breakfast, my fruit consumption went down while my vegetable consumption stayed about the same, so overall I was eating less produce, which was disheartening and made me worry a little about my fiber intake.

At one point in our conversation, the nurse told me the goal was to fit diabetes into my life instead of fitting myself into diabetes. At this point, that’s aspirational. I’m spending a lot more time than I’d like thinking about food, but that’s probably to be expected in the beginning.

Uncomfortable in My Skin

And to complicate matters… four weeks after my diabetes diagnosis and just two days after I started wearing the monitor, I went to see an allergist. I’d been breaking out in hives all over my body since mid-July. I think I only mentioned it once, around the time it started, because I was able to keep it more or less under control with antihistamines. Back in August, my primary care provider suggested I keep a food and hives log and I did, but neither of us could find any pattern in it. Next she said to try two weeks of taking an antihistamine every day, not just when the hives appeared, to see if a break from them would cause my body to reset, but they came right back as soon as I stopped.

So the allergist was the next step. I got a skin test for dozens of allergies and basically my whole back broke out in welts. The allergist said it didn’t seem likely I am actually suddenly allergic to all the things I reacted to, a list which includes: soy, rye, oats, various nuts, a couple kinds of seafood, a couple kinds of seeds, dust mites, cats, cockroaches, rabbits, mice, and a bunch of different kinds of grasses and pollens. He suspected that some unknown thing was causing my body to be (possibly temporarily) highly reactive and it might not be a true allergy or sensitivity.

His plan was to repeat the antihistamine-every-day experiment, but for two months instead of two weeks, to see if a longer hive-free period was needed to banish them. But he also said while it would not be practical to stop eating all the foods on the list, I should avoid soy during this test period, because that was the food that provoked the strongest reaction. That’s right, soy, while I’m trying to eat a high-protein, vegetarian diet. So, that’s been fun. The good news is a lot of the higher end fake meat we don’t usually buy is soy-free, so now we have an excuse to buy it. I am hoping I will be cleared to eat soy again, but I have noticed I do have fewer breakthrough hives than when I was taking a daily antihistamine and still eating soy, so maybe not.

Non-Dietary Related News

Little by little, events that were cancelled last year are happening. First, the Takoma Park street festival was the first weekend of October. Since the folk festival (usually held in September) didn’t happen two years in a row, it was nice to get a little fix of live music at a stage tucked in a side street between all the booths of vendors. Better still, the performer we went to see was a girl who went to the kids’ preschool, one year ahead of North. Anna Grace and North also attended drama camp together for many years and they both acted at Highwood Theatre before it closed two years ago. She sang Hazel Dickens, Janis Joplin, and Jerry Garcia covers, along with some of her father’s music. Her dad is also a musician and they have been performing together for years. It was fun to see them making music together.

Next, my book club met in person last week for the first time since January 2020. In fact, we’re meeting three times in October and twice in November to discuss Vanity Fair (four times) and The Haunting of Hill House (once). I’m leading the discussion on Hill House, so I’ve been busy re-reading the book and a thick biography of Shirley Jackson and watching the 1963 film version and trying to remember what I used to know about Hill House and Jackson when I taught this book.

Best of all, the Halloween parade and costume contest is on. Long-time readers know how important this event is to my kids. North and Beth went to Value Village to buy costume components last weekend. They’re going to be a drowning person.

Meanwhile, North’s been keeping busy with the school play. They’re costumes manager and one the kids on the costume crew is a preschool classmate. North and Talia went to different elementary and middle schools, but they played on the same basketball team for six years (remember the Pandas?) and when a teacher said they seemed to be working well together, Talia said, “Well, we’ve known each other since we were two.” One of the lead actors is also a Purple School alum, from another class.

North has also gotten involved in student activism at their school. They formed an organization to try to replace the powderpuff football game that’s held every year before Homecoming with some less sexist, more gender-inclusive activity. They call themselves the Powerpuffs. So far they’ve met with a school counselor, student government, and the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. They are going to talk to the principal soon. It seems like it will be an uphill battle, as a lot of people are invested in this tradition, but since Homecoming was last week, they got some publicity. North has been managing their social media presence. I think it’s helped North meet some like-minded people.  As ninth grade was almost entirely online, North didn’t make friends at their new school until this year. It’s nice that between theater and the Powerpuffs, they’re back in the mix socially.

Noah is doing well, too. He’s enjoying his apartment and cooking for himself so much that he’s decided to switch to the minimal five-meal-a-week dining plan. We’re giving him the money that change will save for groceries. He’s playing in a band for non-music majors that will have a concert in early December, he’s still doing video editing for ICTV, and he’s joined the drone club. He went flying with them on Saturday and when he texted me about getting to fly a more advanced drone than the one he owns, he seemed happy. He provided a lot of detail, which is not always a feature of his texts, and he even used an exclamation point. He’s also thinking about getting a job and he asked Beth to mail him a couple of his dress shirts for interviews.

I’m really proud of how both kids are bouncing back after the pandemic school year. Maybe they can inspire me as I face my own new challenges.

The Year and a Half of Living Cautiously: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 53

I remember saying a while back I was going to take the Coronavirus Chronicles subhead off my blog after Labor Day when the kids were back in in-person classes and Beth was back in her office. Well, the kids are back, but Beth’s office is continuing to allow remote work at least through mid-October and possibly permanently. She goes in to her office occasionally, but most days she works at home. My main reason for leaving the caption on, though, is that with the delta variant, everything feels more precarious than I thought it would by now. Our lives are returning to something pretty close to normal, but the pandemic isn’t over. Unvaccinated people are still dying at a pretty fast clip and I’m not taking it for granted that the kids are going to stay in school.

In March I did a covid year in review and since we’re at least potentially at an inflection point now, I thought I’d recap the last six months. Here’s hoping the next time I do something like this, it’s to mark a more definitive end of covid.

Meanwhile, here’s what we did in the last third of the pandemic to date:

March: North turned fifteen and gained the privileges of drinking coffee and watching some (vetted) R-rated movies. They celebrated with a pre-birthday campfire with Zoë and a backyard party with their three closest friends. During the three-day overlap of the kids’ spring breaks, we spent a long weekend in Deep Creek, where we explored waterfalls and the Maze Rocks in Garret State Forest. Beth and Steph got their covid vaccinations, driving back out to Western Maryland to get them.

April: We went to the National Arboretum to see the cherry blossoms for the second spring in a row, as it was too crowded for safety at the Tidal Basin. Noah got his first shot. Beth and North went camping. Noah gave a paper on the philosophical paradoxes of time travel in Back to the Future at an online undergraduate symposium. North started going to school in person, four out of every ten days.

May: Noah turned twenty and did not gain any special new privileges. The brood X cicadas emerged and completely charmed me. Beth took up kayaking. I turned fifty-four. (No new privileges for me either.) North got their first shot. Noah’s sophomore year of college ended and he spent two and a half weeks in West Virginia with Beth’s mom. While Beth and North were dropping him off, I spent a restorative weekend at home alone. Then we all road tripped to pick him up over Memorial Day weekend and seeing Beth’s mom for the first time since Christmas 2019 was nice, too.

June: Once we were all fully vaccinated, we went to the movies for the first time. North attended a quinceañera and a lot of friends’ birthday parties, which were larger and more frequent now that their peers had been vaccinated. North finished ninth grade and attended an outdoor drama camp, culminating in a performance of several songs from West Side Story. Our eighteen-year-old cat Xander came down with a serious skin and ear infection (which continued into July) and we were all quite worried, but he pulled through. The death toll for covid reached 600,000.

July: Noah and I started going kayaking with Beth. There was no Fourth of July parade or fireworks in Takoma, so we all watched the DC fireworks from the roof of Beth’s office building. Noah spent two days assisting on a film shoot and then helped edit the film. North spent a week volunteering as a counselor at a day camp at their old preschool. Beth and I celebrated the thirty-fourth anniversary of our first date. We spent a lovely week at the beach with both our mothers, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece. While there, my mom got to celebrate her seventy-eighth birthday with both daughters and all three grandchildren. Also, Beth and I went kayaking with Sara’s family in the Bay and I got to take my niece Lily-Mei on her second-ever trip through the Haunted Mansion. It was the first time I’d seen any of my relatives in two years and it was wonderful to be reunited with them. After we got home from the beach, we went berry picking and came home with blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries, which we baked into a kuchen and a cobbler.

August: The kids and I took a walk through the creek and Noah stepped on a beehive while climbing over a deadfall and ended up with at least fifteen stings. North spent a week at sleepaway camp, and served as head of house, a leadership position that involved running meetings and serving as a mentor to younger campers. Noah got his pandemic mane shorn after seventeen months. We drove him up to school while North was at camp and spent a few days helping him move into his apartment and enjoying Cayuga Lake and the many waterfalls around Ithaca. On the way home, we visited my cousin Holly and picked North up from camp. A week later, North went back to school. The United States pulled out of Afghanistan, leaving it in the hands of the Taliban.

September: I wrote and mailed thirty postcards to California voters, urging them to vote no on the gubernatorial recall. It was my first batch since the spate of special elections that followed the November 2020 elections. I was diagnosed with diabetes. (My intake appointment with the diabetes coaching program is next week.) Noah was assigned two shows to edit on ICTV and applied to join the drone club. North tried out for the school play and applied to be the stage manager (they went to callbacks on Tuesday) and they came kayaking with Beth and me for the first time. The Takoma Park Folk Festival was cancelled for the second year in a row. (Well, there was an online version, but the draw is that it’s live music.) The Takoma Park annual pie contest is cancelled, too, which is sad for North because they are a two-time winner.

We’ve weathered another six months of covid. The U.S. death toll is currently at 665,235. The vaccination rate is not what it should be, with only 57% of Americans fully vaccinated, but there are more every day and with luck, vaccinations for kids under twelve will be approved sometime this fall.

In many ways, for our family, things are better now than they were six months ago. We are all fully vaccinated, the kids are back at school, and the cascade of medical problems North had from July 2020 until February 2021 (paralysis, non-epileptic seizures, urinary difficulties) are pretty much cleared up. All they have left are some minor tics. They’ve just finished the round of cognitive behavioral therapy they started a year ago for these problems, but since they still have chronic pain that limits how far they can walk, we’re going to pivot to addressing that. They had a two-hour, online intake appointment at the pain clinic a week ago and they’re going to start CBT, with a different therapist, for coping strategies. I’m feeling hopeful about that.

In what may be a sign that covid is less ever-present in my mind, I only read one book about a pandemic (Station Eleven) in the past six months, though I do have The Pull of the Stars in my pile.

How are covid conditions where you live? Does life feel normal, semi-normal, or anything but?

There and Back Again: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 50

Thursday: Goodbye, House

“Goodbye, house,” Noah said as he walked down the porch steps on Thursday morning. The car was packed and we were ready to hit the road for Ithaca. It hardly seemed possible that he was going back to school after all this time (seventeen and a half months!) at home, but he was.

We left around ten, passing the time with podcasts, and at lunchtime we pulled off onto a dirt road near a boat dock on the Susquehanna River where we ate a picnic lunch in the car, consisting of food we brought from home and acquired at a Sheetz.  We got back on the road and arrived at our AirBnB around six.

We got settled in and headed to downtown Ithaca for dinner. There was an hour wait at our restaurant of choice, so we ordered to go. Even so we had a forty-five minute wait, but it was a beautiful evening, much cooler and less humid than at home—I’d actually changed into a long-sleeved t-shirt when we arrived—so we didn’t mind much. We found a table on the Commons, a pedestrian mall downtown, and ate our Bahn Mi sandwich, spring rolls, sweet potato and kale taco, and Gouda mac-n-cheese. We got two cookie dough-stuffed brownies and each of us had half of one (and saved the last half for later).

Back at the AirBnB we watched This is Spinal Tap because North had recently vetoed it as a family movie night choice (we’d watched The Vast of Night the week previous while North was at camp for the same reason). I hadn’t seen Spinal Tap since the 80s and I think it holds up reasonably well.

Friday: Moving In, Hiking, Shopping

Noah’s move-in time was eleven, but he’d heard this wasn’t being strictly enforced, so after breakfast at Waffle Frolic, he went to check in and receive the key to his on-campus apartment. These are like dorm rooms, but bigger and with a kitchen, a bathroom, and a little balcony. Later we saw someone complaining on the Facebook IC parents’ group that the apartments were small and dingy, but we thought it was pretty nice. Perhaps our expectations of what college-run apartments would look like were lower more realistic. Noah’s roommate hadn’t arrived, so he picked a bed and a desk and started to unpack. Beth and I left him to that and went to the campus store where I restocked my supply of Ithaca College pencils and bought a Park School of Communications t-shirt. We all had salads for lunch at the food court. There were little signs you could put on the tables that said either “Join Us” or “Prefer to Eat Alone.” Beth was quite taken with those.

After lunch we went to Cayuga Lake so Noah could fly his drone over it, while Beth and I strolled along the shore. He says there’s a drone club and he’s thinking of joining it. I hope he does, because it would offer him the opportunity to meet other students who share his interests, the chance to fly different kinds of drones, and transportation to places he could fly. He could also get FAA-certified, which would be a good credential to have, and he could possibly pick up some photo shoot jobs.

Next we went for a hike along the gorge trail to Taughannock Falls. It’s a nice flat trail that leads to a 215-foot waterfall. We’ve done it a couple of times before, but it’s a really spectacular sight. We’d been to this park the day North lost function in their legs last summer (though it didn’t happen there—it happened in Cayuga Lake), so that was on our minds as we walked along the wooded trail.

Wegman’s was our next stop. We filled a grocery cart full of food to stock Noah’s kitchen, mostly frozen food and non-perishables because he’s still on the meal plan, so he won’t be cooking for himself full time. In the checkout line I saw a box of chocolate-covered sea salt caramels and asked him, “Do you need these?”

“I don’t know. Do I?” he said, with a half-smile.

“I think you do,” I said, and added them to the conveyor belt. I can’t be with him every day now, but I can make sure he has caramels, pretzel chips, cashews, pasta, his favorite cereals, and frozen pizza. (He also let me put some frozen broccoli in the cart.)

We ordered pizza and ate it in the AirBnB. While we waited for Beth to bring it back, we read A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor, which, as I predicted we hadn’t quite finished when we left home. I checked my Goodreads page and it was the thirtieth book we read together during the pandemic, mostly fantasy and science fiction because that’s what he likes best. I feel tremendously lucky to have been able to share that many books with him during this strange time.

We’ve always gone out for ice cream the night before school starts, but since we wouldn’t be there the night before classes, Noah said any time that weekend would be okay and we went to Purity Ice Cream that night. I got a hot fudge sundae with black cherry ice cream, Beth got coffee, and Noah got raspberry chocolate chip. It was very good. There was a sign on the wall saying the place is for sale. I asked Beth if she’d like to run an ice cream parlor in Ithaca and she said yes. I imagine a lot of people who go in there enjoy that fantasy.

Saturday: More Hiking, Kayaking, More Shopping, and Goodbye

Beth and I were leaving early Sunday morning so Saturday was our last day with Noah, and like the day before, it was a busy one. Noah had to wait for delivery of the belongings he had in storage, so Beth and left him there to go on some adventures. Interestingly, his roommate still had not arrived even though the move-in days were Thursday and Friday. So he checked his assignment online and he no longer had a roommate. So now he’s waiting to see if he will be assigned a new one or if he’ll have the apartment to himself.

While Noah was waiting for his boxes, Beth and I hiked to bottom of Buttermilk Falls then back up again. We went down a steep, muddy path through woods, with occasional glimpses of the creek and its many falls and we went back up the other side, up stone stairs closer to the water. It was a challenging hike both ways. By the time we’d descended three-quarters of a mile, my legs were shaking with the effort of not slipping and falling. But then we were rewarded with some really beautiful scenery. The climb up was hard, but not as hard as I feared when we were going down. It was steeper at the beginning, with a lot of steps, then more flat stretches between the steps in the middle and at the end.

Before returning to Noah’s apartment, we ran some errands. We visited the farmers’ market to get some produce to bring home with us and I got Noah a basil plant to put on his balcony. He had not asked for a basil plant, but it’s his favorite herb and he accepted it with what I think was fond amusement. We also got some more groceries at the food co-op for him and some breakfast items for ourselves at Ithaca bakery to help facilitate a quick departure the next day.

The three of us returned to Cayuga Lake to kayak. Noah wanted to stay on shore and send his drone over us before joining us in the water, but it was too windy to fly. (The drone is finicky about weather and will not take off if it does not like the wind speed or temperature.) I don’t know if it was the wind or the fact that there had been a lot of rain recently so the lake was overflowing its normal banks, but the water was quite choppy, more so than the Chesapeake Bay when we kayaked there in July. We turned around and explored an inlet where the water was calmer. It was nice to be on the water one last time together this summer.

While we were kayaking Beth got a call from Moosewood, where we were supposed to have dinner. Someone on staff had tested positive for covid so the restaurant was closing down for a few days. We ended up getting Thai instead. (While we were waiting for it, Noah and I finished our book in his apartment.) We ate our spring rolls, noodles, veggies, and fake meat at a picnic table by the lake, near a stand of huge willow trees. I was thinking we should have had ice cream that night instead of the night before and then I remembered there is another ice cream place Noah and I had not tried, though Beth and North did on a previous trip, so I suggested a repeat of end-of-summer ice cream and no one objected. We went to Sweet Melissa, where we all got soft serve. (Mine was a pineapple sundae.) There was no seating so we went to sit on the steps of a nearby church to eat.

We took Noah back to his apartment. At that point, lingering would have been painful, so we made our goodbyes quick. Beth and I got back to the AirBnB around eight, which gave me enough time to do some packing up and to fall apart a little and for Beth to put me back together before bedtime. I recommend marrying someone who can do that for you sometimes.

Sunday: Home Again

We were out of the AirBnB by 7:30 the next morning, on the road to my cousin Holly’s house near Wilkes-Barre. We needed to pick North up at camp between 12:30 and 1:30, so we were on a tight schedule, but we had a nice visit with Holly and her daughter Annie. Holly put out a lovely spread of fruit, yogurt, smoked almonds, and muffins. A lot has gone on in our lives in the two years since I’ve seen Holly, so an hour didn’t feel long enough, but it was good to talk to her, especially since she may be moving back to California soon.

Once we arrived at Camp Highlight, we found North and heard from friends and counselors that they are “smart and witty” and “have leadership skills.” North served as head of house (the camp is divided into four houses, like Hogwarts) and North was in charge of leading house meetings and their house’s efforts in the lantern games, which is inspired by the Olympics but involves non-athletic competitions as well. North’s house came in second overall and they were proud that it was first in making bags out of t-shirts that will be filled with items to be donated to homeless people. They said they liked arts and crafts best and they had a handmade candle, a bar of soap, a circular collage, and a dreamcatcher to show for it, plus many friendship bracelets we didn’t see because they’d given them away. The zipper on their swim top broke so they didn’t get to swim all week, which is too bad, because they love to swim.

We stopped at Panera for a late lunch, which we ate outside, after wiping the morning’s rain off the benches. We got home in the late afternoon. “Home again,” North commented when the car pulled into the driveway.

We’ve been home three days. Unsurprisingly, I miss Noah intensely, enough to make it hard to concentrate on work, but it’s not as bad as the first time he left, perhaps because it’s tempered by my gratitude that he’s in the place he chose for this part of his life after an interruption of almost a year and a half.

I’m hopeful about the school year for both kids. I’ve texted a little with Noah and he says his initial class meetings were good. He’s taking a class on Media Law, one on utopias and dystopias, Cinema Production II, and band. North found out yesterday they got their preferred electives (Psychology and Theater). They go back to school, in person, on Monday. Fingers crossed both kids get to stay in the classroom, and yours do, too.

August, Slipping Away: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 49

August slipped away into a moment in time
‘Cause it was never mine

From “august” by Taylor Swift

August is a bittersweet month. Even when the kids were younger and I was checking the days off until school started (sometimes in my head, sometimes literally on my work wall calendar), there was a little bit of me that was sad to see the long, lazy afternoons of eating popsicles and blowing bubbles on the porch and reading under the biggest tree in our yard and splashing in the inflatable pool come to an end. Once their day camps were over for the summer, we’d often have one last hurrah in the form of a trip to the county fair or an amusement park and that would be what made it feel as if summer was really over.

August took on a whole new intensity two years ago when Noah was about to leave for college. I was excited for him to embark of the adventure of his young adult life and at the same time undone by the idea that he was actually leaving. And then last August we were mired in North’s cascade of medical problems and unsure when or if Noah would go back to school for his sophomore year. (The answer was never. He did it entirely online, at home.)

And that takes us to this year. North’s at sleepaway camp right now. Both Ithaca and MCPS are planning on full-time, in-person classes for the fall. We’re leaving to drive Noah to school on Thursday, his classes start the following week, and North goes back to school the week after that. But I have a nagging worry that sometime this fall, the Delta variant will send one or both of them back to virtual classes (attended from Noah’s apartment in Ithaca and/or our house). Time will tell. Meanwhile, the kids said their goodbyes when we dropped North off at camp Sunday (more on that later). When we pick them up from camp, he’ll be gone.

I am happy that North got to go to camp and both kids get to return to a more normal high school and college experience, masks, social distancing and all. But, of course, I am sad that after seventeen months at home, Noah will be leaving again. Sometimes it seems like he never left and that we’re doing this milestone all over again, with all its joy and heartache.

The first time it occurred to me to count the days until our departure for Ithaca, it was twenty-five days away. Now it’s two. In the past couple weeks there have been a lot of lasts.

  • The first Tuesday in August, Beth, Noah, and I played Settlers of Catan. We’ve been playing it once or twice a month since early in the pandemic. Beth won. She nearly always does, but Noah often gives her a run for her money.
  • Later that week, all four of us finished the second season of Dickinson. We watch television shows in a lot of different combinations, but we’ve been gradually finishing up or coming to stopping places in the shows Noah watches with one or more of us. First it was season two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then season four of Blackish, then Dickinson. And finally, just yesterday, Noah and I watched the series finale of The Leftovers.
  • The following Saturday, Beth, Noah, and I went kayaking. We set out from Jackson Landing in Patuxent River Park in Prince George’s County. It’s a very pretty stretch of water and we saw a heron up close, osprey, and a lot of red-winged blackbirds. The water was glassy smooth when we started out, but soon it started to rain and then there were spreading circles all over its surface. As the rain got harder, there were bubbles where the drops hit the river. We went down a narrow inlet so shallow Noah and I both ran aground. I saw a frog in the water there—it swam right into the side of my kayak. My guess is it was a young and inexperienced frog. We turned back a little earlier than we might have if not for the rain, but we were on the water almost an hour and a half and then we had Noodles & Company and Starbucks for lunch.
  • Two days later, the kids and I went on a creek walk, which is something we usually do near the end of the summer. (It was our only creek walk of the pandemic, as North wasn’t walking well enough to do one last August, but I guess it was still technically the last one.) We hadn’t been in the water long when we noticed there were two big deadfalls blocking our path. We all scrambled over the first one (pictured), but the second one was probably twice as tall and looked like too much of a challenge, so North and I decided to get out of the water and go around it. But Noah tackled it and soon he was sitting on top of it, looking satisfied, while North and I looked on from the path next to the creek. Then all of a sudden he was yelling and running down the side, losing both of his crocs in the mud at the bottom. Apparently there was a beehive in the branches and he’d disturbed it. He ended up with around fifteen stings, including five on just one wrist. (I tried to count them later, but I kept losing track.) When he reached us, his swim top was covered in live bees, probably a dozen or so. I sent North to go fetch his crocs out of the mud—they almost lost one of their own in the process—while I slowly, carefully brushed each insect away. Noah has longer nails than I do, so he used them to remove a few stingers. When that was done, I looked back and an ominous cloud of bees had risen over the deadfall, but North already had all four crocs in hand and had moved a safe distance away. We washed the shoes in the creek and walked home on the path, in order to get back more quickly. One bee followed us for a long while, circling my head. At home, Noah found another in the bathroom, which may have come in with him. I captured it with a plastic cup and released it outside. Once he’d washed the mud off himself, I checked him again for stingers and put baking soda paste on his stings. He was in pain for a couple hours, even having taken some ibuprofen, so I pampered him a little, making him fried tofu cubes for lunch. Beth, who was out while all this happened, brought him some M&Ms after I texted her about it. Eventually he recovered enough to fold laundry and play his drums and go about the rest of his day.
  • We had our last family activity night on Tuesday. It was Beth’s turn to pick and she went with a game of Taboo. We usually pair one kid with one parent but this time we played parents against kids and Beth and I wiped up the floor with our offspring.
  • Wednesday was my last cooking night with everyone at home, so I made a family favorite—skillet mac and cheese. I served it with sauteed kale from the garden and I made a peach-blackberry cobbler with some of the berries I froze after we went berry picking last month.
  • Friday was our last family movie night. We watched My Girl, which I’d put in the pile of index cards we draw from every week. (I picked it weeks ago, before Noah’s mishap with the bees.) The weekend prior Noah had his last turn and we watched The Castle in the Sky, an anime film by Hayao Miyazaki. These have been a running favorite of his—we’ve seen five of them while he’s been home. Before that we watched Footloose (the original 1984 version, not the remake) because Beth was aghast that I had never seen it and of course, the kids hadn’t either. She says it’s a “magnificent cultural artifact.” North’s last contribution was Yes Day.
  • We would have liked to go to the Montgomery County Fair on Saturday, but North’s camp had instructed all the campers (who took and mailed in covid tests four days before camp started) to avoid large crowds after taking their tests and the Montgomery County Fair is as big as most state fairs, so we couldn’t in good faith go and then send North to camp, where half the campers are under twelve and unvaccinated. Instead, we had our last droning excursion. Right before we left the kids compared notes and North was surprised to learn Noah was going to fly the drone and that it wasn’t just a trip to go swimming in the South River at Mayo Beach Park in Anne Arundel County while Noah was surprised to learn “there was a water component” to the outing. I don’t know if the kids just heard what they wanted to or if they were really incompletely informed. I thought I mentioned the river to Noah. Anyway, we had a picnic lunch (Beth made her signature tofu salad and North made lemonade) and then Noah flew the drone and we had a long soak in the salty, muddy water of the tidal river. The beach was uncrowded and the day was hot and muggy (after a miserably hot week) so it was nice to be in the water, far away from the other swimmers. Afterward we went to Rita’s and got Italian ice and soft serve. It was a nice day.

Sunday morning we left to drop North off at camp. It’s in central Pennsylvania, about a two and a half hour drive away. We listened to the first few episodes of Edith, a fictionalized podcast about Edith Wilson and had lunch at a pizza place near camp. We ate out on the patio, all alone. There was another family eating inside in a big room all by themselves, and a lot of unmasked people sitting close to each other at and near the bar. None of the waiters wore masks either. It felt as if we’d driven more than a couple hours from home.

At camp, North was greeted warmly by counselors who remembered them from two and three years ago. We registered, visited the nurse to drop off North’s meds and for a lice check, and then we brought their things to their cabin, where Noah and North said goodbye for (fingers crossed) a few months. Right before we got home, we made a detour to Value Village to buy kitchenware for Noah, who’s living in an on-campus apartment this year. If I needed any reminder that he’s really leaving soon after all this time at home, that was it.

This week he’s been taking care of loose ends; he got his first haircut in seventeen months and applied for a passport. (He wants to study abroad the fall semester of his senior year, in Australia.) He had his last online drum lesson of the summer this evening. Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to play hooky and go to the movies with him. We’re going to see Green Knight.

In one more last, Noah and I are still reading the last book of our mother-son pandemic book club, A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor. We’ve got ninety pages left, so we will probably end up taking it to Ithaca and finishing while we’re there. Beth and I are staying a couple days after we arrive, to enjoy the natural beauty and fine dining in and around his college town, and to spend just a little more time with our firstborn before he resumes the on-campus portion of his college life.

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

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

From “She Belongs to Me,” by Bob Dylan

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

Mother’s Day Weekend: Friday and Saturday

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

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

Mother’s Day Weekend: Sunday

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

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

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

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

The Day Between: Monday

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday: Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then we watched Buffy, just like I wanted.

Now the Boy is Twenty: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 39

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

From “The Circle Game,” by Joni Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anticipation: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 38

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

From “Anticipation,” by Carly Simon

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

Vaccination

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

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

Celebrations

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

Mini-Vacation

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

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

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

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

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

Occupation

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

Presentation

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

Education

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

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

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

Reproduction

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

Deliberation

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

More Education

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

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

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

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

Predation

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

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

Anticipation

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

Making Christmas: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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