Like the Fourth of July: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 45

You just gotta ignite the sky, and let it shine
Just own the night like the 4th of July

From “Firework,” by Tor Erik Hermansen, et al. Performed by Katy Perry

We had a nice Fourth of July weekend. I hope you did, too, or a nice Canada Day weekend for the Canadians among you. But before I get to that…

An Update on Xander

Just five days after we took him to the animal hospital for his skin and ear infections, he gave us another scare. Wednesday morning right after Beth gave him his medicine, he fell down and seemed to lose control of his back legs. Well, this is exactly what happened to Matthew the day he died (and they were brothers), so Beth and I feared the worst.

Beth had been scheduled to go into her office but she let her colleagues know she wouldn’t be in and we were packing for a day in the animal hospital garage and debating whether we should wake the kids and ask if they wanted to come, when, after about a half hour of partial paralysis, Xander got up and started walking around as if nothing were wrong. Beth called and left a message for the animal hospital, explaining what had happened, and asking if we should bring him in. The answer was no, though of course, this doesn’t seem like a good sign for his general health. He had an appointment already scheduled at our regular vet’s office Friday, so we’ll see what the vet thinks then.

Meanwhile, almost a week has passed and he seems in good spirits. The infection on his stomach seemed to clear up, then it relapsed a little, but it still looks better than it did originally. The eardrops make his ears so greasy, it’s hard to tell if the crud is gone. He’s able to jump on and off the bed and climb stairs. He’s been going out into the yard occasionally to enjoy the sun and soaking up all the extra love and attention everyone is inexplicably bestowing on him. He’s always been an easy-going cat and he’s not letting the indignities of old age get to him.

Kayaking

Beth had a three-day weekend for the Fourth. She took up kayaking this spring and on Saturday morning, Noah and I went with her to Black Hills Regional Park to try our hands at it. Partly that’s because Beth wants to go on a dolphin-watching kayaking tour of the Chesapeake Bay when we’re at the beach later this month and I was unsure, having never kayaked, or maybe we did just once in our twenties or early thirties. Beth thinks we went canoeing on the Potomac. I thought it was kayaking on the C&O canal. Our youth is shrouded in mystery. The point is, if I’d ever been in kayak at all, the last time was more than twenty years ago.  Noah decided to come along, too, but North opted out. They attended a kayaking-and-canoeing themed week at Girl Scout camp when they were nine and thought they remembered it well enough.

It was a beautiful morning, sunny and remarkably mild for July, in the high seventies. The little lake was very busy with people in kayaks, canoes, rowboats, paddleboats, and paddleboards. It turns out Noah is a natural at kayaking. He got the hang of it right away. It took me longer. I found it tiring, and I was much slower than Beth and Noah, and I kept drifting to the right and needing to correct course.

We slipped through a tunnel under a berm to emerge in a smaller area where there were no other boaters. There were a lot of turtles, however, swimming and sunning on logs, and a family of geese, two adults and five half-grown goslings. There were also a lot of tree trunks poking up out of the water, because it’s an artificial lake that was flooded around thirty-five years ago. I think it would look eerie on an overcast day.

After we’d explored that area, we crossed back to the other side to go down a fork of the lake where Beth had seen a beavers’ dam on a previous outing. I was worn out, though, and didn’t think I could make it that far so I decided to rest at the mouth of the fork while Beth and Noah went ahead. (Neither of them ended up making it to the dam this time.) The wind sent me drifting further down the fork than I meant to go and I started to worry how I’d paddle out against the current, but when I turned around and started back, something clicked into place. I sat up straighter than I had when I’d been using the backrest and I found it easier to paddle. We were out of time, though, having rented the kayaks for two hours. I decided I’d like to come back and try it again before hitting the Bay in a kayak.

After we left the lake, we had lunch at Noodles & Company, and then ran a series of errands, including but not limited to stopping at Butler’s farm market for fruit, vegetables, pasta, and pastries, going to the animal hospital for a refill on Xander’s eardrops, and picking up my newly resoled Birks. It was a very nice outing.

Fourth of July

Sunday was the Fourth. For the second year in a row there was no parade and no fireworks in Takoma. It was actually the third year for no fireworks because there have been renovations going on at the middle school that usually hosts the fireworks for that long and there’s no comparable open space anywhere in town. I wasn’t sure why the parade was cancelled, because our vaccination numbers in Montgomery County are very good—98% of seniors and 88% of everyone age twelve and up has had at least one shot. But Beth pointed out, the parade probably takes a long time to plan and when the call needed to be made, it wasn’t clear what things would look like in July. And of course, there are the under-twelves to consider.

However, there were fireworks in D.C. (There were fireworks there last year, too, but it seemed inadvisable to go to the mall.) So our plans for the day included a picnic dinner in our backyard and a trip downtown. There’s a good view from the roof of Beth’s office building and it was open this year, so that’s where we went.

Until dinner, the day was a pretty normal summer Sunday. Beth went grocery shopping and I put the groceries away. Beth worked in the garden, putting our zinnia seedlings and watermelon vines into the ground, and assembled most of the picnic dinner, while I made the deviled eggs and the sour cherry sauce for ice cream. We all missed Takoma’s quirky and spirited parade. Beth said it didn’t feel “like the Fourth of July” without it.

We left for the fireworks around eight. On the drive there I observed people having cookouts in tiny yards in front of rowhouses, and large groups of twenty and thirty-somethings walking to the mall, which reminded me of when I was a twenty and thirty-something who lived within walking distance of the mall.

When we got to Beth’s office building we had a choice of two different levels and we chose the lower one. The penthouse deck has a portico design and Noah thought the columns might block our view. All the other CWA employees and their families chose the higher level, though, so we had the lower deck to ourselves. We got our chairs set up and Noah took pictures of the Capitol. We could see fireworks from various suburban municipalities and D.C. neighborhood displays all around us in a sort of panoramic effect.

The official D.C. fireworks began at 9:08, right on schedule. When they were in smiley face patterns the little kids up on the penthouse deck exclaimed and when they were in heart shapes they just about lost their minds. During some of the classic circle displays, one of them said, “It looks like the coronavirus” and then I couldn’t unsee it. Fortunately, the next few looked less spiky and more like dandelions. The display lasted about twenty minutes. On our way out of the building, I asked Beth if it seemed more like the Fourth of July, now that we’d seen fireworks, and she said yes.

On the drive home, we saw quite a few more neighborhood fireworks, and as we drove down North Capitol Street, we could see people setting them off on a side street. Noah played his Fourth of July playlist. It starts with Katy Perry’s “Firework,” but it grows every year. Beth and I sang along with Springsteen’s “Independence Day,” which may have been added for our benefit. Traffic wasn’t horrible, so by the time the playlist ended we were just blocks from home.

Date #4

There was one day left in the weekend, so Beth and I had a date that lasted from late morning to late afternoon. We went to see the Rita Moreno documentary at AFI, which I recommend, and then out for arepas. The original plan was tapas, but that restaurant wasn’t open for lunch. We got tequeños (because Beth loves the cilantro-garlic sauce that comes with them) and two arepas to share, one with avocado and cheese and the other with black beans and cheese. I tried the sugar cane juice, which was very sweet. I probably wouldn’t get it again, but I was glad to have satisfied my curiosity.

We swung by the house so I could cycle laundry and then we went to swim at Long Branch pool. We invited the kids along to this portion of the festivities and while we weren’t surprised Noah said no, we were surprised when North did. They are usually up for a trip to the pool. But since we were alone, I guess it was an extension of the date, though we were separated for most of it, as I was swimming laps.

Later I posted on Facebook that it was our first date since the pandemic started, but then I remembered we went out for pizza one night in late May when Noah was at YaYa’s and North was sleeping over at Zoë’s and that was definitely a date, so I corrected the post to say second.

But it made me wonder exactly what constitutes a date? How about the picnic of takeout Greek food we had on under a park shelter on a rainy day in late March on our way back from being vaccinated in Western Maryland? Or the walk through the snowy woods in Blackwater Falls State Park on Christmas day? My cousin Holly, who’s widowed, said those both count, so I will take her word for it. But I draw the line at counting the trip to Ikea we took a couple weeks ago. However many dates there have been, I’m optimistic they will become more frequent in the months to come. And that’s a happy thought.

A Quiet Weekend: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 42

Friday

We pulled up to North’s school around 1:20 on Friday. We’d sent them to school with a note authorizing them to skip the last period of the day (advisory) so we could hit the road for the Memorial Day weekend, which we were going to spend in Wheeling with Beth’s mom, before bringing Noah home. The idea was to go straight to Butler’s Orchard, where we’d pick up some strawberries to take with us so I could make my traditional Memorial Day weekend strawberry shortcake at Beth’s mom’s house. Beth was going to participate in a work call from the parking lot before we got the berries. Thinking of this, I remembered we hadn’t brought a cooler. We were far enough into the trip that I was remembering all the things I forgot. So far the list was a cooler and an umbrella—is this slowly growing mental list of forgotten things how you start all your road trips? It’s how I do. But the day was cool and drizzly so it was unlikely to get too hot in the hatch of the car, so I thought the strawberries would be okay.

North emerged from the doors of the school and we drove to the berry farm, arriving just in time for Beth to get on her call. North and I settled in at a nearby picnic table with our phones, a section of the newspaper, an anthology of short stories, and some mixed nuts. (Beth thought it might be a long call.) We noticed that although we could hear cicadas, they were considerably quieter just thirty miles from home, and we didn’t see a single one.

When it started to rain in earnest, North and I went into the market and browsed. Then Beth joined us and we got four quarts of strawberries, so there would be enough for snacking, and sharing with relatives, and some to bring some home with us. And because we were in a touristy type of farm store, we got treats, too—apple cider doughnuts to bring to Beth’s mom’s, plus cookies, corn nuts, strawberry milk, and strawberry slushy for the car, and some cheese that caught Beth’s eye.

Unsurprisingly on the Friday before Memorial Day, there was a lot of traffic leaving the DC metro area and then there was heavy rain, so the drive took longer than usual. We left the berry farm a little after three and didn’t arrive in Wheeling until around nine. We listened to a bunch of podcasts—Code Switch, Throughline, Shortwave, Radio Lab, Seizing Freedom, and Hidden Brain. We stopped at a rest stop and at a Sheetz to get dinner to eat in the car.

Everywhere we stopped, including Butler’s, it was startling how few people were wearing masks. I wasn’t sure if this was because of the new CDC guidance or our change of locale; likely it was both. At Butler’s I noticed most of the customers (many of whom probably live closer to the city) were masked while most of the staff (who probably live upcounty) were not. At the rest stop there was a sign asking everyone to mask and most people did. At Sheetz there was a sign saying mask if you’re unvaccinated. But of course, there’s no way to tell, and honestly sometimes I assume it’s the masked people who are vaccinated and the unmasked ones who aren’t. (Swistle, I know you feel the same way.) Being fully vaccinated, I guess I shouldn’t worry, at least not for myself, but it’s hard to shake off more than a year of conditioning.

We arrived at Beth’s mom’s house, reunited with YaYa and Noah, socialized for an hour or so and then we went over to Beth’s aunt Carole’s house (two doors over) to meet the stray cat that had taken up residence on her porch.  Beth and I left for our hotel, leaving the kids to spend the night at YaYa’s house. Again, there were many unmasked people in the lobby, including the desk clerk. The only masked person besides Beth and me was the janitor. (Though over the course of the weekend, we did see more masked folks at the hotel, a minority, but a sizable one.)

Saturday

I had some trouble sleeping that night, or rather getting back to sleep, because there were two dim lights over our bed that either came on in the middle of the night or which I noticed for the first time when I woke at three-thirty in the morning. I didn’t want to start messing with random light switches while Beth was asleep so I moved to the couch, which was in a darker area of the room. I made it darker still by draping an extra blanket over the front door, where light spilled from the hall. I secured the blanket to the bottom and sides of the door with throw pillows. My barrier kept falling apart, but I finally got it secure. Sometime after I’d fallen asleep on the couch, Beth woke up and turned off the lights and I came back to bed. In case you hadn’t gathered from this story, I am very sensitive to light when I’m trying to sleep.

We had breakfast at the hotel breakfast bar, which was my first time eating inside with strangers, another experience that felt strange even if it was perfectly safe. We didn’t eat a big meal because we knew there was homemade cinnamon bread waiting at Beth’s mom’s house. Next Beth went to use the exercise room, and then we went back to YaYa’s house and ate said bread, which was delicious.

The day was downright cold for late May, with highs in the low fifties and intermittent drizzle, so we had a nice lazy day, not leaving the house except for Beth who went to the grocery store to get whipping cream for the shortcake. We watched Noah’s drone footage and photos from the past two weeks from Wheeling Park and Oglebay Park and the Ohio river (he got some interesting footage of coal barges from above) and a picnic Noah and YaYa attended with a bunch of relatives for Beth’s uncle’s eightieth birthday.

At one point I was sitting on the couch looking at some nature photographs on the wall, and one of them especially, a fallen rhododendron leaf half-frozen in ice, struck me as something that Noah would take when I realized he probably did. I asked if they were his and he said yes. YaYa had five of the pictures he took at Blackwater Falls State Park two Christmases ago blown up and printed on canvas. They came out nicely. (I should say here I haven’t been to YaYa’s condo since Labor Day weekend 2019 and that was before Noah took these pictures.)

I read and watched television with Noah, trying to pick up the thread of The Light Fantastic and The Handmaid’s Tale after two weeks. And I made the shortcake. Beth read The New Yorker and North napped for a big chunk of the afternoon.

Carole came over bearing a tray of crudites and we had pizza and veggies for dinner with shortcake for dessert and Carole and Andrea exclaimed over what good strawberries we get in Maryland and after Carole left with a box of berries we gifted her, we all watched The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, which I recommend if you think you’d like a quirky, coming-of-age, odd couple, road-movie-in-the-woods from New Zealand.

Sunday

Sunday was cool and overcast but not rainy. Beth spent the morning at Oglebay Park, kayaking in Lake Schenck and walking. I swam in the hotel pool. It took a while to convince myself to do it, even though I’ve been missing swimming, because swimming laps in hotel pools that aren’t really designed for lap swimming often means dodging kids moving in unpredictable directions and that’s not the kind of swimming I’ve been missing. When I got down there it didn’t look promising. There were four kids splashing in the tiny pool, but then one of moms sitting poolside said “Five minutes” and though it I knew it would be longer than that—I’ve said “five minutes” plenty of times myself—in fifteen minutes not only had her two kids gotten out of the pool but the other two did, as well. Apparently, the two families were there together. And I had the pool to myself long enough to swim sixty laps and soak in the hot tub.

I came back up to the room and showered, but Beth wasn’t back yet, so I blogged a bit and then she texted to say she’d met up with Michelle, a friend from high school, so I ate some leftover pizza we had in the mini fridge for lunch and curled up with the short story anthology I hadn’t picked up since we were at the berry farm. I was in the middle of a D.H. Lawrence story. I finished that and continued to work my way through the Ls: LeGuin, Lessing, London. It was past two before Beth returned. We went back to her mom’s house and in various combinations, napped, read, and watched television for the rest of the afternoon. It was that kind of weekend, not chock full of activity. I could say the weekend was low key because we were contemplating the terrible cost of war, but though I do often think about that on Memorial Day, I wasn’t really this year. It was more that it seemed like it was enough to be re-united, with Noah after two weeks, and with Beth’s mom and aunt and a good friend, after much longer separations.

Noah made a spaghetti frittata for dinner and I made a salad to go with it and Michelle came over for dinner and stayed a couple hours and we talked about pop culture and life during the pandemic and friends and family and ate leftover shortcake. It was nice to see her. After she left, Beth, Noah, and I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (We’re hoping to finish the second season before Noah leaves for school in August, but we’ll have to go a little faster than our current pace of an episode a week to manage it.)

Monday

We checked out of the hotel early Monday morning and went shopping for picnic supplies because we were planning to leave Wheeling after lunch and have a picnic dinner somewhere along the way home. Our first stop was a newish wine and gourmet food store Michelle had recommended to us, where we got flatbread crackers, three kinds of cheese, and olives for the picnic, plus olive oil and sour cherry jam to take home. I commented to Beth as we left that was a little ironic we were loading up on fancy, imported foodstuffs for this patriotic holiday. But we went to a supermarket next and got domestic watermelon, cherries, yogurt, and potato salad. Masking was universal in the gourmet store and spotty in the supermarket.

Back at the house, we saw Carole again, read, and ate lunch, then we hit the road around one. The weather was better for driving than Friday, still cooler than average, but sunny. We hit traffic around four-thirty, but we were expecting that and we had a bunch of podcasts to pass the time. North opted out to listen to something on their own, with earbuds, so Noah, Beth, and I took turns. Noah picked one that consisted of listening to four men play a role-playing game for two and half hours (which is more fun than it sounds like); Beth picked an interview with Rhiannon Giddens; and I picked a few, including an episode of This American Life consisting of stories about grief. Because it was issued the day before Memorial Day, I kept expecting one of the stories to be about a dead soldier, but they didn’t go there. There were two about people who died of covid, however.

We picnicked at Black Hills Regional Park, where we heard and saw cicadas for the first time in a few days and stopped for the first ice cream of the season. Baskin-Robbins has indoor seating now and the only outside table was occupied, but North’s not fully vaccinated yet so it seemed more prudent to eat our ice cream in the car. Then we drove the last little bit of the journey, and were home by eight, our quiet weekend over.

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.

Spring Colors: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 37

Tuesday: Easter Eggs (Blue, Green, Pink, Yellow, Purple, Orange)

The second night we were back from Deep Creek was a Tuesday, which is family activity night, and it was Beth’s turn to choose. She went with dyeing Easter eggs. Last year when Noah was unexpectedly home for this endeavor, I told him it was nice to have him here, but I hoped he wouldn’t be doing it with us next spring. Oh, naïve early pandemic self… I think I said the same thing when we carved jack-o-lanterns in October, by which point I should have known better. So this time I didn’t jinx him and I did not comment on his presence or speculate on when he might go back to school. It’s strange starting the second round of annual milestones, like the spring birthdays and Easter, but that’s where we are, at least for now. I have to say, though, being vaccinated and seeing the numbers of vaccines administered go up every day does make it seem like there’s light at the end of the tunnel, even though I know there’s still a long way to go.

We dyed the eggs a wide spectrum of pastel and deeper shades and then we decorated them. We have a collection of little felt hats we put on Easter eggs and three of our eight eggs sported those, with stickers for facial features. A couple of the eggs were adorned with stickers of butterflies, ladybugs, flowers, and the sun, for a spring theme. North made a trans flag egg, for International Trans Day of Visibility, carefully dyeing each stripe and letting it dry before applying the next one. It came out really well.

Wednesday: Vaccinations (Red, Gold, Black and White)

The next day, Beth and I set out around 9:40 to drive to Hagerstown. Our appointments were at 11:30 and 11:45 and we didn’t want to be late. It started to rain about halfway through the hour and fifteen minute drive to the mass vax site, a big empty room that used to be a furniture store showroom. We waited in the car for a while to avoid arriving too early (per the instructions), but around 11:10, we went inside, where we progressed through various checkpoints where our QR codes were scanned and our identification checked, and we answered some health-related questions. The QR code was scanned at every stop, at least three times, maybe four. I guess they didn’t want anyone without an appointment sneaking in. There was virtually no wait, other than going through the stations, even though we were early. In fact, we were moving along so briskly I slipped and almost fell on the wet floor where people had tracked in the rain. By 11:25, Beth and I were both vaccinated and sitting in folding chairs in the post-vaccination observation area. We were out of there in forty minutes total, including a visit to the restroom afterward and a stop at the selfie station. The letter O in the GoVax sign is in the colors of the Maryland flag, for all you non-Marylanders.

It was still raining when we left the shopping center. We’d planned to have a picnic lunch and we were going through with it, 55-degree, rainy weather and all. Beth had located a state park with tables under shelters. We got drive-through Greek food and ate our veggie gyros, cheese pie, Greek salad, and baklava, while watching the rain fall on the lake at Greenbrier State Park. We could see fish jumping out of the water and three ducks swimming and a gull circling around over the lake. The whole time we were there I saw one other person, a man walking alone on the beach in the distance. It was a very covid experience.

Back on the road, Beth saw a sign for a Krispy Kreme and remembered you can get a free doughnut if you show them your vaccination card, so it seemed incumbent on us to do that. You should know you don’t get a choice of flavors if you’re planning to take advantage of this offer. It’s all glazed. I saved mine for later, as I’d already had dessert and Beth gave hers to the kids to split when we got home. There was a Starbucks and a Mom’s Organic Market in the same shopping center, so I got a honey-almond milk flat white and Beth got a few groceries we needed.

I had only very mild soreness in my arm that evening, not bad enough to stop me from sleeping on my side. I was kind of foggy-minded the next day, but it might have been because I was up earlier than usual two days in a row. Beth said she had some aches and pains but nothing outside the usual range, so neither of us knew if we had any side effects. And because it was the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, we don’t need a second dose.

On Thursday, Governor Hogan opened preregistration to all Marylanders sixteen and up, and Noah registered that very day.

Saturday: Cherry Blossoms (White and Pink)

The cherry blossoms in D.C. peaked the weekend we were in Deep Creek and we weren’t able to get to the National Arboretum to see them until the following weekend. We’d decided not go to the Tidal Basin because the path is quite narrow and it’s really impossible to avoid close contact with other people when it’s crowded. And it’s almost always crowded when the cherries are in bloom, unless you’ve missed the peak by quite a bit or it’s pouring rain. The Park Service was discouraging people from going down there, although as far as I know, they didn’t actually close it off, like they did last year.

We found the National Arboretum an acceptable substitute last year, so we went there again this year. Beth wanted to go in the morning and when the teens were unenthused about her plan to leave the house at 9:30 on a Saturday morning, she bribed them with the promise of Starbucks. Now you know what to offer my kids if you want them to do something–they’ll do it for an iced almond milk latte with toffee syrup, a doughnut, and some lemon poundcake.

There are more kinds of cherry trees at the Arboretum than at the Tidal Basin, so the bloom is less synchronous. Beth printed out information about the different kinds of trees for a self-guided tour and sure enough, the trees the pamphlet identified as early bloomers were all finished and leafing out, the middle ones were either at or past peak, and the late bloomers were still tightly budded. We walked for over an hour among the pretty white and pink blooms in the bright sunshine of an April morning.

It’s been a very cheering week. I hope you are feeling of some of the hope of early spring, too. Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

A Greater Need: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 33

Before Valentine’s Day

Some years I really like Valentine’s Day and some years it leaves me lukewarm. It’s not like Halloween, which consistently delights, or Christmas, which can make the whole month before seem cheerful. This year, though, I guess we all needed it. Ten days before the holiday, Beth went to the grocery store. Part of her mission was to pick up some heart-shaped boxes of chocolates for North’s three best friends—Zoë, Miles, and Maddie. While she was in the candy section, she picked up a rainbow-striped box of chocolates for me, and gave it to me as soon as she got home.

It had six pieces. I picked the two most unusual—Roman nougat and molasses chew– to eat right away. I had to look up what Roman nougat is, so there would be no surprises—it’s cherry with nuts. I recommend it, if you’re not one of those anti-nougat people. I offered Beth the chocolate cream, but she declined, so I had it the next day with the coconut cream. I gave Noah the caramel and North the vanilla cream, because I was feeling generous.

We were all full of Valentine’s plans, more than a week before the holiday. Sunday is Beth’s cooking night and she wanted to make a special dinner, though she hadn’t decided what to cook yet. North volunteered that Valentine’s Day dinner is often a tomato-based soup and grilled cheese cut into heart shapes. I said I thought Beth might have something fancier in mind and Noah said, “What could be fancier than heart-shaped grilled cheese?”

Inspired, I think, by the pretty pink-frosted cookies my blog friend Nicole makes every Valentine’s Day (Hi, Nicole!), I was planning to make heart-shaped sugar cookies with pink frosting. North said they wanted to help. I posted on Facebook that it seemed we had “a greater need of Valentine’s Day than usual.” And who wouldn’t, after eleven months of semi-quarantine? Beth also has some pent-up snow frustration, I think, because she wants more snow and less sleet and freezing rain, which she considers “a waste of precipitation.”

At the end of my last post, I mentioned there was a chance of snow for six out of the next nine days, and it so happens it’s been exactly nine days since then. Well, we didn’t get six days of snow. We had a half-inch of slushy snow on Wednesday and an ice storm on Saturday, and that’s not counting whatever fell while we were asleep or not looking, because often it did look as if something wet had fallen from the sky but it was hard to say exactly what.

The ice storm was pretty, though. Everything in our yard was encased in ice. I knew it would melt quickly, so I suggested to our resident photographer that he go out and take some pictures of it and he did, even though it was sleeting. I didn’t think I’d have to go out in the messy weather, but just as North and I were getting started on the cookie dough, I noticed we’d caught a mouse in one of the humane traps in the lazy Susan. Its tail had gotten stuck in the door and it was struggling, so I didn’t think I could in good conscience set the trap on the porch and go release its occupant later. I left North to finish the dough, pulled on my boots, grabbed my umbrella, walked down to the creek, crossed the bridge, and walked a little bit into the woods where I released it into some dry leaves in a hollow under a stump. I left the peanut-butter smeared crackers that had lured it into the trap there, too, because North thinks that’s only fair. On my way back, I noticed the first crocuses I’d seen in bloom this year, closed, but poking up out of the icy grass.

The dough had to refrigerate for two hours, but we managed to get the cookies cut, baked, and frosted by three-thirty, at which point Noah and I watched The Shining. We’d read the book over Christmas break, so it was fun to see the (very different) film version, especially on a day of wintry, if not snowy, weather. He told me the song played in the opening sequence, “Dies Irae,” is often used to signify death in film because it’s played at funerals, and then he wondered if the overhead shots of the car on the mountain road were taken with a drone, because 1980 seemed too early for drones, but the shots looked too close for a helicopter. ( I looked it up. It was a helicopter.)

Noah and I made dinner—pasta with a turmeric cream sauce and a salad—and talked more about the film. I contrasted the characterizations and symbolism in the novel and film versions. I used to teach the novel, so I had a lot to say and he was a good listener. After dinner, the four of us finished watching 9 to 5, which we’d started the night before. North was continually surprised by the lawlessness of the main characters.

It was a nice day, with one-on-one time with both kids, and some family time, too. It was marred only by the Senate acquitting former President Trump in the impeachment trial. I mean, I wasn’t surprised or anything, but it’s still galling. I really wouldn’t care if I thought he was just going to crawl under a rock and never be heard from again, but I’m not counting on that. Can I say, though, how proud I am to be Representative Jamie Raskin’s constituent?

Valentine’s Day

The big day was Sunday. Beth left to go grocery shopping before both kids were up, so we decided to exchange gifts after lunch. Our usual Valentine’s Day protocol is that Beth and I get each other presents and we also get presents for the kids and the kids get a gift, usually food, for the whole family. It ended up being a festival of chocolate. I got chocolate caramels for Beth and she got me ganache-filled chocolate hearts. We got chocolate frogs for North and chocolate-covered almonds for Noah. Noah got the family two loaves of bread, one sourdough, and one chocolate sourdough. He suggested we freeze the chocolate sourdough loaf so when we finally finish all the chocolate we won’t have to be sad because there will be more. It seemed like a good idea.

Even Xander got some cat treats, because we celebrated his eighteenth birthday on Valentine’s Day. We don’t know the exact day of his birth, but the shelter said he came from a mid-February litter and at some point North decided his birthday should be Valentine’s Day.

After the gift exchange, Beth drove North to deliver baggies of heart cookies and boxes of chocolate to their friends and they had a short, outside visit with Miles and Maddie. I took advantage of the relatively empty house to take a nap because I hadn’t slept well the night before and I was tired. The nap was short but restorative. Beth got home just as I was waking up and she told me, laughing, that the twins had made a pan of brownies for North. You might think more chocolate was the last thing we needed, but I, for one, was not going to say no. I had one, and it was gooey and good.

I had a nice talk with my mom in the late afternoon. She’d gotten her first vaccination the day before. We capped off the day with a tasty Lunar New Year’s-themed dinner Beth made, consisting of a tofu and vegetable stir-fry on curly noodles and shiitake mushrooms braised in oyster sauce and then Beth, Noah, and I watched an episode of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which we do every Sunday now, much to my delight. While we watched, North was baking little chocolate lava cakes with powdered sugar hearts on them. It was their gift to the family and we ate them all together. It was a very satisfying Valentine’s Day, and just what we needed.

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 31

So…. there’s certainly been a lot going on, but as you can probably get all the political analysis you need elsewhere, I’ll stick to our domestic goings-on for the most part. In between the shocking assault on the Capitol and the inauguration, we had a small celebration and a weekend getaway.

Anniversary: 01-11-21

On the second Monday of January, North looked up from their computer screen and asked me why I was so dressed up. For the record, I was wearing a white button-down shirt and tan corduroys. That’s what passes for dressed up around here. “It’s a special day,” I said, and gestured for them to turn their attention back to their English class.

Around lunchtime, they asked again. Apparently, my first answer wasn’t good enough. It was Beth’s and my winter anniversary, the double one, twenty-nine years since our commitment ceremony and eight years since our legal marriage. I didn’t notice this until after the fact, but the date, 01-11-21, makes a pleasing pattern.

But as North pointed out, we weren’t going anywhere. Beth and I would be working in separate rooms and she “would barely see” me.

Anniversaries during covid are tricky, or they have been for us. This was our second one as we celebrate our dating anniversary in July. (Not wanting to have three anniversaries was part of the reason we got married on an existing one.) During that last one, North was hospitalized (the first hospitalization of three last summer) and we basically skipped it, exchanging gifts well after the fact. All we had planned for this one was cake—I make the spice cake we had at our commitment ceremony every year—and presents, but at least these would be exchanged on the actual day.

I made sautéed Brussels sprouts and white beans for dinner because these are two of Beth’s favorite foods. North helped me with the cake frosting and in between dinner and cake, we opened gifts. I got Beth a mortar and pestle because she’d recently said the one we had is too shallow and she got me Red Hot and Blue, an album we used to have that wasn’t available until recently on Apple Music. It’s a thirty-year old collection of Cole Porter remakes that was an AIDS benefit. I’d been missing Annie Lennox’s version of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” for years. I played part of the album while I did the dishes, and then we all played a text adventure. Normally, we’d go to dinner or a movie (or both) to celebrate our anniversary, but as we got married in our living room, maybe that was an appropriate place to end the day, with everyone who was there (minus the officiant).

Ocean City

Friday: 21842

Four days later we were on the road and the reason was indirectly related to North’s aforementioned health troubles. In August, my friend Megan offered us a three-day, off-season stay in an oceanfront condo in Ocean City she’d won at a school fundraising auction. She said we deserved a get-away after all we’d been through last summer—North’s paralysis and seizures, the car that crashed through our fence, our cat’s death. Beth was a little reluctant to accept such an extravagant gift, but she said it was up to me, and my answer to Megan was “Hell yeah!”

Speaking of North’s health, I haven’t done an update in a while, so here’s the current situation in a nutshell: They’ve been able to walk normally for a few months, but have pain that was recently diagnosed as fibromyalgia, so on longer walks they sometimes use crutches or the walker. They are trying to exercise every day for a half hour. The urinary issues have been cleared up since early November. They still have non-epileptic seizures, sometimes several a day, but often none for several days in a row. Overall, they seem to be getting less frequent. For the past couple months, they’ve also had some verbal tics, in which they involuntarily say things like “woo hoo” “hello there,” or “good morning.”

So, back to the beach. We arrived at the condo a little after six and after we’d explored it, admiring the stunning ocean views in the upstairs bedroom and the living room and bay views in the kids’ bedroom, Beth went out to get some groceries and pick up pizza for dinner. While we were trying to figure out if we in a delivery area for Grotto we needed the zip code and had to look it up. Only later did we notice Ocean City’s zip code—21842—was on a piece of art on the kitchen wall. I found this amusing.

I unpacked food and distributed linens while Beth was procuring more food. After we ate, I sat on the balcony, nineteen stories up in the air, and watched the waves crash on the shore for a half hour until I got chilled and had to come in and watch the ocean from my bedroom window instead. While I was doing this, Beth and North watched The Fosters.

Saturday: 99th to 119th & Inlet to 3rd 

The next morning all I had to do was reach out and part the drapes to see the ocean. I didn’t even need to get out of bed. I did eventually, though, and ate breakfast and went down to the beach for an almost two-hour walk. It had been foggy when I first woke up, but eventually the sun broke through the clouds. When it hit the sea foam on the sand it turned it opalescent with pinks, purples, and greens. I watched a seagull hunt and eat a fish, or part of a fish, as it set it down too close to the water and its meal was swept away before it could finish. I actually saw this exact same thing happen twice. It made me wonder why they don’t take their prey to the dunes the way I often see osprey do.

Ocean City is a lot different than Rehoboth, architecturally speaking. It’s high rise after high rise, with the occasional smaller building tucked between or in front of the mammoth ones. When I set out on my walk, I studied our building, so I wouldn’t miss it on my way back, but this turned out to be an overabundance of caution, because 1) there are regular signs that tell you what intersection you’re at, and 2) the buildings are more different than I thought, both in height (ours at twenty-five stories was one of the taller ones), color, and materials, but also shape. Most are rectangular, but one was in a horseshoe shape and a couple were wedge-shaped, to allow for units with side views. At one point while I was looking at the buildings and comparing them, I did something I would have told the kids never to do, at least not in January. I turned my back on the ocean while quite close to it and got soaked almost to my knees. I considered going home at that point, but it wasn’t that cold—mid-forties and sunny—so I kept going.

I discovered a path that ran for a long stretch parallel to the ocean, between the dunes and the high rises, with regular intersecting paths for beach access. I found a snack bar and public restrooms (both closed) and various playgrounds and empty swimming pools, most of which wasn’t visible from the beach. It was like a little secret world and I was pleased to discover it. At one point the path rose slightly and you could see over the dunes. I noticed a surfer in a wetsuit, so I stayed and watched him ride the waves for a while. By this point I’d come twenty (very short) blocks, from 99th street to 119th, so I turned back.

At home I changed into dry pants and socks and left my wet things on the balcony and had an early lunch since my walk had left me hungry.

In the afternoon, Beth, North, and I went to the boardwalk. Noah had a paper to write for his film and philosophy winter term course, so he stayed at the condo. We weren’t sure what, if anything, would be open, as we’ve only been to Ocean City twice before, both times in the spring. The answer was, surprisingly, a lot of indoor entertainment (arcades, Ripley’s Believe it or Not Odditorium, and the mirror maze), but not much food. I would have guessed the other way around since many of the stalls are open air and seem safer. Anyway, we didn’t go into any arcades or Ripley’s, though North said wistfully they would like to go back there someday.

Thrasher’s was one of the few food vendors open and I could have gone for some hot, vinegary fries, as I’d put my still-damp shoes back on and I was feeling chilly. Also, we didn’t get fries on the boardwalk when we were at the beach over Thanksgiving and it felt like a missed opportunity. But I have never seen such a long line for Thrasher’s, maybe half a city block long, and I didn’t want fries that badly. We did find a funnel cake place and North got one.  There was an open Candy Kitchen, too, and I popped in to get some treats for everyone, after waiting in line outside because only ten customers could be inside at once. Beth was hoping to find ice cream and for some reason (it was a cool, cloudy afternoon in January perhaps?) no ice cream stalls were open, so we stopped on the way home at an ice cream place on the highway and she got a sundae. There were at least two signs near the window where you order that said “No profanity” which made us wonder what had happened to make that necessary. Beth joked about ordering “fucking coffee ice cream with god-dammed Oreos.” 

The whole time we were on the boardwalk, I kept remembering the time the kids got lost there, when they were six and almost eleven. Everything reminded me of it—the benches where we sat and ate ice cream right beforehand, all the sunken restaurant patios where I looked for them in a blind panic. This was a less eventful visit and I did not mind that one bit.

At home, Noah continued to write his paper and North did a little homework and drew Harry Potter characters with a drawing program they like while Beth read The New Yorker and I read The Winter Soldier, which my book club is discussing tomorrow. It takes place in WWI field hospital and does a good job of making you really glad you never worked in a WWI field hospital.  We ordered Italian takeout for dinner and then Noah and I finished I, Robot and after that Beth, North, and I watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls.

Sunday: 99th to 79th & 40 Feet 

It was clearer when the sun rose the next day and the light that came through the gap at the top of the curtains threw a vivid orange triangle on the wall, near the ceiling and filled the room with a rosy glow. I pushed the fabric aside and saw orange-red ball that seemed to rise out of the water.  Beth and I were both awake by seven-thirty but we lazed in bed for a while before we got up. I made myself a hearty breakfast—a broccoli and Monterrey Jack omelet, veggie bacon, grapefruit, and orange juice. Fortified, I went for another long walk on the beach.

Since I’d gone twenty blocks north the day before, I decided to go twenty blocks south this time, down to 79th Street. Noah said he was going to follow me with the drone and I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, but I didn’t see it. Later he told me by the time he got it set up it was too windy to fly it as far away as I’d gotten.

On my walk I saw a building that looked like a Mayan pyramid and one that looked like a spaceship, also a Little Free Library at a dune crossing, which is about the most delightful location for a Little Free Library I have ever seen. In the last five blocks or so of my walk the high rises petered out and there were more two and three-story buildings. Coming back, I found a beach chair someone had left around 84th Street and sat in it for ten minutes or so, watching the ocean.

Back at the house, Noah and I read the first seven chapters of Trail of Lightning, a story about a Navajo monster hunter operating in a post-apocalyptic landscape. (Psst, Allison, I think this might be up your alley.) Beth made a Chipotle run because North wanted a burrito, but everyone else ate leftovers or other food we had in the condo. 

A little before two, we left for Assateauge Island National Seashore in search of the famed wild horses and some pretty trails to hike. We’ve been to this park twice before (the last time on the same trip when the kids got lost on the Ocean City boardwalk) so I was confident we’d find both. There were plenty of signs forbidding feeding the horses or getting closer than forty feet to them, but we saw people doing both. Some people were throwing apples out their car windows and we saw a half-eaten pumpkin and some stubs of carrots left along one of the trails.

We hiked the marsh, forest, and dune trails. North only felt up to one and chose the forest trail, waiting for us in the car while we were on the other trails. They chose wisely as it was the only trail where we saw a horse. Or more likely, they just got lucky because based on the presence of horse poop, the horses roam all three trails, and the roads, and the parking lots and pretty much everywhere in the park. The horse in question was reddish-brown with a shaggy coat and a flaxen mane. It was grazing in a marshy area just outside the forest.

Even though we didn’t see horses on the other trails, we saw some very lovely landscapes. As we drove across the narrow bridge off the island, looking at the late afternoon light on the water, I felt a little drunk with the beauty of the world.

We picked up Starbucks on the drive home. At the condo, North worked on Japanese, and then we watched Locke and Key, while Beth made Pad Thai for dinner. This was the first installment in what qualifies for me as tv/movie bingeing. After dinner, Beth, Noah, and I watched Predestination, which he needed to watch for class. The professor is on a time-travel movie kick. They’re also studying The Time Traveler’s Wife, Back to the Future, and Time Crimes. It’s enough to make me wonder if she wrote her dissertation on time travel films. Anyway, have you seen Predestination? It’s something else and I can’t explain why without major spoilers. We rounded out the evening with an episode of Buffy because it’s our Sunday show and Noah didn’t want to skip a week.

Monday: Countless Gulls & 21 Waves 

The next morning when I pulled aside the curtain to peek at the sunrise, there was a band of dark clouds on the horizon, but you could see where the rising sun was because threads of reddish orange light leaked through cracks in the clouds. It looked like molten lava under black rock.

Usually on the morning we leave a beach house, it’s all hustle bustle, but we had no set checkout time, so we were more relaxed. After breakfast, Noah flew his drone off the balcony again and then we read a chapter of our monster-hunter book. We packed up everything but the kitchen, since we’d be eating lunch at the condo, and then Noah and I took a walk through a bayside neighborhood intersected with canals. There was no beach access except through private property, but we were able to get pretty close to the water and we saw an egret in a marshy area. There was a huge flock of seagulls floating on the water and we could hear their cries, even from far away. As we were walking back the sound changed to a loud rustling. We both turned around to see the whole flock rising into the air. Noah was quick with his camera and got a shot of them.

We ate lunch and finished packing up and moving out. (North was quite taken with the building’s garbage chute.) We drove to the boardwalk and found the line for Thrasher’s much shorter so I got in it, while Beth went to get funnel cake and some dark chocolate almond bark, and we sat on a bench and ate our treats. Beth walked on the boardwalk and along the edge of the closed-for-the-season amusement park while North and I went down to the water. We’d had a long discussion about whether the kids should put their feet in the water, per the Lovelady-Allen Goodbye-to-the-Ocean ritual, because none of us was sure whether this was just a Rehoboth tradition or if it applied to other beaches. I think we might have come to a different conclusion if it wasn’t January and if had been able to locate my rainboots before this trip, but North and I decided we’d stand at the shore and count twenty-one waves without actually standing in them, and I put my hand in the water for the first and last one, thinking more than that would pretty much guarantee I’d soak the shoes that had just dried out.

Around three o’clock, we left the boardwalk and drove home. We crossed the Bay Bridge around 5:25, just as the sunset was starting to fade. I felt very content. But there was more happiness just two days later, because of course, the number that has most of our attention now is forty-six.

Inauguration: 46

Beth, North, and I watched the inauguration together. North had an early dismissal and was finished with classes around 11:25, but Noah’s 11:30 class went on as scheduled, so he had to miss it. We turned on the television during Amy Klobuchar’s speech and we watched the rest of the ceremony: Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, and Garth Brooks singing the national anthem, “This Land is My Land,” and “Amazing Grace” and the startling youthful and talented Amanda Gorman reciting “The Hill We Climb.” We spotted many former Presidents in the audience. We watched Justice Sotomayor swear in Vice President Kamala Harris and Chief Justice Roberts swear in President Joe Biden.

Let’s just pause and take in those last three words—President Joe Biden. It was an unusual inauguration, even more heavily guarded than usual, sparsely attended as these things go, with the audience all masked and on the lawn at least, seated in distanced clumps. The parade was tiny. There will be no inaugural balls tonight. But in the end, the pomp of an inauguration isn’t the point, it’s the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another. And after January 6, I was not taking the peaceful part for granted.

In other ways, it was a completely normal inauguration. In his address, our new President sounded hopeful and determined, coherent and rational. He sounded like a President. That’s something we haven’t heard in a long time. I was more than ready for it.

Tonight Beth and I watched the inaugural concert on the mall on television, eating chocolate-peanut butter ice cream because we read somewhere that’s Biden’s favorite flavor. At the very end, when Katy Perry sang “Firework,” we could actually hear the fireworks that were going off behind the Washington Monument. The broadcast must have been on a delay because we heard them start before they did on tv. It reminded me that on January 6, we could hear the helicopters heading for the Capitol. That’s the distance we’ve travelled in two weeks.

 

Commencements: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 30

New Year’s Eve Eve

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

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

New Year’s Eve 

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

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

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

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

New Year’s Day 

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

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

Weekend 

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

Update: Wednesday, January 6

In re Georgia: Yippee!

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

January 20 cannot come soon enough.

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

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

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

Before Blackwater and Arrival: Tuesday and Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Day of Christmas: Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

More Days of Christmas: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making Christmas: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 27

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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