First Week: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 62

First Day: New Year’s Day

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

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

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

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

First Week: Monday to Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Party House: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 61

Thursday: Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday to Wednesday: A Blur of Days After Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moderately Lit: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 60

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something About December: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 59

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

From “Something About December,” by Christina Perri

The Festive Season Begins…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Festivity (and Chores) Ensue…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Highlights: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 58

Wednesday 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

The Road to the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 57

Friday: Return of the Not-So-Prodigal Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How have you been?” Noah asked them. 

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

“Fine,” he said. 

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

North said, “You were in a play?”

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

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

Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: One Last Work Day

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: A Birthday and a Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty Halloweens: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 55

You’ve probably guessed I’m here to tell you about Halloween and I am, but first a few non-Halloween-related items. 

Assorted October News

Noah’s fall break was a little two weeks ago. It was just a four-day weekend, too short to justify his spending two of those four days in transit to come home and go back to school, so he stayed put. Two years ago we all met up in Hershey, which is in between Takoma Park and Ithaca and we went to Hershey Park in the Dark, which was a lot of fun, but that wasn’t feasible this year because Beth’s union’s online convention was the week after his break and Beth was absolutely swamped with work. But a candy-themed amusement park would be a diabetic challenge, I suppose, so maybe it was for the best.

The week after his break I finally stripped off the sheets that had been on Noah’s bed since he left in August and washed them. I thought replacing them with flannel sheets for when he comes home at Thanksgiving would cheer me up, but in mid-October Thanksgiving was still seeming pretty far off, so it didn’t. Now that it’s November, it’s seeming less impossibly far away.

Around the same time, the skin infection on Xander’s stomach came back, though this time it was not as extensive as it was in the summer. He has a bald spot there that was bright red a couple weeks ago. We’ve been treating it twice a day with leftover medicated wipes and it’s gotten much better, a very pale pink that might be his natural skin color. It’s hard to say as under ideal circumstances, you don’t see a cat’s skin.

In more serious medical news, my mom had a bad fall almost two weeks ago. She was hiking in Olympic peninsula with her gentleman friend Jon, and while climbing up a staircase to see a waterfall, she slipped off it, and tumbled fifty feet down a hill until she ran into a tree, which broke her fall. It also broke her neck. She fractured five vertebrae. She had to be airlifted to Seattle, where she’s been in the hospital ever since. Apparently when the EMTs told Mom they were going to put her in a basket to get her into the helicopter she said, “Does this mean I’m a basket case?”

She had surgery the next day to fuse three of the vertebrae and she’s in a neck collar. Jon stayed as long as he could, but he has health issues of his own and he had some medical appointments he couldn’t miss, so he had to travel back to Oregon alone. My sister flew out to Seattle to take his place and when Mom is discharged, which is supposed to happen tomorrow, she’ll drive her back to Ashland. Jon’s going to move in to Mom’s house for a while, and her friends have organized a meal train, and she’s found a home health care worker, so the pieces seem to be falling into place for her recovery, which is supposed to last two or three months. It’s times like this I wish we all lived closer to each other.

Halloween #20

Back in Maryland, on the second to last Saturday in October, we went to the farm stand in Northern Virginia where we always get our pumpkins. We’ve been going there since some time in the 1990s because it’s run by the family of a friend of ours from college. There was bad traffic on the way there so the drive was over an hour and we arrived three minutes before the stand closed at four o’clock. But the woman staffing it seemed laid back and didn’t hurry us. In fact, she took another customer who arrived after we did. We didn’t linger, though, as we picked out pumpkins for jack-o-lanterns, a pie pumpkin for soup, decorative gourds, cider, salsa, and some produce.

We usually have Chinese food after this outing, but it was early for dinner, so we had a walk in Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, where there were quite a few different groups having professional photos done, families, and a group of teenagers. Beth thought the teen group might have been having  homecoming pictures taken, but is that even a thing, homecoming photos? It’s not like a wedding, or even prom. Anyway, some of the girls were in heels so high and dresses so short walking over a short bridge was a serious challenge. It was kind of nerve-wracking to watch. I was afraid one of them would fall.

Eventually, we got takeout and ate it at another park. Eating Chinese when you can’t eat soy may be an even more serious challenge than walking outside in stiletto heels. (I couldn’t say for sure, as I’ve never tried the heels.) I had to skip all the fun fake meat I like at this particular restaurant—the shrimp is really good—and I decided for this evening only I’d have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for soy sauce. Based on taste, I think the spring rolls and seaweed-mushroom soup didn’t have it anyway, but the sauce on my eggplant dish probably did.

On the way home, we stopped for frozen yogurt. North wanted dessert and I suggested Sweet Frog since it’s serve yourself, and I could choose the original tart flavor and get a small portion. I did try some sugary toppings, mostly brownie bits and crushed Oreos, and I added whipped cream. It didn’t feel too austere and my blood sugar didn’t go out of range, so I think it was a successful dessert experience.

The next night we carved our pumpkins. Beth did the gargoyle, I did the spider, and North did the face with the knife. I had some tricky moments with mine, but I think they all came out well and North’s was particularly impressive. After carving, we watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It felt odd to do these things without Noah, as we watched the show with him every year before college, and in Hershey two years ago, and a year ago he was home to watch it and carve a pumpkin. Of course, I’m glad and grateful he’s at school and having an almost normal semester, but it’s still hard to have him gone sometimes.

Three days before Halloween, I led my book club’s discussion on The Haunting of Hill House. I used to teach this book in class on genre fiction, so you think it would be pretty easy to pull together a presentation. But I haven’t taught it since 2004 and while I did find my teaching notes, they were pretty cryptic, as I wrote them a few days before teaching, not expecting to need to make sense of them seventeen years later. So I was very stressed for a while because I love this book and I wanted to do a good job and I was worried I’d forgotten everything I used to know or think about it. But I re-read a Shirley Jackson biography and I had extensive underlining in the novel and my teaching notes did remind me there’s some criticism of Hill House in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, which I had on hand, so I was able to cobble together an outline of what I wanted to discuss. 

And… it wasn’t a disaster. It actually went really well. Book club only recently started meeting in person again this month and attendance has been sparse. Five people came, which is about how many came for the last session (on Vanity Fair) but people were engaged and I had just about the right amount of material and I came home so buzzed I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time. In fact, though earlier in the day I’d been thinking I will never volunteer to do this again, on the drive home I was wondering how it would be to do Frankenstein or Dracula.

North went to school in costume on Friday. They went as a drowned person this year, with pale green face paint, and seaweed and skeleton hands on their shirt (which are supposed to be pulling them down). The GSA had a party after school they called Homo Hoco, a sort of alternative homecoming, so North got to wear their costume to that, too.

They actually designed the costume with Takoma’s Halloween parade and costume contest in mind, but they found out just a few days ahead of time that Saturday afternoon’s parade conflicted with a mandatory play rehearsal, so they had to miss it. If you’ve been reading this blog a while you know how important this contest has been to both of my kids since they were little, so that was a blow.

I was sad for North but also myself because I love the parade contest and we’ve had kids in it eighteen of the twenty Halloweens we’ve lived in Takoma (the exceptions being the first year when it was cancelled because of the DC snipers and last year when it was cancelled by covid). Even when the parade was rained out, the contest always went on, inside an elementary school gym, and we were always there. Before my mom moved out West, she often came for a Halloween weekend visit and marched in the parade with us.

And then I realized we could go, even without North. I proposed it to Beth and she seemed a little surprised, but then she agreed. We walked down to the community center, which was the end point of the parade, so we could watch it go by and then stay for the judging. The parade was cancelled last year so it’s been a couple years and what struck me was how few people we know were there. Noah’s peers are off at college and North’s have either decided they’re too old for the parade or, like North, have extracurricular obligations. Even Keira, who’s a year older than North, a many-time contest winner, and the only teen I know to take the contest as seriously as my kids, wasn’t there.

I saw only two adults I knew– a member of my book club who was there with his elementary-age sons, and the mother of three boys, the older two of whom used to wait at elementary and middle school bus stops with my kids, who was there with her youngest (who marched in his soccer uniform). When she saw us, she said she’d been looking all over for North because she wanted to see their costume and she was sad to hear North wasn’t there.

There were a lot of nice costumes, as always. I especially liked the toddler in a homemade owl costume with many felt feathers, the tiny boy dressed as the Swedish chef from the Muppets, the boy dressed as a gumball machine, the girl who was a bookshelf, and the two wizards pulling a papier-mâché dragon on wheels.  The owl, Swedish chef, and the dragon won prizes in their age groups, but the gumball machine and the bookshelf didn’t. Beth also thought the woman who walked the parade route dressed as a scarecrow on stilts deserved a prize for her efforts. We paid careful attention to the scariest prize for teen and adult, because that would have been North’s competition. Beth correctly guessed it would go to the boy in the red-splattered t-shirt, gloves, and hockey mask.

As the winners were announced, Beth took their pictures and texted them to Noah so the two of them could judge the judging. This is also a family tradition. Beth and I have often thought that since we have such firmly held opinions about costumes, we should volunteer to be judges once our kids are finished participating in it. If we’d known North wasn’t going to be in it earlier, I would have volunteered this year. I have a vision of us being old women who’ve been judging the contest for decades, but Beth thinks they might not let us do it after the first year because of the intensity of our opinions.

As we left, Beth mentioned that Noah did not even ask why we were even watching the costume contest judging if North wasn’t in it. In our family, it’s not a question that needed to be asked.

On Halloween proper, North made baked apples and we ate them while we watched The Bad Seed, or North and I did—Beth got her fill of mildly scary movies when the three of us watched Nightbooks earlier in the weekend. While we were watching the movie, Beth was putting the finishing touches on the yard. Here’s a video she took once it got dark:

After the movie, North heated up and ate a frozen burrito for dinner, applied their makeup for just the right deathly pallor, put on their costume and left for Zoë’s neighborhood where a big group of friends and friends of friends were going trick-or-treating. The group included Zoë (who went as Mr. Clean), Norma (grim reaper), and North’s elementary school best friend Megan (witch).

[Aside: It makes me glad North is able to socialize more. I remember last fall them saying all they wanted was to go to a movie with Zoë and Norma, “and have them tell me why it was bad even though I liked it.” And two weekends ago, they did just that, meeting up in Silver Spring to see The Addams Family 2, and then Beth picked them up and brought home two pizzas from Little Caesar’s and they stayed for a couple hours. I don’t know if Zoë and Norma ragged on the movie or not, but the whole event left North almost radiantly happy.]

Staring just before six, when two boys dressed as praying mantises came up to our porch, Beth and I took turns sitting on the porch and handing out candy. We bought less candy than usual so not to have a lot of leftovers and—wouldn’t you know it?—we had more trick-or-treaters than usual. After a half hour or so, I started emptying the festive gift bags Beth had assembled into the bowl and telling kids to take just one piece each, as we were running low. Most of them listened so we didn’t run out and we finished the night a little after nine o’clock with one last duo of un-costumed preteens and just six pieces of candy left.

As always, we got many compliments on our decorations. Our around-the-corner neighbor said it was “the best house in the neighborhood” and one kid said, “I like your decorations… No, I love your decorations.” One parent commented, “I guess you guys are really into this holiday.”

Yes, we are. We’ve enjoyed our twenty Halloweens in this house and look forward to all the ones to come, whether we’re judging the contest or marching with our grandkids in the parade.

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.