Pivoting: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 56

It’s been a week of small milestones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Sugar, Sugar: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 54

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still reading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uncomfortable in My Skin

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

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

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

Non-Dietary Related News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good News, Bad News: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 52

Good News

Something happened about a month ago I never mentioned because it involves money and it’s often hard and awkward to talk about money. It does start with an amusing story, though, so here goes. I got phone message asking me for my bank information so a transfer could be made to my account. I figured it was a scam. I mean, you would think it was a scam, right? It wasn’t from a Nigerian prince (rather a woman with a distinct Jersey accent), but it was close. Then I got the message again and something about the way the message was worded seemed the tiniest bit more credible. I still didn’t take it seriously and I didn’t call back. Then I got a call from my sister, asking if I’d gotten these messages and I said yes. Well, dear readers, it wasn’t a scam. It was an inheritance from my father, who died in January 2010.

Shortly before he died of throat and lung cancer, my dad told me he was leaving me a good deal of money, enough to put both kids through college. But after he died, my stepmother informed my sister and me that he had left their finances in a mess, there were large unpaid tax bills, and there would be no inheritance for either of us. Flash forward eleven and a half years. My stepmother finally untangled the finances and paid off the debts and there was some left after all. Not nearly enough to put two kids through college, but enough to feel like a windfall.

Luckily, after Sara got her second call from the transfer company, she called them back, and then she called my stepmother, who had not mentioned anything to either of us, and it was all true. My half of the money’s been sitting in my checking account while we wait for our financial advisor to get back from a long vacation, but the rough plans are to give some away, to take an extra trip to the beach this year, and to put the bulk of it toward retirement.

My father was a newspaper editor with a passion for investigative journalism and the two stories I remember him being most zealous about during my youth were the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in 1979 and the MOVE bombing in 1985, so I thought an environmental cause and a racial justice one would be appropriate, but I haven’t picked organizations yet. I am also interested in Afghan refugee resettlement either in the U.S. or abroad because I can’t help but be deeply saddened by what’s happened there and I think he would be, too. Feel free to make suggestions if you have a favorite non-profit working on these issues. For the environment, I am inclined to go with climate change because if that isn’t halted, no other environmental issue is going to matter.

It’s nice to have this money, both for what we can do with it, but also to know that my father’s wishes in his final days were honored.

Bad News

As you probably guessed from the title, I have bad news, too. I was diagnosed with diabetes ten days ago. I found out as a result of a routine physical. I didn’t have any of what you’d think of as the classic early symptoms like excessive thirst, urination, or fatigue. But despite this, it wasn’t a huge surprise. I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with North and that puts you at greater risk. I may have had it for a while because it’s too far advanced to address with diet alone. So I’m taking medication and waiting for a session with a diabetes coach. As part of my treatment, I may also be getting a continuous glucose monitor.

I am feeling sad and grumpy about this. The other day I found myself eating a salad for lunch and resenting the salad, even though it’s not like I never ate (and enjoyed!) salad for lunch before. Maybe it was the salad—the dressing seemed like a mismatch for the greens—but more likely it was just me. I guess I need some more time to adjust to this reality.

Beth and I went kayaking two days after I got the news. She goes almost every weekend and I often go with her. I didn’t want to go—I just wanted to hole up at home—but the reasonable part of my mind told me I was unlikely to feel worse for being out in nature and getting some exercise and I might even feel better. Well, it didn’t make me feel any better, but it didn’t make me feel worse and I got some exercise, so there’s that. The next day we went for a drizzly walk at Brookside Gardens, which is pretty any time of year, but just now it’s full of late summer flowers, mostly roses and zinnias, so that was nice.

This weekend all three of us kayaked, at Quiet Waters Park in Anne Arundel County. We’d discovered it two springs ago when we were looking for places for Noah to fly his drone, but we’d never kayaked there. This was the first time North has come with us. They hadn’t been in a kayak since Girl Scout camp the summers they were nine, ten, and eleven, but they remembered what to do. We didn’t see as much wildlife as usual, but there were gulls, cormorants, and a lot of dragonflies and it was nice to be out on the water.

More Good News

Noah’s been back at school for three weeks and North for two. They are both settling into the new school year well. Noah is editing two shows for ICTV, one sketch comedy show and another one he described as “about students who plan a heist to get money for their thesis film.” He’s also applied for membership in the drone club. He still has no roommate—and this late in the semester I doubt he’ll get one—but he is socializing. He had a friend over to his place last night to watch New Rose Hotel. He says the basil plant is still alive.

North tried out for the school play and also applied to be stage manager. They can’t do both, but they were interested in both so they thought they’d apply and then make a choice if needed. Callbacks for actors are next week. I’m glad they’re getting involved in theater again. Not counting drama camp, it’s been a while. They’ve made a couple new friends and they’re enjoying their theater and English classes. Most days they come home cheerful. On Friday, they had a tally of compliments they’d received (four on their earrings, one on their shoes, one on the color of their eyes).

A day with six compliments seems like a pretty good day. I’m hoping for more good days for both kids as the school year progresses.

After the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 48

Going Home

So for some reason we didn’t decide to squat in the beach house and we drove home from the beach. On the way out of town we stopped at the Crocs outlet and Beth, North, and I each got a pair. Beth’s are gray and mine are black with a white band, which I thought was kind of daring, as I’ve always had navy blue ones, but North got a pair of black, glittery platform Crocs with spikes on them. They are the most unusual pair they’ve had since they were five and had a pair of glow-in-the-dark unicorn Crocs they adored. So in case you were wondering how long it takes to go from unicorn to Goth-themed footwear, the answer is a decade.

We went out for pizza and salads at Matchbook in Silver Spring, near YaYa’s hotel. In the morning, Beth helped YaYa with her new phone, then she brought her by the house so everyone could hang out in the back yard a bit, where we showed her our garden and said our goodbyes before Beth drove her to the airport. We were all sad to say see the last member of the beach house crew leave.

Post-Beach Weekend #1

But one of the nice things about a Friday-to-Friday rental is you still have the whole weekend when you get home, so you’re not spending it all doing laundry (me) or grocery shopping (Beth). We had time for two outings, first to an outdoor screening of Cruella and then to a park to walk around a lake and fly Noah’s drone.

Mike (the filmmaker who sometimes employs Noah) and his wife Sara (the Secretary-Treasurer of the union where Beth works) hosted a backyard showing of Cruella the Saturday after we returned. Because Mike’s a filmmaker, it wasn’t projected on a sheet or the side of the house, but on a portable movie screen, as big as you might see in a small theater. They provided popcorn, candy, and drinks, and showed Warner Brothers cartoons before the feature presentation. I didn’t know too many of the people there other than Mike, Sara, and their three girls, but it was a fun event. My assessment of the movie (and Beth’s, too) is that was enjoyable and the performances are good (especially Emma Thompson as the Baroness), but it doesn’t really do the work of a prequel because it’s hard to see how Cruella’s character arc leads to her character in the original. For what it’s worth, Sara argued that it’s supposed to cause you to see the original Cruella in a new light, but I’m not sure about that.

Sunday afternoon, Beth, Noah and I went droning. Noah had some trouble with his drone the last day we were at the beach and he’d made some repairs to it at home, but since you can’t fly a drone as close to Washington D.C. as we live, he wanted to go to a park where he could test the repairs. We went to Centennial Park in Howard County. We’d been there once last summer, in early August, just a few weeks into North’s paralysis. I was surprised how well I remembered the path around the lake. We even saw a heron by the same little bridge where we’d seen a heron the year before. Because we weren’t pushing North in a wheelchair this time (North wasn’t there at all, having elected to stay home), we walked further this time, all the way around the two-and-a-half-mile lake loop, and off a little spur to see a pond. Noah flew in a few places and the drone functioned perfectly. As we often did last summer, we got Starbucks on the way home. Sipping my pink drink evoked that odd summer and all its twists and turns.

Last Week of July

Neither of the kids had camp, a volunteer gig, or work the next week, but North had an appointment at the pain clinic, an orthodontist appointment, and a therapy session, and Xander had an appointment with a veterinary cardiologist. Only the therapy was online, so Beth was busy driving the kid and the cat around. (Noah had a drum lesson, too, but gets to the music school by himself on the bus.)

Monday we went to the pain clinic at Children’s National Hospital for a follow-up visit about North’s chronic pain. The doctor thought their gait looked good, and we ended up with a prescription for six sessions of physical therapy, probably starting with aqua therapy to see if that can help them walk longer distances and with less pain. North will also be seeing a pain psychologist in the fall to work on coping methods. North’s not super excited about another round of physical therapy.

Wednesday North and I went to the Crossroads farmers’ market and got pupusas for lunch. This walk is not quite three-quarters of a mile each way and that’s in North’s comfort zone, but this time they did it with no crutch and in platform crocs to boot, so it must have been a good day for them.

That same day Noah and I finished reading The Gods of Jade and Shadow and watching the first season of The Leftovers. We’re hoping to get one more season in before he leaves for school in mid-August. (People in various combinations that include Noah have also met summer goals of finishing season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and season 4 of Blackish, and the whole family is closing in on season 2 of Dickinson.)

On Thursday, Beth took Xander to see a veterinary cardiologist, on our vet’s recommendation. I would have gone in case there were any hard decisions to make at the appointment, but they are only letting one person per animal in the clinic. And the upshot is his heart looks surprisingly good for a cat his age, whose littermate died of a blood clot. His blood pressure is good and he has some mild to moderate thickening of his heart muscle. We’re supposed to give him aspirin hidden in a cat treat, more because of his brother’s medical history than anything the cardiologist saw on the scan, and if we want we can get him re-assessed in six to nine months. The vet thought when he seems to lose control of one or both his back legs (and this happened again the day before the appointment) it’s his arthritis acting up.

I’ve thought he might be having a life-threatening emergency three times now this summer, so this is a relief. We considered boarding him at a kennel when we went to the beach, but we decided to have a cat sitter check in on him every day and I’m glad now that’s what we did because being boarded would have been stressful for him.

Post-Beach Weekend #2

The big event this weekend was a trip to Butler’s Orchard. We’ve been to the farm market a couple times this summer, but we hadn’t picked anything ourselves. The weather was lovely, low eighties and not that humid, and three kinds of berries were in season, so it seemed like a good time to go. We got two quarts of blackberries, a quart of blueberries, and two pints of raspberries. Blueberry season is almost over so there weren’t many people in that field, but there were more folks among the blackberry canes and I could hear parents of small children saying things like: “Now we’re only going to pick the black ones, not the red ones. No, not the red ones. That one’s not ripe yet. We’ll go to the raspberries later, that’s where we pick the red ones.” Let’s say it was evocative of berry picking in my children’s younger days. I appreciate not having to say anything like that or having to worry about either of them running into the path of an oncoming farm truck. 

There’s a sign as you leave that says, “Have a Berry Nice Day” and, as I usually do, I asked if everyone had, and Beth said yes. I did, too.

When we got home I froze half the blackberries and half the raspberries, and today I made a blueberry kuchen and there’s raspberry ice cream in the freezer that North made. Sometime in the next couple weeks I’ll use some of the blackberries in a peach-blackberry cobbler, so I think we shouldn’t have any trouble enjoying the fruits of our labors. Now that it’s August, I can feel the end of summer on the horizon, which makes me happy and sad for the obvious reasons. I hope your late summer days are happy and fruitful.

Before the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 46

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

Cat

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

Kayaks

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

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

Camp

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

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

Cure (Temporary)

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

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

Commemoration

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

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

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

Commencement of Travel

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

Code

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

Cosmopolitan Dining

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

Continuation of Travel 

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

When You’re a Jet: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 44

When you’re a Jet,
If the spit hits the fan,
You got brothers around,
You’re a family man…

From “Jet Song” by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim

Monday

North’s musical drama camp was held outdoors for the second year in a row and that meant I was keeping an eye on the weather, both for heat and rain. In late June in Maryland, you’re likely to get both. Last year, all the rehearsal days were able to go on as scheduled for the two-week camp, but the final performance had to be pushed up a day because of a predicted storm.

This year the camp was just one week. Monday was supposed to be hot and humid and Tuesday rainy, but the rest of the week looked pleasant. Monday was indeed hot and humid—the county issued a heat warning from one p.m. to seven, but camp ended at one, so North would only be out in the worst of it for the time it took them to walk home from the park. It’s only about a fifteen to twenty-minute walk, so when they didn’t get home until 1:40, my assumption was camp had run late. (That wouldn’t be unusual.) But when North got home, they collapsed into the easy chair by the front door and informed me they’d hurt their knee during one of the dance numbers.

When they tried to get out of the chair, the knee was stiff and painful and for the rest of the day they were using both forearm crutches to get around the house. (These days they use crutches only when they leave the house and usually just one.) This was discouraging, because while they still have chronic pain, they’ve gone a long time without an injury that exacerbated it.

While they were resting in the chair, I was straightening up in the living room and decided to take all the spring birthday cards (North’s, Noah’s, and mine) and the Mother’s Day cards down from the mantel. When I took down our birthday card to North I remembered they’d never registered on the Donor Sibling Registry site and I asked if they wanted to do it. They said yes, so I handed them the card with their donor number written inside and after filling out the online forms and entering my debit card number, they found they have thirteen half-siblings on their biological father’s side, all born between 2003 and 2007, including one half-brother who is within a month of their age. However, all the messages were from parents and none were more recent than 2013. North left a message in hopes of hearing back, but I warned them it might not be realistic to expect anything soon as no one seemed to be monitoring the site closely.

That night we watched the first half of West Side Story and North let us know which songs in that part would be in the revue (“Jet Song” and “Gee, Officer Krupke”). They hadn’t been cast yet, but some of the possibilities Gretchen, the camp director, was considering for them were Tony, Diesel (called Ice in the film), and Velma. I was impressed with the idea of them being Tony but they pointed out it would be mostly songs, with just a little dialogue, and everyone sings, so there really wouldn’t be any leads. This did turn out to be true.

The show was going consist entirely of songs the Jets sing together because the group of kids who come to this camp year after year tends to be mostly white and the optics of a bunch of white kids playing the Puerto Rican Sharks wouldn’t be good. In another adjustment, North and two other kids talked Gretchen into cutting these lines from “Gee, Officer Krupke”: “My sister wears a mustache/My brother wears a dress/Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!” Gretchen tried to argue for historical context and satire but the kids thought in a three-song performance that just wouldn’t come across. They did keep this lyric: “’Cause ev’ry Puerto Rican/’S a lousy chicken!” which North said was unnerving to sing repeatedly in a public park, with passersby.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning was rainy as expected. Gretchen emailed early in the morning to say camp would end early, at noon, or possibly 11:30, and it would be held mostly on her sheltered patio– as her back yard borders the park where camp takes place—but they’d probably have to spend some time dancing in the rain. North was still having difficulty getting around so I helped them get their script and lyric sheets printed and in their backpack and I made their mid-morning snack (a fruit salad) and packed it. Beth drove them to camp.

Three hours later, Beth brought them home. They weren’t soaking wet and said the campers had spent most of the morning sheltered on Gretchen’s patio, working on lines and sewing the letters JETS onto the backs of the hoodies they’re all wearing as costumes. Eventually, they’d embroider the names of their characters on the front. In North’s case, this would be Tony, as they’d be playing the lovelorn Jet after all.

North said the campers did leave the shelter to dance for about an hour when it wasn’t raining too hard. I asked if they’d been able to dance at all with their hurt knee and they said they managed to adapt some of the moves. Because Gretchen’s known North since they were three, she has plenty of experience adjusting her choreography for North’s various mobility challenges, often with very little notice. I figured it would all work out.

After camp that afternoon, North reported, much to our surprise, that the mother of one of their half-sisters had already sent them a brief message. So we know the girl’s first name, and that she’s eighteen years old, but not much else about her. North wrote back and is waiting to hear more.

We finished watching West Side Story that evening. I noticed that in the movie, Tony’s not in “Cool,” the last song in the lineup (and neither is Riff, because he’s dead). I asked North if they’d be in it, because I guessed with just three songs, Gretchen would put everyone in all of them, and I was right.

After the movie was over, we discussed how the body count is lower in West Side Story than in Romeo and Juliet and North observed it’s odd that all these gang members seem to have classical ballet training. But I have to say that even as problematic and outdated as parts of it are, it’s still a compelling film, with a tight plot (thanks, Shakespeare) and so many wonderful songs. It will be nice to have seen it recently, if Beth and I make good on our intention to go see the Rita Moreno documentary soon or if we see the new West Side Story when it comes out this winter.

Wednesday-Thursday

By Wednesday afternoon, North was walking around the house without support. They said their knee wasn’t very painful but still pretty stiff. (They felt steady enough on their feet to make  a blueberry sauce for some vanilla ice cream we had on hand.) While the kids and I watched an episode of Shadow and Bone, North embroidered a T and an O on the hoodie they’d be wearing in the show. They did the N and the Y while I made dinner.

After diner, North received another message from the mother of a different half-sibling (age seventeen) and this mom passed on the kid’s email address, so the ball was rolling on getting in touch. By Thursday afternoon, North was scrolling through the newly found half-sibling’s Instagram feed and showed us some pictures. There’s a slight resemblance, especially in the shape of their faces, though Noah says he can’t see it. This one, who I’m going to call Alexis for now, though that’s not her name, has two moms and lives in Michigan and uses female and gender-neutral pronouns interchangeably. Because the sperm bank we used is located in Virginia and there are so many siblings I’ve been wondering if any will live nearby. I guess we may find out soon.

Thursday night, shortly before we went to bed, I noticed that our cat Xander’s belly was bare of fur and the skin looked inflamed and was oozing in places. That re-arranged our plans for the next day.

Friday

After Beth dropped North off at camp, she and I headed for the animal hospital with Xander because there were no appointments available at our regular vet and the hospital takes drop-ins.

When Matthew got sick last summer, they had people drop their animals off and leave and they’d call you when it was time to come back. Beth had called and found out that you’re still not allowed inside, so we expected something similar. Instead they wanted us to wait in the garage. (I could see the privacy screen in the corner was still there, which brought back bad memories of Matthew being euthanized in that very parking garage. I guess they’re still doing it there.)

Beth called inside and found the procedure was different now. She talked to someone on the phone who asked questions about Xander’s condition and medical history, then a tech came to the car to get him and take him inside and we were told to wait, and given an estimate of two hours. To make a long story short, it was more like four hours, and Beth had not brought her laptop because she didn’t expect any wait. She had to write something for work and was trying to draft it on her phone, “like a young person,” but it wasn’t going well, so I went to a nearby CVS and got her a pen and a notebook, so she could write on paper, like an old person. Shortly after that, almost an hour and a half into the wait, I caught a Lyft home, leaving Beth to write and take calls in the car, because we thought at least one parent should catch the drama camp performance, which was at 12:30.

I had just enough time to 1) talk to Beth on the phone and find out the vet thought it was itching from some kind of skin condition that was making Xander lick and scratch his skin raw, but that they needed to run some tests, 2) charge my phone for ten minutes or so, and 3) find some camp chairs before Noah and I left for the park. He had his camera, a tripod, and a microphone to record the performance. We got there about fifteen minutes early so we could talk to Gretchen about where he should set up and we caught the tail end of a final run-through of “Gee, Officer Krupke.”

The performance started twenty minutes late because we were waiting for all the parents to arrive, so I had time to read my texts from Beth about Xander. The lab tests showed he had both a bacterial infection on the skin of his stomach and a fungal infection in his ears (which have been looking kind of scabby). That he has two separate kinds of infections made me wonder if his immune system is suppressed for some reason, other than being old. He’s eighteen and showing his age in various ways—he’s arthritic and half-deaf and possibly a little senile. (He’s still plenty strong, though, as we learned when we gave him his medicine.) So, in the short run, he should be fine, but it’s a reminder he’s no spring chicken. The day before his vet adventure he spent almost the whole day napping on a chair in the back yard, enjoying the sun.

The actors waited in the shade of a tree and I could hear North talking about how the high of performing always makes the rehearsals worth it. This might have been for the benefit of the two newbie campers, aged ten and twelve. The rest of the cast ranged from fifteen to almost seventeen and they’ve all been acting together for years, in North’s case since they were five.  All the actors were in black hoodies and black or denim shorts or pants. North’s hoodie was actually part of their Halloween costume, and had glow-in-the-dark paint spatter on it. (I didn’t see the point in buying a second black hoodie and North agreed.)

The show consisted of a wordless prologue and the three songs, with a bit of introductory dialogue. Gretchen incorporated the playground equipment into the choreography at the very beginning. The kids emerged from the corners of the playground or slid down the slide or climbed down a ladder to converge near a bench. It was a good use of the space. Based on the dancing in the prologue, I asked North later if any of the actors had ballet training because I wondered if a couple of them might have, but North said no.

North had a solo in “Jet Song,” singing the first two lines in the stanza quoted above. They also had to take two stage falls in “Cool” and managed it well. “Gee, Officer Krupke” was last, which surprised me a little because it put the songs out of order, but without much plot to link them, it probably didn’t matter. The kids skillfully mined the song for it comedic content, especially Grace, who was playing A-rab, the much analyzed boy at the center of the song. It also let the show go out on a high note, because it really is a fun song.

Here’s the show, if you have a spare fourteen and a half minutes and you’d like to see it.

Watching it after the fact, I’m impressed with how much choreography the kids learned in a week. In a way the camp has come full circle. It started as a one-week, half-day camp when the kids were tiny and as the shows got more ambitious it grew to a two-week, full-day camp in which they produced scaled-down versions of shows that were recognizable as plays, not just a few songs from a play. But the pandemic and older kids’ busy schedules have shrunk it down to something resembling its original form. However, preteens and teens can learn a lot more complicated lyrics and dances in that amount of time than when they were preschoolers and kindergarteners.

After the show was over, the actors wanted to linger in the park and socialize. There’s a post-performance pizza tradition, so Maggie’s mom ordered pizza from Pizza Movers, which caused North to point out what we’ve all lamented many times this spring and summer, that they no longer offer delivery, so they can’t really be said to move the pizza. Maggie pointed out “They move the pizza from the kitchen to your hands,” but the general consensus was that this wasn’t good enough.

Noah and I didn’t stay for pizza, because in all the commotion of the day I’d forgotten to bring money and I was already letting North freeload off Maggie’s mom, and there weren’t a lot of other parents staying, which might have been what the kids wanted. Gretchen’s been saying this might be the last year of the camp. She said the same thing last year, but in case it is, I wanted to let them enjoy each other’s company, after North’s eleventh year of putting on a show with a gradually changing, but largely stable group of kids.

Some of these kids North’s known even longer, as North met Gretchen’s daughter Grace in Gretchen’s preschool drama class when they were both three and they met Maggie in preschool when they were both two. Speaking of Maggie and preschool, both North and Maggie are going to be counselors at tinkering camp at their old preschool the same week in July. I’m glad North has these long-lasting connections, even as they find new ones through school and activities and now the sibling registry. Keeping old friends and meeting new family members is a good thing.

Beth got home shortly after Noah and I did, with Xander. We rubbed his belly with antibacterial wipes and gave him an oral antibiotic, but it turned out the anti-fungal eardrops weren’t in the bag of supplies, so Beth had to drive back to the animal hospital after dinner to go get them. Xander is family, too, and we want to take good care of him, for as long as we’re lucky enough to have him.

Journal of Our Plague Year: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 34

It’s been a year now. It was kind of hard for me to pinpoint the date on which I’d say the covid era started for us as a family. Was it the Friday in early March when Noah came home for spring break, a stay we thought would last a week, but which has stretched out to over a year (and will last five months more, assuming he goes back in August)? Or was the first inkling five days later, when Ithaca announced it was extending spring break for a week and then conducting classes online for two weeks after that? Or was it North’s last day of in-person classes at their middle school a couple days later? They remember telling their friends, as they all cleaned out their lockers that Friday in mid-March, that they might not be coming back to the building ever and no one believed them. But they were right. (They were virtually promoted from eighth grade in June.)

I think the real beginning for us was the first weekday with the four of all at home together in what’s been our normal configuration ever since then. That was Monday, March 16. This was the day I chose to count from when I was doing my quarantine reports at forty, eighty, and one hundred sixty days, so it seemed the best choice for an anniversary. (I actually meant to do a three hundred and twenty-day report, but I forgot, so here we are with a year-in-review post instead.)

Here’s what I had to say about covid just before our year at home started. 

How has our year been? We’ve been very fortunate. Beth and I have been able to work from home, we haven’t lost any income, and the kids have been able to take their classes online. None of us got the virus. North has faced a lot of health challenges, however, starting in July and these are not completely resolved, but they are much, much better. North experimented a lot in the kitchen, learning to make Mushroom Wellington and many new kinds of desserts. (My favorite was the toffee.) Noah developed a new hobby (drone photography) that’s been a lot of fun for him. We took five road trips, all of them just moving our pod of four from one place to another, not visiting anyone. We haven’t seen anyone from our extended families since 2019, and we miss them dearly.

I coped by reading a lot of books about pandemics, mostly about bubonic plague, but one about polio. I started with Albert Camus’ The Plague in the spring, moved on to Philip Roth’s Nemesis in the summer, read Geraldine Brook’s Year of Wonders this winter and I’m currently reading Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year. I have a couple more on my list, though I imagine I’ll stop or at least give it a break if covid’s done before I am.

Meanwhile, here’s our covid year in review:

March: Our second weekday all at home together, Ithaca announced it was going online for the rest of the semester. A week later North turned fourteen and the Billie Eilish concert that was supposed to be their main present was cancelled so we had a virtual concert at home, with videos, glow sticks, and a concession stand. North had a slow motion birthday party, with guests coming one at a time for a visit on the porch and a slice of cake. The Tidal Basin was closed to visitors when the cherry blossoms bloomed, so we saw them at the more spacious National Arboretum instead. Near the end of the month, I got my first refund for summer camp, the first of several. It felt like a harbinger of things to come and it certainly was.

April: We started wearing homemade cloth masks that first North and then Beth made. I took a lot of pictures of flowers on my daily walk and came up with names for neighbors I don’t know (e.g. Red and Blue Plaid Pajama Bottoms Man). We made masks for our Easter eggs. We started playing a lot of games. At first it was mostly Cards Against Humanity, by summer it was Clue, and eventually Beth, Noah, and I established a running date to play Settlers of Cataan. (It started off every other week, but now it’s about once a month.)

May: We made a May Pole and danced around it. Noah turned nineteen and got a drone. Over the spring and early summer we took to visiting parks in Maryland so he could fly it. We went almost every weekend at first and continued less frequently through fall and early winter. (I think his last flight was in January, but I expect we’ll go more frequently again when the weather warms up and his semester ends.) Our school district announced the rest of the year would be virtual. I turned fifty-three. North organized a one-day pop-up café in our house. The adults served the kids at lunch and the kids served the adults at dinner. There was a car accident in front of our house and a car crashed through our fence. George Floyd was murdered by police, leading to nationwide protests that lasted throughout the summer.

June: North was promoted from middle school and shaved their head to mark the occasion. They organized a Pride-themed family scavenger hunt. (We had to find little pieces of paper in all the colors of the rainbow.) We went to two Black Lives Matter protests. I thought we’d go to more, but events overtook us in July. The death toll for covid reached 100,000.

July: Our cat Matthew died, after developing circulatory problems that paralyzed his back legs. North attended a two-week outdoor drama camp (their only camp that didn’t cancel) and played Frederick and one of the Major’s daughters in a revue of songs and scenes from Pirates of Penzance. We drove to Ithaca to collect Noah’s belongings in the middle of the month. We visited a lot of waterfalls and lakes. While we were swimming in one of these lakes, in a freaky echo of what happened to Matthew, North lost control of their legs. We drove back to Maryland and they were admitted to Children’s National Medical Center, in what would be their first of three hospitalizations between July and September. Shortly after the first one, we left for Rehoboth and spent a week figuring out how to navigate the beach, boardwalk, and (a nearly empty) Funland in a wheelchair, and how to get a partly-paralyzed kid into the surf in an inflatable ring. By the end of the month, North had learned to stand with support in physical therapy.

August: I had a friend over for a backyard visit for the first time during covid times, and served iced tea made with mint from my herb garden. Once I did it I realized how much I’d needed it and I had another friend over soon after. North learned to stand unsupported and to walk with a walker. This was encouraging, but around this same time, they started having frequent seizures, dozens in a day. We ended up in the ER when they had one that lasted an hour and a half. North was admitted to the hospital for a second time for an overnight EEG, which determined their seizures were non-epileptic in nature. They were diagnosed with Functional Neurological Disorder, which means their symptoms have no organic cause but are a somatization of stress. Shortly before the fall semester was supposed to start, Ithaca announced it would stay online until the spring.

September: Both kids resumed school online. North’s first week of school was interrupted with a new medical problem, the inability to urinate without a catheter, and they were hospitalized again. They had several MRIs to determine if anything was impinging on their urethra, but they seized during the first two and they needed to have a sedated one. By the end of the month, North’s walking had returned to almost normal. They had several friends over at the same time for a backyard/front porch half-birthday party.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and we were heartbroken. We finally got the fence (where the car crashed through it) fixed and then the kids and I painted it. The death toll for covid reached 200,000.

October: North had a final MRI, of their brain, as a precaution to rule out any possible physical cause for their continuing neurological symptoms. As expected, there was none. We got the columns, steps, and floor of our porch painted pale green. Noah helped a local filmmaker shoot and edit a short movie called Hugo Cabret’s Big Fix and when we went to the outdoor showing we got to hear the filmmaker, director, and actors gush about his skills and work ethic. There was no Halloween parade or costume contest, but we put out candy for trick-or-treaters on a table in front of the house and North was able to navigate Zoë’s neighborhood with a walker and the two of them were able to find enough candy from neighbors who’d also put out offerings.

November: North spontaneously regained the ability to urinate on their own and developed some verbal and facial tics. Joe Biden won the Presidential election and we rejoiced. Ithaca announced it would re-open for the spring semester, but Noah opted to spend it at home because three of the four classes he wanted to take were online, the cafeterias were operating on a grab-n-go basis, and his best friend wasn’t going back. His decision made sense, but it also made me sad he’s lost so much of his college experience to this virus. North stopped shaving their head, but decided to start wearing their hair covered when in public as part of their observation of modest paganism (so you can’t see that after four and a half months, it’s grown long enough to curl a little). We spent Thanksgiving week in Rehoboth and celebrated Beth’s fifty-fourth birthday there. There was no holiday sing-along, but I spent a lot of time on the beach and Noah used his drone to take the holiday card photo from the air

December: I wrote my one thousandth voter turnout postcard since September 2018. The last batch was for the Senate runoffs in Georgia. We made gingerbread, pizzelles, and buckeyes and delivered some of them to friends’ houses and served some to friends who came to visit on the porch. We spent Christmas at Blackwater Falls State Park, where we enjoyed many walks in the woods. The death toll for covid reached 300,000.

January: Noah took a winter term class in Philosophy and Cinema. It was fun watching some of the movies with him. The Democrats flipped the Senate and there was an attempted coup in which rioters tried to prevent Congress from certifying the results of the Presidential election. A week later, the President was impeached for a second time, for inciting the riot. We spent MLK weekend in Ocean City, where we walked on the beach and boardwalk and went to Assateague to see the wild ponies. Joe Biden was inaugurated and we rejoiced. The death toll for covid reached 400,000.

February: Sadly but predictably, the ex-President was not convicted. We got each other record amounts of chocolate for Valentine’s Day. Our school district announced plans for a slow reopening, with different groups of students returning from early March to mid or late April, (depending on how well the early phases go). Ninth graders are near the end of the line, so if all goes as planned and we decide to send them, North should be back in school (four days out of every ten) by mid-April. The death toll for covid reached 500,000, but vaccinations started to pick up speed. We decided to gamble on renting a beach house that can sleep ten for a week in mid-July. We hope to see both our mothers, my sister, brother-in-law, and niece there. We might even meet my mother’s boyfriend.

March: A year later, we are still all in the house together every day. It’s not a big house and sometimes it feels cramped and crowded, but sometimes it feels cozy. Over the past year, we’ve played a lot of games, watched a lot of movies and television, and baked a lot in this house. It’s been a safe harbor. There are reasons for hope, both for our family and the country. North’s physical symptoms are much better. Their seizures are infrequent now. It’s been over three weeks since I’ve seen one. They still have the tics and chronic pain, so they use forearm crutches when they leave the house, but they’ve recently started exercising daily on our stationary bike. We don’t know how much longer the pandemic will last. 533,463 Americans have died of covid, but 109,081,860 doses of the vaccine have been administered. There’s real leadership in the White House. The end isn’t right around the corner, but it’s imaginable now.

How was your year?

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 31

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

Anniversary: 01-11-21

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean City

Friday: 21842

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: 99th to 79th & 40 Feet 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Countless Gulls & 21 Waves 

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

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

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

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

Inauguration: 46

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

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

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

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