Going West: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 70

Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.

Attributed to Horace Greeley, New-York Daily Tribune,  July 13, 1865

I actually think Washington and its surroundings are a very fine place to live, but we like other places, too, and spring break is a good time to visit them. Often we go east, to Delaware or Maryland beaches, but we have gone as far north as Vermont and as far south as North Carolina. This year we went west, for three reasons: to visit Beth’s mom in Wheeling; for North’s first college tour at Beth’s and my alma mater, Oberlin; and to visit North’s half-sibling Avery in Ypsilanti.

Before I write about the trip, though, a word about the mourning dove chicks. Sunday afternoon, just one day after my last blog post, I went out on the porch and noticed the nest was empty. I am really not sure what to think about this. There were no signs of struggle, no blood or feathers on the porch floor, but I didn’t think they were quite ready to fledge. I hadn’t seen any of the hesitant initial flights to the floor and back to the nest I often see, but on the other hand they weren’t tiny and helpless any more. In my mind, it could have gone either way. It could even be that the smaller one got snatched and the bigger one flew away from the scene of the crime. Since I’ll never know, I am hoping for the best.

Monday: Takoma Park, MD to Wheeling, WV (via Morgantown, WV)

Back to our travels: we hit the road around 10:30 and immediately turned around because a block or two from the house North and I realized we had not packed any masks. We were the only people wearing masks when we stopped at The Blue Goose Fruit Market and Bakery for treats and I was one of two masked customers when I went into Taco Bell to pick up our lunch order.

As we drove west, Trump signs got more common and spring seemed to rewind a bit. When we stopped in Morgantown to visit Stephanie, a friend of ours from college who teaches at WVU now, she had crocuses in front of her house and there were cherry trees in bloom nearby. It was nice to see them again as their bloom is so fleeting and our cherry trees were done. It was also nice to see Stephanie and drink peppermint tea and eat crumbly cheddar and talk about the books she’s teaching and her students and climate change (she teaches Environmental Humanities) and North’s thoughts about college.

We arrived in Wheeling around 6:30. YaYa had prepared a nice dinner for us, a vegetable-white bean soup, salad, and bread. We’d brought some leftover banana pudding cake North and their friend Ranvita had made on Sunday and when Beth’s aunt Carole came over after dinner, we all had some.

Tuesday: Wheeling

In the morning I read my book club book (Palace Walk) and Beth and YaYa went for a walk in Wheeling Park. Carole came over a little after noon to dye Easter eggs with us. North made the trans flag on one and got tie dye and batik effects on a few more. Beth made the Ukrainian flag with a heart sticker. I made very busy yellow and green one covered with spring-themed stickers. I initially put on just a few then decided more is more. Our collection of little felt hats was pressed into service, as it is every year. YaYa chose a green beret with a pipe cleaner spiral on top. Carole went with a more classic, unadorned look for her pink and half-green, half-blue eggs.

Later in the afternoon, YaYa, Beth and I went to Oglebay park to walk among the daffodils and tulips and around the little lake with its swan boats and ducks and a turtle sunning itself on a log. Beth’s aunt Jenny came by for a fly-by visit  and then we had dinner at Carole’s house, which is two doors down from YaYa’s. She made spinach ravioli with sauteed vegetables and a salad and then she put out ice cream and gingersnaps. We lingered at the table for an hour or so after we’d finished and the two members of the older generation asked the lone representative of the younger one about high school and North was quite expansive about the classes they liked and the ones they didn’t and everything else they were asked about. We went back to YaYa’s house and Beth’s friend Michelle from her own high school days came over and we had a wide-ranging discussion about everyone’s health issues and life changes and work and relationships, in other words all the important things.

Wednesday: Wheeling to Oberlin, OH

Beth’s aunt Susan came by the next morning, full of news about her great grandchildren. And with that visit we’d seen all three of YaYa’s sisters in the space of two days. After Susan left, Beth and YaYa went back to Oglebay because YaYa had wanted to go to the gift shop the day before and it had been closed. While they were gone, I took a long walk in Wheeling Park and the adjacent cemetery.

After lunch, we hit the road for Oberlin. With pit stops so Beth could take a work call and so North and I could get coffee and use a restroom it took three and a half hours to get to our AirBnB. Beth went out for some groceries and I made egg salad out of some of our Easter eggs for dinner. I served it on toast with broccoli on the side.

We took an after-dinner stroll through Oberlin, traversing Tappan Square and walking through town. I felt right at home when I saw a short-haired young woman in Birkenstocks with a guitar slung over her back. Beth told North about three separate times that she thought they could be happy in Oberlin because “it’s a happy place.” We pointed out the movie theater where we had our second date (in July 1987) because every trip to Oberlin is a trip down memory lane for us and the kids just know to expect that.

We got back to the house just in time for me to log onto my book club meeting. It’s hybrid now and it’s not ideal because there are almost always technical snafus at the beginning and it’s hard to hear the people who are in person when you’re remote and I haven’t gotten the hang of how to jump into the conversation when I’m not in the room, so I just settled in to listen. Even with all the drawbacks I was glad to be able to do it. It’s better than missing it entirely. While I was in book club, Beth worked a little and then she and North played Battleship on their phones.

Thursday: Oberlin

In the morning Beth took a walk around campus and I read until North got up and then we went to the campus art museum. I had a strong desire to take North there because I visited it when I was a prospective at Oberlin and I was really taken with it. I remember thinking if I went to Oberlin I’d go there all the time, and while I didn’t go as often as I anticipated, I did go often enough to have favorite pieces. I showed North St. Sebastian Tended by Irene which I wrote an essay about for an art history class and this sculpture I really loved. Beth showed North her favorite painting and we browsed the rest of the eclectic collection.

From the museum we went to the campus bookstore, where North selected Wilder Girls, which is a book I’ve considered reading and now that it’s going to be in the house, I probably will. North says it’s horror with lesbian characters—“What more could you want?”

We were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat lunch (almost none of the haunts of our college days are still open, so there was no obvious choice) when I noticed North was slowing down and limping and in the interest of letting them get some rest before the walking tour, we decided to eat at a nearby Mexican place, rather than continuing to compare menus. I had a spinach quesadilla with a side order of refried beans. I wasn’t sure how the white flour tortilla would affect my blood sugar and I still don’t know because my sensor had just expired and I didn’t have a new one on yet.

We attended an information session held in a lecture hall where I had an intro Psychology class my first year. The presenter talked really fast for an hour, talking about the things every college touts at these things—student faculty ratio, the abundance of clubs and cultural events, how environmentally friendly the school is, although Oberlin’s goal to be carbon neutral in the next few years goes above and beyond. He also covered the Experimental College with its student-taught classes, the student-run co-op housing and dining halls, and opportunities to work closely with faculty. I never took an ExCo class but I knew people who did and I did eat and live in co-ops and my senior year I helped a professor teach literary translation workshop I took as a sophomore, so it all rang pretty true for me.

The walking tour was next. Beth asked the guide if he could go a little slow so North could keep up and he did. The tour didn’t take any longer than advertised, though, so either he cut some of his normal stops or he always walks pretty slowly. Oberlin is a smaller campus than many we toured with Noah, so maybe the guides don’t have to rush as much. We went from North quad to South quad, stopped at the library and saw a model dorm room. I peeled off from the group at the library because the id card office is there and I wanted to get an alumni id so I could use the pool later. The tour left before I finished and I had to catch up with it following Beth’s texted directions.

After the tour, I asked North if the presentation and tour made them more or less interested in Oberlin and they said they said about the same. What’s drawing them to it is the pre-law program, which I don’t think even existed when Beth and I were students. As North and I walked to the house, Beth went back to the library and got her own id card.

After a short rest, we went to the gym and Beth rode an exercise bike while I swam in the pool where I used to swim laps in college. The locker rooms have been renovated beyond recognition, but the pool looks pretty much the same. I looked at the board of swim team records and noticed a few date back to the early nineties, just after I graduated. It pleased me to think of someone just a couple years younger than me still holding a pool record. It was not a record day for me. The pool in Takoma where I swam closed at the beginning of the pandemic and never re-opened so I have only swum laps a handful of times in the past two years and I could feel it. I did about two-thirds of my usual routine and called it quits. My time wasn’t bad, but I was tired and Beth was finished so I didn’t want to make her wait.

While I am normally not at all self-conscious in changing rooms, I discovered I am when the average age of women in the room is about twenty (and most of them are members of the swim team, which had just finished practicing). I considered the irony of the fact that when I was that age (but not on the swim team) I actually wrote a poem called “In the Women’s Locker Room at Carr Pool” which was about all the different types of bodies in the locker room, students and faculty and little kids, all ages and shapes, and how they were all beautiful. I need to try to see myself with my younger self’s eyes.

Back at the house, we got excellent Thai takeout and watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls and then the second half of Being the Ricardos (which we’d started about a week earlier).

Friday: Oberlin to Ypsilanti, MI (via Lake Erie)

We lingered in bed that morning, and before we left Oberlin, we went out for coffee at a place called Slow Train Café, which might have been named for how long it takes to get your coffee. It wasn’t the baristas’ fault by any means. They were swamped. The coffee was good when we got it. We also checked out another bookstore, where we got a couple Oberlin t-shirts, one for Beth and one for my niece. (My sister also went to Oberlin.) Lily-Mei’s shirt had a squirrel on it because the squirrel is the unofficial mascot of the college. It’s because there are albino squirrels you can occasionally glimpse on campus. (We didn’t see it any on this trip.)

We hit the road, had lunch at Panera, and stopped at Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie, where North sat on swing with a view of the water and then collected little shells on the beach, while Beth and I took a short walk along the shore.

We got to our AirBnB in Ypsilanti a little after four. We unpacked a bit and I set out a variety of snacks from our store of food—garlic cheddar, olives, smoked almonds—and some raspberry lemonade we found in the fridge because North’s half sibling Avery and one of their moms was coming over.

We sat in the living room and got to know each other. As you can see, there is definitely a physical resemblance between the kids, which I knew ahead of time from pictures, but it seemed stronger in person, probably because Avery’s intonation and hand gestures are similar to North’s. When you see the whole package it’s kind of eerie. Besides having lesbian moms (not so surprising for donor-conceived kids) they have more in common. Avery is non-binary, into theater and likes to bake. Like North and the donor, they had red hair as a baby that changed to light blonde and then darkened as they got older. They also have joint issues and migraines.

Avery has met several of the group of fourteen known half-siblings, so I imagine it was less novel for their mom than it was for us, but it was a pleasant chat. Everyone got along and we all met up with Avery’s other mom at a pizza place for dinner. The kids had plans to spend all of the next day together, but North came back to the AirBnB with us for the night, where we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls before bed.

It was a very Good Friday.

Saturday: Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, MI

Avery came by the next morning to pick up North. It was the first time I’ve watched North leave in a car driven by a peer, as none of their friends drive yet.

North and Avery spent the day wandering around Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, shopping for books and crystals. They had lunch in a diner and then went back to Avery’s house where they had takeout pasta for dinner and watched a horror movie. North slept over at their house.

Left to our own devices for twenty-four hours, we got a leisurely start to the day. Beth took a walk. I did laundry, messaged back and forth with my friend Megan about meeting Avery, and read my book club book. After lunch, we went on our own little adventure. We visited the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and explored a small area of Ann Arbor. At the botanical gardens we walked through the conservatory, looking at cacti, a lemon tree, and other plants. Beth was quite taken with a kaleidoscope that’s aimed at a planter full of succulents. The images of the plants make the design when you spin it. Outside in the formal gardens, the daffodils were just getting started, but not much else was blooming, so we didn’t spend long there and took a walk on a wooded path that passed by a creek and some ponds. We saw geese and turkey.

In Ann Arbor, we picked up some groceries at a food co-op, got coffee (me) and drinking chocolate (Beth) at an upscale chocolate shop, where I also got myself a tiny dark chocolate Easter bunny and some toffee-almond eggs, and we made a pilgrimage to Zingerman’s deli, where we walked out with fancy bread, cheese, olive oil, potato chips, pastries, chocolate bars and a lighter wallet. Are you familiar with Zingerman’s? We’ve never been in person but we are fans of the catalog, and apparently so are a lot people on my Facebook page, based on the response to the pictures I posted there. I got Noah something for his birthday which I will not reveal here because he often reads my blog.

Back at the house, I blogged and then made dinner—sherry-cream mushrooms on toast, salad, and some leftovers (sautéed Brussels sprouts and an Easter egg). Beth and I watched the season finale of Abbott Elementary and the first episode of Severance.

Easter Sunday: Ypsilanti to Somerset, PA

In the morning, North came back from Avery’s house as we were packing up the house. Beth told them the Easter Bunny had left a basket in their room and after a brief search North found their basket of candy, bee socks from the botanical gardens, and dill pickle potato chips from Zingerman’s in the under-bed storage drawer.

It turned out we’d had a misunderstanding because we thought the visit with Avery was over and we were about to leave town and North thought they were going to see Avery again and have lunch before we left, so there was some texting between Avery’s mom and me and North and Avery and it was decided we’d swing by their house so the kids could have a proper goodbye. We all went inside and chatted for a while and my eyes were drawn to a picture of Avery in elementary school that looked a lot like North at that age. Then they showed us their garden and we piled back into the car.

We drove out of Michigan and all the way through Ohio and into Southwestern Pennsylvania, where we arrived at our third and final AirBnB around dinnertime. We picked up some canned soup at a Dollar General (no grocery stores were open on Easter) and Beth and North collaborated to make mushroom melts and soup. Afterward we watched two episodes of the Gilmore Girls and ate Easter candy. We watched four episodes on the trip, satisfying progress toward my recently announced goal of finishing the series before North leave for college so we don’t end up in a Buffy situation like we have with Noah now. (Not starting that show earlier in the pandemic was a strategic mistake.)

Monday: Somerset, PA to Takoma Park

We had to be out of the house by eleven, which meant rousing North from bed at ten. It was quite a chilly day in the Laurel Highlands with snow predicted. Beth and I both got in our morning walks before it started to precipitate. The house was in a neighborhood set on a very steep hill, terrace style. On my walk I found a path that went through the woods on the back side of the hill and then past a barn with horses in a corral and a pond. Spring seemed to have the weakest hold here of all the places we’d been, with forsythia just get started and daffodils and hyacinth the only flowers.

As if to emphasize this, by the time we left, freezing rain had set in. Eventually it changed over to snow and for a while it was like driving through a snow globe, with big fat flakes, sticking to the ground and the trees. Beth enjoyed it, as she never seems to get enough of winter weather. About a half hour after our stop for a late lunch it changed back to rain.

When we got home, we discovered spring in Takoma has advanced. Many more trees have leaves than when we left and there are azaleas and dogwoods in bloom.

“It was a good trip,” Beth said as we ate Indian takeout for dinner, and it was. I think it was one we’ll remember for a long time.

On the Horizon: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 66

Spring is on the horizon. There are crocuses and snowdrops in abundance down by the creek and elsewhere and I’ve seen aconite, winter jasmine, and one clump of daffodils in neighbors’ yards. Our own daffodils poked their heads out of the ground a few weeks ago, but have yet to open. The cherry tree at the end of the block that always wants to get the party started well before the other two dozen or so nearby trees are even thinking about it has swelling buds.

I moved the rosemary and parsley plants that have been living in a sunny spot in Noah’s room/Beth’s office back outside this weekend because I think they need the sun more than protection from the cold at this point. It still goes below freezing most nights, but not by much and they’re hardy enough for that. I’ll move them back inside if we have a cold snap.

The spring musical opens in a few weeks and North is costumes manager again, so they have rehearsal most days after school. It’s also the time of year when we start making plans for spring break and summer.

Travel News

The school district announced its snow day makeup plan and they scrounged up the necessary days by turning a teacher planning day in April into a half day and by adding two days to the end of the year. This is the very outcome I was hoping for because it leaves spring break intact. Now we just need to keep our fingers crossed it doesn’t snow again, but even if it does MCPS’s message implied any further snow days will be either remote instruction days or the district will apply to the state for a waiver.

It gave us enough certainty to plan our April trip to Michigan to meet one of North’s half-siblings from their donor’s side. The kids have been in touch since we got North a membership to the Donor Sibling Registry for their birthday last spring. Avery is a senior in high school, has two moms, and like North, identifies as non-binary. On the way to Ypsilanti we’re going to stop in Wheeling to see Beth’s mom, and then in Oberlin for North’s first college tour. It should be a fun trip.

And then this summer we’re going to the beach twice. Noah doesn’t know how long he’ll be home because he’s planning to spend the fall semester abroad and some of the programs he’s considering are summer-and-fall programs (or actually winter and spring since it’s Australia). This means he could be leaving any time between mid-July and late August.  We need to go to the beach early in the summer if we want him to come. But my sister’s family is moving from Ashland, Oregon to Davis, California in June or July and they can’t come until the move is complete, so we need to go late in the summer if we want them (and my mother, who is still recovering from her broken neck and will travel with them) to come. I still have some of the long-belated inheritance money I got from my father last summer, after putting most of it away for retirement and giving some away, so my elegant solution was two beach trips, one with me, Beth, and the kids the week of July 4th, and one with extended family in early August. We booked houses in Oberlin, Ypsilanti, and Rehoboth just this week. Having this settled is a relief because it was all up in the air for a while and I was anxious about it.

The one thing I wish I knew about the near future that I don’t know 100% for sure is whether Noah is coming home for all, part, or none of his spring break, which is in just two weeks. He’s directing a film for his advanced cinema production class and he was hoping if he could get a crew and actors to agree to stay on campus, filming during break would give them a solid block of time when no one has class. This made perfect sense and part of me hoped it would work out for him, but there’s no denying I would have been sad not to see him until May if that’s how it shook out, and the uncertainty was driving me more than a little crazy. Just this morning when Beth texted him about buying a bus ticket to come home, he said he probably would.

Medical News

In other news, I recently finished a program for newly diagnosed diabetics, consisting of two calls with a nurse and six Zoom sessions with a coach spread out over four months. Afterward I went in for bloodwork, and my A1C, a measure of average blood sugar from the past three months, is at the bottom of the prediabetic range, just a tad over normal. That’s with medication, of course. It doesn’t mean I don’t have diabetes any more but that between diet and the meds, my blood sugar has improved well beyond my primary care provider’s goal for me, not quite six months after diagnosis.

I’m still not happy with the reliability of the sensors I wear on my arm, which I sometimes test against a glucometer with finger pricks, and I go back and forth about whether I should give up on them and just use the blood method. The sensors, when they’re working, have two advantages, though. You don’t have to stab yourself with a sharp object several times a day and the app creates a graph that shows you when your blood sugar peaked and approximately how high. When you use finger pricks you have more accurate data points, but without much idea how they connect. I am trying to be at peace with the sensors’ erratic performance and not give up on them and take them off so soon. When it all starts to stress me out, sometimes I take a day off checking either way, and just try to eat intuitively.

Another piece of good news is that the hives I’ve had since last summer seems to be tapering off. On the allergist’s suggestion I started taking the antihistamines every other day (instead of every day) in mid-January and I noticed I wasn’t getting hives too often, so I stopped entirely the first week of February. Now I just take one when I have a breakout, which has only happened four times this month. The last time was in mid-February and three of the four times, the hives were very faint and not too itchy. Fingers crossed, maybe it’s over. We never did figure out what was triggering them.

Speaking of skin, Xander’s skin infection is back. It’s confined to a small patch on his stomach and because we caught it early, the medicated wipes seem to be stopping it from spreading, though it’s been a few weeks and it’s not getting better either. It doesn’t seem to be bothering him much, but he’s a good-natured cat, arthritis, deafness, irritated skin and all, so it can be hard to tell. He turned nineteen the week of Valentine’s Day, and after his health scares last summer, we’re all happy for all the time we have to cuddle on the couch and bed with him (and to give him a small fraction of the cat treats he requests).

One last medical update—as I mentioned above, my mom is still recovering from breaking her neck in October. She got her brace off in mid-January and is in physical therapy. She has some lingering pain, especially late in the day, and she has a limited range of motion in her neck, which impedes her ability to drive. That’s why she needs to travel with Sara and Dave.

It feels odd to have a roundup of medical issues and not mention North, but they’re pretty stable right now. They still have pain, but they’re able to get around where they need to with their cane most days. The pain psychologist they were seeing ended up not being a good fit, so after a few sessions, we decided not to continue. They’re happy about this, because they’d rather just get on with their life, without talking so much about this aspect of it.

And there’s a lot for them to get on with, the play, their birthday next month, a road trip to meet a new relative, and two beach weeks with kin they’ve known all or much of their life.

Ten-Year Challenge: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 64

About a week ago, Nicole posted about the ten-year challenge. Here’s her first paragraph:

Recently I’ve seen a lot of “ten year challenge” posts on social media, which is one of those strange phenomena of our time. A challenge, in my mind, is to be ninety-seven weeks into a global pandemic and to still get out of bed every morning, putting one foot in front of the other and keeping hope and optimism in day to day life. A challenge is to parent effectively when there are constant disappointments and changes that are out of anyone’s personal control; a challenge is to keep making dinner, day in and day out, with no end in sight and nothing exciting to anticipate. What about the “ten year challenge” is a challenge, exactly? Is the challenge in finding photos that are a decade apart? Or does the challenge actually lie in the posting of photos that are a decade apart, forcing us all to face the changes that ten years have brought and the vast improvements in our ability to take photos with good lighting and posing? I feel like it’s the latter.

I commented:

This made me go back to my blog archive and see if there were any pictures of me from January 2012. There was one of me and Beth in front of a gay bookstore in Philadelphia, where we were having a weekend getaway while my mom kept the kids.

What’s changed (not just physical):

My mom doesn’t live in that area anymore
I only have one kid at home and that one is almost old enough to be left alone for a weekend (maybe?)
Beth and I were both heavier then

What hasn’t:

I’d still consider a bookstore a fun date destination
I still have the coat and the sweater I’m wearing in the picture
My hair is in a ponytail, which is still how I wear it about half the time

I’m starting to wonder if I could get a blog post out of this.

Nicole encouraged me to go for it, so here we are. The end of January seems like a good time for this post, as we’ve just come through the month named after Janus, the god of beginnings, who has one face looking forward and the other back.

If you have kids, the biggest changes that occur in ten years are going to be in them. In January 2012, my kids were in kindergarten and fifth grade. Now they are a sophomore in high school and junior in college. How did we go from both in elementary school to one in college and the other getting mail from colleges almost every day? Time is relentless, people. Also of note, ten years ago North identified as a girl and they no longer do.

I blogged four times that month. In the first post, we visited the neighborhood in the city where Beth and I lived for ten years before Noah was born and one year after that. We had lunch and bought some books at Kramerbooks and then took in a Degas exhibit at the Phillips Gallery. (This actually happened in December, but I wrote about it in January.) Here’s what I had to say about it:

June enjoyed the ballerina paintings (and looking at herself in the mirrored wall with a barre) but she went through the exhibit at her usual brisk pace, which meant we could not linger as long as the adults might have liked.  Noah liked the sculptures best and was also interested in the computer images of what lies under the visible layer of paint.  When we finished with Degas, we visited some other parts of the museum.  We went into the Rothko room, much to the alarm of the guards, who insisted that June’s hand be held at all times.  (The paintings in that room are not under glass.) June gave the guard an exasperated look when she heard this.  Clearly he did not know how well behaved she is and how many tiger paws she has (twenty-three, third place in her class- not that she’s keeping track).*  For a while the kids played a game of Noah’s invention called “Guess the Medium,” in which he’d have June guess whether a piece of art was done in paint, chalk, water color, etc. I caught a glimpse of them spontaneously holding hands in front of a painting (though later Noah claimed he’d done no such thing).  It was a lovely, lovely day, just like old times, except completely different.

*Tiger paws were slips of paper with a drawing on a tiger paw on them, redeemable for prizes and given as rewards at North’s elementary school. Just a few weeks ago I found a bunch of unredeemed tiger paws from third grade in a drawer. They got less exciting as North moved through the grades apparently. Noah was always pretty indifferent to them.

I haven’t been a museum since pre-pandemic times. During that hopeful stretch last summer when we went to see movies in theaters, and ate inside restaurants, and I’d sometimes go inside stores unmasked, I would have, if I’d thought of it. I don’t know how long it will be until I do again. Next month we’re going to a Billie Eilish concert (rescheduled from March 2020, it was North’s fourteenth birthday present) and that’s more of a risk than going to a museum, but we’d have to forfeit the tickets if we didn’t go, and we are all vaccinated and boosted so we’re crossing our fingers and going.

In the second post, I chronicled the first-ever Panda basketball practice and game.

The Purple Pandas were playing an all-boy team in green t-shirts.  Malachi and one of June’s former preschool classmates were playing on that team and they both got baskets.  (Ram also got a “bleedy nose,” as June put it later.  I didn’t see how it happened but I saw him crying and comforted by several adults and later I saw someone come to clean the blood up off the court.) Actually Malachi didn’t just get a basket, he got the majority of his team’s baskets.  I knew he liked sports and now I know why.  The kid’s got game.  The green team shut out the Purple Pandas, who often looked shocked when the green players knocked the ball out of their hands, despite having been warned by Mike both Friday and today that this would happen, that it wasn’t rude or mean, it was just part of the game.  As the game progressed the girls got better at running to defend their basket when they lost control of the ball, instead of just standing there looking shocked. So that was progress.  A few of them, including Sally (formerly known as the Raccoon*) and her first-grade sister showed some hustle by the end of the game.

*North’s preschool used insect, plant, and animal symbols to identify the kids on their artwork, cubbies, attendance charts, etc. and I used those as pseudonyms for North’s classmates.

North played on the Pandas for six years, from kindergarten to fifth grade, and the team stayed together another three years after that until the pandemic cut their last season short. North’s current extracurricular activity is the spring musical. They will be costume manager again. Rehearsals just started last week. North and Beth are also thinking about taking an art class together either at the rec center or our local community college.

The third post was about Beth’s and my anniversary getaway.

We drove everyone up to Mom and Jim’s house on Saturday afternoon after June’s basketball game, dropped the kids off and enjoyed two nights and one day to ourselves in the City of Brotherly Love.  We had two very nice dinners at the Kyber Pass Pub and Cuba Libre. If you go to the first, the vegetarian meats (BBQ and fried chicken Po Boys) and the fried vegetables (okra and sweet potato fries) are very good. If you go to the second, you must order the buñuelos con espinaca. We visited Reading Terminal Market and had lunch there.  I got a vegetarian cheesesteak at a stand where the service was so bad it crossed over from aggravating to comic, but the cheesesteak was not half bad once I finally got it. We browsed at Giovanni’s Room and came out with a few books. We spent a lot of time in our hotel room and in a local coffee shop reading. We saw a non-animated, R-rated movie, the lesbian coming-of-age film The Pariah, which was well acted and a good story, though there were some odd things going on with the camera work, probably meant to indicate the protagonist’s emotional state.  Our room had a gas fireplace and a Jacuzzi and we employed them both.

We’ve actually taken a lot of road trips during the pandemic, at first just moving our bubble of four from one place to another, enjoying outdoor activities and eating takeout, then after everyone got vaccinated, visiting relatives in West Virginia or meeting up with them at the beach. We might be hitting the road in April during North’s spring break to meet one of their half-siblings whom they met through the Donor Sibling Registry and who lives in Michigan with their two moms. As for a weekend alone, as I mentioned in my comment on Nicole’s post my mom doesn’t live nearby anymore and we don’t feel quite ready to leave North alone for a weekend, but the empty nest is less than three years from now, so I guess by then the world will be our oyster.

The last post was about a day the kids had off school. They always have a day off between second and third quarter. North had two playdates so Noah and I spent the morning together, taking a walk to Starbucks and reading a historical novel, Forge, until his sibling came home.

When June came out of her room forty minutes later she had a stack of Dora books she wanted me to read to her and even though Dora is not my idea of quality children’s literature, the idea of cuddling up in bed and having some one-on-one time with my younger child in between her many social engagements seemed appealing.  Before I read to her I reminded Noah of the items left on his list (homework, percussion practice, typing practice) and I made him lunch. I fixed him some leftover ziti with butter and grated parmesan and a bowl of applesauce with cinnamon sprinkled on top.

“Ziti with parmesan and butter. What could be better than that?” Noah said with satisfaction as I placed his lunch in front of him.

“A castle with princesses and ponies,” June piped up.

You’re going to eat princesses and ponies for lunch?” I said in mock surprise and soon she was over at the toy castle, pretending to be a dragon munching on the royals.  But I was thinking silently that I know something much better than noodles or princesses: a morning with my firstborn as he stands on the threshold of midterms and whatever else middle school has to offer.

Well, middle school is long over for both kids. But Noah does still love pasta, and he plays percussion in a band for non-music majors at school, and we still enjoy sharing books together. North’s taste in books runs more to gay and lesbian romance than Dora these days, and they’ve been digging into the books they’re reading in English class, reading more of the Odyssey than was assigned and dipping into the Iliad as well, just for fun. They read The Shining recently and they’re thinking of reading Dante’s Inferno, so I’d say they’re becoming a rather eclectic reader, after several years of not reading much for pleasure.

That was January 2012. In between then and now, Beth and I got legally married, my mother and stepfather moved to Oregon, my stepfather died, my sister adopted my niece and married my brother-in-law, and North came out as non-binary. We lived through the Trump presidency and a global pandemic. Our lives ten years from now are as unfathomable to us now as our current lives would have been then. It’s not impossible that we could have a grandchild, but not if my kids both wait as long as I did to have children or choose not to have kids. There’s only one way to find out what lies ahead and that’s to live through the next ten years. I am up to that challenge.

The Party House: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 61

Thursday: Arrival

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

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

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

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

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

Friday: Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday: Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday to Wednesday: A Blur of Days After Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Highlights: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 58

Wednesday 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

The Road to the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 57

Friday: Return of the Not-So-Prodigal Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How have you been?” Noah asked them. 

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

“Fine,” he said. 

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

North said, “You were in a play?”

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

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

Pre-Thanksgiving Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: One Last Work Day

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

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

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

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

Tuesday: A Birthday and a Road Trip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There and Back Again: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 50

Thursday: Goodbye, House

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

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

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

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

Friday: Moving In, Hiking, Shopping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: Home Again

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

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

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

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

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

Secrets of the Sea: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 47

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret of the Sea #5: Face your fears.

Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday

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

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

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

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

Before the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 46

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

Cat

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

Kayaks

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

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

Camp

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

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

Cure (Temporary)

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

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

Commemoration

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

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

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

Commencement of Travel

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

Code

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

Cosmopolitan Dining

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

Continuation of Travel 

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

A Quiet Weekend: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 42

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

Monday

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

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

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