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.

Emerging: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 41

(Not So) Lonely Weekend

Just like a cicada emerging from its tunnel in the ground, Noah left the burrow of our house for a couple weeks. Of the four of us, he’s been the most homebound. He rarely goes anywhere unless we’re all going somewhere, which is how he came to not leave our property from January 18 (when we returned from Ocean City) to March 26 (when we left for Deep Creek). That was the longest stretch. I know this because I’m still keeping a contact log, though I’m thinking I’ll quit in a few weeks when North is fully vaccinated. So, it’s a good thing he got out in the world to visit Beth’s mom in Wheeling.

He turned in his last paper at 12:15 on the second Friday of May. Forty-five minutes later he and Beth were in the car. They drove to North’s school, picked them up and hit the road for Wheeling. North wanted to come along for the ride (and the weekend).

I considered the merits of coming along and staying home. Like the rest of the family, I hadn’t seen Beth’s mom since Christmas 2019 and I enjoy a road trip. But I’ve also had very little alone time in the past fourteen months, like almost none except my daily walks, so I decided I’d split the difference, stay home the first weekend and then go to Wheeling over Memorial Day weekend on the trip to fetch Noah and bring him home. It seemed like a best-of-both-worlds solution.

I still had some work to finish up when Beth and Noah left, but in the late afternoon I boarded a bus and went to downtown Takoma, where I picked up a pizza and some mozzarella sticks at the now poorly named Pizza Movers and moved the pizza myself, to one of the  outdoor tables the city has provided on Laurel Avenue to serve nearby restaurants. There I had an early dinner, followed up with gelato.

And then I went home and read. I read Friday evening and pretty much all day Saturday. I thought I might do some housework or yardwork, but other than menu-planning for the next week, I did nothing domestic. I finished Carmella (I had just a tiny bit left), read all of Later, and finished The Sympathizer. I’d intended to read nine of the remaining fourteen chapters of that book, because my book club wasn’t discussing it for another week and a half, but I was on a roll. I read in the bathtub, in bed, on the porch, in the hammock, and in an Adirondack chair in the backyard, glancing up occasionally to watch the cicadas glide around the yard. (This was five days after they emerged and the first day they could fly. Clumsy on the ground, they are actually graceful in the air.) I cannot tell you how restorative, even joyous, all this silent sustained reading felt. My solitude cup, which had been dry for a long time, was filling up. 

By Sunday, I still wanted to read, but not as desperately and I was looking forward to Beth and North’s return in the evening. I went to the farmers’ market and bought two pints of strawberries (my real reason for going, as local strawberries only last about five weeks most years and this was the third week). I also made a few more eclectic purchases—a container of half-sour pickles, a strawberry-yogurt smoothie, a cherry tart, and a basil plant. Once home, I straightened up the living room and dining room and did a little weeding along the fence line. I hadn’t put much effort into making meals—in fact I didn’t eat dinner at all on Saturday—but that night for dinner, my last solo meal, I went to the trouble of making my devilled eggs pretty with chives and chive blossoms, as a final act of self-care.

Cicada Song

Beth and North came home Sunday evening and another week began. It was an online week for North and a busy and stressful one for Beth at work.

On Wednesday, after nine days above ground, the cicadas began to sing. It was just a low hum under the birdsong outside, but it got a little louder every day. The next day it was just barely audible inside if you stood next to a closed window. By Sunday morning, thirteen days after emergence, it was loud enough inside that I thought there was a kettle boiling in the kitchen, when it was just the cicada chorus outside. We probably aren’t at peak volume yet, but we might be soon. For one thing, it’s a mating song, and I witnessed a mating pair for the first time Sunday afternoon. North says when they had Maddie over that same day and the two of them were in the yard for hours, they saw a lot of them mating. (North also opined that it was “rude” for one partner to fly off as soon as copulation is over, “even if it’s just a hookup.”) Meanwhile, in addition to mating, they are still lumbering along the ground, sitting on every surface they can find, getting devoured by birds, and flying. Their discarded casings are everywhere.

This is my second time witnessing a Brood X mass emergence. They happen every seventeen years in the late spring, so there have been four in my lifetime. (It’s a different phenomenon from the much more reasonable numbers of annual cicadas we have every July and August.) However, I missed Brood X in 1970 and 1987. In 1970, when I was three years old, my mother and father and I lived in Northern New Jersey, which is in the periodical cicadas’ range, but their habitat is very localized—some places have them while others quite nearby don’t. To illustrate that point, my mom was living in two different suburbs of Philadelphia during the next two emergences, one that had cicadas (Lansdowne) and another that didn’t (Bala Cynwyd). She said in Lansdowne in 2004, there were so many “they darkened the sky.”

In 1987, Beth and I were in college in Northern Ohio, which is not in the cicadas’ range. We’d vaguely heard something about them and as there was no internet back then to provide instant information gratification, for a while we thought we might see them and we were disappointed when it was a bust.

By 2004, we were living in Takoma Park, which is pretty much Cicada Central. Noah was three years old and he was utterly enchanted with the cicadas. He would rush outside every morning to greet them and he’d carefully turn over the ones that got stuck on their backs. It’s partly because I see them through my little boy’s eyes that I love them, I think. And remembering his childish kindness, for a while this year I was the one righting all the overturned cicadas I found, but I had to give it up because there are just too many of them and they are very prone to getting overturned. It’s part of their charming incompetence at being bugs.

Every now and then periodical cicadas mistime their exit. This happened in 2017. It was like a flash mob in our yard that lasted a few days and then they disappeared and then there was another brief breakthrough and then they were gone for good, probably all eaten because they failed to overwhelm their predators with sheer numbers. Well, they were gone until this month. It’s the same cohort. They should be with us until late June or early July, when they’ve all laid their eggs and died. It’s basically a six-week concert and orgy. North says it sounds, “fun, but not worth seventeen years underground.”

Just the Two of Us

In non-cicada news, the next Friday North slept over at Zoë’s. Before we knew when twelve-to-fifteen-year old kids could get vaccinated, we’d come to an agreement with Zoë’s parents that once everyone else in the two households was fully vaccinated, we’d let North and Zoë socialize inside our houses. As it turned out, by the time all four parents and Noah and Zoë’s brother and her foster brother were fully vaccinated, North and Zoë were partially vaccinated. So the first time in fourteen months that North set foot in Zoë’s house for longer than a quick bathroom visit, they stayed the night.

And since Noah was still in West Virginia, that meant Beth and I were on our own from five p.m. Friday until ten-thirty a.m. Saturday. We worked until six-thirty and then went out for pizza, rather than get takeout or delivery. It was a pretty day so we walked to downtown Takoma. It was my first time at a restaurant with table service since the pandemic started. (Beth and North ate at one when they went camping earlier this spring.) Even though we were eating outside, it was still a little strange. I think eating inside a restaurant will be even stranger, whenever that happens.

We walked home from the restaurant and Beth watered the garden while I attacked the sink full of the day’s dirty dishes. Then we watched the first half of Ammonite and finished it Saturday morning while I ate my breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries, a soft-boiled egg, veggie sausage, and mug of milky tea on the couch. Beth said it was like a glimpse of empty nest life, but I thought it could be we’d just forgotten what life with one teen (who sometimes has weekend plans) was like. We did live that life for most of a school year in the Before Times. Either way, time alone with Beth has been in as short supply as time alone, so I was deeply grateful to get so much of each in consecutive weekends.

And next weekend I get to take road trip and see my mother-in-law and son.

What Happens in the Cabin: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 36

The kids don’t have spring break at the same time this year, partly because Noah doesn’t have a spring break at all. Like many colleges, Ithaca canceled break to discourage the students who are in residence from leaving campus and coming back with contagion. Instead of ending the semester a week early, though, they spread five “rest days” throughout the semester and one of them fell on the first Monday of North’s break, so we decided to plan a three-day getaway to Western Maryland, where we rented a cabin near Deep Creek Lake.

Friday

We arrived around six o’clock, after a three-hour drive that ended with an ascent up a steep gravel road. There were a lot of lake-themed or cabin-themed plaques on the walls, like several in each room. You see that sometimes in beach houses, but this was more over the top than usual. Two of them said, “What Happens in the Cabin, Stays in the Cabin.” Well, not much I can’t tell you about happened while we were there, no drunken shenanigans or drug-fueled hijinks, so I will proceed as usual.

After we explored the cabin and its deck overlooking the lake, we ordered pizza, (and calzone, spinach salad, and four slices of cake) from a pizzeria just down the hill. It was six-thirty by the time we submitted the order and we were surprised when the website gave a pickup time of 7:55. Beth even called to make sure that was accurate, but it was, so those of us who were already hungry snacked on fruit I’d brought from home and we watched the rest of Boy Erased. Then Beth and I went to get the food and we had a fashionably late dinner. Later Noah and I watched a couple episodes of Death Note and discussed the dearth of decent female characters in it—a shame, since it’s otherwise a good show, if supernatural anime seems as if it would appeal.

Saturday

Beth was up early and ate her breakfast on the deck and then went for a walk. When everyone was up and had ordered groceries, she left to go shopping. Noah and I were reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes when my phone buzzed. It was a text from the state of Maryland asking if I wanted to schedule an appointment for a covid vaccination. I certainly did! When Beth got home with the groceries I asked her to check her texts and she had an identical one. Beth and I were pre-registered with both the county and the state and if we’d waited for a county appointment, we would have gotten one closer to home—this one was an hour and fifteen minutes away in Hagerstown—but we didn’t care. We weren’t turning down a bird in hand for two in the bush. This was our ticket to see our mothers for the first time since July 2019 (mine) and December 2019 (Beth’s). Almost two months ago we rented a beach house with room for ten for a week in July, taking a gamble that all the adults would be vaccinated by then. At the time, none of us were, but now both of our mothers are, and my mother’s boyfriend is, and soon we would be, too. So now we know at least our family and the grandmothers will be there.

After everyone had eaten lunch and Noah had flown his drone off the deck over the lake, we set out for Swallow Falls State Park to see waterfalls. There are a few in the park, but we’d decided on Muddy Falls (the biggest one) and Swallow Falls (the one that gave the park its name). North wanted to know why the park wasn’t named after the biggest fall and Beth ventured a guess that Swallow Falls sounded more euphonious than Muddy Falls.

I was pretty sure we’d been to this park when the kids were two and a half and seven and a half, but when I saw Muddy Falls I knew for sure. I remembered toddler North, who must have never seen a big waterfall, kept exclaiming, “The water is slipping down!” and that later we got grocery store cupcakes for Noah’s half-birthday. It was the first week of November and we got clearance Halloween cupcakes with spiders on them, which delighted him. So that was a nice little trip down memory lane. It made me wonder what I will remember about this trip, twelve and half years from now.

North opted to stay on the observation platform while Beth, Noah, and I climbed down the wooden stairs for a better view of the bottom of the falls. The steps and the ground below were quite muddy and Noah said he saw where the falls got their name. Later I heard a stranger make the exact same joke. The falls aren’t as big as Blackwater, but they are still quite pretty.

We came back up the stairs, collected North, and walked to another observation area for the same falls, then we proceeded to Swallow Falls, leaving North at one of those big stone picnic shelters with fireplaces at each end that you see at state parks all over the country, thanks to the Civilian Conservation Corps. Meanwhile, Beth, Noah, and I went down to see the second waterfall. This one had a lot of boulders you could walk out on for different views. There was a young woman far below us in what appeared to be a prom dress, having her photo taken.

There were signs for one more waterfall, but I didn’t suggest we go, as it had been a lot of up and down climbing and North was waiting for us. We walked back to the shelter and Noah and I kept North company while Beth went to get the car and we came home, ordered dinner (so we could get it before eight this time), and Beth, Noah, and I set out for Garret State Forest, where we hiked the Maze Rock Trail. I highly recommend this trail, if you ever find yourself in Western Maryland. You can wander through these narrow alleys between boulders covered in green and rust-colored moss. The temperature drops immediately when you slip between the rocks (which would be nice in summer). Noah flew his drone off the top of one of the boulders. I was sorry the hike was beyond North’s current capabilities. Even though they’ve made great strides, they still miss a lot, not being very mobile.

Beth picked up dinner shortly after we got back, but both the kids had ordered baked ziti and before they were a couple bites in, North discovered pork in it and we had to order new meals for them. (We’d missed the pork in the menu description, as baked ziti is usually a safe vegetarian choice, although when it isn’t, the culprit is usually beef.) As Noah was getting stuffed shells as his second choice meal and that’s what I had, I split mine with him while we waited for the new food and then we split his when it came. North made do with bread and salad until Beth fetched the new food.

After dinner we had a campfire in the firepit by the house and made S’mores for the second time in a week, which is considerably more than our usual allotment of S’mores. I had another chance to get one perfect and didn’t quite achieve it. Vegetarian marshmallows don’t melt quite as well as the standard ones, but I did get one toasted on the outside, and about half-melted inside. The other one burned on top, but wasn’t too bad. It was nice to sit outside and watch the fire. I tossed some dry leaves in as kindling and became fascinated with how the burned away to their network of stem and veins inside, which would glow red before collapsing into ash. I kept throwing in more to see that. We went inside and watched a couple episodes of Blackish and then Beth and Noah watched For All Mankind while I took a bath.

Sunday

The next morning was rainy and gloomy. Beth took a walk because she’s admirably dedicated to her morning walk. (I am, too, but for me it’s a weekday thing.) In the afternoon she went to visit a former colleague who lives in the area now and they had another long walk in the woods on his property. The rest of us had a lazy day in the cabin. Noah and I read two more chapters of our book, I wrote most of this, and in the mid-afternoon, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows, wrapped myself in a blanket and for a solid three hours, I read The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl on the couch. Occasionally, I’d look out at the lake and notice a fog had rolled in or back out or that there were tiny little whitecaps on its usually still surface. The reason I stopped reading when I did was because the power went out around 5:30 and the book has long chapters and I didn’t want to get stuck mid-chapter when it got dark.

Beth found out from the power company that the outage had been reported and the estimate for recovery of power was 9:30 p.m. We were glad it wouldn’t be out overnight because it was supposed to go down to the twenties and the cabin probably wasn’t well-insulated. As it turned out, the power came back on at 7:00 and Beth was able to cook her planned dinner of chili and cornbread and Beth and I were able to attend an informational meeting about North’s sleepaway camp (which seems like it will be in session) and Noah, Beth, and I were able to watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’re in the second season now).

Monday

We didn’t have to be out of the house until one p.m., so the next morning Noah and I watched an episode of Death Note and then around eleven, Beth and I went for a walk in Deep Creek State Park. The two-mile trail we took went parallel to the lake alongside the bottom of a hill for a while and then there was a series of switchbacks to rise up the slope until the path straightened out and covered the same ground it had before except higher up. We might have taken the spur that goes to an old mine but it was getting late and I hadn’t packed, so we headed back to the cabin, where we packed, ate lunch, and cleaned, as directed by the host.

On the way out of town, we stopped at a coffeeshop. Noah and I went in while Beth and North stayed in the car and I was startled when North casually asked me pick up an iced mocha for them. I’m just not used to hearing that. It seems very grown up, especially since Noah doesn’t like coffee and doesn’t drink it.

We drove a few hours, got home in the late afternoon, and spring was bursting out all over. I mean, there were a lot of flowers already in bloom (daffodils and hyacinth) when we left, but only one cherry tree on our block had petals and it was the one that always blooms early. When we got back the whole block was a riot of puffy pale pink blossoms. Plus, my herb garden had visibly progressed and I haven’t even planted anything new this year. I have rosemary that overwintered (with the occasional night inside), plus chives, mint, oregano, parsley, and thyme all coming back. Oh, and there are doves nesting on our porch again, for the fourth spring in a row.

I don’t know if it was the get-away, the exuberant new life all around me, or both, but I felt lighter than I have in several weeks. And today, just two days after we returned from our cabin in the woods, Beth and I drove west again for our vaccinations.

By the Numbers: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 31

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

Anniversary: 01-11-21

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

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

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

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

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

Ocean City

Friday: 21842

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday: 99th to 79th & 40 Feet 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday: Countless Gulls & 21 Waves 

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

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

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

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

Inauguration: 46

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Before Blackwater and Arrival: Tuesday and Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas Eve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Day of Christmas: Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

More Days of Christmas: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 27

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday

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

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

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

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

Wednesday

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

Black Friday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday

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

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

Green Light for the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicle, Part 16

The first day North was out of the hospital, Beth texted me from their physical therapy appointment: “Green light for the beach.” Apparently, the therapist thought it would be fine to go.

So we went.

Saturday

We got a late start out of the house at 2 p.m., two hours later than we intended, and then there was a lot of traffic before the Bay Bridge, so it was almost four-thirty when we stopped at our traditional lunch spot, the Taco Bell and Dairy Queen right past the bridge (and yes, we did wait that long to eat lunch, snacking on garlic rye crisps and dried apricots in the car).

We stopped at our favorite farm stand and got a lot of produce, and arrived in Rehoboth around 7:30. We were all charmed by the house, which was nicer than it looked in its online pictures. It was wood-paneled with a soaring ceiling over the dining room and a sort of indoor veranda over the living room. The kitchen was a cheerful aqua color and spacious. There were two screened porches, a big one, and a little one with a desk I used as a writing table to write a lot of this post. It was also more house than we needed—five bedrooms. It’s harder to find little two or three bedroom cottages than it was in the nineties when we started vacationing in Rehoboth. Sadly, a lot of them have been torn down and replaced with larger houses.  But the space allowed us to spread out. Noah and I used one of the extra upstairs bedrooms as a reading room, and all week I kept imagining how we’d assign the rooms if we had our mothers and my sister and her family with us. We missed them a lot.

The only two drawbacks of the house were that 1) it wasn’t particularly accessible (we’d rented it back when North was on crutches, but not in a wheelchair) so we had to lift that chair up and down the front and back steps over and over, and 2) when we got there the thermostat was in a lockbox and set to 73 degrees and for the first couple days we were freezing, until we got the realty to open the box and let us set it.

The main reason we’d chosen this house was that it was a block from the beach, and we imagined North would be able to get to the beach on their own and would spend hours every day swimming. Clearly, that plan would have to be adjusted.

After unpacking the food, Beth, North, and I slipped down to the boardwalk. We were near the south end of it (we usually stay further north). There was an accessible path made of woven plastic that extended a little ways down the beach, close enough to see the water, so we wheeled North down it. We returned to the boardwalk, found the nearest beach wheelchair shed (five blocks away and closed for the day) so we’d know where it was, and then we peeked into Funland to see what their safety procedures looked like, but most of the entrances were blocked off and we couldn’t really see. Beth did manage to talk to an employee and ascertained that the Haunted Mansion was accessible. I don’t think North would want to go if they couldn’t do that.

We opted to turn around there because the crowds were getting thicker and not as many people were wearing masks as I would have liked (maybe half). Besides, it was getting late. We had a cold supper of cheese and crackers and fruit, as late as Europeans, Beth said. (It was past nine.) Then North did their physical therapy exercises and I cleaned up the kitchen and we turned in late (for us—it might have been eleven).

Sunday

Beth went out in the morning to get some breakfast groceries and we all ate and Beth and North went for another stroll on the boardwalk while I was still eating. When they returned they reported the crowds were sparser and a higher percentage of people were wearing masks in the daytime. I hit the beach around ten. It was a warm, muggy, foggy day. I could see the lifeguards from the water so I assumed they could see me, but the next lifeguard stand to the north was shrouded in fog and I couldn’t see the one to the south (which was further away) at all. The houses up on shore were partially obscured. It was kind of an eerie swim, but good to be in the water.

I swam about forty minutes, then took a short walk and returned to the house so Beth and I could menu plan and make a grocery list.  Once that was done, she left to go shopping, and I had lunch, read with Noah in our reading room, and then put the groceries away when she came home, and made lunch for North.

Around three, the kids and I left for the beach. The sky was darkening as we walked to the beach wheelchair shed and many more people were leaving the beach than arriving. This seemed like a bad sign, but I called for the beach patrol to unlock a chair for us. Someone arrived pretty quickly and soon we were rolling North down to the water. Their goal was to sit on the wet sand and feel the water on their feet and legs. It’s such a nice service that these chairs are available for anyone who needs them for free, but just as the big, puffy wheels hit the wet sand, the lifeguards heard thunder and blew their whistles and everyone had to get out of the water. So North’s vision was not realized that day. I was hoping to salvage the outing by asking if they wanted to stroll down the beach in the chair, or maybe just stay where we were and watch the waves, when a lifeguard came over and explained we had to leave the beach, not just the water.

We returned the beach wheelchair, got North back into the regular wheelchair, and pushed them up to the boardwalk. It was nice to have Noah’s help whenever he came to the beach. (And I would like to have the upper body strength of a nineteen-year-old boy who doesn’t even work out.) I eyed the boardwalk, wondering if a consolation prize of a trip to Candy Kitchen was feasible, but everyone who had left the beach seemed to be on the boardwalk now, plus the people who’d already been there, so we turned back. The storm never materialized.

Back at the house, Noah and I watched The Magicians while Beth and North watched The Fosters and then I blogged on the writing porch, while Beth made a dinner of veggie burgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, potato salad, and watermelon.

After dinner, we ventured out to see if the boardwalk was less crowded on a Sunday night than a Saturday night. The answer was not really, but by ducking down side streets and looping back, we avoided the biggest crowds, and we got ice cream on Rehoboth Ave.  We also got a better look into Funland. What I saw in terms of distancing and masks was encouraging. We returned to a less populated part of the boardwalk to eat our ice cream and I stayed a bit after everyone else had gone home to watch the sky over the ocean get pinker and then grow dark.

Monday

I was on the beach by 9:45, leaving North and Beth at the dining room table, attending their online summer school course and working, respectively. It was a hot, sunny day so I went straight to the water where I swam for almost an hour. I saw pelicans and dolphins and only left the beach, reluctantly, at 11:15 because I didn’t want to get too much sun.

At the house I made lunch for myself and North, who had just finished class, then I read with Noah, and wrote some get-out-the-vote postcards for a special election in Tennessee. Beth drove me to the post office to mail them so I could get North to the beach sooner.

This time the day was sunny, with no hint of lightning or thunder so we got the beach wheelchair down to the water and I eased North out of it so they could sit on the sand, with the water running over their legs and sometimes covering them as high as their chest. I noticed when the water moved their thighs they were able to move them back into position without using their hands. They said it was partly being able to move better in the water, and partly the water itself, changing direction and pushing their legs back.

I texted Noah to come because it was almost time to return the beach wheelchair. Getting North down to the water was doable (but difficult) with one person, but getting back was definitely a two-person job.

We got Grandpa Mac (build-your-own-pasta-bowls) delivered for dinner and watched Babette’s Feast, after a half-hour negotiation about what to watch. I hadn’t seen it in decades, but it holds up and the kids liked it, too, especially North.

Tuesday

I took North to the beach in the morning. North thought they’d try sitting in the chair, pushed a little bit into the water because the man who checked out the chair said you can do that and North thought they’d get less sand in their suit that way. But even with the brake set, the chair crept forward when the sand under its wheels eroded in the waves and I was struggling to control it when three beachgoers ran to help. After that, I parked it on the dry sand and North scooched down to the water again. While we were in the water, we saw dolphins and pelicans but the most exciting thing I saw was North kneeling, sometimes holding my hands, but sometimes unsupported when the water got deep enough around them. Beth got to see it, too, because she’d come to help get North off the beach. (Unfortunately, they felt weaker the next day and attributed it to overexertion and were never able to do it again.)

Noah and Beth usually do a puzzle on vacations and this year they had a challenging one to tackle. It was a Frank Lloyd Wright design meant to evoke saguaro cacti and cactus flowers. North got it for Noah for Christmas. Beth and Noah started it Tuesday after lunch.

While they were getting started, I ventured to Candy Kitchen and made a big purchase because we’d decided to limit ourselves to one trip this year instead of a few. I got fudge, sea salt caramels, gummy pizza slices, truffles, and a few other things. The boardwalk wasn’t crowded at all and when I arrived I was the only one in the store. Beth and I decided, based on patterns we’d observed, that from then on we’d only go the boardwalk on weekdays, during the daytime.  Other than Candy Kitchen and the grocery store, we also kept out of the indoor stores we usually visit—the tea and spice shop, our favorite coffeeshop, t-shirt shops, the bookstore, the crocs outlet on the highway. We also skipped the water park, not that North could have gone this year anyway.

After I got back with the candy, Noah and I took a late afternoon trip to the beach. He brought his drone and got some great footage. While he was filming, I had a nice swim. It was sunny and the surface of the water was silvery, with all the little ripples sharply defined. It was clearer than usual, too, and I could see a little fish about the size of my finger swimming near the surface. I also saw a couple of jellyfish but I didn’t see the one that stung the inside of my wrist. It left a red mark, but it faded quickly and hurt less than a bee sting. (I was in a good position to judge because the prior week while waiting for a bus to go to the hospital, I was stung by a bee and the memory was fresh.)

Beth made her traditional beach week meal that night—gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and a spread of fancy cheeses. This year she added watermelon agua fresca to the meal. (North chopped ten cups of watermelon for it.)  We called it Beth’s Feast and before we ate, Noah said, “Not a word about the food.” (This is a line from Babette’s Feast.)

While I did the dishes, Beth and Noah watched The Mandalorian, then we all played Cards Against Humanity and then Beth and North went for a walk while Noah and I watched The Magicians.

“We did all the things,” I said to Beth as we went to bed, but despite our busy evening, I couldn’t sleep that night, so I slipped down to the beach after Beth had fallen asleep, to stand on the sand and watch the heat lightning.

Wednesday

I woke up stiff and sore from pushing the beach wheelchair uphill the day before, but a morning swim, followed by sitting in a beach chair in the sun watching the waves, helped loosen me up. After lunch, we all headed to the boardwalk for treats. Noah and I shared a paper cup of fries, and North and Beth got gelati (a parfait of soft serve and Italian ice). I wanted funnel cake but I didn’t think it would be wise to eat it right after fries, so I decided to wait.

Noah went home while the rest of us went to the beach. With two adults, we could let North go a little deeper into the water as we each held one of their hands to stabilize them as they sat in the water. Some of the waves were big enough they could duck their head under them. Before we left, I had a brief swim. It was another sunny day with calm water in blue, green, and brown sections.

After we returned the beach wheelchair, Beth and North headed home and I got my funnel cake, which I ate very slowly in the shade of the porch of the restroom pavilion next to Funland. I only ate half of it—those things are enormous.

Next I came home and made dinner (a cucumber salad with yogurt-dill dressing and hard-boiled egg grated over it). It was ready early so Noah and I read before dinner and then after dinner Beth and the kids played a game they found in the house, while I blogged.

Thursday

Beth and Noah were out the door by eight the next morning. He wanted to fly the drone on another part of the beach, over some of the more iconic boardwalk businesses before many people were there. He flew over the Dolles sign and some dolphins, (but from pretty far away because he didn’t want to disturb them). Here’s about five minutes of his footage from both drone expeditions.

North got up twenty minutes after they left, just as I was about to wake them for their 9 a.m. Foundations of Tech class. (They decided later that day they wanted to drop half of the class and do the equivalent of a semester instead of a year over the course of five weeks because they were finding it more difficult than expected and they would have a lot going on with doctors’ appointments once we got back home.)

I made them breakfast, then headed to the beach, where I spent an hour and forty-five minutes at the beach, swimming and watching the waves from the sand.

I returned to the house, showered, read with Noah, and then we all walked down to the boardwalk again to have lunch at the crepe stall in an alley off Rehoboth Ave. It was while we were eating lunch that I finally agreed to North’s plan to go deeper in the water inside an inflatable ring with a mother on each side. (I was surprised they got Beth on board before me, as she’s generally more cautious about this kind of thing.)

Beth went to a 5 & 10 to purchase the ring, while I secured the beach wheelchair and then we all met up. It was tricky getting into and out of the water, but in between North had an experience more like swimming and they didn’t drown, so we considered it a success.

We couldn’t stay in the water too long, though, because North and I had reservations at Funland, which is operating at 20% capacity, with distancing on the rides and masks required. As a result of the reduced crowds, there were no lines to speak of, and people were pretty good about distancing. Not all of the rides are accessible, but two of North’s favorites, the Sea Dragon and the Haunted Mansion, were so they rode them three times each. I accompanied them in the Mansion and having never done it three times in one day before, I can now tell you on the second ride you notice little details you missed the first time, but by the third time it’s pretty much given up all its secrets. North also rode the helicopters twice and the bumper cars once. They were a little frustrated by a few rides that would have been accessible if not for one step up.

“Today was fun,” they said as we proceeded down the boardwalk toward home, where penne with a tomato-mushroom sauce Beth and Noah had made awaited. We ate dinner listening to a presentation about the fall semester at Ithaca on a laptop. Then after I did the dishes, there were games, and work on the puzzle, and blogging. But sadly, Beth was up late working, for the second night in a row.

Friday

I woke already sad to be leaving in a day. Sometimes at the end of beach week I feel peaceful and satisfied, but sometimes I’m just really sad and I already knew what kind of departure this was going to be.  Rain was predicted in the morning, so we spent it inside. Noah and I read and watched the season four finale of The Magicians while rain pelted the windows. It was over by lunchtime, so we all went to the beach and North got to try out the ring again. We never really mastered getting in and out of the water. It’s a terrifying process actually when the waves are deep enough to go over your child’s head, but not deep enough for them to float in the ring, though North seemed pretty unfazed by it. And then Beth got knocked down by a wave on the way out and skinned both her shins. But in between, we spent a nice hour in the water and it made North very happy.

The sky was all kinds of sky at once, part overcast, part sunny, with dark gray storm clouds out at sea. These had black strands hanging down Beth thought might be rain. When we got out, Beth and the kids went to the boardwalk for treats, but in a last-day calculus, I decided I’d rather have more beach time than ice cream so I stayed.  A big pod of dolphins showed up and started fishing in front of me, splashing, and flipping their tails out of the water. (I saw the back third of one of them all the way to the tip of its tail.) They were there for a half hour. It was kind of magical. I also saw osprey soaring over me with fish in their talons. I’d been seeing that all week, the fishing seemed better than usual for them.

When my family returned, just missing the dolphins, we walked toward home, but as we got close I realized I wasn’t done yet, and I split off again to return to the beach just in front of our block, where I rested on my towel and then sat up and watched the ocean, and then had my last swim in the golden early evening light. The water was calm, as it had been all week, so I floated on my back and looked at the cottony clouds and a gull circling over my head.

Back at the house, we had pizza delivered and ate it on the screened porch, and talked about how we’d missed being with our usual beach crew of extended family. Then I cleaned the kitchen, Beth and Noah finished the puzzle, we all watched an episode of Speechless, and started to pack up the house. We knew from our experience trying to get on the road a week earlier, it takes longer now that North can’t help as much and there’s more equipment to fit in and on top of the car.

Saturday

As a result of doing a lot of leaving-the-house chores the night before we got out of the house pretty smoothly and close to on time. Beth drove to the realty to return the keys while the kids and I went to the boardwalk to say goodbye to the ocean. This ritual had to be revised because it wasn’t worth the hassle of getting North down to the water, so instead we brought the water to North. We left the chair at the end of the plastic path where North could see us and we stood with our feet in the water for the requisite twenty waves, then filled a plastic water bottle with ocean water, came back and poured it on North’s feet.

And with that, our strange week at the beach was over.