When COVID came

We’ve been pretty careful. At least I have. I really haven’t had to try very hard since I’ve been working from home for over a year now and the places I’ve gone with any frequency include outside (for walks,) the grocery store, and Target.

Jack, on the other hand, goes to work everyday, with a fair number of coworkers who believe we’re being duped about the severity of COVID and who try not to wear their masks as often as they can get away with it. Jack also tells me there are hand-sanitizer dispensers all over the place at work, but which are generally empty. He’s not diligent about using hand-sanitizer anyway. I can tell because the small bottle he keeps in his truck has been there for the better part of a year without needing to be refilled.

Who knows from where it really came? Jack might have picked it up at work, from a gas pump, after touching a keypad at the home improvement store. Maybe one of our kids carried it into the house. The fact remains that Jack got COVID.

He’d had a medical procedure the Wednesday before Easter. The following day, he started having chills and feeling under the weather. His paperwork from the procedure had explained he might experience chills and fever afterwards, so we didn’t think much of it at first. The doctor called the day after the procedure to give Jack his test results. (All good.) Jack told the doctor about his chills and was advised to keep an eye on things but the doctor wasn’t too concerned.

On Friday Jack stayed home from work. On Saturday he was really miserable. He got an Urgency Room appointment on Easter Sunday. And he came home with a COVID diagnosis.

All I can say is thank God he’d already had his first dose of the vaccine two weeks prior to getting sick. Jack is immunocompromised and having one dose under his belt may be the only reason he didn’t have breathing issues. And things were bad enough as it was. My poor husband stayed in the bedroom for eight days straight, in the dark, sleeping or just laying there in misery. He got out of bed only to use the restroom a few feet away and would be winded by the time he got back into bed. During this entire time, he never once turned on a television or any screen. This is how I knew how bad it was. If you knew my husband and his love of screens, you’d have been worried too.

I managed to keep him drinking as much as possible so he’d stay hydrated, but he barely ate a thing for at least a week, and I’m sure he’s lost at least a few pounds by now. He’d tell you he had a few to spare, but worst diet ever!

On the ninth day Jack turned the slightest corner and came out of the bedroom. I have never been so relieved in my life! Knowing he was past the worst of it and the breathing struggles weren’t going to happen lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. For the past week since then, Jack has remained at home, mostly just laying on the couch watching television and still pretty weak, but eating a bit more and seeming more every day like his old self.

It was scary. A few well-meaning family and friends who work in the medical field advised about when I should watch for Jack to start having trouble breathing. I think that was the hardest part – being on the watch for truly dire straits. Thankfully, the worst never transpired. And we were supported by so many who offered to drop off groceries or do anything we needed doing, or just sent well-wishes and prayers. We didn’t really need anyone to do anything. InstaCart and Amazon made it easy to get anything we might need pretty easily. But it was nice to know people wanted to help.

Jack is now on the road to recovery and received his second dose of the vaccine yesterday. (Poor guy was told to expect the side-effects today to hit harder than normal due to receiving the shot after having had COVID.)

In the midst of Jack’s worst days, I got vaccinated myself (with the one-and-done version.) I felt slightly under the weather for the better part of a week, mainly having a loss of appetite and shedding a few pounds myself. But today I am confident we are on our way back to normalcy and I am so very grateful.

Coming Back to Life

Daylight! We have daylight again! I have missed it so much. It might even have been worth losing that hour of sleep earlier this week just to be able to end my workday with the sun still streaming through the window. I know it’s not just me. The past few months have felt darker than most years. It’s amazing what a little natural light can do to lift the spirits!

It’s funny how the changing seasons can transform the same patch of sky that I see every single morning from my windows. Day after day, there’s a new piece of artwork inside the same frame.

The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter by the day. I can breathe again and can’t seem to get outside enough to soak in all of this nearly-spring weather. Lucy and I have been going for walks after work. She’s a little bit out of shape and needs the exercise. And even my four-legged baby senses the renewal taking place, displaying her funny sense of exuberance. As we trek through the neighborhood, she gallops as far as her leash will allow, and sniffs every patch of grass, every stray leaf, every place her nose can reach. As soon as she feels the leash go a bit slack, she bursts forth again in the hopes of more new scents, more sights to see. When her initial energy wanes, she slows to a prance, her head held high, searching right to left, up and down, making sure she doesn’t miss a thing.

I’m seeing people again, a friend in the neighborhood strolling out to the mailbox who flags me over to catch up for a few minutes. There are little kids playing in driveways who don’t know me but who eagerly shout, Hi! Hi! Hi! and wave frantically as Lucy and I pass by. I smile and wave back and Lucy’s tongue lolls out of her mouth as she considers them for the briefest moment before pulling me forward. Birds chirping. Squirrels racing. Geese honking. I have missed all of this during the long quiet we’ve just been through.

Things are slowly returning to normal. I worried that this Easter would be another lonely pandemic holiday. But I am so grateful it won’t be. We can gather together again. A bit. Normally, holiday preparations stress me out while I impossibly try to make everything perfect and conjure up expectations that can’t possibly be met. Now, as I plan to host Easter brunch with my immediate and some extended family, I’ve discarded any ideas of perfection. I’m not complaining to myself that no one else offered to host a gathering at their homes (again.) No. Like Lucy, I’m exuberant. I have missed life. I’ve missed my people. I won’t soon take either for granted again.

Winter at the Cabin

For years, Jack and I struggled to make time to go to his family’s cabin in the summers. We’ve always loved to go to the lake, but we had kids in sports for many years which meant that evenings and weekends often found us sitting and cheering at a ball field. Jack’s job was sometimes a roadblock as well with its rotating schedule that kept him at work every other weekend. Then my parents’ health began failing and their need for help became a priority over up-north escapes.

But the years passed by, the kids grew up, my parents passed on, and Jack’s work situation changed. Suddenly we had time again to get away to the lake, to unplug, to commune with nature and simply enjoy the peaceful surroundings of my father-in-law’s happy place. We have made a true effort to get there more often lately, to make use of it and help manage the upkeep the way Jack’s dad would have wanted us to do.

The cabin is a rustic dwelling and lacks many of the conveniences we enjoy at home. To be honest, that’s part of its charm. It’s small but it has a big farm table to accommodate the large extended family. There’s no cable television, (so get outside and play!) The rooms are few but there are many places to sleep. Just don’t expect any privacy. There’s no central air conditioning; just a small window unit used only on those days when the air is truly stifling and it’s too hot to sleep. There’s no furnace, but there’s a small stove to heat things up in the fall when the guys gather for hunting trips.

Jack and I have never gone to the cabin in the winter. The conveniences are even fewer during the cold and snowy months. Since the cabin isn’t occupied on a regular basis, the water and heat are shut off after hunting season. That’s not to say that we can’t go in the winter. It just takes a more effort. It takes a couple of hours for the cabin to heat up to a comfortable level, and using the bathroom means walking outside – day or night – to use an outhouse.

Last summer while spending time at the lake with extended family, the talk turned to planning some winter trips. The idea took hold and last weekend, we made it happen.

I’m often guilty of having expectations that are too high, ending up disappointed when things don’t play out as perfectly as I imagine. As the weekend drew near, I daydreamed of perfect weather that would ensure snow on the ground but not too much. I wished for temperatures cold enough to maintain the snow cover and to keep the ice strong on the lake, but not so cold that we’d be forced back inside. I envisioned all of my kids and their significant others being able to join us. And I pictured all of us frolicking outside happily until we were exhausted and starving for one of those simple cabin dinners that always tastes best when every chair at the table is occupied. I had to keep reminding myself to take the weekend as it came, and not to be upset if everything wasn’t perfect.

I’ve made a concerted effort to find reasons to be grateful over the last year. Our winter cabin weekend made it so easy. I sincerely could not have asked for more. All of my kids and their significant others were able to join us, as well as Jack’s younger brother and his family. The weather was spectacular! Saturday was overcast with really comfortable temperatures. Sunday brought a clear blue sky, brilliant sunshine and temperatures just a bit colder than the day before. And we did it all!

I have to give credit to my brother-in-law who is just a big kid at heart. He talked Jack into participating in this weekend when I couldn’t. And once we were all at the cabin, he bounced around encouraging everyone to do this and try that. He was like a cruise director, making sure everyone was happy and having the best time imaginable! We rode sleds and tubes down the hill from the deck of the cabin down onto the lake. We made and threw snowballs. The guys did some ice fishing and the dogs ran, and ran, and ran! Thanks to my brother-in-law, I learned to drive a snowmobile as well as how to cross-country ski. The snowmobiling was exhilarating and fun! The skiing was more work than I’d imagined but such a peaceful experience. I definitely want to do more skiing.

After so much activity, I truly did work up a hunger such as I rarely feel. The food, though simple and convenient, tasted so good because it was shared with loved ones. When it was too dark to be outside any longer, we gathered around the table and played board games together, our voices growing louder as the night went on and laughter bubbling over easily. Leaving at the end of the weekend was, as it always is when departing from the cabin, bittersweet. I was anxious to get back home to a shower and a comfortable bed. But I was reluctant to see it all come to an end.

I needed this weekend. It was an opportunity to escape the sense of COVID fatigue for a while. And it is so rare that we’re able to gather all of our kids together in the same place for any length of time, much less an entire weekend. My heart swelled with love as I watched my kids talk and play together. I love seeing the incredible adults they have grown to be and the way they’ve grown closer to one another as they’ve matured. Everything about this weekend was simply amazing and I was literally overjoyed. Before I closed my eyes last night, I said a prayer of thanks for such a beautiful gift.

Too Cold to Go Outside

I haven’t been getting outside to walk for the past week or so. It’s too cold! I was really sticking with it too, well past the point in the winter that I normally do. Usually I’ve given up long before now. But if I can say anything good about a pandemic and working from home and rarely going anywhere, it’s that it has motivated me to go outside, see something besides the walls of my own house, and breathe fresh air. But the past couple of weeks with their sub-zero temperatures broke me. I’m pretty hardy, but I draw the line when the temperatures are cold enough to pose the risk of frostbite on skin exposed longer than five minutes.

It was eighteen below this particular morning.
An enjoyable view from inside the house

I miss my walks. I miss my friend and neighbor who walks with me. It always refreshes my spirit to get out of the house and talk with someone who doesn’t live with me. When the temperatures started falling, I told myself that if I couldn’t go outside, I’d still step away from my desk for a while each day and read a book, eat some lunch, watch an episode of something, or even do some laundry. But I never do. Without even giving it much thought, I just keep working. Oh, well. I’ve accomplished a lot at work and that in itself is fulfilling. It’s probably not a great long-term plan though.

This weekend promises a slight warm-up, thankfully, and next week looks good for getting outside again. I can’t wait!

Other benefits of these long, slow, quiet days? I’ve managed to stick with my goal to plan meals, cook, and eat better. I’ll dare to say that I’m well on my way to creating a solid habit of planning and shopping so that I have ingredients on hand to cook some things we’ll enjoy and feel good about eating. I’m only slightly worried I might start slacking off when spring and summer roll around.

I’m doing a ton of reading and really enjoying it.

I’ve not really worked much on crocheting. I got very excited about it at first and then I just fizzled. I’ve been too wrapped up in my books, I think. I’m not worried though. The yarn and hooks aren’t going anywhere. And obviously, neither am I!

On Being Ruined

I woke up at 3:00 the other morning and failing to fall back to sleep, lay there just letting my brain run in all directions. A particular realization rose to the surface, a feeling of being unsettled. Unsettled seems to be my constant companion, sometimes more apparent than others but always hanging around. The past year has moved me out of my comfort zone and I often feel as if I’m hovering in a sort of gray state of anxiousness, melancholy, and world-weariness.

I miss having plans. I miss seeing people. I miss looking forward to anything much more exciting than my weekly grocery run. It’s hard sometimes to stay positive when everyone you love is so close and yet so far away. Virtual reality helps, but it’s simply not the same. I want think about being in the world again, and spending time with people without the underlying fear that we might harm one another by breathing in the same space.

I see the ever-increasing divisions in this country and realize I’ve probably spent much of my life blissfully ignorant. This … everything the world is going through right now … this is nothing new. It has happened time and again, hasn’t it? I’ve just been fortunate enough to have lived most of my years in relatively calm times – or more likely was simply sheltered from the really worrisome stuff. When I was in the third grade, my elementary school suddenly enrolled a population of Vietnamese children. I remember being fascinated with the fact that they didn’t speak English. I noticed their mismatched, often ill-fitting clothing, but at that age it never occurred to me to question why, or to imagine their lives hadn’t been every bit as safe as mine. Somehow, my best friend that year was a Vietnamese girl who’d been placed in my class. We barely understood each other’s words, but we connected. And I had absolutely no idea for a very long time where she’d come from and the war that had happened in her country, or our country’s part in it.

This has happened a lot to me over my adult years, a dawning realization years in the making. Events that had previously seemed little more than a history lesson during my school years, I suddenly realized had occurred during my grandparents’ lifetime. My parents’ lifetime. My lifetime.

I often have to turn away from the news these days. I can’t ask Jack not to watch, but sometimes I have to close myself off. Sometimes when I’m cooking or doing chores, I’ll turn the television on for some background noise. I’ll find something that is just enough to keep me company but not enough to distract me from what needs doing. I’ve been watching Eat, Pray, Love on Netflix lately, either while falling asleep or while doing some chore. I long ago read the book by Elizabeth Gilbert, but had never bothered with the movie. I almost always think a book is better than its movie, so this was, in my mind, the perfect one for background noise. Except that a particular line in the movie captured my attention.

Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.

Elizabeth Gilbert

I found myself sort of ranting to Jack two nights ago. He had the local news on and I was allowing myself to watch. There was a story about parents appealing to the governor to lift mask mandates for youth sports. Apparently several children have passed out while playing, presumably because the masks make it difficult to breathe during activities requiring such exertion. I watched as parent after parent was interviewed, all expressing the unfairness of requiring children to wear masks while playing a team sport. (Ironically, the story went on to say that statistics show there has been no increase in incidents of passing out as compared to before the pandemic.)

I’m normally not one to express an opinion out loud about such things. Everyone is entitled to their passions. The past year has taken its toll on everyone, and what’s a priority to some may not be a priority to others. We’re each seeing the world right now through our own unique lenses. But this news story fired me up. I looked at Jack and threw my hands up, asking, “What’s more important? That your kid gets to play basketball, or that your kid gets to play basketball in a way that offers a slightly better chance of keeping her and others around her safe? If you feel your child is at risk from wearing a mask while playing basketball, then maybe the choice should be not to play basketball this season! I mean, should we all be allowed to do the things we think we’re entitled to do? Or should we be doing whatever it takes to get beyond where we are now?”

I’m tired of it all too. I’m tired and I’m getting bored. But I also don’t think we should just throw out all precautions and play a real live game of survival of the fittest. My kids played sports. I remember how important it was to us. And yes. It’s unfair the way so many things are right now. It’s unfair that kids are falling behind because they’re not learning in the structure of a traditional classroom. It’s unfair that we can’t hold birthday parties or celebrate holidays with large groups of family and friends. It’s also unfair that people are dying.

None of us gets to do all of the things right now that we were used to doing before. And who knows if or when we’ll get to do them again. Maybe this is where my feeling of being unsettled stems from. That we might never again get to do of the things that define life as we think we know it.

The world sometimes feels to me like it’s falling apart. But isn’t this the bigger picture? Sometimes I begin to feel so defeated at all that’s going on, and then I watch the history channel and am reminded just how awful things have been before. Hasn’t this happened time and again throughout history? A ruining of sorts? What was taken for granted by one generation fails to exist for another. And it works both to our benefit and sometimes to our detriment.

I knew all of this … this trying to carry on through the pandemic … was going to get really difficult for me about this time of year anyway, with days that are still too short and when darkness comes too early. Not to mention, it’s a sub-zero deep freeze outside and that certainly doesn’t help. It’s made me a bit mopey at times, but also more introspective as well. That quote from Eat, Pray, Love keeps coming to mind. This is all so much bigger than us. So much bigger than I’ve imagined it would ever transpire to be. I’ve gone from disbelief that the virus would really affect us , to being literally afraid of it. I’ve gone from believing a resolution is just around the corner, to finding ways to stay positive and move on toward a day that’s still much too far away. I’ve experienced exhaustion and sorrow over too many other devastating and historic events that just seem to pile on top of a world that already feels much too fragile.

We are experiencing a ruining right now, I think. Funny thing is that whenever I’ve imagined such a thing, it was instantaneous and totally devastating. Before now, the world going to ruins was merely a far-fetched invention of the imagination. But I’m beginning to understand it’s not an illusion. It’s real. But it’s happening in slow motion. And this means we have some control over it, a chance to ensure that something good comes of it. It could really go either way, but I pray that our transformation holds more growth, more good than anything.

This is me not sleeping

Thoughts that daily make their way through my brain…

When this is over

When things are back to normal …

Maybe it will never be truly over. Maybe fragments of where we are now will stay with us forever. Normal might never be again what we once believed it to be.

I don’t always sleep well. Probably a symptom of my age. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve developed a permanent low level of anxiety (thanks to a virus) that prevents me from truly letting go long enough to sleep through the night. Maybe I haven’t. But maybe I have. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep for a long time, or I wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep. My brain doesn’t want to shut down. I think as normal as I try to make things, there’s a part of me that knows that none of this is normal and it makes me feel so unsettled sometimes.

I go through the days and I do my normal things. It’s kind of nice to be able to work at home, to have those extra minutes to get something done beyond driving to and from an office. I can toss a load of laundry in the washer in the middle of the day. Put some outgoing mail in the mailbox. Pull something from the freezer for dinner. Stop for a minute to hug and kiss my dog. All things I couldn’t do if this was the old normal and I was away from home for nine or more hours a day.

Sometimes I wake up in the night and my brain immediately wants some kind of reassurance that just isn’t to be found. No matter how much I try to tell it calming, fun, happy things, think about the best things in my life, or just breathe deeply in and out, my brain goes into overdrive and sleep won’t come back. When will I stop wondering every day if I’m going to catch the virus and – not that I’m very worried for myself – but what if I pass it on to someone else and do them harm? I can’t stop thinking about my poor mother-in-law in her little apartment for months on end without any real visits from family. It hurts my heart to hear the daily death count on the news, about the shortage of vaccines, and the mutating strains of the virus.

Maybe I can’t sleep because it’s impossible to truly relax while there’s no end in sight and the world just isn’t safe for everyone. (Not that it ever was, really.) But this virus!

Of course then I remember that this probably isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. There is an end in sight and I just need to be patient a while longer. My livelihood isn’t at risk which in turn makes me able think about (and do) more for others less fortunate. There’s plenty of food on the table. I can binge watch Netflix without the usual level of guilt. Got lots of time to read books or do some project around the house. I spend a lot more time outside – in the winter even – than I ever did before. I can go to work in leggings or sweatpants if I want to. All really great perks, right?

The view outside isn’t bad.

Imagine how terrifying it must have been to live in a time when you couldn’t protect your child from polio. When a vaccine couldn’t even be imagined. And when it could, it was years away. And I think I have trouble sleeping! This isn’t so bad then, is it?

Maybe normal is never coming back. Maybe the new normal is that time passes a little bit slower. And church isn’t a building. Maybe it’s forgiveness being extended more generously, not having to be first, loving others exactly for who they are and for who they aren’t. Hugs might be a little more scarce, but personally, I hope they come back in droves. Maybe the new normal is that we all have a lot more grace to offer.

Sometimes I wonder if the bigger purpose to all this is to deconstruct everything we take so much for granted, in order to take us down a few notches. Maybe when this is all over, the world is different, better in ways we never dreamed. I have to believe there’s a purpose for what is happening in the world today, this big thing that is beyond anything I could have imagined in my lifetime. I remind myself to live in it and through it, find something redeeming each day and not just constantly look for the end of it all. But I will be so happy to get beyond it.

Maybe this is why I can’t sleep at night. Then again, it could just be my age.

Why do I worry? Because I have to do it for everyone.

We went back to work yesterday, Jack and I. No more vacation days. No more waking up without an alarm. No more over-indulging in Netflix or sneaking a few more leftover Christmas cookies out of sheer boredom.

Thanks to a tracking error on his employer’s part, Jack was informed in mid-December that he had fifty-some hours of vacation time to use (or lose) before the end of the year that shall not be named. (A coworker introduced me to that label today and it made me laugh out loud, so I am using it henceforth!) So my hubby had been at home for the last two weeks without anything particularly pressing to do. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. Not that I was keeping tabs or anything. Near the end of his vacay, he said he was looking forward to going back to work this week. I said I was glad he was going back to work too. (I’m kidding. A little bit.) I also was looking forward to returning to my work. Having time off during a pandemic just isn’t that fun.

Alarm clocks sounded yesterday morning. We got up before the sun. Off we went to work. Well, off Jack went to work. Off I went to the family room in our lower level which continues to serve as my office until we tackle some projects which will allow me to convert a spare bedroom into a better workspace. I can’t do that right now since there is a new bathroom vanity taking up a large chunk of space in the bedroom. So first, bathroom remodel. Then bedroom remodel and new office space. Soonish, I hope.

It felt good to be back in the swing of things at work, using my brain for something more stimulating than watching the Hallmark Channel. Not that I’m knocking the Hallmark Channel. I got totally sucked into the non-stop holiday flicks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. After I decided to boycott watching any channel cycling non-stop news of COVID and politics, hatred and violence, the Hallmark channel saved my sanity. I could pretend the country wasn’t spiraling out of control and just get lost in beautiful people who live in quaint, cozy small towns where nobody ever really seems to work, and everyone is filled the Christmas spirit all the time, and love always wins in the end. Sigh! Funny thing about Christmas movies though. Even though Hallmark offers them … What? Year round I think? They’re not nearly as charming and actually feel a lot cheesier when it’s no longer the Christmas season. Besides, I was beginning to see reruns. And after the New Year’s Eve celebration that wasn’t, going back to work sounded awfully inviting.

So there I was yesterday morning, about three hours into my work day and participating in a Teams meeting when I heard the front door open. Thinking that was very odd, I heard footsteps come down the stairs and suddenly there was Jack. He looked wretched. I muted my microphone momentarily and leaned away from my web cam. Without me having to ask, he muttered, “I don’t know what’s wrong. I’m going to bed.”

I could feel the blood drain from my face because of course, I instantly assumed COVID, which where Jack is concerned, scares me to death. With his autoimmunity and some other health issues of late, I really worry about how he would manage if he got the virus. But of course, I was stuck on my meeting for a few more minutes and couldn’t drill him with questions at that exact moment. After he walked out of the room, I tried to continue to pay attention to the topic at hand. And by the time the meeting ended not long after, Jack was sound asleep in bed and stayed that way for hours. Around mid-afternoon he resurfaced from the bedroom and said he felt a little better. I asked what had been wrong. What he described certainly didn’t point to COVID, but definitely didn’t ease my mind. He used words like “dizzy,” “light headed,” and “nauseous.” Also, there was “short of breath” and “felt like I was having a heart attack.”

“A heart attack? And you drove yourself home?” I asked incredulously.

“Well, I sat for about an hour at work until the worst of it passed and when I felt a little better, I figured I could drive home,” he replied.

“Maybe it was a panic attack,” I suggested. I’ve heard people say they thought they were having a heart attack and it turned out to be anxiety, although even as I was saying it I was thinking that would be much more likely to happen to me, not Jack.

“You had two weeks away from work and maybe you were worried about catching up on things.”

He really didn’t think it was anxiety and said he figured he just had the stomach flu. But I insisted that the heart attack feelings didn’t jive with a stomach bug and he shouldn’t have driven home afterwards. I have about sixteen jillion hours of PTO and could easily have come get him. Also, now that I think about it, there’s an emergency squad where he works, trained First Responders. Maybe he might have called on them? Maybe? And also, feeling like he was having a heart attack warranted a call to the doctor. “Now,” I said.

He brushed me off, saying he felt better now.

“I don’t,” I said. “Call the doctor.”

“They’re wrapping up their day by now. I’ll call tomorrow.”

“It’s 3:15. They’re not wrapping up. If you’re feeling better in the morning, you’ll go to work again and you’ll forget to call. Do it now and at minimum, you can leave a message asking for a call back.”

“I don’t have a card with the phone number.”

The excuses with this man!!!

“There’s this thing called Google,” I deadpanned. “Helps you find all kinds of information.”

I insisted that particularly with his health issues, he shouldn’t mess around and should at least check in with a professional to see if we should be more concerned, or maybe go to a hospital. He finally acquiesced and called his specialist’s office, actually reaching a live person and getting put directly through to a nurse. (Go figure!) She drilled him with questions and when she didn’t insist he head to the E.R. I felt a bit better.

Later on, Jack ate dinner, watched television, and slept through the night without incident. He went back to work today, put in an entire day, and lived to tell about it. His specialist’s dedicated nurse also called today and eased my mind even further. She said the doctor didn’t feel his incident was related to his health issues or current medications. It might have just been a fluke thing, a virus, stomach bug. Who knows? And if he continues to experience the same symptoms, he should GO SEE HIS PRIMARY DOCTOR. (Imagine that!)

Seeing as how Jack is feeling back to his normal self today, I guess we are going to let this go. But this sure put a damper on that whole not-worrying thing!

A Winter Night’s Walk

Today was my last day of work for the year and it ended with me feeling like I could crawl out of my own skin. It was probably an inevitable occurrence after ten months of (and now permanently) working at home, when leaving work merely means shutting down the computer and walking upstairs to the kitchen to make dinner. Also, Christmas is over and it’s all of a sudden too quiet. The evening routine has become painfully, well … routine. I shouldn’t complain, I know. I don’t need to be reminded how fortunate I really am. I think tonight’s mood is just courtesy of 2020. I’m actually surprised it took this long.

A winter storm has been playing out since early afternoon. I paced around the house after reheating some leftovers for dinner. I stopped at a window several times to stare out into the darkness and watch the snow showering down from above. Jack asked what was wrong, twice. I told him I was bored, twice. I hated that I sounded like a spoiled child. It’s not as if I couldn’t find something to read, or tackle some project. I just was at odds with myself. He asked if I wanted to go shopping and offered to drive me.

“I don’t want to spend money just to cure my boredom,” I moped. “Bad idea.”

“Go outside and shovel,” he suggested.

You go outside and shovel,” I mimicked under my breath. Of course he would suggest that. I was mildly irritated because much as I hate to admit we’re still this old-school, the outdoor jobs are, by default, his responsibility. Since he doesn’t contribute much inside the house, those kinds of jobs fall on me. Also, it seemed kind of pointless to go out and shovel the driveway when there’s a perfectly good, new-just-last-year snow blower sitting in the garage that I know he’ll be just dying to fire up tomorrow.

I had to admit Jack was onto something though, since I soon found myself shoving feet into boots and digging in the closet for a hat and scarf. I’d gone out for my lunchtime walk earlier today, as usual, but I still needed to burn off some steam.

So I layered up in all my outdoor clothing and went out to shovel the driveway and front walk. By the time I was done, there was already a new layer of snow covering it all up again, so I ran my shovel back and forth again, which was clearly proving to be a futile effort and which hadn’t produced the desired effect on my psyche anyway. I poked my head inside the door and called out to Jack that I was going for a walk.

His face appeared in the stairway from the lower level. “Are you okay?”

“Yes… No… I just need to get out for a while.”

“Okay,” he said a bit warily as I closed the door behind me. And I trudged off.

I love the path that runs behind our house. On nicer days, I can follow its entire loop (about five miles) and arrive right back at home. Tonight, in the dark, with the snow falling steadily and my feet kicking up a poof of fresh powder with each stride, it was enough to walk up the hill, across the bridge and then turn around to come back again.

It felt so good to be out of the house, away from the same old walls and the constant sound of a television. I took long, purposeful strides and filled my lungs with the wintry air, hoping to replace the stale feeling inside of me with something cleaner and lighter. The blanket of white on the ground muffled the sounds of cars as they drove by, but magnified the steady note of a train whistle. At the house next to the farm, someone was driving a four-wheeler around the yard and pulling a chain of strung-together sleds filled with kids. The kid in the caboose waved at me as I walked by. That made me smile. I waved back and felt a little better.

Christmas lights still adorned trees and twinkled outside many of the neighborhood houses. Chunky snowflakes pelted my cheeks as I kept moving ahead. I crossed paths with a guy sporting a full, black beard turned white with snow, but otherwise had the path to myself. The tops of my boots filled with snow and the lower half of my jeans got wet, but I didn’t care. Whatever it was that had been churning around inside me was finally gone by the time I came back home.

Jack looked relieved when I came back through the door.

“Better?” He asked.

“Better.” I said. Much better.

Lessons Learned in 2020

It’s December 23rd and I took the day off from work. I’m looking forward to a nice five-day weekend. In a year that has forced us to be chill, I find myself facing the holidays with an unusually relaxed state of mind. Our normal extended family gatherings aren’t happening this year and we’ll be celebrating in a much more low-key way. Our three kids and their significant others will be with us for Christmas Eve dinner and presents. At least that’s the plan. I just caught the weather forecast and it sounds like our so-far brown December is coming to an end today with anywhere from five to nine inches of snow expected to fall before morning. I just pray the roads are clear enough for the kids to get here safely tomorrow afternoon. If not? Well it won’t be the first holiday we spend apart this year. But I really, really want to be with my kids this Christmas and I’m not sure I’ll handle it so well if things don’t work out. I know I really have nothing to complain about though, and I’ll do my best to handle whatever may transpire without feeling too sorry for myself.

Still, while I wait to put this year in the rearview mirror, I’m reminded – not for the first time – that I have it pretty good. And I keep thinking that this time is meant to be teaching us something, leading us somewhere better. As I face a not-so-normal Christmas, I realize I’m not that upset about it. How many years have I caved to the pressure of pulling off the perfect holiday only to lose sleep and stress out to the point that I end up ruining it for myself? So often the beauty and meaning of the season is totally lost on me. I love our extended family in all of their wonderful, albeit sometimes quirky and maddening ways, and I look forward to when we can celebrate all kinds of occasions together again. But maybe taking a step back this year isn’t such a bad thing.

This year has pulled back the curtain for me on all the ways the people of this world still haven’t grown up (myself included). I realize how naïve I’ve been and recognize that injustice of all kinds is ages old. It’s not somewhere out there in the faraway places of the earth, but right here in my own back yard. I’ve become hyper-aware of how little progress we’ve made in taking better care of each other, or sharing our abundance with those who have less. As I continue to anticipate brighter days ahead, I hope for less selfishness and greed, and a much kinder, gentler, compassionate population of people. It may just be that I’m getting older and typically realizing I don’t actually need everything I’ve always thought I did. But the added benefit to this state of mind is it makes me want to give back more, and more often.

My family has been very fortunate throughout all that has transpired this year and that fact is spotlighted every single day with the constantly dire news of all that is going on in the world. We’re all still working and have stayed relatively healthy. Those we know who have contracted the Coronavirus have managed it and recuperated. We’re lucky, I know. And It makes me want to help in whatever way I can. I’m trying.

Jack and I “adopted” a couple of little girls, ages three and six, through a local childcare center. Their mom has had a hard time this year and their grandmother had charge of the girls for a while. Grandma provided the girls’ Christmas wish lists and nothing on those lists was in the least extravagant. We were able to get everything the girls wanted and needed plus a few extras. We also added gift cards for Mom and Grandma so they could purchase groceries and necessities. The director of the daycare center thanked us profusely when we dropped everything off. And she emailed later to thank us again, telling us how Mom cried when she picked up the girls’ gifts and received the gift cards for herself. One of the girls has Celiac Disease and apparently Mom had been forced lately to go to the food shelf in order to feed her family. She had found it nearly impossible to find gluten free items, but the gift cards would allow her to stock up on those foods for a while. Jack and I were both hit hard by this mom’s reality and we’ve talked about making monthly donations to the center so that maybe we can continue to help ease her burdens and those of other families like hers.

The elderly are always on my heart as well, especially this year. Like my own mother-in-law, so many are confined in senior living facilities with limited or no ability to be with loved ones. My mother-in-law is a trooper and always seems to have a positive attitude. She loves to sit and watch the Game Show Network so she easily passes the hours. The staff at her place takes good care of her and she enjoys their daily stops to administer medications or bring meals. She’s got six kids and many grandchildren and receives multiple phone calls a day. It’s not ideal, but at least it’s something. As much as I miss my own parents, I often feel grateful they aren’t here to suffer through this with the health issues they had. It would have been devastating for them. How many people are alone now with little to no outside contact? It weighs on me, and so I found an opportunity to do a small thing about it. A local senior residence offers remote volunteer opportunities. I signed up, spending the past couple of weeks writing letters in Christmas cards to residents who could use a little holiday cheer. I wrote a bit about my family in each card and inserted photos of Lucy Pie. (I hope my cards find their way to some dog-lovers!) In addition, I went to the dollar store and bought all of the large-print crossword, word search, and sodoku books I could find, as well as some games of checkers that might help my “friends” pass the time. Finally, I topped it all off with bags of Christmas candy for the staff and any residents who are allowed. Like our gift-giving efforts for the little girls, the endeavor for the seniors made me realize that I could be doing something all year long and not just during the holidays.

This year will soon come to a close, and while I know 2021 isn’t going to magically erase all the darkness that has hovered during 2020, I hope the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day. I will strive to rise above the weight this year’s events while remembering just enough to maintain a softer heart and a spirit of generosity to others. May we all!

A Wedding Will Go On

It was just about this time last year that my baby girl got engaged.

Early this year, I enjoyed spending a day with the Chesney and Farm Boy, touring potential wedding venues. After seeing several very different options, they picked a beautiful barn venue, (so fitting,) and set the date for November 13th, 2020.

Much excitement and anticipation followed as we looked forward to the day that was sure to arrive before we could blink. And then?

We found ourselves in the midst of a pandemic.

Not surprisingly, this has made wedding planning a bit of a challenge. Being the mother of the bride, I’ve been heavily involved in the planning of this wedding. Being the parents of the bride, Jack and I also have a financial investment in the big day. We’ve all spent much of this year increasingly worrying and discussing how, or whether to proceed. We considered at-risk family members and friends who wouldn’t be able to attend plus the fact that more than the typical number of guests might decline an invitation. After much thought, the kids told us they had decided it would be best to postpone the wedding to a later date.

Funny thing. It wasn’t quite so simple. As it turned out, the venue wouldn’t allow them to reschedule. And because of the payment requirements, we had already paid in full. So we could cancel, but we wouldn’t get our money back.

That all sounds so bad, I know. Believe me, my initial reaction was, “Oh yeah? I work for two lawyers! So think again!”

But in the long run, the kids and I had a phone conversation with the venue owner. It was honest and it was good. The owner explained that with a slowdown in new business due to COVID-19, and if they allowed everyone who had already booked a date to reschedule, they simply couldn’t accommodate all of the changes and were in danger of going out of business. I couldn’t help but sympathize with her position. She explained that under our governor’s requirements, the venue is allowed to be open. They are following the requirements in regards to social distancing and masks. And since it is such a large space, one that our guest list won’t come close to filling up, we will easily be able to create the necessary distancing between guests. And in the end, the owner offered to allow us to reschedule (only) between January and March if we really felt we couldn’t stick with the November date. She asked us to talk it over and let her know, but that she would hold the initial date until she heard back from us.

The kids discussed it with us and with Farm Boy’s parents. We told them that if they wanted to cancel, we would fully support them. (Though if they did cancel, we would lose a chunk of change that we might not be able to offer again towards a future wedding.) Farm Boy’s parents were reluctant about holding the wedding during a pandemic, but upon hearing the options, told the kids that they would be in attendance if the wedding went on as originally planned.

Finally, realizing that not much is likely to change in regards to the pandemic between November 2020 and March 2021, and not wanting to put their lives on hold for another year or more, the kids decided to make the best of the situation and keep the original date. And I knew exactly why my daughter wants to spend the rest of her life with Farm Boy when he said, “I am going to be there on November 13th, and I am going to marry you, whether or not anyone else shows up.”

And so the wedding shall go on. The kids have resigned themselves to the fact that their special day won’t look exactly as they had dreamed it would. Everything requires some extra thought, from the catering, to how to serve dessert. We have purchased disposable masks and hand sanitizers in bulk. Making a seating plan will require some extra thought. But we are doing this. Will it be different? Definitely. Will it be something people will remember? I’m quite sure. While I’m saddened by the ones who won’t be able to join us, I’m actually quite surprised at the number of people who have told us they are excited and planning to be there.

In the end, all that matters is that my daughter and my future son-in-law are able to commit their lives to one another, and that they are happy.

And yes, we are well aware that November 13th, 2020 is Friday the Thirteenth. For a bride who was born on the thirteenth of April, and who wore the number thirteen proudly on her sports jerseys, there are no suspicions of bad luck. Besides, if Friday the Thirteenth is suspect during a normal year, I’m banking it holds some kind of magic during this crazy year.