Mermaid Slippers and Princesses

What kind of jokes do six-year-olds tell? Do they wake up at five thirty and tumble down the stairs with the cat to ask if grandma is ready to watch morning cartoons? And what cartoons would they watch?

Our annual summer vacation with our granddaughter just finished. The lilac mermaid slippers left behind by a five-year-old didn’t fit the tall seven-and-a half-year-old girl who searched for a heavy, snuggly blanket while ignoring her old favorite princess cover. Her Frozen cup looked small in the hands that now write stories, multiply numbers, turn pages in a chapter book. She reads to us, no longer sounding out as many words, instead adding emotional emphasis to characters. 

In a mostly rainy week, there was one beach day when we watched her patiently teach two very young children how to use a squirt gun and return a dead minnow to the water. She learned with great enthusiasm how to play old video games. She and her mom made craft projects. And we watched a different set of morning programs cast with early teens as well as an Australian cartoon about a family of dogs. She made the dinner salad one meal. What mattered was that we were together around the clock as a family. Creative as we tried to be last year, this experience had been lost.

Far greater losses were experienced during the pandemic lockdown. Far greater losses are being experienced now as the pandemic continues. It is not over. People are falling ill. Fewer people are dying, a small comfort to those who do lose a loved one. With an unvaccinated child in the mix, we returned to considering when to mask, where to eat out, avoiding crowds. She is the last in our family to walk unprotected in open communities. It is scary to know our kids are still at risk. It is hard to not be disappointed in the adults who contribute to Covid’s continued spread in our country.

I’m not sure how I could convince an unvaccinated person to take the jab. For me it was a mix of trusting science, hope that the virus would be slowed, and feeling responsible for contributing to the safety of our country. But I didn’t have to balance concerns of caring for a family if I got ill from the vaccine or missing work. Maybe neighbors are part of the next push to increase the vaccinated numbers. The wearers of mermaid slippers are our future. Let’s keep them healthy and safe.

Family vacation puppet show 2021

Quilting My Way Out of COVID

In February, I started planning a queen-size bed quilt. I waited until after the holidays so I’d have a big time-consuming project to help me get through the long uncertain months while COVID still raged. Who knew when I’d be vaccinated or when we’d be safe? 

I’d grown accustomed to the restrictions. Aside from grocery store clerks, the only people we saw were our sons and only for a few minutes. When they visited, they hovered near the front door never taking off their winter jackets—all of us masked. With everyone else, it was phone calls or Zoom visits.

Time was heavy on my hands. Cutting and arranging little strips of color one square at a time was how I’d keep sane until spring when we could see friends and family outside. 

At one level, I was immersing myself in a creative process involving color and texture—a visual challenge that has always attracted me. But part of the appeal this time was creating order, making sense of something when so many things outside my four walls didn’t make sense. Day by day I completed squares and made visible progress when the sense of progress out in the big world was tenuous. 

As March gave way to April, more people became vaccinated, including me. Winter eased up and I could be outside with friends again. In May and June, I began cautiously approaching a more normal life: seeing vaccinated friends, gardening, walking, and socializing.

I had less need of my quilting project, but it wasn’t finished. Like COVID, the project had lasted too long. I was so ready to be done. 

During the past week as I quilted the pieced top, batting, and back, I became intimately familiar with every inch and all the places where a seam wandered or a square didn’t align. But as my dad used to say when my husband fretted about a home repair’s small imperfection, “A guy riding by on a motorcycle probably wouldn’t even notice that.” 

If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said the best thing about this quilt is that it’s DONE. 

Today, I’m again pleased with the cheerful colors. 

The quilt project served its purpose and its history will fade with time. A year from now, I hope only pleasure in the quilt’s color and pattern remains vivid. 

Farewell to Masks?

I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. The elastic turns my ears elfish. Wearing my glasses cocked to hold down the mask alters my vision. And whoa, somebody’s breath sure stinks inside this mask! You’d think I’d be ecstatic that the CDC has said that in many settings, vaccinated people like me no longer have to wear a mask or distance. 

Instead, I’m discombobulated. Not quite ready. I understand the rationale behind this policy change, but am struggling to process it.

COVID has been a harsh teacher. The randomness of who got deathly ill or who experienced long term debilitating effects kept me careful. My sister, who is a respiratory therapist, told me stories of her grueling ICU shifts. Awareness that COVID was real and deadly became a form of low-level anxiety. Unwinding that daily concern will take time. 

When a friend I rarely see said she’d be in town and asked if we could go out to dinner, my immediate reaction wasn’t yippee! It was, I’m not sure. Am I ready to eat inside a busy restaurant? Could we do patio dining instead?

I do love hanging out unmasked with vaccinated family and friends. Masked, you learn to look at people’s eyes to see if they’re smiling or preoccupied. Now the full range of our expressions is visible. 

Nevertheless, I’m not throwing out my masks. After 14 months of caution, I recognize the risk is reduced but not gone. Besides, although the state of Minnesota rescinded the mask mandate, Minneapolis and St. Paul have maintained it for a while longer.

Yet I remind myself that the point of living through a pandemic is to be alive. Fully. Masking narrowed my vision and limited my sense of possibility. After more than a year of looking inward, turning outward again will be good. 

Holiday Wishes

This year’s Thanksgiving turkey is in the freezer. Ten pounds will be too much for two of us, but that’s no big deal. The big deal is that the United States is approaching a quarter of a million COVID deaths. Three friends move into the holiday season without their fathers who died of COVID. The world keeps spinning and for every family in mourning, there are others marking other happy events. Both those grieving and those celebrating share this very different international holiday season. 

Letting go of every tradition helped our family clearly think about Thanksgiving. Tentatively we’ll celebrate by putting up outdoor Christmas decorations together. Masked and socially distant, the hour we spend hanging lights and garland will make the day special. And we’ll prepare Thanksgiving favorite foods to send home for our meals shared later on Zoom. Notice the word tentatively– the weather could make being outside horrible or the pandemic could become more dangerous. This is 2020. Many surprises are not happy. We’re not talking about Christmas yet. One week at a time feels like the safest planning cycle.

Our parents and grandparents spent holiday seasons physically separated by war. Somewhere family members passed the holiday in danger. Military families today may face the same emotions plus deal with COVID’s impact. Working on 40 Thieves on Saipan made that separation more real to me than stories I heard as a child. For the majority of us, accepting the pandemic as an international public health war equals distance holidays for 2020..

One in three Americans say they will pass on this year’s holidays. But for those who do plan to do something special, now is the time to start thinking about how. Turkeys should be in grocery stores soon although small birds could be scarce. Good news is that butter is less expensive. There’s time to bake, send treats, and to remember those who may be struggling.

Here’s hoping the 2020 holiday wishes you hold come true. But mostly, here’s hoping you and yours stay healthy and safe. Whether your special people are around a common table or visible on a screen, those of us fortunate to be within the sound of their voices are thankful. 

Gung Pao Chicken #2 Spicy

Gung Pao Chicken #2 Spicy is written on my desk calendar, on a piece of scrap paper in my bag, at the bottom of our grocery list. My husband’s favorite order from a small Vietnamese restaurant we like. Okay, a place where we ate so often that the servers know us. 

It is a neighborhood eatery where we could relax after a busy day or before running errands. Carry out orders flew from the kitchen. Tables were filled with college students, young families, parents with grouchy high school kids, retirees. Large fish tanks amuse young diners. Food came fast. On rainy or winter nights the crowded room felt cozy. 

When curbside carry out became available, we called our place. The first night, part of our order was missing when we got home. Two weeks later my stir fry had little flavor and the rice needed warming. We noted the slip-ups, but didn’t dream about trying another place or dropping Vietnamese from our carry out rotation. They know who we are when we walk in. I know the person who says it is good to see me. They prefer cash and I understand how credit card fees eat into small business sales. 

The food is good, but not great. It is truly all about the people and setting. And we want to keep their kitchen busy and their staff working until that atmosphere can be restored and there is time to talk about the world as water glasses are filled. We have a connection. In cities that builds neighborhood.

Storefronts and restaurants have already closed on their block because of seven months without stable sales and the whammy of riot damage. Social distancing outside the watch repair place, there are no lines next to me at the theater where a new release is showing. No patrons sit around tables at the tea shop. Inventory looks low at the corner gift store. What will the holidays look like for these small merchants? How will a tenuous consumer economy support neighborhood places? 

So much is unknown because most of us haven’t experienced circumstances so forbidding. This has been described as the worst economy since the Big Depression. Hopefully there will be enough folks in the neighborhood, with resources, ordering Gung Pao Chicken to keep owners and employees of small businesses intact. In the meantime, let’s keep safe and watch out for each other.