Monday, May 31, 2021

Catching up and making plans (and random thoughts I want to get out)

You know what's exciting about 2021 so far? PLANS! There are plans again.

I used to feel somewhat constrained by endless plans, but now I understand they are necessary anchors on the calendar and in our memories. It's hard to recall anything in any order in 2020 because after things shut down in March, everything was the same, and there was nothing to look forward to. My daughter and I were trying to remember anything about last summer, and the best we could come up with was it got warmer for a while, and then it wasn't. We had to go out of our way to make Easter look different from the days around it. I don't know if we even noticed 4th of July. No Halloween. (No costumes.) I think we did Thanksgiving twice for some reason. I made a special effort on each of the kids' birthdays, but that took all of my creative energy. I was fortunate to have taken a couple of trips to the cottage (which was a safe and isolated place to go), but there were no family trips. The year was mostly a sad blur.

But what a difference vaccinations make.

There are things happening! With the promise of more things happening to come! I just returned from a road trip where I got to visit and hug vaccinated family and friends in several states, and it was wonderful.

I drove both my daughters to NYC where they are staying with my brother and his family for a while. (That will be a whole other post soon, once I download photos.) The three of us got to stay with my aunt and uncle in Ohio in their beautiful new home, I hugged cousins, we ate together and laughed and it all felt like normal again. I hung out in NYC long enough to help get my girls acclimated to life in the city, and then I drove home via Michigan so I could spend a little time with my mom, and have dinner with my (all fully vaccinated) friends. It feels a bit miraculous.

It's like we're living a fourth act of "Our Town," where after discovering that it is the mundane that is extraordinary, and the most basic connections between people that matter most, we don't have to stay dead, but can instead return to life again with renewed appreciation. I wonder how long after masks and social distancing are a distant memory we will retain that.

School updates:

Quinn went back to in-person school a couple of weeks ago. Kids still had the option of staying virtual, and at first Quinn thought he'd stick with that for safety reasons, but he's graduating from 8th grade. He's been at Fernwood Montessori for a decade, and in the fall he heads off to high school, and he wanted the chance to walk around his school again, and see his friends and teachers. We decided a good compromise was to not have him take the bus. (It turns out he preferred having us drive him anyway, he just didn't want to inconvenience us.) He's in school four days a week (Wednesdays are still virtual), we drive him there, he walks himself home, and it's going well. Everyone wears masks, the kids eat at their desks (with dividers between them at that time since their masks are off), the number of kids per room is limited so they have a system that rotates different kids out into the hall on different days, and they do Covid testing on groups periodically. He's glad to be back. He says he pushes himself to do more when he's physically in school. I'm happy he gets to have a more conclusive end to his time at Fernwood. (Unlike Aden who is still somewhat traumatized by having her senior year of high school simply end unceremoniously.)

Mona is finished with her junior year, having done all of it virtually. In fact, she took the few finals she didn't exempt on her laptop in NYC. Virtual school worked out fine for her in many ways. She's been able to manage her pain issues better from home, so her work didn't suffer. Her grades are fine. She's even on track to graduate early since she took classes ahead each summer. It was certainly not ideal, but I would say Mona is among those for whom online school during the pandemic worked out okay.

Aden wound up deferring both semesters of her first year at UW Stout, but is on track to start for real, in person, in a dorm, this fall. (Finally.) I won't lie and say it hasn't been nice having her around an extra year, but I think we're both ready for her to head off to college in a few months. Last year at this time she was anxious about leaving home. But now she's had a whole lot more of home than anyone bargained for, and after a truly boring gap year, she's excited for the next step. Her lineup of art classes sound wonderful, and I think she'll have a great freshman year. I'm glad she opted out of a first year of college that would have been all quarantine and virtual classes. 

Vaccines: Ian, Aden and I, all got Moderna shots. Ian and Aden felt a bit icky for a day after the second shot, but I had no reaction at all. Mona got Pfizer shots, also with no reaction. Quinn got his first Pfizer shot the day it was approved for teens, and still has his second shot coming up. Nurses at the vaccination centers remarked on how fun it was to give shots to people who were actually excited about it.

Work: We are starting to plan ahead for opening up the violin store to people again. We've been lucky to still have steady work all through the pandemic, but it's been different. The teaching studio closed last March, but will finally have students in it again starting in a couple of weeks. Sales were down for a while, but are back to normal. Repairs never stopped. Rentals stayed the same. I've discovered it's much easier to organize my time with appointments rather than open hours, so I think we'll keep that. Starting in the fall we'll have open hours two days a week, but otherwise be by appointment. I need more time in my shop at home. I need longer stretches to get work done without interruption. In the meantime, we are cleaning and organizing, and getting ready to let people step inside our door. That will feel weird after so much quiet.

Rehearsals and Performances: I was lucky to have been able to play a few orchestra concerts this past season. I'm glad we had a virtual option for the audience, and hope we keep that going forward. (I loved that my out of town family members could watch us play.) I'm excited about the upcoming season. I've also missed playing with the mandolin orchestra, and look forward to making music with that group again. I've gotten used to playing in a mask. I've gotten used to not having a stand partner or sharing music.

Latin: Who knows? Latin lessons with Quinn was one of the early casualties of the pandemic for us. He'd like to go back, but he feels (okay, WE feel) that we've forgotten so much by now, that starting up again could be painful. I told him we'd wait until he gets into a rhythm of things in high school and then see how much extra time he actually has.

Star Trek: At the beginning of the lock down, we (like many) were looking for things to watch, and Aden agreed to binge a Star Trek series with me. I decided if we were only going to watch one, then Deep Space Nine was a good choice, since it has a story line that wraps up cleanly, and I knew she'd like the characters.

We got through it faster than expected, so then moved on (back) to Next Generation. But I started toward the end of season two, because as much nostalgia as many of us have for Picard and his crew, lots of TNG does not hold up well. Some of the early episodes are downright unwatchable. Most episodes don't even pass a basic Bechdel Test. (For those of you unaware, the Bechdel Test wants you to ask: 1. Is there more than one woman in the story? 2. Do the women talk to each other? 3. If they talk to each other, is it about something other than a man? It is deeply sad how few things pass this meager test.)

Anyway, now we are on Voyager, and I am surprised at how much better it is than I remembered. I think I was influenced by a bunch of the whining from fans around it when it came out that was probably rooted in misogynistic nonsense. The show is great. It's funny, it can get quite dark, the characters are interesting and likable, and it's often challenging. Nearly all the time in TNG, and a lot of the time in DS9, Aden would guess the outcome of an episode in the first few minutes. Voyager? She seldom knows what's coming, and that's rare and delightful. Nearly every episode easily passes the Bechdel Test, and the captain is still distinctly in command while managing to be personable in a way none of the other captains ever were. And the overall feel is far more "Trek" than almost anything, since there is no Federation red tape or politics. They are actually trekking across the galaxy and exploring all new things.

But the most startling Voyager moment for us recently was the episode in the Void, where the ship is essentially set to stay on autopilot for years, there are no stars outside the windows, and there is nothing to do. They are just making their way across the Void and biding their time, which has the captain depressed, people eating at odd times, and everyone feeling like they should be enjoying the "vacation" but instead it has everyone on edge and feeling off. Aden looked at me and said, "Oh, this is the pandemic." And she was right. That episode was far more relatable now than the first time I saw it.

In any case, for me a minor joy of pandemic life, has been curling up with my oldest child almost every night (often with a bowl of popcorn between us) and watching Star Trek. That part I will always look back on fondly.

The binge show of choice for me and Quinn has been The Amazing Race. We started back on season one (about twenty years old at this point) and are somewhere in season fifteen now. Quinn has excellent knowledge of geography, so for him I think it's mostly interesting to see so many places around the world, but the game itself is entertaining. I'm flattered that my kids think Ian and I would do well on the race if we were in it. (I think we do have good complementary skill sets, but I don't run, and there is a lot of running on that show.) We've even adopted a new family phrase based on a moment in season one: There was a mother daughter team--Emily and her mom--and the mom was really steady and nice. Early on, all the teams are challenged to zip line across a really deep drop somewhere in South America, and one of the strong young men gets really scared, but the mother daughter team did it just fine. This causes the girlfriend of the nervous man to complain, "Emily's MOM did it!" So now that's what we say when any of us hesitates about doing something we're nervous about.

My house is the messiest it's ever been. Three teenagers locked in a house for a year is a bad idea in terms of housekeeping. At some point I'll have to do something about it, but not yet.

I finished my fourth novel over a year ago, but have been mired in the complications of querying agents. One asked to see the manuscript back in September, but I still haven't heard back. Other writers I know say that's not that unusual, especially during the pandemic. I may self-publish again out of sheer impatience soon. But it's a fun book that should appeal to a large audience, so for now I will keep trying. (I'm looking forward to sharing it! You'll like it.)

We still miss our dog. My brother on the other side of Wisconsin recently lost his dog, too. It's been a bad year for pets.

Although our bird remains wildly entertaining. Keiko only hears us talk about Keiko, so the only thing he tells us is, "Adorable Keiko bird, such a cute bird" etc. I had no idea a pet bird could be so interesting and funny.

Aden got to do a trip to the cottage with a friend earlier this month where I left them on their own for about a week. That felt sort of wild to have a kid be that grown up. Along the same lines, Mona wants to get better at driving, and she did a big chunk of driving across both Indiana and Pennsylvania on our recent trip. It is surreal to have your child in the driver's seat.

We're planning a trip up the East Coast this summer. That was supposed to happen in 2020, but you know... 2020. I'm looking forward to it.

Our family finally watched Hamilton not long ago. I was surprised and pleased to discover it deserved all the hype and acclaim it's gotten. It's a truly remarkable achievement. I found out as I was leaving NY that Lin-Manuel Miranda lives in my brother's building in Washington Heights, so I didn't get a chance to tell him so directly. Next time! (My kids are still in NY, so I told them to tell Mr Miranda I said "Hi" if they bump into him.)

I finally figured out the way for me to use my phone is to put it in a wallet, so I keep track of where it is. I'm also learning that texting is useful when your kids aren't living with you. Still not crazy about having a phone, though.

I think that's enough updating for the night. If you came this far, thanks for joining me on a rambling exercise in marking this place in time! It never looks worthwhile until years go by and I forget everything. (That's the true value of a blog.)