July

Dumb Things I Say Now:

“Is orange tongue a symptom of Covid or am I eating way too many Emergen-C tablets?”

“What song did you sing while washing your hands? If it isn’t ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’ get back in there.”

“Does Publix have toilet paper? Paper Towel? Clorox wipes? My old life?”

“Can you sanitize masks in an Insta Pot?”*

*”You can do anything in an Insta Pot.”

“Do you think Dr. Fauci would adopt me? Marry me?”

“Do you want to trade jigsaw puzzles because I’m 94 years old and super boring now.”

(Related) “Do you think $78 is too much to spend on retro Froot Loops puzzle?”

“I meant for my home hair color to look this way.”

“Have you had a fever above 100.4 in the last 14 days? Been around someone who did? Thought about someone who did?”

“THEY ARE SPITTING CHERRY PITS LIVE ON ESPN!”

(Related) “I’m totally watching that.”

“Can you see my wine glass in the Zoom frame?”

“STOP SENDING ME MY WEEKLY SCREEN TIME, SIRI! NO ONE NEEDS THAT KIND OF NEGATIVITY RIGHT NOW. READ THE DAMN ROOM.”

“We should go back to school in person.” Five minutes later: “We should go back to school remotely.”

Repeat above sentences 78 times daily.

Better Things I Say Now

“Just do something to exercise your mind, body and spirit today no matter what that is.”

“It’s really not going to be like this forever.”

“Reach out to at least one friend today–they are feeling exactly the same way you are.”

“There’s no one I’d rather quarantine with more.”

“Take a deep breath.”

“Wash your hands.”

June

I don’t think our particular map dot was unique during Covid in that ten miles in any given direction of our house meant a different set of rules, mandates and orders. Frankly, it was a confusing and haphazard mess, but by June we had become accustomed to living(ish) our best lives in isolation.

But we were bored.

With no more drawers left to organize and all of Netflix watched, we decided to roll some of our Bubble north and socially distance in a place that unwittingly invented it generations ago: The Upper Penninsula of Michigan.

We figured camping in The RV would be a perfect way to travel safely during a 72-hour window where the stars aligned just long enough for us to gas up and head out with our road warriors to look at different trees under a different sky.

Camping in Da U.P.

Donned in our summer masks and gloves, Louise and I packed up as many kids as we could catch and headed up the Interstate. Not knowing what apocalyptic surprises awaited out there in the world, we departed fully stocked for at least a month for ten people without having to stop for any supplies other than gas for our 4-day trip.

Our families have been on many adventures together over the years. Each was different but special. This one was perhaps the least planned, but the most needed. We did nothing yet did everything. And while my description of it is inadequate, I know that anyone who has endured the summer of 2020 knows exactly what I mean.

Falling for Tahquamenon Falls

I grew up in Michigan, and I can tell you that there has never been a 5 day stretch of no temperature fluctuations of 40 degrees or more in a single day, blue skies, no rain, hail, snow or lava storm in its history until this perfect week in June. I would have called you a liar if I hadn’t witnessed this miracle of nature firsthand. We spent all of our days outside at State and National Parks, dipping our toes in Great Lakes and eating cherries and marshmallows. The crowded long drive was worth it when rewarded with these awe-inspiring wide open wonders that reminded us that this big, beautiful world is still spinning. Thankfully.

Pictured Rocks Picture

And big doses of Vitamin D are sometimes just as efficacious as zinc during this pandemic.

April

As castaways from society, the first couple of weeks felt like Gilligan’s Island–all laughs and coconut cream pies for every meal. The second half of the month was more like The Island of Doctor Moreau as we devolved into unrecognizable creatures; angry, furry, and growling at each other and no one was wearing pants.

Although everything had ground to a halt, we still had hope that it was temporary and while Easter would be in quarantine, by May Day we’d be in the relative clear. Those spring celebrations would be postponed just a few weeks and this quarantine was going to be in our rearview mirror if we had anywhere to drive.

Obviously, that didn’t happen.

We celebrated birthdays with caveats that party guests would be forthcoming. Rainchecks on happiness. Movie nights, days, weeks. We cooked! Things that we weren’t necessarily hungry for or things you really shouldn’t prepare yourself–I’m looking at you sushi and yogurt–but we were supplying our island and honing survival skills without even knowing it. We were going to be rescued any day now…

It is now Day 182 on the island and counting. Our distress signals go unheeded but we can fashion a mean facemask out of banana leaves.*

*Please note that’s the only thing I’m willing to use the banana leaves for despite the biggest shortages at the grocery store.

Also, Ricardo Montaban owes me a refund because this is the worst episode of the season.

Speaking of March

If March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb, the 2020 version must have come in like a rabid raccoon with a raging case of pink-eye and an undiagnosed venereal disease. It went out like…well, it never really left and just lay dying in the corner of the room.

Speaking of things that stink, we here in Nashville got hit hard early in the month with a deadly tornado that tore through our city on March 3rd. I’m not sure we’ve exhaled since. Our family suffered loss that day and the first of many blows to our sense of security. It also marks the last time we slept through the night.

Us vs. Nashville Tornado

Speaking of things that blow, the last time all of our children were all in their respective classrooms was March 5th. Traditional college, high school and middle school all ceased around here since that last weird day. Hockey season was paused, and everyone retreated home to figure out what working and schooling from home was going to look like thinking it was a short term situation. Remember when we were so young and innocent…

Speaking of naivete, the way we interpreted the original social distancing guidelines way back then was that you made your quarantine bubble based on whoever was in your immediate vicinity at the time you first heard the news–kind of like a game of tag but no one could touch each other and being “it,” was super bad and ended the game rather unceremoniously. Nonetheless, this is who composed your Circle of Trust. (Welcome to the family, Publix cashier.) That meant Louise, Sundance and all of our 10 kids made for one extra-large circle. Inside this rather large and loud bubble, we isolated and cooked. And played games. And watched movies. And ordered a lot of shit. And whispered in questioning tones away from the kids that surely we would be through this after Easter? Surely.

Speaking of bubbles in my wine, I can’t say this was an awful time for me. Being certain that this was short-lived (!) it was nice having our nest full again doing puzzles and sitting down for dinner together every night. Having everyone home was an unexpected blessing during a time it was hard to count many. As the weeks bled into months it still was this happy bubble that remained the one constant when the world around us fell apart.

Speaking of surrounding ourselves in light even when it seems the darkest; that’s how March ended and how I will end my posts and my days–dragging my bubble to the nearest buoy of joy and clinging on for dear life.

Unlike that raccoon in the corner. Time to give him a proper burial. We won’t speak of him again.

Happy New Year?

Like most parents and smaller human beings who attended some sort of school in their lifetimes, I have always considered the beginning of the school year the actual “New Year” rather than when the calendar turns to January. That used to be because it was a natural new beginning–new grade, new books with new chapters. New attitude. The next step forward.

Today, it might be because an early exit of 2020 is at the top of my Amazon wish list along with paper towel and a chest freezer.

So Happy New Year, Friend! Let’s put an in memoriam montage together for this fresh circle of hell so we can get back to the good stuff.

Our phases of quarantine probably look fairly similar no matter where you live in the world. We started in the Tiger King period–which was about neither Tigers nor Kings, discuss–moved into Artisanal Bread Baking–until the only bacteria we were suddenly short on was yeast–Jigsaw Puzzles And Other Boring 19th Century Crafts and Hobbies You Took Odd Pride in Mastering, and finally we settled into Futile Suburban Homesteading and Husband Husbandry.

We’ve asked–yet never answered–unimaginable questions like, “Can you make hand sanitizer in an Insta-Pot?” “How can I have a negative step count today?” “Do I wash masks on Delicates or Permanent Press?” “Who is hoarding all the ramen and creamed corn? And why?” “Are my pajama pants visible in this Zoom frame?” “What’s a murder hornet?”

However as much as we’ve given up, we’ve gained new things that we never anticipated as well. We have a Home Pandemic Supply basket. I have a favorite face mask. There’s a Covid emoji. I have intimate and immediate knowledge of Covid-19 practices for every store, restaurant, business, LLC, charitable organization, and recipe in my entire Internet browsing history since 1994. And perhaps Corona’s greatest gift, curbside pickup at Liquor stores.

And while we might exchange a knowing chuckle online reading this behind wisps of uncut hair with chin-length roots lamenting about things we couldn’t fathom mere months ago, I suppose it’s because mourning all of what and whom we’ve lost is much, much harder. From losses small and great, they are all cruel and unyielding. The grief we’ve had to share seems even deeper when it comes 6 or more feet apart.

It’s definitely time for a reboot. I’m not sure if this new start date will take or not, but it’s certainly worth a try. Maybe in this phase, September 1 will become the new January 1st. I’m doing my part by adopting quarantine weight-loss resolutions and sporting a hefty hangover to ring in 2020.5 accordingly.

Let’s do this thing together.

Follow the Chocolate Brick Road

A wise man once said, “Give me chocolate or give me death.”

Hershey, Pennsylvania opted to give us both.

Ok, maybe no wise man ever said that, but I do know two very wise women who recognize when they’ve met the natural end to an amazing adventure. After almost three weeks of perfect weather, flawless logistics even in the most complicated of circumstances, no traffic, no ER visits and everyone still talking to each other; Hershey wasn’t as cooperative. After moving our accommodations 4 times, we enjoyed their amusement park, left our lunches on as many rides as possible and pulled up stakes to begin the long drive home.

This won’t end well.

It was a sweet ending to an even sweeter trip.

We’ve had a few days to unpack, clean out Viktor and start the endless laundry process, but I haven’t started unpacking the memories yet. It’s one of those tasks that I need to savor, and I’m afraid if I start going through the slideshow in my mind, that means it’s over–and I’m definitely not ready for that, yet. We saw so many sights, did awesome things all together with some of my favorite people on this planet, and that’s not as easy to find the natural end.

Hershey!

(Stay tuned as we wrap up with the numbers and a few more fun things to share!)

Beantown

We rolled into Boston licking our wounds, as in the bites, stings, stabs, disembowelments, or whatever the native Maine insects inflicted upon us over the last four days. They are intense little buggers, that’s for certain. So a couple of nights in a hotel was just the respite we needed.

But Boston had other plans for us than a relaxing weekend–it wanted some fun! We were treated to amazing day at Fenway–the Red Sox gave us a tour, delicious lunch and great seats to an afternoon game and I can tell you that those that were already baseball fans were obviously smitten, but those who weren’t have fallen in love after this trip. It’s hard not to surrounded by all that history and tradition.

Fenway!

And because there’s never enough sports–some went on to an MLS game that evening after the baseball game, and the rest of us played rugby over dinner at perhaps too nice of a restaurant for our road-weary crew in our matching T-shirts.

Our team of 13 now splits off to ten–Butch and Sundance will depart with a camp attendee, and Louise and I will make our way home in Viktor and the pace car by way of Hershey Park.

I’m going to need some chocolate comfort facing the end of this amazing trip.

Siri Vs. Viktor

I keep trying to foster a healthy relationship between Siri, our passive-aggressive navigation system, and Viktor, our 33 foot long RV.

It’s not going well.

Viktor: Good morning, Siri. I need to go this next leg of the journey all on interstates, avoiding these small back roads, please.

Siri: Recalculating route.

Viktor: Wait, this takes me through four 1-lane, unpaved streets and across someone’s front lawn! Can we fix that?

Siri: You said you wanted the shortest route. Recalculating.

Viktor: OK, how about the fastest route instead?

Siri: Recalculating.

Viktor: (Surveying map.) Um, this takes me through the Holland Tunnel at rush hour, a ferry, under at least 2 low clearance bridges, a private road and a herd of migrating bison. That’s tough to do with my size and height.

Siri: Sigh. That is the fastest route. Recalculating.

Viktor: Do you have a setting that eliminates shortcuts, and just takes the most straight-forward way?

Siri: I’m sorry, but I’ll have to check the Internet for that.

Viktor: (Under his breath) That’s where I would start….

Siri: Recalculating.

Viktor: (Glancing over the third route.) Ok, this seems better to start, but it looks questionable at the end. Is there a way to fix just that part?

Siri: Oh don’t worry. I will secretly recalculate you periodically throughout your journey just to mess with your head and to prove to you that my knowledge is superior to your so-called “needs.” It’s like a survival skills test which you miserably fail.

Viktor: Wait! No! I have someone following us so we need to be on the same route!

Siri: It seems like you need more than a navigation system for this particular trip, Viktor. (Under breath) And life in general.

Viktor: You’re right about that much. Right now I’ll start with Jake from State Farm to help me get un-wedged from this Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru bypass that I know can’t be a real driving direction you gave me…

Siri: (Evil cackle.) Recalculating….

Maine

After the longest drive of our route to date–6 hours–we wound our way through New Hampshire and back up along the coast of Maine. We had a picnic near a Moose Crossing sign before landing in Bar Harbor at the entrance of Acadia National Park.

Our campground was a full one and the sites were pretty close together, but since we had abandoned any sense of personal boundaries by Niagara, it was fine. And then we got a look at the oceanside views, and all else was forgotten. This was our first waterside camping experience, and it will not be our last.

Bar Harbor Camping

Louise quickly lapsed into a lobster-coma, and Butch teetered on an actual medical coma from his shellfish allergy, as Louise’s new boyfriend steamed fresh lobster every night 50 feet from our RV. I’m hoping both will regain consciousness by Pennsylvania.

We spent an afternoon in beautiful Bar Harbor–ate more lobster and Benadryl–and spent a lot of time in camp chairs around a fire and missing the actual sunset every night. Acadia National Park did not disappoint, and I’m quite certain our hike of 13 people along the Ocean Trail could be seen from space.

Acadia National Park

We have spent the last five nights in camping mode, and it’s beginning to show. We have used all of the hot water in Maine, so the few showers that were taken were short and inadequate. The laundry situation is officially out of control; there seems to be hidden stashes of dirty clothes everywhere that only appear after all of the quarters have been spent. Supplies are running dangerously low, and if it weren’t for the limes in our cocktails, we’d be battling a scurvy outbreak by now. (Sorry kids, you’re on your own.)

Hiking!

So it’s a good thing we are about to hit Boston, with it’s hotels and non-communal bathing options. Because we need to restock on just about everything for the home stretch. Even dessert.

The biggest tragedy of the trip.

Days 9 and 10 and 11-ish

To close out our sports Halls of Fame quadrumvirate, we showed Springfield, Mass a thing or two.

Our very own Sundance won the Rick Perry free-throw shooting contest! Which doesn’t sound like a thing at all because who would name a basketball game after the former governor of Texas, but then they explained to me that it wasn’t the Secretary of Energy at all, it was Rick Barry, who was awesome at free throws in the 60’s and 70’s, but I didn’t know that until after we completed our tour of the Pro Basketball Hall of Fame which makes so much more sense. So congratulations to Sundance and to Rick Barry. Maybe you guys can help the Energy Department anyway.

Winner!

After a nice lunch next door, we headed north to beautiful Vermont. Since we completed the Halls of Fame portion of our mission statement, we instead meandered to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream factory. Vermont is beautiful, and we broke out the sweatshirts for the first time on this trip and it was heaven. We enjoyed our first campfire meal in more than a week, which even the kids thought was a welcome respite from french fries. The night sky put on a show, and I think we saw stars we didn’t know existed before.

Ben and Jerry’s

We were only minutes from Hanover, NH, so we strolled the streets on our last evening there. We thought we saw someone semi-famous and sort of stalked him from across a crowded restaurant, but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity to everyone’s disappointment.

But that guy was a dead ringer for Rick Perry.