Muggle Reads

Like most of you, the things I used to consider “fun” or “enjoyable” radically changed in mid-May. Activities I had always enjoyed in the past suddenly seemed either not so awesome or simply not available. Good-bye, hockey. Concerts. Parties. Restaurants. Travel. Haircuts. Oil changes. Ok, I’ll stop. This is getting depressing.

But even what we were allowed to do took on different feelings and I found that things I could do safely from home still didn’t appeal to me or rescue me from the quarantine funk I felt myself slipping into.

Reading was one of those things.

Usually an avid reader, these past months I’ve found it hard to concentrate on anything longer than the ingredient label of the hand sanitizer bottle. I couldn’t face an unhappy ending or even conflict between fictional characters because, no. Real life has enough conflict as it was. The plot had to be completely linear with zero surprises, and if it was non-fiction? Well, that certainly was not going to be a non-starter. These parameters sort of limited reading choices.

At some point I realized being deprived of art and literature certainly wasn’t healthy either; and the advice that I gave my children about exercising their mind, body and spirit a little every day during the Dark Ages wasn’t being practiced if I only yelled at Chopped contestants all day about the improper use of sea beans and gummy bear confit. So Louise and I decided to mix things up and end our reign as the Only Two Literate People You Know Personally On The Planet Earth Not To Have Read Harry Potter.* Welcome, pop culture reference enlightenment from the 90’s.

Not only were we thoroughly entertained for months as we read voraciously through the seven volumes, but our creative appetites were whetted and our imaginations opened like the portrait of the Fat Lady at the Gryffindor dormitories. Like a portkey at the Quidditch World Cup. Like platform 9 3/4 on September 1st. Like your hand when slapping me to get me to stop talking about Harry Potter as a full-grown ass adult 25 years after it’s release.

But since our time in Hogsmeade, the joy and love of reading have returned to pre-pandemic levels and although I still prefer an assured Happy Ending, I can be a little more adventurous on how to get there.

What are you reading?

10 points for Gryffindor.

*Butch and Sundance now earn this title and will probably hold it for eternity after listening to us drone on like Hagrid giving a soliloquy on Norwegian Ridgeback dragons or something.

Present Day

That’s sort of how we got here even though I’m still not exactly sure where here is.

The news is chronicling the next fresh hell and if you’re reading this in real time you know that I’m referencing either the death of a beloved Supreme Court Justice and the hyprocisy to replace her, threats not to pass power peacefully after the election, protests over yet another example of injustice and racism, a spike in Covid-19 cases, heat-rays or taxes not being paid by the grifter in the White House.

And it’s only Monday.

Who among us thought that we’d be entering another season in a pandemic and social and civil unrest all around us? I’d be lying if I claimed I thought shitstorm season wouldn’t have passed by now. And while some days feel darker than others and coming at us more frequently, I do hold out some hope that the light will return.

Maybe we just aren’t looking in the right places.


August

School.

Sort of.

If you would have told me at the beginning of this mess that the start of the following school year would be in jeopardy after stopping in-person classes  on March 5th, I would have called you a cotton-headed ninnymuggins and taken your lunch just to teach you a lesson about saying hurtful things.

But here we are.

With a child in middle school, high school and college, we’ve got 3 distinct Back To School plans and I’m really on the fence on how this is going to go. Obviously, we all want our kids back to normal school. We want extra-curriculars, sports, clubs, lunchrooms and head lice over deadly viruses. But I would be a liar if I said I knew how that could be safely accomplished currently; and then I’d just change my mind again in 5 minutes.

Instead, let’s just give these kids a lesson in Do As We Don’t Really Say And Definitely Not As We Do And Sometimes As We Intuit And Nothing As What Scientists Say While Ignoring Science Math And History Because First Graders Are Expected To Figure This Out When The Adults In Charge Won’t.

And then I’ll take remidial English and work on those run on sentences on misuse of capital letters.

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.