A Year On

     On the third of March last year, I first mentioned the coronavirus on the blog, wondering about its spread. Then gradually, with no real uh-oh moment, we learned new words and phrases: fomite, flatten the curve, shelter in place, social distancing, super spreader. It shocked when Italy shut down, but by mid-month Washington followed suit. Masks quickly became standard, as did virtual work, school, and social life. Hugging went the way of touching our faces.

     But at no point early did I imagine that a year later COVID-19 would have killed upwards of 500,000 Americans. Now we can answer the questions posed as the year wore on: Will the winter of 2020 be better? Or the darkest winter we’ve ever known?

     I just mark this anniversary, and for a moment think about then and now. It’s discouraging to face how badly the past administration did, but heartening to watch the new one attempt to set things right. At first vaccines seemed a matter of years in the future – and now everyone is scrambling to get one of three approved vaccines. (Speedy vaccine development made possible by scientific breakthroughs, and by the appalling amount of virus circulating in the country.)

     And I try to appreciate that vaccine miracle as we negotiate the new uncertainties. We’ve grown familiar and comfortable with masks and distance, and I try not to think about the variants with their uncatchy number names. But nothing seems certain anymore. And we are a little numbed I think, very accustomed to Zoom life with family and friends, maybe a little nervous to actually be with them. With two shots aboard, my friend of longstanding visited hers, and commented, “it’s real life in an unknown time.”

     I loved reading about happiness at vaccination centers. Surely the coming spring and summer will bring an easing of anxiety and return of trust – an end to this COVID year’s dearth of joy.

Mid-Winter Days

     Last week I went to Seattle with my old friend who lives here (my longstanding friend of shared adventures). We decided on a whim the day before to travel (remember such thoughts?), to ride the ferry, be in the city and, after ongoing gray, make use of promised sunshine.

     In a word, Seattle was grim. On our visit in December, holiday festivities buffered reality with a little glitter and cheer. This week all seemed grubby and crazy and more than a little sad. Hammering Man still pounds, and walking past I wondered if anybody considers putting a mask on him, thinking it would probably tangle with his hammer. But gazing up at him takes eyes away from the street scene – more shelters in doorways, blue tarps, tents, boarded up shops. No scurrying office workers clutching coffee cups.

     Beyond curiosity and the desire to walk someplace else, our only target was The Crumpet Shop (hoping to recreate our holiday visit, eat some, take some home). But no, “closed due to COVID and winter business constriction.” We absorbed this sign, and kept walking.

Still bustling at Christmas, now the market was deserted, all the long row of stalls empty. People milled along the street through the market, small clusters formed in front of a few vegetable stands, the original Starbucks, noodle shops, and Le Panier. Corrugated iron shades shuttered the bakery I look for (because it has enormous vegan chocolate chip cookies that can be an indulgent meal in a pinch).

A mid-week, winter day surely explains the empty market (it must still bustle on the weekend, even on this recent snowy Valentine’s Sunday), but I’d hoped for a glimpse of the flower stands loaded with spring blossom, tall, galvanized buckets full of tulip and daffodil color.

We circled more blocks, then searched for a Mexican place my friend once mentioned as providing a memorable evening meal – a tiny taqueria on First Avenue. Beans and rice just when you need them – and guacamole and freshly made tortillas – at a metal table tucked just off the sidewalk. Suddenly we were doing the unheard of – eating at a restaurant, albeit outdoors. We talked about cities, about living in a city in a pandemic – how so many places no longer exist as we picture them in our memories.

We were glad we went. And glad to be home.

It’s mid-term in the U.K., so class took a break last week. In our break assignment, we painted random watercolor shapes, and then changed them into people by adding features and clothing using gouache – taking advantage of its opaqueness and layering ability.

The ladies below appeared out of the watercolor blobs, wearing their winter coats, and standing in a meadow of flowers. Maybe they are out of the city for the day.

 

Snow and Sadness

     A walloping snowstorm hit Washington this weekend – eight inches and more of heavy, maybe good for snowmen but lousy for sledding, snow. Gazing out the window, I see the patio table turned into a giant snow cone, St. Francis wearing a pointed shroud, cars, lawns, and streets engulfed. Often impassable sidewalks force pedestrians into the street – trudging through wind driven snow.

     Our power stayed on though, and enabled too much impeachment trial – reliving January 6th, and learning even more about the former president’s efforts to bring forth his murderous mob. And then we watched as most Republican senators fulfilled the verdict’s foregone conclusion.                  

     Last week was hard in several ways. Lady Cora, beloved and beautiful dog of Downtown Abbey, died after collapsing suddenly in a snowy meadow with Mr. Carson, her favorite person. The vet thinks she probably suffered an aneurysm – one of those out of the blue life enders – a shock to the whole family and a first brush with death for Lord and Lady B. Painful, so painful. Cora was the sweetest dog, ever present. She is sorely missed in a much quieter house.

     Such is my mindset today, I see the snowstorm as just another hardship thrown at people whose paychecks depend on getting to work.

     I write on the weekend, but rain is predicted for Monday and a return to 41° and normal winter. February goes on.

The Screen Life

Since the middle of January, I’ve been attending a weekly class presented by the House of Illustration in London. “Illustrating People,” is taught by the Welsh illustrator, Siôn Aptos. The sessions begin at 6:30 p.m. London time (10:30 a.m. for me). It will run for 10 weeks, and I love this class.

On Thursday mornings, I join 15 other students on Zoom for two hours of presentation – learning about drawing from reference and life, and the myriad ways to illustrate people. My classmates sign in from all over, a woman from Estonia, another Yank, Brits with senses of humor from around the UK. I often wish I could visit with them afterwards – the way you do in a real class – my tribe, people whose eyes don’t glaze over when talk turns to tricks for getting the length of a nose right.

We started with facial features on amorphous watercolor shapes, an approach meant to help break down the intimidation it’s easy to feel about the oh, so familiar human face. Encouraged to simplify and exaggerate to create a character, I struggle, getting lost, as I tend to do, in the reality weeds. We draw “in class,” and have assignments to complete and post to our shared Padlet (an online classroom corkboard). On good days I get involved and obsessed and keep at it – the best of learning.

Other days I fizzle – but can be cheered by yet more screen time and an exchange with the important people in Alaska or California or both together. We’ve discovered a couple of book series that appeal to all of them (except Sweet Brother – he’s not ready for FaceTime book club). We read about Kitty, a girl with cat-like superpowers, or Zoey (and her cat Sassafras) who can speak to and help animals by using basic methods of science, or little Darek who finds a “dragonling,” and comes to promote peaceful life between dragons and townspeople. My audience is patient with technological missteps, “upside down Granny Katy.” Sometimes they draw or do Legos, but often just listen and always follow the plot.

The video calls, like the illustration class, leave me feeling I’ve been with them, but not quite. FaceTime dinners with friends are like that, too. You get takeout and it’s all simple, and still fun, but I’d be so glad to see them and their cozy houses. My screen experiences are just a shadow of what faces those who work from home or attend school virtually – upsides and down.

It’s a privilege to have these alternate methods of being with people. I know that. And here we are – almost a year of pandemic – but we keep Zooming and carry on!

Hads and Haven’t Hads

When my friend who lives here on the island offered a chance to nab a vaccine appointment (momentarily available at Swedish in Seattle), I should have jumped. Instead, I passed. Oh, so cavalier at that point!

For a while I did the coulda, shoulda shaming number, but many people are in a worse position. I am not in a grocery store all day waiting for the mutant virus variant to come shopping, or living in a way that guarantees family sharing of the virus.

For days I kept sorting through the possible vaccine sites, and read last week of the first county clinic on this side of the water. Registration opened at 10 a.m. Monday, and by the time the twirly ball paused at 10:13, the registration page opened to read, “there are no appointments available.”

Then, just as I’d resigned myself to stay part of the “haven’t hads,” a local Instagram friend posted that she’d been vaccinated. Awestruck by her ability to negotiate the system, I inquired and learned of another clinic in nearby Silverdale, where the website announced, “no appointments but check back on Friday.” So I did – occasionally refreshing the page as I did other things. Suddenly, lo and behold, a little past mid-day, a schedule appeared. By the time I nervously signed up my husband and me and dashed next door to tell my neighbors to try, the appointments were gone.

I’m not sure this system should be so confusing, reliant on online access and time, threatened by inequities (like hospital donors getting early vaccine), nor so dependent on luck and chance (a fortunate Oregon few vaccinated while stuck in a snowstorm behind a jackknifed tractor-trailer). But my heart goes out to the people managing this rollout, the same public health workers who have coped with the pandemic for a year. It seems beyond hard to deal with last minute and uncertain vaccine allotments.

I hope, if your phase is open, you have had the shot or have an appointment! “Keep checking back” really does work.

One very happy thing during the endless month of January 2021 – Sweet Brother turned one last week. Only ever having known a pandemic and his whole family home together, he has one upper and two bottom teeth, a definite exploratory nature, and can walk everywhere – including a snowy totter on a birthday adventure!

“What Stands Before Us”

     It’s almost a week ago now, but what a relief-filled, celebratory inauguration morning – a coordinated, heartfelt event in the face of coronavirus restrictions and domestic terrorist threats.

     For four years we have suffered anxiety and fear dosed out by a president bent on destroying the good in our multi-cultural democracy. From the day after his inauguration when we marched in pink hats, to the capitol riots by his supporters on January 6th, people have died and been terrorized on his cruel watch. He’s gone now, and on a morning spitting snow and flashes of sun, a set of real leaders changed the dynamic by word and music.

     First Kamala, beautiful in her plum coat, pearls, and delighted smile, adding to her incredible history-making firsts the sight of loving husband, family (stepdaughter Ella Emhoff’s plaid coat with bedazzled shoulders!), this swearing-in brought tears and joy to many of us.

     And President Biden (what a pleasure to say that) – the grownup we need – brave, caring, hard-working. Without naming names, he declared the end to lies and pledged truth. Not denying the pain ahead, but committing to pay attention, be a guardian, and bring planning and expertise to bear. You could feel echoes of “ask not” in his speech, as Biden made it seem we all have a part to play. Perhaps a constant and refreshing barrage of the truth might sway those who have been victims of destructive lies and fabrications. Biden offers and asks for common sense.

     In that gathering of dark blue suits, and chosen for significance, jewel-toned wool coats of purple, plum, and ocean blues, sunshine shone from the young poet (and highlight of the morning) Amanda Gorman, in her dandelion suit and cherry red hat band. Her very presence, reciting her spoken word poem, faced our dark and showed the light – her words perfect and sparkling.

                “And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us,

                 but what stands before us.”

     That phrase holds wonderous possibility and hard reality. Later in the day Biden got right to work on the latter, signing a slew of executive orders to begin the promised repair and replenish.

      Last week hope lifted spirits. A genuine fight against the coronavirus lies ahead – tragically too late for hundreds of thousands of Americans – an economic and health crisis exacerbated by incompetence, but now we are led by a government promising to listen to science, and face – and tell us – the truth.

    Lady B watched the inauguration, and her mom sent the drawing she made during it. She’s nine now, and sees one key to our future clearly. That looks like a knock-out punch to me!

Waiting

     A week or more ago, my painter friend said she felt she was always waiting. She’s right. We anticipate the inauguration (to be held in an armed encampment) and the other (another) shoe to drop. We are anxious for the vaccine – and for spring.

But Biden and Harris will be inaugurated tomorrow, several friends received their first jabs, and a frog sang in the garden this morning!

Lord B is OK with winter, and very happy his Alaska grandparents got shots “for the virus!”

A River of Anger and Rain

On the sixth of January, the president’s fevered incitement of his mob – promising his presence (fat chance) and admonishing them to be strong and “take back” America – led to their successful incursion into the U.S. Capitol. The ragtag, miscellany of mostly white, would-be insurrectionists (an assembly that would have been swiftly crushed had they been Black) terrified elected leaders and press, left death and destruction, many questions about security, and horrified most Americans.

Maybe most Americans, but “regular” Republicans have a part in this. Trump has signaled for years his contempt for democracy, his scorn for the truth, his vilification of a free press, and fondness for authoritarian leaders – with increasing specificity this year as he lied about a free and fair election.

For five years Republicans have accepted his behavior, where did they think the riling up and lying would lead?

No telling what happens next (accountability would be appropriate), and I am trying hard to see something beyond bleakness. A majority of Americans repudiated the current administration in the election, Biden and Harris will be inaugurated despite Republican obstruction – to voting and to counting. The people of Georgia (thank you Stacy Abrams) elected two exciting candidates, giving Democrats the slimmest of Democratic Senate majority. No more must we endure Trump enabler Mitch McConnell blocking legislation and appointments.

     Adding to January gloom, in Western Washington we have waded in a “river of rain” – an actual atmospheric condition bringing drenching, continuous rain, and plenty of time to read our Christmas gifts.

“The Wild Silence,“ Raynor Winn’s tale of what happens to Winn and her husband after the end of “The Salt Path,” is written with Winn’s impeccable eye for the natural world and our connection to it. Her specific struggles, leavened by beautiful language and love, bring respite from our pervasive malaise.

The friend who gave me “Code Name Verity,” by Elizabeth Wein, said, “it’s called Young Adult, but I say it’s for everybody,” and a good adventure yarn it is. The story of the friendship of two courageous young British women involved in World War II espionage, it snags the reader with unexpected twists, and made me think much about when the world faced Hitler’s dire threats to democracy.

And Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile,” with his look at one momentous year of the Second World War, between May 1940 and 1941, makes clear that January 1941 was worse than our January. The book’s uniqueness (in an ocean of Churchill literature) lies in Larson’s focus on the small details of life in wartime – he uncovers descriptions of day-to-day living amid food shortages, the constant aerial assault of the Blitz, and England’s growing fear of invasion.

     It’s a compulsively readable book (specially in this dire time), in part because Larson finds parallel stories to the oft-studied war record by researching original handwritten versions of diaries – as people “processed” their lives (we’d say). In addition to conventional histories, he uses subway bomb shelter records, the journals of Mass-Observation diarists (people who kept a record of how their own lives fared as part of a nationwide research project, an activity renewed in COVID England), archival documents, and now-released secret documents.

     That year saw “the end of the beginning” of a horrifying time (with more years to come). Rising above everything is the leadership of Churchill. A good reminder, as if we need it, that leaders – and their words – matter.

“Whatever Works”

     A new year, and the same, maybe worsening, pandemic, vaccination hopes grow muddled, the current president still vilely clings to the job he failed to do. And it’s January.

     To change the subject for a minute, did you see The New Yorker interview with Jenna Lyons who was the influential creative leader of J. Crew in its heyday? I’d been thinking about clothes, and wrote down what she had to say about quarantine dressing:

     “Clothes are transformative, and feeling good can be transformative. … But I’m not one to sit in judgement of someone’s choice to wear sweatpants. I wear them, too. And sometimes that’s comfortable. I also really like getting dressed up to walk the dog sometimes, because it makes me feel good. I’m not doing it because I want a parade. I’m fully game to look slovenly, and I’m fully game to get dressed up. Whatever works.”

     At the beginning of December, I realized I’d been wearing the same sweater and jeans or wool yoga pants for weeks – hadn’t even pulled the winter sweaters out of their summertime storage pillowcase. What did it matter? That same sweater combo works, just the right amount of warm (a bigger sweater over top when needed), but it is deadly boring. In the interview Lyons says nobody sees anything but your shoulders these days, and it’s true, specially here where we swaddle raingear over warm layers – and wear masks.

     The day after the trip to Seattle, our next-door neighbor asked where I’d gone, “all gussied up.” That comment revealed how low is the bar – my neighbor being accustomed to my morning walk outfit, which varies only by a jacket selection that depends on whether no rain, light rain, heavy rain, or cold rain. Or maybe she compared to my “walk carefully on mossy driveway across to the mailbox” ensemble – several layers of sweaters (one very ratty) clutched around myself, with garden clogs completing the look.

     How about you? Do you wear the same functional lockdown clothes? Do you miss seeing people’s clothes at all? (I try to glimpse my daughters-in-law on calls with the grandchildren.) Clothes can delight. For Christmas, I loved it that the Alaskans gave me Elizabeth Holmes’s “HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style” (Elizabeth, Diana, Kate, and Meghan and their clothes). I like to read Vanessa Friedman’s newsletter from the New York Times on Friday, and yes, in the face of other More Important Things, complaints about the discussion of clothes are valid.

But it’s OK to please ourselves – to see something different in the mirror or the Zoom square. Clothes ignored for nearly a year (no special occasions being on offer) – nicer sweaters, ironed blouses, a skirt(!) might provide variety.  

     And at least one person in my orbit has no difficulty changing it up in myriad ways!

The Quiet Week

Now, between the celebrations, we acknowledge our good fortune to be whole when so much sadness, worry, and fear haunt the nation, and our monster of a leader flames out to his own script. My old friend asked me if things felt flattened, diminished in the world, and to me that seems a reaction to a constant background of death and uncertainty.

My friend commented during a trip to Seattle – yes! After nearly a year, we spent a day in the city (accomplished with much thinking and laughable preparation on my part – extra mask, hand sanitizer, battery charger, warm clothes – how could a day in Seattle seem a Big Adventure, but it did).

On a blue-sky, frosty morning, we rode a nearly empty ferry to Seattle. Past Hammering Man who still pummels his target, we walked up First Avenue and encountered stores with buzzers to ring for admission or service windows where there used to be doors.

The Pike Place Market was busy, not the crush and bustle of old, but many vendors and masked customers. The Crumpet Shop, a favorite place for 40 years, drew us. We sat outdoors, side-by-side on metal chairs, ate crumpets and drank tea, watching masked passersby. We took home packets of crumpets for Christmas morning.

As you walk east with deserted office buildings overhead, it’s sadder. Westlake Center and Pacific Place malls are ghostly. In the eerie vacantness a few shops remain open, but tasteful graphics on boards hide more that are closed, and restaurants and food courts echo with empty. Up the street, the flagship Nordstrom hangs on – with perhaps more employees than customers.

We sat outside in the sunshine on the ferry home, protected by a glass windbreak, the Olympics with new snow stretched white on the horizon – a spirit lifting day with a good friend, walking familiar streets, and seeing well-known places, changed but there.

In the days leading up to Christmas, I read with grandchildren north and south together. My friend who paints in the woods taught me how to juggle phone and computer on Zoom, so the book was visible to the children, but I could also see their faces and talk to them (and they to each other). A technological challenge, but by Christmas eve we finished “The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits,” and Lady B read to us, “Mrs. Claus Saves Christmas.” (She must act because Santa falls asleep and misses his midnight departure!)

Beginning with a Christmas Eve trumpet carol concert by Papa Jim, played on the front porch for Zoom dinner and neighbors, we found more joy on Christmas than I ever expected, a warmhearted though electronic celebration. It is odd to have one’s old age observer status made concrete, but COVID has done that. We were grateful to be part of the California Christmas, participate in stockings and present opening, and share dinner at festive tables (with the Alaskans joining in), but it feels awful to be no help at all to the young parents. (Christmas magic requires a lot of work from them!)

So, we welcome the new year this week – with some trepidation, as hopes for respite rest on banishing 2020’s many woes. But I’m wishing a happier, safer, and kinder new year – for all of us!

Our Dark Winter

     In the Sunday morning darkness, I drove to the grocery for the weekly shop, before an 8-a.m. dawn. Bright lights and stars stretched across main street and the colored lights on the Green’s Christmas tree still shone.

     Lights reflected in the wet parking lot around the store, and fresh green garlands and wreaths stretched out alongside pieces of tape that mark the pandemic-required six-foot intervals. Inside, nestled amongst the pots of poinsettia, I spotted bunches of red tulips. Instantly I was transported back many years, when in the snowy dark of an Alaska Christmas Eve, the florist delivered a totally unexpected bouquet of red tulips, sent by my father-in-law in Kansas. Red tulips are Christmas for me ever since, one of the small things calling forth thoughts of missing people and times.

So, we have memories and increasing light this week, as we pass the winter solstice, and prepare our distanced festivities in this bleak winter of a hard year.

     But no matter the year – maybe because of the year and the daily reminder of the fragility of life – I wish you good cheer, warmth, and light!

Let it Snow!

     That would be a rare December event in Washington, but snow comes in other forms. Last week I moved a large painting to hang years of our cards pinned to ribbons – homemade and very imperfect. They trace decades with images of houses, children, pets, hikes, travels, and Christmas joys.

     And now two more rows – cards from our sons’ families fill out the wall, and those reduced me to tears, never far away these days. Not just for missing my family but for all the pain in the nation. (I’m with Bernie Sanders in his support for both direct payments to people, unemployment relief, and help to state and local governments. Now.)

Something slow motion haunts this month for me – time unstructured by longstanding traditions – years of going to Alaska in the early part of the month for real snow, and then later, the Californians coming. But not this COVID year.

     The Christmas cards arrive though, maybe earlier than usual – the first one in October. I welcome hearing from faraway friends and love to see the holiday images on their cards – often including snow. One year I managed that on our card.

     My drawing was made up, but this year Mrs. Hughes sent a real photo deserving “best of snow scenes,” showing the house she festooned with many white lights along the eves, glowing against bluish snow on rooftops and trees. With a lighted garland draping the snowy fence, the old red house has never looked better!

     Talking to Lady B about snow a couple of weeks ago, I reminded her (I can still do this with Lady B, her father cringes when I start in on a memory of his childhood) of the time we sat in her dining nook staring out the window and calling out for snow – and then watched amazed as solitary flakes begin to fall. The conversation moved on, but she began to draw and made the most wonderful image:

My old friend reads to her grandsons on FaceTime and inspired me to try. It’s not the same – awkward to hold the phone to show the image and still read the page – not like a real cuddle by the Christmas tree with books. But needs must, and as Sweet B said: “I love to read these books – again and again.” A benefit to reading electronically is the chance for a one-on-one conversation on the side.

     Like the cards, many of the best holiday books feature snow scenes, specially falling snow. We’ve already read “Santa’s Snow Cat” several times, a beautifully illustrated tale of Santa’s white cat who falls from the sleigh through swirling snow. (It ends happily.)

     Sweet B suggested some ways to do it, when we talked about the difficulty of painting snow scenes, promised she would try when we hung up. Then I remembered that she already painted a snow scene with her dad when they made the beloved mural on our garage wall this summer:


 And we opened a card from young friends with a terrific photo of their so cute, ruddy-cheeked toddler in a snow suit and a message inside:

“For every dark night, there is a brighter day.”

Wish with Your Heart

   One evening last week, as they began to decorate their tree, the Californians called us on FaceTime. It’s strange to watch without being part – like viewing a familiar movie – but also jolly. An excited Sweet B unpacked the boxes we sent one ornament at a time – an ordinary family assortment, many homemade – some have stories, and some are good for making up new stories.

A small slab of painted dough, tentatively identified as an owl, is a figure of awe – a creation surviving some 30 or 40 years! To see the son who probably made that owl, lifting his five-year-old to place the star, is weirdly like watching life go on without you.

In the middle of the decorating, I told Sweet B I wished we could be together to decorate our tree. She paused a moment, then said: “I know what we’ll do – you close your eyes and wish with your heart!” FaceTime might be more reliable, but we’ll make it work. I want to embrace this holiday, be grateful for the odd and the familiar.

     And last week it began to sink in that a possible end to this pandemic exists – reading the New York Times’s timeline for vaccine dispersal, and hearing Dr. Fauci explain why the vaccines are both speedy and safe – I could feel spirits lift! Hope! Sacrificing togetherness, trading closeness this year for more years to come seems a worthy endeavor.

     But, before the vaccine, a bleakness confronts us this winter – hospitals nearing capacity necessitates a new round of closures – the outlook on all fronts is awful. We could close our eyes and wish with our hearts, and I’d wish for those who disregard science to open their eyes – and open their hearts to the suffering of patients and medical people. What a muck we’ve made of this. What a triumph we’ve handed the virus.

     To end on a positive note – back to the children and their holidays, both those in our lives and others, it seems a great year to up the support in all forms. I enjoyed getting things for Toys for Tots, in operation since 1947 and accepting donations until 18 December at drop off spots around our towns, or you can do it virtually. Books, art supplies, games, there is no specific list.

Ensure a little joy. This we can do.

Our COVID December Begins

In the days before Thanksgiving, I watched a crew of volunteers erect a donated, 30-foot Christmas tree on the Winslow Green – a perfect fir, slim structural triangle, branches reaching up at balanced intervals, festooned with round red glass balls, and topped with a star. My heart soared at the sight.

At first, I thought, well that will do, that can be our Christmas tree, but on my walk the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I passed a woman stringing little white lights on three wire deer, awash in glitter, browsing under a patch of white-barked birch trees. When I said her display made me happy, she replied, “Well, I’ve been into this since the day after Halloween – there is more to come!”

She got her indoor tree from a local farm, and by the time I got home I knew we’d follow suit. Saturday being Small Business Saturday, supporting a local farm seemed appropriate, and at the farm – a rainy, but cheery place – big wreaths filled the arms of little children and big trees topped the cars of their parents.

The Los Angeles family is having a first Christmas in their own house, and last week I made a skirt for their tree and a stocking for Sweet Brother. I divided our stash of cookie cutters, stockings, tree decorations, and Christmas books in half, and packed their portion into three boxes to mail south. The boxes arrived on Saturday, and, by a chance video call, I watched the unpacking of one to fetch out a tiny string of lights for Sweet B’s doll house. Then, some hours later, a photo arrived of Sweet B in mask standing by her chosen tree on a Los Angeles tree lot.

By midday a photo pinged from Alaska – Lady B and Lord B standing (masked, and together holding a wreath), transfixed by some sight – maybe the fresh cutting and wrapping of their tree for the ride home? And later came a photo of their tree – gloriously lit and decorated. A snowy owl nestled at the top.

(The photos are treasured – thank you smart phones, thank you parents – they do help fill the void.)

That Saturday I also walked in town with my old friend – it’s fun to walk in town with her, because she knows many people and greetings are so friendly. But this day, I suppose because Governor Inslee lives on the island, a loud and obnoxious cabal of anti-mask protesters, walked off the ferry and onto Winslow Way with bullhorn and police siren, shouting that Bainbridge Islanders were brainwashed and masks were unconstitutional.

But never mind. (I did think of Lady B – one of her gratefuls at Thanksgiving dinner was for “those little pieces of cloth that keep the virus from spreading” – sensible child).  It’s better to think about family trees blinking alight along the coast from Southern California to Alaska.

Do you think it might be questionable for two grownups to have a tree since neither family from afar, nor local friends can visit? But to do without that welcome presence seems sad when there is already so much sad. Trees stir happy memories for sure – and memories are not locked down this year – so I’m eager for the tree’s festive light and color!

Thanksgiving in the Year of COVID-19

     Traditionally we split holidays with the Alaska grandparents. We do Thanksgiving, so this week would ordinarily bring feverish grocery shopping, planning and cooking for meals beyond turkey day, bed making, toy arranging, and ferry schedule coordinating. I love arrivals – that blissful moment of sighting one family or the other in the festive crowd disembarking the ferry – I’ll miss that.

     And the little moments, when easy companionship happens amid holiday bustle, will be absent this year – making pies or reading books with children, a chance for an extra walk at evening with a willing son, laughing with Sweet B’s parents while wrestling the bird and trimmings, Mr. Carson arriving with a platter of colorful roasted vegetables, and last year, a poolside chat with Mrs. Hughes while kids squealed in the water. This distanced holiday provides no opportunity to plop down and annoy a visiting grownup child sitting quietly by the fire with his book. And the isolation of 2020 presents a real void when the video call ends, and the rest of the weekend looms.

     But I think we can make that call and meal together celebratory – if not like the old days. As my old friend, who lives here and is a psychologist, would say I’ve been “somewhat directive” (seems a polite and professional term for bossy) – asking that the Zoom meeting be set up, suggesting maybe we could do vegan meals, sending boxes north and south to the grandchildren that contained possible table decorations (shopping in my linen drawers and realizing the chances were slim of 16 people at a big table again), candles (can you have a candlelit meal on Zoom?), and paperwhite bulbs for December.

I loved the N.Y. Times’s Style Editor, Vanessa Friedman’s, recent Open Thread Newsletter. She intends to dress up for the electronic event, and writes: “When the news around us gets worse and worse, dressing is a way to use the external to find a note of grace for the internal. That’s worth a bit of celebration.”

 The “thankfuls” of the children around the table are always the best, and I’m curious to see what they make of this year. Sweet Brother won’t speak out, but his birth at top of mind. The young parents always warm my heart with their love for each other and their children. I’m hoping for a better performance than in the past, when I have mostly grown tearful and inarticulate. When the video goes dark, I’ll be glad the families are cozy together in their foursomes. And from this reimagined Thanksgiving, we get safety and the hope that next year we will be together again. Not small things.

     And there is still much to be grateful for – health, those connection-saving video platforms(!), vaccines coming, state officials standing up to the president’s despicable attack on democracy, and a new administration!

And I add a heartfelt thank you dear readers. I have much gratitude for all of you – your comments and caring keep me going. I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving in this temporary incarnation!