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Some days it is nearly impossible, and other days clearly impossible, not to drown in the catastrophic abyss that is the world right now. This is not news to anyone.

At 3am this morning after I finished my client work, since I had no opportunity to do it during the day, I wrote a list of small wins in my new notebook. I bought this new notebook last night at Target, while in the midst of having a panic attack because of the school supplies. The school supply section at Target has always been beloved by our family. Unlike some parents, I actually love shopping for school supplies. I have since I was a kid and got to pick out a new Trapper Keeper every year. But last night seeing the vast array of products just sent me into a downward spiral because school + Covid-19 + completely inept government response = nothing good. Everything about this situation is heartbreaking and infuriating and all those shiny folders just reminded me of that.

But back to those little victories. Notice how easy it is to get distracted by awfulness? If you haven’t already seen the video of the explosion in Beirut, don’t watch it. Deep breaths. Focus.

So, small wins, right?

Zeke made this guy!
  1. Zeke is taking a sewing class and a magic class now, both of which he is really enjoying and fully showing up for.
    After carefully curating his summer of camps back in January and having them all be canceled because of Covid, I haphazardly signed him up for a variety of online classes. I did not put in nearly as much thought or planning into this as I did with the camps, so sometimes I over scheduled him and sometimes I signed him for things that required more involvement from me than I was able to provide. But magic and sewing stuffies have been big hits. And yes, I am still putting in some time buying sewing supplies and helping cut out patterns, but Zeke is getting there and is determined to learn and practice. His current career ambition is to become a costume designer for Marvel. I feel like between his sewing and drawing skills, he is on the right track. He can make costumes for theatre productions in high school or create Halloween costumes for his friends. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
  2. Zoe is learning to use nunchucks in her martial arts class.
This is not Zoe. This is Bruce Lee.

I don’t honestly know why they’re using nunchucks, but it’s cool and Zoe was practicing on her own last night, which is always a good thing. I am also just happy that both she and Zeke are back in their martial arts classes at EvolveAll (via Zoom, of course) after taking a brief break. We are all eager to get back to the studio, but in the meantime they are getting exercise and pushing themselves and we still love being part of the EvolveAll community.

3. I finally figured out how to use my AirPods during Zoom meetings. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, don’t worry about it. If you understand, you will appreciate it.

4. The aforementioned Target trip was principally to buy more lightning cable chargers because mine are always being borrowed for other people to charge their devices in other parts of the house and and we all have so many freaking devices now that there are never enough chargers. So I bought some in fun colors and perhaps now no one will steal mine.

5. The pile of super stinky laundry from our Camp Friendship trip is diminishing. It is not yet gone, but it’s more like a speed bump than a mountain.

6. I helped my mom do a hard thing yesterday.

7. I’m taking a surprisingly fun class through church about how parents can be sexuality educators for their own kids.

8. I’m listening to a fantastic book–No One Can Pronounce My Name by Rakesh Satyal.

9. We’ve made some delicious dinners lately from Hello Fresh. The kids don’t always eat them, but Randy and I love them and they’re not the same thing we always make and they’re healthy.

10. I am not water soluble! Twice this week I ended up doing a chore outside in the pouring rain and I didn’t melt. It’s always reassuring to note this underrated quality.

More often than not lately our current existence seems untenable. I’m yelling at my kids too much. My house is a disaster area. My husband and I haven’t had a date in eons. But at least I’m not water soluble.

When I came back to the Crescent Inn
to pick up our order–chicken parm dinner, spaghetti and sausage, flounder and shrimp, and chicken tenders–the red-haired woman behind the counter was packing it up

She wore a leopard-print mask that fell slightly below her nose
On her left arm were tattoos of origami cranes
On her right arm a purple dahlia

She was telling me that she was just waiting on one more salad and the chicken parm when another customer walked in
A short, round woman with a brown ponytail, wearing a pink shirt
She was wearing a disposable mask
but asked the red-haired server–I’ll call her Dahlia–
if she could have a mask from the box on top of the counter
Dahlia said, “they’re a dollar,” and the customer–I’ll call her Karen–seemed
disgusted, as if Dahlia had said, “they’re pre-infected with COVID.”

Karen announced, “I’m here to pick up an order!”
and Dahlia said, “Yes, ma’am, I’m just packing up this lady’s order and I’ll be right with you.”

“I ordered an hour ago!” Karen proclaimed, although she had just walked into the restaurant.

“I’ll get your food as soon as I can,” Dahlia said, while checking and double checking that all of the items in my order were present, including the little containers of ranch dressing for the side salads, and the garlic bread that was actually just buttered toast, maybe with a hint of garlic powder, wrapped in brown wax paper. “I’m just one woman.”

Evidently this comment provoked Karen. Perhaps she thought Dahlia should be several women.

“Why you gotta treat me like shit?” Karen asked. I stood up straighter and shifted away from Karen as subtly as I could manage.

“I’m sorry?” asked Dahlia. “What did I do to upset you?”

“You’ve been treating me like shit from the moment I walked in here,” Karen explained, as if using logic. “Will you hurry up and get my f***ing order? I’ve never been in here before but I’m being treated like shit. Is Mike here? Mike knows my sister.”

“He is here,” Dahlia said. “Would you like to speak to him?”

“No, but he knows my sister!” Karen reiterated.

Dahlia looked at me and I looked at her, eyes wide. “You wanted ranch with that salad?” she asked, even though she knew. “Yes, please,” I answered, with all the politeness of a person who had definitely not been treated like shit and had not witnessed anyone else being treated like shit, other than the way Karen was treating Dahlia.

Dahlia used the opportunity to go into the kitchen to get the ranch dressing, murmuring an explanation of what was unfolding out front. I expected a manager or someone authoritative to come out to appease Karen. Instead, a man with a gray mustache came out, surreptitiously looked around, and dumped a bucket of clean silverware onto a dishtowel on the counter. He returned to the kitchen.

While Dahlia was in the kitchen, Karen muttered to herself about how she had been treated. I continued to inch away.

Finally Dahlia finished packing up my order and handed it to me. “Here you go, honey, you have a wonderful evening. Enjoy your dinner!” she said in a tone that said, “look how I am pleasant and definitely do not treat customers like shit!”

“Thank you so much,” I said, “You have a good night” in a tone that I hope conveyed, “I’m so sorry that this lady is being so inexplicably rude to you and I would have definitely said something to her if I had not been afraid she had a gun, which is not an unreasonable fear given the culture of impulsive gun violence in our country, including a recent episode in which a security guard at a dollar store was shot to death by a customer who did not like being asked to wear a mask.” Hopefully she understood.


Some of the subtle and unsettling changes in daily life that you notice 65 days into quasi-quarantine:

Instead of searching through the piles of clean laundry on the couch looking for some underwear or the pants that still fit, you’re mostly looking for a clean mask that fits.

You don’t realize until nighttime when you’re on a zoom call with friends that you haven’t looked in a mirror all day and had no idea that your hair looked like that.

Instead of showering at your convenience, you have to negotiate shower privileges with your spouse because both of you roll out of bed and start the day without bothering to shower until a) your first zoom call of the day or b) you need to leave the house to go to the grocery store or pickup takeout food.

Even though you can’t see it behind the mask, you still put on lipstick before leaving the house. Some habits stick around.

Instead of attempting to clean the house, you engage in micro cleaning. If one kitchen counter is wiped down, or one table cleared, or one shelf tidied, you count it as a victory. It is impossible to clean the whole house when everyone is in it all the time.

You realize that Target brand toilet paper is actually fine. Even though you’ve always been a toilet paper snob, both a Charmin loyalist and disdainful of Scott, when you found shelves filled with Target brand you snapped it up and have been pleasantly surprised.

You are grateful to three different friends who generously gave you gifts of dish soap. When you ran out, before your friends came to the rescue, you ordered dish soap online. Then it arrived and now you are blessed with dish soap to last for a while, which is good because your family continues to eat and drink with gusto.

You cannot concentrate on anything for mire than 30 seconds except when you are alone, which typically happens only after midnight or before 9am if you are able to wake up at 8. You seldom use these hours wisely, but that’s nothing new. Occasionally you meditate or write, and that has to be good enough.

On Saturdays we become feral. While our pre-pandemic weekends were packed with activities and outings, Saturdays especially are now anarchy. When each of us is sleeping or eating or dressed is anyone’s guess. By Saturday I have no energy left to organize anyone or anything.

Yesterday evening, Zoe and I went for a masked walk around the neighborhood. we walked almost the same exact route we had walked 24 hours earlier, but somehow noticed new houses and different flowers along the way. We saw fewer people out, perhaps because it had been drizzling. Walking is nice and it’s a relief to be out of the house, but wearing a mask and detouring to avoid other people, few of whom make eye contact or say hello, remains uncomfortable and disorienting.

Meanwhile, Randy and Zeke had not left the house all day. The effect of this on Randy was an attack of lethargy at 8pm and Zeke was running laps around the first floor of our house. I suggested they do a workout, and soon they were both on our puzzle piece mats in front of the tv doing squats and burpees and planks in 30-second intervals.

At this point everyone had gotten their second wind. I had been trying for several days to figure out how to play games using the Houseparty app or Jackbox games. Neither of these things are all that complicated, but my brain power has been compromised by the new normal.

So the kids and I played a few rounds of a drawing game with Zoe’s ukulele teacher, and after Randy dragged Zeke to bed, the three of us played some trivia games and something called chips and guac which is basically like Apples to Apples. I was reminded that I am old because the games included slang I’d never heard of, but there are also words Zoe doesn’t know so I guess we’re even.

I don’t even remember what time I attempted to go to sleep, only that by 3am I had not achieved success, so I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of the call to worship for next Sunday’s church service. I have always loved helping lead worship, but I haven’t done it in a while because of my ministerial search committee duties. Next Sunday, however, is (hopefully) the culmination of our search odyssey, as our candidate gives her second candidating sermon and the congregation votes on whether to call her as our next senior minister. So I was asked to serve as worship associate for the service. I feel a wee bit of pressure to perform, but it’s all self-imposed. I am excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Rev. Amanda and see what happens.

Sundays are less lethargic days, at least for me, because I make myself get out of bed to watch church. Also today I had many zoom meetings to host—both related to church and for family and friends. While there is something to be said for the convenience of video calls, they are just never going to beat being in the same room with people. I miss people! And hugs! Have I mentioned how I miss hugging people?

Monday and its accompanying structure—however erratic—is coming soon enough.

I’ve been pretty grumpy the past couple days. Migraines, the sorry state of our government, and the needless suffering of so many humans, especially those who have already been systematically oppressed for centuries.

An occupational hazard of working with organizations that are trying to heal the world is that I spend a lot of time reading and writing about all the brokenness. I’ve been editing a lot of documents lately about the lasting effects of institutional racism, such as dramatic health and educational disparities. I learn over and over again about systems and policies based in selfishness, greed, and so many people’s inability to walk in someone else’s shoes, or even believe that someone else wears a different kind of shoes. Why are we so arrogant?

Surprisingly, what got me out of my funk tonight was a ministerial search committee meeting via zoom. Our committee is in the home stretch of our epic two-year mission, and we are all stressed. But we received some wise guidance from our wonderful interim minister and shared some funny stories with each other and I felt a sense of relief being together. Meanwhile, Randy and Zoe made a delicious dinner of maple glazed salmon and maple glazed baby carrots and pearled couscous and spinach salad with strawberries. Zoe brought a plate up to the office for me to eat during my meeting and it was so tasty.

I am thankful for my search committee team members for so many things, but especially because they push me and inspire me to be my best self—to evolve and grow and look at the world in different ways—and to always think about what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Yesterday it was my birthday
I hung one more year on the line
I should be depressed
My life’s a mess
But I’m having a good time

Paul Simon

This year I received birthday greetings from my neurologist, my dentist, my kids’ dentist, the Red Cross, William and Mary, Michaels, Starbucks, DSW, and District Taco. Oh, and a lot of people who I actually know and who love me!

I would not have guessed that a having a birthday while in quarantine could be so lovely, but it was. My people made me feel special.

A popular thing to do on Facebook is throw a fundraiser for a nonprofit you like. In the midst of a global public health crisis, it’s hard to pick one. The day before my birthday I invited people to do something to help their local food bank, or any organization that is helping people through the pandemic. Scrolling through all the people who listed the organizations where they had volunteered, donated food, or contributed money made me so ecstatic. A few people said they were turning over their stimulus checks to community food pantries, and they would think of me when they made the donation.

I had a Zoom birthday party, which was just as weird and silly as I expected. A Zoom party enables you to introduce people you love to each other, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Everyone said how they knew me, and it was cool to see so many people who were in our wedding on the screen together for the first time since our wedding video. For the party, I made a quiz about myself on Kahoot! which apparently was much more challenging than I thought. My sister won, which was not surprising. I think she won Zoe’s quiz too. She’s a clever one.

Then my parents and clever sister surprised me by appearing for a six-feet-apart sidewalk and parking lot party! My sister, wearing a mask, brought me a Wonder Woman balloon and a bouquet of flowers. My parents brought presents and my dad read a poem by Billy Collins, my favorite poet.

My husband brought home lunch from Pupatella, our favorite pizza place in Arlington. My family made me a delicious and messy cake. Our sweet next door neighbor wrote me a lovely card and gave me a journal covered with almond blossoms, which she stealthily left on our doorstep.

After I took a little nap while my family played Goat Simulator on the Xbox, we went for a hike at Scott’s Run, one of the parks we discovered since quarantine started. Like most of these hikes, it runs along the Potomac, and unlike most of the hikes, features a lovely waterfall. We were all wearing masks, but we didn’t see too many people, and those we passed on the trail stayed respectfully several feet away.

I hadn’t realized how much it had rained since the last time we were there, about a month ago. But clearly, it had, since the fallen trees Zeke climbed on were now separated from the shore by rushing water.

We opted not to swim out to recreate the picture. But we did put in 3.2 miles and, according to my Apple Health app, climbed 22 floors, also known as hills.

At home I took my second shower of the day, because you know I love to be clean, and I enjoyed a SamGram–a little FaceTime with my nine-month-old nephew, watching him grab toys and make noise and roll around and wiggle his little legs. The next best thing to snuggling.

Meanwhile Randy and Zoe made me non-dairy fettuccine alfredo at my request. If it were just me, I’d have the regular kind with cream, but since Randy is allergic to dairy and I think Zoe may be lactose intolerant, I wanted a treat everyone could enjoy. This involved them soaking cashews in water and blending them with some other ingredients. The alfredo sauce was not, perhaps, quite as creamy as what I’ve had before, but it was tasty and the whole thing was delicious because they made it for me.

I would give almost anything for this quarantine to be over–for enough tests to test everyone and a vaccine and leaders who are willing and able to take care of their people. But I wouldn’t have had my birthday any other way. Thanks, guys!

The ideal person to be quarantined with would be my Nana. She was born in 1911, grew up on a farm, survived the Great Depression, and was smart, industrious, patient, thrifty, and a phenomenal baker and cook. My Nana always had two refrigerators and freezers filled with food enough to last forever. She washed clothes in the sink and sometimes in the washing machine, and dried everything on the line. She washed and dried the dishes by hand. Somehow I feel like she wouldn’t have run out of anything or would’ve known how to make what she had on hand last and last. She never learned to drive and would’ve been content to stay at home taking care of her family, reading her devotions, sewing, and playing Scrabble as long as was necessary. She might’ve been sad that Major League Baseball was canceled because she enjoyed watching the Atlanta Braves play. She would’ve missed going to church every Sunday, but she wouldn’t have skipped a single day reading the Bible. She would’ve called to check on the women in her Sunday school class and people from the church who were homebound (of course we’re all homebound now, but the people who were sick or incapacitated). She would’ve made meals and pound cakes and asked my Papa to drive her to deliver them. I am confident that Nana would have remained calm during all this craziness.

Perhaps because I’ve been thinking about my Nana so much lately, I had two terrible dreams last night in which she had just died. In one dream, I was in the house on Chestnut Street in High Point, North Carolina where she and my Papa lived for most of my childhood. I dreamed that she had died and the entire rest of my family had suddenly vanished. I had no one there to talk to or who could console me, except for an acquaintance I didn’t really trust.

In the next dream, I was in another city–maybe Arlington or DC at night and I was hysterical about her death. I was parked very tight between other cars and was trying to figure out how to get my car out of the lot. My friend Elizabeth appeared, along with a guy who sported an unfortunate Prince Valiant style haircut. Elizabeth asked if I could give her and Prince Valiant a ride somewhere because it was raining. I said I would, but then I was driving up absurdly steep walls, like in a skate park, and I couldn’t seem to get anywhere. I was crying and told Elizabeth I couldn’t drive because I was so upset and she would have to drive, so she did.

When I told Randy about this he suggested the steep walls I was trying to drive up represented the nightmarish graphs we keep seeing in the news, of the rise of coronavirus cases and deaths, and the unbelievable unemployment numbers.

My Nana died in 2005. I wonder if I am suddenly missing her more than usual because in all this terrifying uncertainty, I am longing for her steady, reassuring presence. She would know the right thing to do. I wish she were here so she could meet my kids. And so I could bake her a cake. I think she would like that.

When my kids were in preschool at AUCP one of the concepts that the teachers and staff there reminded us parents all the time was the importance of teaching and allowing our kids to do things on their own even when it would be much faster for us to do it ourselves. If you are a parent or grandparent or older sibling or if you’ve ever cared for or taught a child, you know that it often takes little kids forever to do anything, especially if you are in a hurry.

Of course this is good advice because kids will never learn to be independent if you do everything for them. But also, life. Sometimes it’s really tedious to teach a kid to do something that you could do in five minutes, knowing you’ll have to cajole them to do it and then it will take them half an hour.

Yet there comes a time–perhaps when you are in quarantine–when you are making three meals a day for your family members, that you must teach your first-grader to make a sandwich. For whatever reason, Zeke has never liked peanut butter and jelly. Recently he has changed his mind. He seems to change his mind about a lot of things lately. So I taught him to make a sandwich. He was proud of himself. He added pretzels to the plate. I cut up the apple. I’m wondering when I can give him the sharp knife…

As you can see, some of the strawberries adorning the edge of the cake cascaded down to the bottom between when I decorated the cake and when we served it. The cake was strawberry with fresh strawberries mixed in and a layer of strawberry jam between the layers of cake. The cake plate originally belonged to my Nana.

I know she would never have chosen it herself, but I actually think Zoe’s 13th birthday while in quarantine was more eventful and filled with love from more people than it would’ve been under ordinary circumstances.

I had put a call out on Facebook for people to send video birthday greetings to Zoe, and my wishes were granted. Beginning this morning I air-played the videos for Zoe on our TV and enjoyed seeing her smile. Some of the videos were from friends, some from teachers, some from people she doesn’t even know but who know her through the magic of Facebook. Some of them were from dogs and cats and plastic birds. One video made me cry and another made me laugh so hard I peed.

Last night we made a Kahoot–an online quiz using an app that Zoe has used in school for years–about Zoe. Today we invited family and a few groups of friends to play during Zoom birthday calls. Our first call was with the McCrays, who all sported birthday hats and had put up a happy birthday banner and balloons for Zoe. Later, the Cass family brought their adorable new puppy, Bentley, to visit us. They stayed six feet away while Bentley nibbled bits of turkey out of our hands. Then my parents drove up with some birthday gifts for Zoe, which they handed through the car window. I had just made pasta salad for lunch and I hurried to package some up for them (along with the baby carrots and tortilla chips we always serve with the pasta salad) and passed their bag of lunch back through the car window before they drove off.

Zoe and I played speed, her favorite card game, at which I am usually terrible, and I beat her. I told her now that she was a woman I wasn’t holding back anymore. Which is nonsense, because I never held back before I just wasn’t good at the game and it was lucky that I won today. Then the four of us played Not Parent Approved and ate pasta salad.

Next we had our family celebration, during which Aunt Susannah aced the Zoe quiz, and our littlest family member Sam did a little birthday dance for Zoe. Susannah and Aaron and Charlie and Sam made the best birthday video ever–their rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Me,” which featured Susannah in a bridesmaid dress and Charlie popping out of unexpected places including the fridge. Also Sam doing baby pushups.

Eager to get back on her bike, Zoe asked me to take her back to the field where she and Zeke rode Friday and Saturday. The field just so happens to be located near her best friend’s house. After riding a few laps around the track, Zoe was suddenly serenaded (from a safe distance) by a vaguely familiar group including a unicorn, Wolverine, a poop emoji, a hot dog, a windsock guy, and a Slytherin. Strangers stopped to take photos and videos.

Back home Zoe got back on Zoom with her squad from school, a happy reunion that lasted more than two hours, until our delivery arrived from Bangkok54. While we ate we watched the Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana, which Zoe had already watched five times, but it was my first. The movie was excellent and gave me a newfound respect for Taylor.

Of course Zoe received some presents, and some will be arriving in the mail pending coronavirus delays. But the best thing about this birthday was her just hearing from people in Arlington and all over the country that they are thinking of her and wishing good things for her and sending her love. And now that she’s 13 I think she understands how much that matters.

In 2020 I want to figure out how to

  1. Use my Instant Pot that everyone swears will change my life but I’ve thus far been scared to operate
  2. Not take it personally when my kids are in terrible moods
  3. Cultivate a daily meditation practice
  4. Read tarot
  5. Handle it when people serving our family in stores or restaurants refer to my daughter as “he” because she has short hair
  6. Make any money from my crazy art
  7. Get rid of a TON of the stuff in my house
  8. Get my children to ride their bicycles
  9. Eat out less while magically discovering what foods everyone in my family will eat without me having to cook everything
  10. Say no

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