2020 in meme

  1. What did you do in 2020 that you’d never done before?
    Lived through a global pandemic; witnessed civil rights protests; wore a face mask; had my nose swabbed a bunch of times; worked from home for months on end; joined a CSA and a bean club; caught a mouse; hung blinds; biked with both kids; cut my own hair.
  2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    Unusually for me, I didn’t really set resolutions, and I certainly didn’t worry about keeping them.
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    Wonderful friends had babies that I have yet to meet.
  4. Did anyone close to you die?
    We are extremely fortunate to not have lost anyone close to us in 2020.
  5. What countries (or new places) did you visit?
    Remember visiting new places? We barely left the city.
  6. What would you like to have in 2021 that you lacked in 2020?
    Peace of mind and two COVID vaccine shots in my arm.
  7. What date from 2020 will remain etched up on your memory, and why?
    March 12 was the last day Before for us.
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    Maintaining my sanity and doing my best to stay present through a rollercoaster of a year.
  9. What was your biggest failure?
    I am striking this question in order to frame experiences as growth rather than failure.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hip in March. I wiped out and got road rash while running in a cemetery and then twisted the shit out of my foot at the end of the summer and had to take 3+ weeks off running. I badly skinned my knee on Thanksgiving. Nothing major, all frustrating.
  11. What was the best thing you bought?
    Rancho Gordo beans and our new couch.
  12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    Front line workers of all sorts.
  13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
    Most elected officials’, same as in previous years.
  14. Where did most of your money go?
    Food and rent.
  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Ologies. Elizabeth Warren. Sourdough.
  16. What song will always remind you of 2020?
    How about podcasts? I discovered and BINGED Ologies.
  17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    i. happier or sadder?
    Sadder
    ii. richer or poorer?
    Richer
  18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    SPEND TIME WITH OTHER PEOPLE
  19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
    Worrying about money, dealing with moving and apartment disasters.
  20. How did you spend Christmas?
    At home, taking things slow. We spread the gifts and the video chats throughout the day so there was never a point when everyone got overwhelmed or overstimulated. The small kid spent several hours playing with his garbage truck. I made an overly fussy vegducken for dinner.
  21. Did you fall in love in 2020?
    No
  22. (Adding a new question in place of one that no longer applies!) What was the best thing you ate?
    I did a tremendous amount of cooking and baking this year. Off the top of my head, the butternut squash and sweetcorn erriseri was a particular winner. The big kid would likely vote for spaghetti squash and mushroom (soccer) balls. The small kid might vote for the fruit dump truck that I made for his birthday.
  23. What was your favorite TV program?
    The Expanse
  24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    The same Trump administration suspects.
  25. What was the best book you read?
    Island on Fire was the most engrossing
  26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    See #16
  27. What did you want and get?
    I got to see my parents and my sister and a few friends all too briefly. We went on many family bike rides, and I got to have WAY more time with my kids than I ever could have imagined going into the year.
  28. What did you want and not get?
    So, so many things.
  29. What was your favorite film of the year?
    I finished zero movies in 2020.
  30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I turned 40. We took the kids to the Chicago Children’s Museum. We had donuts from Do-Rite and ramen at Ramen-San. I went for an afternoon run by the lake. My mom came in for the weekend and babysat so that we could go out for brunch and drinks. We had dinner with her at Greek Islands, and a quiet dinner at home. All of this seems unimaginable now!
  31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Not being in a pandemic.
  32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2020?
    Jean shorts and my David Rose-esque star sweater
  33. What kept you sane?
    Nicolas, my sister, Eva, Karen, Kim and Angie, Anne and KZ, long walks
  34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    Who has time for that?
  35. What political issue stirred you the most?
    I felt pulled in a million directions, but focused my energy on unlearning white supremacy and writing get out the vote postcards.
  36. Who did you miss?
    Everyone

A Brief List of Media I Would Like to Binge

One of the things I miss about my life before kids was being able to, say, read a book in one sitting, or binge watch a TV show over a couple of sick days, or maybe, dare I say it, watch an entire movie! Without thinking too much about it, here are a few things I would like to lose a number of hours absorbing:

  1. The Mirror and the Light — I had never before preordered a book, but I preordered the last volume of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy and expected to devour it when it appeared in my Kindle app in March. Almost nine months (and a full dang pandemic) later, I have only made it 19% through the book. If I ever finish, I also want to rewatch the Wolf Hall miniseries.
  2. Battlestar Galactica — N and I have watched the entire show together twice, most recently finishing it while in the hospital with the small kid. I love it unabashedly. I would take Caprica as a consolation prize.
  3. Fringe — I love this show so much and think of it often, especially since a number of its character actors often show up in other shows and in ways that are jarring given their roles on Fringe.
  4. Ologies is absolutely delightful and I learn something new every time I listen. I binged about two years of the show while doing a lot of rote data work over the summer, but can’t do it justice while actually focusing on anything else.
  5. The stack of Flow magazines on the credenza from my grandparents’ house.

Quarantine Moment #1

Classical Baby was on in the background while I made dinner (BBQ tempeh, red cabbage, corn bread) last night. My kids love the show, one seemingly mostly for the music, the other seemingly mostly for the animation. A study in contrasts, those two.

I found myself unexpectedly a little teary during Appalachian Spring and couldn’t immediately put my finger on why as I’m not the biggest fan of classical music in general or of Copland specifically – until I remembered that viral Toronto Symphony Orchestra at home video from the early, early moments of All Of This.

Listening to the song – and, now, watching the performance again after so many months – I found myself grateful to be reminded what it felt like at the beginning, when we could hope for a quick resolution, that if we all just pulled together, we could make it through.

Outside.

I haven’t written here in a long time, in a large part because I haven’t been sure what to say, or if I even had anything worth saying. This year has been a series of profound sea changes. What could I possibly say that is of value and that hasn’t been said better elsewhere? But I suppose this space has only occasionally been about Saying Big Things, and so I will endeavor to carry on Saying Mostly Small Things, as small things are the stuff that most days and weeks and years and lives are made of.

The change of seasons has been difficult around here. It hasn’t been cold enough to wrap our heads around winter, but it hasn’t been warm enough to keep playing outside either. I am mourning the outside plans that were possible in warm(er) weather. My kids are bouncing off the walls. We continue to be grateful for an empty apartment below us.

We took advantage of the long weekend to visit two new-to-us parks on the south side – part of my ongoing agenda to get out into nature without having to go to the north side or the western suburbs. We spent a grey morning at Steelworkers Park exploring the tall grasses and watching cranes in the harbor and fishermen on the channel. The park was smaller than I expected, but plenty big enough to wear the small kid out.

We also visited Big Marsh Park. It took us a bit to find the spaces that weren’t dedicated to biking, but once we did, the kids had a great time digging holes and climbing on tree stumps and just generally being kids, free of the now-normal worries about masks or social distancing. We watched an eagle swoop over the water and wished we’d brought the big kid’s birthday binoculars.

And so we continue on with Small Things: card games and alphabet songs, coffee and cinnamon buns, masked trips to the library, another season away from the ones we love.

A Place to Start

My book club read Antoine de St Exupéry’s Night Flight this month, and as I hurried to finish the book last night, I was struck by this quote:

Even though human life may be the most precious thing on earth, we always behave as if there were something of higher value than human life.”

The narrator was talking about a pilot, lost to the skies, the value of his life – or any individual life – held in balance opposite the value of his cargo – but this reflection runs parallel to so much of what’s happening in our country this week – a vocal, visible, occasionally violent acknowledgement that for far too long, Black lives have been treated as less valuable than property (unless those Black lives actually were property).

A place to start is by saying the words: Black Lives Matter.

As a white person raised in a white family in a white neighborhood, a white church, and white schools, it is safe to say that I have a lifetime of deeply ingrained white supremacy to unlearn. In America, but particularly as a white people in America, white supremacy is inseparable from the streets we walk, the food we eat, the laws we follow, the air we breathe. There is nothing that we do that is not informed by white supremacy, and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can start the difficult and necessary work of becoming anti-racist.

A place to start is by saying the words: I am racist. I want to become anti-racist.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably been overwhelmed with information about things to do, books to read, or places to give. Here are a few things that have been meaningful for me:

Finally, in the interest of sharing information with people who want it (vs people who I think might want it), I’m going to try putting together a little newsletter with links and things. Perhaps you’ll join me?

April Around Here

And that is where we are, almost exclusively: around here.

I go running to the points of my compass: north, along what the big kid calls “the loop run”. West into the park. South to campus. East in hopes of catching a glimpse of the lake. A mile or two out and then back.

The guys wander to the Botany Pond, to the lagoon in Washington Park. The big kid collects dandelion greens for our salads. The toddler chatters at squirrels and birds.

We return home to rigorously wash our hands, everyone’s new favorite habit. (The toddler loves it; the rest of us have scrubbed our knuckles raw.)

The toddler, lavished with books and attention during our quarantine, has made huge strides in his language acquisition – as has the big kid, who has learned enough Latin to make small talk at the breakfast table (which is also the school table).

I miss the rhythm of our weekends Before, but I’m loving the new rhythms as well: crepes topped with jam or foraged greens, games of Bananagrams or Solitaire during the toddler’s naps, loaves of bread fresh from the oven, trips to the mailbox with letters and postcards for loved ones greatly missed, a tiny cocktail and a book club book in the armchair after bedtime.

 

Weeks 4-5

I keep waking up from anxiety dreams that are very much Of These Times: I am in a busy shop. I am in a crowded grocery store. In my dreams, I feel panicked because I am somewhere I am not supposed to be.

I am finding that our February spending fast prepared us well for this period. It doesn’t feel difficult to avoid shopping or eating out because we did that for the four weeks Before, though I miss buying coffee with nearly the same intensity. But also when I find myself pulling up the website for the grocery store multiple times a day, I know how to stop myself, and what questions to ask: what am I trying to soothe by loading this shopping cart? What does having good butter in the freezer mean to me? Do we need these things, or can they wait a few more days, and what will waiting feel like?

But also: I am struggling to reconcile the urgency with which we were tightening our belts in service of debt reduction – our priority in the Before – with a new sense of abundance in this moment when we are tremendously fortunate. While my employer has frozen salaries for at least the next fiscal year, I expect to continue to be comfortably employed, and so the stimulus payment warming our checking account, along with temporary student loan forbearance, feels like an embarrassment of riches at a time when so many others are in personal and financial jeopardy.

This week has felt heavy in different ways than the previous weeks. I miss my family and my friends, and wonder when I’ll be able to see them again in person. I am mourning the loss of small things, like my older son’s cancelled swimming lessons, or the opportunity to take the toddler to the zoo or the beach at this specific wondrous age. I am deeply grateful that we were able to go to Belgium before Christmas – and wonder how that will be possible again in an entirely changed world. I read a farewell post from a friend preparing to leave Chicago after many years, and found myself trying to imagine our vibrant city without its festivals, with the beaches closed, with no lakefront path for summer long runs. And then I found myself feeling guilty for experiencing these passing waves of sadness in the face of so much horror and suffering in the world.

So much of adulthood seems to involve holding contradictory things in balance: dreams for the future and realities of the present, the flaws of the systems in which we operate and the need for those systems to continue, the immediate needs of our loved ones and the also painfully pressing needs of the whole world.

Take a deep breath. Exhale. One thing at a time. One step forward. Sending love.

Week 3

I have found myself thinking a lot about my grandma over the last few weeks. She was born in the spring of 1918, during World War I and the Spanish flu. By the time she was my age, she had lived through the Great Depression, married a husband who soon went off to war, moved around a bunch of times, had seven pregnancies and four children, and settled into a comfortable middle class Midwestern life.

I mention this not to invoke the “Greatest Generation”, a construct that honors the sacrifice of a generation while ignoring its sins (for example, celebrating the liberation of concentration camps in Europe while whitewashing the camps created by our own government), but because as I have moved through the motions of preparing and caring for my family in the last few weeks, I have thought of her at odd moments.

On a very practical level – and she was a very practical person – I have thought of her while buying groceries and stocking my makeshift pantry in our storage locker. I have pictured the orderly shelves of canned goods, the basement freezer stocked with summer’s bounty, and the baskets and boxes of empty Mason jars, and have wondered what kind of future might call for literally gallons of mayonnaise, but also when, if ever, this scarcity mindset (and associated guilt) goes away.

I have read about the intergenerational aspects of trauma and poverty and wondered if this season will linger in my kids’ memory, protected as they have been against the worst of it, at least so far, or will this just be one of those half-remembered footnotes on the history of their childhood, the year that spring was canceled.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

Week 2

This year, for some reason, I didn’t make any new year’s resolutions. I don’t know why. I think at the time I felt like I was coming up on 40, and that I would make a list to go along with a milestone birthday. And then my birthday came and went, and I still hadn’t made a list, and so I decided I would just give myself another year to finish all the fun things I had set out for myself last year. And then life changed so dramatically that aspiring to finish that list became impractical, if not unimaginable.

So now what? We’re a quarter of the way through a year that has already felt like a decade – though I hear that for some, time feels like its speeding up rather than slowing down – but at a juncture where writing down anything beyond an intention for the day feels like an exercise in frustration.

We are far from the point when After might come into view, but despite that, I have started to make – not quite a list, perhaps more like notes for a more hopeful time:

  • Rainbow Cone, still on my bucket list, with my friends Alisa or Ashley or both.
  • Coffee made by someone other than me, consumed from a ceramic cup, preferably somewhere pleasant and outdoors.
  • Smelling other people, which, while not always pleasant, currently feels incredibly novel when it happens in passing.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

Week 1

This is the new normal. Is this the new normal? When will we have a sense of what will be normal? We don’t know.

On the other hand, in my household, it feels almost normal. I wake up and go to work, even though my commute is five steps from the kitchen to the big kid’s bedroom. The guys start schoolwork after finishing their oatmeal. We check in with each other throughout the day. Some days I go running in the afternoon. Some days they go to the park (but not the playground). A more abrupt than usual transition into home life at 4:30, after which point everything is as it was two weeks ago: Sarah and Duck while I make dinner, children clamoring for chocolate and stories, the bedtime routine, maybe an hour to watch TV or read a book before collapsing into bed.

This week has felt like a lifetime, and planning feels like a fool’s errand. Is it reasonable to do the groundwork for a conference in October? A meeting in May? Should I try to approach my work as if everything is as it would be in a normal March? To some extent, I have to, as it neither makes sense nor am I able to function in an environment where my work has to be reinvented day-by-day.

I am sad. And scared. And overwhelmed. But I am also home, and safe, and privileged.

In the interest of thinking about Something Else, here are a few things to read, and one thing to eat:

Take care of yourselves, friends.