Columns

Taking the unexpected gifts of COVID-19 into post-pandemic life

On Jan. 17, 2019, Derek and I whooped, hollered, and danced at Northern Quest Resort & Casino as REO Speedwagon made us feel like teenagers again – albeit teenagers whose ears rang for hours after the high-decibel show.

We had no idea a global pandemic meant it would be three years before we’d return to the casino for an indoor concert.

On April 24, we eased our way back into the live music scene to see Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy. Clad in his trademark polka-dot shirt, he promptly tore into a number and busted a string on his guitar.

The enthusiastic crowd roared.

Guy, 85, delivered a lesson on the blues, tracing the history of the music and downplaying his part in its evolution.

Then he grinned

“I’m gonna play you a song so funky, you can smell it,” he said.

And he did.

Last week, we upped our funk level when we saw “Hamilton” at the First Interstate Center for the Arts. The promise of seeing this award-winning show is what prompted our purchase of Best of Broadway season tickets, oh so long ago.

While we’ve enjoyed the season, this is the show we’d most anticipated. Some things are worth waiting for and “Hamilton” is one of them. Who could have imagined a Broadway show about the architect of the American financial system would be such a phenomenon?

The stellar cast captivated the crowd with the musical’s mix of hip-hop, R&B and big Broadway sound and we were thrilled to see downtown Spokane bustling again.

I’m happy our calendar is again filled with all the activities we missed during the pandemic, but despite the fear, isolation and loss COVID-19 ushered in, the shutdowns also offered some unexpected gifts.

Recently, my friend Jill reminded me of our pandemic walks along the Centennial Trail. For years, we’ve stayed connected via lunches, coffee dates and countless happy hours. Suddenly, none of those things was possible.

So we took our conversation outdoors. Every week, we met at a trailhead and walked and talked – relishing in movement, in the beauty around us, in seeing another human face-to-face.

Spokane River seen from The Centennial Trail

Those outings were a bright spot in a dark, scary time.

It’s great to share a meal again, but I think we’ll lace up our walking shoes and hit the trail before our next happy hour.

Speaking of meals, weekly family dinners, including our two sons who don’t live at home, became sacrosanct during the shutdowns. Cooking is how I show love, so feeding these young men fed my heart.

Our little “bubble” of five savored the connection of familiar faces around the table, and we even brought back family game night. It gave us all something reliable to look forward to during an uncertain time.

Now that our activities have expanded, we’re considering making family dinner a monthly event instead of weekly. But I miss my grown-up boys, so you can be sure this mom will still regularly gather them around my table.

I got the hospitality gene from my mother. Not being allowed to see her for six months, even though she lives less than a mile away, was one of the worst things I experienced during COIVID-19.

When I finally received notice from her care facility that outdoor, masked visits were allowed as long as there was no physical contact, I immediately scheduled a visit.

We met under the portico.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how beautiful you look to me,” she said.

I laughed through my tears.

“Yeah, these masks make us all look good.”

Thankfully, now I can visit her room as often as I want, and though masks are still required, hugging is allowed.

While I’m delighted by the return of live entertainment and dining out, and all it means to our local economy, I hope I never lose the pandemic-sparked appreciation for things I used to take for granted.

The healing balm of a walk outdoors with a friend.

The boisterous conversation of a shared family meal.

The joy of a warm hug from my mom.

Perhaps I needed a pointed reminder that the things I value most don’t cost a dime.

Columns

With 20/20 clarity, I see change ahead

I don’t remember ever having 20/20 vision. I got my first pair of glasses in fourth grade, my first pair of contacts at 15, and my eyesight continues to decline.

That’s why I’m really looking forward to this new year – I can finally see 2020! And every time I glimpse the date in my new calendars and planners, I smile. There’s just something exciting about turning a page.

2019 brought change to our household. In the fall, our third son moved into his own place, and we’re officially down to just one kid at home. That kid will graduate from college in the spring, and while he’ll likely stay with us while pursuing a second degree – our empty nest years are looming.

So far, meal planning has been the most challenging thing about our shrinking household. Because Sam works mainly evenings, I foresaw a lot of cooking for two in my future. As usual, my vision was faulty, because at least once a week there are five at my table.

When Zach moved out, I told him I hoped he’d join us for a weekly family meal. Our oldest son also lives nearby, and if I’m cooking for four, it’s certainly no stretch to make dinner for five.

The result? I now get to have my three in-town sons around my table on a regular basis, and nothing makes this mama’s heart happier. Besides, I haven’t yet mastered the art of cooking for three, let alone two.

The holidays revealed more opportunities for adapting. In recent years, our two youngest sons have been in charge of tree decorating. My penchant for holiday décor seems to grow each year, so it’s nice to leave the Christmas tree in their capable hands. However, this year, varying work schedules proved problematic.

I’m all about problem solving, so for the first time in at least 25 years, Derek and I trimmed the tree by ourselves. What might have been melancholy became delightful. We took a lovely, romantic stroll down memory lane as we hung ornaments and remembered Christmases past.

Then came the cookie-decorating conflict.

In 2011, Sam made us a book featuring his treasured Christmas memories. In it he wrote, “I love making and decorating Christmas cookies with you.”

That was then.

This is now.

As usual, I baked dozens of sugar cookies, and then checked with our sons to see when they’d be available to frost and decorate them. Sam seemed ambivalent and told me to check with Zach.

I’ve never wanted to try to squeeze my sons into traditions that no longer fit, so I texted Zach, “How strongly do you feel about decorating Christmas cookies? I can leave them out for you guys to do when you come over Wednesday, or Dad and I can just do them tonight.”

He replied, “I don’t feel strongly either way.”

So for the first time in our 33-year marriage, Derek got to be part of the Christmas cookie fun. He’s artistically inclined, so our cookies looked fabulous. And honestly, I don’t much miss the Cyclops angels or graphically anatomically correct snowmen that our sons were inclined to include.IMG_20191216_194208217

Derek and I further simplified our holidays by skipping stuffing stockings for each other. Less shopping equaled less stress and more fun.

As someone who cherishes the familiar, and relishes ritual and tradition, I’ve been surprised at how readily I’ve adapted to this new season of our lives, and how eagerly I’m anticipating the unknowns that await.

Because whatever 2020 brings, the one thing I can clearly see ahead is change. And instead of dreading it, I’m choosing to embrace it.