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

Still dating after all these years

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Glancing at the clock, I fastened my earrings and scanned the room for my gold sandals. My date was on the way to pick me up, and I didn’t want to keep him waiting.

Honestly, he wouldn’t complain too much if I did. He’s kind of used to it. We’ve been dating for 33 years.

Yep. My husband and I still date, and with our nest gradually emptying, we’ve resumed dates that actually involve leaving the house and going someplace other than Home Depot or Albertsons. Dates that require advance planning which translates into eager anticipation.

When our boys were little, date night meant putting them all to bed by 8, enjoying a candlelit dinner at our dining room table and renting a movie from Hastings. It also only happened once a month, due to sheer busyness and exhaustion.

This year, with more freedom in time and budget, we’ve instituted weekly dates. Dinner and a movie are nice, but we’ve upped the ante on our adventures. As a result, we’ve been exploring and enjoying our hometown.

For example, late this spring when the Spokane River was at its peak, we dined on the patio at Clinkerdagger’s, shopped in the Flour Mill, spied on the marmots scampering on nearby rocks and snapped a selfie with the river behind us.

But dates don’t need to be spendy. One hot sunny Saturday, we played tourist and explored Manito Park in all its glory.

We encountered some real tourists in the Perennial Garden.

“Spokane is just like a mini-Seattle!” one of them exclaimed.

Them there is fightin’ words to this hometown girl, but Derek distracted me by pointing out a large butterfly perched nearby.

We skipped the Duck Pond because many years ago, our son, Alex, took an unplanned dip in the pond’s murky waters during a family picnic. We’re still traumatized by the memory of trying to clean duck poop off the kid in a park bathroom.

“I told him not to run on those rocks. They’re slippery, I said,” Derek muttered as we skirted the pond.

See? Traumatized.

Our weekly dates have also included local attractions that we’ve always meant to get to, but never had the time – the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, for one.

When we read the museum was hosting a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, “Mail Call,” we took a Friday afternoon off from work and checked it out.

The exhibit tells the history of the military mail system and featured personal stories of service and family bonds, told through documents, photos, audio recordings and handwritten letters.

We were charmed by the unique museum and its friendly staff.

Last Saturday, we enjoyed a lingering summer date in the West Central neighborhood.

We started the evening with appetizers at The Wandering Table in Kendall Yards, and then wandered across the street to the Maryhill Winery tasting room.

The Maryhill patio, liberally dotted with umbrella’d tables, is quickly becoming our favorite spot to unwind, enjoy a glass of wine and soak in the spectacular views of the river, downtown and the Centennial Trail.

From Kendall Yards, we drove west to a Spokane landmark – Doyle’s Ice Cream Parlor. Though he’s lived in Spokane more than 40 years, Derek had never been to the iconic seasonal shop.

We sat in the red Adirondack chairs out front, enjoying huge scoops of licorice ice cream and watching the steady stream of people ebb and flow from the busy shop.

As we savored each bite, we had our usual marital discussions of what the work week ahead looked like, the status of our August vacation plans, and where we’d like to go on future dates.

We’d saved the newspaper’s guide to area parks and plan to start working our way through a list of parks we want to explore. Sunday’s story on city staircases gave us some new destinations to contemplate.

Sure, sometimes dates are simply Netflix, pizza and jammies at home, but going out on the town adds intentional enjoyment. Especially, when you have the day circled in red on your calendar.

Anticipation. That’s what makes dating so much fun.