Dear Family and Friends,
In December I decided to make my grandmother Rose’s Swedish coffee braid for the holidays. Maybe I was a glutton for pandemic punishment, but I realized I had so little time left to accomplish anything of significance, having wasted my quarantine time sipping wine from my porch swing. While I watched my Facebook friends tackle DIY projects and spit-shine their homes, teach calculus to their teenagers and take cute photos of their rescued shelter dogs, I took swallows of my Pinot Noir and finished another online puzzle of a random castle somewhere in Europe. I guess I thought if I could master my grandmother’s Swedish bread, it would mean I hadn’t ended the year on a slothful note.
That’s not to say Ry and I were completely idle. We did continue to work full time, me sitting in our home office and he at a make-shift desk in the living room. I had no idea just how much time he spent on the phone putting out helicopter logistics fires or how much his computer required daily profane maintenance. My days were spent quietly writing technical stuff and trying not to eavesdrop on his latest inferno. Sometimes we’d meet for lunch in the dining room. He’d wolf down a healthy salad so he could make it to his fifth online meeting of the day, and I would enjoy a guilt-filled sandwich and chips with plenty of time leftover to finish the daily crossword.
When we started this quarantine voyage, I was hopeful it would pass in a few weeks. I posted funny quarantine messages on Facebook and kept a journal to let future generations know how we spent our time during this world-wide pandemic. But as the months rolled on, I ran out of things to post and my journal entries got monotonous. I feel for the poor kid who has to write a book report on my 100-year-old diary with nothing to draw on but endless entries about waking up, sitting at a computer for eight hours, watching episodes of Schitt’s Creek, and hitting the sack by 10 p.m. Nothing but D+ material there.
The most exciting thing I did was buy myself an egg-shaped porch swing, by far the best purchase of the pandemic or maybe ever. Like a baby, my eyes would get heavy as I swayed back and forth (in retrospect it could have been the wine) and all my worries disappeared for a while. I also ordered a bird feeder that I attached to my office window, thinking I’d watch a bevy of cute little birds daintily nosh on birdseed while I worked. What I got were tiny tufted titmice who would plop down with all the grace of a baby elephant, grab a sunflower seed and whack whack whack it against the feeder. They’d chirp “think again!” to any finch or wren who dared drop by, then fly off leaving the feeder tray shaking in its wake and my porch covered in empty shells. Not at all like the photo on Amazon.com of birds of all ilk harmoniously enjoying a meal.
While I napped and birdwatched, Ry went on a bean binge, ordering specialty beans online and cooking up various bean-centric dishes. By year’s end, we had new, dedicated bean shelving in the pantry, alphabetically arranged from Ayocote to Cranberry, King City Pinks to Vaquero. He’s now a sommelier of legumes. He also finished the wine cellar’s walnut shiplap walls and made picture frames from the leftover wood. This quick glimpse into retirement life with both of us home all day made me realize I need some hobbies, so I don’t end up a DIY widow.
While we were living La Vida Quarantine in Smithfield, Liam was squirreled away in his Blacksburg apartment, giving new students an online tour of his kitchen during his summer job as a Virginia Tech orientation leader. He’d trained for an entire semester for the job of introducing students to the excitement of Hokie life, only to be relegated last minute to lead via Zoom. In the fall of his senior year, he took online classes and navigated his socially distanced role as president of the Young Dems and supervisor for recreational sports. It wasn’t the semester he’d hoped for, but he managed to make the best of it, thanking the Netflix gods for new seasons of Fargo and The Crown and DoorDash for keeping El Centro’s Taco Tuesday’s and margaritas within easy reach.
On a very sad note, we lost my grandmother, Thelma, in April. At 100-years old, she’d lived a long, and mostly happy life. She used to call almost every day to check up on me. “Hey Shug,” she’d say, before launching into the latest family gossip or asking me for the hundredth time what in the world Liam was going to do with a degree in political science. I would give anything for one more of those calls.
Honestly, that’s about it for the Barlow’s in 2020. Ry and I rarely left the house. With his chronic case of cryptogenic organizing pneumonia and the many steroids he takes to manage it, he fell into the immuno-compromised category. I’d nearly lost him to cancer in 2014 and to a salmonella-laden fish taco in 2019, so we masked up, hunkered down, and held everyone at a six-foot bay hoping Covid-19 wouldn’t notice us. As for my last-ditch effort to accomplish something of note this year, 2020 had its way with my Swedish braid, and whether they were the result of mortification or hilarity, my grandmother’s tears rained down on me from heaven while I iced my squat, unpleasantly dense loaves. I can mark baking off of my list of hobby contenders.
All that said, we are feeling grateful. Grateful for family and friends who understood when we turned them away or made them sit outside on the porch. Thankful for Facebook, which kept everyone within a post’s reach; for my friends in my Zoom writing class who kept my creative soul filled; and for everyone who kept the world running while Ry, Liam, and I hid away from the virus. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a 2021 where everyone feels safe, healthy, and loved.