I’ve Heard How This Story Ends

Recently, I was listening to an episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” in which book reviewer Maureen Corrigan proclaimed a recent book by the British author Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun, to be a “masterpiece.” My ears perked up, because I recognized the author’s name: in fact, I had just picked up one of his previous books and was about four chapters deep.

Without warning, the reviewer compared the new novel to a previous work by the same author—the very book that I had on my nightstand! And then, without warning, the reviewer blurted out a spoiler!

Nooooooooooo.

I mean, the novel, Never Let Me Go, was written in 2005, so maybe it’s my own fault for taking so long to read it.

But.

My initial instinct was to throw up my hands: what was the use? Now I knew the mystery that I had been trying to figure out throughout the first four chapters. I would have to abandon the book. The ending was ruined.

But the more I thought about it, the more curious I became: I already knew what happened at the beginning of the story. Now I knew something about the ending, too. But how did the story get from point A to point B? What happened in the middle?

Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychology professor from University of California San Diego researched this very phenomenon: If people read a story, but the ending was “accidentally” revealed to them, they actually enjoyed the story more. So in a way, spoilers don’t ruin the story; they actually enhance them. Christenfeld likened it to driving on the scenic Highway 1 along the coast of California: if you’re already familiar with the road and know what it feels like to drive it, you will actually be able to appreciate the scenery more. I can say that about certain famous paintings like Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night,” or Monet’s Water Lily paintings, too: each time I see them, my familiarity grows; I seem to notice more details each time I look at them.

That night, I picked up Ishiguro’s book again. I read and read and read until my eyes grew heavy and I began dozing off. When I awoke the next morning, I voraciously read more chapters before I even had my coffee. 

Now I am working toward the end, the dangling carrot the book reviewer had so tantalizingly set before me. I can’t wait to unravel the story.

Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash

Originally published April 5, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

Sip Slowly

Don’t make sudden moves. Be kind to yourself and others. 

It’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience.

But I’m raring to go. It’s officially spring. We have a vaccine. (Several vaccines, which is nothing short of miraculous.) Stores and restaurants are opening up, loosening restrictions. The latest question folks ask each other is, “Did you get the vaccine yet?”

This week, my kids headed back to in-person school. It felt like a momentous occasion, a celebrated return to normalcy from the “before times.” Even though I’ve loved having the kids home during remote learning, it’s been an entire year of barely going anywhere. We were all starting to get a little stir crazy. The kids missed their friends. They missed seeing their teachers face to face.

But even on their first day back, it was clear that we weren’t going to just snap back to the way things were before. Behind their excitement, I could see worry in the kids’ eyes. They’re old enough to know the virus isn’t gone. But I gently reminded them that the teachers at our schools have all had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated. It was time, I told them, to start venturing back into the world, albeit slowly and carefully. With a mask.

The kids are required to do saliva testing once a week. They don’t use lockers, and they wait until they get home at 1:30 p.m. to have their lunch. Even with a shortened day, they return home exhausted, but smiling. There’s not a lot of hanging out in the hallways or clubs after school. Once school is over, the students are encouraged to leave the building and go home. I join the throng of Moms, a virtual fleet of minivans and SUVs, picking up and dropping off—indicating that few of us seem ready to allow the kids to use a school bus yet.

It’s going to take a while. This year has been a collective trauma for all of us. We’ve all lost something or someone. We want to jump back into our old life, wash away the past year with a power washer and antimicrobial soap. 

First there were the “before times.” Then there was complete chaos until we got into the groove of the “new normal.” Now, we’re headed back, and it’s going to take some adjustment. We’re just now dipping our toes into the water. I want to dive in! But it’ll be a while to get back to hugging people or cheering on our favorite team from the bleachers or singing the lyrics along with our favorite band.  

It’s going to take all my self restraint not to burst out the door and hug everyone in sight! I never want to greet another person with an elbow bump again!

I’m going to have to take it slow. Lower my expectations. Accept that although it’s been a year, we require even more time to adjust. I’m going to stock up on soothing chamomile tea. I’m going to remind myself to take deep breaths. Sip slowly. Don’t make sudden moves. Be kind to yourself and others. 

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

Originally published March 22, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

Take Me Away!

Photo by Ricardo Dominguez on Unsplash

This week I was gifted with bath bombs, pretty little circles in springlike colors, smelling of citrus and lavender. It made me wonder about the last time I took a bath rather than a shower, and judging by the fact that I can’t remember, I can deduce it’s been a good long time. In the coming week, I’ll schedule time for a bath, filling the tub with water as hot as I can stand it, and let the aroma of orange and lemon hang on the steamy air in my tiny bathroom. I’ll savor a little respite, perhaps on a weekday, and warn the kids ahead of time not to knock on the door — no questions allowed about whether their hoodie got thrown in the wash, or what’s for dinner.

That old classic advertising campaign for Calgon bubble bath must’ve played countless times throughout my childhood, between episodes of “The Facts of Life” and “Diff’rent Strokes,” because I still remember them. In the popular commercials from the 70s and 80s, there was always a mother who needed a break from all her obligations: the crying kids, the demanding boss, the piercing phone. She’d hold her hands to her temples, brow furrowed, and plead, “Calgon, take me away!” Just like that, she’d be transported to a huge bathtub practically overflowing with luxurious bubbles. Her spacious bathroom boasted Corinthian marble columns with large, sunny windows offering a breathtaking view of what — confusingly to me — appeared to be the Italian countryside.

Judging by the “kvetch sesh” I’ve had with several friends this week, I’m not alone in feeling at the end of my rope. Something’s gotta give. We’re all tired, stressed out, and quickly approaching our breaking point.

Americans are known for their stress levels, but the American Psychological Association found, unsurprisingly, that 2020 was a banner year for stressed-out Americans. In addition to the trauma of so many lives lost as a result of the COVID-19 virus, the laundry list of disruptions to our daily lives just compounds the worry and tension we feel. The APA reports that half the adults in their survey reported increased tension in their bodies, “snapping” or getting angry very quickly, unexpected mood swings, or screaming or yelling at a loved one.

Guilty as charged, on all counts.

Even better than a bubble bath, my idea of “Take Me Away” would involve a hot air balloon. Out of the indigo sky, the wicker basket would just appear gently in front of me. I’d climb into the basket and already it would be gently lifting off, up, up, up. A warm breeze would tousle my hair and I’d look down at all my problems, shrinking in the distance. Eventually they’d be so tiny that I’d have to squint to see them, and even then, they’d be barely distinguishable from one another. No matter; I’d look out over the beautiful landscape around me. Maybe I’d try to touch a cloud. I could yell out into the void and my shout would be carried off in the wind.

I’ve never been in an actual hot air balloon. My only reference is the hot air balloon that landed in Oz to take Dorothy back to Kansas. But then it occurs to me that Dorothy never got her hot air balloon ride, either; her escape from Oz eluded her when she had to run after Toto and the Wizard accidentally launched the balloon without her.

It turns out Dorothy had what she needed the whole time: the ruby slippers. A few clicks of her heels, and she got back to where she needed to be: home.

I’m going to have to find my own way of getting back to where I need to be. With no colorful balloon and no glitzy red shoes, the thing I do have is a bathtub and a handful of sweet-smelling bath bombs, made by a friend who wanted to share a little cheer. I guess I’ll start there.

Originally published March 9, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

A Man and His Snowblower: A Love Story

I believe it was the hottest day in July when my husband brought the snowblower home. He’d seen it, gleaming in the hot sun beside a sign that said, “Garage Sale.” While he made a beeline to the glorious red machine of pure snow-eating power, others seemed not to notice it, more interested in the kiddie pool and the bicycles for sale in the back. My husband kept his eye on the prize. He circled it slowly, apprising its beauty. No scratches. No dents. Hardly used. He approached the seller warily, no doubt to haggle on price a bit.

I tried to match his excitement as he rolled it into our garage (“Carol!” he told me, “This is a Toro 621 QZE! It’s got a 21-inch wide 4-cycle engine. The quick-shoot blower even has an ergonomically designed handle! And—” he points down dramatically —”electric start! I only paid $100! It’s worth way more than that!”)

I weakly gave him a thumbs up. It was sweltering in the garage, and the cubes in my iced tea were shrinking by the second, threatening to disappear completely. 

As soon as he pressed start (electric start!), the motor popped right off. He didn’t have to say it: I heard his inner voice saying, “I knew it! I knew I got a deal!” His eyes sparkled.

My husband has a visceral connection to snow and snow removal that I don’t have and clearly don’t understand. But I appreciate hearing him talk about his days growing up in a small Midwestern town, where he would go up and down his block after a snowfall and offer to shovel sidewalks and driveways. 

I think it’s safe to assume that a few of those neighbors probably called him to the front door, gently pressing some cash into his gloved hands for a job well done. But it isn’t the cash that my husband remembers with fondness. No—it was the cookies. The neighborhood ladies who would invite him in for warm cookies—straight out of the oven!—with a glass of cold milk. That reward of the sweet home baked sustenance after all that hard work of shoveling was the ultimate payment. I can only imagine because even now, this grown man has never met a homemade cookie he doesn’t like.

Now that he’s a little older, apparently with 100 bucks in his pocket to burn on a July day, my husband is ready to trade in his shovel and upgrade his thrill of snow removal with all the unbridled horsepower of a 4-cycle engine that runs on gasoline and dreams.

The night before the forecast called for snow, he ran out to make sure the gas can was full and ready to go. He shined her up, and wheeled her right to the front of the garage: there she sat, poised and waiting for the shot to go off at the starting gate.

Morning light was barely peeking over the horizon the next morning. Without even stopping for a cup of coffee, he was off to the races. I could hear the hungry growl of the snowblower eating up snow and spitting it out again.

Our short driveway and sidewalk were quickly done, so he continued to the next house. And the next house. He went on and on, careful not to plow the sidewalk of any fellow snowblower owner. (He wouldn’t want to deprive anyone!)

He returned more than an hour later, his cheeks rosy, snow crusted on his hat and at the rims of his boots. I had started the kettle for some coffee—it was the least I could do, since I was still in my robe and jammies while he had been out carving straight, icy pathways in the cold.

As we sipped our coffee, he looked tired, but happy. It was a job well done. Just for good measure, he checked the weather forecast to see if he’d have to be going out again soon. The smile on his face told me we were likely in for more snow.

Our contented silence was interrupted by the doorbell. It was our neighbor, Helen. “Thank you for clearing our sidewalk,” she said gratefully. “I brought you something.”

She presented to him, in a blue-lidded tupperware container like the ones in kitchens everywhere, bringing my husband—you guessed it—chocolate chip cookies, still warm from the oven. I half expected to see a single tear fall slowly down his cheek.

You can’t put a price on that.

Originally published Feb. 9, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

25 Years of ‘I Do’

Photo by Marc A. Sporys on Unsplash

He proposed to me on a snowy Wednesday evening in December of 1994. I was 19, he was 21. Heavy snow and ice had caused the power to go out across our college campus, right in the middle of studying for midterms. With no lights and no electricity, students poured from the dorms, elated at this unexpected study break. On the college courtyard, scores of students engaged in an epic snowball fight. He and I laughed at the sight, but walked in the opposite direction, away from the free-for-all.

By the light of the moon, we walked hand in hand through a dazzling wonderland of ice-encrusted trees.

Being his spontaneous self, he hadn’t planned to propose that night. Later, he told me he knew he was going to ask me, but he didn’t know when. That snowy night “just felt right.” Since the proposal was off-the-cuff, he had no velvet-lined jewelry box hidden in his pocket. (I got my ring a few weeks later.)

What does a 19 year-old girl know about making a decision meant to last a lifetime? Or a 21 year-old boy?

My answer—yes—flew out of my mouth without hesitation. I had found my person. We were married a year later. My Dad, a minister, officiated at our wedding. I requested that he leave the word “obey” out of our vows, which he did.

We’re just about to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. In some ways, our wedding day feels like it was yesterday; at the same time, that day was a lifetime ago: when we took our vows, there were no children, mortgages, car loans, or job interviews. We didn’t know much about retirement funds or grocery budgets or how to entice a stubborn toddler to keep his shoes on. 

But for twenty-five years, we’ve just continued saying “I do.” We take on challenges one by one, as they present themselves: dirty dishes, family vacations, gray hairs, and bank statements—the big things and the small things all swirl together into the colorful collage that’s become the roadmap of our life together.

The statistic that nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce is a sobering reality. I wonder: do 50% of married couples have a lurking, uneasy feeling in the pit of their stomach from the very beginning? Or do most of us start out with blissful optimism and just hope everything works out?

All I know is that my person becomes more precious to me as the years go on. I love him for his deep commitment to what is right, and the way he never takes the easy way out to do anything. I love him for his honesty: the light he holds up to others is just as bright as the one he holds to himself. I love the way he used to start wrestling matches with the kids, getting them all riled up just before bedtime. I love the way his eyes crinkle up when he laughs, which is often. He still makes and brings me coffee each and every morning—even though he wouldn’t have to. I think I love that most of all.

Marriage isn’t easy. There is no autopilot button for when things get tough. It takes work: some days require the hard work, roll-up-your-sleeves variety, and other days only need preventative maintenance. But luck plays a big part, too. For some reason, I found my person and we grew up alongside each other. We held on and just kept saying ‘I Do’ over and over. My story could’ve just as easily gone a different way. 

My husband describes us like two trees who have grown side by side; over the years, our roots have become hopelessly entangled just beneath the soil. Our roots keep growing stronger, nourished by love and joy.

I like that. I do.

Originally published Jan. 26, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.

Good Boy!

My dog Baxter doesn’t concern himself with pandemics. He’s oblivious to the changing landscape of masks, vaccines, stimulus checks, or social distancing.

In fact, I’m pretty sure if he was able to talk, he’d tell us the last year has been the best year ever.

Baxter is a 7 year-old German Shepherd/Yellow Lab mix. When we adopted him, his golden fur was baby soft and he had one ear that stood straight up and another ear that stuck out to the side, making him look like he was questioning everything around him.

Starting in March, my husband, myself, and our two teenagers living at home have been, well, home more. School moved to a remote format. My high schooler and middle schooler attend school from our couch or from our dining room table. I work from home most days. My husband’s teaching job has vacillated between hybrid and remote. All our evening obligations, the ones that kept us running, forcing us to eat sandwiches in the car, water or coffee in thermal cups with tightly fitting lids so they didn’t spill on the interior of our vehicle—they all vanished. Sometimes we go days without seeing humans outside our little family unit.

On the flipside, Baxter went from his routine of welcoming us back from our busy lives, tail wagging, tongue lolling — with equal excitement whether we’d been gone for hours or minutes — to having us barely leave the house at all.

I wonder what Baxter thought about this. I wondered if at first he was annoyed, that we were suddenly around all the time: causing a commotion when he was used to at least 6 hours a day of uninterrupted quiet, allowing him to sleep on the couch, or bark with reckless abandon to scare away the squirrels who visited our garden. Now, we were helping ourselves to his couch real estate, and his ferocious barks were generally frowned upon. They interrupted our Zoom calls, after all.

If we annoyed him, he didn’t let on. In fact, overall, I’d say Baxter has had a pretty good year. Baxter went on a 10-day camping trip with our family over the summer. He surprised us (and himself) by learning he is a fantastic swimmer. We discovered this when he saw our kids swimming in Lake Michigan. He took it upon himself to “rescue” them, not seeming to give it a moment’s thought that he’d never jumped in a lake before.

If I were to characterize Baxter’s place in the family before the pandemic, I’d describe him as “beloved family dog.” He’s a classic good boy. Now, however? I’d describe him as “essential.” Stroking his velvety ears when he rests his head on your lap is 100% effective in lowering stress levels. Watching my daughter do yoga in the living room over Zoom while her dog tries to lick her face is guaranteed to get a few smiles out of everyone. Baxter’s intense eagerness to perform all the tricks he knows for a tiny dog treat is something that makes me laugh every time. Asking him to simply “sit” gets you a sit-shake-jump-roll over combo. A true overachiever.

In these early days of 2021, I’m still recovering from this past year. We all are. It’s been a year of change, loss, and disappointment, with an unhealthy dose of fear thrown in. But my dog, my goofy dog with ears that stick out in all directions depending on his mood, has been the purest, most uncomplicated thing in my life. He looks up at me with absolute love in his deep brown eyes as I read a few chapters before I drift off to sleep at night. He’s there wagging his tail the first thing when I wake up. He pulls me along at the end of his leash and gets me outside, moving forward, especially on the days I really don’t want to.

How do I thank him for all he’s done to keep our family going when everything else feels like it’s been standing still? I’d like to give him the world, when all he really wants is a belly rub, a treat, and a “good boy.”

Originally published Jan. 11, 2021 at MyHuntleyNews.

Hunkering Down

Matthew Henry – Unsplash

Years ago, toward the end of each one of my pregnancies, I’d get the strong, uncontrollable urge to “nest”: I’d clean drawers, bake casseroles to keep in the freezer, wash bedding, fold blankets. Despite my bulging belly and aching back, it was an instinct to do these things. I don’t think I could’ve stopped if I tried. Something deep in my DNA was demanding that I prepare, as if my brain and my body comprehended on a cellular level how I could get ready now to help out my future self, who would be both exhausted and lovestruck with a new precious baby. These things had to happen before I headed to the hospital. Now.

This week I decided to make bone broth—chop up onion, carrot, and celery, and garlic, then boil the bones until all the flavor and marrow are extracted. Out of my stockpot came a rich, golden liquid, which I then poured into jars. I’m not sure if it was the dreamy smell or the way the afternoon sunlight made those jars glow a warm amber color, but I felt that same nesting instinct I’d felt all those years ago before the babies were born. At that moment, I felt like I was born to make bone broth. I decided right there and then that I would make more bone broth with the ardent fervor of a Prohibition-era bootlegger. I can’t help but wonder: what is the street value of bone broth sold out of the trunk of my car?

This instinct to hunker down and nest makes perfect sense. As the pandemic still rages across the country, we are being told to stay home. We are asked to forego our usual family gatherings at the holidays to curb further spread of the virus. I’m approaching the coming months with trepidation. Our traditions may have to be put on pause this year; or at least adapted.

I’m going to require a plan heading into these next few months. I need new ways to keep my spirits up and make these dark, cold months feel warm and special. But other than bone broth, I don’t have further tricks up my sleeve. I decided to ask my friends how they were preparing for this season of “hunkering down.”

The responses I got were wonderful.

Kendra has already washed her flannel sheets, and moved her cold-weather clothes to the top drawers where they are easier to reach.

Jennifer is planning outdoor adventures like visiting a tree farm and taking in light shows at the arboretum and the zoo. She’s also treated herself to some new festive pillows to create a cozy “hot cocoa zone” on her front porch.

Dulce’s family is getting matching raccoon onesies to wear, a lighthearted tradition that can continue this year, since it’s all about staying home and being cozy.

Catherine and her friends are ordering takeout food so they can all enjoy the same meal remotely. Karen is finding “Escape Rooms in a Box” that can be done at home in place of their traditional family Escape Room activity.

A few friends are using the extra time they’ll have to better themselves. Jayne and Terri are both learning Spanish. Heidi is going to focus on her mental health with medication, therapy, and joyful movement.

Ellen already has a fragrant rosemary bush at her place, decorated with tiny lights and decorations. She says it will get her through the tough days.

Liz says she’ll miss being with extended family, but she won’t miss “having to peel and mash ten pounds of potatoes.”

Terri is reminiscing about her late mother-in-law and she upcycles costume jewelry into family keepsake ornaments. Liz is sorting and organizing old pictures. When she texts a photo to a relative, they swap stories and memories, proving to be a good way to stay connected remotely.

These ideas from my dear friends give me hope. Sure, 2020 isn’t the year we bargained for, but we can prepare, get a few tricks up our sleeve to make even this season a joyful one to remember. We need light, warmth, coziness, shared memories, and definitely some fun and laughter.

Hunker down, folks. Stay cozy. Make some new memories.

Originally published November 24 on MyHuntleyNews.com

One Last Bouquet

The zinnias I planted in early summer are still holding on. Out my window, I see them reaching awkwardly up to the heavens, scraggly and too tall, like a teenager whose feet have grown too fast and are out of proportion with his body.

The zinnia is my favorite flower. It is a reliable annual, pretty easy to grow from seed, even with my less-than-stellar gardening skills. In spring, I start buying seed packets from garden shops, choosing different varieties: Sunbow Mix. Envy. Dwarf. Peppermint. The bright oranges, yellows, pinks, and reds of zinnias are pure color therapy for me—the epitome of hope. The summer of 2020, I planted twice as many zinnias as usual, nestling tiny seeds into every available square inch of soil in my garden because I knew I needed twice as much hope. I needed bright, showy colors to soldier on through what I hoped would be a brief pandemic.

Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

Like a fulfilled promise, they poked through the dirt, unfurled their emerald arms, and smiled right at me with their dazzling blooms.

I share my love of zinnias with delicate monarch butterflies and shimmering hummingbirds who were drawn to the sweet nectar and visited my garden daily throughout August.

But the butterflies and hummingbirds don’t come any more. They haven’t for a while. Summer is over, and my bright, brave zinnias are holding on even as the wind grows colder and damp October rains threaten to wilt their petals. The gold and crimson maple trees nearby hover overhead and toss their leaves, the biggest show-offs on the playground. They try to outshine the beauty of my zinnias, but they can’t, really. The leaves and the zinnias can coexist peacefully; the world can’t have too much color, after all.

I know it’s just a matter of time before the frost comes, nipping at the flowers’ dazzling colors, forcing them to fade. I don’t know if I can bear the sight.

So I will gather my zinnias, arrange them in my nicest vase and make one last bouquet. They will stand bravely for a few more days, maybe a week, relying on the stores of energy remaining in their stems. Their beauty will have one last hoorah inside my warm house, the best accommodation I can give them to repay them for all they’ve given me. They’ll be at my table, where I work on my laptop, pay bills, and eat meals with my family. Perhaps I’ll even whisper thank you to my last bouquet, to honor the summer, and the good things that happened in spite of the bad.

Creating my last bouquet of the year is an act of hope, too. I will clear away the scraggly stems and smooth out the soil, in preparation for cold November rains, and the snow of winter.

Then, come spring, I will scour garden shops for even more zinnia seed packets, with even more vibrant colors and shapes and sizes. I’ll find any available square inch of soil in my garden and nestle the seeds just below the surface.

Then I will wait — and hope.

Originally published October 26 on MyHuntleyNews.com

Savoring Senseless Beauty

Practice random kindness & senseless acts of beauty.

~Anne Herbert

On a nondescript weeknight, a young man, probably barely over the age of 20, set up a chair beside a bike path. With a single microphone, an amplifier, and his guitar, he began playing — with no explanation — exquisite classical music.

There was nothing about this young man that would indicate that he was capable of this stunning music. His sneakers were scuffed, his hair a shaggy reminder that haircuts in the time of COVID are not necessarily essential.

But his fingers flew up and down the fretboard and coaxed such lyrical musical phrases out of his guitar strings that I was compelled to sit down on a nearby bench and take in this unexpected performance.

The guitarist had no music in front of him, and his eyes closed as he played. I found it fascinating. Wasn’t he wondering who was listening? Would he sneak a peek to see if an audience had gathered?

He did not. In fact, I wasn’t sure why he was even there. His guitar case was closed, so money didn’t seem to be his objective.

Then I thought: does there have to be a reason? Could it be that this young musician felt the urge to play and decided to share it with strangers for the sheer joy of it?

As he played song after song, I observed his serendipitous audience, the people who happened to walk or bike on that exact path at the exact moment that brought their evening to a cosmic convergence with this mysterious musician.

A dad passed by, pushing a stroller while the little girl in the seat leaned over to get a better view.

One man in bike shorts rode past with headphones on. He never even noticed what he missed.

A grandmother walked by with her three young grandsons. They stopped, smiled, listened, then began dancing. I liked the way the grandmother threw her head back in laughter when the boys tried to spin her. More people stopped: couples holding hands, individuals, families. People with dogs on leashes.

Even though the music was recital hall quality, this was a come-as-you-are venue: No fancy clothes or tickets or hushed voices required. Out in the open, the beauty of the music seemed even more striking — more part of this world, even — as the sound of barking dogs, passing cars, laughing children, and crickets singing their evening song provided a strange, discordant accompaniment.

I thought, what if I had walked in the other direction? What if I’d stayed home? I would’ve missed this.

I’m glad I didn’t miss it. I’m glad I accidentally stumbled upon senseless beauty. Thank goodness I wasn’t in a hurry and had time to sit down and be transported somewhere else for a few moments.

As the days turn cooler and the uncertainty of 2020 seems never ending, I’m worrying a lot. The tension in my neck and shoulders is always there. I find myself sighing throughout the day, just out of habit.

But there is still beauty in this world. There is beauty for no other purpose than to just be; it asks nothing in return, just serves as a reminder of our humanity—the way even strangers can feel connected in a solitary moment over a single shared experience. It makes me want to wake up, get outside, and seek out even more beauty. Or perhaps I will commit my own senseless act of beauty to make a stranger stop and smile. Just because.

Originally published Sept. 23, 2020 on MyHuntleyNews.com

Remote Learning Results in Unexpected Closeness

This isn’t the school year we planned for.

My work partner, focused and in the zone

Instead of new shoes, piles of fresh notebooks, pencil cases, locker organizers, and backpacks, this year started off more with a tiptoe than a bang. Come to think of it, I never took a “First Day of School” picture like I usually do. On the first day of classes, two of my kids woke up, showered, and unceremoniously walked to the dining room table a few feet away from where they’d just grabbed the milk for their breakfast cereal. Our school, like many across the country during the pandemic, is starting the year out with remote learning, allowing students to stay home and attend classes virtually.

Whereas our house used to wait empty most days, now our entire life seems to play out in two rooms of our house. My son sets up his high school learning command center in our sunroom, while my daughter sits across the dining room table from me. As I clack away on my laptop working remotely for my job at a public library, she attends Zoom classes and reviews Google Classroom for her middle school assignments.

When I check social media groups, parents seem outraged, signified by the number of exclamation points they use.

“We are failing our children!!” writes one mom. 

“E-learning is not working!!” says another. 

“My son isn’t being challenged enough!!” says a father.

I understand the frustration during these times of frequent handwashing and canceled plans. Still, I can’t muster the level of anger some are feeling. In fact, I actually appreciate the surprising advantages of remote learning.

I look over my laptop to see my daughter with her head cocked at a thoughtful angle. She is listening intently to her teacher over a Zoom call as she lazily reaches over to a bowl of sliced peaches positioned between us. We’ve started a new quiet routine with unspoken rules: when heading to the kitchen for a snack, always bring back enough to share with your “co-workers.”

Her classes are the soundtrack to my day—I’ve become accustomed to the voice of her Industrial Tech teacher, who tells stories about his various summer jobs when he was a teen. The social studies teacher always sings “Good morning, Good morning!” before taking attendance. The English teacher affectionately calls the students “my babies” (pronounced BAY-bez).

How often do our plans really work out anyway?

Carol Pavlik

This isn’t the school year we planned for. But how often do our plans really work out anyway? I’m taking this year as it comes, holding on to the things I know to be true: We are safe. We are healthy (today, anyway). We get to be together when normally, we’d be too busy for more than a quick hello before going on to our next obligation. Instead, I get a front-row seat to the expression of bravery on my kid’s face when she pipes up to answer a question, or the way she furrows her brow when she doesn’t understand something. Sometimes, I know how to help her. Other times, her eighth grade curriculum leaves me in the dust and I have to admit that I don’t know.

Remote learning has brought a closeness to my teenagers that I didn’t know was possible. As much as I long to get back to “normal,” I’m trying to hold these days of togetherness close to my heart. I have a feeling I’ll kind of miss them when they’re gone.

Originally published Sept. 10, 2020 on MyHuntleyNews.com