A Cookie-Free Christmas

As regular readers of this blog know, my annual tradition is to bake holiday cookies for clients and friends as a humble token of my appreciation. At this time of year, I would normally be scouring the internet baking websites, old cookbooks, and ethnic recipes for new Christmas cookies to bake and add to the mix.

This year, regrettably, I’m going to break the tradition.

There are several reasons for my decision, all of which stem from the coronavirus scourge. Many of my clients’ offices are closed, and people are working remotely. Part of the idea of the tradition is to send a batch of cookies that can be put out at the office coffee station that everyone could share and enjoy as a small pleasure and little taste of the holiday spirit. Thanks to COVID-19, those office gathering points simply don’t exist this year.

I also think there are safety questions about baking and then shipping handmade cookies. The health care authorities carefully say there is “no evidence” that coronavirus is spread through cooked food, and I take them at their word. But there’s more to the issue than that. The cookie exercise requires getting the ingredients at the store, buying tins, baking the cookies, and then having them shipped and delivered. In an era where we are being urged to reduce our contacts with people, that’s a lot of points of contact that could be avoided by not baking the cookies in the first place.

And I’ve also come to realize that there is a pretty broad spectrum of personal reactions to the ongoing pandemic. At one end of the spectrum are people who are still largely isolating and won’t go to restaurants, at the other end are fatalists who think we’ve overreacted and are willing to take their chances in doing just about anything, and there are lots of different points of view in between those two poles. I don’t know whether the recipients would feel uncomfortable about getting some home-baked cookies delivered to their door–and potentially causing that kind of reaction would be inconsistent with the whole point of the exercise in the first place.

So, I’ve reluctantly concluded there will be no cookie baking this holiday season. It makes me wistful, but a lot of traditions have been interrupted this year. Next year, the fates and vaccine manufacturers willing, maybe I’ll do a double batch to compensate for the Cookie-Free Christmas of 2020.

The Last Day Of The Four-Day Weekend

There’s a special quality to the last day of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend holiday. Those of us of a certain age remember working on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but those days are long gone for most white-collar workers. Now it’s generally accepted that we’re looking at four solid days off. And frankly, by the time late November rolls around, we can use a four-day holiday — this year especially.

Each day of those four days has its own identity and personality. Thursday is all about The Meal and the excitement surrounding it. Friday is devoted to regretting your Thanksgiving overindulgence and catching up with your guests. Friday is the day for meaningful conversation. By Saturday, everyone has settled in and caught up; Saturday is a day for just enjoying each other’s company. And when Sunday rolls around, the goal is to wring every last drop of enjoyment out of the holiday weekend before it regrettably comes to a close.

This year, the four-day weekend seems to have been quieter and simpler. There may have been some Black Friday shopping sale craziness somewhere, but if so there wasn’t much of it. 2020 has sucked in more ways than we can count, but it least it has discouraged people from going out and engaging in brawls with other shoppers trying to get that last big-screen TV on sale. This year, Thanksgiving seems to have gotten back to its family-oriented roots.

Enjoy Day 4. We won’t see it’s like again until Thanksgiving 2021.

Tree Time

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time to start focusing on the next big holiday on the calendar. And St. Mary Church here in German Village stands ready to satisfy your evergreen needs with a traditional Christmas tree lot. This year the lot has been spread out so the trees can comply with social distancing requirements, and there’s an ample supply of additional trees stacked up and at the ready, too.

We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years, but I do love that fresh, clean pine tree smell. it’s a pleasure walking past the lot in the morning.

Refrigerator Envy

On Thanksgiving, everyone could use a large, empty refrigerator that is about twice its normal size. You know — a refrigerator that is large enough to allow you to retrieve a can of Diet Coke without risking knocking over multiple aluminum-foil covered bowls, serving dishes, and gravy boats that have been carefully stacked and balanced to consume every square inch of scarce refrigerator space?

Why can’t somebody invent an expandable refrigerator that you could use for the holidays? Like dining room table manufacturers did years ago, when they figured out that you could design tables to be extended so as to include an extra leaf or two when needed? Ideally, the expandable holiday refrigerator would include a special pie storage area, a beer bottle rack that would project out when the door is opened, and an extra large storage area to carefully secure all of the leftover turkey that will be used over the coming week.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving! Or, as it will also be known in our household this year, happy Big-Ass Pie Day, as Kish bought a super-sized pumpkin pie for us to gobble down as part of the festivities.

Hey, if there ever was a year where you could justify an extra portion of pumpkin pie, without guilt, it’s 2020. And some extra whipped cream, too.

When The Kids Come Home

We’re pretty excited in the Webner household today. Tonight — the airlines, coronavirus pandemic, and any federal, state, and local authorities who want to have their say willing — we’ll have Richard, Julianne and Russell under our roof with us for the first time in a year, since Thanksgiving weekend 2019. And what a year it has been!

It’s kind of hard to describe what a happy — elated, really — feeling it is to see your kids in person after a long absence. Video conferences and phone calls and following Twitter feeds are fine, but there’s nothing like actually sitting in the same room with your grown children, rediscovering how they look since the last time you saw them, observing them interact with each other, and engaging in the kind of idle chatter that allows you to really catch up with how their lives are going. You want to see first hand how they look and how they sound and how they act. I’m looking forward to the walks and card games and kitchen and dinner table conversations where there is no specific agenda and the discussions can wander into whatever random areas might enter into the conversational flow. Those are simple, but real, pleasures.

For us, as I suspect is the case for most long-distance parents, the urge to see your kids face-to-face is heightened when a global pandemic rages and has ruined prior efforts to get together. In our case, COVID-19 wrecked multiple prior planned visits over the past year, and I know that it has affected the plans of some families that were hoping to reunite for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We’re hoping the stars align for us this time.

And if they do, tomorrow we’ll all gather around the dinner table, welcome UJ to join us, pass around the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, celebrate a classically American holiday, and simply enjoy each other’s company. We can’t wait!

Our Little ’70s World

When you’re a kid growing up, your little world is necessarily “normal.” The decor in your house, the clothes your Mom buys for you, the breakfast cereal you eat in the morning, the haircuts your friends have — all of those are things that set your standard expectations and define what is customary and conventional. You have no reason to question it, because it is all that you know.

I think this notion explains how many of us lived through and readily accepted the collective insanity that took over the United States in the late ’60s and ’70s — a time of bad fashion, bad haircuts, and dubious home decoration developments like beanbag chairs. How in the world our parents adjusted to the ’70s, after living through World War II and the ’50s, is anybody’s guess. I kind of wish I had asked them about it at the time, but of course the thought would never have occurred to me.

When we moved to Columbus in 1971, our split-level house became a kind of shrine to the ’70s. It was a temple of black, brown, and white shag carpeting, steel, chrome and glass coffee and end tables that could slice your hand open, shiny white brick, and recessed light fixtures that made it virtually impossible to change a light bulb. About all we were missing was a lava lamp and a beanbag chair (which I really hated, anyway, because they provided no back support and left your neck stiff as a board), but we did have one of those annoying “clacker” devices with the five steel balls hanging on strings on the coffee table. I accepted all of that, and more — like leisure suits, maxi dresses, unappealing cars like the Ford Grenada, big bow ties and crushed velvet — because that was just the way things were.

It was only with some perspective, added after living through successive decades, that I came to realize just how weird and kind of hilarious the ’70s actually were. From time to time people talk about a revival of ’70s this, or ’70s that, and they still sell beanbag chairs, but I have no desire whatsoever to go back to that time period in any way, shape, or form. I kind of feel lucky to have escaped the ’70s in the first place.

The Window Watcher

Russell’s dog Betty is staying with us for a few days. Betty is a happy, well-behaved dog whose needs are few. Give her food, a place in the sunshine to nap, a walk now and then, and occasional exposure to squirrels, and she is a happy camper.

But Betty is also a window dog. She’s drawn to them, like iron filings to a magnet, just to check out what’s going on in the world outside our house. One of her favorite spots to alight is our bed, so she can look outside the two windows shown above. I’ve always thought that there’s really not much of interest to see from those particular windows, which look out onto the street, the buildings across the street, and the sky beyond, but Betty obviously disagrees. Maybe she’s hoping a squirrel scampers by on one of the overhead wires, or maybe she likes seeing the clouds drift by on their journey to the east. (It’s also possible, of course, that she likes the spot because it combines soft surfaces and sunshine in the morning hours.)

When I find Betty in this spot, I usually take a look out the windows, to make sure I am not missing something. It’s another reminder that dogs and humans see the world a bit differently.

Another Hour Of 2020

I had a bad dream last night, cried out in my sleep, and woke Kish up. As I rolled over to try to go back to sleep, I looked at the clock and noticed it was precisely 2 a.m. It’s probably not a coincidence that 2 a.m. is the specific time that Daylight Savings Time ended, and the clocks were being set back an hour. My subconscious may have sensed that and cried out in horror at the thought of adding an hour to 2020. As I went around the house today, changing the clocks, I decided that the experience should be memorialized in bad verse:

Another Hour Of 2020

We’ve worked to stay strong,

And tried not to cower,

But we grimace at adding just one more hour.

It’s already too long,

We don’t want to extend,

No, we all just want 2020 to end.

The year has been cursed,

And unremittingly sour,

Why prolong the misery with one more hour?

We’ve been looking forward

To when this year is done.

And it’s time to celebrate that it’s 2021.

We don’t want another,

No, sir, we’ve had plenty!

We don’t need another hour of 2020!

Bridging The Sci-Fi Gap

As I’ve mentioned before, if you made a Venn diagram of Kish’s and my tastes in TV shows and movies, the areas of intersection would be a lot smaller than the untouched parts of the “Kish” and “Bob” circles. One of the genres that would be squarely on my side of the circles would be science fiction.

Until Away, that is. There have been a few sci-fi shows that Kish has tolerated, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but Away is the first show I can remember that Kish actually really liked. There’s a reason for that: unlike many science fiction films and TV shows, which get caught up in technology or aliens or grim visions of humanity’s future, Away is all about the people. The plot of this Netflix show involves a five-person, multinational crew that is making a three-year voyage to Mars, but the mission also provides a structure for the backstories of the principal characters. For every depiction of weightlessness on the crew’s ship or every technological mishap the crew must deal with, there are plenty of flashbacks and lots of human drama. We liked the characters — led by Hilary Swank’s driven but tender mission leader Emma Green — and were interested in what was going to happen to them and their loved ones. More than other science fiction show we’ve seen, Away struck a very neat balance that reeled in both of us.

Of course, it being 2020, that means Away had to be cancelled this month, after just one season. We finaly find a sci-fi show that falls within the intersection part of the Venn diagram, and it is snatched away just as it is getting good! And it seems as if the healthy dollop of personal stories might be part of the reason for the cancellation: some critics felt that the show didn’t have enough of the science and technology elements that diehard sci-fi fans crave. And no doubt the cost of the show — which had a lot of “production value” and high-end special effects — had something to do with the cancellation decision, too.

We’re sad that Away was cancelled and hold out hope that some other streaming service or channel will pick it up — but even if that doesn’t happen, I’m encouraged that Away found a means of bridging that difficult sci-fi appeal gap. Away has shown it is possible, and maybe somebody will advance the ball even more next time. And if science fiction offerings can be moved from my circle to the intersecting zone of the Venn diagram, anything is possible. Who knows? Someday, someone may actually find a formula that would move period-piece melodramas from Kish’s circle to the intersection zone.

Nah!

The Great Post Cap Mystery

Recently we noticed that the post cap on one of our fence posts was missing. The post cap is that bulb-like fitting that sits atop the fence post and is designed to have both an ornamental and a practical function. The ornamental element is the sphere that helps to give the fence a pleasant and more finished appearance, and the practical function is to keep water from getting into the interior of the post and rusting it out.

We wondered how the post cap was removed, and what happened to it. I looked around in the front beds and the general vicinity to see whether I could find it, but had no success. Columbia Gas workers have been working on gas lines and using heavy machinery on the street, and I thought perhaps they had inadvertently knocked into the fence post and dislodged the post cap, and someone had picked it up as a random item on the street. Whatever the reason, we knew we would have to get a new post cap to protect the fence post, and were trying to figure our who to call or where to go to get that done.

But this weekend the mystery deepened. When we returned from a walk, we noticed that the post cap had been restored securely to its rightful place. Where had it been, and who replaced it, is anyone’s guess. It has markings on it that could reveal a collision with construction equipment, but for all I know the markings have been there for years. (I confess that I had not previously carefully inspected the post caps of our fence.) The post cap might have been returned by a member of the construction crew, or perhaps it was found by a neighbor. No note was left to explain the post cap’s absence.

Wherever the post cap had been, and whoever was the Good Samaritan, we’re just glad it’s back. Who knows? Maybe 2020 isn’t that bad after all.

Shuffle Season

Good news — Shuffle Season is upon us.

Shuffle Season is that rare, all-too-brief time of year when the trees have dropped some — but not all — of their leaves. There is color in the canopy of leaves above and color on the ground and sidewalks below. And when you reach a stretch of leaf-covered sidewalk, the temptation to shuffle your feet through those drying leaves, to hear the rustle and crackle and crunch, and to kick some leaves into the air and let your inner kid loose, is irresistible.

I’m just old enough to remember when people routinely raked their leaves into leaf piles, let their kids play in the piles for a bit, and then raked the pile to the curb and burned the leaves. The authorities ultimately outlawed the burning, but I remember liking the distinctive autumnal smell of those burning leaves. The specific spicy smell is no doubt stored deep in my amygdala.

I’m too old now to play in leaf piles, but I can still enjoy Shuffle Season and those dried sidewalk leaves. You can, too.

Back To Ohio

We completed our trip back to Ohio yesterday, returning to the Buckeye State after an absence of four and a half months. As we rolled under the curious new Ohio border sign — offering its curt and cryptic instruction to “find it here,” without even a friendly “welcome” or “how do you do?” or the exclamation points and promises of excitement you see in other state border signs — the chords of The Pretenders’ Back to Ohio echoed in my head.

This last four months has easily been the longest continuous Ohio-free period I’ve experienced in at least 35 years, and maybe for my entire lifetime. As we rolled toward German Village, Kish and I wondered if we had been gone from Ohio for four months straight during the years we lived in Washington, D.C. — when we often came back to Ohio for holidays, family gatherings, or birthday, graduation, or anniversary celebrations. If we didn’t hit the four-month mark during our D.C. years, then we’ve just set personal records.

And, it being 2020, the four months we’ve been gone from Columbus has been a pretty momentous period, too. We missed a downtown riot and periods of unrest, the closure of favorite restaurants, the sale of the Golden Hobby building down the block, and continuing struggles to deal with the coronavirus. Stonington, Maine is pretty removed from all of that — that’s kind of the goal when you go to Maine — and I wondered what, exactly, we would find when we got back to Columbus.

When we reached German Village, we found that our normal entrance way was torn up due to the ongoing construction projects at Children’s Hospital, and our street was partially closed thanks to a Columbia Gas rerouting effort. I had to parallel park for the first time in a long while, but we were glad to find our place still standing and were also pleased to see that, pandemic or not, our neighbors in the Village have made some improvements. After we unpacked, made the beds, wiped the dust off the counters, and settled in to watch some TV, I realized that Ohio still felt very much like home to me. Maybe that’s the “it” the sign was telling me to find.