pandemic diaries: this is how it ended

Okay, I know the pandemic isn't exactly over, but the 2020-21 school year is! Hooray!! In fact, the kids are already a couple of days into week FOUR of their summer break, that's how early Oakland schools get out. So how did the year end? 

Post distance learning feels.

Well, in a nutshell, as a marathoner (I've run more than one marathon so yes, that makes me a marathonER), I can confidently say it was very much like the last .2 miles of the race. After a grueling metaphorical 26 miles, those last 6 weeks (the .2 miles in this race metaphor) were just a slog, day after day, juggling full-time work and 24/7 kids and endless snacks and cleaning up after all that eating and trying to maintain some semblance of a healthy routine and a positive attitude. The 2nd grader's hybrid return to minimal in-person schooling in late March was a drag logistically, but of course we did it because we knew she'd enjoy - and benefit from - the social interactions with her teacher and classmates. We also, a month or so earlier, recognized the urgent need for our kids to safely socialize with at least one good friend or two, so planning backyard playdates and weekly hikes was another thing to do and make happen.

Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve

In a nutshell, why yes, I'd say I was definitely languishing. But then Daphne came home from one of her in-person afternoons one week having made me this. So this is what I'll remember.

On a positive note, though, while the middle schooler didn't return to any in-person instruction at all this year, he was able to do his band concert report on a real, live performance after reporting on two recorded concerts in previous semesters. It was also our first time at Yoshi's, which is kind of nuts considering how long we've lived in Oakland.

Anyway, at last the school year was over. The kids and I celebrated with traditional end-of-year froyo at Yogurt Park near Cal Berkeley. If you know, you know.

Later that long weekend I toasted the end of the school year with some fellow room mamas (in person!), ending my four-year tenure as room parent coordinator, an unpaid gig I took on when I wasn't working (but now I am, full-time, and especially after this crazy year, I'm very much looking forward to a break).

Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda

In other news, Daphne planted some sunflower seeds she got from her garden teacher earlier this spring. It's not sourdough bread, but the results have a very early pandemic project vibe.

Another article about how the pandemic has impacted working parents, especially mothers, in the workplace made the rounds. Here is my reaction to it, including a thread of posts I've written about it over the years right here on this blog.

And, um, okay, so I guess I'm not the only one feeling like the pandemic has dramatically altered my social life forever. Desperately seeking a post-pandemic perimenopausal posse. I've been really enjoying Jessica Grose's writing on the topic, and even put together a reading list so let me know if you'd like to join my book club.


Otherwise, I successfully snuck in little chunks of studio time over the last several weeks of the school year and I'm hoping to do this a bit more consistently this summer (and beyond, if all goes well and kids return to in-person school in the fall), kind of digging where this project is going. I started a new Instagram account devoted just to my creative practice and related shenanigans (looking at art, etc.). I've also been very keen to start work on season two of the podcast, but worry if I do, it'll take up all the little bits of time I need in the studio. Which is fitting since that's kind of what season two is all about. Sigh.

As a family unit, we are now 75% vaxxed! 

In local foodie news, we discovered the vegan pizza from Square Pie Guys, which might be my favorite yet, and bought some fancy vodka for a good cause (design by Oakland-based artist Shogun Shido, for the fundraising collaboration between Treecraft Distillery and Oakland Art Murmur - read more about it here). 

So, yeah, an enthusiastic cheers to the end of the weirdest school year we've experienced as parents. Let's hope we never have to do that again.


running through the pandemic plateau

One of the many events that was canceled because of the pandemic last spring was the Oakland Running Festival, including the half marathon event for which I'd been training since late fall/early winter 2019. 

12 miles in Alameda, along Crown Memorial Beach, to Bay Farm Island, and back.

I'd just started my taper, that delightful period between your longest training run (which for me was 12 miles on February 28, 2020) and the event itself (13.1 miles through Oakland, scheduled for March 22nd) when you decrease your mileage and focus on maintaining your overall health, getting good rest, and eating lots of carbs! As the Bay Area went into lockdown, I kept running, first without a mask, then with a mask, something I eventually got used to. 

A pre-COVID, pre-dawn run.

Even masked, I only run at 6 am on weekdays, partly because that's really all that will work with my schedule, partly because at any other time of day or day of the week, the lake where I run is simply too crowded. Now that I'm fully vaccinated, I no longer wear a mask (though I do make an effort to keep plenty of space between myself and other walkers and runners) and it's wonderful. I kept running (and walking and hiking and all the Jillian Michaels workout DVDs) because it helped keep me physically and mentally healthy over the past 15 months. It's also one of the rare times I'm ever alone.

8 miles on the Bay Bridge Trail on January 10, 2020

That said, I've plateaued. Big time. I run just two days a week, once around the lake (about a 5K), the other day in the opposite direction, finishing a slightly shorter distance, about 3 miles, with one or two trips up and down the stairs that make up the Cleveland Cascade to finish. I only do the stairs in the spring to early fall since it's too dark and creepy in the winter, when it's still dark out even when I finish around 6:45 am. Since January, I've swapped out the Jillian Michaels DVDs for the Freeletics app three times a week, which I really enjoy. It's helped immensely with core strength in particular, which has helped alleviate some chronic low back pain I've been experiencing since summer 2017. I can do legitimate burpees now. I hate them, but I can do them. I try to add a rowing machine workout on to any shorter Freeletics day, ideally once a week.

An "easy 10-miler" along the Hayward Regional Shoreline on February 21, 2020

I've been hesitant to try any of the Freeletics running "journeys" yet, or add a longer weekend run back in, or do any kind of run training, really, but I know I won't progress as a runner if I don't push myself in one way or another. In the past I've used (and recommend) the plans in the book Train Like A Mother. So I may go that route again when it comes time to resume training for the 2022 running festival (rather than tackle a virtual event I deferred to next spring, when I feel pretty confident at this point that the event will be in-person). To help kickstart that eventual training, I also signed up for the Alameda 10-Miler in late August, an "easy 10-miler!" as Steve Prefontaine would say. I did have a moment post-registration when I realized I'd signed up for a 10-miler, not a 10K. Either way, I'm looking forward to using that race as a milestone to work toward; continuing on to a half-marathon training plan should be a piece of cake after that.

8 miles from the Emeryville Marina along the McLaughlin Eastshore and back, Valentine's Day 2020 

PS - If you want to read more about past running shenanigans, check out this post, written after I completed the full Oakland marathon back in 2012 (I ran Big Sur in 2001, pre-blog, but I wrote about it here). Curious about what to eat (and what to watch) while training for a marathon? Check out this series.

PPS - All of this running stuff is really just one piece of a broader topic I've been wanting to write about for awhile, which is a much broader personal project to reset my relationship with food and yes, lose weight, which kicked off a bit before I started training for the half-marathon (why yes, I had just recently turned 40). I've lost somewhere in the 10-15 pound range since late summer/early fall 2019, but that too has plateaued since the pandemic began. My BMI, which was approaching the obese range, is now very nearly in the healthy range. All of my other numbers have always been excellent (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, etc.), and I take no medications (yet), but as I mentioned above I was experiencing back and joint pain and that has definitely improved. Going mostly vegan (one year ago today!) is also part of all this, especially the resetting my relationship to food bit. I feel overall better and I think a lot less about food, which saves a lot of time, oddly. Anyway, it's a strange time to write or say much publicly about metrics such as weight loss and BMI, and for good reason (I'm no stranger to those reasons, having lost someone very close to me as a result of a longterm eating disorder). But weight and BMI are data, if you will, that I use in part to measure my success on this, for lack of a better word, journey. Perhaps I'll write more about it one day. Still much to unpack here (see parenthetical above).

PPPS - All that said, training for an endurance event rarely leads to weight loss. Just have to put that out there should anyone come here searching for weight loss and running! I always tend to shed pounds after a big event, rarely during training. More on that topic here.


pandemic diaries: month 13

Spring has sprung!

Poppies in full bloom at Serpentine Prairie.

I wasn't going to necessarily continue these pandemic diaries but it's been an eventful month since my last update marking 12 months of this, so let's make it a baker's dozen, shall we? The biggest development, after 384 days at home, is that one of two kids is now back at school, in-person, for 2+ hours a day, 2 afternoons a week. It's not much but it's better than nothing! 

Not surprisingly, she loves everything about it except for the fact that her older brother and I walk up the hill to fetch her at the end of the day, meaning she has to walk home. Downhill. It's pretty rough. It's only been two weeks - the week before Spring Break and today wrapping up the week after - and I don't expect anything more, either for her schedule or for the middle schooler, who's still in 100% remote instruction, for the remaining six weeks of this school year. Fingers and toes crossed for a full return to in-person instruction for all Oakland students in the fall.

I keep saying anything less will be a deal-breaker for me in terms of my willingness to remain in this city and perhaps even this state. Actually acting on that "threat" would, of course, be much harder to do, but as we've been somewhat casually looking in the Sacramento area for a few months now (feeling pretty lukewarm about the idea of ever moving there at this point), we decided to travel to Portland, Oregon over Spring Break to check out tentative relocation location number two. In a nutshell, we all loved it. 

Neal and Elias at Pittock Mansion, view of Portland in the background.

It helps that the weather was nearly perfect most of the time, but even figuring in the more typical rain, I think we were all ready to pack up and move there permanently by the end of our four-day visit. My favorite neighborhoods are those surrounding Grant Park, home of the Beverly Cleary sculpture garden. Cute houses on tree-lined streets walking distance to a really nice park and great schools...heck, Daphne would go to Beverly Cleary School, for cryin' out loud! It was good to get a feel for some of the other neighborhoods, as well, which we found to be fairly consistent with our general preference for more centrally located areas with walkability over bigger homes and lots in the more car-dependent suburban neighborhoods west of downtown.

A vegan strawberry cake made from scratch!

All that said, a day or two after we settled back in at home, I was feeling a renewed appreciation for Oakland and the Bay Area in general. Oakland, like probably any city, will wear you down after awhile. Violent crime is up, we can hear sideshows every weekend (sure, I made a 16 Candles inspired cake with an Oakland twist - sideshow + fireworks - pictured above, but that doesn't mean I want to experience them every weekend!), the school district is a hot mess, and now we seem to have an arsonist running around setting community institutions on fire! But I guess I'm trying to be really careful not to repeat - and impose on my family, no less - my usual response to conflict which is to run away from it. How do you double down on a place you love and commit to doing everything in your power to make it better, not just for yourself and your family, but for your entire community? That is not a rhetorical question so please, suggestions accepted in the comments below.

I guess one thing that I'm struggling a little bit with that I've been thinking about a lot since the one-year anniversary of the pandemic is how the past year has affected my relationships with the people here (we have no family in the area so we're not rooted here in that sense). Despite my attempts to reach out and find ways to stay in touch and, more recently, see more of people in-person, safely, there are "friends" I haven't seen since before the pandemic began. Are we still friends? Did the pandemic force folks to ghost their b-list relationships? Needless to say I, like many, I'm sure, am feeling quite a void where any sense of community used to be. And I'm not sure what to do with that realization. Not that moving and starting over would make the process of finding and keeping friends any easier, but I feel like that's essentially what I'm up against here, even though I've lived here for years. Is there a dating app for plutonic relationships? Can we start one??

Anyway, we also have a ton of other stuff going on and perhaps toward what finally appears to be light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel is not the best time to put the kids through still more uncertainty and transition. But we'll keep all options on the table and in the very least revisit the topic in 6-12 months if we're still feeling all these feels. That timeline may change depending on what happens with Oakland public schools in the fall.

Walking through an Olafur Eliasson piece at SFMOMA

Otherwise, following up from my one-year pandemic anniversary update, we've now been to the recently reopened SFMOMA and the Bedford Gallery (my family was even featured in their "family art day" social media coverage!). So lovely to see art again. 

We also saw an outdoor installation by Hank Willis Thomas (above, on view through May), who lived in this neighborhood (Temescal) when he attended CCA for grad school (he's otherwise NY-based), and we try to roll by the Roll Up Project whenever we're in Jack London Square. Renetta Sitoy's work is on view there now through mid-May.

In other viewing, we finished Schitt's Creek (loved it), WandaVision (meh, it was okay), and we're already almost done with The Knick (very intense, very good). What should we watch next?

PS - The above cake was made for our 16th wedding anniversary. 16 years (plus about 8 years before that) with this guy.

Multnomah Falls, about 35 minutes from Portland, OR

PPS - oh yeah, Easter. Neal was away most of the day dealing with the ongoing MIL sitch, but we did baskets in the morning and reserved egg dying/hunting for the late afternoon/evening when he returned, so it was all good. Pretty sure the gig is up, though, for the 8 year old, which is honestly fine by me. I'm not a very good liar.

PPPS - I get my first Pfizer shot on Sunday! Woo!!


pandemic diaries: weeks 50-52

Well, here we are, one year later. I'm not sure if I'll continue these pandemic diaries past the one-year mark, which is today (marking the anniversary as the last day my kids attended school in-person). I'm glad I've done it, but there are at least half-a-dozen other topics I'd like to write about over the last couple of months that I've put off because it takes all the wee bit of extra time and energy I have every few weeks (with respect to this blog) just to update this. So we'll see. I guess I'll check in with myself in 2-3 weeks and go from there.

Grandma Rose at the John Day Fossil Beds in Oregon in 2007.

In the meantime, here's how the last three weeks have gone. The biggest, saddest news is that my 94 year old grandmother, who I was so relieved to learn when I talked to her earlier in February had just received her first COVID vaccine, passed away one week ago today. I'll write more about her later, because she was a really special and important person in my life. For now, I'll just say that I take some comfort in knowing she died in her home, surrounded by her adult children, not alone in a hospital. But even after a wonderful, long life, it's not easy to say goodbye. I got to talk to her just hours before she died. I hope she heard my words. I'm double-masking and making the short flight up to Bend, Oregon, tomorrow so I can be there for her funeral on Monday. All of this happening on the eve of this pandemic anniversary week made this article about our collective grief particularly resonant.

Otherwise, I guess the main thing to note for prosperity's sake, when I look back and read this after it's all a distant memory (LOL), is that Oakland students are still in 100% remote learning with no end in sight (meanwhile, the county entered the less restrictive red tier allowing for things like indoor dining, reopening gyms, etc.). No updates from the district or the union while neighboring districts have reopening plans with kids going back nearly full-time as soon as March 29th. Given the plummeting COVID numbers and mounting evidence around the safety of reopening schools (set against all the harms we know well about keeping kids isolated and staring at screens all day), I'm feeling rather cranky and impatient to the point that I'm not sure I can stick it out in this school district past this school year if they're not committed to reopening full-time BY the fall. What that means I'm not totally sure yet.

I will give you a hint, though. It might involve moving. I have incredibly mixed emotions about the thought of leaving Oakland (again), but it was an idea we were entertaining independent of the school situation for awhile now. It's complicated, but in a nutshell we've narrowed it down to Sacramento or Portland (I know, I know, such a cliché). Most likely. I'm still somewhat SoCal-curious and of course ponder moving even further north into the greater Pacific Northwest. But Sac and PDX are the two cities we're considering for now. It's a long, slow process, given COVID, set against a very hot market in Sacramento in particular (turns out we're not the only Bay Area family eyeing a city close enough to "commute" into San Francisco for the occasional, important work meeting but far enough away to get a little more bang for our buck).

Not completely unrelated to the school situation, I've written a lot, way before the pandemic, about how challenging it can be to juggle kids and work, both creative and/or paid. Lots of folks are talking about this now, since the pandemic, while it didn't create this childcare crisis, has certainly exposed and exacerbated it. This is probably one of my favorite things I've read on the topic over the past year. I hope we can indeed seize this moment while there's momentum to confront this crisis. As Kathryn Jezer-Morton writes, "There will never be more political will than there is now, in the wreckage of this pandemic."

Anyway, in preparation for a possible move in the next 6-18 months, following up on the great purge noted in the last update, I've been slowly making progress weeding through and organizing the kids' writing and art projects from school over the past, well, decade. I'm putting flat things in plastic protective sheets in one or two 3-ring binders and bigger, bulkier stuff in, hopefully, one bin per kid. I finished Daphne's stash a couple of weeks ago and hope to finish up with Elias's next weekend. From there I'll move on to the family photos pre-digital. It's a big project.

In good news, I can finally find Fresca again! Nature is healing, as they say. Also, San Francisco art museums got the green light to reopen a week or so ago but I've yet to convince my kids to visit.

March 10, 2020, in the Laurel neighborhood of Oakland, CA.

'Tis the season for incredible sunrises and sunsets. Above is one from March 10, 2020, on the eve of the pandemic, if you think about it, with the WHO declaring the global nature of said pandemic the next day.

And here are a few from the last couple of weeks. Sunrise, above, and sunset, below (taken on the same day, March 2nd).

Speaking of taking pictures of the sky this past year, KQED reporter and Rightnowish host Pendarvis Harshaw wrote this excellent piece on the gravity of the past year, anything but a "fluffy reflection on COVID-19," that risks glossing over this and the many other crises of the past year.


pandemic diaries: weeks 48-49 (and a half!)

With less than three weeks until the one-year anniversary of school closures here in Oakland, alongside dramatically improving COVID numbers nationwide, there's been an uptick in the heated debate around schools reopening. I won't repeat any of it here, but if you're interested in my take on it, you should follow me on Twitter, where I'm trying my best to keep it positive and respectful. Locally, we were recently asked to fill out a form confirming whether or not we'd send our kids back to school given the chance to return to at least a hybrid model of in-person/remote learning and we indicated that yes, indeed, half or full days will work for us, thank you very much. My kids have been consistently wearing masks, maintaining distance from others, and washing their hands well throughout this pandemic (the latter since way before - first thing we do when we return home from literally anywhere). They've got this. That said, I'm not holding my breath for a return to campus anytime soon, especially for the middle schooler.

In other (related) news, on the heels of requesting a mental health services referral for my increasingly glum 8 year old, we celebrated her birthday virtually with friends (llama paint-by-number kits provided by my high school friend Amanda's company Wehgo), which seemed to open the door to conversations around in-person playdates everyone felt comfortable with. We've since established a couple of standing, weekly back yard playdates with a couple of her friends and the difference it's making in her overall mood is simply stunning. 

Evidence of a successful (masked) back yard playdate.

Both kids are also doing a "shelter scouts" program one afternoon a week at the East Bay SPCA. Here's a cute pup they met last week.

The 12 year old, meanwhile, has been a little easier to support in this way, with a couple of friends open to outdoor hikes and hangs for a few months now (not to mention the upside of having a smart phone and playing video games in that he likely feels a bit more connected than his little sister does to her friends). I was reminded of how parenthood warps time when I saw that Homeroom was getting ready to celebrate its 10th (!!) anniversary. Seems like just a couple of years ago I took the then 2 1/2 year old to try it out during opening week.

On a personal note, I too have been struggling with some bouts of mild depression (mild clinically, I'm sure, but worse than I'm personally used to). Though we're fortunate in so many ways, the chronic nature of things is getting really, really hard to deal with. I keep thinking of that section in I Don't Know How She Does It by Allison Pearson, and I'm paraphrasing since I read the book on a Nook I no longer have so I can't look up the exact quote, but something about how she didn't feel suicidal exactly, but she had days when she just wanted everything to stop for awhile. I have a lot of days like that lately, mornings when it's really, really hard to get out of bed. To counter this groundhog day quality a bit, in addition to trying my best to eat well and exercise every day (just started my second six-week "journey" using the Freeletics app), I've returned to random national "holidays" for some daily inspiration. It's surreal to think back to some of our early coping strategies during the first couple of months of this pandemic, when national days often served as homeschool inspiration.

Happy National Banana Bread Day!

We also did a major, multiple-weeks long purge of lots of random stuff in our cozy home (some stuff the 12 year old has had in his room since we moved in 10 1/2 years ago!). Getting rid of things lightens the load a bit, both literally and figuratively, it seems.

Enjoying the areas outside the house is also helping me get through what is hopefully the home stretch of this pandemic. Our hummingbird feeder out front continues to be a huge hit (hummingbirds around here don't really migrate away for the winter) and this past weekend we found the perfect spot in the back yard for the wren house that Grandpa Randy built and sent us for Christmas. I can't wait to see who moves in!

Otherwise, with no remote school last Friday, a rather gloomy day in the middle of a long stretch of unseasonably warm weather, I played hooky to take the kids on an epic outing in El Sobrante, about a half-hour north of Oakland. A foggy, muddy hike was followed by take-out pizza enjoyed at a new-to-us playground.

Converting to full-time has been challenging some weeks so far this year, but paid time off is quite the perk.


pandemic diaries: weeks 43-47

Honestly, I don't even know if I'm doing the math right anymore, this thing is dragging on for so long. But I do know I'm way behind on updating these here pandemic diaries, and I've been at it this long, may as well continue, so here goes. It's been a busy and incredibly stressful five weeks, on both a personal and public level. By public I mean the capitol insurrection, of course, and the ensuing (second) impeachment, all on the heels of the positive political news from Georgia. It's weird to be reflecting back on this during the week the second impeachment trial began.

On a personal level, my mother-in-law has been in the hospital since mid-January. She celebrated her 74th birthday there. I'm not going to pretend like our relationship has always been easy, but the first week she was in the ICU was one of the most agonizing of my life. She's doing much better now, thankfully, recovering from multiple health "events" at a care facility, but the transition and longer-term plan has and will pretty thoroughly upend our lives, at least temporarily. It wasn't COVID, but having to deal with all this on top of the ten months of chronic stress caused by a global pandemic and all that's come with it has taken my anxiety levels and mild depression to a new level. Having a loved one in the hospital during a pandemic, whether COVID-related or not, really sucks. We're officially part of the sandwich generation now, which is a little like winning a really shitty lottery if you know me/us personally and know what our parent configuration is like. But that's how life goes, I guess.

And what to say of the ongoing debate around reopening school campuses for in-person learning? In a nutshell, I think this is a pretty good piece of radio to listen to if you haven't already (Bay Area specific but touches on a lot of the pieces of the debate going on around the country right now).

On a lighter note, and fittingly, the now 8 year old and I have been reading Pollyanna together. I've been trying my hardest to play the glad game every day, really I have.

Speaking of birthdays, with the youngest turning 8, every member of the family has now celebrated a pandemic birthday. She requested all things llama. Last weekend we visited a couple of llamas and a whole lot of alpacas at Menagerie Hill Ranch in Vacaville. I highly recommend hugging a baby alpaca if ever given the chance. This weekend we'll host a virtual paint party with a few of her friends. More about that in the next update.

We're getting kinda bored with our usual jaunts. Fortunately, there's always new stuff to discover around here, like Brooklyn Basin, currently still in development nearish Oakland's Jack London Square. You can explore the old pier and even grab some groceries at Rocky's (we didn't buy anything this time but I love the idea of those $5 produce grab bags and, if you're not vegan, the kitchen was producing some tasty-looking sandwiches and such).

We also explored, for the first time as a family, Muir Woods. What a truly magical place.

Thankfully, outdoor attractions are starting to reopen again, too. 

We were able to reschedule our canceled December 21st Glowfari tickets for this past Friday. It was "epic" and the music was "a vibe," according to the rising teen.

What are we watching? Well, we finished up all three seasons of Cobra Kai and I gotta say, that show kinda peaked for me about 3/4 of the way through Season 1. More recently, we started making our way through Schitt's Creek and it's absolutely delightful. Watching a family share a couple of hotel rooms also makes for a fairly cathartic viewing experience during a pandemic and related lockdown/stay-at-home order. I also really enjoyed the clips I've seen of Dan Levy hosting SNL last weekend, especially this one, since Redfin is my internet drug of choice these days (alas, any kind of move is now on hold due to the sandwich generation situation noted above).

Finally, in honor of National Pizza Day, here's some wholesome, vegan pepperoni pizza content for you. First, video of Neal applying a "sheet" of vegan "mozzarella" to the dough/sauce base. Pretty cool, right?? You can see the final product above, with our house-made vegan pepperoni. Neal's recipe:

In other mostly vegan news, dry Veganuary was a bit of a bust on both fronts, but I did give Just Eggs a try (tasty, but expensive)...

...and I've been pretty consistently avoiding most, some days all dairy, including cheese (except the tiniest sprinkling of Mexican cheese blend in our eggs). I'm also trying to be more consistent about not drinking during the week. It's hard, I ain't gonna lie. Daily life holds so little joy right now, but I continue to try to be as vegan as possible, taking it one day at a time. On a somewhat related note, I signed up for Freeletics to move past the pandemic plateau I hit last spring (still running 2 mornings a week but feeling like my cross/strength training routine could use a little revamping). The first 2-3 weeks were great, but I've felt sluggish again the last week or two. I honestly think I'm just so tired. All the time.