Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Much to be Thankful For

As I've been saying practically on repeat for a couple months now, I wasn't sure what this Thanksgiving weekend would hold with that's been going on, and it definitely was different.  But what a crazy, wonderful long weekend full of good stuff it turned out to be!  

Many parts of Thanksgiving turned out to be just slightly odd, but I guess the core of it was still pretty solid.  Usually we go to Buffalo on the Wednesday before to gather with Craig's family at a local bar in memory of his Uncle Mike who died six years ago.  But this year the bars were closed in Buffalo so that couldn't happen.  Our church was only offering in-person church on Wednesday night, but Jacob had a basketball thing so that didn't work.  So, instead we stayed at home Wednesday night and I made pies, packed, and gathered up a couple gifts and cards we had to take with us.  We watched church online Thursday morning and then miraculously hopped in the car on time.  

We had a traditional meal with my parents for lunch, which was nice.  Even that was different, though, since they just got a larger kitchen table and new carpet in their dining room and opted to set us all up in the kitchen instead.  After digesting, we headed off to Craig's family.  Because just that group of immediate family was over the 10-person limit, we wore masks the whole time except when we sat down to dinner.  Was it a little odd?  Sure.  But was it worth it to feel less guilt and fear over gathering?  Absolutely.  As usual, the day involved far too much delicious food and lots of good family time.  We headed back to my parents' for the night, because I had baby time on tap the next day!

So remember a few weeks back when I hinted that we received some really good news but it wasn't ours to share?  Well...the Thursday after Election Day, I got a call from my oldest friend, Heather.  It was a little odd to get a call from her, so initially I was a little nervous that something bad happened.  But when she asked if I was sitting down, she completely shocked me by sharing that the day before they'd received a call...and they would be picking up a baby boy the NEXT DAY!  You have to understand--they've been trying to adopt for about 10 years now.  She had long known she was unable to have kids, but traditional adoption routes were a bit out of their budget so over the years they've tried to find an affordable way to adopt.  They went through a couple different agencies, one hopeful situation turned heartbreaking, and all these long years of waiting.  And now, out of nowhere, a baby!  I was so thrilled for them.  I was honestly also a little overwhelmed at the thought of a couple days' notice of taking on a baby, let alone at this stage in life, but when you've waited this long, I'm pretty sure none of that really matters!  Sure enough, Friday night that baby boy was in their arms!  It felt like a literal, modern day miracle.  Not sure any baby was ever more prayed for!  And now he was here!

Fast forward a few crazy weeks, and on the day after Thanksgiving, my mom and I went over to Heather's mom's apartment to meet baby Mason!

He is such a sweet little peanut--just six pounds and so tiny, still swimming in newborn clothes!  You always forget how little they are in these first few weeks!  But he was such a good, sweet baby.  It was such a joy to hold him!

And guess what?  I get to be his godmother!!  I'm so honored and so excited!  

Of course we were masked for the whole visit, as again, reducing that worry is probably what made the visit even possible, but we joked that Mason probably wondered who those funny people were without noses and mouths!  I did sneak the mask off for a couple pictures right at the end!

Right before we left he was chilled out so calm and aware that I had to snap one more picture!

I can't wait to see him again, but it's amazing to think how much bigger he'll be by then!  And fingers crossed, hopefully full of smiles!  It's been crazy that we've had a bit of a baby boom in our lives lately, from two of Craig's cousins to one of mine (and one more on the way), and now Heather's baby, and yet so much of this precious time has been lost to distancing.  I've been lucky enough to meet three of the four and spend a little time with them, but still, I feel like this whole span of time had such potential and it's been lost to the pandemic.  I still feel lucky for what little we've been able to do, but I will be sorry to miss out on so many family babies at Christmas!

After baby time, the four of us headed home.  Plenty of work awaited there!  I managed to take down all the fall decorations and move furniture in preparation for putting up our main tree the next day.  I also took the last bit of energy I had for the night to decorate our dining room tree.  I had set it up before Thanksgiving so it was ready when we got home, so it was just a matter of stringing lights and garland and hanging up this year's themed ornaments that I had set aside last year.  This had been my angel tree last year, but this year it is a Peanuts tree!  I think I counted 33 ornaments, all with a Peanuts theme!  It's extra fun to have this tree this year because it's technically in my "office" and it is the backdrop for Carter's school video chats!

Saturday was a BIG day, too!  It marked my parents' 50th wedding anniversary!  Obviously that is such a major accomplishment, and I think the fact that my dad's two siblings never made it there due to "death doing them part" made it all the more apparent how special this was.  Of course, my thoughts turned to the last 50th anniversary I recalled, which was my grandparents'.  I was almost 14 at the time, and we had a big party at their favorite restaurant.  They even got a limo ride there!  The funny thing was, obviously 50 years seemed like a super long time (back to the war!) and my grandparents seemed pretty old from my perspective at the time.  But when I did the math, I realized that my parents were right in the same general age range!  My grandpa was 72, which my dad will be in a month, and my grandma was 68.  My mom will be 70 in a few weeks (!) but I feel like she seems so much younger than my grandma did.  Not necessarily personality-wise, as both seem young at heart and pretty lively, all things considered, but my grandma was a TOTAL grandma.  Note the hair and the dress, for starters.  I'll give the glasses a pass as they were still somewhat in style.

This is a great picture of them, although the prior picture on the roll was taken while my grandpa was waiting for my grandma.  He was leaning on the door looking annoyed at his kids for spending the money on a limo, which was pretty awesome, too.
For reference, here's a picture of my parents from last Christmas, and they look pretty much the same now.  I just can't reconcile that they're the same ages!

Of course, COVID had to crash the party this year (literally and figuratively), so as much as my grandparents' party was something amazing to live up to, we had to find an alternate way to celebrate.  Maybe we'll figure out something else down the road, but for now, we decided a Zoom call would suffice, with a lot of special guests!  It took some doing, however, since we knew we wanted people we didn't have connections to.  I could get a bunch of people on Facebook, and I had a lot of family email addresses, but the rest took some work.  I scanned my mom's Facebook friend list and added a couple of her friends to my event invite.  My brother has remote access to their computer for tech support purposes, so he hopped on late one night (he's on the west coast) and grabbed their email list, which I scanned for anyone we'd want to include.  In the end I invited about 60 on Facebook plus more via email!  Of course, between picking a time, trying to keep the secret, and hoping their dinner plans didn't change due to fluctuating COVID zones, things got a little wacky.  I was a nervous mess most of the week, to the point I woke up at 5am one morning after a dream that I messed up the call, and couldn't get back to sleep!  So that was obviously in my thoughts on Saturday, all day.  I started the day with a couple fun social media posts (including pictures I scanned from the mini wedding album I inherited from my grandma), and then for a couple hours my focus was able to be turned to something a bit more fun--our new Christmas tree!
Before I get any further, I just realized that I never told the story of the previous Saturday.  We went out as a family to look for a Christmas tree (among other things) and ended up having a really great outing.  We went to both Lowe's and Home Depot to scope out trees, dishwashers, countertops, and other kitchen upgrades.  Any other day it could have been a disaster, but the stars aligned and it actually went shockingly well.  Upon discussion with our therapist as we claimed it as a success for the week, I think it was partly because we weren't rushed, partly because we had a fun goal, and partly because we were able to just let the kids have input and roll with it.  While we didn't have much luck with the dishwasher (that's just going to have to happen online with reviews and stock availability handy), we did have fun discussing the kitchen stuff, and I think I even picked out a paint color finally!  As for the tree, last year after it was clear our pre-lit tree was failing after 12 years (at least two strings out and almost all of the replacement bulbs used), the boys and I picked a new one out.  But for various reasons the timing never worked out to get it.  The goal for this year was to either find that one again, or find one even better!  Sure enough, essentially the same tree was back at Home Depot and it definitely beat out anything we saw at Lowe's.  The only problem?  It was shockingly expensive.  When I checked my photo of the tag from last year (so I could remember which one we liked), I realized it had been on sale when we saw it.  I wondered if maybe it would go on sale with similar timing this year, so I spent days stalking the Home Depot site.  While I knew their Black Friday sale was still going for another week, I had scoped out their ads and it seemed like their local ad would be changing early in the week.  Well, Wednesday night as I was laying in bed, I just checked the site on a whim, and much to my surprise, not only was it on sale, but it was even cheaper than last year--$75 off!  I ordered it on the spot for curbside pickup!  Since Friday had been such a busy day, we earmarked Saturday afternoon to pick it up.  After lunch we grabbed it, and setup was quick and easy.  Not even any cords--the lights go on when you connect the sections of the tree!  It was nice to have it there and lit (even without decorations) for the rest of our day.  After all, we had some celebrating to do! 
The call with my parents started out with just us kids, plus my niece and nephew joining in from their mom's.  People were slowly building up in the "waiting room", waiting to be released in groups.  The hope was to do siblings first, then the siblings' kids, then extended family, and finally friends.  However, between people whose Zoom name was general (like, "iPad") or who had the same name as someone else we were expecting from a different group, things got a little crazy as I was sort of forced to let people in without knowing.  So eventually I brought in as many as I could, and from there people just came in waves!  We had at least 30-some participants for a time, with more that showed up after some others hopped off.  I bet we had close to 50 households total!  Keep in mind that there were often multiple people at each spot, so there were a LOT of active talkers at any moment.  It was super chaotic, but it was fun seeing my parents notice new people and having people share stories.  One of the highlights was having our old neighbors from my parents' first house pop in, first this lovely older couple who my parents still reminisce so fondly about, plus their daughter who used to babysit for John and me, and then one of our neighbors on the other side.  That neighborhood was the best, and it was fun to see both neighbors right next to each other in the call!  It really did turn out pretty awesome, and I think my parents were a little overwhelmed, but in the BEST way.  In the end, we found out my dad happened to be doing a late bathroom trip that one night and saw my brother poking around in their email (due to the light emanating from the office), so while it wasn't a huge surprise, I think seeing such a large group was still more than they ever imagined!  My dad said it might have been even better than a party! 

That night they went out to dinner with my dad's brother and his wife, plus a couple who is very good friends with both couples.  Even that got a little crazy because it was an expensive place (same place at the casino that Craig and I used to go for his work Christmas party--my uncle insisted and was going to pay), but then my brother beat my uncle to the punch, which ended up being a whole other thing!  But as a whole, they had an amazing day, and that's really all that matters.  It's definitely not how I thought we'd celebrate, but it all worked out. 

I finished off most of my house decorations Saturday night, and then Sunday ended up being a pretty quiet day.  I did a little shopping and yard work, and eventually did all the tree ornaments.  The tree is super fun, by the way.  It's half a foot taller and it really fits the space perfectly.  My only complaint is that the top branch for the topper is a bit too floppy--our usual topper works but I wanted to try out the one that's on our other tree and that one was much too heavy.  So if I want to do that down the road I need to rig something up.  But the best part of this tree is the crazy light show!  This tree has something like 100 functions, but mostly there are seven colors and a handful of multicolor options (regular multicolor, red-green, red-white, green-white, blue-white, red-green-white, red-white-blue) and you can have them steady, flashing, gradually changing, whatever.  It's basically the new toy around here and is sort of like a big mood ring, I guess!  Pick your mood today!  At any given moment Jacob will have changed the color, so I never know what tree I'll see when I get up from my desk!

White lights--the only drawback is that they no longer match the incandescent lights on the wreath and railing...but oh well.

Multicolor - I like these colors so much better than some LEDs that only do red, yellow, green, and blue.  Jacob thinks it needs more yellow/orange--it has a pale yellow color but compared to a traditional incandescent multicolor string that has red, pink, yellow, and orange, this is much more of a "cool" color palette.

I love the red, green, and white options.  Red and green by themselves are a bit overpowering (even on a lower brightness) but when mixed they are perfectly Christmasy!

And to give you the full effect, check this out...this is just a single setting among the many different ones!

So, now here we are.  It's December 1st and the countdown has officially begun...literally.  As if four Advent Calendars weren't enough, I did this little Pinterest-inspired one last night while Carter was working on his art project.  I figured since we're home so much, maybe a little old-school-inspired one might be fun to add to the mix.  I feel like I did one like this as a kid.  Maybe if I really get going I'll do a paper chain, too, just for old time's sake!  I feel like we used to do one every year in school, but I suppose in a diverse, multicultural school, that can't really be a thing.  Maybe they should count down to Christmas break instead, as it was a good art project with all the cutting, linking, and waiting for glue to dry before moving on to the next one.  And I loved watching my chain get shorter!

Admittedly, though, I'm just not feeling Christmas at all right now.  Even with the decorations, two trees, the Christmas music in my car, and all of the Christmas media everywhere, I'm just not there.  I think part of it is the lack of snow so far.  We haven't had any that stuck more than a couple hours, so that's not helping.  After all, we just had 80 degrees happening a few weeks ago.  But I think the other part is knowing that so much will be missing this year--Christmas parties and events and extended family celebrations chief among them.  I actually briefly lost it a bit in the car after my trip to Wegmans last night when I realized even the Christmas music wasn't doing it, and that normally flips a switch when all else fails.  I truly think part of my brain is still stuck on pause back in March, waiting for the summer and fall we never really had.  Christmas was among the last "fun" things we did normally, and now all of a sudden we're back here again, but it's just not feeling the same.  And because so much of my Christmas tradition is steeped in family time, I'm just not sure there's anything that will be able to fill that hole.  I know it's still early and I hope it gets better soon, but right now it's harder than I expected.

Even still, it was a weekend full of things to be thankful for, from the dinners that could have not happened but did, to a sweet baby and major milestone.  We are blessed, even in the midst of this wacky year that's thrown everything for a loop.  I know it's true but it's taking a little while for my heart and my head to catch up with each other.  This pandemic has changed a lot and the holidays will be no exception.  I know I have to find the good stuff and hope that this is one of those times where the odd, different stuff turns into the memorable stuff, but right now it feels a little overwhelming.  Maybe I just need sleep...or a tiny Christmas miracle.  Or both.  Only one of those is in my control, so let's start there, shall we?  Good night...

Sunday, November 22, 2020

'Twas the Week Before Thanksgivingsmas...

'Twas the week before Thanksgiving, and all through the town, it's looking a lot like Christmas, but with no snow on the ground.

So, in another case of "Who knew we'd do that in a pandemic?", it turns out that super early Christmas decorating is a thing.  I feel like people have been doing it earlier and earlier every year--I probably have seen a handful of Christmas trees before Thanksgiving for at least the past few years--but this year is off the charts.  People have been proudly posting pictures of their Christmas trees on Facebook for close to a month now.  Most waited until after Halloween, at least, but right after that, trees started going up like crazy.  Outside lights have been too, but I blame that more on the once-in-a-blue-moon week-long 70-degree weather we had a couple weeks ago.  But people are definitely turning them on early.  

As a side note, I've said for years that I sort of wish we'd adopt Canadian Thanksgiving.  It would eliminate the Columbus Day controversy (as their day falls on our Columbus Day), and it would allow us to focus on Thanksgiving during the harvest season, then move on to Halloween for a couple weeks, and then go right into Christmas on November 1 as most stores seem to do anyway.  It extends the "official" holiday season and doesn't steal Thanksgiving's thunder.  But good luck with ever changing that...and what would then become of everyone's favorite unofficial holiday, Black Friday?  But I still think it makes all the sense in the world!

On one hand, I think the early decorating is great.  I love Christmas lights and decorations.  I'm always super sad in January when they start to go away, so why wouldn't I like an extra few weeks?  Well, I mean, I do get heaviness in my chest when I see Christmas stuff starting to arrive at stores in October because Christmas is a lot to take mentally.  And this year more than ever I'm getting through days one day at a time, so trying to think about Christmas a whole month early can be overwhelming.  But seeing other people's stuff up is lovely if I just live in the moment for a bit.  It's pretty and it does evoke happy feelings.  And if it gives the decorators a little extra happiness boost during a really challenging time, then good for them. 

But part of me worries a little.  For one, Christmas is such a special time of year, and part of what makes it special is that it is such a limited part of the year.  So if we're extending it, does it lose some of its specialness?  Second, I feel like people are grasping on to Christmas because it's normally such a happy time of year, but I worry that we're building it up to the point where it might set some impossible expectations for a holiday that likely won't live up to it...at least not safely.  We're currently under recommendations to not gather in groups of any more than 10.  So, will it tempt us to do it anyway so Christmas still brings us its usual joy?  Or will we inevitably end up disappointed when we can't do what we want to, and will we be even sadder when our weird Christmas passes us by and it wasn't what we were hoping?  That's basically how I felt about summer.  We had more pool time and outside access and free time than usual, but because we didn't have any special trips or most of the family gatherings that make summer so special, it was still just missing something.  Sometimes I still can't believe it's come and gone.  I think a fully decorated Christmas will be much the same--all the appearance of the holiday, but missing the heart of what makes it special.  It just makes me worry we're going to have a throng of extra depressed folks come January after the holiday doesn't go how they hoped.  I know I'm definitely worried about that for myself.

At this point it looks like we won't be doing any extended family celebrations, and those are really what feel the most festive.  Hopefully we can pull off immediate family stuff--my parents, and Craig's parents and his brother's family--but who knows if that will feel too dangerous by then?  Our Thanksgiving plans have changed a few times for a few reasons (not the least of which is that gathering with Craig's family is automatically over the 10-person limit), but it looks right now like we're just going to mask as much as possible.  It's harder with my parents since we usually stay there, but hopefully we can just be extra careful leading up to both holidays.  But extended family seems unwise for many reasons, and it will definitely be a missing piece for all of us.  So, of course, I'm trying to figure out as many ways to make this year special as I can, whether it's special treats, family PJs, or finding extra special gifts.  But with everything else just feeling overwhelming, who knows how far that will go before I burn out.

For now, there won't be any early decorating around here.  For one, I can only take so much at a time.  I just mentally need to get through Thanksgiving before I move on to Christmas.  My thanksgiving decor only gets so much action anyway (basically only about three weeks if I don't take down Halloween right away) so I want to give my turkeys their due!  I also have three busy days of work (plus one day of Carter homeschooling) this week, so it's not like I have a lot of free time now that we're this close to Thanksgiving.  I may use work breaks to try to put up my dining room tree (at least the tree, maybe not decorations) just because it might involve moving a shelf and I might like to get that done before I bring out the rest of the decorations.  

Part of my issue is also that we're stuck in Christmas tree limbo.  Last year our tree was showing its age with a couple sections that wouldn't light.  I made it work with some extra strings, but knew we should probably get a new one this year.  We shopped a bit last year and did pinpoint one we liked, but I was hesitant to buy it on the spot.  While I pondered, I wanted to get our tree up before we were too deep into December, and then the sale ended before I made the decision to buy it for this year.  I decided I was going to try to find the same one this year as early as I could.  But for various reasons I never got out, so on Saturday we went out as a family to Lowe's and Home Depot.  We looked at trees and dishwashers, then did a detour to the kitchen section to look at countertops.  At Home Depot we found essentially the same tree we wanted last year, but unfortunately it cost more than I remembered.  When I checked my photo of the tag from last year, I took it on November 30, which was a full week after Thanksgiving, and it was on sale.  So...I want that tree but feel like maybe I should wait and see if it goes on sale the week after Thanksgiving once their Black Friday sale ends.  That means the tree may not go up right away, but hopefully I can work on everything else in the meantime.  Or maybe I'll still pull out the other tree as a placeholder (no ornaments) and see how bad the lights are this year.  Then I could at least light it until the new one comes, or if it is even worse this year, I might feel I have no choice regardless of what the price is.  We'll see.

I will say I'm really struggling mentally right now.  I've had trouble sleeping because my brain won't shut off from thinking about the many things I have to do, and with all of the unknowns for both holidays, I'm just a little overwhelmed.  At the same time, in the true spirit of this week's holiday, I'm trying to stay grateful.  Despite our many challenges and all of the worries due to rising COVID cases, we've weathered these last eight months relatively well.  I mean, mentally it's been a challenge with two boys who don't get along--and two parents who are just exhausted from refereeing--so those relationships have struggled.  Screen time is way too common and I'm sure we've created other really bad habits.  But we have two jobs that we work safely from home, our savings is intact, our house is homey enough, we've been relatively healthy (and so have our families), our kids have even had a reasonable amount of in-school time, which many other families have not had, and we really have everything we need.  Heck, my "hardship" was essentially five free weeks of vacation in the middle of summer where my pay was almost identical thanks to happening while the national unemployment bonus was still active.  We're so lucky.  Truly.  But what we're facing now is still hard, and I sometimes wonder how I will make it through the Christmas season when all of these odd little "microstressors" are nipping at my heels.  The unknowns, the pressure to make it a "fun but different" holiday, wondering about the vaccine, worrying about the election (still), and just hoping we all stay healthy and don't pass anything to anyone, all while still trying to make wise, thoughtful decisions that also protect our mental health...it's all a lot to think about, even if it happens in the background most of the time.  It all just builds up, and the longer this goes on, the heavier it feels.  Christmas is a lot to take in during a normal year, and yet I still don't know if the lack of parties, school activities, and "extras" will be a good thing as it's a few less things to stress about, or just another bunch of missing puzzle pieces that will leave the holiday feeling hollow.  

Thanksgiving has its own challenges and questions, and here we are three days out without many answers.  On the bright side, in four more days this set of questions will be behind us and we'll be on our way to the next set.  It's my usual "deep breath" week before all heck breaks loose, but the stakes are so much higher this year just to get off and running.  One day at a time...yet again.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Rise of COVID, The Sequel No One Wanted

So, it's been another odd week.  The kids were off on Wednesday, so I took off.  I was looking forward to a four-day week, even if it meant my plentiful work might have to wait an extra day.  After last week I just needed a day to regroup and get a few things done.  Well, late Tuesday afternoon we got a call from Jacob's school.  These brief robocalls that instruct us to check our email are usually sharing that there were new COVID cases in the school.  There had been a couple calls over the previous few days, totaling nine cases, most of which were related.  But this time, the news was that they were going fully remote for three weeks, until the end of the month.  Ugh.  Jacob is usually pretty good about handling his own work, so I'm not too worried about that, but it definitely complicates days when Carter is home and completely takes away our adult-only days on Tuesday and Friday.  It's like a throwback to the chaos of spring, and I'm not looking forward to it.  

Cases have been growing everywhere in our area--more so in Buffalo, but steadily rising to record levels here, too.  The state put a bunch of new restrictions in place on Monday, mostly limiting gatherings and closing bars, restaurants, and gyms early.  The most immediate ramification was that in-home gatherings were supposed to be limited at 10 people, which effectively would put the kibbosh on our Thanksgiving with Craig's family, as we're usually at least 12, if not more.  The second ramification is that I realized the wedding we were scheduled to attend on Saturday, which was already limited to 50 people for each of two shifts, would now be down to 25, which seemed completely impossible.  Thankfully, we got a message Monday evening that the reception had miraculously moved to a venue outside the "yellow zone", which would enable them to keep their 50 people per shift!  Whew.

In other news, we continued last week's gorgeous summery weather through Tuesday before starting to return to normal on Wednesday and being firmly back in pre-winter by Thursday.  But on Monday, the tree in the front of our house looked like this--that after being almost completely green a week earlier:

The colors were really pretty--more gold on the house side and redder toward the street.  But by Wednesday, we had this:

And Friday we woke up to this.  At a glance it looked like it had snowed:

The tree is now almost empty save for a handful of green and red leaves near the bottom.  And if any of those survive the 65mph wind gusts today and another windy day tomorrow, I'll be shocked.  Looks like the cold might be here to stay.  On the bright side, a year ago this week we had nearly a foot of snow, so I guess I'll still take this.  As much as everyone is decorating for Christmas early to bring some holiday cheer in the midst of this ridiculously difficult time, I just can't get there yet.  I'm already dreading the holidays a bit because I know they won't be the same, and while I do look forward to a cozy, decorated house and a seasonally appropriate coating of snow, there is a part of me that worries it'll be setting up false hope for a holiday that won't be the same.  

For the most part this week felt a lot like that week in March when things rapidly got worse.  We even had another Friday the 13th like we had that week, which essentially ushered in the first round of shutdowns.  Cases have worsened all over the country to previously unseen levels, hospitals are filling (even locally), and I presume Carter going fully remote is inevitable.  As it was, the restrictions this week also included a stipulation that open schools needed to test 20% of their population every week using less invasive rapid tests.  A similar strategy has seemed to work well at U of R this semester, but obviously when you're dealing with little kids it becomes a bigger deal.  If not enough parents opt-in, schools will have to go remote.  We'll see how this goes, if we even make it to that point.  But as a whole it's worrisome.  It's worse than it ever was and so many people just aren't taking it seriously.  They've announced more than once that private gatherings are driving the majority of infections, and it makes sense because people generally wear masks everywhere except restaurant tables (whether they're worn correctly is a different story, but...), but it always feels weird to mask at someone's house.  We need to normalize it somehow, because people just aren't making wise choices.  We all miss normalcy, no doubt about it, and after eight months it's getting really hard.  Since those private gatherings can't really be policed, schools and restaurants are bearing the burden to try to minimize the further spread from those infected at unstoppable gatherings.  

The thing is, we all know none of this is ideal.  People are complaining about the rules and hating on the governor, but truth be told, this is only getting worse and something needs to be done.  Let's say that the death rate is 2.2%, which is the current rate based on reported cases and deaths.  The U.S. population is 328 million.  If we let this run unchecked through the population so everyone gets it and we can "get it over with", you're looking at over 7 million deaths.  Even with a fraction of that so far, we've heard so many nightmarish and sad stories about losses, so I can't even imagine deaths in the millions.  We've already seen on a national level what happens when no one champions any immediate ways to manage it, and I can't say I want to see that happen on a more local level.  I think the weather-driven need for indoor gatherings is mostly to blame for the latest spike, followed by Halloween parties--which means Thanksgiving and Christmas are going to be nightmares as well.  We all already feel so isolated, deprived, and stressed from the last eight months that human contact (outside of our household) is probably the #1 thing we're craving.  And now to think we might miss out on the two last events of the year that we all look forward to the most?  It's almost unthinkable.  But it's probably the only safe thing to do.

No one likes living like this, but after our last round of restrictions brought numbers so far down, we made it a long time before things got worse again.  Maybe we can do it again, but more efficiently if we all cooperate right now.  At the end of the day, the state wouldn't have to regulate this stuff if people made wise decisions on their own.  And as long as the state has a bill to pay for managing this, they probably have a right to limit citizens so that bill doesn't go any higher.  I know people think this is step one to losing our liberties and think it's all overkill for something that's no worse than the flu, but a) there's no reason to believe anyone wants to keep these restrictions when no longer needed (what kind of jerk actually thinks this is a good way to live, and how could it possibly benefit them post-COVID?); and b) it is worse than the flu--the overflowing hospitals (even before the peak of flu season hits) make that case pretty well.  Sure, a lot of people come through it no problem, but the problem is that the asymptomatic folks can unknowingly pass it along to someone who can't tolerate it as well.  There's so much to think about right now to balance your life and the risks.

All that said, as I mentioned, we went to a wedding this weekend.  We knew we'd be spending most of it masked, but we were happy to do it for Craig's cousin.  We actually went through lot of COVID chaos beforehand trying to figure out what to do with the boys.  Jacob was supposed to have basketball on Saturday, so my parents were going to come in and take him to the game, then drive the boys back to Buffalo, where we could meet them after the wedding.  Then my dad got scheduled for a medical procedure and had to get a COVID test Friday, after which he'd need to socially distance.  So then it was down to my mom, but it was also a little risky to have her with the boys and then go home to my dad, but we didn't really have any options on Craig's side, either.  His mom just had surgery on Friday and it wasn't clear if she'd even be home by then, so it didn't really work to leave the boys there.  In the end my mom came out to our house, but Jacob's basketball game got canceled (and the rest of the season postponed), so her exposure was pretty minimal.  She was just going to stay with the boys at our house and decide once we got home (which was supposed to be pretty early) whether to stay overnight.  

It was a cool but partly sunny day, actually pretty decent for this time of year.  I was excited to wear a new dress (well, I bought it forever ago super cheap but had never worn it) that I was originally planning to wear to my cousin's wedding in March that got postponed.  Ironically, unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, they got married in a private ceremony on Saturday as well!  A party will be forthcoming, but I'm so happy for them, too!  

The church for the wedding we went to was gorgeous.  

The ceremony was sweet (aside from the coughing priest, anyway!).  The mother of the groom (Craig's aunt) came in holding her grandson, Cooper, who you might remember me holding after the bridal shower a while back.  He was so handsome!  The mother of the bride had a baby in her arms, too--her granddaughter!    

I loved the rose window in the back of the church.

Everything was so gorgeous.  I know the Catholic church gets a bad wrap for the opulence (and related expense) of its churches, but they sure are lovely to worship in.

The groom is a fireman, and the truck was waiting to greet them outside the church.  And yes, the bride was gorgeous as ever! 

While the new venue was a ways out into the country to be outside the yellow zone, it ended up being a beautiful place.  From the balcony and beams to the light fixtures and outdoor patio, it was such a pretty space.  I would have loved to get married in a spot like that!

Note the bride and groom up top!

Every detail, from the table of family wedding pictures and another of family members who had passed, to adorable place cards and amazing desserts, was perfect.  The bride did a ton of those touches herself, and it was really beautiful and elegant without being overdone. 

We had to be masked unless we were sitting at the table, so we did take a moment to capture a selfie then!

The health inspector showed up mid-reception which prompted a little scrambling to make sure people weren't skirting the rules.  That was some unneeded stress for the bride, but it all seemed to work out okay.  I think as a whole people were trying really hard.  It turned out that a few people dropped out of the late session, so we were able to stay later than planned (but not too late--everything now needs to shut down at 10pm).  It was nice to see some of the late shift cousins and have a little more adult interaction before heading back to reality.  We had such a wonderful time.

I won't lie, I felt a little like Cinderella coming back home to reality, after being dressed up for the first time in ages and having a night that felt at least a little closer to normalcy despite all the precautions.  Now we just have the holidays to look ahead to, and those will probably be even more challenging, so it was a bit of a bummer to have this night behind us.  So much is changing and it's hard to think of going back to stricter regulations.  We marveled this week at work, as our at-home status was extended to at least February, about how we went from two weeks seeming like forever, to a few months, to half a year, and now facing down likely a full year out of the office.  And yet here we are, still hanging in there.  It's probably good we didn't know from the beginning that it would go this long because it would have been completely overwhelming.  I've said from the beginning we basically need to take this one day at a time, and that's still my feeling.  It's getting harder and there are days when the stress of it all gets overwhelming and deflating.  I spend way too much time playing games and painting by number on my phone right now because it's a way to stay off Facebook and escape from the bigger problems.  Probably not the best coping technique, but as we all seem to say lately, it is what it is.  There isn't much we can do about it right now, so we just make it work.  It might mean we have a few more problems to solve once this is over, but whatever gets you through right now might just be what has to happen.  But for one night at least, it was fun to remember what life is supposed to be like, and I really want to get back to that soon.  Mask up and be considerate, folks.  We're all in this together.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Guess What, Politics and Kids DO Mix!

I feel like I have a unique perspective on this year's election mess for multiple reasons.  At the most basic level, I'm a long-time registered Republican so I obviously spent a lot of years of my life believing in many of those policies.  However, in recent years there have been additional things I've come to a better understanding of that have changed those views, at least to a degree, and in some areas more than others.  So, in the end, I generally understand where both sides are coming from, or at least understand what's fueling the fears, concerns, or desperation coming from either side, even if I don't agree with where those feelings are taking them or how they want to solve an issue.  I think a lot of people that are firmly on one side--and always have been--have either not been exposed to other ideas (at least not in a way that resonates with them) or just aren't open to understanding.  I could give lots of examples here, but ultimately, my point is that I feel that I have seen both sides and can be comfortable with where I've landed because of that process.  The logic and internal debates I have worked through to get where I am have made me a better, more thoughtful and empathetic person in the end.

Another reason I feel my perspective is unique?  Because I have a microcosm of our new national "civil war" in my own house.  I have two children that are so fundamentally different that their ability to find a common ground seems impossibly hampered.  Despite having the same parents and living in the same house with their bedroom doors literally inches from each other, their commonalities seem very limited.  And as a parent, it's exhausting trying to be the peacemaker.  So, like in politics, I find myself similarly stuck in the middle of two sides that I understand but feel powerless to bring back together.

Over this past week as the election has been up in the air (and now decided but disputed), there have been a few of my Republican friends saying, "Oh sure, after four years of giving Trump nothing but grief, NOW you want to be the peacemakers?  No way!"  Of course, they're missing the other half of the story, that Trump spent four-plus years insulting and personally attacking the other side.  Both sides are guilty of misbehavior, and it's honestly hard to know who started it.  I can say with confidence that Trump made it the norm with calling female politicians "nasty" and openly calling his opponent by a disparaging nickname in speeches and tweets, and none of that is going to increase civility or make anyone want to make up.  Maybe the Dems never gave him a chance, but maybe they just decided to fight fire with fire.  And sure, you can't expect all should be forgiven in a few days and we'll all live together in harmony, but here's the thing--until someone decides to be the bigger person and move on, nothing is ever going to get better.  How do I know that?  Because I see it in my kids Every. Single. Day.  It is exhausting.  It feels like banging your head on a wall over and over again.   We never know who started it because neither will claim it.  Inevitably when we trace back the start of a fight, each one can provide a further explanation of their revenge.  Why did you kick him?  He hit me first!  Why did you hit him?  He called me a name.  Why did you call him a name?  He nudged my chair?  Why did you nudge his chair?  He looked at me funny.  Why did you look at him funny?  But I didn't look at him funny!  It could go on forever.  Maybe someone imagined it or took something the wrong way.  Maybe someone overreacted.  Maybe someone was goaded repeatedly until they finally snapped and were the one to get caught.  There's rarely an identifiable source, but as I always tell them, you may not be able to control the other person, but you should have control over yourself and you can make the decision not to escalate it.  But of course, that means the other person "wins" and that is unacceptable.  So now what?  How does the cycle end?

Just like in politics, one of them has to be the bigger person and stop it--whether it's not instigating or it's not reacting, someone has to be bigger than the "win" and go for a long-term reward.  Too bad kids are instant gratification masters.  Sigh.  Of course, that begs the question, why can't the grownups do it?  Maybe because most of them act like toddlers as well, but that's another story.  Personally, once the name-calling and bullying expert exits the White House, that does seems like as good a time as any for a fresh start.  It won't be easy, but I'm hoping that the president-elect starts making decisions that both groups can unify around.  Trust has to be rebuilt that this isn't about one side vs. another, but rather finding a common ground and being able to compromise.  After four years of the internal battle, though, finding that common ground without one side assuming the other is lying or trying to screw them over feels almost impossible.

Likewise in our house, we need to rebuild trust.  Jacob says a lot of hurtful things to Carter.  I'm not even sure he realizes how often he mocks him, makes fun of him, puts down his ideas, or otherwise makes him feel stupid.  I think that's a lot of the reason why Carter is so oversensitive to critiques and criticism now.  He's spent his whole life having his brother put him down, and it seems to have taken a toll.  When Jacob gives him these little jabs, he tries to play it off like he's joking.  The only problem is, a joke isn't funny if you don't know the other person is kidding.  If you really think about it, if your friend says, "Haha, you're such a jerk!", you need that layer of trust to know that they're joking, even if they say it in a laughing way.  Yet even if you do trust them, if there's too much of that good natured ribbing, you might still end up questioning their intentions.  It can be a delicate balance.  So you can imagine, then, when that trust isn't there, it only makes the divide bigger.  Jacob doesn't understand that he needs to rebuild the trust that's been fractured all these years (basically since Carter was born, but more visibly since Carter has been old enough to understand his disdain) before he can really joke with him.  But it's such a habit for him that he doesn't even know he's doing it, and he just keeps piling it on.  That only upsets Carter more, and you can almost understand why Carter fights back, both mentally and physically.  Jacob then takes those behaviors personally.  He's annoyed that Carter prefers screens, he hates that Carter is a bad sport and wants to quit almost everything he plays, and he seems to hold him personally responsible for changing the dynamic in the house...even though it was Jacob's reaction to him that probably started the chain reaction.  Not that he had control over it back then, but so much damage has been done in the interim that it's almost impossible to unpack it all.  Through therapy Jacob has become more aware that a lot of his behaviors stem from his long-standing jealousy, but he has a harder time admitting that jealousy might still be playing a part now.  He points the finger at his brother for the behaviors above and says that those trigger his frustrations and make him react badly.  And to some degree, he's right--Carter needs to be easier-going, he needs to get off the screens, he needs to talk about different topics, and he needs to have more patience to avoid flying off the handle.  He'd be much easier to live with.  But Jacob also needs to be more understanding of Carter's quirks (he's older, after all) and he needs to accept his brother for who he is.  Even though one usually needs to take the first step, in the end both need to make concessions to make it all work.

So, in our house, as in politics, while you may be able to go back and identify the greater instigator, both parties are equally at fault for various squabbles along the way.  And in the end, it takes a combination of someone taking that first step to start the reconciliation and both continuing the steps to continue the reconciliation.  I don't know who that first-stepper is going to be in politics or in our house, but I do know it needs to happen in both cases.  Living in conflict in two areas of life is completely draining.  And that's not even taking into consideration all of the other stressors that are complicating things further right now.  But that's another story for another post...

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Well, that was quite a week...

I won't lie, I'm feeling pretty worn out by this week, and that's even with the relatively happy ending in our household as of this morning.  

It was super chilly through Tuesday (with even a little snow on the ground on Monday), which of course meant that going out to vote and grab lunch (on our one kid-less day this week, after having none last week) was done in cold and a few flurries.  Our voting was quick and uneventful, and it was nice to grab some lunch out to bring home.  Lunch at home is the new date night, I guess.

The sunset on Election Night was beautiful and much needed.  

Obviously the election was the focal point of the entire week, keeping our eyes peeled on the news and trying to avoid as much of the conflict on social media as we could.  I downloaded about three new games this week alone to avoid doom-scrolling.  Based on previous posts, you can imagine that we were happy with the results that came through this morning.  I understand the stress of the folks on the other side, though--heck, we felt it deeply four years ago, and the unknowns and concerns weigh heavily.  All I can really say is that Trump's divisive nature, half-truths, and narcissistic behavior were exhausting to me, someone who has never been that into politics.  It was worse in the last nine months or so, where it seemed like we were hearing from him every day, and every speech seemed to bring a new concerning quote or lack of action.  If I felt a weight from those things, I can only imagine how it felt for people who felt threatened, ignored, or oppressed by this administration.  I don't blame them for openly celebrating their freedom from that today, and it goes so far beyond the usual presidential victory that often feels akin to a sporting event to me.  For so many people it feels like a huge moral victory, and while I don't entirely understand the mindset of the other side, I do feel for their current angst because I remember it all too well.  And I'm honestly not sure a lot of Biden supporters could have mentally gone through four more years of the same stresses (and beyond) that I was feeling.  I truly think suicides might have spiked even higher than they already have during the pandemic.  This was so much bigger than individual political issues for so many people.  I did not like what I saw for the last four years, for so many reasons.  Even if some of the legislation was fine, the tone with which it was done and the general environment around it was difficult to wrangle.  Does it cancel out removing a less helpful former president's legislation if you insult a different race in the process because of deeply seeded bias?  Quite possibly.  Does it cancel out the benefit of a travel ban from China if you take little other action and insist the coronavirus is "going away" when cases are peaking?  In my opinion, most definitely.  So, I am relieved that we at least get a new talk track, and a more sincere, humble one at that.

Anyway, back to the week.  Work was extremely busy all week, but I was productive and kept my projects moving, which felt good.  However, I felt like everything else was discombobulated.  It was one of those weeks where everything just seemed to pile up--from issues with the kids to messes everywhere I looked, from countless undone tasks to a literal eternal pile of dishes since our dishwasher is out of commission.  Maybe the political stress compounded it, but I finally made a list on my phone and started trying to work through it.  Only partial success so far, but hopefully more tomorrow.

Starting Wednesday, it was gorgeous out--not just warm, but sunny!  We're now in the midst of a full week of sunny 60s and even 70s, which is nearly unheard of in November.  I guess it almost makes up for all the 40s and rain we had in the couple weeks before Halloween, but it's just a bummer that most of the leaves aren't there to enjoy anymore.  Working from home on days like these, especially at this time of year where after work daylight is non-existent, is really nice.  Not only can you easily go out and enjoy the weather at lunch or when you need a break, but you can even take care of pesky yard tasks in full daylight during a weekday lunch, rather than spending an hour of your precious weekend.  On Wednesday and Friday I spent part of my lunch cleaning up my garden.  The cold over the weekend finally killed it off (along with most of my flowers), so I had to finally go back out and clear out the tomato plants.  The cukes died off a while ago, and the zucchini and beans came out a couple weeks ago when they stopped growing.  But the tomatoes were still producing, so I left them.  Well, once the cold killed them, I figured most would be mush.  However, when I started clearing out the fencing on Wednesday, I collected this:

Fried green tomatoes, anyone?

I finished the job on Friday and collected another couple handfuls, too.  Those plants couldn't be pulled out intact because they were so tangled in the fencing and tomato cages, but they had to be over eight feet tall!

As if this week wasn't enough already, I found out some amazing news--not ours, and definitely not ours to share--but amazing nonetheless.  That made the last couple days even more eventful!  Hopefully I can share a little here soon.  But it was just another part of a crazy, roller coaster week!

With the gorgeous weather again today, I wanted to make sure we got out in it.  After seeing the presidential results come through, I did a run this morning--my first in two months thanks to my leg/butt pain, the weather, and illness. It ended up being a bunch of intervals over three miles because I am clearly out of shape, but at least my bad leg felt better!  In the afternoon, since Jacob had to miss his game last weekend, I let Craig keep his turn in the game-watching department and Carter and I went on another adventure.  This time we went north, to the lake.  We went to Hamlin Beach State Park.  I only think of Hamlin as a couple towns over from us, but it's a solid half hour, straight north to the lake then straight west on the expressway.  But it was a lovely drive along the lake!

Carter's first priority was the playground, of course!  But at least the view from up top was beautiful!

Carter loved how the sun made the leaves look like gold! 

After the playground, we walked out on a pier.  There were tons of geese in the water nearby, audibly squawking up a storm!

There wasn't much color left, but everything was so blue today!

Erosion and high water has been a big problem in this area for a couple years now, but this spot seems pretty set with all these giant rocks!

It was a lovely, peaceful day.  Despite a bit of a breeze, the lake was very still.  

We came across a nature trail and attempted to hike it.  Carter, as usual, got in a good run.

The color wasn't what it once was, but it definitely had some late fall charm.  

Along the walk there was a long wooden walkway that went out into what I imagine was a giant bog of grasses.  It looked pretty dry in between ponds, but maybe it's wetter in summer?  I assume all of this was green a couple months ago (much like what was along the river when Carter and I went to Turning Point Park), but I'm not sure.  You could just see the lake in the distance.

Along the path we saw this amazing spot where the trees made an arch over the path.  The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was cool.

At one point we got to this pine section, and Carter was convinced that it was like something out of a horror movie!  He's right--in the movies they should not have gone in there!

But it was very serene in the middle of it!

By this point I was getting a little nervous about where we might pop out or how long the walk might end up, so once we saw this last pretty spot, I went toward what looked like a clearing.  It dropped us a bit outside the park entrance, but it left us a reasonably direct walk back in the end.  And thank goodness, because I was getting tired!

On our way back to the playground, we stopped in this one small spot that had direct access to the water.  We jumped out of the way of waves as we looked at the stones near the water.  It reminded me of Camp Pioneer, right down to the abundance of zebra mussel shells.  Some of the rocks were really pretty, though, and the lapping water was so peaceful.  

Carter had a field day finding fancy rocks, and I even found a couple tiny pieces of green glass.  It was fun seeing him collect treasures, even if it did mean we had full hands and pockets for a bit!  This is our haul.  I think the bigger ones might make it out to the garden one of these days, to hang out with the other big ones I brought home from Camp Pioneer.  Some of the smaller ones will probably end up with his panned rocks from Howe Caverns and his crystals from his fossil dig-type Christmas gift last year.

After that it was back to the playground for a bit before heading home for dinner, a movie, and a certain very important political speech.

It wasn't quite as amazing as our last outing, but it's always fun to get out in nature and get Carter away from screens for a while, especially on a gorgeous day like today.  I just like exploring new places, and seeing Carter find some fun in it was a nice bonus.  

A few more gorgeous days left, plus a day off this coming week.  Next weekend we have a family wedding, which will be fun but different with COVID...but what else is new?  Cases are on the rise so I'm hoping nothing gets in the way in the meantime.  If nothing else, we made it through the first limbo week of November relatively unscathed.  Let's see if we can keep the next couple interesting...in a good way!

Monday, November 2, 2020

A Very 2020 Halloween

This Halloween was shaping up to be a weird one anyway, but it was even more out of sorts than expected.  Problem #1 was that Jacob's COVID test from Thursday still hadn't come back with a result.  My results arrived in about 36 hours, but his were taking longer.  Part of the issue was that he's under 18 and therefore couldn't have direct portal access, either himself or through my account.  So we were essentially at the mercy of the lab to send them manually.  In the end, the lab never did send them.  I finally got a text at 2:30pm on Sunday from New York State with the result, which was thankfully negative.  But, of course, the result was more than a day too late, both for his Saturday basketball game and for his Halloween.  But at least it was in time for school today!  Still, Jacob was bummed on Saturday when I refused to bring out his DJ costume stuff from last year.  He originally just wanted to enhance it this year with a few more things, but we never got to the store (again, weird year) and obviously we couldn't go at the last minute due to his illness.  He kept asking me to get what we had out of the crawl space, but I reminded him he couldn't go near trick-or-treaters nor could he go out himself, and I didn't want to tempt him.  It was definitely a bummer, but we've since given him a bunch of candy to ease the loss.  But it's one of his last Halloweens as a kid and it was certainly not the way he wanted to spend it.

Because this year was so screwy, it's fitting that despite two previous opportunities to buy pumpkins, we didn't get them until Friday.  And even then it was a bit of a squeeze.  I stopped working a bit early (it had been a long week!) and dragged Carter out on a chilly, rainy day to the Garden Factory an hour before closing time.  We usually go there for indoor activities and pumpkin buying, but this year they didn't have any events.  But they do have a half price sale at the end!  On the way there, I asked Carter what kind of pumpkin we should get.  He said he wanted to do one using the stem as the nose, which I found out later came from the movie "Goosebumps".  Since he hadn't been that into the pumpkin buying at first, I really wanted to indulge his creative idea.  So we headed out into the cold drizzle to look at what was left of the pumpkins, and we searched for one that would sit nicely on its side.  I had been intent on not getting a giant pumpkin this year since they're so much work to carve (and I always do it solo), but when the perfect pumpkin turned out to be a 27-pounder, into the cart it went!  And since they were so cheap, we grabbed a uniquely shaped tall one, a squat cream-colored one, and a small orange one to complement the decorative ones we got at Stokoe Farms.  All told, including a few big apples for apple pie, it all cost less than what we would have paid for that single 27-pounder!  I spent most of Friday evening carving them with a little input from Carter.  This was the result, just before they went outside on Saturday:

As for Saturday, it ended up being quite the crazy day.  For starters, I woke up and saw this in the yard:

It was a rather large doe, and she ended up sitting there for at least an hour and a half.  The yard was quite pretty with constantly falling leaves and some long-awaited sun, so maybe she just wanted a nice view.  But admittedly, after our twin fawn deaths a number of years ago, any deer hanging out in our yard makes me nervous!  We do see evidence of deer once in a while--my half-eaten tomato plants, hoof divots in the yard--but it's still pretty rare to see one around.  I couldn't spend too much time admiring her because I had bills to pay (nothing like waiting until the last minute) and a long day to prepare for.  

We eventually had to rush through lunch amidst checking my email obsessively for test results (in case Jacob could play his game at the last minute), just so Carter and I could hop in the car on time to head out for a busy afternoon.  First stop was the church where his basketball games were last winter.  They were finally handing out the end-of-season prizes that they usually give out at the big closing celebration.  He got a pretty cool basketball and a really good ice cream sandwich from a local ice cream stand.  After we did that drive-thru process, we had to go park at the Wegmans across the street so he could eat his ice cream (costume down around his waist, just in case), mostly because we couldn't get to our next stop too early due to space issues. 

Our second stop was our church's socially distanced Trunk-or-Treat.  As cute as Carter looked in his costume, we discovered pretty quickly that we had a problem.  I guess I should start with the story of his costume.  Originally he wanted to be Fishstick from Fortnite.  He loves Fishstick YouTube videos, and it seemed to be his favorite Fortnite skin.  The problem was that the Halloween store version (Fishstick as a pirate) was $60, and the Target version (a regular Fishstick) was $35.  That was still expensive but doable, but it was nearly immediately sold out.  I couldn't find anything else similar anywhere.  I wasn't sure what we were going to do, and one night we went to the Halloween store to browse for other options.  It became clear that nothing was jumping out at Carter, but as we shopped, I noticed one single Fishstick pirate costume hanging on an endcap.  It was the right size and was incredibly marked half off, but it was damaged.  I looked at the large tear along a seam on the front and wasn't sure it was doable, so I stuffed it back in the bag.  We left that night empty-handed and I figured maybe we'd look online again or see what Party City had to offer.  But the more I thought about it, the more I was sure we weren't going to find anything he liked as much.  So after a long work day and school day, 24 hours later I dragged him back to the store to see if he could try it on, or if it was at least returnable.  We found out that because it was marked down, it wasn't returnable, and they weren't doing try-ons either.  Thankfully, the manager had mercy on us and let us use the bathroom to see if it was at least a decent fit.  And thank goodness, it was.  So $30 later, it was ours.  I brought it home, did about 45 minutes worth of stitching, and poof, perfect costume!  I did a shockingly good job with fraying fabric considering I fixed it by hand.  You never would have known!  But aside from putting it on once to test it out and again for a school assignment, we left the costume alone so it didn't rip out again.  

Fast-forward to Halloween, and we put on the full mask (with COVID face mask under) upon arrival at the trunk-or-treat.  First he was having issues with his face mask sliding down.  Then his hat fell off.  Then we realized he could barely see, and I was essentially having to lead him around like a blind person.  Because all of the stations involved socially distanced candy distribution, it was really hard for him to see or hear what he needed to do to get his candy.  I think he was so distracted by all of it that he hardly ever remembered to say "thank you", and when he did it was hard to hear behind double masks.  The whole thing just felt really awkward and I had a sense of impending doom about how the evening might go.

But at least he looked really cute!  (OK, weird but cute!)

As I alluded to, they tried to find as many creative ways as possible to give out candy without contact.  It was hung on clips, it was wheeled to us on a skateboard, it was under numbered buckets, and it was even shot out of a unicorn's butt!

With the pooping unicorn, who shot candy directly into the well-placed bucket from its butt!

This one had the cutest Great Pumpkin/Charlie Brown theme!

In the jungle, the candy came through an elephant's trunk!

At the end there was an obstacle course, which he obviously took off his mask to do!

Carter was pretty dejected by the end of the event.  He had a nice bucket of candy and trinkets, but we were really nervous about how trick-or-treating might go in the dark, if it was this hard in the light.  We talked about doing it without a mask ("but then I'm just a pirate with orange arms!"), or even changing costumes to Jacob's 2nd grade costume (but it was pretty similar to Carter's last year and we tried so hard to get this one), but neither of those sounded good.  Back at home, I desperately grabbed the mask and thankfully realized that the mesh in the eye hole could be pulled off basically intact (just in case), and once that was off, it seemed much easier to see.  After that, Carter's spirits were revived a bit.

After all that, Saturday afternoon still wasn't over!  I took an hour-plus round trip drive to pick up donuts for Jacob (last round until next October), followed by some slightly hectic dinner decisions and subsequent food pick-ups.  After that, out the carved pumpkins went with the rest of the porch pumpkins!

As for trick-or-treating, Carter and I got ourselves bundled for a very chilly (but thankfully dry) evening out.   

Note the eye slit is no longer orange--you can just see eyes in there now!

We did all of the next street over, which is usually hoppin', but it was a bit lower key this year.  By the end of that street, he was a bit chilly and wanted to head back, knowing the plan was to warm up and go out for a shift with Craig.  We got better gloves than what his costume had to keep his hands warm, and back out they went!  By the end of the night, he probably did about 25-30 houses.  Not too shabby!  As for us, we only had about nine trick-or-treaters total, but that was better than last year's rainout where we only had two!  

As a whole, once we got through some growing pains early in the day, Carter had a pretty decent Halloween.  But it was definitely a double bummer for Jacob, who not only missed trick-or-treating, but also his basketball game.  We're thankful he was negative, but it stinks it took so long to get that answer.  Hopefully he decides to give it (at least) one more go next year.  I'd hate to see his kid Halloweens end like this.

As for the rest of the weekend, I braved the wind and rain to drive to Buffalo to drop off cookie dough from Jacob's fundraiser to Craig's cousin and my mom.  It was taking over my freezer so I wanted to get it out quickly!  Despite the weather it wasn't a bad trip.  I had a blast with Craig's cousin (our flower girl), her husband, and her sweet baby girl.  She was born a couple months early but is absolutely taking the world by storm.  She's already close to crawling at eight months and is such an active, inquisitive, adorable little girl!  Then I headed to my parents' to catch the end of the Bills' game and hang out.  Thankfully, after an hour and a half in a mask at stop #1, I got Jacob's result on the drive so I could go maskless with my parents!  After a nice but quick visit, I got on the road just before the sun set on the first night post-time change.  As a result, it was a mostly dark drive, but I was still home in time for dinner, and now we're off and running to another week--and a crazy one it will likely be!

Big day tomorrow!  But we'll see if I decide to spew my election emotions here or not...hang in there, folks.