2017-2020 Catchup

(Sheltering in Place, Quarantine, Whatever . . .it’s Groundhog’s Day!)

Indeed, whatever your views on weather prediction by rodents, or Bill Murray movies, it’s hard we hope that at some point 2020 brings you the usual—peace, love and joy, family and friends, gratitude and kindness. All things that we are all in need of right now.
We find ourselves now in a world of separation from others, on the one hand, and a lot of togetherness in our living quarters, on the other. It’s been a time of remoteness, where everything is electronic, and often frustrating, and time consuming, yet also the only way we have to communicate with those we love and cherish. Days blend together, and in the hours we are not staring at screens, pounding on keyboards, or just waiting for the security confirmation code to be sent to you for the site you just accessed yesterday, there is time to think. And remember. And realize what we have missed.
I have to confess, and apologize, especially since I can’t quote novel coronavirus as an excuse, for having been in the ground-hog day repetitive time-loop for the past three years, in a really negative way. Somehow, December and January 2017 got away from me, and I did not get my usual seasonal greetings out; I felt badly, but thought I could do better in 2018, except that turned out to be the year we decided to downsize, sell our house, and buy a condo. That happened in fall 2017 and we completed all of it and MOVED in January. Stressed out, I barely got through Christmas, and I suspect that even if I’d found the time, expressions of goodwill and cheer might have been just a tad insincere.
Now, though, it has been forcibly brought home to me how much I treasure all of you, and all of the memories we have, together and apart. What have I to really do but think, and remember. So, if you still think of us, and perhaps have a few moments to read, I am offering you a quick tour through the last three years.

Yes, we actually have bought a condo in Florida, and spend winters there. How stereotypical! I never would have thought that would be us. But we do love the laid-back lifestyle on Sanibel Island. It also gives us proximity to Alexis and her family. Tonya and Wendy and their families are both now in Los Angeles, so we are near them, as well. We have learned, over the years, that family is, and always will be, first. (I’ve posted a few letters from the past that demonstrate how the family grew and grew and grew and grew.)
Forging ahead, if you are interested, please see the Cliff Notes of what I should have written to you in 2017. 2018 and of course, 2019.
Short version, all the usual things happened: Chuck and I and our adult kids and their spouses aged up a bit, grandchildren grew. There were graduations, plays, recitals. Life, as we knew it, went on. Time passed. Those years, particularly the downsizing/moving part, made us realize that the three score and ten years of life had some actual meaning. We decided to try to get through our “bucket list” of travel while we still had the physical ability to do so.
Still with me? Feel free to stop whenever. I mean it. I am not one of those “oh, no not another Christmas letter!!” people. I like getting Christmas letters, I like keeping in touch–I know, I know–so really, please stop whenever you want.

2017: Memorable Moments
To celebrate our 50th anniversary, (December 30, 1966), we decided to take a cruise out of New Zealand to the sub-Antarctic islands right after Christmas. Where?? you may ask, and it’s a fair question. We have become interested in the polar regions, having been to Antarctica, and having gone through the Northwest Passage in previous years. So, the sub-Antarctic islands are a small chain of islands uninhabited (for good reason) by humans, and thus have prolific wildlife. It was on this trip that I learned that there are 17 sub-species of penguins, and that there are quite a few people (I think of them as the Penguinteers, though that may not be the official group name) whose purpose is to observe all 17 sub-species in their natural habitat. Though several penguins common to the Antarctic live on these islands, there are three found only in these sub-Antarctic islands. Thus, there was great excitement amongst the group when it was announced that conditions were favorable to dropping anchor in an area often unfriendly to sailing, hence its name, The Snares, giving access to the breeding grounds of those rarely seen penguins. Unfortunately, The Snares lived up to its name. and the ship sailed over an uncharted “pinnacle” which ripped a hole in the hull, making it necessary to navigate out, with disappointed, to say the least, Penguinteers hanging over the sides for a possible sighting. The Captain, with his usual insouciance and cheer (did I mention this ship was French?) announced that the slight, 15 degree list to starboard was due to the water rushing into one of the ballast compartments, but we were not to worry, because all of the compartments were watertight. We were to return to New Zealand for repairs, due to the fact that we were out of normal shipping lanes. Thus, should there be a problem, there were no other nearby ships. This sounded sinisterly familiar, like maybe the Titanic, but perhaps the explanation was more reassuring in French than in the English translation. We spent a day returning to a repair port, while I contemplated if I would share my piece of wrecked lifeboat with Chuck. I would. Probably.
In March we had a much more peaceful trip, embarking as we do every few years with our three daughters on a “family vacation”, in which three adult women immediately return to childhood, and my Mom persona kicks right in. Seriously, we had a delightful barge trip on the Thames river, and Chuck and I feel so fortunate that our girls still enjoy being with us and with each other. The highlight: a private tour of “Downton Abbey”.
Our other big decision was to sell the house, and downsize into a smaller dwelling, since we were spending more time on Sanibel Island off the west coast of Florida, and, after all, there were only two of us now. We thought we’d find a condo, because between our “bucket list” traveling and the time we were spending in Florida, maintenance was getting harder. Finding a California condo turned out to be more difficult than we thought, or else we were just too picky. This resulted in something else I would never have thought we’d do; when a unit came up for sale in a complex we knew well, we bought it over the Internet. Fortunately, we had a trusted friend and agent looking out for us, and our daughter Wendy went with her to check it out, Facetimed details to us, and we took the plunge. We do like it, but, as was the plan, it is smaller. Thus, we spent a lot of time Marie Kondo-ing the things we have accumulated over the years. I tried to give a lot to the girls, but it turned out that much of what I treasured did not give them joy. We made a large charitable donation because I really couldn’t face the idea of an estate sale. Also, because Chuck kept taking things back that were marked to go, and that might have annoyed people who thought they’d bought them.

2018: Memorable Moments
Actually, early 2018 is pretty much a blur. Our house had sold within a week of listing it, and we had to be out by mid-January. My calendar shows that the packers came January 8th. We needed to have some work done in the new place, so it wasn’t ready. We did the only logical thing: we had them put everything into the two rooms in the condo that weren’t being worked on, and lacking a place to live, we decamped to Sanibel. We unpacked slowly over the spring and summer, and are now mostly settled in., though I am often unsure about our ownership of certain items (Did we give them away? Send them to Florida? Toss them? Put them in some unlikely drawer?) and spend quite a bit of time searching for things I may or may not own.
Feeling buoyed by the success of the Thames river cruise, we decided to return to the bucket list, and settled on a trip to China in May. Everyone should see the Great Wall, right? Chuck, thoughtfully, booked us massages at the hotel spa the night we arrived after a long flight. We were the last appointments, and evidently someone forgot to notify the night staff that there was still activity at 10:00 pm. When I came out of the massage room the hall lights had been turned off, and I started to walk towards a light that I knew must come from the reception area. Unfortunately, in the dark, with my aging eyes, I did not see a step, tripped, fell, and broke my right shoulder. Result: a middle of the night trip to the Chinese emergency room, hurried care consultations, repair of five separate shoulder breaks, and a week in the Chinese Private Hospital, which I have to tell you, was a very modern facility. Chuck was able to see parts of Beijing outside of the hospital, and I got a quick tour by wheelchair of part of the Wall, and a Panda habitat. China, checked off the list. Just as well, in retrospect. Summer back in LA, lots of physical therapy.
The families all came to Big Bear, in the mountains outside of Los Angeles, in late July. We rented a large party house and enjoyed each other’s company. All good.
The rest of the year, once again, was rinse and repeat: plays, recitals, visits, friends, food, and unpacking ,unpacking, unpacking.

IF you are still with me, 2019: Memorable Moments
All family members remained well, working, volunteering, performing, studying, rinse and repeat. We are so fortunate. Otherwise, China, and the almost Titanic incident, served as, perhaps counter—intuitively, encouragement to return to the travel bucket list. We weren’t getting younger, and weren’t ready for a life of river barges, nice as that was, just yet. It was time to keep moving. In the spring, Chuck and I went to Singapore—very clean, very orderly, which actually creeped me out some. I guess I am not used to order.
From Singapore, we boarded a ship from our favorite French cruise line (yes, we forgave them The Snares , and besides, they gave us a big credit for that incident) and went to Borneo and Indonesia. Highlights there included a visit to the protected habitat of the Komodo Dragons. They are very big, and definitely scary, but at heart just nasty giant vicious carnivorous lizards. We moved on to Indonesia, where highlights included the orangutan preserve, water buffalo races, and village visits. The orangutans are not easily accessible, and the habitat very limited, which forced consideration of conservation issues. They are very cool to watch, though. Just a note: in the photo of the water buffalo race, that water is very dirty. Very dirty. Very very dirty. The genesis, and purpose, of this event is to plow and fertilize the fields, so you get my drift.
Next, Wendy’s boys had yet to experience Europe, so when school ended, we took off for Italy. Because it was all new to them, and we only had a week, we went with a limited itinerary: Rome, Pompeii, Sorrento. Their reaction: “Wow! It’s really there and looks just like what’s in the books”. Actually, that was very rewarding, particularly in their appreciation of the history—and the art—they got to see in person.
We should do that again. Perhaps, one day before they are too old, we can.
While on the Borneo trip, and under the influence of French food and topical skies, we decided with a couple of fellow travelers, that we would sign up for the Siberia and Russian arctic trip offered later that year. That’s why the fall found us embarking from Nome across the Bering Sea, to Siberia. Two things here: getting an American visa into Russia can fill a couple of months’ time, so perhaps you can consider it as a great quarantine activity. Also, Siberia looks exactly like you think it would. On our one visit to one town, (escorted by a Russian warship) we were treated to a staged production of “local culture” and some cookies. The various cultural groups listed as participating did seem to have a number of the same performers. Also, the pedestrians became familiar faces during our few hours on shore. I was dubious of their ability to walk up and down the same streets continuously, but since that has become pretty normal in the US these days, perhaps I was too quick to question. After that, a sail along the Siberian coast which looked, well, Siberian. Final stop, Wrangell Island, above the Arctic Circle. Wrangell is a world heritage site, and home to the largest population of polar bears anywhere in the world. Also, perhaps the largest walrus breeding ground. And lots of seals. We found the bears to be healthy, and presumably happy. They looked well fed. The walrus were big, both in size and number. They also are very smelly. The seals are cuter.

So, 2020.
We all know there isn’t much personal news out of 2020 yet. Neither of us have used the time to learn a new language, other than Zoom, write a novel, or do any of those great self-improvement or creative things I see on the Internet. If you have been so productive, I congratulate you. We feel that getting through frustration, occasional depression, cabin fever, an innumerable amount of streaming episodes and series, while still remaining married, is about what we can handle. We do what work we can, we spend time on FaceTime, and we love (from an appropriate distance) all of our marvelous family. In these unprecedented moments, we count our blessings. We extend our sympathy and prayers if any of you, or your loved ones have suffered with the virus. As I said in the beginning of this very long tome, this unprecedented time, has made us realize how fortunate we have been in our lives, and how much more important the relationships we have had, over the years, are than all of the busy busy busy that I did instead of writing to you. We realize how important YOU ARE to us. What will 2020 bring? I don’t know. Neither do you. Or anyone. But I hope that these moments of thought, and memory, and appreciation do not ever leave Chuck and me.
Our best to you all: May hope, grace, faith, friends, and love be yours, as we proceed through the year. And if you haven’t all given up on me, may I remember to communicate when the holidays come round again.

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