Category Archives: Family

What Made Me Happy in 2020

We are waving goodbye to this year, and a lot of people are saying good riddance. But I’ve been thinking to myself, how can I write off an entire year of my life? Even optimistically, it’s at least 1% of my existence. So lately I’ve been reflecting on all the great parts of 2020. These are some things I have been grateful for in this most unusual of years:

  • My dear little pet gerbil lived over 3/4ths of this year, so I can never say 2020 was bad. He passed away in October, and in 2021 I’ll be without him the entire year. So since I had the joy of being with him in 2020, I can never say 2020 was bad.
  • I made more new friends this year than in the prior 5, oddly enough. I think people are reaching out for human contact, but also trying to be safe. My relationships with my existing friends also became deeper as distractions were removed and all of us needed more of each other’s support.
  • I discovered yoga, which helped me heal from a tendon injury that made it hard to walk. I now have a great new hobby I plan to vigorously pursue in the New Year. It also provides me a community of great people to talk to.
  • I got into camping, which is something I never thought I’d enjoy but came to love. As our usual activities shut down, my friends and I went to the one thing that was open: the woods. We deepened our friendships by facing challenges together and found peace amongst nature.
  • I will truly appreciate getting to see family and non-local friends again. Normally, I would’ve seen them from time to time as a matter of course, but being deprived of that this year means I’ll relish their company all the more in 2021.
  • I’ll also really enjoy being in a crowd of friends, being able to act in TV shows and movies, volunteering at the animal shelter and other activities I can’t do now.
  • I gained real understanding that the world can change absolutely unpredictably in an instant. I had only ever seen gradual change before in my life. That will give me greater insight into the world and help me prepare for other challenges.
  • Even though unexpected changes can happen, I realized certain solid habits like exercise, a decent diet, and saving money set you up well for any eventuality.
  • I gained greater confidence in myself. I assimilated new information quickly about testing, masks, etc. and successfully kept myself and my family safe. I feel like if I can get through this, I can get through most anything, and I think the same is true of society at large.
  • This blog! I was searching for a lockdown-proof hobby and rediscovered my interest in writing. We’ve had views from countries as far away as Belgium, India, Dubai and Nigeria. What a joy to be able to connect with people from all over the world!

What did you enjoy in 2020, despite all the difficulties this year has presented? Let us know in the comments!

Happy New Year everyone!

“New Year’s Eve 2020 at Numbers” byenigmaarts is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Where I Was Last New Year’s

We have made it through a challenging year. And now I’m starting to reflect. Lately, I find myself thinking back to where I was last New Year’s, and where I’ll be next one.

As this year began, I was walking up the steps of a beautiful shrine in Tokyo, Japan in perfect blue sunlight. Just ahead of me were my wife and my sister-in-law, with her newborn in her arms. We made the traditional New Year’s Day visit to the shrine, where they asked for blessings for the coming year. Me, I mostly just looked around in wonder at the beautiful shrine and the clear blue above.

Today, my wife is in Japan again with her family, my family. I cannot be there by law. They won’t be doing the shrine visit this year because of the crowds. But they still plan to eat sushi at the same place we went to last year. 🙂

My little nephew is walking now. He actually remembered my wife! I wonder if he’ll remember me. Even if he doesn’t, we can start making new memories together.

At the beginning of 2020, I could never have predicted how this year would unfold. But here we are. We survived and we have new hope heading into 2021. We have not recovered everything we’ve lost…I cannot be in my second home with my wife’s family, nor can I go see my mother or grandmother. But the difficult days are, at last, numbered.

Where will I, where will we, be next new year’s? I don’t know. But I think we will have beaten this. And we will be feeling great joy at being together once again!

Until then, don’t give up the fight.

What International Travel Is Like Right Now

So I’m a bachelor again…at least until Sunday.

On Saturday evening, I loaded my wife’s luggage onto a bus and kissed her through my mask…very 2020! She headed to JFK Airport, bound for her home country of Japan for the first time in a year.

Yes, you can travel overseas during a pandemic…if you’re very, very patient. Her flight was delayed by 8 hours. Once they finally let her on, the plane was almost empty and no one was sitting anywhere nearby. The lack of passengers and the powerful air filtration systems means flying is not nearly as dangerous as most people think. You’re a lot more likely to get COVID at the supermarket.

She arrived in Tokyo after midnight. Next came a required COVID test. She waited an hour or two for the results, and then was free to leave the airport.

One problem: it was the middle of the night, so no transportation was available. She thought she’d have to wait another 6 hours or so until a car service could pick her up. People who have just come from overseas are barred from using public transit, even with a negative COVID test, which strikes me as extreme.

Her brother saved the day by renting a car and picking her up. I didn’t even know he had a license! Soon, she was with her mom having coffee at a new cafe in their neighborhood. She later tortured me with pictures of beautiful dumplings they had for lunch.

This trip was actually the second one she booked…she had booked another on Air Canada that was cancelled. They refuse to provide a refund. The only option they give is rebooking on itineraries that take days to reach Japan. I strongly recommend avoiding Air Canada at all costs. She wound up going with ANA at a price around double what we paid last year.

Given the enormous number of delayed and cancelled flights, her friend who works for ANA strongly recommended booking a direct flight. My wife took her advice and was glad she did.

Being with her family is restorative for her, but for me, I’m not going abroad until all restrictions are lifted. The combination of delayed and cancelled flights, long waits, and high costs are enough to keep me close to home.

“File:Boeing 787 N1015B ANA Airlines (27611880663) (cropped).jpg” by pjs2005 from Hampshire, UK is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

How I Know Virtual Christmas Will Be Special

Photo: My great grandfathers Will (left) and John putting the world to rights. Connecticut, approximately 1987.

My family has always been spread across the country. When I was little, we moved away from my mother’s side in the Northeast to Wisconsin. My father’s side of the family lived in Kentucky. We had no relatives within 500 miles. And for a while, we didn’t have any friends either.

On Christmas day, I’d open my eyes to a sea of presents, despite my mother’s modest resources. She must’ve saved all year to give me that moment in the morning. Then, once the last gift was opened, the phone calls would start.

We’d usually begin with Granny Mary and Grandpa Jim in Kentucky, continue to Aunt Carol and Uncle Tony in Connecticut, and then on to Grammy up in Maine. Last was Will, my great grandfather. You didn’t have a short conversation with Will. You dialed 10-10-321 (leave a comment if you know what that is), punched in the rest of the digits, and connected to Stratford, Connecticut.

My part of the conversation was generally short. I remember he would always tell me at the end, “Pay attention in school, and learn all you can!” Will had worked as a trapper and later in a factory making asbestos brakepads. He did not have the opportunity to go to college. But he clearly wanted something different for us.

Even into his 80’s and 90’s, he read widely about ancient man, mammoths, and astronomy. In different circumstances, he might’ve been a professor. For me, he was a kindly grandfather. Maybe that’s enough.

Then, I’d hand him back to my mom. She would stand near the receiver, ever closer to hanging up, but the conversation would continue like that for hours, or so it seemed. I wondered when we might ever watch a movie or play.

After about 4 hours, they’d finally run out of steam and call it a night.

Those calls always felt like a marathon, but they also gave us a wonderful feeling of connectedness to a family spread far and wide. We didn’t have the money to fly to visit anyone, but we did what we could do. This year, a lot of people will be finding ways to connect without being in person. I can tell you it’s possible and it can be truly satisfying and joyful.

Many of the people we called then are gone now. Some remain. They’ll be on my list to call this Friday. And I’m adding someone new: my mom, whom I cannot safely go see this year. Maybe we will be on the line for 4 hours. If so, that’s fine with me.