New Year. Phew. Things Are Looking Up!

The only time I ever sent a Christmas Letter, it was on a lark, where I—like the 47% of the population who can’t stand those annual letters filled with superhuman parents and their insanely overachieving children—savagely shredded the concept. A few friends enjoyed my snarky over-the-top list of achievements: the faux summer spent in the South of France, the five Ironman triathlons I allegedly completed and the multitude of pseudo-sales awards I received. But I’m pretty sure the letter went largely unread among the majority of Christmas card recipients.

This holiday season, inspired by the stack of unexpected Christmas cards displayed on the mantle, it felt like a good year to revisit the Christmas Letter in all its irreverent glory, because as we all know, it’s 2020 and anything goes. But, when every day feels like a week and months equate to dog years, I had a hard time summoning the enthusiasm to bother with it, witty or not.

The pandemic gives us nothing but time, but paradoxically saps us of the energy to put it to use. And if that weren’t enough? Then it guilts us for feeling not productive enough.

So: how do you measure a year in a pandemic? A list of missed opportunities? The creative ways we’ve reshaped our lives? The idle seconds, minutes, hours spent daydreaming about what was? Maybe, like the savage mood swings we’re collectively experiencing, all of the above.


  • Pounds of sugar consumed: a lot more than last year
  • New Trails Discovered: 8
  • Total Miles Run: 992.75
  • Virtual Races Completed: 5
  • In Person Races Completed: 1
  • Longest Distance Run: 50K
  • Puzzles Finished: 6
  • Notebooks Filled: 8
  • Packs of cigarettes smoked: Less than total miles run
  • Books Read: 25? 35? 45? Like the days of the week, I’ve lost track
  • Times dishwasher emptied: add three zeros to the number of times in 2019
  • Loaves of Banana Bread Baked: 6
  • Nordic Crime Series binge-watched on Netflix: 5
  • Volunteering opportunities missed: 32
  • Online Yoga Sessions: 100+
  • Drive-Thru Lattes Ordered: a thousand?
  • 12-Step Meetings Zoomed: 44
  • Haircuts: 1
  • FaceTimes with Dad: 38
  • Tech Issues Resolved for Dad: under 100, more than 50
  • Phone Calls to Mom: 24
  • Visits to Mom: 14
  • Lobster rolls eaten with dad: 14
  • Ice cream cones consumed: 19
  • Vacations cancelled: 2
  • Petsitting Jobs Lost: 4
  • Petsitting Jobs Worked: 1
  • Total flights taken to deal with family issues: 10
  • Trips to ER: 3
  • Friends who’ve had COVID and recovered: 19
  • Lives Lost of Friends who’ve had COVID: 1

Today, the calendar is wiped clean. And on the mantle, one card remains.

Dispatches From a Pandemic: Holiday Magic

November 7: Re-Entry

Yeah. It was a magic summer on the island. When I returned to the desert a month ago, to this place, this “here,” the magic wore off. Everything slowly slipping away. The desire to be out in the world evaporating into shimmery record-breaking heat and COVID surge.

Re-entry has been, ah, trickier, this time around. I don’t understand what happened to humankind. It’s neither.

Running through the empty strip mall parking lot, jumping over spray-painted nastiness: “F*&K BLM”. Two-thirds of the businesses shuttered.

What’s left: Dairy Queen, Dollar Store, a preschool and the Egyptian tailor next to Domino’s.

What’s gone: a nail salon. Safeway. Fitness studio. Burger King. Pool supply store.

What else is gone: Visiting Mom. I had no idea how much I would miss her.

November 15: Masks, Volume 798

Two years more, he sighs. They say we’ll be wearing masks for two years. At least.

New masks arrived yesterday. A 5-pack for me, one for Dad’s Christmas stocking. This is Christmas shopping in a pandemic: ordering masks online. This is our life.

And still hovering between the inert passage of time and the waiting—for  something, anything.

Last year: “I’m waiting for something to happen,” Mom said, “but I don’t know what it is.”


November 26: Thanksgiving

Happy now? No, I—

Feel like something else

Why do I feel this way?

Why do I feel this?

Why do I feel?

Why do I?

December 10: Wonder

I wonder if mom knows where she is. If the world is falling apart. What 2021 will look like. When we can stop wearing masks. If I will finish writing the Momoir. How long this day will feel. If I will ever vacation again. If dad will need cataract surgery or stop driving. If the chunk biopsied from my chest is benign. If mom will die of the pancreatic tumor, dementia or loneliness. Why my peppermint mocha latte is bitter. If our money will dry up like the water. Why some days I am content watching Hallmark Christmas movies and some days, I’m crawling out of my skin. If the lady across the street with the little brown dog has vodka in her commuter mug. If the post office will ever find the MIA package I sent mom, with gifts and her Christmas stocking. Why the neighbor’s lawn is decorated with a giant inflatable Hello Kitty wearing a pink Santa hat.

More Dispatches

The Other “G” Word

Thanksgiving should be all about gratitude, especially this year. My husband and I have both made it this far, healthy and COVID-free; my parents are healthy, even in their locked-down care homes; the desert finally cooled down enough to light a fire after the big meal; the entire Thanksgiving feast—turkey breast and stuffing, my mother’s famous squash casserole and cranberry pie recipes—all came out perfect. In a perfect world, prime conditions for gratitude. Right?

Over the past two years, though, the holidays have not been perfect for us. My husband spent last Thanksgiving in the ER, battling an infection that rendered him immobile for nine months. The Thanksgiving before, we lost his only child to a tragic suicide. And this year, in a somber confirmation that the spread continues to plunder the lives of families everywhere, we learned on Thanksgiving Eve that his brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews have all tested positive for the virus.

So. Let’s talk about the other “G” word. Grief.

Sometimes, I’d rather carry the heaviness of grief than feel the grace of gratitude. For six years of caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s, I’ve experienced a cornucopia of grief. Grief at the loss of her identity, at the loss of her abilities as a talented artist. And through her recent struggles with speaking.

When the pandemic hit in March, I had just said farewell to my parents back east—my mother safely returned to her memory care home after surgery on a fractured hip; my father living in the first days of quarantine and lockdown. The cold reality of a baffling virus and two dozen infected residents in his senior community left him frightened and depressed.

At first, I wore my father’s despair like a cape, my shoulders slumped and listless. Later, I found myself grateful for the blissful oblivion dementia had granted my mother. And I heard her voice from the days of my childhood, when she’d redirect my sullenness at doing chores, or my complaints about my allowance and ask me: but, sweetie, what are you grateful for?

And so, what began as a challenge to my father in April has continued now for eight months: each night, we text each other three things we’re grateful for. They don’t have to be monumental, I tell him. It can be a sunrise. Or the sparkle of sunlight on the waves. The blueberry muffin the staff leaves outside your apartment every morning. A new pair of running shoes.

Yet the pandemic marches on, the world collectively sharing its grief.  “That discomfort you’re feeling is grief,” says a beautiful article I stumbled upon recently in the Harvard Business Review. “We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Alas, there is no statute of limitations on grief, and we all grieve differently. But in the nightly glimpses of gratitude shared with my father, I can take a brief holiday from grief.