Life in a Time of Pandemic: Family


It’s been a year and a half since my life was upended by the pandemic.  It may have impacted you a bit earlier or later, but for me, it was the week of March 23, 2020, when everything started to change.  Work sent us all home to work as best we could and something as simple as a trip to the grocery store became a cause for anxiety.

The changes continued as I bought a standing desk to make working from home comfortable, went into my office on a weekend to bring home my desktop computer and dual monitors, and more and more businesses shut down or restricted access.  I was lucky that I didn’t live alone.  I had the company of my husband and our two cats.  I know from experience that if I’m alone for an extended period of time it has a negative effect on my mental health.  Online communication, voice calls, and even video calls help, but don’t quite fill the need for human interaction.  Having someone I could still hug every day was a big deal.

The longer things drag on with concerning infection rates and low vaccination rates, the more I’ve begun to mourn all the time lost with the rest of my family though.  The first summer, we took a very careful trip to see my in-laws, stopping as little as possible to limit interactions with strangers.  We were being careful, and so were my in-laws, but there was still risk.  But it was worth it to see family and have that time spent together.  We chose not to travel for the 2020 winter holiday season, so it had been over a year since we’d seen that side of the family.

We recently took another trip to visit my in-laws, and we stopped on the way to see some of our oldest friends.  They then came down for a day to spend time with all of us.  It reminded me that family can mean many different things and how important it is no matter which way you mean it.  Yes, family is your blood relations, and your legal ones, but it’s more than that too.  Family are the ones who are always there for you, who support you when you need it, and who you support in turn.

Looked at that way, I have multiple families, and I’m grateful for each and every one of them.

I have my blood relatives.  My parents and sister are wonderful, and I love them dearly even if we disagree sometimes.  The same is true of my grandmothers.  I love my niece and I even like her most of the time (she’s nine, so sometimes her brat is showing).  Sadly, I don’t see my aunt or uncle much, which was true even before the pandemic stopped most of us traveling, but I know they care and when we are able to gather, I love spending time with them.  My family is fairly small until you get out into second and third cousins, and we haven’t see them much over the years, so that covers pretty much everyone I would really consider family among my blood relations.

I also have my in-laws.  My husband’s parents are amazing, and they take such good care of all of us in so many ways.  They put family first, and in the future, I want to be able to return that care.  My sister-in-law and her husband are also some of our best friends.  He’s a college professor and she’s an artist.  They live further away than I’d like, but when we are able to get together it’s amazing.  Just being together all in a room makes us all happier, even when we’re doing three or six different activities while we’re there.

But family goes beyond that.  I’m lucky enough to have friends that have been in my life so long they’re family, no matter what.

My oldest friend and I don’t talk much these days, but she’s still someone I’d come pick up at four in the morning if she needed my help.  She’s been through a lot over the years, and her current choices might bother some people, but she’s happy and safe and that’s what matters to me.  That’s what I want for my family, for them to be happy.

A few months ago, one of my very best friends, who I hadn’t seen in years, was able to visit.  I met her while I was in grad school, and our introduction was a bit odd, but she’s never held that against me.  Seeing her again after so long and being able to fall back into the same comfortable space with her reminded me that the distance doesn’t matter.  She’ll always be there for me, and she’ll always be my biggest fan, and that means the world to me.  Now that she finally lives within driving distance (and not half the width of the US away) I’m hoping we’ll be able to visit much more regularly.  She’s more family than most and that will never change.

I mentioned friends we saw while visiting my in-laws, and there another set that’s family in all the ways that matter.  My husband has known the two brothers since he was in middle school.  I met them when I was in high school.  When the older brother met his now wife, most of us were in college, and she’s been part of the family since then too.  They’re the friends we would spend New Year’s Eve with every year.  We never missed one until 2019, when my husband and I had to be back home to be in a wedding a few days before that, but at least we got to spend some time with them while we were in town for the holidays.  Missing our New Years Eve gathering in 2020 was much harder.  We hadn’t seen them since the 2019 winter holidays, and we weren’t traveling that winter.

It was around then, when we were missing them the most, that my husband started a discord server for us all to share (the two brothers, the one’s wife and the other’s girlfriend, husband and I, and sister-in-law and her husband).  The guys started playing online multiplayer games together over voice chat.  Several of us (not just the girls) share crafting and making pictures and ideas.  We share memes and jokes and talk about random things.  It’s not quite as awesome as being in a room together talking (which I was reminded of  when we finally saw them recently) but it’s close and it lets us stay connected.

The other family I’m so grateful for is my NaNo family.  This takes a variety of forms right now.

There’s the core group of about ten people that I met through NaNoWriMo (or via someone I met there) in the local area who have become my dearest friends.  Some of us played D&D together for a few years.  We persevered through the pandemic for a while with online tools, but I’ve taken a hiatus until we can be in-person again.  Sadly, the online wasn’t the same for me and wasn’t fun after a while.  There’s also a core of six of us (with some overlap) who have been meeting on zoom for happy hour every Friday since April 2020.  They’ve helped keep me sane and social through all this, and I’ve been really grateful that I could do the same for them.  Most of them live alone and the pandemic was hitting some of them pretty hard in a variety of ways.  Having that social space to have our favorite drink and chat and laugh together has been really great.

Another form my NaNo family takes is the community of Municipal Liaisons.  I’ve been volunteering as an organizer of my local area for six years, and I’m gearing up for a seventh November as an official ML.  There are four of us in the region, and I’m so grateful for the camaraderie and support of my little local group.  We work together well, decide things by consensus, and generally function very well as a team and that means a lot to me.  There’s also a very active discord server where I can interact with MLs from around the world, and that has been one of my very favorite places on the internet for the last few years.  The people there are all the kind of helpful, supportive folks you’d expect to step up and organize events for writers in their local area.  And they bring that to supporting fellow MLs too.  It’s a wonderful thing to be able to offer advise based on something I’ve done in the past and get advice from the many different people and perspectives in the ML community.

Not all of my chosen families are as close to me as others, and not all of them mean the same things to me, but they’re still family.  I think that’s one of the things I’ve been internalizing during the pandemic.  Family is what matters, and whether they’d be recognized by others as being my family doesn’t really matter.  If they feel like family, then they’re family.

I hope you have family around you, in whatever way that looks like, and you can keep them close even if there’s physical distance involved.

Image Prompt Response 077 – Unnatural Fog


I chose the image of the morning mist and the edge of a wooden dock for my twenty-minute sprint today.

Unnatural Fog:

Riley sat at the edge of the dock, looking out at the morning fog that clung to the river.  It had been three days since he woke up to find the river and their small trading post surrounded by dense fog.  It was as if someone called down a cloud to cover them, and it hadn’t gone away.  Normal fog dissipated over the course of the day, the heat from the sun dispersing it.  Not this fog.

“Whatcha thinking?” his sister Kiley asked as she sat down beside him.  As usual, she’d arrived without a sound or warning.

“This isn’t natural fog,” Riley replied.

“We all know that,” she replied.

“We haven’t seen anything on the river in three days either,” Riley said.  “There should have been a few traders, maybe even an inspector.”  They were actually overdue for a government inspector.  As an official, government-sanctioned trading post, they had to be inspected twice a year to make sure they were storing goods properly, posting information according to regulations, and not letting anything pass through without documentation.  They’d had their yearly audit back in the fall, but it was well into spring now, and usually the inspection of the facilities themselves happened well before summer.

“They might have just missed us and decided to come back on their return trip,” Kiley said.

“But that doesn’t explain seeing nothing on the river for three days,” Riley said.  “Or the fact that you can’t hear things in the fog like normal.”

“The quiet is eerie,” Kiley agreed.

Normally, when there was fog on the water, sound seemed to carry further and louder than usual.  It was impossible not to hear another boat, even if you couldn’t see them properly.  Fog made navigation dangerous, but this fog seemed even worse.  You wouldn’t even hear another boat coming until you were right on top of it.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Kiley added after a while.

“We could,” Riley countered.  Neither of them was much of a magic user on their own, but when they worked together they could accomplish some pretty impressive rituals.  Clearing out the fog with a strong wind or a fire spell was conceivably possible if they worked together.

“You know father would never let us,” Kiley replied.

Their father was a little overprotective and a lot worried they’d be taken away if their abilities with magic were discovered.  Their mother had been conscripted by the government when one of the inspectors found out how good she was with magic.  They hadn’t seen her in ten years.  They got letters occasionally, so they were pretty sure she was still alive, but she wasn’t allowed to come home.

“I just get a really bad feeling about all this fog,” Riley said, pulling his knees up to his chest and hugging them tight.  “It feels wrong.”

“I know,” Kiley replied, shifting closer to wrap and arm around his shoulders.  “It’s not natural and it makes my skin crawl a little.”

“It feels heavy,” Riley said.  “Like if I’m not careful it will smother me entirely.”

“I know what you mean,” Kiley replied, rubbing his arm.  “If we have to do something about it, I think a fire spell out over the water makes the most sense.”

Riley nodded.  A magical water spell, which fog would be, could be negated by a fire spell to a certain extent.

“We should wait until it matters though,” Kiley said.  “If we go a whole week without a boat.”

Riley nodded.  They often went a few days between boats, but a week was unheard of.  It would definitely mean something was wrong.

“And maybe we’ll ask forgiveness instead of permission,” Kiley added.

She was right that their father wouldn’t approve of the idea of them doing a spell to clear the fog.  It would make it too obvious that someone else in the family had a talent for magic.  Riley didn’t want to be taken away from his home, but sometimes he wondered if he’d get to see his mother again if he was conscripted by the government too.  He barely even remembered their mother.  He’d been five and Kiley eight when the official came for her.

Image Prompt Response 076 – No Going Back


I chose the image of the tiny waterfall in the creek for my twenty-minute sprint this time around.  I decided to come back to an earlier image prompt (#22) and explore K and M a little more.  I continued the exercise of not using gendered pronouns that I tried out in that one as well because it’s an interesting exercise.

No Going Back:

K stood looking up along the creek in the early morning light.  K’s parents were still asleep and K had packed up everything they wanted to take with them the night before.  M had promised that everything would be alright once they left this morning and M’s parents would smooth things out with K’s.

Now that it was almost time to leave, K was nervous.  M had always been nice to them, as had M’s parents and siblings, but K spent so many years trying to hide everything and not let anyone know that it seemed strange to have admitted it.  And that was before considering the whole running away thing.

K noticed as soon as M stepped out the back door.  M didn’t say anything, just walked over to stand beside K.

K shifted closer to M.  It had been an enlightening few days talking with M’s family.  After sixteen years believing that none of it was real, that admitting it would lead to either being committed or locked away in some research lab for being a freak, K still wasn’t quite used to the idea that empathy and telepathy were real things that science accepted and understood.

M gently draped an arm around K’s shoulder, pulling K into a half hug.

“Ready to head out?” M asked.

“Nervous,” K replied.  It would be good for M to know that.  K wasn’t sure if M could still pick up on emotions despite the shields K had developed to protect against all the noise from others’ emotions and thoughts.

“I’ve got your back,” M said.  “There might be some tough bits, but we’ll get through alright.”

K nodded.  M believed it.  So did M’s parents.  K believed that M wanted to help, but knowing M’s parents did too gave K more confidence that it was okay to leave with M, which was a bit like running away.

“Come on,” M said, using the arm around K’s shoulders to turn them and head them toward M’s car.  “I grabbed your suitcase and your coat from the rack in the hall,” M said.  “You said that was everything you needed.”

“Yeah,” K agreed.  Enough clothes for about a week and the books K had brought to read while on vacation with the family.  There wasn’t much else K would miss really.  M had offered to drive straight to K’s house so they could get anything they needed, but really K didn’t have anything.  K’s parents didn’t believe in keeping material things.  Clothes were utilitarian and the books they kept were mostly for K’s home schooling.  K didn’t even own any stuffed animals or toys anymore.  The few K had owned were given away years ago.

“Let’s get on the road then,” M encouraged.  “There’s a place about forty minutes away that does great breakfast.  I figured we could stop there for a bit then head to my place.”

M squeezed K’s shoulders before letting go, then opened the passenger side of the tiny sedan.

K slid into the seat, closing the door and buckling in as M walked around the car.  K looked out at the three cabins the family had rented.  It was a new place they hadn’t tried before, but K liked it.  Having three buildings for all fifteen of them had meant it was quieter at night and K slept better.  There were also more places to sneak off to and be alone.

M started the car and carefully turned around in the narrow drive before slowly heading up the gravel driveway to the road.  K didn’t look back.  Looking back wouldn’t help any.  There was no going back now anyway.

Image Prompt Response 067 – Giving Thanks


I chose the image of the pumpkin pies and recyclable cans for my twenty-minute sprint today.  We’re a little ahead of season for fall squash pies, but oh well.

Giving Thanks:

Cary finished washing the last of the dishes from making the pies and set everything on the towel on the counter to dry.  They’d already filled the drying rack and Cary hadn’t had time to dry anything yet.

“Pies in the oven?” Kelly asked, peeking in through the window in the over door.

“The pumpkin ones anyway,” Cary replied.  “I promised Mom I’d make a pecan too.”

“Ooh,” Kelly said, her eyes bright and wide as she looked over at Cary.  “The normal or the chocolate one?”

“Probably both since I know you like the chocolate better,” Cary replied, laughing.  His little sister loved sweets of all kinds, but especially anything chocolate.

“You love me,” she said, throwing her arms around his neck and kissing his cheek.  “I’ll help if you want,” she added as she let go.  “I can be a dish troll or help measure things or whatever will allow me to be supportive and not throw off your flow.”

“Let’s start with drying dishes,” Cary said.  “I’m running out of room and I’ll need some of this for the other pies.”

“Yes, sir, ma’am, sir,” Kelly said, actually snapping her heels together and saluting him before grabbing the dish towel from its hook over the sink.  “You’ll have to help me remember where you put all this stuff, but I can at least get it all dry for you.”

“Just stack it all on that counter,” Cary said, waving to the one furthest from the stove.  “I’ll need some of it left out anyway.”

“So when is David getting home?” Kelly asked.

“Hopefully in time for dinner,” Cary replied.

“Is it a deadline again?” Kelly asked softly.  “Or something else?”

Cary’s husband David worked for their local newspaper.  It was the kind of small town paper that still put out editions on holidays and on the day after, so David very rarely got an entire holiday off.

“He volunteered this year,” Cary said.  “So his counterpart could drive up to see her parents.  It’s a fourteen-hour trip, and she only asks every other year.”

“Aren’t there other people that can be acting editors during holidays?” Kelly asked.

“There are,” Cary replied.  “But they’re all more senior than David, and not as nice.”  Secretly, Cary thought the Editor in Chief always asked David first knowing that David would volunteer and then he could take advantage.  He didn’t think it was because David was gay, just that David had family that was local and didn’t appear to mind missing big chunks of the holiday time.

“Does he mind?” Kelly asked.  “I mean really?  I know he doesn’t let his boss know if he does.”

“I don’t think he does,” Cary replied.  “He liked being helpful, and letting others have the time and space to visit with family.  It probably doesn’t hurt that he doesn’t see his family, so this gives me some alone time with you all, and keeps him out of the way while I’m cooking.”

Kelly laughed.  “Yeah, one person invading your kitchen is plenty, right?”

“You aren’t invading,” he said, giving her a one armed hug as he passed her on his way to the pantry to start gathering ingredients for the next set of pies.

“It helps that we can come down for the whole week too, huh?” Kelly asked.  “So we still get to see a lot of him even if he’s working half days most of the week.”

“I’m glad you can take so much time,” he said.  There had been a few years when she hadn’t been able to get any time off at the holidays, but now she was a senior designer at the firm and she could take time whenever she wanted as long as her projects stayed on time.  She was amazing and efficient, so it gave her a lot more flexibility.

“I’m glad you’re in a job that lets you now too,” she said.  “I was worried you were going to stay in retail forever.”

“Yeah, no,” Cary replied.  He’d started working at the local bookstore when he was in high school, and kept with it through college and after.  He’d been the store manager, second in authority only to the owner by the time he’d finally found something he liked better.  He’d loved the owner, and he still loved the bookstore, but the stress and rush at the holidays was excruciating.

Now he was the executive assistant to the vice president of human resources at a staffing firm.  He worked from home 75% of the time, because when she wasn’t in the office, she didn’t need him to be.  She took at least a week off for each holiday, and as long as he kept her schedule up to date for the week after and had all her expenses turned in on time, she encouraged him to take extra time at the holidays too.

“Look who I found?” their mom said as she breezed into the kitchen.

She had their cat Oliver in her arms and David trailing behind her.

“You got out early,” Cary said with a smile.

“Three of the staff writers insisted on staying late to help finish the layout and editing so I could,” David said.

“You’ll have to take them goodies in thanks,” Cary replied, stepping over to give his mom and the cat a quick hug and then kiss his husband.  “You’re all welcome to stay as long as you park yourselves at the bar and stay out of my cooking space,” he said with a broad smile.

David laughed, and slid onto his favorite barstool.  He rested his chin in his hand with a smile.  He’s spent half of their dates the first year watching Cary cook dinner.

Winter Travels


I don’t usually do much traveling between the Christmas holidays and spring, but this year my parents needed some help moving my grandmother from her apartment to a room in the main building of her continuing care retirement community.  She’s still in pretty good health for a woman in her 90s, but she doesn’t move around as well as she used to and needs the support of being in the main building and regularly checked on by the nursing staff.

So the husband and I set out from North Carolina to Pennsylvania last Friday and returned home on Monday.  We helped sort through things in my grandmother’s old apartment that wouldn’t fit in her new room, saw my great uncle and his wife, and did what we could to keep Gramma occupied and less morose about the move.  She was disappointed to lose the apartment and the space, but what hit hardest was having to give away her cat.  The pretty ginger tabby was previously owned by one of her friends who passed away, and she’s passed him along to another friend in the community, so at least she’ll be able to go visit him. Continue reading

Vacation Time – Great Smokie Mountains


This week is my annual vacation with my husband and his family.  It’s one of my favorite things that doesn’t have to do with NaNoWriMo.  It’s me and my husband, his parents, and my sister-in-law (SIL) and her husband.  I joke that I stole all my sister’s in-law karma, since she does not have the best in-laws and I have the ABSOLUTE BEST in-laws.

Seriously.  They’re amazing.

And that’s just the basis for the great vacation.  We all get along pretty well as long as no one brings up politics.  I can even handle the in-law’s standard poodle and SIL’s smooth coat collie for the week.  (I lam solidly in the cat-person camp.)  SIL is the alpha animal of all alpha animals, so the poodle is super well behaved when she’s around, and her collie is actually a service animal and as well trained as you think he is based on that.  (She trained him herself which is also kind of amazing.  Have I mentioned how much I admire my SIL?)  Even when he’s not working and just goofing around having fun he’s super polite and well-mannered and follows orders.

This year, we’ve booked a cabin in the mountains (and by that I mean a cabin-themed house big enough to sleep 8 adults).  Each couple is cooking two meals to cover dinners, and the younger generation has collectively packed enough board games to fill the entire week.  As I joked in our group text message “it hurts nothing but our backs to bring more than we can possibly play.” Continue reading

Image Prompt 019 Response – The Petting Zoo that Doesn’t Allow Petting


I selected the image of the hairy cow for my 20 minute spring this time around.  I tried something a little different as well.  I don’t write young children characters much, so I tried my hand at it.  I hope you enjoy.

The Petting Zoo that Doesn’t Allow Petting

It was a cow.  More specifically a hairy cow.

It didn’t make up for the fact that Kylie didn’t want to be there.

It was supposed to be a petting zoo, and it was supposed to make her little six-year-old cousin Angela bearable because she loved animals.

There was no petting of the animals.  Most especially the hairy cow with the giant horns.  Even if the sign hadn’t expressly forbidden petting, feeding, or in other ways putting your hands across the gate, the cow was lying down feet away where no one could possibly reach it if they wanted to.

Kylie secretly envied the ridiculous ginger hairy cow. Continue reading

Merry Christmas!


Since my Friday post landed on Christmas itself, this is going to be a pretty short post.

I hope everyone had a wonderful winter holiday, whichever one they celebrate.

Today I’d like to share some of the images of the holiday I’ve taken over the years. I have a dozen for you. I find it interesting to see how my Christmas imagery changes over the years. Enjoy.

2015-12-25 Christmas 1988


Continue reading

The Hands that Mold: My Family


For those new to my blog, the Hands that Mold series of posts is about the people in my life that have helped shape me into the writer I am today.

This post is about my family.

I was lucky to grow up in a family that values learning and intellectual pursuits.  I might not have turned into the person I am without all the family influences in that direction, so I’m very grateful to both my immediate and extended family for always encouraging me in my drive to learn and then to write and create.

Growing up, it was just my parents, my sister and me.  We moved around a decent bit, especially when I was younger.  We’d live somewhere for a few years, once as little as eight months, before Dad’s job forced us to move once more.  It made for an interesting childhood.  I lived several placed before I started school, and because of all the moves I attended two elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools. Continue reading