It has been a busy year of traveling, biking, and agility training and trialing with Louie. Luckily, I have been in great physical shape for all of it, until now. After a pause over the winter, Louie and I got back to trialing in the spring, and he earned his Open Jumpers with Weaves title at the Princeton trial in April – hurray! On one hand it is great to earn a new title and advance to the next level, on the other hand, then you have to advance to the next level where the courses are longer and harder and you are allowed fewer, or no mistakes. After Greece and Idaho, I had us registered for three weekend trials in a row in the hope of getting our Open Standard title at one of those events. It was a tremendous high to have a clean run and get a qualifying score and the third needed leg for the title on the first day back in the competition ring. The next weekend, we were finally with all the “big kids” in the advanced courses, and even though Louie did really well and stayed with me with minimal mistakes, we didn’t qualify in either the Excellent Jumpers class or our first time at Excellent Standard. The third weekend was a bust for Louie and for me.
We had this trip mostly planned for June of 2020 and my 60th birthday, but COVID struck, and we cancelled it along with everything else. Luckily, we hadn’t bought plane tickets or paid any money to the tour organizer. Then, one January afternoon in Maui as I meditated on the hillside overlooking the sea and islands, the thought floated into my mind, “I think it is our 40thanniversary this June…we should take that trip to Greece!” It was very easy to reconstruct the itinerary with the incredibly helpful travel agent, Takis, who plans trips for the Hellenic Studies Department at PU. Prices were more expensive than they were in 2020, but still very reasonable compared to the rest of Europe. Traveling in early June we were also very lucky with the weather, which was cool and cloudy before the blistering heat of the summer set in.
After an uneventful direct flight from Newark to Athens, we arrived in Greece on June 11, our anniversary day. We were met at the airport and taken to our lovely hotel, the Herodion, only a short walk to the Acropolis Museum and charming Plaka district. We walked around a bit and rested in the afternoon before a delicious cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar, followed by a magnificent dinner at the famous Dionysis Restaurant overlooking the south face of the Acropolis – a suitably grand way to celebrate this major milestone in our relationship!
I am writing this a number of months later, so the experiences have settled and softened. I have practiced with meditation teachers Steve Armstrong and Kamala Masters for almost 20 years and have always wanted to visit their retreat center on Maui. With all of Michael’s health issues, it has been challenging to find a time when I could be away for a month, but December/January looked like it would work so I made the reservation last June and hoped for the best. As the holidays approached, everyone was healthy, including Steve, who was doing miraculously well five years after a glioblastoma diagnosis. Michael, Emily and I planned a family vacation for 4 days before my retreat. We arrived on Maui in a terrible rain-storm that diverted planes and cancelled flights. Luckily, we landed safely and stayed in a beautiful condo near the beach in Kihei. We only had one good swimming day after the storm, but we did a lot of driving around the Island and visited our old Princeton friend Maida Pollock. She had retired to her son’s farm in Kula, which was, amazingly, right down the dirt road from the retreat center! Michael and Emily went on to spend Christmas on the Big Island at Volcano National Park, and I started a monthlong retreat in Paradise.
I rented a cool and funky house in Berlin MD for a family beach get-a-way this summer. I was very happy to avoid a complicated trip to Europe, or anywhere that involved flying, especially after the travel hassles of Utah. I was even happier that Emily could join us. The house was attractive and comfortable with a fenced in area for Louie, AC, WiFi, and beautiful outside garden areas to cook, eat and even watch TV. The host lived in a trailer at the back of the property, with “Boyfriend” and three dogs. Louie made friends with Laurie’s dogs through the fence, and “Boyfriend,” a chef at a local restaurant, even shared some fresh off the boat tuna with us one night. Laurie was a warm and generous character with unending helpful advice about everything.
Coming home from Cape May, we settled back into our sheltering at home routine. Emily and the kitties were still with us, I was still doing a lot of online teaching, Michael was deeply into a writing project, and we had figured out the cooking and cleaning routines. In February it snowed, a lot. I took out my cross country skiis for the first time in several years, and used them every day, on many open space trails near home, and in the back yard as Louie bounded joyously through the deepening snow drifts. Skiing was wonderful, but I didn’t ride my bike, or see any of my few friends for socially distant rides or walks all month. The cold and gray and isolation started to take its toll and we all got a bit more edgy and short with each other. The vaccination was becoming available to more and more people, but appointments were hard to come by and some folks spent all hours of the day and night searching for spots.
Michael finally got an appointment for the end of February. We had to drive an hour to Holmdel. He waited in line for several hours while I stayed in the car and peed in the woods, as I had been doing all year on my bike rides. He felt weak and crummy for the first 24 hours but then bounced back and was so relieved and hopeful to be on his way to some protection from this crazy virus. His second Moderna shot was scheduled for the end of March. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even eligible yet, too young and healthy.
I took the plunge and reserved 9 days at a cottage I found on AirBnB a few blocks from the Delaware Bay beach in North Cape May. I wanted to go there alone and do a self-meditation retreat for a week. Michael would come down for a few days at the end. It sounded like it would work, but I spent most of December planning what food and cleaning supplies I would bring with me to make it feel safe in the midst of COVID. Finally, the day of departure arrived and I went to the market first thing and grabbed a weeks-worth of simple meals, loaded up the car, and drove the easy two and a quarter hour trip to Cape May. The host had told me that the house would be cleaned on Monday and then sit empty for three days before I arrived on Friday. That seemed pretty safe. Even so, I wiped down all door handles and light switches with Lysol and washed my hands before I unpacked and settled in. The cottage was adorable, with surf and sand decorations including crabs and octopi. The kitchen was perfectly functional and the sun coming in the windows filled my heart with warmth and joy. The neighborhood was very quiet and peaceful and the beach, really only two blocks away, was magnificent.
My 60th birthday trip to Greece was definitely not happening this summer. Thank goodness we hadn’t paid any money for it before the world shut down. Instead, we stayed home, safely enclosed by our fence, and had a lovely summer. Louie was the happiest dog in the world as he ran free in the back yard with his humans constantly home. The wildlife was plentiful as well, including turtles, a groundhog, and a hawk’s nest at the very top of one of the huge pine trees near the house. The three babies were awe inspiring to watch as they grew and explored our back yard all through June and July.
Emily did a two-week quarantine, got a negative COVID test, and came to stay with us for three weeks in June, and then again for seven weeks in August and September. She brought her two kitties, Buster and Moon, and we all laughed a lot watching Louie adjust to his new roommates. Emily and I did zoom yoga classes on the deck, went on long bike rides, and cooked amazing meals together.
Just as I was pulling out of my driveway for the five-hour trip to Barre, MA and ten days at Forest Refuge, the oil change light blinked on my dashboard. Oh, no… I remembered there was some warning light flashing as I drove to FR in January of 2015 just when my mom found out that she had leukemia and her doctor suggested hospice. That was certainly a strange time to be on retreat. This time I knew I could easily take care of the oil change when I came home, but I had a sinking feeling that the warning light did not bode well.
We took a big step and fenced in our back yard. After over 30 years living here with four different dogs, the time had come. It was a major expense but a huge success. Louie loves it and we are greatly relieved to know he can run and chase birds while staying nearby and safe. When Louie was a puppy, we let him run around the yard and follow us here and there. We even let him run free on some of the nearby trails through preserved open space. It was thrilling to see his unbounded joy at running full speed through fields and woods. As he got older, he ranged farther away from us, but usually stayed within sight or earshot. A few times he chased some deer and I thought I would never see him again, but he always came back eventually. Then, it started taking longer for him to come back, three, five, ten minutes. Waiting with heart in mouth was nerve racking.
We ventured out west twice this summer, though we didn’t originally intend to. Our Lewis and Clark themed trip to Montana was already planned when we learned that Emily would be the production manager for the Aspen Opera Center. Of course we bought more plane tickets and arranged to visit her there.