Longwood Gardens and The Last Days of Pandemic Summer

And so our summer has officially drawn to a close with the return to work (me) and school (my sons).  It has been a very peculiar summer, of course.  I am sure most people reading this have had a very different summer from the one they anticipated and planned for.  We, for example, were supposed to fly back to the UK for a few weeks to spend time with our families and attend my youngest brother’s wedding.  Instead, my brother contracted Covid 19, his wedding was postponed and we obviously did not travel to Britain.  We have tried to make the most of our family time, being stuck together pretty much 24/7, but – again, I am sure in common with everyone else – it has been fatiguing and dispiriting.  I think, however, that the transition back to work and (distance learning) school is going to be far tougher than anything we have experienced so far.

We decided to have one last family adventure of the Summer.  Having spent six months avoiding being anywhere peopley, we thought we would brave going somewhere a bit busier but which would still afford us the opportunity to social distance and be safe.  After considering at least a dozen options and discarding them as not having robust enough safety measures, we hit upon the idea of Longwood Gardens.  Not too far from home, largely outdoors, and lots of procedures to mitigate the risk factors.  Mr Pict and I had visited Longwood two years ago but a) I was suffering with some post-op complications and b) the kids had never visited.  We spent a lovely few hours there, felt completely safe throughout our visit, and were glad we went.

In case you were wondering, one of my sons decided when we went into lockdown that he would not cut his hair for that whole period; now he has decided he won’t cut it for the duration of the pandemic.  I suspect his hair is going to get very long.  And my oldest son is not dressed appropriately for the climate because he prefers to wear a “uniform”.  It is slightly crazy making but, as the parent of two autistic children, I have to choose which battles I am going to go full Viking on and which I am just going to wave the white flag at.

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We continued to return to trails we had not visited in years.  Some of these walks were more successful than others.  For instance, we made the poor decision to revisit French Creek State Park in the aftermath of a very nasty storm.  The ground was hard going, sticky and slick, which combined with the steep terrain at points made it very exhausting to walk and I found I was having to concentrate so much on my footing that I was not remotely enjoying my surroundings.  It was also disgustingly humid.  I felt like I was breathing in water.  I just felt muddy and gross and mosquitoes the size of zeppelins were devouring me and making me swell up.  I completed the walk, about 5 miles because we abandoned our intended trail for a shortcut, looking like a parboiled lobster cosplaying as Rambo.  So gross.  We did encounter a lot of frogs on our trek though.

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We have also been playing a lot of board games.  I really like board games but my husband is really fanatical about board games and has amassed quite a massive collection over the years so we always have lots to choose from.  One of the games we have been playing is Pandemic, thematically apt, a co-operative game we don’t often win.  We, however, had a stonking win one afternoon and defeated all of the diseases.  Let’s hope that is a portent of things to come in real life.

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One of my big summer projects was to tame the chaos of our converted garage space and turn it into an organized storage space, including a space for my teaching materials and a larder for all the things I tend to buy in bulk.  I should have thought to take a before photo because it really was a mess.  Things had been hurriedly and thoughtlessly dumped in that room first when we had our basement flood and then when we had to reorganize household spaces with everyone learning and working from home.  Since shelves had become inaccessible during that period, things that actually permanently belonged in that room had not been put in their correct place.  Necessary changes at work due to pandemic mitigation mean I also have to store all of my teaching resources at home and, of course, the only place I had to store them was also the garage.  You will just have to take my word from it that it was an overwhelming mess.  I have spent this summer working on it bit by bit because it was a time consuming project.  It does not look like much and certainly is not going to win any awards for being aesthetically pleasing but the chaos is no more, everything now has a place, and everything is so organized that I can put my hands on any item in that room in an instant.  The shelving unit of square cubbies contain my lesson plans, teaching materials, toys, and books.  It still needs a fair bit of finessing with better storage solutions for some items but it is a functional and much more efficient system.

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On the subject of work, I have also been spending time going into my classroom and getting it ready for a new batch of students and, of course, a new way of operating.  I have had to strip out so much fun stuff from my classroom and my lesson planning because of teaching in the context of a pandemic so it is a bit deflating and dispiriting but I am excited to meet my new students and create fun learning experiences for them.

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I continued to bake my way through the stress of this situation.  I will never be an applicant for a baking show but I have definitely improved my skill level and confidence when it comes to baking.  I have had the odd failure – such as a sunken chocolate cherry cake – but my successes have outnumbered the failures and even the failures were tasty enough.  Like Pavlov’s dogs, however, my boys have become way too accustomed to having a sweet treat available on an almost daily basis.  Since I will not have time for daily baking when I am back at work, it is going to be an adjustment for them and may involve some sugar withdrawal.  Incidentally, that cake in the photo is supposed to have a crack in it as it is an orange Madeira cake.

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All of these summer blog posts have ended with portraits of the cats so here are some portraits of Peanut (ginger) and Satchi (grey) doing their feline thing.

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And here is one of our “bonus” pets.  When our basement window wells flood, frogs move in.  Here is a photo of one who brought his packed lunch slug with him.

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17 thoughts on “Longwood Gardens and The Last Days of Pandemic Summer

  1. This was a wonderful read to start my Labor Day! I am the only one awake and it’s almost 9:30. A post that starts and ends with frogs. I know what you mean when you said you feel like you were breathing in water because it’s always dank and humid here. Doesn’t make you want to go outside. But it’s good that you all were able to get out and about. And I know I always feel good when I’ve organized, so congratulations for making order in the garage. My son did not have his haircut until July, and that was longer than I’d ever seen. But he only trimmed it and now it has continued to grow nearly to his shoulders. But like you say, in the scheme of things, I’m not going to fight that one during a pandemic. Good luck teaching!

    • Thank you. I don’t know how you cope with humidity like that. My worst ever experience of humidity was in Chicago and I thought I would have to grow gills to live there. It has been unusually humid here this summer and I really do not like it.

      I am glad I am not the only one who has a child doing some kind of pandemic hair growth marathon. I just hope we get a vaccine before he turns into Cousin Itt.

  2. It’s great to see that you managed to fit in some adventures. I love the Longwood shots that showed the giant lily pads–I am amazed every time that I see them. I loved too the frog and food photos, obviously not together. Schooling is going to be a challenge for kids everywhere and for the teachers too. I remember my initial skepticism when we first started doing church via Zoom, but it has worked out surprisingly well. Maybe distance learning won’t be as bad as many parents fear, though I know that the kids will be missing the social aspects of physically being with their friends.

    • Thanks, Mike. I am almost embarrassed to have you see my frog photos since yours are always so amazing. Ha ha! I think my kids will eventually manage distance learning well – one of them actually thrived in the Spring with that mode of learning – but there is going to be a challenging transition period getting them used to the schedule and the organization. My youngest son has an IEP and I am skeptical about their ability to provide him with all of his supports and services in a virtual environment, especially when I cannot be home to act as his “aide”, but hopefully we can problem solve and tweak things and get it working.

      • I think that your kids are old enough that they should be able to muddle through on their own or, as you noted with one of your sons, possibly even thrive. I worry most about the youngest kids, who learn some lessons on socialization in school. I had a conversation this past weekend about how different it is to grow up with multiple siblings, as I did, versus being an only child.

      • I am thankful every single day that my kids are the ages they are. I cannot imagine having to handle all of this with kids who are barely literate, have no familiarity with the technology, are not used to being in front of screens for so long, and having to assist them with all of that while trying to do your own work. The social aspect is definitely a problem and especially with the little kids. Two of my sons have autism and one is supposed to receive intervention with developing social skills (among many other things stated in his IEP) and I cannot see how that content can be delivered in this context.

  3. I hope your brother is recovering well.

    I am amazed and impressed with all you have accomplished! And you baked too!! Love the pictures of your cats and the frog with his lunch! Best of luck teaching. Best of luck to your kids too. I enjoyed seeing the photos of the gardens.

    My wife does a lot of our baking. She’s made bread, pies and most famously homemade ice cream! She has kept us in the treats. I have specialized in pizza, pasta, bean and grain bowls and casseroles. Oh, I have also been mastering my slow cooker so much that a meal out of our cooker almost feels like going out to eat.

    I find my hair is getting shorter as the pandemic wears on. We got an electric hair clipper and since we aren’t going out to peopley places, as you so aptly put it, we “mow” our hair and call it good enough. Lol! Like you, I’m picking my battles…good looking hair isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on.

    • Thanks, Sue. My brother is recovering well. It is too early to tell if he will have long term symptoms but he is managing the ones he has been left with. He thankfully only had what is considered a mild case.

      I have promised myself and the kids that, should we go back into lockdown over the winter months and I end up furloughed again, I will teach myself to bake bread. Other than flatbreads and pizza dough, I have not baked any bread in decades. I used to bake it with my Granddad but was never any good at it on my own. I need to build up my skills and confidence.

      I have been using clippers to shear my husband and kids for at least 16 years now. I would be tempted to clip my own hair short but I have a head shaped like a potato so I don’t think it would be the best look on me. Your bone structure suits short hair.

      • You’re so kind re my bones and short hair…

        I’m glad your brother is recovering well and thankfully had a mild case. This stuff still sucks regardless.
        If it comes to bread baking give a shout. My wife has several, as she calls them, “bread making for dummies” books out of which have come yummy results and I can pass along the titles.

  4. I think it’s possible you might be facing the man bun issue at some point. Just saying. I’m glad you got out and I think you picked a good spot and of course the weather has been perfect. A good transition event. Now we move on. Fall will bring its own assorted events. I hope the season will be good to your family.

    • Thank you, Claudia. Autumn is usually my favourite season so I am hoping this Autumn doesn’t sucker punch me.

      He is definitely going to have to do something about that hair at some point but I am waiting for him to arrive at that conclusion.

      • I like fall best too, I think, and I hope we have a nice calm one, with the kind of weather we can get here that is clear and crisp. I am also looking forward to the falling leaves…

  5. That sounds like a productive summer to me! Hope all goes well with the return to work / school / etc. Sorry to hear about your brother, but I gather from other comments he is recovering. Hair can be a definite problem. John uses clippers so nothing has changed for him. I’ve had one cut and am a bit wary of going again, and I certainly don’t want to take my mother to a hairdresser just yet, so she’s looking a but wild!

    • I have been cutting everyone’s hair, including my own, for many years now so nothing has changed for us. Would you trust John to give you a trim? The good thing about hair is that it grows back.

      Yes, my brother thankfully had what was considered a mild case in that he never had to be hospitalised. He had a really rough time of it so it gave me some insight into how truly awful a worse case must be.

      • I only know one person who has had it and he was in hospital on oxygen. It’s certainly no flu! I was on the point of considering asking John to use his clippers on the longest setting when hairdressers opened up again. I might well resort to that eventually. I find I don’t care so much how tidy it looks since I’m not going anywhere much.

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