How I Spent My Winter Vacation 2020

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” Maya Angelou

As I closed up my virtual classroom for the winter break on December 23, I posted the retooled image above. Eleven days stretched before my students and I as we put away our schedules for a long winter’s rest. And it’s already Sunday night, January 3, as I begin writing this. We return tomorrow. Gah.

I’ve been writing occasional posts about this pandemic life we were living in 2020 and now 2021. This is a time at home with our immediate families, which as of November 22, includes my mother. We brought her home from her congregate senior living residence to ride out the surge months of the pandemic. 

We spent the Wednesday, December 23rd early release day making Christmas cookies together:

I learned early on as a teacher that the first three months of each school year were challenging and tiring. My mantra over the years has been, “Just make it to Thanksgiving” at which point everyone has settled in from the back-to-school whirlwind. Typically I would go into the holiday break just about exhausted. However, there is no exhausted like teaching during a pandemic exhausted. 

In one very Clement C. Moore moment late in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, I heard sirens close by. Unusual for our suburban/rural area, I went to the window to see what was the matter and this is what I saw:

I welled up, I’m not even kidding. Thank you to the Upton police for that spirit boost.  

Christmas activity normally fills the first half of vacation for my family and me. Although socially subdued, we maintained many of our traditions, including spending Christmas Eve with my son, Dylan, and his partner, Anna Theresa. My son works with the public and is extremely cautious about keeping my husband, Dick, and me stay safe from Covid. Of special concern for him is his nonagenarian grandmother. Rather than visiting in the house and sharing a meal, we visited in the summer gazebo, working around masks to nibble cookies and sip mulled cider.  Although  there  was  snow  on the ground, it  was a warm night at 55℉.

And we bundled up my mother:

At one point my son whispered conspiratorially, “She looks like Baby Yoda with his cup”. He was absolutely right.

We couldn’t go to mass on Christmas Eve, so we watched it on TV later on. After a day in the kitchen baking pies and bread, we maintained our tradition of picking up Thai food to enjoy after mass. And then settled in for a long winter’s nap.

The morning brought light from the tree and warmth from our tree topper. About the tree topper – in 2019, I retooled a 3D model of Baby Yoda (everybody’s angel) that I found on Thingiverse by hollowing out the base to use as a tree topper. I 3D printed it in pink and glazed it with sparkly ModPodge. I love it. About the tree – we usually put up a big tree in the family room and the vintage tree above goes in the dining room window. Not this year. We didn’t put up the big tree at all. We put this smaller one on top of the wood stove in the corner of the family room to afford more space for the three of us. Also, because so many things about this year have been a challenge, my white wired tree lights suddenly stopped working, so we substituted green wired lights from the big tree for them. Sh!tshow. Sorry!

Despite the challenges and as evidenced by the video above, Santa did find his way! Here we are below, each with our favorite gift. If you had a chance to see the post about Dick’s new love of reading, you can see why he is smiling so happily here: 

Santa brought my mother an iPad Pro to replace her big desktop computer, which has grown old and tired. She is catching on quickly to using the iPad for reading her Kindle books and checking her email, as well as playing solitaire and meeting with our large family over Zoom.

My mom zooming on her iPad as seen on my laptop from a different room

Santa knew the way to my heart with this Baby Yoda Chia Pet!

Once you get past the stockings and gifts, Christmas day is all about cooking. This year was no different. We made all of our traditional Christmas food: ham, macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole (for Dylan), glazed carrots, rolls, and three kinds of pie. Because we couldn’t eat together, I packaged up half of everything for Dylan to pick up and enjoy with Anna Theresa at their apartment.

This photo reminds me that the Amaryllis I had planted Thanksgiving weekend opened it’s first blossom on Christmas morning. And continued to open a new flower every day for 7 days. A Christmas miracle!

With Christmas over I looked forward to my favorite day of Christmas vacation – the day after Christmas – better known as Pajama Day. This tradition harkens back to when Dylan was young and after going from house to house to visit family on Christmas, we would take the next day off for him to play with his toys. Today, the joy for me is in having time to relax and not cook, thanks to all the leftovers. This year, my mother and I attended a couple of virtual art tours on Zoom. We appreciated having the guides share their knowledge and I learned some new information about pieces I was already familiar with. 

Time off also gives me time to read. I love to read but struggle to stay focused when my mind is busy with other things. I get up early to read every morning while my mind is fresh. I’ve been reading Moby Dick for a while and vacation has given me a chance to make serious progress toward finishing it. Ironically, the book has become a symbolic Moby Dick for me as I try to make headway with it. I planning to participate in the New Bedford Whaling Museum Moby Dick read-in next weekend for the final push.

Having come into vacation from teaching remotely, I was looking forward to being away from the laptop screen to make  something with my hands. As I considered what to make, I realized my current limitations: 1. There was no point in glazing pottery because it is too cold outside to fire them in my unheated pottery studio. 2. Mental fatigue from so much record keeping, planning, and preparing instructional videos had sapped my creativity. 3. With my mother in the peacock room (my usual virtual classroom), I had lost access to my 3D printers. 4. And by moving my virtual classroom upstairs to my painting studio, I had lost the space I needed to spread out my stuff and go wild – which is the most fun about the creative process, isn’t it? 

My niece, Meg, had sent me a paint-by-number Mona Lisa earlier in the fall. I couldn’t think of a more perfect project to embrace at this time! I would sneak away for a couple of hours almost every day after Christmas to plug away at it. I haven’t done a paint-by-number since childhood and I found it really relaxing, like a jigsaw puzzle with paint. While painting I binged on The Crown, listening more than watching, but still getting it. I loved this little guilty pleasure! And Mona came out pretty good, too:

I found that I had renewed eye energy in the evening and could work on the embroidery samplers I’ve acquired in an effort to refresh my embroidery skills. When I was a young mother I used to sew and do needlework a lot. Last winter break (2019) I had completed a piece for the Tiny Pricks Project that spurred my interest in refreshing my skills. The piece was included in a show of needlework at The Foundry in West Stockbridge in January 2020.

While I’ve been making face coverings (100+) throughout the pandemic, it was nice to take a break from them to work on embroidery. Embroidery is easy to incorporate into the home setting, especially while watching TV with the family.

Our final “event” for the holidays was the traditional New Year’s Eve feast of New England steamers, clam chowder, lobster, and garlic bread. Nothing like bi-valves and crustaceans to bring in the new year:

This was my original stopping place in writing this post on Sunday night. Once we returned to school on Monday I put it aside to focus on school. I’m happy to say I returned feeling refreshed and ready to greet my students. Although everyone’s vacation was modified and toned down by the pandemic, I expected my students to have found moments of happiness despite the limitations imposed on them. Without much planning, I created a Jamboard template for the kids to record their happiness take aways.

We reentered school in full remote mode after vacation. In remote mode, I have 8 different classes which are split between two days, 4 different classes each day meeting twice a week. In hybrid mode, those classes are divided in half to make 16 classes, 4 different classes each day meeting just once per week. I was glad to see all my students over the first two days this week. The Jamboards they added to display their happiness moments. Although there were 8 Jamboards, I accidentally cleared the first board before saving a copy (oops) so I’m sharing just 7 Jamboards here. Enjoy the happiness!

 A couple of kids made mention of being glad 2020 was over. Significant point, although as I wrap this up on the Thursday morning following the certification of the Electoral Presidential vote and the violence and chaos that interrupted the process, I have to say that so far, 2021 isn’t off to a better start than 2020 ended. I’m not sure where the events of the past 24 hours will fit as I meet with my students throughout the day today. I expect to share the same advice with them that I’ve shared with my students for 23 years – If you want to make change, make sure it’s positive change for everyone. To effect positive change, you must work within the system. If you don’t feel strong enough to do it on your own, ask others for help. Devote your energy to learning the process for change and follow the rules until you can peacefully change them. Persevere. Never give up. 

In closing, I wish all my readers a refreshed start to 2021. Let’s make this a truly happy new year.

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