A similar story was originally written a year ago as part of my Storyworth writing project. I'm updating it for our unique times in February 2022. These essays reflect personal thoughts that are written and collected to be passed on later to the family. I include this story in this blog to help remember and savor the simple and good things that we were able to enjoy and are often overlooked. As we work our way through another pandemic year in 2022, we are optimistic that the Covid Omicron variant is passing. But we still need to slowly adjust our behavior and come back to a "normal" lifestyle.
The writing challenge was to discuss, “What simple pleasures in life do you enjoy?” This question forced me to think about what I take for granted and yet value, even if they seem like small parts of my life. Unfortunately, you soon realize that many simple pleasures have had to be forgone or change over the last two years. You can find my thoughts on this same question a year ago here. Here’s to recognizing and enjoying them lately and again in the near future.
Hugging the Kiddies: Upgraded 👍
Throughout last year we made great progress, or so it seemed, until December 2021 when we had to change our behavior again! Still, there was progress – in spite of contradictory advice, vaccines, sicknesses, trial and error, minor emergencies, masks, and taking reasonable risk. No one in our family got Covid, even though there was plenty of it around us!
What that meant for me was that I gradually got to get back to a normal show of hugs and kisses to all my eight grandkids. Mary Ann and I are still cautious, often seeking news of local covid cases and at-home tests, all of which reduce stress somewhat. Probably the peak of the year was the summer season where we all got together at the Jersey shore, including our two newest members of the family: Maeve and Claire, who reached their first birthday unscathed by pandemic times. Its still not unbridled love and happiness but I’m grateful for what we have.
Live Music: It’s Still Alive 👏
While YouTube did offer some recordings and virtual streaming of performances, it was still nothing like being part of a live audience. Some concerts were held after vaccines became available and they usually required showing proof of vaccination or recent negative testing. Attendance at these concerts was often limited and sometimes attendees were spaced apart. But, it seemed that musicians and venues were ready to make up for lost time.
That summer MaryAnn and I usually played it safe and only occasionally dropped by Ruthie’s in Montclair for some live Blues played outside. There was ample room behind this juke joint and we were feeling good about the possibilities of overcoming Covid by the end of the summer. Here’s one of the very informal, fun and cool presentations of a musician we both like, Dean Shot.
On a whim, my son Ethan who lives in Lexington, MA, suggested I join him and his friend Andy at the Leader Bank Pavilion in Boston for a Wilco concert. Luckily, I was able to book cheap $29 Amtrak tickets from Metropark to South Station (one of the few benefits of this pandemic) and effortlessly traveled to Boston and back home within 24 hours! Besides getting to see him and his family, this was my first live large concert in years with about 3,000 fans in a 5,000 seat open air seasonal arena.
Maybe it was just the freedom to travel or the rarity of such an opportunity but the band and everyone there seemed to really appreciate being part of the event. The following video was a tribute to the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts who had just passed away two days before.
Over the last two years I’ve gained an appreciation of how hard it must be to be an artist, especially in a restricted world. We all need to show those that work for almost nothing these days that their efforts count. I’ve decided to actively click that pervasive “like” button or give a little to my favorite artists, like Sean Tobin, through Patreon and play a small part in helping keep music alive.
Riding a Bike: Born-to-Ride + Gravel 💪
I consider myself lucky that I chose cycling as my primary exercise sport, especially as I get older and especially in these times. Besides the obvious cardio workout, it probably is the best sport for a pandemic. Cyclist can chose to ride anywhere a road or path takes you. And, we, who are notorious for gathering in groups, can usually safely exercise together without masks because of the space and moving air between us. The Omicron wave, however, challenged even those assumptions last year. Donning a mask when we end a ride at our favorite coffee stop is not a big ask at all.
Born to Ride
I’ve organized a long distance (85 miles), end-of-season (early October) bike ride for several years called “Born to Ride” which wraps up the regular cycling season. After taking a year off because of Covid, our group managed to get the ride going again. The ride idea started about 10 years ago on a wave of Bruce Springsteen nostalgia. This year we targeted spots along the route from Ortley Beach to Sandy Hook and back that had some connection with Bruce. (BTW – We have no idea whether Bruce rides a bike. It always seemed like he should.) It was the highlight of my cycling activity for the year.
Over the last few years, a new popular trend has developed in cycling called gravel or multi-surface riding. When I had a custom designed Seven Cycles bike built a few years ago for my 1,600 mile Epic Ride, we chose a design that would allow touring and as a “cross” bike, i.e., a sturdier frameset that could ride well on-road and off-road.
Riding gravel usually means choosing a route that is primarily an unpaved dirt or gravel road. Where I live in Morristown almost all roads are paved. However, only 10 or 15 miles away I have discovered extensive areas of dirt roads, usually around farms, estates or wooded trails. Gravel riding is usually slower, bumpier and requires more attention. But the benefit is seeing and being in nature – and maybe best of all; little or no traffic. I hope riding gravel will add to my interest and options for cycling for years to come.
Walking: The Routine Exercise 🚶🏻♂️
Walking seems to be a good compliment to cycling and universally accepted. It’s low impact, anybody can do it and it adds a nice social element. Mary Ann and I have developed a daily routine of a one hour walk, usually in town, but sometimes on a trail. Walking is a great way to just get out of our rut and get back into the world. Interestingly, I notice more cyclists lately are also walking as a low intensity alternative exercise.
My history of leading the FreeWalkers, the long distance organization that I created over 1o years ago, is now a past fond memory. Although I have walked with them and will again in the future, these pandemic times have still limited my involvement which feels appropriate right now.
Sunrises and Sunsets: A Better Show 😎
There must be an explanation for it. Sunsets seemed to have been consistently outstanding this year, in particular this past fall and winter. The cloud formations and low horizon light have been stunning. It’s a welcome consolation for a trying year.
Gardening: Bumper Crop 🍅 🥕 🧑🌾
My community garden plot grew a bumper crop this past year. Most gardeners would agree that the weather conditions were near perfect. There was sufficient precipitation and seasonal temperatures. Insects seemed controllable. Lots of tomatoes and other vegetables. While cucumbers had a bad year for some reason, my grandson Jack’s sunflower seeds became the tallest plants in the whole garden with giant 18 inch heads!
Dining Out: Fun While it Lasted 🍝🦞🍔🍕
Over the past year, we gradually adventured out to restaurants where there was outdoor seating. By the summer, we had a few chosen spots near Morristown and at the shore where we felt comfortable enough to eat outside weather permitting. But by December, that seemed like a dream between the weather and the threat of Omicron, we have not eaten out in several months. We are now plotting our next meal, possibly indoors, as the threat seems to recently be reduced.
Short Hiking Getaways 🚶🏻♂️
Round Valley Camping
In the spring, son Justin, granddaughters Charlotte and Anna and granddog Arlo hiked five miles with packs for an overnight camping adventure at Round Valley Reservoir. It felt great to do an outdoor adventure again, especially with people you love and admire.
Hiking the Berkshires
In the fall, I managed to get away to Williamstown for a few days, hike Mt. Greylock (highest point in Massachusetts) and see a little bit of the Berkshires with my old friend Mike Kennedy. It was great to just get away, see something new and feel some freedom again.
Playing Handyman: Renovations 🔨🪚🔩🧰
It was well past time to renovate our master bathroom, particularly the formica double vanity. Many years ago when I was younger I enjoyed rebuilding kitchens, baths and other rooms in the house. Watching This Old House was the closest I got to a major construction project in decades. So, retirement offered an opportunity to see if I still remembered skills like plumbing, electricity, carpentry and painting.
Mary Ann found a great deal on a double vanity. After planning this out I got to demolish the current setup, install the vanity and rebuild a set of fixtures. Luckily the rest of the bathroom was fairly modern looking and only required minor improvements. It took a couple months to complete but came with great satisfaction. So much so that I recently switched the vanity in the powder room downstairs and refinished our farmhouse kitchen table. I had forgotten how much satisfaction you can get by doing a project on your own.
And a few other things…
In summary, I have a lot to be thankful for. Here’s a few more to add to the list of what I was able to enjoy this past year….
- The benefits of upgrading to a new iPhone 13
- The warmth and convenience of converting our wood fireplace to gas
- The challenge of finishing jigsaw puzzles
- Helping to build and share our ancestry roots with the family
- Watching the grandkids enjoy and improve in sports
- Reading other people’s life stories (shoutout to Bob, Loredana and Barb!)
- Recording the family talent show “Live From Lavalette 2021” (sample below)