Despite the challenges of living with a global pandemic, I’ve had a very good summer.
I love summer. I love spring a little bit more — it’s not as hot, and trees and flowers jumping to life brings me joy. But summer is a close second. Yet most years I feel like the summer passes me by without me enjoying it as much as I wanted.
Not this summer. I got to ride my bike a lot! I’ve loved to ride my bike since I was a boy. Dad bought me my first bike, a well-used Schwinn, when I was seven. I was unathletic, clumsy. But I took to riding that bike like I was born to do it. I’ve loved to ride ever since. Career and family make it hard to find time for the bike. But this summer, working from home has let me take plenty of lunchtime rides. It’s been terrific.
I also got to take some of my meetings on the deck in the sunshine. On the hottest days I opened the deck umbrella to get a little shade. Sure, I can hear the trucks on I-65, which is about 600 feet away. I look forward to the day we don’t live near the highway anymore. Other than that, it was lovely to get that change of scenery in my workday whenever I wanted it.
Early in the pandemic we allowed no contact with friends and family. We were all in on helping to flatten the curve. But when we could see that the pandemic wasn’t going away, we knew we couldn’t keep up full quarantine for the long haul. For our mental health, we would need to see our friends and family.
Repairing and restaining our unsightly deck had been on our list for this year even before the pandemic. But during the pandemic, the restored deck has allowed us to have friends and, especially, family over. We’ve had some lovely times out there, mosquito bites notwithstanding.
I’m always a little sad on Labor Day because it means summer is ending. Cooler weather will soon be here and summertime activities like bike rides and deck evenings will become less frequent and then end. As this summer fades away, however, for once in my adult life I feel like I made the most of it. I hope that sustains me through the winter. The cold and the pandemic will make it so much harder to be out in the world.
In the spring, I thought that lockdown might flatten the pandemic curve (remember that phrase?) enough that life could return to normal in the summer. I was willing, eager even, to press pause on seeing family and especially friends — to just stay home — for the greater good. But now it’s clear that we’re in this for months longer yet, easily through the winter and possibly even longer.
I’m mighty introverted and love spending time alone, but even I need some human contact. I feel it deeply — I’m not getting enough, even though I live with my wife and some of our children and thus have company whenever I want it. To be whole and healthy, I need to see family that doesn’t live here, and I need to see my friends. Videoconferencing hasn’t been a good enough substitute.
Obviously, risk of COVID increases the more you interact with people outside your household. My wife and I have read a number of articles about it, articles that were as agenda-free as we could find. The consensus is that when you spend time with people outside your household, the lowest-risk way to do it is outside, where whatever people around you breathe out dissipates into the air. Distancing of at least six feet, or masks when that’s not possible, further reduces the risk.
Indiana businesses are open again with a few restrictions (though in at least one county bars remain closed). This appears to have signaled a return to normal for many Hoosiers. I see people spending time in each others’ homes, riding in each others’ cars, and having meals inside restaurants. It saddens me to see it, as this behavior only spreads the virus.
My wife and I are still playing it conservatively — from our observation, much more conservatively than most. But we have loosened up some. Isolation has been hard on us and has contributed to our low moods. Right now, we do see our friends and extended family outside. We are beginning to travel together in limited fashion to places where we spend most of our time outside. We choose to take on what we believe is a small amount of COVID risk to get the mental health benefits of human interaction and being in the world.
We’re getting as much of it in now as we can, because this window will close when winter weather arrives. Indiana winters are cold and snowy, sharply limiting outdoor activity. I never look forward to winter, but I dread this coming winter more than any other in my life because it will mean intense isolation.
We’ve had occasional picnics in a Zionsville park and invited children, siblings, and parents who live in central Indiana. We’re having another on Sunday. We’ve taken dinner to my mom’s a couple times, and eaten it with her on her patio. A couple weeks ago my team at work had a socially distanced picnic together. And I’m starting to see friends a little, always outside, with reasonable distancing. On Tuesday I saw my brother and a mutual colleague for the first time since February. We met at a restaurant with a great whiskey selection, and sipped a couple bourbons on the patio while we caught up. It was wonderful.
Yesterday I took the afternoon off and drove to southern Indiana to meet my younger son, Garrett, at a state park. His mom moved way out into the country with her husband after he retired, and that’s where Garrett lives when he’s not away at college. The state park is about 20 minutes from his home. I don’t remember exactly the last time I saw Garrett, but it was before the pandemic and might have been a long ago as January. I’ve not gone this long without seeing him since he was born. We went for a long hike, and talked. It slaked a deep thirst.
My wife and I have also booked an Airbnb apartment in downtown Louisville for an upcoming weekend. Since we married, we’ve made a point of taking a long weekend away every three months. With all the hard stuff we’ve lived through, these trips help us remember that we love each other and enjoy each other’s company very much. Our last trip was in January. We need to get away. We chose an Airbnb apartment rather than a hotel because we think there’s some risk advantage to a single unit over a room in a large building. We were also able to learn about the owner’s cleaning practices in detail, and they satisfy us. While there, we hope to walk through downtown Louisville photographing its architecture and enjoying meals outside at restaurants. But if it rains all weekend we will buy groceries, make our own meals, and watch Netflix together. If this weekend trip is like all the others we’ve taken, we’ll return renewed in our relationship.
One of our sons moved out a few weeks ago. It brought us no joy as he’s on an unsustainable life path that will go badly for him. It’s been deeply stressful for all of us who live here. He is also estranged from the mother of his child. After he moved out we reached out to the mother, who has since been generous in bringing our granddaughter for visits. We were thrilled when the mother offered to make the visits to be regular, weekly if we can swing it, to build strong bonds.
Already bad weather has backed us into a corner, and we’ve allowed them into our home. We have reasonable assurance that the mother is managing pandemic risk as well as she can, and she has the same reasonable assurance from us. But in the end you never can really know and every person you add to your bubble only increases your risk. And again, winter is coming; the cold and snow will sharply limit our ability to see our granddaughter outside. We’ve judged that the better thing is for us to have time with our granddaughter, so we invite her and her mother in. We hope we’re right.
Finally, I’m getting outside for walks and bike rides as much as I can. It’s a solitary activity and so I’m at no COVID risk. But the exercise is good for my body, mind, and spirit in these hard times. I figure I have about six more weeks on the bike before temperatures are too chilly for me to ride without special gear — it’s amazing how cold your hands, ears, and face get on the bike below about 60 degrees. I don’t enjoy wearing cold-weather gear on the bike, but this year it will be worth me investing in some so I can ride for as long as I can.
Walking will be easy enough and not unpleasant until the temps drop below zero Fahrenheit. Then I’ll break out my heaviest coat, a Korean War-era wool-lined Army trench that has blocked every cold I’ve thrown at it for the 35 years I’ve owned it. But walk I will, all winter. I’m making that commitment now. It will help me get through the long, lonely winter.
The camera I always have with me is my iPhone, first a 5 and now a 6s. Both have been fine for everyday snapshots — far better than any snapshot camera I owned even 10 years ago. I’ve even used them to take some pleasing artistic photos. But I muff one in 10 shots because they’re hard to hold steady. And the images go blotchy when I zoom in close. Also, their angle of view (about 60°) is too wide for the close work I like to do.
But before I go to work each morning I step into my garden to see what’s bloomed since yesterday. I pull my iPhone out of my pocket, snap a fresh bloom, and text it to Margaret for a quick morning smile.
That’s what your phone’s camera is brilliant at: instantly sharing images of what you’re seeing and doing right now.
How useful! Margaret likes to grab selfies of us when we’re out and about to record the day’s memory. While we were in New York City earlier this year, I took several snaps with my iPhone to share on Facebook and to email to my mom in realtime. And when I come upon an old car parked, I pull out my phone and shoot the car from every angle so I can later write about the car for Curbside Classic.
I’ve read articles that wring their hands over how legions of photos on our phones will be lost because we don’t properly label and archive them. I’m not sure it matters for most of these of-the-moment photos. They’re much like these flowers: beautiful for the moment, but soon withered and fallen and swept away by the wind.
It feels like summer break is ending today. It’s because when I was a kid, school started the day after Labor Day (as God intended). Even though I haven’t been in school in decades, today still feels like the end of summer break to me!
But this year, I really did get a summer break, thanks to my employer realizing the first of June that it couldn’t afford to pay me anymore. I was cut loose, and suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands. It turned out to be wonderful! Here’s what I did with my time:
Networked, networked, networked. I knew networking would get me back to work fastest, so I had coffee, lunch, or drinks with someone every weekday — sometimes 2, 3, or 4 meetings a day. Several people I know introduced me to people in my industry whom I didn’t know. One of those introductions led to the job I started the first of August.
Worked a consulting gig. One of those networking meetings also led to a short-term, part-time job advising a software startup. I worked alongside them, evaluating their processes and learning what their pain points were. And then I gave them a lot of advice from my experience about how to ease that pain and execute more strongly.
Slept in. Whenever I didn’t have an early networking appointment, I snoozed until 8 or 9.
Rode my bike and took long walks. My work- and stress-load had been affecting my health. I’d gained weight and my digestion was seriously out of whack. I felt bloated, sluggish, and tired all the time. So I got out my bike and put on my walking shoes to shake the cobwebs out of my muscles.
Took a lot of photographs. I slung a camera over my shoulder on most of my walks and clicked away. I even got to try the color-film processing at Roberts Camera, a longtime Indianapolis photo store. They recently moved to a Downtown location that’s easy for me to reach. It was great to have scans back in a day or two, rather than in a week or two by mail!
I am so relaxed! I can’t remember any other time in my adult life when I’ve felt so little stress. Money wasn’t even a major worry thanks to landing that consulting job.
And the company where I landed has such a laid-back atmosphere. People work hard, but are trusted and encouraged. This is so refreshing after the pressure cookers my last two jobs were! I feel like I’ve stepped into a brighter, healthier future.
But my summer experience planted an idea seed. Advising the startup was great fun. And through my networking, I heard it over and over again: you could stay pretty busy and make good money advising software startups all over town. What if? It’s fun to dream and scheme.
But I’m born of working-class roots — working for the man is my norm, my default. And I’m mighty introverted — I can sell myself in occasional short bursts, but marketing myself all the time is not natural to me. So I will keep networking to build my contact universe and become known in the software startup community. If I can’t manage that, I’d never make it as an independent consultant.
And even if I can manage it, I might just chicken out. And if so, then I’ve landed a job that looks to be really, really good for me. I am astonished by my good fortune this summer.
For my birthday this year my mom bought me a bunch of new flowering plants for my front garden. She did most of the work planting them, too. What a nice gift!
I so enjoy walking through my garden for a minute before I get in the car to go to work. I pull off a few dead flowers, take in the scents of the flowers that have them, and generally enjoy a peaceful moment before getting busy.
Shortly after all the new plants were in the ground and had gotten happy in their new surroundings, I loaded some E100G slide film into my Yashica-D and shot the whole roll in ten minutes. These, by the way, are the same lilies I featured on Monday.
These aren’t the finest photographs I’ve ever taken, but I had so much fun shooting them. I love my Yashica-D. It just feels so good and right in my hands. Everything about the camera feels solid, precise, and elegant.
Mom and I — well, mostly Mom — moved a bunch of my existing plants to better locations. These coneflowers and yellow daisies came from Mom’s garden in South Bend before she moved here. They grew too tall where I had them before, so into the main front bed they went where they can be as tall as they want to be.
I bought these hosta at Wal-Mart a couple years ago. My next-door neighbor would probably be miffed if he knew, as he’s a master hosta grower and keeps offering me plants from his prodigious growings, which I usually decline. His timing is always terrible — when he offers, it never fails that I’m up to my armpits in alligators and don’t have time to plant anything.
Most years I buy a flowering plant in a pot for my front stoop. This year, it was purple petunias. Purple is my favorite color. Kudos to Kodak E100G for rendering the color right. So many films miss the boat on purple.
Here’s my favorite shot from the roll. It’s not square because I flubbed up the winding a little bit at the beginning of the roll, and it resulted in the last frame being cut off. I cropped it to the usable part of the image.
The tiger lilies and the phlox in my front garden always bloom last. Their annual emergence is my sure sign summer is here.
The days on either side of solstice are my favorite time of year. The days last so long, with 15 hours of glorious daylight. It’s usually temperate in Indiana, with highs in the 70s or 80s. The trees are fully leaved, young bunnies hop all around the neighborhood, and the flowers just keep coming. It’s so easy to feel happy as spring fades into summer.
Except that I’m not really doing them. I started a couple long-neglected yard chores but they remain unfinished. Except for a few long walks and one good bike ride, I really haven’t launched that fitness regimen I’ve long talked about. I haven’t finally cleaned and reorganized my garage. I haven’t given more time to the church or to the nonprofit I help run.
What I’m finding is that everything I normally do has expanded to fill most of the extra time — I’m taking things slower. With the rest of the time, I’m sleeping in a little and I’m stopping more often to breathe the air and look at my flowers.
There are two reasons, I think. First, I think I don’t really want to do those things. They’re just things I think I ought to be doing, and I blame lack of time for not doing them. I think we tend to naturally prioritize the things we want to do, within the time available to us. It turns out that sleeping and enjoying a little idle time were actually next on my must-do list.
But second, my life was toobusy before. I frequently burn the candle at both ends. Working only part time has let me ease up. It feels like a vacation. I’d like to keep some of this when I eventually return to full-time work.
Does this resonate with you? What do you say you want to do if you had more time? What do you think you’d actually do with that time?