Vol. 24, No. 3

Dear Family,

In accordance with CDC guidance, I hugged Mom and Dad earlier this month for the first time in over a year. One could argue that more momentous events have transpired since my last dispatch. But I’m the editor here and this is what we’re leading with.

The close physical contact was occasioned by Peter’s 38th birthday and made possible by the vaccination of almost every adult in the family except me. (They let me come anyway.) It was fun to be with everyone, especially Matt, who made the drive up from Raleigh. I especially enjoyed my brothers’ reminiscences of the infamous 2009 golf cart story in anticipation of this summer’s expected return to Oglebay.

Birthdays are a bigger deal to Peter than they are to most 38 year olds. His birthday last year was one of the pandemic’s first social casualties and it made me happy that he did not have to lose another one. But I don’t think anyone found as much delight in the gathering as Peter himself, as evidenced by his grin below.

Five brothers on Grandma’s patio, 20 March 2021 (perhaps fittingly, the eve of World Down Syndrome Day). I’m in the hat and scarf and am both the oldest person in this picture and somehow the only one not yet vaccinated.

Peter’s birthday party came at the end of a busy day that for us also included niece Josie Kent’s bat mitzvah service. In normal times we would have traveled to Los Angeles for this, as we did for her brother Sid’s bar mitzvah three summers ago. (While there’s little chance of my actually making it to every niece’s/nephew’s wedding in the coming years, I was hoping to be able to attend 100 percent of the bar/t mitzvahs. Also, I’m generally not one to pass up an excuse to visit Southern California in March.) But alas.

We watched the proceedings live on YouTube. We did not contribute anything to the live chat and so people will just have to believe us when we say we were there. Perhaps not surprisingly, the production quality of Temple Akiba’s live stream service — with multiple mobile camera operators, picture-in-picture, cantors patched in from two remote locations, and relatives contributing aliyah readings from the Netherlands and Kauai (and elsewhere) — was a notch or two above the single-MacBook-precariously-perched-atop-10-hymnals-stacked-on-a-cart-next-to-the-pulpit rig that our ward uses to broadcast sacrament meeting onto YouTube each week.

Probably like most other gentiles, I tend to associate bar/t mitzvah celebrations less with Shabbat morning services and more with the lively parties that follow. The party, of course, did not happen this time, but Josie’s dad (Crystal’s brother, Rick) assured everyone at multiple points during his talk that one eventually would. I hope we can go.

Grace turned 16 earlier this month, thus becoming the first member of the family to lose two birthday parties to the pandemic. She took it like a champ, though, because she’s awesome.

If you are reading this, you are almost certainly already aware of Sophia’s mission call, which arrived two Tuesdays ago, and accompanying assignment to the Ukraine Dnipro Mission. Hopefully all the French she’s studied and her affinity for Duolingo will be helpful as she learns Russian. I love language and languages, but the thought of having to learn a new alphabet would frighten me.

And now for some pedantry. (Because what would these letters be without pedantry?) First, the country where Sophie has been assigned is called “Ukraine,” not “the Ukraine.”1 Second, and I’m guilty of this too, it’s not correct to say that Sophie “has been called to Ukraine.” She’s been called to be a missionary and that is unlikely to change. Her assignment is to Ukraine and could change for any number of reasons, as every missionary currently serving knows all too well. I really hope Sophie gets there,2 but, as evidenced by the structure of her call letter, the location of her assignment is somewhat incidental to the whole thing.

Sophie’s Hogwarts letter contains many of the same sentences found in my letter from 30 years ago. But the structure of Sophie’s letter is entirely different and vastly improved. In my letter, the assignment location was up in the first paragraph. In Sophie’s, the first paragraph is a single sentence: “You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

I have come to appreciate the power of a well-placed, one-sentence paragraph.

The second and third paragraphs outline the purpose of Sophie’s calling and what will be expected of her. The third paragraph, a perfect, two-sentence definition of missionary work, is entirely absent from my letter. It isn’t until the fourth paragraph (of five) that you finally learn where Sophie has been assigned to go. This is as it should be. It’s a beautiful letter in both form and substance. Even the layout is attractive.

For comparison, below are two letters I opened in February 1991. The first thing you notice (okay, the first thing I notice) is how far word processing has come in 30 years. The final generation that was taught to insert two spaces after periods is finally approaching retirement, but it remains perhaps the hardest bad habit to break for people who learned to type on actual typewriters (and makes for some rather ugly copy).

The first of the two letters above actually came from the Church. The second is a forgery. I learned this month that Sophie was somehow not familiar with the story of the second letter, and so here, for her benefit, is a synopsis:

February 1991. Several guys in my dorm (“W” Hall of Deseret Towers, which no longer exists) knew my mission call was imminent. I was involved at the time with a lovely girl in “U” Hall from Prescott, Arizona, and I made no secret of the fact that I did not care where the Church sent me so long as it was not to the Arizona Tempe Mission (which at that time included Prescott). The girl I liked went home from time to time and I had no particular interest in bumping into her as a missionary.

Upon learning this, some enterprising people on my floor conspired with W Hall’s head resident (a no-nonsense, grandmotherly type called Sister Bell) to intercept the envelope containing my mission call when it arrived and replace it with a different envelope containing a letter assigning me to the Arizona Tempe Mission.3 Photoshop was not yet a thing4 and, as I recall, the re-creation consisted of one guy photocopying the First Presidency’s letterhead, somebody else typing out the letter, and a third guy (who I think we agreed was the most likely to go to hell for all this) who managed to mimic Ezra Taft Benson’s shaky signature at the bottom.5

The short version of this story is that I fell for the forgery and called home to tell Mom and Dad that I was going to be a missionary in Arizona. They of course were congratulatory and happy about that. It wasn’t until later that night (and really late in New Jersey) that Ma Bell gave me the real envelope, which compelled me to call home again to tell Mom and Dad that I was not in fact going to Arizona. I perceived some confusion on the other end of the line and I’m not sure which thing annoyed Dad more — being awakened for a second time or that I was paying for two long-distance calls6 on the same night. But we sorted everything out.

Anyway, leave it to me to take a story about my daughter’s mission call and make it about myself. If you know me at all, this should no longer surprise you. She really does make me happy, though, and I continue to be very proud of her.

Ukraine, like most countries in the northern hemisphere, moves its clocks ahead this weekend. I only mention this because it allows me to segue to my annual rant about Daylight Saving Time and how the United States is essentially the only place on earth to “spring forward” while it’s still winter, thus plunging morning exercisers even deeper into darkness than would be the case if we were to wait to “spring forward” until, you know, spring. (Most of Canada also moves its clocks ahead on the second Sunday in March, but only because that’s when we do it.7) At any rate, we’re now two weeks in to DST and I’m almost back to my normal rhythm of waking up at 5:30 (give or take) without an alarm clock. If history holds, I’ll stop complaining about the time change sometime this week.

Speaking of spring, I learned last week that BYU actually has a spring break now. It lasted one day–Friday, March 19th, which is one day more than we got for spring break when I went to BYU. Sophie and her roommates borrowed someone’s Suburban and drove down to Zion National Park for the long weekend. I’m told they stayed in a hotel (not sure if they all crammed into one room, as I would have done at that stage of life) and Sophie had the privilege of being needled for never having done any “real” hiking because there are no “real” mountains where she’s from. There are a million snarky ways of rebutting comments like this, and I got a lot of practice as a BYU freshman from New Jersey. (Everyone has an opinion of New Jersey, none more pointed than from people who have never actually been there.) But there’s just no getting around the fact that Utah’s mountains are spectacular, and if I were from there, I’d be just as annoyingly dismissive about other people’s backyards.

As part of Crystal’s growing portfolio of community outreach initiatives, our ward joined forces again this month with the United Methodist Church up the street to co-host a second Red Cross blood drive (at our meetinghouse). Lucy and Grace both donated (Grace for the first time, having just become eligible by turning 16). Crystal, who it’s possible has not donated blood since college, tried to give as well. But she learned that she has been permanently disqualified as a blood donor by virtue of having lived in the U.K. for more than 3 months between 1980 and 1996. It would seem they can’t rule out the possibility that she may have consumed mad-cow-contaminated beef and, even though she’s shown no symptoms, the Food and Drug Administration is concerned that she might asymptomatically transmit something.

Speaking of mad cow disease, Lucy landed a job this month as a host at Outback Steakhouse.8 This caps a long and at times frustrating search and we are all delighted for Lucy. Loud environments, extended social interaction, and staying up past 8:30 p.m. are all things Lucy ordinarily seeks to avoid. But they’re going to give it a shot. This was Lucy’s first week and they usually take the bus. But I insisted on Lucy’s letting me drive them there the first couple of days — it’s a dad thing — and, obviously confusing my 21-year-old’s first week of work with their first day of second grade, wanted to take a picture. Lucy tolerated this but understandably opted not to look back and wave.

25 March. Lucy’s second day of work.

And finally, closing the loop on last month’s saga of our roof, we now have a new one. It looks nice (it looks like a roof) and we’re told the shingles are more wind resistant than the ones we used to have (several of which had blown off, thus necessitating the new roof). For no extra charge, the roofers also cleaned probably a decade’s worth of decaying leaves out of our gutters and installed some kind of fine mesh contraption that allegedly will prevent leaves from ever clogging our gutters again. This is nice since I was obviously never going to do anything about it myself. I’ll miss the random waterfalls during heavy downpours, but it’s probably for the best.

May serenity attend you through all of life’s storms.

Love,

Tim

Vol. 24, No. 2

Dear Family,

Months like this one remind me that Dante may have been onto something in Inferno when he depicts the ninth (i.e., the worst) circle of hell not as fire and brimstone, but as an extremely cold place where Satan is trapped in ice.1 Worrying about our Texas relatives, I was reminded of the time a decade ago when we lost power for 15 hours during a winter storm.2 I observed to my cousin Julie, who lives in Austin and was among the fortunate ones who lost power for only 28 hours but retained hot, running water, that while summer power outages are supremely annoying, losing power in extreme cold is terrifying. I obviously wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know and I’m glad things seem to be improving there.

We’ve had a lot of winter weather this month — more than in the past several years and enough to cancel church on three consecutive Sundays. No one’s complaining about that, but the specter of spending eternity in these conditions (presumably without a working furnace) is enough to make me want to repent.

Assuming you don’t live in a developing country, Maryland’s vaccine rollout has probably been less efficient than wherever you live.3 As with the Texas power fiasco and everything else that goes wrong in life, people will find a way of blaming this entirely on whatever political tribe they don’t affiliate with. But fortunately, Crystal was able to jump the queue by virtue of being an educator and now has two shots of Pfizer in her (as opposed to Hannah, who got two shots of Moderna — we hope they prove equally effective). The rest of us remain fully exposed.

It appears Crystal’s inoculation will get its first real test at the beginning of April. That is when she is scheduled to first set foot inside the middle school where she’s been working since late last year. (She doesn’t even have an ID badge yet.) Students are going back to school in a phased approach the prioritizes the youngest students and students with special needs. Crystal’s charges — seventh graders with Asperger’s syndrome — are somewhere in the middle.

It is not yet clear to me what “in-person learning” will look like with so many students opting to stay remote. It seems to vary even within the district. Some schools will have an in-classroom teacher providing a conventional experience to the students who are present while simultaneously broadcasting to the remote learners over Zoom (kind of like how we’re all doing sacrament meeting now). Rumor has it (i.e., parents are complaining on social media) that at some schools, teaching will apparently continue over Zoom for everyone — the only difference between the in-person and remote students being that the in-person students will follow the lesson on their laptops from desks inside a school building. It sounds like there might be other models, too. The school district’s website mentions “a combination of instructional experiences to meet the needs of students,” but I can’t find any public information about what’s happening where. I guess we’ll find out. I guess I don’t really care since Grace, her extrovert tendencies notwithstanding, is opting to continue remote learning.

Remote learning appears to be working okay for Grace. Her chemistry teachers (this semester and last) are both British. She likes them and is growing accustomed to how they pronounce and spell things like aluminum/aluminium. Having a teacher who pronounces words differently than his students do is charming but not without downsides. Only recently did Grace learn that manganese is its own element and not just the British way of pronouncing magnesium, as she originally assumed. One downside of remote learning we did not originally appreciate is the difficulty of taking a chemistry class in a room without a periodic table on the wall.

And so we ordered a large periodic table and somehow found room for it among the many, many Taylor Swift posters on Grace’s bedroom wall.

Grace had been struggling earlier this month with stoichiometry (a funny-sounding word in any accent) and as much as I enjoyed reacquainting myself with molecular weights, moles and figuring out how many grams of whatever ferric salt you need to mix with something else to get 28 grams of iron, it’s not something that’s come up a lot since I learned it back in the ’80s. I eventually helped her get the right answer. But, according to her teacher, my way of doing it only works some of the time while his funny-sounding British way works all the time. This forced Grace to decide whether to take stoichiometry advice from a chemistry teacher or from a French major who hasn’t touched a chemistry textbook this century. Fortunately, I think she made the right choice and now feels she is “killing it” (her words) in stoichiometry.4

I haven’t met Grace’s chemistry teacher but I know I’d like him. He writes crisply worded emails, which is reason enough to like anybody, and he announced at the beginning of class on February 16th that it was “Pancake Day” in the U.K.5 We had pancakes for dinner that night to celebrate, but, having looked it up, pancake is yet another one of those words that doesn’t mean precisely the same thing there that it does here. (What they call a pancake most of us would call a crêpe.)

Pancake Day ushered in the start of Lent. Our family did not observe Lent when I was growing up, and I imagine most of us still don’t. But some church friends of ours started doing it (not out of religious obligation — I think they just think it’s a good thing to do), and this has rubbed off on Crystal, Grace, and possibly Sophie.

I’ve always thought of Lent as kind of pointless since the most popular things people give up for it (apart from chocolate) are things I’m not particularly inclined to do anyway.6 I considered trying to give up sugar for the 73rd time. I even considered trying to give up being a jackass. But I knew I would fail at both of those things and so I figured why torture myself. (I have other ways of doing that.)

Crystal claims to be giving up bacon and Grace is giving up social media (or possibly just Instagram). I wish them luck even though I don’t really see the point in it. And like any of a million other practices, I will probably roll my eyes at it right up until the moment that I inevitably adopt it.

Grace got her learner’s permit since I last wrote, which means the clock is now officially counting down toward the day when we run out of children who can’t drive. I drove Grace to what Maryland calls the “Motor Vehicle Administration” (MVA) and, thanks to the pandemic, it was by far the most un-MVA experience of my life. Which means it was awesome. Everything is by appointment now, and so the wretched sea of humanity you usually encounter upon entering the MVA has been replaced by a mostly empty waiting room. Usually the person manning the check-in booth hands you a number and you go and sit for an hour waiting for your number to be called. This time, they called Grace’s number over the loudspeaker literally as the guy was handing it to her. I misplaced my drivers license earlier this week. I found it a couple of days later but the intervening time was not especially stressful because the thought of having to deal with the MVA seemed downright pleasant.7

Anyway, Grace passed her written exam, which, now that all my kids have passed it, I don’t mind saying is WAY too easy. I’ve long held that we could address a myriad of social ills simply by restricting drivers licenses to people with IQs of at least 85, releasing all the people in prison for drug offenses and replacing them with motorists who fail to yield to pedestrians, and quadrupling taxes on gasoline. But nobody cares what I think. (And probably for good reason.)

Sophie had her wisdom teeth extracted today and seems to be doing okay. She’s lucky to have such a nice big sister nearby. Hannah drove her to the oral surgeon, picked her up afterward, and apparently has been taking care of her ever since. The procedure was required by the missionary application process she’s now going through. I’m about 38.1 percent certain that requiring prospective missionaries to get their wisdom teeth out is part of an elaborate scam perpetrated against the Church and its members by the Utah Dental Association.8 It all seems kind of pointless given how unlikely it is that she’ll be assigned to serve in an area without reliable dental care. If recent trends around here hold, it’s even money she’ll get sent to Utah. (Which of course would be just fine. It’s just that it’s already hard enough explaining the concept of missions to friends whose distorted understanding of them is informed primarily by The Book of Mormon (the musical) without also having to explain why the Church needs missionaries in Utah.) But I’m glad Sophie’s mouth is okay.

She called a few weeks ago as the Super Bowl was kicking off to ask where she could watch it. I told her it was on CBS, but that of course meant nothing to her. Even though Sophie has always lived in a house with 80 bajillion cable channels, she, like many 18 year olds, has only a vague concept of live, broadcast TV. If it’s on any streaming service, she can find it in 8 nanoseconds. If it’s on “Channel 9,” forget about it.

Sophie’s roommates had made arrangements to watch the game with the one designated apartment of boys that her apartment is officially allowed to hang out with in quarantine. I imagine Sophie would have enjoyed that, but she had a family tradition to uphold. That tradition involves watching the game at Grant and Jen’s house with Grandma and Grandpa, their four Maryland-resident sons, those sons’ 14 children (minus those who have left the nest, which is happening at an alarming rate), and Aunt Coco. Like Thanksgiving and Christmas, this tradition also fell victim to the pandemic.

Dad did not approve of our watching football on Sundays growing up. (His preference in this matter had little practical effect since church responsibilities kept him away from home most Sunday afternoons and Mom liked watching the Eagles.) But he picked his battles wisely and, along with his aversion to caffeinated soft drinks and face cards,9 Dad’s disapproval of Sunday football seems to have eroded away entirely. (That’s how Satan gets ya. He plays the long game.) But even in the old days, he almost always joined us for the Super Bowl. I’m not sure why those are such pleasant memories for me, but they are.

This year’s Super Bowl party was a virtual affair, with brothers sharing photos from their respective family rooms. But my favorite picture of all is the one below of Abby and Sophie in Sophie’s apartment with Super Bowl-themed frosted sugar cookies (one of the most important parts of the tradition). Seeing these two cousins carry on a family tradition (however unimportant) on their own from 2,000 miles away makes me happy.

Abby and Sophie in Sophie’s Heritage Halls apartment (with Boomer Esiason in the foreground, probably offering advice on how to throw interceptions at key moments). If I had to guess, I’d say the cookie in Abby’s left hand is a Tampa Bay Buccaneers flag, and the cookie in Sophie’s left hand is a culturally insensitive Kansas City Chiefs arrowhead.

And finally, there’s the ongoing saga of our roof, which for the past several months has been partially covered by an attractive, small (6 sq. ft.) blue tarp. At some point, probably more than a year ago by now, unusually strong winds knocked some shingles off our roof. It was a little disconcerting when Crystal started finding them scattered around the yard, but it wasn’t obvious (from the ground) where exactly they’d come from. Neither of us had any particular interest in climbing up onto the roof, and so we adopted my usual approach of ignoring problems until they become un-ignorable.

It didn’t take long for various roofing companies to begin canvassing the neighborhood. One of them happened to be our neighbor from three doors down. Figuring that his was the least likely roofing company to screw us, we (Crystal) listened to what he had to say. He felt that the storm had likely done enough damage for our insurance company to pay for a new roof. And so Crystal told him that if that was indeed the case, then he could install it. He put the tarp over what I guess was the worst part and Crystal filed a claim with USAA.

USAA sent a guy out to inspect the damage. A week or two later we received word that our claim had been approved — for like $700. Basically just enough to fix the area under the tarp and nowhere near enough for a new roof. We relayed this to our neighbor who didn’t seem surprised, said something about how USAA always low-balls you the first time around, and suggested we submit the claim again. Which we did.

USAA sent a different guy over, but this time our roofer went up there with him, ostensibly to point out several other damaged areas he felt the first guy had overlooked. The inspector climbed down and told us he’d found enough issues to justify a full roof replacement. (He then smiled and said, “Yeah, you guys have a really good roof salesman.” I did not actually see any extra hundred dollar bills dangling from the guy’s pocket as he walked back to his truck, but I half-expected to.) Anyway, literally while I was conducting sacrament meeting last Sunday, I got a barrage of text alerts from USAA informing me that they had approved a significantly larger claim amount. Hopefully it’s enough as I’m really looking forward to no longer being the neighborhood yokel with a tarp on his roof.

We wish you the best of luck in the great American vaccine sweepstakes and hope this finds you happy, healthy, warm and dry.

Love,

Tim et al.

Vol. 24, No. 1

Dear Family,

Even though I’ve never conducted a proper analysis on phrases like, “I prefer to steer clear of politics on Facebook,” I feel reasonably confident asserting that they are followed by the word but and a political pronouncement approximately 100 percent of the time.

Longtime readers of my letters with unusually good memories may recall a few rare occasions over the decades on which I’ve stuck my toe into presidential politics — usually in an effort to be funny.1 It’s sobering to look back at these and realize not only that my attempts at humor seldom land but that my avoidance of political topics generally has less to do with restraint and more to do with the fact that I’m just not that invested in it.

Grace contends that my ability not to care is facilitated by my privilege. She’s right I guess, but what exactly I’m expected to do about this — beyond the self-aggrandizing virtue signaling that all of us do in one way or another (weather permitting and when convenient), which ultimately persuades no one and accomplishes nothing — is less obvious to me.

This month’s political strife, followed by what felt like an unusually emotional political transition, seems to have gotten me to start caring. We’ll see how long it lasts.

It started on January 6th when the mob invaded the Capitol. The upsetting emotions I felt could not have been unique to me. I expect they’re just a natural reaction to witnessing the defilement of a place to which I’ve come to attach a certain level of sanctity.

The sentiment was reminiscent of what I experienced upon learning in 1986 that an armed intruder had taken hostages inside the Washington D.C. Temple.

I’m not sure how many of you remember (or ever heard) the story of the disgruntled church member from Pennsylvania who presented his recommend at the entrance to the baptistry and, upon being told that it was expired, pulled a gun and said something like, “Then can I get in with this?”

I was a high school freshman at the time and, as a result, there’s a zero percent chance that my memory of the details, which I would have picked up entirely via hearsay, is accurate. But contemporary news accounts2 indicate that the gunman took a couple of hostages up to the 7th-floor assembly room where they apparently spent the night.

I wouldn’t have been familiar with that room as a 14 year old or even known that it existed. But I remember the sense of violation I felt when I learned about what had happened — I seem to recall having learned about it while standing in the hallway of the Moorestown (N.J.) Ward meetinghouse from the building custodian,3 but that memory could very well be false. I did not have the same appreciation for the temple then that I have now. But I knew it was a sacred place and it hurt to think of someone behaving that way inside of it

I felt the same way on January 6th.

The next day, January 7th, Lucy and I drove Sophie to Reagan National so she could return to BYU for the winter semester, which began the following week. Lucy and I were still feeling a little scarred from the previous day’s events — I don’t remember ever having seen Lucy watch TV news as intently or with as much concern as on January 6th. And so instead of driving directly home from the airport, we hopped over Memorial Bridge, drove down Independence Avenue and then north on 3rd Street4 along the “west front” of the Capitol (the front that faces the Mall) — just to assure ourselves that it was still okay.

January 7th: Sophie and Lucy hug goodbye at DCA.

The following Saturday, January 9th, Crystal I rode our bikes together down to the Capitol. By then they had already started erecting the imposing black steel fencing that would ultimately give much of downtown the look and feel of a war zone. A large truck carrying some of the fencing drove past us as we rode along First Street (the road that runs between the “east front” of the Capitol and the Supreme Court). They were putting up fencing literally where we stood as we posed for pictures. It would be a couple weeks before ordinary people like us were allowed on First Street again.

January 9th: Crystal at Black Lives Matter Plaza (with the original street mural that inspired whatever knockoff version your city has). Behind her is St. John’s Church (site of Trump’s infamous Bible-posing photo op) and lots of flags with various curse words.
January 9th: Crystal on First Street, the “east front” of the Capitol and the first wave of black fencing.

About a week before the inauguration, my friend, neighbor, longtime staffer for Senator Gordon Smith, former FEMA/current USDA employee, and fellow bishopric counselor5 Richard Krikava invited me to join him on him on his quadrennial bike ride downtown for the inauguration.

Crystal and I have now lived here for seven presidential inaugurations (President Clinton’s second inaugural in 1997 — a month after Hannah was born — was our first) but we’d never ventured downtown for it. I’ve always thought about it, but it’s always been too cold or too whatever.

January 20th wasn’t especially cold this year — started off maybe around 40? Not balmy, but not cold either. The idea still gave me pause though because I knew the city was going to locked down, no one was getting anywhere near the Mall, and I was afraid of getting caught in a riot. But Richard, drawing on his experience as a native of Portland, Ore., felt comfortable in his ability to steer clear of violent nut jobs and persuaded me to come.

And so we went.

By January 20th, the city looked like nothing I’d seen before. I’ve never been to Baghdad and you probably haven’t either. But assuming you’re old enough, you probably have a picture in your mind of how Baghdad looked about 15 years ago. That’s the image Washington evoked as we biked around it on Inauguration Day. Every street within three blocks of the Mall was blocked off by a sea of concrete Jersey barriers, trucks, buses, armored vehicles parked sideways across the road, miles of the tall, heavy black fencing they were putting up when Crystal and I rode down 11 days earlier, and literally thousands of soldiers holding big, scary-looking long guns.

Inauguration Day. Richard, me, the Capitol, media people, some Jersey walls and a bus strategically blocking the street.

The soldiers were everywhere — seemingly at every intersection as we approached the restricted areas. Closer to the Capitol, the black fencing was topped with razor wire. Inside, armed troops stood shoulder to shoulder. I’d never seen anything like it.

Inauguration Day. 2nd Street. Black fencing, razor wire, a wall of soldiers, and the Capitol.

The fencing surrounding the Mall seemed pretty airtight. But because Washington was designed by a Parisian who seemingly only resorted to right angles when absolutely necessary,6 we managed to inadvertently pedal into places we weren’t supposed to be on at least three occasions. This resulted in multiple encounters with armed troops in which we’d apologetically explain (truthfully!) that we were just trying to figure out how to leave.

“It’s okay man,” one soldier told us while pointing to a fence opening where we could exit. “You’re still in the United States…I think.”

He actually said, “I think,” which was perhaps the most disconcerting thing anyone’s said to me so far this year.

2nd Street. Won’t be heading THAT way…

At around 10:30 we rolled into Richard’s favorite Capitol Hill pizza joint (and now my favorite Capitol Hill pizza joint) fittingly named “We, the Pizza.” As we finished whatever one calls a meal eaten at 10:45 in the morning7 we noticed that it had grown colder and more overcast and was actually starting to snow a little.

The snow concerned me since I wasn’t dressed for it and I was starting to shiver. Fortunately, it didn’t last. The sky had started clearing by the time Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land is Your Land,” and the vice-presidential and presidential oath taking actually seemed to have the effect of bringing the sun out. The ride home was warm and pleasant.8

I won’t go so far as to suggest that an abrupt return of sunshine and warmth that coincided with the official transfer of power was a sign of divine approval, but it was nice.

One more picture. This one from just outside the Botanic Garden southwest of the Capitol. You can sort of make out the inauguration flags on the west front through the steel grating.

About 2,000 words ago I implied that a political statement might be forthcoming, and here it is: President Biden is Dad’s age (78). Trump is 74. Anthony Fauci and Nancy Pelosi are both 80, and Russel M. Nelson is 96. With the possible exception of Trump, these people all work a lot harder than I do. The Social Security retirement age should be raised to 70.

That’s it for me. See you in four years.

Sophie seems to settling in well to the new semester. (Did I mention she rolled a 4.0 last semester? I didn’t? Well, she did. I wonder what that’s like.) She and her roommates have apparently gone off sugar. As someone who has quit sugar more times than the average smoker has quit cigarettes, I admire the effort and wish her good luck with that.

Sophie is also the girl responsible for coordinating all the “home evening groups” in her ward. Covid has complicated this of course, but the Utah Area Presidency allegedly9 took it upon themselves to either authorize, encourage, or mandate (I don’t know which) “pods” as large as three apartments (as many as 18 people) to gather for social activities in close quarters and basically interact as though they live together. Sounds a little on the reckless side to me, and I’m probably not alone in that view. But I don’t live there and even if I did, pushing back on the Area Presidency doesn’t comport well with our culture (and would be a waste of time).

All that notwithstanding, according to Sophie, the president of the university apparently saw fit to push back and put the kibosh on the larger pods. This makes sense to Sophie but as of Sunday she was unclear on what she was supposed to do. I can’t say I know the answer to that, but I can say I love me a good turf war — especially when I’m not a party to it.

Speaking of turf wars, a couple of weeks ago our local school board announced that it was aiming to start phasing into in-person instruction as early as March 15th if various public health criteria could be met by then. Shortly thereafter the governor announced that everyone in the state would/should be back in school by March 1st. The county board of education seemed a little blindsided by that and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all plays out.

As I’ve admitted for the past several months, I don’t claim to know what the right answer is here, and I’m glad it’s not my decision to make. But when I poked my head into Grace’s bedroom at 8:57 on one particularly cold morning last week to make sure she was ready for school, I found her set up with her laptop in bed under a pile of blankets.

Earlier in the school year, she had decried remote learning as “all the sucky parts of school without any of the fun stuff.” And so I asked her something like, “Can you honestly tell me you’d rather be at school than where you are right now?”

“No,” the always-honest Grace replied from inside her cocoon, “this is actually pretty great.”

She also still likes coding — and probably not just because she can do it from the comfort of her bedroom. That makes me happy.

Lucy and Crystal painted Lucy’s room last weekend. The color is called “fresh croissant” and it looks nice. The best part was when it came time to rehang the curtains. The anchors securing that thing to the wall that the curtain rod sits atop10 had failed and a new hole needed to be drilled and properly reinforced.

“Your dad can help with that,” Crystal told Lucy. “Why don’t you ask him?”

I could write another five hundred words on what happened next but most of them would be obscenities. Suffice it to say that curtains are back up, but Lucy’s newly painted wall looks to have borne the brunt of a drive-by shooting.

Competent people. How I admire and envy them.

We wish our new president the best in his efforts to foster unity in a country that can’t even seem to agree on the definition of the word.

Let’s keep it civil, folks!

Love, Tim et al

Vol. 23, No. 12

Dear Family,

I bought my first pair of reading glasses this month. And getting them at Costco meant that I actually bought my first three pairs of reading glasses this month. It’s impossible to pick up just one of anything at Costco, and I’m kind of surprised I didn’t have to get a 12-pack. But three pairs from Costco cost less than one pair from CVS, and so one pair now sits on my nightstand, a second pair is on somewhere my desk, and a third pair is on the piano.

The end of the second part of the video below features an extreme close-up by Sophie of one of these new pairs of glasses–the pair on the piano. If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably already seen the first 4 minutes and 15 seconds of this video (me playing something resembling George Winston’s arrangement of “Carol of the Bells” in the tuxedo I wore to my office’s Zoom-based holiday party this month). You can skip that part.

Fewer people have been exposed to the better, second part of the video — a family home evening activity on the Monday before Christmas inspired by our immense satisfaction at how season 2 of “The Mandalorian” ended. If you haven’t been watching “The Mandalorian,” then you’re probably not related to me and won’t recognize the melody. And if you’re over 40, then you’re also liable to find some of the video effects nauseating. Proceed at your own risk.

Skip ahead to 4:15 for The Mandalorian (and Sophie’s shout-out to Grogu in the credits).

Uncorrected, my close-up vision is great. It’s only when I wear contacts to correct my mild nearsightedness (which I’ve worn with no apparent side-effects for more than half my life) that I’m suddenly unable to read my phone or piano music. And so I find myself in the frustrating position of having to choose between being able to experience the world’s resplendent beauty in high-def and being able to read about it. I apparently can’t do both unless I keep a pair of reading glasses handy to cancel out my contacts. Even though I am at least the 7,000,000,000th Homo sapiens to have experienced this phenomenon,1 this is the first time it’s happened to me, and, like most things inherent to mortality, I’m finding it incredibly inconvenient.

And speaking of Costco, it’s officially a zoo again, reminiscent of last spring’s chaotic run on various household staples. Pursuant to our county’s most recent executive order, which took effect the week of Christmas, Costco is back to restricting store access only to people in possession of an actual Costco membership card. When we went on Tuesday, instead of the friendly Costco employee who used to happily wave 15 people through the entrance at once so long as someone in the group flashed something resembling a Costco card, we were greeted by a no-nonsense, armed Montgomery County police officer. Her build and stature brought Kristen Chenoweth to mind, but it was nevertheless clear that no one was getting in there without proper documentation.

This wasn’t a problem for Crystal and me (we each have cards). It meant that Sophie and Grace had to go hang out elsewhere in the mall instead of coming into Costco with their parents. But they didn’t seem terribly put out by this. Single parents of younger children, who may not have realized they needed to find child care in order to go to Costco, probably found it more annoying.

With covid restrictions tightening again, it’s time to get back to the important business of judging our fellow humans on their compliance. Last month, I finally started wearing a face covering while running outside. I made this change not because I believe it contributes to public health in any meaningful way, but because, in increasing order of importance: a) our most recent county order requires mask wearing at all times, with very few delineated exceptions, including while outdoors, b) it’s a not-too-terribly-difficult way to put anxious minds a little more at ease during a stressful time, and c) (most important) people who don’t wear masks tend to be jerks, and I don’t want people to think I’m a jerk (even though a lot of the time I am).

Before I started running with a mask, I only noticed runners who wore them and wondered to myself why they would make their exercise routine so much more difficult for no reason. Now that I wear one, I only notice runners who don’t and wonder to myself how those people could be such jerks.

Inconsistency is not necessarily hypocrisy.

We further sought to manifest our superiority by generally erring on the side of caution when it came to holiday celebrations. Hannah and JT decided that it probably wasn’t responsible for them to fly across the country just to be with us around Christmas. So they stayed in Utah and Nurse Hannah happily accepted the extra pay associated with taking shifts on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. I’m not sure how JT feels about all this, but he hasn’t been complaining to us.

Yesterday, Hannah received the first dose (of two) of the Moderna vaccine and is enjoying the peace of mind that brings. She is also reportedly beginning to administer it to the elderly patients at the State Hospital where she continues to mostly enjoy working.

Hannah’s covid vaccination record

We didn’t see Mom, Dad, Peter, and Coco at all on Christmas Day but exchanged gifts with them on our front porch on Christmas Eve afternoon. We opened presents, they hung around for about 20 minutes, listened from the doorway as the kids sang a couple of songs from the piano, and then they were out of there.

We cancelled the traditional gingerbread house decorating activity with all my local brothers and their families this year. We missed you guys and hope you had a merry Christmas.

Christmas morning went as usual with just the five of us. We’ve reached the point where the kids are more excited by the gifts they give one another than by the more utilitarian stuff (usually clothes — and this year, shelving) they get from us.

If you’d told me six months ago that the Christmas present that would delight Grace the most would be a record player, I probably would not have believed it. But it turns out the only gifts that excited her as much were the LPs themselves. Taylor Swift albums, mostly.2 I never would have guessed her stuff was even available on vinyl. And I’m still trying to get my head around why a girl with no functional memory of life without a Spotify Premium account and immediate access to virtually every piece of music ever recorded would want an old-school phonograph. Apparently the world has persuaded Grace that music sounds better on vinyl. Maybe it does — after all, what do I know about how music sounds?3

Lucy’s excitement at receiving new shelving for their bedroom can hardly be contained.
Sophie reacts to a present from Grace.

Because inconsistency is not necessarily hypocrisy, we spent Christmas afternoon with some friends from Virginia.4 Our eight-person affair put us safely within the county’s 10-person cap on private indoor gatherings, but it still felt like we were getting away with something.

I hope Sophie has enjoyed being home this month as much as I’ve loved having her here. She flies back to Utah next week, her first semester at BYU having ended somewhat differently than mine did. She took all of her final exams from home and finished with an ‘A’ in American Heritage (which is better than the grade I got in it 30 years ago). Being Sophie, she appears to have done just as well in her other classes too, which of course makes me happy.

Sophie has started the long process of gathering all the supporting documentation necessary for her missionary recommendation. She plans to submit these papers in a couple of months in the hope of starting sometime in June. We learned this month that the dental work she’ll need to take care of first includes a crown for the root canal she had yesterday and the removal of all four wisdom teeth. That should be fun for her.

And so here we are at the end of 2020 — a year that people seem hell-bent on castigating using as many negative superlatives as they can think of. It’s become socially unacceptable, it would seem, to talk about 2020 without resorting to some combination of the terms horrific, worst and dumpster fire. (And this from people who voted for Biden. Imagine if he’d lost.)

But if I’m honest, the year hasn’t left me with much to complain about. We’ve had no serious illness in our home. Lucy’s dog-walking business dried up, but apart from that our family has suffered no devastating loss of employment. (Crystal actually started a new job and really seems to like it.) Matt’s dental practice had to shut down for a little while, but they seemed to have weathered that okay and it looks like things down there might be starting to normalize.

All this could change tomorrow of course. And so until it does, let’s look on the bright side, shall we?

Absent the pandemic:

  • We never would have learned that virtually all of life’s meetings can be conducted remotely. The extroverts who run the world and other lovers of pointless, soul-crushing meetings will eventually gaslight us into believing this isn’t actually so — that collaboration must happen in person in order to be effective. But we know better and can enjoy it while it lasts.
  • I would never have been able to watch the noon organ recitals from Temple Square — now streaming on YouTube (and elsewhere) every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday
  • We would not have been able to watch Soul from the comfort of our basement. (At least not yet.) It may not have displaced the 1995 remake of Sabrina as my favorite movie of all time,5 but I loved everything about it.
  • We would not have been able to watch Wonder Woman 1984 from the comfort of our basement. Ordinarily I feel exactly the same way about two-hour movies as I do about two-hour church meetings. They’re almost always at least a half-hour longer than they need to be. And when I saw 2:31:06 come up at the bottom of the screen, I almost bailed on it. But it’s 2020 and where would I have gone?

Ultimately, I’m glad I stuck around. The story is stupid and makes no sense, but it’s still a pretty great movie. It’s fun to watch shows set where you live and to be able to pick out the neighborhoods and landmarks (and recognize what’s fake). We also liked the Mandalorian as the world’s primary antagonist. Personally, I liked that Lynda Carter, my girlfriend (unbeknownst to her) from when I was 8 until I was about 14,6 makes a cameo appearance. Time has really taken its toll, though. She appears to have aged all of about 5 years since 1976.

There are doubtless other upsides to 2020 that don’t involve sitting in front of a screen. I didn’t spend as much time in the kitchen with Crystal and the kids as I thought I might, but we still have time to rectify that.

I’ve logged 496 hours of swimming, biking, and running in 2020. While that might be more hours than you logged, it’s 56 fewer hours than I logged in 2019. And with no races to train for, most of these hours resulted in purposeless “zone 3” junk miles — not easy or hard enough to make me a better athlete — just miles for the sake of miles.7 I enjoy the exercise. But lacking any particular focus, my level of fitness today is something less than what it was on Dec. 31, 2019.

This became painfully apparent on the day after Christmas, when Sophie and Grace made it possible for me to extend my streak of consecutive years in which I’ve run a marathon to 9 (2011 was the last year I didn’t). I needed their help because all of this year’s races were cancelled and 26.2 miles is too far for me to run without some level of on-course support.8

And so on Saturday, Sophie and Grace mounted their bicycles and slowly followed me around a marathon course that started and finished at the end of our driveway. Taking advantage of stretches of Beach Drive and Sligo Creek Parkway that are closed to cars on weekends, we wound through sections of Silver Spring, Kensington, Chevy Chase, the District, and Takoma Park (Dad, here’s the map).

I say the girls followed me, but really I followed them. They rode ahead to set up small aid stations every few miles where they fed me Gatorade, hot chocolate, bananas, and peanut butter sandwiches. They even cheered as I slowly shuffled by. It was about as sweet a thing as I could imagine.

Dec. 26 — Sophie, Grace and I head out for 26.2 miles.

Sub-freezing temperatures didn’t make for an especially pleasant ride (biking in the cold is less pleasant than running in the cold) but the girls never complained. The inch of rain we got on Christmas Eve had turned to ice in places, and Grace crashed her bike on a large sheet of it about 8 miles in. Nevertheless, she persisted.

It took me more than hour longer than my 2019 marathon did, I walked more than I would have liked, and every step of the last 11 miles was uncomfortable, but we made it. The marathon that was 2020 can now go ahead and end.

Here’s to an even better 2021!

Love, Tim, et aliae

Vol. 23, No. 11

Dear Family,

A week ago, the prophet invited1 us to turn social media into a gratitude journal by posting each day for a week about “what you are grateful for, whom you are grateful for, and why you are grateful.”

I did not succeed in following this counsel. I typically post to social media between one and two times per month and frequently go days and sometimes weeks without opening it at all. Posting on seven consecutive days was going to be a bridge too far for me, and so I didn’t even try.

I recognize that one does not walk the strait and narrow path to exaltation by trying to meet the prophet halfway on things. But it’s often how I roll, and it’s effectively what I’m doing now by attempting to cram a week’s worth of gratitude expressions into this one letter. This was not the assignment, but it’s the best I can do. President Nelson and I are not acquainted and he’s never going to know. I hope God will understand.

Sometimes it’s difficult for me (and from the looks of things I’m not the only one) to express gratitude in ways that don’t come across as self-aggrandizement. Some might think it self-serving, for example, for me to #GiveThanks on social media for my favorite neon green Brooks singlet that has held together like a champ through more than a half-dozen marathons.

I am grateful for the longevity of this shirt. Wearing it always makes me happy.

I’ve run marathons in other clothes, but never as fast as when wearing Old Green.2

This will come across as preening (because it is) but I am thankful to be able to run (and bike and swim). I am grateful to Crystal Kent Willis, Colby Jenkins and Bill Warner for getting me into running a decade ago and to Crystal Kent Willis, Grant Willis, Carolyn MaGee, and Roland Kent for getting me into triathlon shortly thereafter. It’s hard to say what kind of person I’d be without these things, but I’d be a less happy one and, if it were possible, even more insufferable and curmudgeonly.

Thanks to the coronavirus and barring a Christmas miracle, 2020 is shaping up to be my first marathon-free year since 2011. Grace is going to try and help make the miracle happen next month, but a lot of things are going to have to break my way. Stay tuned.

I #GiveThanks for Grace and her eagerness to pitch in wherever needed. She’s taking over my live streaming duties at church beginning this week, which should improve things for everyone. The first thing she noticed when I made her a manager of the White Oak Ward YouTube channel was that it has only 18 subscribers. This is unacceptable to her, even though the only thing that ever happens on the channel is the weekly sacrament meeting live stream, and, per instruction from up the chain, we delete it immediately following the service. Many of the people who tune into the live stream each week are members of an age demographic that — how shall I put this? — I suspect doesn’t subscribe to many YouTube channels. I’m curious to see what Grace will do about it. I’m sure it’ll be better than anything I’ve been doing.

Several months ago, Grace began expressing interest in receiving her patriarchal blessing. The pandemic complicated this, as it has everything else. The bishop interviewed her over Zoom and then referred her to one Bertram Cannon Willis, patriarch of the Seneca Maryland Stake.3

We suggested that Grace contact Grandpa to set up the appointment and I gave her his email address. True to a certain stereotype sometimes applied to 78-year-old men (though I’m positive he did not vote for Trump), Grandpa’s email address ends in @aol.com.

“What’s AOL?” asked the 15 year old.

Crystal explained that America Online is an old internet service provider that used to be popular back in the dial-up days.

“What’s dial-up?”

This led to a conversation we’ve probably all had with teenagers at one time or another about how phones used to be attached to buildings, how everyone in the family shared one phone number, how people used to actually talk on the phone, and how doing so made it impossible for anyone else in the house to get on the internet, etc.

Grace, who has literally no memory of a world without iPhones and ubiquitous WiFi, processed this information as best she could, clearly imagining such an existence in the same way I contemplate life without indoor plumbing.

Grace was somehow able to reach Grandpa via his fossilized email address and made an appointment for her blessing. Their pre-blessing discussion to ensure the accuracy of records, etc., customarily done in person, happened over Zoom. But the actual blessing happened in Grandma and Grandpa’s living room — our first time inside their house in many, many months.

It was a tender experience, as it has been with all of our children, and I’m grateful for it. Nowadays, to say anything good about “patriarchy” is about as fashionable as calling attention to the positive aspects of climate change. But I nevertheless #GiveThanks for patriarchal blessings and the righteous people who pronounce them.

Patriarchs are unique among Church leaders in that they have no functional power or control over the Church or anyone in it. Stripped of any administrative authority they may have held earlier in life (and unshackled from the at times maddening bureaucracy of it) literally the only thing patriarchs are allowed to do is bless people. This is patriarchy in its purest and loveliest form, and I suspect if this were the only way it were manifested, then there would be less cause to complain about it.

Which reminds me, I haven’t read my blessing in years and should probably pull it out.

In the patriarch’s living room shortly after Grace’s blessing on 8 Nov 2020. Grace is also #GivingThanks for being taller than her mother (and all her older siblings).

I’m also #grateful to be wearing the same double-breasted suit in the picture above that I wore home from my mission 27 years ago. #GiveThanks #humblebrag

Philadelphia International Airport, 24 June 1993. I remember precisely three things about this picture: 1) the suit I’m wearing, which I obviously still have, 2) the bag I’m holding, which contains the Wawa Italian hoagie that Mom greeted me with, and 3) the sign Peter’s holding, which contains a misspelling (“Bienvenu” rather than “Bienvenue” — it’s an easy mistake for a 10-year-old American with Down syndrome to make).

Grace also began “virtual swim team” this month. (We haven’t had high school sports — or in-person instruction — since last winter.) Virtual swim team involves no actual swimming, but they get together over Zoom for dry-land workouts and the traditional Friday-night pasta parties. Grace misses the real thing but seems to enjoy this.

The virus’s resurgence has me wondering if we’ll have any in-person instruction at all this school year. I don’t have a strong opinion and #GiveThanks that I don’t have to make these sorts of decisions.

Grace’s high school is in our neighborhood, less than a mile way. If things ever get back to normal, her commute will not be particularly taxing. Crystal, who started work as a para-educator at Ridgeview Middle School this month, is a different story. Ridgeview is in Gaithersburg, on the other side of the county.

Crystal’s new job (for which we #GiveThanks) has her working with high-functioning students on the autism spectrum, i.e., boys with Asperger syndrome. She likes her job so far and she really likes the boys, whom she describes alternatively as “delightful” and “sweet.” These are not always the first adjectives used to describe middle schoolers, but they often describe middle school boys with Asperger’s pretty well.

Crystal’s interest in this sort of work stemmed in part from our family’s interactions with the county’s special education resources over many years. These always worked well for us and instilled in us (and especially in Crystal) an appreciation for the small army of people who help special needs students.

Crystal is nobler and more altruistic than I. My interest in Crystal’s going into this line of work had more to do with the generous employee benefits her county job now affords us. My job’s benefits are reasonably generous for a small private firm, but needless to say, we’re totally switching over to Crystal’s health plan!

I #GiveThanks for Sophie’s safe and healthy arrival home from BYU on Wednesday night. She appears to have dodged the college covid bullet, having received a negative result from her final on-campus coronavirus test while she was in the air. I #GiveThanks that all BYU classes are remote until the end of the semester, which has been the plan since August, and which means we get to have Sophie at home until January (at least). She has resumed her habit of seemingly round-the-clock piano playing, which you might think would get annoying but really doesn’t, especially at Christmastime.

Thanksgiving, which is usually a thirty-plus-person affair at grandma’s, was just the five of us at home this year. We had abandoned the idea of a large family get-together long before Tuesday’s county order that made such gatherings illegal. The scaled-down celebration was different from what I’ve become accustomed to — I didn’t watch or play a down of football for the first time probably since Thanksgiving 1992, when I was in France and the holiday passed without my noticing — but it was pleasant and I enjoyed the quiet time with our small crew. I missed seeing all the people I usually see, but the day felt no less satisfying.

I #GiveThanks for crab cakes, which we ate instead of turkey, and which is somewhat easier to pull off for five people than for thirty. Crab cakes are better than turkey, in case you’re wondering. Not traditional Thanksgiving fare perhaps, but in Maryland they should be.

Thanksgiving

I often poke fun at our county and its many, many uptight ordinances. But all that notwithstanding, I #GiveThanks for living in a jurisdiction that takes good care of its public employees and is willing to make hard choices to protect the health and safety of all its citizens. I don’t follow the logic behind keeping bars open (while closing schools) but I’m impressed by its efforts to keep the streets safe.

In that spirit, I’ll even #GiveThanks for the $75 camera-generated, red-light-enforcement citation that came in the mail this month. I always open these hoping with all my might that the offender will turn out to be Crystal, but it’s always me.

As usual, the citation contained three incriminating photographs along with a URL for viewing video evidence of my misbehavior. I always go to the video, not because I think it will exonerate me, but because I generally respect red lights (if only while driving) and I like to see if I can reconstruct what I was thinking. (They also sometimes make me laugh.)

This one annoyed me more than most.

Mine is the last car to go through — the light blue Toyota Avalon, fittingly with a yellow “Student Driver” magnet affixed to the trunk that one of Grace’s friends has described as looking like it contains a dead body — making a left from Colesville Road onto Georgia Avenue.

The video confirms that I’m 100% guilty. That’s not what annoys me. It doesn’t even annoy me that much that I missed the light by less than half a second (0.4 seconds to be precise — though if I’m going to get fined $75, I want it to be for a good hard foul under the basket, not some ticky-tack crap out at half-court, away from the ball). The video annoyed me by reminding me of what actually happened and how angry I was at the time. I was stuck behind this parade of irritating sloths, slowing w-a-y down as they approached the light and then braking in the middle of the intersection as the light turned yellow (and then red). I make the light easily if not for those morons.

It’s probably just karma since I’ve undoubtedly violated this particular red light dozens of times on my bike4 and, until they start making me put license plates on my bikes, there’s nothing the camera can do about that.

And if I’m dissatisfied with elected officials who enact stupid laws requiring cyclists to stop at stop signs,5 then I #GiveThanks for living in a representative democracy and having a say in electing different ones. Lucy and I voted together in Lucy’s first presidential election earlier this month and had a nice experience. (Also, I don’t know what the “I voted” stickers look like where you live, but ours are better.)

Lucy also pointed out that last month’s letter went out before Halloween, which means nobody got to see the awesome costume they created from scratch. I #GiveThanks for my fun, imaginative children.

I also #GiveThanks for you and hope the holiday season brings you peace, joy, good health, and many opportunities to make other people happy.

Love, Tim

Vol. 23, No. 10

Dear Family,

Hannah vowed to Crystal earlier this month that she would never allow her to live in a nursing home. (The vow reportedly did not mention anything about me.) In addition to her full-time job at the Utah State Hospital,1 which she loves, Hannah also occasionally pulls shifts at a private nursing home, which she loves a little less. Should circumstances render Crystal’s move to such a place unavoidable, Hannah says she’ll make sure it’s located between her house and her work so she can check in every day and give the people who work there hell.

I feel sorry for those hypothetical future people. And I’m glad we have daughters.

I’m not sure why I opened with that. It could have something to do with the two milestone birthdays our family celebrated this month.

The first was Lucy’s, who turned 21, and while that isn’t a particularly significant milestone for teetotalers, we tried to make a thing of it anyway. We built a fire in the backyard — one of Lucy’s favorite things — and sat around it talking until well past dark. Apart from binge-watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine, there might be no better way to spend a fall evening around here.

Lucy, age 21.

Lucy is into a bunch of things that I wouldn’t even know were things were it not for Lucy. Most of these things, like “mermaiding,” probably could not have become things without the internet’s power to unite people with similarly peculiar interests.

The latest thing that I never would have known existed were it not for Lucy is an exercise app called Zombies, Run!. As I understand it, this is a game in which you run (actually, physically run in real life) while the app plays music and prompts you to pick up the pace by creating the impression that you are being chased by zombies. Lucy amplifies the intensity of this experience by listening to it while running the Northwest Branch Trail through the woods behind our house at night.

A good father might be more troubled by this activity than I am. But even if it did bother me, Lucy’s 21 now and — apart for renting a car, which wouldn’t interest Lucy anyway — can do pretty much as they please. The dog usually accompanies Lucy on these runs, which might bring a modicum of comfort if the dog weren’t an idiot.

So into Zombies, Run! is Lucy that for the past several month’s they’ve been immersed in the creation and development of Zombies, Run!: the Musical, a collaborative bit of fan art based on the app’s missions and storylines assembled by 16 mostly British and other European friends of Lucy’s whom Lucy has never actually met. The principal composer is some girl who Lucy and Grace have described to me as “someone whose brother writes music for Nintendo.”2 The Act I soundtrack “dropped”3 last week and we had fun listening to it with Lucy.

Lucy, with some assistance from Grace, is also our house’s primary Halloween decorator. I don’t know what we’ll do if the zombies ever catch up with them.

This month’s other birthday was Crystal’s 50th, which only seems significant because we use a decimal system and, for all our technological advances, struggle to contain our excitement at watching an odometer roll over. If we used a number system based on 7, as the Creator obviously intended, then 21 would be 30 and Lucy’s birthday would seem more significant than Crystal’s. Crystal would now be 101, which, apart from some nice symmetry, doesn’t seem like such a big deal.4

But we live in a fallen world and (decimal-based) 50 must be commemorated! She got her morning started with a 50-mile bike ride. (I tagged along to gather photographic evidence — I’m getting better at taking pictures while cycling with no hands, but I don’t always manage to focus on the right things.)

After the bike ride, the four of us went over to Annapolis for crab and other Maryland stuff. Then we came home, ate a chocolate cake with maple frosting and chocolate ganache that Crystal made herself because birthday cakes are too important to Crystal for her to entrust them to anyone else.

Cake was followed by a Zoom-based birthday celebration with members of Crystal’s family spread from here to Alaska. The whole thing was put together by Crystal’s sister Liz and their sister-in-law, Mimi. Mimi and Liz make it difficult to ascertain who is the actual kindest person I know, but they’re both on the medal podium.

Because I’m a pathologically self-centered person, Crystal’s birthday got me thinking not so much about her mortality as about my own. I’m not 50 yet, but it’s on the horizon. When I turned 40, I could plausibly tell myself that most of my life was still ahead of me. Now, at age 48 and three-quarters, I have almost certainly made the turn and started playing the back nine.

I ran some numbers from my genealogy to prove this out. The odds of my making it to age 97 don’t look promising:

I am not blind to the flaws in this analysis. One problem is that it overweights the influence of people who died a really long time ago, before Americans had universal health care — oh, wait. Because my ancestors grow exponentially with each preceding generation,5 my 32 great-great-great grandparents account for more than half of the people represented on the histogram. Some of these people were born in the 1700s and most of them died in the 1800s, when people on average didn’t live as long. These more distant ancestors account for much of the left half of the distribution, as the following chart illustrates.6.

The longevity of my more recent ancestors would seem to indicate that I probably have at least a few more decades ahead of me. But confounding variables are hard to account for and it’s unlikely that any of these people ever challenged Washington DC rush hour traffic on a bicycle, as is my wont.

Notwithstanding all this, I didn’t really start feeling old until a few days ago when I had a conversation with Grace. I was asking her about her computer science class and she told me she’d been learning about Vint Cerf, who is one of about a dozen people who can legitimately claim to have “invented the internet.”

“That’s wrong,” I interrupted. “Everyone knows Al Gore invented the internet.”

“What’s algore?” replied the 15 year old.

Which is fine with me. A world where Vint Cerf (or any scientist) has more name recognition than Al Gore (or any politician) is a world I could live in. The exchange took me back to a more innocent time, a simpler time, 20 years ago, when the presidential debates featured George W. Bush comically stumbling over every third word and Al Gore loudly sighing and just repeating the word lockbox over and over.7 It all seems so quaint now. I remember watching Gore’s concession speech — in December, after all the dust finally settled — and how statesmanlike he sounded. Bush was equally gracious in victory. Raise your hand if you expect to hear anything like that next month (or the month after, or the month after that).

Hey, speaking of elections, Maryland’s about as self-righteous as a state can be when it comes to progressive sensibilities, which is why I was delighted to learn this month that not only did Lincoln fail to carry Maryland when he won the presidency in 1860, he actually finished fourth here. Fourth! Gary Johnson did better in Maryland in 2016 than Lincoln did here in 1860. (Look it up if you don’t believe me.)8 Lincoln carried California, but nobody cared since Maryland had twice as many electoral votes as California back then.

Crystal is a lover of state songs and compels us to sing Idaho’s any time we enter that state. Like most state songs, “Here We Have Idaho” is awful, but “Maryland My Maryland” is even worse. Crystal, who has now lived half of her 50 years in Maryland, would love to have us sing it every time we cross the state line. But she can’t bring herself to make us learn a song that refers to “Northern scum” and characterizes Lincoln (without explicitly naming him) as a “despot” and a “tyrant.” I find Trump revolting (even though we’re technically cousins–see footnote 5), but when it comes to Marylanders and our excessive use of superlatives to describe politicians we don’t like, he’s in good company.

Church is slowly returning to something resembling normalcy, though we still obviously have a long way to go. Our second-hour meetings are still conducted exclusively via Zoom, but we received clearance this month to increase our in-person sacrament meeting capacity to 100.9 One hundred sounds like a large number in the context of the pandemic, especially since cases are spiking around the country and we’d been limited to 25 for much of the summer. But cases are not spiking here (pro tip: everyone always wears a mask here) and not only is the exterior of our meetinghouse just a couple of loading docks away from having all the beauty and character of a large manufacturing warehouse, its interior is every bit as spacious. The Montgomery County executive order currently in force allows churches to admit one person for every 50 square feet of worship space, which means 100 people would need 5,000 square feet and we have nearly double that. Keeping people socially distant during the meeting is easy. Getting them not to congregate near the exits after the service ends is proving to be harder than I expected. It’s difficult with adults. With teenagers it’s impossible.

We run a 10 a.m. YouTube livestream of sacrament meeting for the benefit of the elderly and infirm, other members of high-risk groups, and people who’d just rather not come. I have somehow become the guy in charge of this, which means we can now add one more thing to the already endless list of stuff I’m not very good at. It also means I haven’t actually enjoyed a sacrament meeting since March. Instead I spend most of the meeting worrying about whether everything is working and only half-hearing what anyone is actually saying.

My job becomes more difficult when the meetinghouse wifi goes down, which happens with annoying regularity. Earlier this year, the Church changed the name of all meetinghouse wifi networks from “LDSAccess” to “Liahona.” Changing the name hasn’t really improved performance, but assigning the name Liahona to a seemingly magical bit of technology that works only intermittently was pure genius.

Pray for our country. Pray for our world. (Pray for our wifi if you still have time.) And remember we’re all related.

Love,

Tim

Vol. 23, No. 9

Dear Family,

In keeping with what is perhaps America’s most universal and inescapable rite of passage, Crystal opened her AARP welcome letter this week. She doesn’t turn 50 for another month and seems unperturbed by the whole thing. I mention it here only because I know it will make my mother feel old, even though her oldest child won’t turn 50 until 2022.

September brought an unceremonious end to what must have been the strangest summer of our lives — one that in some ways felt like it lasted six months and in others felt like it never happened at all. Though none of us has had any symptoms, we dutifully reported for covid testing at the Silver Spring Civic Building at the start of the month, after August’s cross-country odyssey took us through any number of alleged hot spots. Our tests all came back negative. If you have it, you probably didn’t get it from us.

Of course, nothing signifies the end of summer like the return of early-morning lunch-and-backpack preparation in anticipation of heading off to school. But with “walking to school” now consisting of Grace taking two steps from her bed to her desk and opening her MacBook, we lacked even that reliable shred of normalcy. Fortunately, no one has figured out yet how to stop our spinning planet from tilting away from the sun, and this past week’s crisp weather heralds the inevitable arrival of what is indisputably earth’s most magnificent season. Everything will be all right.

Grace is taking a lot of the same classes most 10th graders take nowadays (chemistry, government, language, algebra 2, …) but what makes me proudest is that she’s taking an introductory computer science class. I’m pretty sure she’s only doing this because she views it as the easiest way of fulfilling the “tech credit” required for graduation. But part of me is secretly hoping that she falls in love with coding and becomes one of those STEM girls.1 But it’s fine if she doesn’t, and in any case, she will likely have the distinction of being first person (male or female) in her genealogical line to take a computer science class. So that’s something.2

Grace — first day of 10th grade

Grace attends “Zoominary” on Friday mornings and has to complete a specific online assignment by a specific time on each of the other four weekdays in order to get credit for having “attended seminary” on those days. A month in, this seems to be working okay and no one is complaining about not having to drive to church at 6:00 every morning.

This month’s farewell to “summer” brought the melancholy annual closure of our beloved neighborhood pool (a 200-meter walk from home) and an enforced return to the YMCA pool (a 3,800-meter jog from home). The gatekeeper at the Y takes everyone’s temperature and I initially feared that running there would raise my body temperature and make me appear feverish.

If you’re rolling your eyes at how stupid I am, you’ll get no argument from me. I obviously don’t understand how bodies work, but I’ve learned from experience this month that they’re pretty good at thermoregulation because, no matter how hot I feel, the spot on my forehead that gets hit with the infrared thermometer never goes over 97.9 Fahrenheit.

The hardest thing about pandemic swimming at the Y is finding an open lane. Because sharing lanes is now verboten, a maximum of just 12 people (six lanes times two pools) can swim at once. The situation roughly approximates what I expect to encounter in hell and, consequently, pool time must now be reserved.

The online process for making these pool reservations is fiercely competitive and favors the young with fast reflexes. Slots can be reserved one week in advance — exactly one week in advance. Meaning that in order to swim at 6:15 a.m. on Wednesday the 30th (as I plan to) I had to be sitting in front of my computer at 6:14 a.m. on Wednesday the 23rd with the little arrow over “sign up” and my trembling index finger hovering over the mouse button, waiting to pounce the instant the clock rolls over to 6:15.

By 6:15 a.m. and two seconds all the slots are usually gone. It’s worse than trying to get concert tickets. (I mean, you know, back when there were concerts.) Notwithstanding all the swimming, biking, and running I do, my heart rate never gets any higher than it does while I’m completely motionless, staring into a screen at 6:14 a.m. and 55 seconds. I’m usually successful in getting a lane this way, but it creates some interesting marital dynamics when Crystal and I discover that we’re competing for the same time slot.

Another widely understood harbinger of fall (in the United States) is Labor Day. Crystal, Grace, and I (Lucy opted out) marked the holiday this year by driving 40 minutes up to Baltimore’s Little Italy in recognition of our family’s extensive Italian-American heritage.

Gather round, my children. It’s time I told you about your noble Italian ancestry (from my side at least — if your mom wants to tell you about her side of the family, then she can write her own letter).

My 16 great-great grandparents were born in Utah, Utah, Utah, Utah, Utah, Utah, Utah, Utah, England, England, England, England, England, Denmark, Sweden, and Italy.

(What makes me even less interesting is that my eight Utah-born great-great grandparents appear to be entirely of English extraction.3 Despite being 13/16 English, I’ve still managed to hold on to most of my teeth.)

My Italian great-great grandfather, Jacques Bertoch, was, as his name suggests, ethnically French. Jacques’s ancestors were Waldensens4 who, centuries earlier, had fled religious persecution in France, ultimately crossing the Alps and settling in Italy’s Piedmont region.

When Latter-day Saint missionaries came to Italy in 1850, they found receptive minds and hearts among the Waldensen diaspora. Jacques joined the Church in 1853 along with his siblings and father, Jean Pierre Bertoch5 (thus trading one peculiar Christian religious tradition for another). Along with his siblings, Jacques emigrated from Italy to the United States in 1854 where, tragically, he anglicized his beautiful French name to “James.”

Jean Pierre remained in Italy to fulfill a church assignment. In 1856, he attempted to join his children in Utah but died of pneumonia while crossing the plains. He is buried in Kansas at a place called “Mormon Grove.”6 Sometimes I wonder what it was like for Jacques/James, who would have been Sophie’s age, to receive word that his dad was finally on his way over, only to learn later that he’d died on the way.

And so it was for this reason (and because conventional wisdom holds that good Italian food can’t be found anywhere in America south of Baltimore) that the three of us spent a couple of hours wandering around Little Italy.

While there, I got the idea to create a Facebook post that would trigger people across the political spectrum. It wasn’t a great idea in hindsight, but it seemed clever at the time. My idea was to juxtapose two photos from Little Italy: one with us posing in front of the childhood home of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (which I imagined would trigger people to the right of me) and another with us posing in front of a large statue of the original Italian-American, Christopher Columbus (which I figured would trigger people to the left of me). Sadly, I’d somehow forgotten that there’s just an empty pedestal there now, the statue having been toppled by protesters three months ago on America’s birthday. As a fifth-generation Italian-American, this deeply offends me.

I suppose it was inevitable that Columbus would get caught up in our summer assault against Confederate monuments, the Washington Football Team, and any poor free-thinking soul who expresses the slightest reluctance to blindly sign on to the suddenly popular notion that everything about America is fundamentally and irredeemably root-and-branch racist.7 Grace’s generation knows precisely nothing about Ferdinand and Isabella, 1492, or the Pinta, the Niña, and the Santa Maria. All they know about Columbus is that he was basically the colonial equivalent of Hitler, and Grace honestly couldn’t understand why any decent person would have ever erected a statue of him.

It all has me wondering what part of our city’s name will get dropped first. Will it be Washington8 or the District of Columbia? Both names are problematic these days. Maybe that’s why so many people just call it “the District.”

Old photo of Crystal repping “the District” in the District (last fall, when people still gathered for sporting events).

And so I was left with pictures in front of Nancy Pelosi’s house and in front of an empty/vandalized Christopher Columbus pedestal. Since these two images are likely to trigger many the same people (rather than the more universal triggering I was going for)9 I didn’t see the fun in posting them. I’ve included them here, though.

We wandered around, took pictures of some of the expensive restaurants, got paninis and cannolis from Vaccaro’s, and walked by the house where Mary Pickersgill made the actual star-spangled banner that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired the national anthem.10 We would have gone inside, but, you know, covid. [Edit: Crystal tells me the place is closed Mondays. Six of one.]

Sophie gives every appearance of having enjoyed her first month of classes (and of testing negative) at BYU. She also enjoys her new job cleaning various buildings around Heritage Halls. In response to a recent Utah County covid outbreak driven primarily by the state’s two largest universities, the presidents of BYU and Utah Valley University issued a joint letter to students describing “the dramatic rise in positive cases” as “alarming and unacceptable” and warning students that “behavior must change” and that “more dramatic action will be necessary” if they don’t stop acting like idiots (i.e., like college students). We’ll see what happens and continue to hope that Sophie will remain healthy and not have to come home until Thanksgiving.

Crystal received a very nice note from Sophie’s BYU bishop in which he describes her as a “wonderful young lady” and writes:

“She recently was called to be a Home Evening Co-Chair which might be one of the most important callings in a student ward.  She and the brother with whom she serves have already put together a huge plan of activities as well as a training program and guide for the HE Group leaders that will involve many and give social opportunities and contact for each Home Evening group for our ward.  This is so needed.  She also is most vigilant in working to encourage others to be safe as it relates to Covid.”

I’ve wondered at times how being the bishop of a ward consisting entirely of college freshmen living in dorms would compare with being the bishop of, you know, a real ward. I expect it would be easier in some respects but very much harder in others, and I have no idea where this bishop would find the time to write an unsolicited, kind personal message to somebody’s mom. Knowing precisely nothing else about him, and assuming this is not the only letter he wrote, I’m almost as impressed with him as I am with Sophie.

She didn’t know any of her roommates a month ago, but she really likes them now. Her roommates are the only people she can be maskless around, and so it sounds like they do a lot together. I guess they went boating a couple of weeks ago with one roommate’s family. I’m thinking that if she’s really nice, she should be able to parlay that into a free ski trip down the road.

Sophie (second from left) and her roommates (all still testing negative) standing in what appears to be a park just west of the Provo City Center Temple. That building was the “Provo Tabernacle” back in my day (and I’m pretty sure didn’t have that statue of Moroni atop it) and, as I regularly announce to everybody irrespective of their level of interest, I once played the organ there.

Sophie is taking a French conversation class this semester. She’s been feeling a little intimidated by it and so to help her train her ear, Crystal sent Sophie the audio version of one of her favorite classic French novels, Harry Potter à l’école des sorciers. We hope it helps.

May you find peace in Albus Dumbledore’s immortal wisdom, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”11

Wingardium Leviosa,

Tim

Vol. 23, No. 8

Dear Family,

I was reminded this week that I don’t have a very good memory.

I had forgotten, for example, how excruciatingly long it takes to drive across Nebraska. Driving across Montana, which we did last week, takes longer (Montana is nearly twice the size of Nebraska — I looked it up) but the trip across Montana doesn’t seem as long because, unlike Nebraska, Montana actually gives you something to look at.

Montana is beautiful by any objective measure. Nebraska is beautiful only in the philosophical sense that all of God’s creations have aesthetic value in some unique, metaphysical way.

[Crystal will doubtless tell me that the preceding sentence misuses the terms philosophical, aesthetic, and metaphysical. I’m going with them anyway because they sound pretty.]

Also, Montana, despite its more twisty and mountainous topography, has 80 MPH speed limits. Nebraska — a 450-mile strip of dead-straight, dead-flat asphalt — the driving equivalent of running on a treadmill — tops out at 75. The scenery only changes when a tractor-trailer going 61 MPH in the left lane takes what seems like 15 minutes to overtake an entire convoy of trucks going 60.999 MPH in the right lane, thus creating an infuriatingly slow-moving blockade across the entire highway. This seemed to happen several times each hour and invariably resulted in my shouting a series of angry and incoherent things at nobody in particular. It probably didn’t improve the situation, but it did break up the monotony for everyone else in the car.

Also, I’m assigning Nebraska a mask rating of 2 (out of 10 — rating scale explained below) based on a single experience in an Arby’s where: 1) the order taker was wearing one of those vented masks, which, according to the internet, are basically useless; 2) a fellow patron, whom the vented-mask-wearing employee was struggling to hear through the patron’s mask and the plastic shield separating them, removed his mask, reached his head around the plastic shield, and shouted his order at the kid; and 3) some maskless punk loudly marched in as we were leaving wearing a black t-shirt with “Social(ism) Distancing” printed in white letters across the chest. If anyone has figured out how to knee someone in the groin from six feet away, I’d like to learn about it.

And if you think it’s odd for me to judge an entire state — one with literally hundreds of inhabitants — based on the behavior of three people at one Arby’s, you obviously don’t know me very well.

I had also forgotten — or perhaps just hadn’t appreciated until now — how beautiful Utah is. The place and its people.

I was given to believe as a BYU freshman that Utah was home to the nation’s worst drivers. This was an assertion that students from other states smugly repeated to each other without supporting evidence. The twin miracles of anecdotal observation and confirmation bias helped me cling to this belief for many years. It was also a convenient way for me — a kid from New Jersey with 18 months of driving experience who had already managed to crash both of his parents’ cars — to feel better about myself.

Arriving in Utah last Sunday after driving through much of the country led me to conclude that Utah may very well have the worst drivers, except for all the other states.

Because of some poor planning on my part after exiting the freeway onto 8th North in Orem last Sunday, I found myself in the left turn lane needing to turn right into the La Quinta parking lot. Many (most?) drivers in my situation would have decided they had to just eat it and, I don’t know, driven around the block or made a U-turn or something. But because I learned to drive in New Jersey, I went ahead and made the right anyway, cutting off at least four cars across three lanes of traffic.

This incident in itself is unremarkable. You could write a book chronicling all the dumb things I’ve done behind the wheel of a car. But here’s the thing: No one honked at me. As far as I could tell, no one even made so much as a frustrated gesture at me. This happened last Sunday — six days ago. If someone had cut me off that way, I’d still be on the horn and shouting at them.

The next day (Monday), I managed to cajole everyone (except JT, whose 24-year-old knees are already paying the price of his soccer-filled youth) into hiking up to the Y with me. The climb was fun, though perhaps more intense than I remember it being last time. (Last time was probably 26 years ago.). We caught up with JT at a pizza place on the north side of 8th North in Provo that he and Hannah like. The place had no parking and so I stashed the car south of 8th North on 6th East (are you following? I love Utah street names). I returned from the car to 8th North but a car was coming, and so I started walking along the gutter of 8th North waiting for the car to pass so I could safely jaywalk from the south side of 8th North back to the pizza place on north side of the street. I kept walking and looking over my shoulder wondering why the car hadn’t gone by yet. It wasn’t until I looked over my shoulder for a third time that I realized the guy had come to a complete stop and was waving me across. The guy was yielding to a jaywalker. I sheepishly jogged across the street, waving back at the guy and thinking about the two times I’ve been struck (and countless other times I’ve been honked at) in crosswalks by Maryland drivers.

View from the top of the Y.

The next day (Tuesday), I managed to cajole Crystal, Hannah, Sophie, and Grace into hiking up to Stewart Falls with me. The nostalgia almost overwhelmed me as we drove up Provo Canyon and Alpine Loop past Sundance and Aspen Grove. The Stewart Falls trailhead is probably not even 100 meters from a Mount Timpanogos trailhead, but that wasn’t going to happen this time. Maybe next time.

Grace, Sophie, and Hannah on the trail to Stewart Falls

The final thing I’d forgotten is the intense emotion associated with dropping off a daughter at college. I don’t know why I thought it would be easier with Sophie than it was with Hannah. I guess I thought that going through it once would immunize me against it in the future. Life’s not a vaccine, moron. Being sad about something once doesn’t prevent you from being sad about it again. I get that now.

This all happened on Wednesday. After spending the morning doing last-minute shopping at Target, at precisely 1 p.m., the check-in appointments having been spread over several days to maximize distancing, we all helped lug Sophie’s junk to up to her east-facing bedroom on the top floor of Heritage Halls building 11.

Heritage Halls building 11 did not exist 30 Augusts ago when Mom, Dad, Matthew, Grant, Andrew, and Peter left me in my south-facing dorm room on the top floor of Deseret Towers–W Hall. Dad often says he “cried all the way to Evanston” on their drive home across the country after that. I thought about that as we drove past Evanston on Thursday morning. The thing is, Evanston’s not really all that far from Provo — just a mile or two across the Wyoming border — less than two hours away. I wish I’d stopped crying at Evanston. I wonder when I’ll stop.

Deseret Towers and W Hall are long gone — razed years ago to make room for bigger and fancier Heritage Halls apartment buildings. It wasn’t until Sophie checked in that I realized that Heritage Halls building 11 now stands on the precise footprint once occupied by W Hall. I mean, it’s in exactly the same spot. Her freshman experience will differ from mine in many, many ways, but it makes me happy to think that her walks to campus (for her relatively small number of in-person classes) will resemble mine.

The six girls in Sophie’s Heritage unit come from states in five different time zones (Maryland, Tennessee, Utah, Utah, Oregon, and Alaska) and reflect BYU’s remarkable geographic diversity. It’s not especially diverse in many other ways, but the students come from lots of different places. The two girls I met seemed nice and Sophie is comfortable with everyone’s commitment to avoid situations that risk introducing Covid to the apartment.

Only time will tell how well these commitments hold up. As Crystal observed, we are now in the awkward position of hoping that Sophie will encounter lots of really great people and then stay away from all of them.

This letter’s already quite long, but since you’ve made it this far, here, for posterity’s sake is my quick run-down of how we got to Utah — including my scientific rating of each intermediate point’s cultural norms around mask wearing. On my statistically sound and patented ten-point scale, a rating of 0 is the equivalent of a Trump rally (i.e., mask wearing appears to be the exception), while a rating of 10 is the equivalent of Washington, D.C. (i.e., random strangers are liable to swear at you for exposing your bare face anywhere, including while exercising outdoors). Most places fall somewhere between these extremes. For what it’s worth, I generally feel comfortable at a 6 on this scale and the rest of the family is probably more like an 8.

On our first night we camped (in a tent!) at Pokagon State Park in Indiana. (I give Indiana a 6 on the mask scale–would’ve been a 7 if not for a couple of boorish jerks at Wal-Mart.) The state park was nice and the people were friendly but I slept badly. (I never sleep well camping but the yahoos in a neighboring campsite making noise all night didn’t help.) And so we stuffed all the camping gear into the car-top carrier, never to open it again during the remaining 13 days of the trip. Whatever money we saved by camping that one night was undoubtedly dwarfed by the reduced fuel economy associated with driving a Toyota Highlander more than 5,000 miles with a giant box on top of it. (Sorry, planet. I’m a moron.)

Camping Night 1 (and only) — Pokagon State Park, Indiana

After stopping to look at Lake Michigan (Grace had never seen any of the Great Lakes) and to buy cheese curds and ice cream in Wisconsin (mask rating: 7), we spent night two at a Holiday Inn in Fairmont, Minnesota (mask rating: 8)

We spent most of day three in South Dakota (mask rating: 2) where we visited the World’s Only Corn Palace in Michell. There we encountered a large group of indoor bare faces for the first time since March and were later served lunch by a small team of unmasked Subway employees. I was surprised by how jarring this felt.

World’s Only Corn Palace — Mitchell, South Dakota

We then drove through Badlands National Park, which is breathtaking, and spent night three at an Econo Lodge in the small town of Wall (whose population of 818 is serviced by at least two pop-up Trump shops). We’ve now experienced Wall Drug, which I found slightly more interesting than the Corn Palace and slightly less interesting than a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

The following morning we traveled about an hour from Wall to Mount Rushmore, where I’d never been. Sophia Joan Willis, whose initials are also an abbreviation for “social justice warrior,” used this time to explain to the rest of the car why Mount Rushmore, rather than being a tribute to four dead presidents, is in reality a giant symbol of our country’s proud history of displacing indigenous peoples and desecrating lands of spiritual importance to them.

No argument there, but we went anyway and admired what is, in any context, an amazing work of art. Still, if you find yourself in southwestern South Dakota with only time enough to visit one thing, I suggest Badlands.

Mount Rushmore

It’s only a couple of hours from Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower National Monument in northeastern Wyoming (mask rating: 1). Devils Tower is a magnificent, thousand-foot-tall butte of uncertain origin located approximately 500 miles from the nearest gas station. It’s a wonder to behold and we enjoyed walking the mile or so around its base. I suggest arriving there with more than a quarter-tank of gas (unless you enjoy really long walks).

We spent night four at a Days Inn in Sheridan, Wyoming, and the entire next day driving across Montana (mask rating: 4) up to Idaho’s northern panhandle (mask rating: 5) and the lakefront estate that is the primary residence of Dr. and Mrs Roland Kent (Crystal’s little brother).

For the next four nights, Roland and Marci graciously put us up in their guest cottage (thus forgoing a non-trivial amount of peak-season rental income) and guided us through a collection of traditional North Idaho activities. These included biking around the mountainous perimeter of Hayden Lake (with Roland patiently waiting for the rest of us at the top of every climb) and foraging for huckleberries — tiny, non-segmented berries perhaps half the size of blueberries that I would assume were poisonous if I found them growing around here. They’re delicious (when mixed with enough sugar) and figure prominently in the local cuisine.

Huckleberry picking in North Idaho

But we spent most of our Idaho time in and on the lake watching kids wakesurf and listening to Roland passionately articulate why pontoon boaters, tubers, jet skiers, and anyone else with the temerity to gum up the lake with anything other than wakesurfing, wakeboarding, or waterskiing should all drop dead.

No argument here.

We spent day nine driving from North Idaho to Utah Valley, which basically takes all day. You might be surprised (as I was a quarter-century ago) to learn that, even though the two states border each other, the fastest and most direct driving route from North Idaho to anywhere in Utah goes through about 4 hours of Montana.

To drive through North Idaho and western Montana is to view some of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen or can even imagine. Something about its confluence of evergreens, mountains, and glacial lakes makes it feel like you’re traveling through some sort of never-ending painting. Every time we drive through it, it crosses my mind that we should just move there. We only see it in August, of course. We should probably visit in March before making any rash decisions.

The glorious vistas were well behind us by the time we crossed over from Montana into southeastern Idaho (mask rating: negative-3 — based entirely on stopping in Idaho Falls for food and gas where every single person we saw — store employees, patrons, every human soul — was maskless). Strong work, Idaho Falls! You show that overhyped little Chinese virus who’s boss!

From there we drove to Utah (mask rating: 7 on campus, 5 elsewhere), and I’ve already written about most of our three days there. We’re grateful to Hannah and JT for taking such good care of us and helping us make good dining choices. I did not mention the lovely time we had Tuesday night in Aunt Florence’s back yard with a group of socially distanced Willis relatives (including Riches, Borens, Farnsworths, and Binghams) who kindly moved their monthly get-together to a night when we could be there. It was great seeing everybody.

Lucy, Sophie, Grace, Hannah and JT outside a really good ice cream place

We left Utah on Thursday morning and arrived home 35 and a half hours later (would have been faster if not for those trucks in Nebraska — and if Crystal hadn’t made us stop at a Comfort Inn in Davenport, Iowa, to sleep for 3 hours).

School starts Monday for Grace, who isn’t excited about remote learning. She describes it as “all the sucky parts of school without any of the good stuff.” She’ll be all right. I’m not all that excited about tackling the mountain of work that’s going to be waiting for me on Monday morning, but I’m thankful to have work to tackle.

I just poked my head into Sophie’s empty bedroom and had a moment. Only 90 days until Thanksgiving. We can make it.

Love, Tim

Vol. 23, No. 7

Dear Family,

July began with a quasi-physically-distant Independence Day visit with our friends the Eskelsens in Fairfax County, Virginia. The visit was prompted in part by our affection for the Eskelsens and in part because the Fourth of July is best celebrated away from the strictures of Montgomery County, Maryland.

Everything is illegal here, including sparklers–sparklers!–even on the Fourth of July. Breathless posts to NextDoor and the neighborhood listserv in the days leading up to the holiday implored people not to shoot off fireworks because they’re dangerous, they frighten pets, small children and PTSD sufferers, and probably some other reasons.

I get all that, but it got me to wondering whether people in our little bubble here realize that fireworks are actually legal in most places–at least on July 4th (I looked it up)–and that Montgomery County residents aren’t the only people who own pets.

And so it was with an air of smugness that I reclined on an Adirondack chair in the Eskelsens’ front yard while Jon (and, from the sound of things, roughly every third house in the neighborhood) blew up all kinds of stuff procured mainly in Pennsylvania, where fireworks laws are even laxer than in Virginia. The Eskelsens’ dog stayed in the house but seemed to take it okay.

My smugness came down a notch after Grace was burned by a sparkler and hit by a roman candle and the fire department had to come put out a dumpster fire at the elementary school down the street, but we’ll probably do it again next year. God bless America.

July 4th sparklers. Legal in 49 states, including most of Maryland, but not in Montgomery County.

Grace made a full recovery from her roman candle injury and is now spending her mornings at swim team practices (whatever that means — more below) and her afternoons taking online courses in stress reduction and social justice movements (two things that seem to be at odds with one another, but okay, fine).

A 15-year-old girl’s perpetual desire for new clothes would ordinarily stress her miserly father. But fortunately for the family budget, Grace prefers getting her “new” clothes at the thrift store. She is distressed by the amount of water new clothing takes to manufacture and by the destruction fast fashion otherwise wreaks on the environment.

There was a time when I might have rolled my eyes at this, but not anymore, and I felt a brief moment of kinship with that dude from the IBM “Go Green” ad from 12 years ago. (I was surprised it was only 12 years ago — seems like longer — back when “going green” was still sort of fringy and not yet the de facto religion of every blue-state high school student.) You might not remember the ad unless you watch a lot of golf. It’s pretty awesome:

I also learned this week that only 2 percent of Spotify users listen to more Taylor Swift than Grace does. I have Grace to thank for letting me know about yesterday morning’s new “Folklore” album drop. I listened to it. It’s good.

Our family’s original Taylor Swift fan, Hannah, passed the NCLEX licensing exam for registered nurses this month, thus removing the “provisional” modifier from her BSN-RN credential. (You may recall from last month’s letter that BSNs (in Utah, at least) are now provisionally granted RN licenses for 90 days after graduation while they sort out sitting for the exam.)

Hannah subsequently interviewed at the Utah State Hospital (a facility in Provo whose name has changed numerous times over the years as various terms used to describe the mentally ill have inevitably taken on pejorative connotations) and they offered her a job on the spot. I am given to understand this does not happen often, but they apparently got to like her during her internship there earlier this year. She likes them, too.

The hospital pays less per hour than what she makes at Provo Rehabilitation and Nursing (where she also continues to work). But the hospital job comes with more attractive, state employee benefits. Meaning that at the tender age of 23, Hannah has figured out how to game the system by simultaneously earning the cash wages of a private-sector job and the generous benefits of a public-sector one. And all she has to do is work 60 hours per week. She claims to get bored if she works less than that — a trait she obviously inherited from someone other than me. She seems to have picked the right line of work.

Hannah and JT have abandoned their Provo apartment and are now citizens of Orem, inhabiting a residence Hannah describes as “the nicest place I’ve ever lived.” This is perhaps more a commentary on the conditions in which she grew up than anything, but I’m glad she likes their new digs. We hope to spend a night or two there when we deposit Sophie at BYU next month.

As of this writing, BYU is still planning to push ahead with a blend of in-person and online instruction in the fall. They’ve already started dunning me for Sophie’s dorm rent, and so I guess it’s happening.

In contrast, Montgomery County Public Schools announced this week that instruction will be online-only at least through the first semester (i.e., until no earlier than January 29, 2021). I don’t feel strongly about this one way or the other, but I am really glad not to have to make these kinds of decisions. You’re going to have to deal with angry people no matter what, and one thing I’ve learned as a cyclist is that life’s too short to argue with angry people. Grace, our family’s lone extrovert and the only one of us directly affected by this, isn’t excited about it, but having long ago resigned herself to this eventuality, the news did not crush her. She seemed saddest about the cancelation of all fall and winter sports, which means no high school swim team, which she genuinely likes.

The Montgomery County Swim League’s decision to cancel its summer season came as no surprise to anyone. Swimming is unlike most sports in that its competitors can reasonably keep a safe distance from one another, but its officials cannot. Tennis, with all its line judges, is the only other sport I can of think of in which the number of officials so dwarfs the number of active participants. To run a meet at our modest, six-lane pool requires 20 timers all bunched together at one end of the pool, four stroke-and-turn judges also at the water’s edge, a referee, a starter, two clerks-of-course, three people to record times and keep score, and other people I’m not thinking of right now. That these people are all trained parents is remarkable enough. (Can you imagine a high school football game officiated by the players’ parents? That’s how high school swim and dive works.) But I can’t think of any practical way to do it with a six-foot halo around everybody.

Because our summer swim team is as much a family as a competitive body, the decision was made to push ahead with the season despite the lack of a league. They started practices almost immediately after the pool finally opened late last month and had something resembling meets this past week (or so I’m told–parents weren’t allowed on the premises).

Our community being what it is, people still gathered for a year-end “senior meet” this morning honoring Sophie and the team’s five other graduates. The turnout even among families with no seniors was something to behold and not at all surprising. Its irrational fear of fireworks notwithstanding, the community’s pretty awesome.

July 25th. Forest Knolls Swim Team senior meet.

The senior meet went off at a little past 9:00 this morning, which meant I had to hurry back from an 8:00 a.m. meeting with the rest of the bishopric at the meetinghouse to ensure that we and our building were ready for the resumption of in-person sacrament services tomorrow.

If I may, a brief note here about Church communication. Generally speaking, direction reaches us from Salt Lake in two ways, one of which is great. Communications that go directly from Salt Lake to local leaders and members, in the form of handbooks, official notices, letters, and other written means, are always excellent. Their provenance is unmistakable. They’re crisp, clear, and professionally copyedited (I assume, based on the quality) with no middlemen and no ambiguity. I actually take pleasure in reading and implementing these directives.

That’s the good way.

The second way involves an elaborate game of telephone and name-dropping in which something allegedly originates with one or more prominent General Authorities and makes it way downstream, cascading through multiple levels of lay hierarchy (competent men with respectable, but not professional, communication skills) before finally reaching a drone like me (a bishopric counselor) who actually has to, you know, do something. This way works about as well as you’d expect it to.

Naturally, the order to resume sacrament meetings capped at 25 attendees scattered throughout our large chapel (accompanied by a list of safety procedures that I am for some reason not permitted to possess or even read) came down in the second way. After multiple misunderstandings, it’s possible that what we’re doing tomorrow will be a reasonable (fourth-generation) facsimile of what the alleged source of the instruction actually wants us to do, but you’d be foolish to bet on that.

And so, after 18 weeks (or whatever it’s been) of 4 p.m. Sunday Zoom devotionals, sacrament in the living room, and weekly written epistles from the bishopric, we’ll get back to something resembling normalcy tomorrow (albeit with no more than 25 people in attendance and most of the ward continuing to Zoom in). I’m reasonably optimistic that it’ll work out okay but also kind of terrified by everything that might go wrong.

Other Sunday activities this month included a lovely walk around the lotuses and waterlilies of Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens on the Maryland/DC line.

July 12th. Sophie and Grace — Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
July 12th. With Grace at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens

Last Sunday also brought the first in-person gathering of local relatives since the onset of the pandemic — a backyard affair to commemorate Sophie’s and Alex’s graduations before both of them head west in three weeks. I think we were reasonably careful.

July 19th. Andrew’s & Jessica’s backyard. Sophie and Alex open their traditional Willis graduation gifts — handmade quilts tied by every member of the extended family.

I neglected to mention last month that Lucy was called to be our stake’s assistant Young Women’s Camp Director. It’s an interesting calling for someone who doesn’t consider themself a woman, but they seem happy to do it. The girls in the stake aren’t doing any actual camping together this year (obviously) but they’ve been doing some virtual stuff.

Lucy also passed the driver’s permit written exam. An oft-cited reason for waiting so long to do this is fear of my losing patience with them in the car. This is understandable given Lucy’s 20 years of experience watching and listening to me react to idiots (i.e., all other drivers) in the same calm and measured way I respond to many of life’s challenges. I’d like to think that I’m gradually getting better at this (and other things) but Crystal’s handling the training all the same. Wish them well.

May life continue to bless you with gradual improvements and other incremental victories.

Love, Tim

VOL. 23, NO. 6

Dear Family,

Stay positive. Test negative.

That’s what the charming, unmasked older woman I didn’t recognize said to me from the now completely worn-away grass next to the Sligo Creek Trail as we ran past one another earlier this month.

While the stranger’s second suggestion is not entirely within my control, I’ve decided that her first one is, and I’ve been trying to identify silver linings as we feel our way through month four of whatever this is.

In doing this I run the risk of giving the impression that I’m actually pleased it’s happening. I of course am not. As much as I’ve appreciated elements of the resulting introvert’s paradise, I nevertheless mourn with those who mourn. I grieve not only with those who have lost health or loved ones but with those who have lost the comfort of economic stability, routine, and general peace of mind. I’m also sorry that Mom and Dad had to cancel their trip to Greece and that we don’t let them within six feet of their grandchildren anymore.

I sometimes get the impression that Grandma and Grandpa feel we’re taking all this too seriously. But I also think they understand that we’re just trying not to kill them. With the gradual relaxing of things, we spent a couple of pleasant evenings with them and Peter this month—one in their backyard and one in ours. The tender mercy of several uncommonly un-hot and un-humid June days made this especially pleasant.

And so rather than dwelling on the inherent difficulty of effectively communicating through a mask and plexiglass shield with the order-taker at our favorite faux-Thai place in the mall food court whose first (and possibly second) language is not English, I am choosing to just be grateful that the place actually opened again on Friday for the first time in over 100 days. I haven’t the faintest idea where they could be storing all the tables and chairs that used to fill the now-empty food court, but it was good to be back.

Grace and Crystal biking in Downtown Silver Spring — 26 June 2020

Another upside of current conditions is that I was able to get a same-day appointment with my orthopedist a couple of weeks ago. I was becoming increasingly frustrated by pain in my right calf when I ran (and only when I ran) that I thought was getting better and then got worse. Because it only hurts while running, my 85 IQ was able to ascertain that the solution was probably to stop running for a while. But I was struggling to make myself do that and was hoping the doctor would have some sort of magical fix — even though I knew he wouldn’t. (When it comes to faith, hope and charity, I bat a fairly consistent one for three.)

And so I took a 10-minute bike ride down to the Greater Washington Orthopaedic Group’s office in the building adjoining Holy Cross Hospital. For presumably the same reason that I was able to get a same-day appointment, the doctor was able to spend nearly a half-hour speaking with me, which is about 25 minutes more than I usually get from any doctor. He looked at my x-rays (which revealed nothing) and then sat down on the opposite side of the room from me. We both wore masks, of course, but it was quiet and we were two native English speakers who grew up in the same metropolitan area, and so communication was not difficult. He asked me some questions from way over there, then scooted his chair over to me, pushed on my calf in several places, and then rolled back to the other side of the room to continue the conversation.

His diagnosis was a soleus strain. Like most of my muscles, I didn’t even know I had a soleus until it started giving me trouble. I now understand the soleus to be a small calf muscle underneath the much more prominent calf muscle that I had always thought of as my only calf muscle.

After questioning me about my running habits, the doctor concluded that my soleus injury was most likely the result of “training error.” I have a pretty good idea of what the error was, and, like most of my problems, it stems from my being an idiot.

The doctor, himself a 52-year-old runner, advised me that there are likely a growing number of poor choices that I could get away with as a 38-year-old runner that I no longer can at 48. More depressing, though I didn’t mention it, is the body of things I apparently could get away with at 47 that I can’t at 48. He suggested that I not run for two weeks and that I not be an idiot (not his exact words) when I started again.

I managed to abstain for 11 days, which I rounded to two weeks, before heading out yesterday. The leg felt great for about 800 meters before I realized I’d made a mistake and walked home.

Not being an idiot, unfortunately, remains elusive for me. I’ll try again next Friday.

And so in the end, my visit to the orthopedist was like any number of church meetings. It was largely unnecessary; it lasted longer than it needed to; I was told things that were affirming of what I already believed; I followed the ensuing counsel in my own imperfect and haphazard way; and I was ultimately glad I went. “They that are whole have no need of the physician,” Jesus said, “but they that are sick.” Sometimes a pointless meeting is just what the doctor ordered.

The upside of my running injury is that it roughly coincides with the re-opening of swimming pools.

The Silver Spring YMCA’s 3-month closure officially ended at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 20th. At 7:40 a.m. I pedaled my bike through the empty YMCA parking lot, where every second spot had been coned off—they don’t even want the cars breathing on each other from less than 6 feet away. I racked my bike and was first in line to get in. I got hit with the forehead thermometer at 7:55 (by a guy who said my temperature was 95-point-something, which didn’t seem right, but I wasn’t going to suggest he take it again); I scanned my membership card at 7:56; and at 7:58, having skipped the supposedly-mandatory-but-never-enforced pre-swim shower and removed my mask literally at the water’s edge, I was first into the pool.

[I just wrote and deleted three paragraphs detailing how poorly the workout went. No need to thank me.]

Safety measures at both the YMCA and our neighborhood pool, which opened two days later, are almost certainly overkill. I can’t imagine it’s really necessary to clear the pool and sanitize ladders, chairs and other surfaces every 45 minutes (at the YMCA) or every 90 minutes (at the neighborhood pool) but I get it. At some point, once someone can effectively demonstrate that no one is getting infected by whatever trace amounts of virus can manage to survive on a swimming pool ladder, we might be able to dial back some of this theater. But until then I understand wanting to give the appearance of erring on the side of caution.

A YMCA lifeguard sprays what we are to believe is sanitizer on the pool ladder after the morning’s initial 30-minute session.

I must not make much use of my soleus while cycling because that doesn’t seem to bother it at all. The gradual return of cars to the roads means that my three-month respite from being honked and sworn at by motorists is now over. One of the guys who honked at me this week was justified in doing so. (I’d cut him off.) But the guy who swore at me wasn’t. (A much longer story stemming from a difference of opinion over whether a cyclist should be expected to stop and yield to a large flock of geese stretched in a line across all six lanes of University Blvd. My view was so long as I could get through without actually striking any of the birds that I was fine. The driver, who was inclined to exhibit more patience with a flock of geese than with his fellowman, disagreed. He called me a vulgar term for a body part—rhymes with “glass bowl”—and that was the end of it. I continued on my way and he sat in his car looking at geese.)

Sugarloaf Mountain — 6 June 2020

My second-favorite bike ride of the month was a 94-mile round trip from home to the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, which I did by myself (to the consternation of many drivers who were stuck behind me on the climb up a steep, narrow road). My favorite ride of the month, one week later, was a somewhat easier (flatter) 81-mile round-trip from home to Annapolis with Grant, Andrew, and Alex Willis. We left at dawn, grabbed breakfast at Chick & Ruth’s Delly (in Annapolis), and were home in time for lunch. I think it was the first time we’d been together since the shutdown. The accompanying pictures lend the impression that we did not distance from one another to the extent we ought to have. The pictures are not misleading.

Speaking of not distancing, I also took a couple of rides through the two blocks of 16th Street, across Lafayette Park from the White House, that have been rechristened “Black Lives Matter Plaza” by the mayor and have launched a flurry of copycat street murals around the country. Both of my visits were in the morning, when a lot fewer people were around and the area had the feeling of a large block party, as opposed to later in the day when things tended to get a little more intense. By all reputable accounts, the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, but I didn’t feel any particular urgency to throw myself into a crowd during a deadly global pandemic. Crystal, Lucy, Sophie, and Grace attended smaller-scale protests in and near our neighborhood, and the whole thing continues to be eye- and mind-opening for me.

Sophie, Grace, and Lucy at a BLM protest

The last of Sophie’s several virtual graduations took place this month. I’ll repeat what I wrote last month: They should all be this way.

Mike Sauter — The coolest high school administrator you’ll ever meet.

Sophie also received word this week of BYU’s plans for on-campus instruction in the fall. It’s increasingly looking like she’ll be there. Check-in to Heritage Halls has been spread across three days in order to create some modicum of distancing. The university has announced that classes after Thanksgiving will be taught virtually, which means we’ll have Sophie here for Thanksgiving and the whole Christmas season, which is yet another positive outcome of the pandemic—at least for me. I’m not sure how Sophie feels about it.

Speaking of daughters in Utah, after learning that a patient with whom she’d been in close regular contact had subsequently tested positive for the virus, Hannah, who suddenly wasn’t feeling well herself, underwent an emergency test last weekend—which came back negative. This is doubly fortunate since testing positive would have likely made it impossible for her to sit for the NCLEX (the RN licensing exam) this past Thursday in Colorado. (I can’t remember where in Colorado, but it’s not a very big state, is it?)  Hannah said the test is usually several hundred questions but—in yet another hidden benefit of the pandemic—it had been reduced to somewhere between 60 and 100 questions. She thinks she did okay but was understandably apprehensive about the large number of questions with “check all that apply” answers. I hate those questions.

One final positive: But for the pandemic I almost certainly would not have been able to witness my Uncle David Farnsworth’s funeral this month (via livestream). The service was just perfect—a wonderful tribute to an extraordinary man—and, if you don’t mind my saying, the perfect length. (Funerals are among my very favorite church meetings, but once they run beyond about 75 minutes, I start wishing I could trade places with the person in the casket.) This one was just right. I think it was Reed’s talk that listed all the common expressions that drove his dad nuts. I can’t remember what all of them were, but as Reed was reciting them, I remember thinking that they were all things that I say all the time and could actually recall saying in Dave’s presence. But I don’t recall his ever giving me a hard time about it. It pains me to think that my language aggrieved him so, but it’s a tribute to his kindness that he never made me feel bad about it. He never made me feel anything but loved and appreciated. He was the perfect kind of uncle—fun enough to have a great time with, stern enough to keep me out of trouble. A fine example all the way around. I miss him.

If you’re wondering, it’s completely in character for me to use a verbose, 2,100-word letter to complain about meetings that run too long. Sorry about that. I genuinely hope this one finds you well and happy.

Love,
Tim