2020: A Year of …. What the Hell.

How can I even put the year of 2020 into words? Typically around this time, I’d look back on the year that was, the travels I went on, new things I tried… but goodness, how do we even begin to look back on 2020? Hundreds of thousands of people died from the coronavirus. The pandemic, the lockdowns, the shutdowns. The election. So much bad, so much pain, so much suffering for so many people. It seems foolish to even try to find any positives out of the year.

2020 was the year that everything went on pause for a while. Where we worked from home for a few months before trying to go back to some semblance of normalcy. Where our hockey seasons were shuttered, suddenly, in mid-March, and our lives were thrown into disarray. But it’s also the year that our family welcomed a niece (Iyla, in January) and found out we were adding another nephew (due in February 2021) and another niece (summer 2021). Ryan and I celebrated four years of marriage – and I don’t think I left New York state once all year. (Is that right?!?)

It’s also now been more than a year since I last saw my sister & her family, since they live in North Carolina. I miss them dearly, as well as all of our other nephews & nieces, but I’m also grateful for video chats and phone calls that help us feel connected during these socially-distant times.

2020 felt like the longest year, and yet also the shortest year. All I can say at this point is: I’m glad it’s over, and hopefully we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnels here, between the vaccines for COVID-19, the upcoming inauguration of Biden, etc.

Here’s to hoping those lights at the end of the tunnels aren’t oncoming trains.

Book Review: Reigniting the Spark

As a result of another book review I did on here, I got an offer to read & review this book: Reigniting the Spark: Why Stable Relationships Lose Intimacy and How to Get It Back. I was provided a free copy of this book to read & review, and it took me longer than I’d like to admit to finally dive into it. (I’m going to blame this partly on the fact that we’re living in a pandemic right now, and I’ve had a hard time finding time or energy to do much of anything some days!)

I want to start off by saying this, as it’s how the book was marketed to me and also something I found true while reading it: this book is a valuable read for anyone. I think the title implies that it’s only for people who are in unstable relationships, who are having problems, etc. but I took a lot of value from this book despite the fact that I am in a stable relationship. After all, none of us are perfect. There’s always room for growth and improvement in our relationships, and we should always be working on them. Don’t get complacent!

This book focuses on a few main premises. While I won’t go into too much detail, the first premise is this: kindness is key. It’s about how we treat other people, and whether we see ourselves and our relationship as a unit or as two individuals. It’s about treating your partner as one of your kin:

“Kindness isn’t merely being pleasant to others, or serving their needs, or even putting their needs before your own. You can do all those things in a subservient relationship, out of a sense of civic-mindedness, or as an expression of a religious calling. You can and should do good deeds for employers and employees, neighbors, or even strangers, but that sort of kindness is not what keeps people together as a couple.”

The author then dials in on the two “golden gifts” in a relationship: stability and intimacy. You need both of these in order to make a relationship work, and you’ll learn more about this in a couple chapters worth of content. From examining one’s character, to lowering your partner’s anxiety, both of these factors are necessary pieces for a good, solid relationship.

“If stability provides the roots for a relationship, intimacy provides the energy for growth.”

From there, the book dives further into stability and intimacy, what these mean and how they can and cannot be found.

“You can only say yes if you know you’re able to say no.”

Also, don’t be afraid when the author starts talking about religion in the beginning. This is not a religious book, and you don’t need to follow any certain set of beliefs in order to read it or take anything from it.

With all of this said, I think there’s a lot of good content in this book, and if you’re reading it, you’re probably the type of person who’s willing to absorb some of its advice and wisdom. Regardless, I think it’s important to keep in mind: this book isn’t going to “save” your relationship, if your relationship needs saving. You, and your partner, putting in the work – perhaps *aided* by the advice you get from this book – will.

This book is published by TCK Publishing and is available in multiple formats on Amazon.

The Pandemic Fatigue is Real.

Not that anyone needs reminding, but we’re living through a pandemic right now. It’s exhausting, right? Hundreds of thousands of people have died. People – with real lives, families, friends, hopes and dreams. Many more have gotten sick. Some have recovered, but some still have long-lasting effects from COVID-19, months later. You think you’re healthy? Think you don’t have any pre-existing conditions? You aren’t safe, either.

On top of the physical stress, there’s the mental aspects. Knowing that you can do everything in your power, and you can still catch the virus. Knowing that at any time, you could unknowingly be an asymptomatic carrier. The uncertainty that lies ahead. The uncertainty of another lockdown. It’s emotional, too. Not knowing when you’ll be able to see family or friends, or go out and do the things you love.

Unless you’re a billionaire, it isn’t possible to thrive in the midst of a pandemic. It’s hard enough to just take it one day at a time and try to survive through another day, another hour. Another holiday. And on, and on, and on.

The pandemic fatigue is real.

I’ll admit it: I’ve let my guard down a little here and there. Yes, I wear a mask every time I go to the grocery store. But sometimes I don’t wear one in the hallway of my apartment building. I wear a mask every time I see my mom, even while we’re in the car and I have to make sure my glasses don’t fog up while I’m driving. But sometimes I’ve seen other family members who aren’t wearing masks…. and I haven’t worn one, either.

But a Twitter thread I saw just the other day reminded me: I can’t afford to let my guard down. I can’t afford to be lax about this; none of us can. Because all it takes is one encounter, and who knows what can happen? I would be absolutely devastated if I had COVID and unknowingly passed it on to one of my young nephews or nieces, or my mom who’s on the higher end of her 60s. What would happen to my family if I got suddenly very sick? Or, if I recovered but had lasting health problems months later?

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We need to take this seriously. We need to keep taking this seriously.

It’s incredibly frustrating to see some people basically going about their lives as if we aren’t going through a pandemic. Getting together at restaurants with ten of their closest friends for a fun dinner… how I wish I could do that! Going to a bar, just to hang out. Having parties and holidays with entire families…. and no masks. It’s frustrating. It’s irresponsible. And it’s the reason we’re still here, seven months later, still in a pandemic.

As the holidays are approaching, this is an awful crossroads to be at. But how can I spend time with family this holiday season if no one’s wearing a mask? It isn’t safe. How can I miss the first Christmases of my newest niece and nephew? But how can I risk it? How do I tell them that we can’t do this? The holidays are still a month or so off but I’m already thinking about it. I don’t know what to do. It’s not like things are going to suddenly get better in that timeframe. It’s not like everyone’s going to suddenly decide to wear a mask. So…. what in the world do I do?

I remind myself: there’s a reason I’m doing what I’m doing. I value my life, my husband’s life, and the lives of our families and friends – and their families and friends. I’ll remind myself of the more than 200,000 Americans who have needlessly died from this – including some people I know.

And I’ll keep reminding myself, over and over again.

A Southtowns WNY Getaway

Let’s be real: the last six months have been exhausting. This is not how we were meant to be living, and it’s okay to step away and take a break for a little while. Not just okay, maybe even necessary.

That’s part of why Ryan and I took a mini-weekend trip to the Southtowns a few weeks ago for his birthday. Obviously, we played it very smart and safe amidst the ongoing coronavirus, taking all the necessary precautions, but it still felt good to just escape for a few days.

We didn’t leave NYS, so we didn’t have to deal with any travel restrictions or quarantine requirements. We headed to the Southtowns, where the COVID-19 rate is lower than at home in Erie County. And, of course, we brought along plenty of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes and wore our face coverings.

That Friday night, we stayed at the Inn at Holiday Valley. I actually had a free night to redeem from Hotels.com, so we used that. While we enjoyed our experience, I’ll be quite frank: it wouldn’t be my first choice to stay there again. When I walked into the building to check-in, there were two staff members behind the desk. Neither of them even looked away from the computer, looked up, greeted me or anything for several minutes. One of them walked away, and the other finally greeted me before saying “I don’t know how to check you in.” Just not great customer service, in my opinion.

Our room also smelled a bit musty (perhaps an indication of the lack of traffic they’ve seen due to the pandemic). And while I understand their options are limited in terms of what they can do for breakfast service, their “to-go” package was…. a small apple juice box and a package of graham crackers. Not even cereal, or fresh fruit?

Otherwise, there were some positive components! I usually don’t like rooms that open right to the outside, but it was nice having the car parked *right* outside there. I also loved that we had a little outdoor sitting area of our own to enjoy the view of the hills and the chairlift and all that. I can imagine how nice it must be in the winter!

We got dinner to-go from John Harvard’s Brew House just down the road, and that was great. I enjoyed the BBQ chicken dinner, while Ryan had the BBQ pork. We ate in our hotel room and it was fine. I also snagged a few cupcakes from a local bakery, Cupcaked!, to celebrate Ryan’s birthday. Those were delicious – definitely a special treat.

On Saturday, we found an outdoor mini-golf course and played a few games there. It was so strange – doing something NORMAL… I honestly can’t remember the last time I went out and did something like that. We then spent the night at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel, located in Celoron, right on Chautauqua Lake. That was a great experience, and I look forward to returning there someday – for a longer stay. We booked a king room with a lake view, and what a view it was! Definitely worth the extra dollars for the view, and next time I’ll splurge a little more and get a room with a balcony. (We did have a door in our room that opened, though, so we got the benefits of the fresh air!)

On Saturday night, we had dinner outside at the Carousel Bar located at the hotel. It was our first time eating out at a restaurant since March, and I felt okay about it for a number of reasons. Seating was very limited and well spaced-out. The food offerings are limited and there are no menus – so less to worry about everyone touching. They also used plastic/paper cups, plates, etc., which isn’t environmentally friendly *BUT* is definitely easier on the mind in times of COVID. Ryan and I split one of their big pretzels and then shared one of the wood-fired pizzas. It was great!

The hotel also has some nice outdoor seating, including a few fire pits. We didn’t use any of those (nor the pool) but lots of other folks did. We got breakfast to-go from the restaurant onsite, and it was expensive but definitely a “treat yourself” moment. We ate in our hotel room and it was overall a really enjoyable experience there. The hotel is right on the lake, which is so nice, and right next to a park honoring Lucille Ball. On our travels, we also stopped around Jamestown and at Lucille Ball’s childhood home.

We finally headed home on Sunday and then it was back to normalcy… or whatever sense of normal life we have nowadays. Honestly – it felt really good to get away for a few days. We couldn’t escape the thought of coronavirus, of course – having to sanitize everything, wear our face masks, etc. – but it was nice to at least not have to deal with normal responsibilities on top of pandemic responsibilities for a few days.

Our other stop over the weekend was at the Griffis Sculpture Park on our way down to Ellicottville. We only briefly stopped/drove through part of the park, but we did get to see several of the sculptures and it was neat! I’d love to go again someday and explore a bit further. We truly have so many gems in WNY and so many that are close to home, just a short drive away. At no point during the weekend were we ever more than a 90-minute drive from Buffalo, but it can feel like a whole different world. I look forward to seeing more!

Life in the Time of Corona, Vol. 2

Life is so weird these days, isn’t it? I’m writing this blog post today to talk about two coronavirus-related things: the nasal swab test itself, and the blood draw test for antibodies. I recommend you to get both of these tests if at all possible!

First, I want to talk about how I got tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Erie County, NY’s Department of Health is really doing a great job with their antibody testing. They’ve had multiple locations over the past few weeks where you can get a free antibody test done. I decided to sign up for one. Why? Well…. why not? Although I knew it was unlikely I had the antibodies – I hadn’t knowingly been exposed to anyone with COVID, nor did I feel like I’d had it at any point – I figured it was a smart, responsible thing to do. Only about five percent of county residents are estimated to have the antibodies, so I knew there was a slim chance, but it’s good to help the county’s testing numbers at the very least.

The process was incredibly easy. I booked an appointment online for a Tuesday evening test at a local fire hall, so I could go right after work one day and get it done. When I arrived, everything was very well labeled and sanitized regularly for social distancing & health practices. (Of course, this being run by the county health department, I’d expect nothing less.) It was about 10 minutes from the time I walked in the door to when I walked out, including waiting in line for a short while to register. A simple blood draw (which did leave me with a nice bruise for several days, admittedly) and less than a week later, I had my results: negative for COVID-19 antibodies.

The next day, I decided to go get a COVID-19 test done. I had the day off from work and found a drive-through site in my neighborhood, no appointment required. Again, it took only about 10 minutes – the longest part was getting all the paperwork filled out. I didn’t ever have to step out of my car, and the process was pretty smooth. The test itself wasn’t bad at all – I want to make that clear. My eyes watered for a second after the nasal swab, but that was it. At this point, I’m still waiting for my results, but since I haven’t had any symptoms, I’m expecting it to be negative.

So why did I get a COVID-19 test? I had a day of stomach issues a few days prior to getting the test. In all honesty, it was likely because something in my freezer had gone bad while the power was out on a 90-degree day. I had also been pretty exhausted, but that, too can be attributed elsewhere: I’ve been filling in at a more physically-demanding job than my usual desk job, and my hours have been different, so my whole schedule is a bit out of wack. While all of this could be explained, my anxiety got into my head and worried that I might have it – and there wasn’t going to be any peace in my mind until I at least went for a test.

I went to a local urgent care facility first, but they had a whopping two hour wait to get a test! No thanks. The drive-up test was super easy and pretty much painless, and I encourage everyone to get tested if there’s even the slightest bit of your mind that says you should. Although what I was feeling was likely nothing, you can have the virus and be asymptomatic, or only have very minimal symptoms. Some places will only test you if you have symptoms or have been exposed to the virus, but others will test you regardless, so if you’re going to search for a test, be aware of this. But honestly — I’m glad I did it. It’s worth the minimal amount of time I spent to have some peace of mind, help the county’s numbers and help science.

Isn’t it better, in all things, to know than to be left wondering?