Honestly, I have been wondering how I’d find enough content to fill an annual recap for this year. In some ways, we don’t really have much to report and are, like many, ready to regard 2020 as the dumpster fire that it was and move on. There is no doubt that this year has inflicted an unusual dose of anxiety, inspired lots of questionable purchases, and encouraged a diet of mainly comfort foods and booze. That said, despite truly challenging our physical, mental and social well being, our family has managed to thrive in quarantine this year. We sheltered in place beginning March 15th and have remained isolated since, mostly an abundance of caution for Fern. We made a few exceptions along the way, but I can honestly say that I can count with my fingers the number of times I’ve driven a car since March. I haven’t been into a grocery store or mall in over a year and haven’t seen most of our friends and family in longer than ever. Wild as it seems, I am beyond thankful for this year at home and our chance to bond as a family, to grow and learn and live so hard in our house that we’re finally ready to start making some home improvements. We miss you all deeply and hope this letter finds you happy and healthy and at home. As always, this recap is mostly for my records, one of my favorite Christmas traditions, and a chance to share a bit about the 2020 goings on with Family P.
After having the flu make the rounds in December of last year, we were already pretty hunkered down for the Winter to reduce our risk of normal bugs, perhaps easing us into the long year at home. Olivia rocked her Girl Scout cookie sales goals, hitting up friends and neighbors and womaning booths with her troop. She celebrated her 8th birthday with a fantastic Frozen 2 themed pajama party at home. We managed to get a few nature adventures over the Winter, including Everest’s first jaunt to our family favorite Wahclella Falls. In late February, Fern had RSV for the third year in a row but this year we were successful at managing her symptoms at home—she fought it like a champ!
March brought some big news for our family: a diagnosis for Fern. It’s a newly discovered (2017), exceptionally rare autosomal recessive genetic condition called TBCK Syndrome. You can read more about her diagnosis here, but the Cliff’s Notes are this: She falls on the moderate/less affected end of the spectrum of the disease but nevertheless experiences most of its trademark symptoms. There are less than 100 diagnosed cases worldwide but we are thankful that there is some great research happening at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and we are excited to get connected with her new team post-pandemic. A light at the end of the tunnel.
As stay home orders were made, we began limiting our adventures out to nature and essentials (read: beer). We added Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride to our collection and quickly became huge fans, especially Townes! March also brought the emigration of our beloved “Uncle Chip,” my brother, to Boise, Idaho. Our first few months at home, we fully embraced our forested urban homestead, frequently escaping outside during breaks from distance learning and therapies. Dan settled into his new “office” in the basement, still complete with tiki flair (Dan: Everyone who’s seen our basement tells me I need to face the camera the other direction. If you know you know.)
Early in the year we started brainstorming big renovation ideas for our almost 100-year old house and, although we’ve ultimately decided to start small, we did take care of some of less fun but necessary adulting house stuff, including a new electrical panel, the demolition of an old deck, and a new retaining wall. I learned two new words, “culvert” and “vactor” when we discovered that we had one of the former that desperately needed the latter.
In April, we celebrated our first quarantine birthday. Townes turned 6 and we spent most of the day playing video games. Townes was also the first of us to fall victim to the quarantine haircut which quickly escalated into a buzz. Just as we were starting to tire of the distance learning routine, late spring brought warmer, drier weather and we were thankful for the extra space our yard offered. At 6 and 8 years old, Townes and Olivia, needing some freedom, were granted permission to roam our little piece of forest with walkie talkies in hand.
Our exercise game at this point of the year was pretty strong. Everest became a daily walker/runner and we discovered numerous new neighborhood nature spots. In effort to avoid doom-scrolling through COVID-19 conspiracy and death tolls, I made lots of pandemic purchases under the guise of supporting local, including a CSA share at Our Table Cooperative, a wine club membership at Stoller Vineyards and enough books from Annie Bloom’s and Powell’s to fill a small library.
After two months at home, we fine-tuned our therapy routine with Fern and thanks to the most amazing providers her developmental gains continued seamlessly. In fact, in March, Fern shocked us all by taking her first independent steps! We were all thankful for the school year to come to an end and excited for a break from screens. We added weekly virtual Catan dates with Bethany and Chase, only recently realizing that our low tech suspended phone camera/computer set-up could actually be improved by a platform called Board Game Arena.
We opened an intense but necessary dialogue about white privilege and racial injustice in our country and identified ways our family could become better allies. Olivia and Townes were quick to make signs and naturally wanted to join our neighborhood protests and vigils. We still have so much to learn as a family and are thankful for our like-minded community and neighbors here in Portland and heed the call to listen and learn from BIPOC voices.
Summer had us missing some of our local jaunts but we were able to squeeze in a few hikes and berry picking adventures. Townes and Olivia quickly became each other’s best friends, spending almost all of their time together, outside more than in, tending to fairy houses, building forts, swinging, and reading in the hammock. Honestly, they’re living their best life and only slowing down long enough to eat an impressive amount of snacks. Looking back, I guess this was also around the time that we capitulated that bagels, cereal and yogurt were foods that could be enjoyed at any time of day and that the unpronounceable ingredients in Goldfish were a necessary evil.
In August, after months flying under the radar and clearly determined to keep us on our toes, Fern mysteriously lost coordination and stopped walking. A regression that resulted in lots of bloodwork, testing and an urgent visit to the neurologist… all to discover that we had accidentally overdosed her on B vitamins. A major face-palm moment for me but thankfully completely reversible. A quick tweak to her dosage and she was back to running circles around us just in time for her 4th birthday. After weeks of wildfire smoke forcing us inside, a better-late-than-never backyard bounce house celebration was much needed!
We embarked on our homeschool journey with Olivia starting 3rd grade and Townes in 1st. Thankful that both kids were already voracious readers and were generally very excited about having a new teacher and fewer Zoom calls! Fall highlights included a Moomin book party, a moss study, mushroom hunts, and American history from the perspective of European Colonists, African Americans and Native peoples.
Gramma G came to Portland for a much needed visit, becoming the first and only human we had/have seen since March without a mask. The kids enjoyed some much needed attention and the kind of magical entertainment only a grandparent can provide. Such a reminder of our desperate need for family that we very seriously considered a move to Boise ourselves! Fall also brought an unexpected bout of illness, Dan with stress-induced shingles and consequently, Fern with chicken pox. Miserable as it was for all parties, ultimately we’re thankful for strong immune systems and virtual medicine.
Unlike summer, many of our favorite Fall traditions were unaffected by our home boundedness. We studied the changing foliage at Gabriel Park, bark and tree rings at Tryon Creek, and dipped leaves in wax to make festive autumn garlands. We rediscovered some favorite Waldorf crafts and traditions like felting acorns and handmade lanterns. The changing season always brings a flood of creatures, including our favorite barred owl, Harry, to our little forest, inspiring the investment of a couple of trail cameras. Although we failed to capture him in flight, we did catch multiple coyotes and raccoons in addition to interesting footage of our flock of 7 chickens.
In an effort to make multiplication fun, we added lots of edible manipulatives (read: candy) to our homeschooling kit. Walks to the bakery to celebrate surviving the school week became a regular thing. On Halloween, a crow, a nurse, and a Yoshi donned costumes and collected treats via scavenger hunt before gorging themselves in front of a spooky movie. Like many, we spent Thanksgiving at home and our Black Friday purchases were things that would help us survive the rainy months at home—gymnastics mats, a crash pad, and a ball pit for Fern.
Really embracing a life of luxury and a 2020 vibe, we had the ugliest, most expensive Nordman Fir delivered from a local tree farm only realizing how truly bad it was AFTER the truck pulled out of the driveway. Alas, she’s trimmed and beautiful and missing all of her ornaments from toddler height down. We were thankful that many of our Winter favs nicely pivoted for COVID precaution and we enjoyed Oregon Zoo Lights from our cozy car and had delicious tamales delivered to our doorstep from a local shop. Shout out to Cathy Koperek and Dawn Johnson whose recipes we have adopted as family tradition and Gramma G for providing a truly magical Advent experience for the kids. As much as we are all ready for new beginnings, we feel truly blessed this year for our health, happiness and our cozy home. Cheers to the New Year!
Quick to tell you that she is almost 9, Olivia seems to grow taller and more confident by the day. Her love for chickens still runs deep, dominating the theme of most of her writing and art. She has made huge efforts in advocating for a more plant-based diet for our family and has big dreams of becoming a farmer (or artist (why not both?)) one day. She’s enjoyed being able to stay connected with school friends through Girl Scouts, online watercolor classes, and virtual playdates. Her love for fuzzy things still rivals my own and she can frequently be found devouring a Raina Tagilmeier book snuggled in her bed. Crop tops, sweat pants and scrunchies paired with plenty of sass and a love for Taylor Swift are a constant reminder that we’re on the brink of pre-teendom. More than once our homeschool lessons have ended in stalemate, “Don’t tell me what to do!” scrawled on the white board.
To Townes, games are life. Board games, card games, math games, and especially video games. Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are tied for his favorite and with the help of streamer Bricks O’Brien, he’s become quite the champ. His gaming skills are matched only by his reading abilities, where he’s surpassed the 2nd grade level. Particularly fond of graphic novels, Townes loves Dog Man, Bug Boys, and the Press Start series. Still mama’s boy, he loves to snuggle and continues to be our best sleeper and almost always the last to wake up. His favorite food groups are grains and dairy making breakfast the highlight of his day. He can hold his own on family game night, even advanced games like Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, and will be the first to correct you on any rule violations, citing the rule book verbatim.
These days it only takes a few minutes to lose track of Fern, and in mere moments she is capable of complete and utter destruction. No unlocked cabinet, plant or ajar toilet seat is safe when she’s roaming the house, and she’s always roaming the house. Fern’s favorite playmate is our robot vacuum, Roomba, and thankfully Roomba doesn’t mind taking babydolls or anything else Fern can find for a ride around the house. Fern is passionate about food and loves to eat anything and everything that is put in front of her (and things that are not!) She still adheres to a gluten free, dairy free diet but luckily her favorite foods are eggs, berries, avocado, and Trader Joe’s Bambas. She thoroughly enjoys her weekly therapies (occupational, physical, and speech) and we are SO thankful to have such a wonderful team supporting her development. She loves all types of sensory play: water, lentils, and slime are in regular rotation; and generally, the mess is worth it! Having her older siblings home this year has been pure magic for Fern and it’s had an amazing impact on her development. Also worth celebration, for the first time EVER, Fern managed to go an entire year without a visit to the ER!
I will remember 2020 as the year I embraced my inner introvert. The slower pace of life was honestly the respite I was craving. Life without daily pick-ups and drop-offs, numerous weekly therapy appointments and extracurriculars, and just staying home sounded blissful. And although, 9 months later, I am tiring of the lack of social interaction and desperately needing a change of scenery, I’m mostly thankful for the year at home. Mom-ing during a pandemic isn’t for the faint of heart and long solo walks in the neighborhood have become my lifeline. I’m not really ashamed to have gained the COVID-19 (pounds), because honestly, the bread and beer were TOTALLY worth it. 2021 is the year we all buy Peletons, right? After 9 long years, I officially closed the pregnancy/nursing chapter of my life and I won’t lie, it is wonderful to not have any small humans relying on my body for nutrition. My sun up to sun down is still full of cooking, cleaning, planning and now teaching. I’ve never felt so validated in my decision to have 100% of our groceries delivered.
In September of 2019 I went to my first check up in six or so years where Dr. Oliver asked me, “what do you do for exercise?” I told her, “oh, you know, we hike sometimes on the weekends.” She scoffed and told me that that didn’t count. She then told me that 40 was a cliff and that I needed to get my act together. I loved that, and I tell that story to anyone who’ll listen. While it took a few months to take that advice, in December of last year I decided to give running a shot, marking the very first intentional exercise of my life. It’s been a climb—not unlike all of the hills in SW Portland I’ve been climbing this year—but as I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, I’ve just returned from a run on my shorter route, it’s a loop around Multnomah Village at about three-and-a-half miles and it was my fastest ever: my average pace was 8:32/mi. This, I think, works as a metaphor for 2020. This year we dug in in those places we knew we needed to, because we saw that we had no other choice. Meg and I are closer than we’ve been since Fern was born. We’re actually doing those weekly family hygge nights on the calendar with board games and snacks (Olivia and I have been playing a lot of chess as of late), and we work together every day to get things done, to make room for some fun stuff, and to love each other in the unique ways we each need it.
And there you have it, four and a half pages later, our year in review. And I was so worried about having nothing to say. Again, from the bottom of our hearts, we hope this finds you happy, healthy and at home. We can’t wait to be together again and until then… we Zoom.
Megan, Ed. Dan
For The Pittman Family
Photos by Lauren Allen Photography
Lots of pictures of daily life Here