Dec 20, 2020

A Very COVID Christmas

Just over a year ago, my wife Ann and I had a grand Thanksgiving celebration in San Francisco where two of our three sons lived, living the high life in the tech center. The whole family plus several orphans were there, a gathering from four states. We made a week of it, flying into San Diego the weekend before. We stayed in a boutique hotel in downtown San Diego before heading north along the coast to San Francisco.

You may remember, though, that while we were away, the Midwest was dumped with snow - twice. To get home we spent two nights in a hotel at O'Hare airfield. We were scheduled on five different flights before finally landing in Duluth, Minnesota, where we've lived for twenty-five years.

One of the planes - a full-size Boeing twinjet - flew less than a dozen of us more than half-way home before they realized that the Duluth airport was closed. Technically, airports don't close. But they stop airplanes from taking off and landing.

During this ordeal, I told myself more than once I'd never get on a plane again. Little did I know, it was an omen for 2020.

Lots happened with our kids this year. Jason and his wife, Nicky, moved back to the Twin Cities from Austin, Texas, over a year ago. This spring, they bought a house in a St. Paul historic district (Dayton's Bluff) overlooking the Mississippi River. It was built not long after the Civil War. It's very cute and very them.

To round out the place, they got a dog, Pecos (named after the Pecos River, a tributary of the Rio Grande, which is named after the Pecos Tribe of New Mexico). We've been down several times to visit. It's a great area to walk.

In March, our youngest song David started a new software job at Uber in San Francisco. By week three he was already working from home and soon facing a 25% layoff. He survived the layoff. When he was told that the earliest he may need to work out of their offices was next summer, he move to Redmond near Seattle. He, too, got a dog, Freyja (old Norse: the lady).

Ben also switched jobs. Last year he moved to Airbnb. Not to be outdone by Uber, they, too, had a 25% layoff. Ben survived that turmoil and Airbnb has since gone public (go figure). He, too, has moved to the Seattle area. He hasn't gotten a dog, though, but he did get engaged. In fact, he proposed on Minnesota's North Shore of Lake Superior. Like so much of life, COVID has the wedding on hold, too.

When Ben realized he could be working from home for another year, he asked us if he and his soon-to-be fiance could stay with us for a month while working, which they did for October. This was one of our highlights of the year.

Ben and I soon got in our own morning kaffeeklatsch, discussing work, stock markets, the election and so much more. If you sat in on one of these sessions, you might conclude that we're related.

We spent a long weekend up the shore during amazing peak fall colors. After a day kayaking in the Boundary Waters, Ann, Ben and Xin realized canoes are for portaging, not kayaks. They still had a wonderful day.

A couple of years ago, Ann bought me a subscription to This has become my latest adventure. It didn't take long, and I was back hundreds of years to Nils Jonsson, born in Ostra Boda, Sweden. I've identified 155 of my Swedish grandparents, half of my DNA. The Finnish side, the superior half, goes deeper still, back as far as 1460, mostly from the two small towns in northern Finland my grandparents were born in.

We also had our DNA tested, and now I can match DNA into my family tree. I've verified that my parents and grandparents are indeed mine. I’ve done the same with many of my aunts and uncles.

I found a woman living just a few miles north of here in Duluth who I share DNA with. After hours of research I verified that we are connected through four different sets of great-grandparents, one on my maternal grandfather's side and three on my maternal grandmother's side. The oldest DNA connection was 7th great-grandparents born in 1674.

Ann and I continue to run Celebrate Recovery, a program she started at our church twelve years ago. Celebrate Recovery is a 12-step recovery program from Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. A year ago, we had well over a hundred people weekly, including kids, adults and volunteers. Then as quickly as I was sent home from work, our church locked its doors for five months to anyone not in a space suit.

No worries. We missed one week and then reorganized on - you guessed it - Zoom. Ann also setup a weekly Facebook Live. We continued our recovery step program, graduating over a dozen people who refused to be done in by a virus. Ann also organized food deliveries.

But some were done in by the upheaval. Two people involved with us died and several were hospitalized, none for a virus. There has been more to the societal toll than the COVID death count.

Once spring arrived, we moved outdoors. That's when I learned Duluth has 129 parks. Ann, I and others organized outdoor meetings where we could again meet in person. BYO chair, drink and snack. Stay six feet apart. Don't share your food. And no hugs. OK, but not everyone.

We even pulled off the men's 8th annual camping trip deep into the Superior National Forest. Over a dozen guys came, one to a tent, two to a canoe. There's just nothing quite like a northern Minnesota lake in July. We swam, fished, sat around the eternal fire, drank coffee and ate wonderfully.

By late summer, we got back into our church, with numerous restrictions and lots of hand sanitizer. We restarted the band, teachings, and small groups. Even when cases skyrocketed in the area, we've continued without a known infection.

Early in the summer, Ann and I realized that a great place to safely vacation is the North Shore of Lake Superior. We made several trips there. Jason and Nicky joined us for the 4th of July, Ben and Xin in the fall. But we weren't the only ones that had figured this out. We’ve never seen so many people up north. Maybe our rural outdoors shtick is catching on. Finally.

Work was its own challenge. But I soon realized I'll never return to five days a week in an office. Ann and I walk most mornings, and occasionally again in the afternoon. We usually have lunch and dinner at home, sometimes ordering a delivery.

Keeping in touch with people has been especially trying for both Ann and me. But we've pasted together a collage of ideas that together help, whether for church or for coworkers. Zoom, phone, text and email all work, obviously. But many were comfortable with a walk, backyard coffee, outdoors at a coffee shop, lunch in our vehicles or carry-out to a park.

Like most of you, we haven't enjoyed 2020. But there were many nice points to it. Although Ann continues to do most of the cooking, we now occasionally work together on meals. I've taken to watching Netflix movies. I've discovered that Curb Your Enthusiasm can improve any day of mine. And I've gotten back into occasionally taking some pictures, a long-lost pastime.

I have one resolution for 2021: Within 48 hours after Ann and I are both relatively immune to COVID, we will be on an airplane to anywhere!

Great talking. Wishing a blessed Christmas and holiday season to you.

Ann and Jon

Here are some pictures from the year.