Leslie Pietrzyk, 50s, Alexandria, VA, USA

2020: The Year that Threatens to Break the Cheery Holiday Letter!

But we’re resilient, aren’t we? Dang it: we will find amusing anecdotes and bright spots amid this whipsaw of a year, as our lives careen through lockdowns, anxiety, stress, masks, an election, gallons of Purell, a hoard of canned goods (we’re not eager to actually eat), another Amazon box on the doorstep, and the thrill of finding no-name-brand toilet paper on a grocery store shelf. And so:

Steve has been able to work from home throughout the pandemic, and we’re both very grateful for that…grateful no one has been laid off from his employer; grateful he doesn’t have to deal with DC traffic/scooters/pedestrians/random road closures for VIPs; grateful that comfy running clothes work fine on Zoom.

My new collection of short stories, ADMIT THIS TO NO ONE, will be published in November 2021. The stories all take place in DC, so they’re linked-ish (not a technical term), and while many stories have been published in literary journals, there are several that I wrote during the spring lockdown, which makes me grateful that I was able to find a way to focus and find joy in the creative process.

We’re grateful for our weekly farmer’s market, which is well-run and feels safe-ish given everyone’s compliance with masking, and we’re grateful for all the vegetables we’ve been eating this year (ramps for the first time!) and for all the interesting recipes we’ve found that turn our vegetables even tastier—kale chips, radish top pesto, summer squash casserole, beet greens, butternut squash macaroni and cheese. (Just to be clear, though, we’re still extremely grateful for bacon and potato chips, for gin and scotch and highballs, for every form of cheese!) We’re grateful for delivery services, especially a local restaurant group that puts together elegant “date night” dinners (www.nrgprovisions.com if you’re in the area). And we’re grateful for mail-order food that elevates our lives, especially these places that we recommend if you need a treat:

·       Chicago steak/beef: www.mychicagosteak.com

·       Iowa pork/bacon: www.amanameatshop.com

·       Chicago pizza: www.tasteofchicago.com

·       New York bagels/smoked fish: www.barneygreengrass.com

(Just to be clear, we’re also grateful for Pop-Tarts, Frosted Flakes, El Monterey Taquitos, Stovetop Stuffing, and Oreos, which unexpectedly played starring roles in our lives during this strange year.) We can also hook you up with popcorn that tastes exactly like movie theatre popcorn in the olden days! (And true confession: Steve found our best new recipe in a mail solicitation for Boys Town, a non-profit dedicated to children. “Oh, please,” I scoffed, but I dutifully made Bacon-Wrapped Chicken for him, and OH PLEASE! Give me more! Email me for the recipe if you’re brave. [4 ingredients: chicken, bacon, brown sugar, chili powder.])

I’m grateful that just as the lockdown was bearing down, I was enjoying an 8-day trip through western Nebraska and the edge of South Dakota, writing, giving a reading, seeing inspiring sights—Chimney Rock; Mount Rushmore; the remote Sandhills; the Crazy Horse memorial; an actual Pony Express stop. Perhaps my favorite part of this memorable journey was witnessing the spring migration of the sandhill cranes, which, roughly, is quietly watching the sun rise as thousands of large birds wake up, dance and chatter, and then, magically, in wave after wave, lift up out of the Platte River to spend the day eating in area fields, bulking up for the journey ahead to Canada. (Do yourself a favor and google a video; these birds are one of the most stunning things I’ve witnessed.)

In eight days, I was snowed in…yet also running around outside in T-shirt sleeves; I slept in a yurt, a manly hunting lodge packed with taxidermy, and an EconoLodge with an ice-crusted parking lot. I saw rolling hills and windmills and lonely train tracks and misty skies and a whooping crane tucked in with the sandhill cranes. It’s lucky to have had this trip as my last because it filled my eyes and soul. I’m grateful to the two universities in Nebraska that partnered to create this writing/travel residency, and I’ll tell you this: once we’re free to move about the country, you really must get yourselves to gorgeous western Nebraska. (And I’m not just saying that because I was on a sponsored trip!)

We’re grateful that we have read some interesting books and watched some excellent movies/TV, and so to escape, we recommend watching Schitt’s Creek, Bunheads, Succession,  Saturday Night Live, Wayne, Floor Is Lava*, Cobra Kai*, and I recommend reading How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C. Pam Zhang (if you want harrowing and dire) and The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (if you want fun and frothy). Steve was especially taken with a book about Doors singer Jim Morrison’s life as an aloof teenager here in Alexandria—his boyhood home is .7 miles from our house. (The Lizard King Was Here by Mark Opsasnick). *Credit Steve (who also doesn’t quite recommend watching “way too much MSNBC” but who definitely does so).

We’re grateful that we’ve not been sick. We’re grateful for flu shots and vaccines on the horizon and science and scientists. We’re grateful to voters and those working for social justice. We’re grateful to all working on the front lines. We’re grateful to everyone who’s doing the best they can through this pandemic. Even as we endlessly practice delayed gratification during this nightmarish, never-ending 2020, we know we’re incredibly lucky.

We wish we could give all of you a big hug…we wish we could mix you a cocktail, serve you some Boys Town chicken…we wish we could simply sit next to you and listen to all your stories, all night long. Happy holidays, and please stay safe and take extra care in the new year.

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