Despite the Delta and Omicron variants, we’re still hoping that this holiday season will bring comfort and joy to all of us. Here are some of the adventures our family had during 2021:
We’ve been hunkering down to avoid the COVID pandemic for more than a year and a half, and most of the contacts we’ve had with family have been via Zoom teleconferences. Our canaries also passed away over the past year, which has left us bird-less for the first time in decades. But we haven’t been alone: We were thrilled to adopt Ollie, a Tibetan spaniel mix who was brought up from Texas by Right to Live Rescue. Ollie loves nothing better than a belly rub, and he’ll waggle his paws in the air to beg for more.
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We did manage to get in some travel during 2021: In April, we boarded a contraption called an “air-plane” and headed down to San Diego to visit our son Evan. He’s a postdoctoral fellow at UC-San Diego, focusing on RNA genetics. He’s also helping to spearhead a project called the Diversity and Science Lecture Series, or DASL, which is in the process of getting a grant from a privately funded science foundation. During our visit, we checked out the San Diego Zoo, the eateries in Evan’s neighborhood, and the Flower Fields of Carlsbad Ranch. We also helped Evan pick out some household items to make his apartment more homey.
In June, Tonia took another airplane ride to State College, Pa., to check in with our daughter Natalie. She’s an assistant research professor of entomology at Penn State. Her husband Dan is a research and development engineer at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory, specializing in underwater acoustics. Dan was on a business trip while Tonia was visiting, so she and Natalie were on their own — visiting Natalie’s friend and co-worker, Kate; sneaking in a rare visit to the local Red Lobster restaurant; and modeling the bee costume that Natalie sometimes puts on for her educational outreach sessions.
In July and August, it was Alan’s turn to travel solo. The first big trip was for Alan’s job as a contributing editor at GeekWire, specializing in space and science. He was on hand in Texas to report on the July 20 trip that Jeff Bezos and three crewmates took on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship. Then, in August, Alan took a monthlong road trip that featured stops in Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa (again), Nebraska, Colorado and Idaho. Alan went to the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, but there was also time for sightseeing. Colorado’s Garden of the Gods and its Balanced Rock — which seems to sit precariously on a single point but is reinforced with concrete — were among the highlights.
During the road trip, Alan visited some of the places he’d always wanted to see but never got around to before, including Mount Rushmore and Badlands National Park in South Dakota; Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (which played such a huge role in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”); and Pikes Peak and the Cog Railway in Colorado. Among the other memorable stopovers were the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota, the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Illinois.
One of the big reasons for Alan’s road trip was to attend a Boyle family reunion in Cascade, Iowa, and reconnect with roots in the Hawkeye State. The reunion was planned to coincide with the Field of Dreams game in Dyersville, Iowa, inspired by the movie in which Alan’s mom and dad had roles as extras. (The White Sox won a thrilling game.) Alan and his siblings Dave and Donna visited the Field of Dreams before the game. They also visited the old farmstead in Garryowen, which was sold off to another family decades ago. Some of the old buildings, such as the barn’s milkhouse, still stand. Alan also saw the Brucemore Mansion in Cedar Rapids and attended the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines for the first time ever.
Another primary objective of Alan’s road trip was to visit Natalie and Dan in Pennsylvania. In addition to getting a good look at their house in State College, Alan was treated to a boat trip through Penn’s Cave, a visit to Natalie’s research hives (where Dan has become a collaborator), and a taste of Amish culture at a farmer’s market in Belleville. Other highlights from the Pennsylvania leg of the trip include a visit to the Gettysburg Civil War battlefield and a look at the Pollinator and Bird Garden that Natalie helped design on the Penn State campus. Not long after Alan’s visit, Natalie took a trip to Germany in preparation for a study-abroad class on insect management that she’s getting ready to teach in collaboration with the University of Freiburg.
Road trips weren’t the only fun things we did this year. Now that Seattle has an NHL franchise, we’re getting into hockey and the ups and downs of the Kraken. Alan signed up for a membership program called The Depths, which gives us the opportunity for advance ticket purchases as well as access to training sessions at the Kraken Community Iceplex. In September, we enjoyed Randy Rainbow’s satirical songs at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. And Alan went on a hike at Mount Rainier, continuing what’s now become an autumnal tradition.
One of our highlights from November was visiting the traveling Van Gogh immersive exhibition during its Seattle stopover. Sitting in a canvas chair and taking in the moving, room-sized displays of Van Gogh’s masterpieces had a therapeutic effect on our COVID-jangled psyches, and taking the VR tour through virtual versions of Van Gogh’s old haunts was definitely worth the extra charge. We also had a great Thanksgiving with one of our oldest friends and a buddy of his — but we definitely missed having family members at the table. That is making us look forward all the more to having Natalie, Dan and Evan with us for Christmas.
There’s lots to look forward to next year: We had to forgo our plans for a family trip to Costa Rica in 2022 due to health concerns, but we’re thinking about a trip to Canada. Alan also has a road trip sequel planned for August, when there’ll be a 50-year high school class reunion in Iowa. He intends to continue his work on a freelance basis for GeekWire as well as Universe Today. And he’s spending more time on his personal blog, Cosmic Log, plus a podcast called Fiction Science that he co-hosts with sci-fi writer Dominica Phetteplace.
We wish you a happy holiday season, whether it’s for Hanukkah, Christmas or Solstice — let’s hope that by this time next year, we’ll have COVID in the rear-view mirror and lots more adventures on the road ahead.
Click here for a printer-friendly, big-screen version of this newsletter, with links to holiday newsletters from previous years.