Winter Holiday During the Pandemic

Our winter break was different this year, primarily because, due to the pandemic, we elected to skip traveling home to Washington.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasing one-week holiday break. Our holiday started two days early. On Wednesday evening, December 16, school was canceled for the following day (and shortly thereafter for two days) due to an impending snow storm. We got about 8 – 10 inches, which was more in one fall than we have had in over two years now in New York. The highlight was sledding at a golf course just on the border of Sea Cliff, which has a dozen really nice hills that fills with local kids.

We then went skiing for two days, with two nights in a B&B, before returning to Sea Cliff for Christmas. Sydney’s friend Kayla and her single mom Dawn – two of the four people in our pandemic indoor hangout bubble – invited us to come over on Christmas Eve, stay for the night, and open presents the next morning. While I missed being with family, it was definitely fun to share a kid-focused holiday with another kid.

Reading what Santa wrote in response to their letter accompanying milk and cookies.

Christmas morning breakfast

Sydney received several games (Santa screwed up and gave her one we already have!), a pair of homemade stilts Sydney is still learning to use, and a fold up ping pong table that goes on our dining room table. I have to remember to get Sydney gifts she can actually play with on the spot. Three of her favorite gifts were a set of 10 doll clothes for her one real doll (from Aunt Sharon and Uncle Dave), a very basic electronic notepad (from Tantip), and a Harry Potter lego kit, which we are only about 1/8th done with.

Putting together a Harry Potter lego kit. I was worried it was too complicated but Sydney loved it.

We were smart to return home from Dawn and Kayla’s house around noon as it gave us the rest of the day on our own. We met Oriol and Oviti in the park (where we also saw our neighbors Grant and Everett), watched a Christmas movie, and had make-your-own pizza for dinner. The next day we met up with Norah and her dad Dave and the following day we drove into the city to meet up with Tantip and Faye to end our winter break.

Allan and Sydney on the ski slopes

With Skiing in New York the Overnight is Half the Fun

We chose not to travel home for Christmas during the pandemic, so instead I opted for a two-night, two-day ski trip to Hunter Mountain.

Hunter Mountain is the first good-sized ski mountain near us and is three hours away. That, for me, is too long for a day trip. Given the pandemic, we purchased our tickets in advance, brought our own lunch to the slopes, and selected two weekdays for our skiing. (The crowds picking up our tickets and getting on lifts were still a bit suspect.)

Sydney did well skiing. We skied about five hours each day with few breaks. It took most of the time to get caught up to where Sydney had been last January when she last skied. However, by the end she was learning to parallel turn on moderate slopes, a big win.

While the skiing was fun, I think Sydney enjoyed staying in a B&B even more. We selected a very old Victorian inn that was quite nice. We were the only guests and spent our free hours in our room watching movies, reading Harry Potter, eating Chinese takeout, and making up games to play.

Here are three short video clips showing how easy it is for Sydney to be happy in a barebones hotel room. The first shows the game she made up minutes upon entering the room.

The second is Sydney’s game of pretending to listen to me reading Harry Potter (that is my Fleur Delacour voice to start) while she secretly takes the opportunity to jump from bed to bed.

Finally, here is our made-up Dance Fighting, which Sydney asked me to first announce to the camera.

Letter to Santa

Sydney, who still believes in Santa, wrote a letter to him after hearing from another parent that kids can write to Santa.

She broke the letter into two parts, “All my questions for you” on the left and her present request on the right. I’ll translate below. I was very pleased with this because a) Asking people questions is a great way to communicate. She takes after my dad in that! b) She only asked for one, very meaningful, non-material present!

All my questions for you:

  • How many elves do you have?
  • Have you ever met Kate Pierce? (From a recent Christmas movie)
  • Can you do gymnastics?
  • Am I on the good list?
  • Am I on the bad list?
  • What did my dad ask for as a kid?
  • What did my mom ask for as a kid?
  • Is you’re favorite color red?
  • Is your favorite season winter?
  • is Christmas your favorite time of year?

Dear Santa,

For Christmas I would like a ticket to Australia. I know it is a lot to ask but I have wished for it my whole life.

P.S. I have been good.


Sydney loves musicals. She and I have watched many, including Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins, Hello Dolly, The Music Man, Annie Get Your Gun, and more.

Now Sydney is into performing musicals. In August she participated in Frozen II and recently she performed the role of Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen from Snow White) in the musical Descendants, a super popular Disney movie about the kids of all the famous Disney story characters. The play is a fairly basic neighborhood production made more so by pandemic restrictions but the kids all had fun.

Sydney is also obsessed with the move Hamilton. Here are two longer videos (at the request of Sydney’s grandma!) Sydney as Evie has the purple hair and red/black outfit.

Update on Sydney’s Sleeping

I wrote about Sydney’s sleeping habits back in April of 2019, over 1.5 years ago. The great news is that since then Sydney continues to make great progress.

Sydney no longer needs Santa Claus stationed at the corner of her bed with a magic anti-witch spray.

  • Sydney no longer needs Santa Claus to sit on the corner of her bed nor to have a magic spray against witches and spiders
  • We continue to do the five-minute checkin and song but, after that, I rarely have to do a ten-minute check
  • Sydney is now comfortable with me going downstairs after I tuck her in, whereas before I had to stay in my room next door

In short, she is doing great. This might sound trivial but getting Sydney to sleep has been the number one issue I have faced as a parent, both prior to our divorce and since then. I have worked hard on this aspect of child rearing and am proud of Sydney (and myself) for the progress!

Fall Activities During Covid

The COVID pandemic did not have a huge effect on our fall here in New York. Luckily, after having bin hit the worst in the country at the beginning of the virus scare in March and April, New Yorkers buckled down and we have had it mostly under control during the summer and fall. Sydney has been in school full-time since the beginning of the school year.

Having said that, most formal activities were canceled, all play dates were indoors, and we had to wear masks when in groups. Here is an update of our fall.

Sydney continues to enjoy her life, pandemic or not:

  • We have Girl Scouts every other week on Wednesdays, outdoors in a local park in Sea Cliff, and alternate that with gymnastics in the yard of a school friend, Carolina.
  • When the local recreational soccer league did not run, I decided to start a small program for second grade girls. I have had about eight girls each week for the past two months, all from Sea Cliff even though I invited all the girls from Green Vale. It has been great.
  • I have set up individual play dates with Tara and Aislinn, two classmates, and with local Sea Cliff kids Kayla, Grant & Everett, Oriol & Oviti, and Norah & Avery as well as our friends Tantip and her daughter Faye. These five families are the sum of our social contacts this fall outside of school.
  • When Sydney is with her mom, she has ice skating lessons on Sundays, theater lessons on Tuesdays, and her other Girl Scout troop irregularly.

The pandemic has been rougher on me, in that it has drastically curtailed my business and my attempt to create friends in Sea Cliff. I generally have a rich life when Sydney is with me, thanks to all the above, and a bit of a lonely life when she is not. I still practice with my soccer team (games have been canceled), have done a few hikes with various groups of people, have three regular video calls with family and friends, and have dated a bit. But, after two years in New York, I can’t really say I have any good friends here, which is a rarity for me as I have always done very well when moving to a new city.

We did have a slight COVID scare (more of a nuisance) two days ago. Sydney had a sore throat on Friday morning so I kept her out of school. I had to alert her teacher, call the administration to report her absence, and then talk to the nurse who said we did not need a COVID test but just needed a doctor’s permission to return. However, the pediatrician would not see her without a negative COVID test first. I check with three urgent care locations and contacted the New York testing hotline but was told the earliest test appointment available would be the next day, on Saturday. I finally found an appointment for Friday afternoon, where Sydney was tested for the full nasal swab PCR test, which she hated. The results were negative and she’ll be back in school on Monday. All for a sore throat.

A few videos and photos:

Norah, Avery, and dad Dave on left; Sydney, Faye, and Tantip on right

Sydney’s Halloween costume was Uma from the movie The Descendents, which is also the play Sydney’s acting class will perform

Teaching the Girl Scouts a warmup song. Admittedly, our social distancing is poor but this was before the recent surge and everyone at least had masks.

Sydney is obsessed with doing cartwheels. She probably does 50 each day. But she has not been getting her feet vertical until just this moment.

The Beginning and Possible End of Horseback Riding Lessons?

This past winter I booked a series of five one-hour horseback riding lessons for Sydney to prepare her for our planned Zephyr Adventures family vacation in Montana, which would include riding. The lessons were delayed and the vacation scrapped due to the pandemic.

We started the lessons in June and Sydney did her fifth and final one on Friday last week.

Interestingly, Sydney had initially liked the lessons but then complained they were boring, which is true considering the lessons all take place in a corral as compared to the trail rides we did this summer at 1000 Acres Ranch. I tried to explain to Sydney the lessons were attempting to teach her to actually ride a horse on her own, as compared to following another horse, and she needed to apply herself so she could do more than just be led around the corral.

On her fifth and final lesson the instructor finally asked Sydney to walk the horse on her own without being led. I was excited to see the progress! Unfortunately, Sydney was scared to do so and was limited to a few steps on her own before the lesson ended. She says she has no interest continuing.

Sydney has now been on a horse 11 times this summer and this, her final time, was the first time she was scared. I must admit I was a bit frustrated. It is one of those situations when you want to tell a child “Listen to me. All you need to do is X and you will really love it.” But if a kid isn’t ready to do something, there is not much you can do to force it. So we’ll move on to the next thing!

Hither Hills State Park

Last year Sydney and I participated in the annual Sea Cliff Camping Trip at Hither Hills State Park at the end of Long Island. This year the official activities were canceled but many families still attended.

I helped organize four families to hang out together at the campground in two separate sites. This included Sydney’s friend Kayla and her mom Dawn; our friends from Germany and Spain, Jordi, Katharina, Oriol, and Oviti; and new friends Tantip (from Thailand) and her daughter Faye.

Faye, Oriol, Kayla, and Sydney

Having four families camping together was fantastic. While it is pushing the edge a little bit in terms of pandemic safety, we were outdoors the entire time, careful not to share food or utensils, wore masks when needed, and already were in each other’s “bubble”. Plus, at this point Sea Cliff hasn’t seen a COVID-19 case in weeks so it is unlikely any of our immediate friends has it.

Dawn, Allan, and Tantip

Everyone had a great time. We played in the ocean (but could not swim because of a strong riptide), went for a drive to see the area sites, played in several playgrounds, and ate meals together.

Performing in Frozen 2

Sydney has loved singing and performing plays since she was very young. On August 30, she participated in her first real production – playing both the water and fire spirits in Frozen 2.

One benefit of living on Long Island is that there is a massive amount of local theatrical talent. We have seen many quite good productions with kids that were excellent. This was not really one of them. Not only was the production delayed three months and moved outdoors because of the coronavirus but there was just very little production about this. Instead, the kids sort of just stood on the grass in a local park and came up to the microphone when it was their turn to talk or sing.

That didn’t matter to Sydney at all. She loved being part of the group and loved performing in the show. It was actually fortuitous that the new date didn’t work for lots of families, as Sydney was able to pick up a second part from another girl and play two of the “spirits” in the movie. Otherwise, she would have had few lines.

I can honestly say Sydney did extremely well, primarily because she was loud and clear in her speaking. Her singing is getting better too. When I asked her if she was nervous, she said no. We’ll try to do this again.

In the Water Spirit Costume

Posing in Front of the Frozen 2 Banner


Final New York Vacation of the Pandemic Summer

Sydney and I had nine days recently for our final vacation of the pandemic summer of 2020.

We spent all nine days in New York due to travel and quarantine restrictions and I have quite enjoyed learning about our new home state – something we would never have done otherwise this summer. I spent the time to come up with three distinct vacations packaged into eight nights and nine days.

Winter Clove Inn

We spent the first three nights at the all-inclusive Winter Clove Inn in the Catskill Mountains. I managed to get a comped room in return for promoting the inn to the Zephyr Adventures audience. It was really nice having three meals included each day and we loved the outdoor activities including a pool, tennis court, onsite hiking trails, and playground. The inn had its act together with COVID-19 restrictions and we felt very safe.

Caroga Lake State Campground

We spent two nights at Caroga Lake State Campground, the first on our own and the second joined by our Sea Cliff friends Katharina, Jordi, Oriel, and Oviti with whom we went camping previously. Sydney and I hiked up to our third firetower of the summer, we swam in the lake, and biked throughout the campground. I loved that we could safely send Oriel and Sydney off on their own to wander the campground.

1000 Acres Ranch

We had just been to the 1000 Acres Ranch a month earlier but this time I recruited four other families – 15 people – to join us. And got a comped room for my efforts. Not all of these families were in our “bubble” but I was comfortable with the group given almost everything takes place outside. I even asked for our meals to be outside, although the ranch was not really staffed well enough to handle that effectively, which means we ended up with some less-than-satisfactory meals and ultimately started to eat more indoors. Sydney very much enjoyed the horseback riding and we worked up to doing a ride that included trotting on our final morning.

Sydney’s Favorites

I asked Sydney to rank the three parts of the vacation and was surprised to hear she ranked the Winter Clove Inn first, followed by the 1000 Acres Ranch and the camping. I thought for sure she would enjoy having some of her friends with her at the ranch but she said she actually enjoyed the Winter Clove Inn because she got to meet new people. She ranked the ranch second because of the horseback riding.

In the end, it was a really nice vacation with lots of activities, some good social interaction, and not too much driving.

Biking on the Ashokan Rail Trail

Roasting (burning) marshmallows at the Winter Clove Inn

Roaming the camping loops with Oriel and Oviti and Caroga Lake Campground

On top of Hadley Mountain near 1000 Acres Ranch

Dawn leading a kayak train with Sydney, Kayla, and Grant