2020: A Year in Quarantine (And Thankful Thursday 31 December 2020)

During Rosh Hashanah, one of the groups I belong to sent me a touching e-mail about reciting the Shehechiyanu to welcome in the New Year. The Shehechiyanu is a prayer of gratitude that we have reached the holiday season. This prayer usually marks the beginning of a holiday or is recited when something brings immense joy. 2020 has been a merry-go-sorry year mixed with immense hardships, joy and a whole range of emotions.

The holidays are upon us and I’m sure they feel different than normal. I’m hoping that the love, light, and celebrations associated with this time of year is bringing some joy in this “new normal.” (If COVID-19 is still giving you the same sense of malaise as it did in March, that’s okay too; we’re all in this together.)

It’s truly amazing how the first 90 days of Roaring 20’s 2.0 was a complete 180 degrees from the rest of the year. I welcomed in 2020 with ice skating and ice skated until the rink closed on 8 March.

In February, I skated with Silent Philly, which is a program that brings three DJs and the public together. Each headphone they rent out has an individual station dedicated to that DJ.

Silent Philly evenings were fun, especially ice skating along to early 2000’s R&B and hip-hop, the songs I loved (roller) skating to in middle school!

Of course, skating with the River Rink staff and other people I had just met was fun too.

In January, news began circulating from China about the Corona Virus, AKA COVID-19. Some co-workers and I were obsessed with the news and one brought in masks for us to wear at the office. I started to notice some SEPTA riders began wearing their masks as early as mid-January.

There was talk that Chinese officials were canceling the Lunar New Year celebrations in Wuhan and there was dread surrounding the decision. I attended the one in Philadelphia on 26 January, but you could see that Americans were already weary of COVID-19 and avoiding China Town.

Although the Philadelphia Suns and their lion dances didn’t draw the crowds this year, it was nice being together, as community, celebrating each other. We all welcomed in the Year of the Rat with firecrackers.

I ended my evening at Bahn Mi and Bottles since they have delicious gluten-free options. The Vietnamese also celebrate the Lunar New Year and their New Year menu had some delicious dishes. I ended up getting a sticky rice and bean sandwich with shrimp and mushroom pho.

In February, the last hoorah before quarantine lockdown, Anna was in town for the Sideshow Horror Market in Allentown, PA.

Merchant’s Square Mall reminded me of an old-fashioned flea market. When I walked in, a jeweler greeted me and tried to sell me something before I told him no. He pointed out the directions, and I continued on my way to the Sideshow Horror Market showroom.

There were a lot of vendors, but fortunately Anna spotted me and took me to her sales booth. Anna was selling her Women of Horror collection. She is an amazing artist and her series are breathtaking.

We had a successful day, I helped Anna and Alli sell some Valentine’s Day cards and a couple of shirts. Anna and Alli also sold t-shirts and prints.

I was able to walk around a little bit. I met Damian MacDonavan, who hosts Damian’s Dreadfuls on RCN. Unfortunately, we don’t get RCN in King of Prussia/Philadelphia, but I could watch his show on YouTube. He was fun to chat with and his camera assistant was even better. We also met Father Evil; it was an amazing and fun day.

I became a member of the Philadelphia Film Society in January in hopes that this would be the year filled with movies. 1917 was a great movie to start the year! Unfortunately, Onward was the last movie I saw at the PFS on 7 March because in mid-March everything shut down in America and the rest of the world.

12 and 13 March were my last days of being in the library and an office. The library furloughed part-time staff.

Until July, I worked five days per week at home, but in August I now go into RTI once per week (with four days still at home). In mid-October, I went back to the library.

I celebrated 14 years at the Upper Merion Township Library on 28 August and 5 years at RTI on 30 November.

We were sequestered in the house for four months. In those four months, I worked on the scrapbook for Happiness Box 2019. Since I had time to spare, I really designed the layouts and what normally takes me 10 months to complete, I completed Happiness Box 2019’s scrapbook in five months (June instead of November).

I also continued writing my notes of joy and gratitude for Happiness Box 2020 – this project came in handy this year and has inspired others to make their own.

I completed National Poetry Writing Month in April! This was my first time completing since 2017. I’m currently editing the poems and looking at contests to enter for publishing.

I was also able to attend write-ins online through NYC based Gotham’s Writing Workshop. Normally when classes were held in NYC they often conflicted with my travel schedules. Others from around the world had the same opportunity I had and it made workshopping short stories fun. These free write-ins became the highlight of my summer Friday evenings. I have some stories in the works!

I became an expert in Zoom this year. Between my Shabbat groups, Pride in June, book discussions, and Envision’s weekly self-care meeting, I was able to connect with others while still maintaining distance. Zoom has helped me not only keep in touch with friends, but “meet” new people as well.

I participated in a circle journal project with Circle of Friends, my pen pal group. Despite the worldwide moratorium on postal services, Elle was able to send my circle journal back to the US before the start of COVID-19. My journal made it home on 19 October. It was really neat to see where my journal traveled before COVID-19 and during.

I’m the gluten-free and kosher cooking guru! Using recipes that appeared in The Exponent, I made delicious dishes. My favourite this year was learning how to make gluten-free challah bread! I’m still mastering gluten-free baking.

At the start of quarantine, we celebrated one night of Passover. The lessons of Passover could be translated into the lessons of COVID-19.

Vacation During COVID-19

Belmar / Asbury Park, NJ

Summer 2020 – beaches decided to re-open. In June, I wanted to take a three day vacation to the Asbury Park, NJ area. Unfortunately, the Air BNB I stayed in last summer wasn’t comfortable with renting this summer. A lot of hosts on Air BNB weren’t, which is understandable. I finally found a rental in Belmar, NJ with Michele for 17-20 July.

When 17 July rolled around, my first time out of the house since quarantine began in March, I arrived at Michele’s house and was greeted by one of her cute cats and adorable husky. They welcomed me before I was off to the beach.

Michele was a half an hour walk from Belmar Beach. When I arrived on that gray Friday afternoon, the beach was free and empty. Most of the guests were sea gulls and loved trying to steal my towels.

I was able to swim for three hours in rough waves, and unfortunately, I got sunburned. Overcast days can be deceiving!

After a gluten-free oatmeal breakfast shared with Twigs and Roots, Michele’s cats, I walked to Belmar Beach. It was 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the 18th and I enjoyed the seven hours I was in the water. I met some people that I swam with for a little bit. Mostly, I loved catching the waves. The waves were gentle, and I was able to see some fish and crabs swimming around.

I was off to Allaire State Park for Allaire Arts Alive, starting at 5:30. Allaire State Park reminded me of Valley Forge Park. I loved walking around and taking photos before I found the performance area next to the chapel. We were seated 6 feet apart underneath an oak tree and listened to the different performers. They were talented local to the Monmouth County Area musicians. It was a peaceful and serene evening.

Let’s Go Exploring: Tattoos in the “New Normal”

Old Glory Tattoo, Asbury Park, NJ

After spending a few hours at Belmar Beach (after Spring Lake sold out), I hung out with Michele for the rest of the day. I told her I was getting a tattoo; she didn’t mind at all. We watched Unsolved Mysteries on Netflix. While no one can replace Robert Stack, the new series was just as good as the series from the early 90’s.

My tattoo appointment at Old Glory Tattoo Company in Asbury Park was for 5pm, but COVID-19 pushed it to 5:30pm (for room cleaning). Marz was an absolute joy. He put on some Spanish and Basque punk rock, then he also taught me some of the Basque language. In Basque Spain, Hobbes is called Harold since Hobbes doesn’t translate. My choice made him nostalgic and happy – he used a green ink that he bought some time ago and couldn’t use until Calvin’s hat. I also loved watching him tattoo. The way the colours were set up, the whole process reminded me of painting. The ink jars were the palette, the tattoo gun the paint brush, and before a new colour, he washed the nib in water. Marz laughed at my observation. At 6:30pm, I had Calvin and Hobbes and I was all smiles.

When I got back to my Air BNB, I went to my room, removed the bandage, and took a photo of the stunning beauty on my upper arm. As I was walking to the bathroom, Michele greeted me and was excited to see my tattoo. Michele loved Marz’s work too and was just amazed with the quality.

After I washed up, I walked downstairs, and her new guests were watching Hamilton. They invited me to watch with them. I found out they were visiting from Lafayette Hill, which is near me in King of Prussia. Michele’s living room was set up to allow social distancing, so we enjoyed Hamilton, six feet apart. I was grateful that they invited me to watch with them and enjoyed the musical.

Earlier in the day, Jared and I were texting back and forth about dinner. He remembered that I am gluten-free and asked me where to go. After he discovered my suggestions were booked solid, I suggested Barrio Costero and he was able to get reservations for 7pm. When we met at Barrio Costero, Jared was impressed with Marz’s work. Even though Calvin and Hobbes was covered, a little bit of the word bubble showed. We dined outside, which became the new normal in 2020, and talked about our limited travels for the year, forecasting how traveling will change in 2021.

After dinner, Jared and I drove down to Asbury Park beach and took photos with the sun setting in the background. With the waves crashing along the beach, we watched young children squeal in excitement, catching the waves, and hoping that the rough waves wouldn’t tug them in further. Adults were playing volleyball and cursing the scores, it was nice to see the beach so alive at night.

When Jared and I made it back to the boardwalk, we found silly character boards and took selfies. It’s hard to believe we met eight years ago at a Packers game in Green Bay, WI.

Daytrippin’ Adventures

Atlantic City, NJ

I went to Atlantic City for the day on 30 August. Atlantic City is usually my day trip beach. The beach was empty, and I enjoyed the waves for a few hours.

I decided to take a break to get some photos with my Polaroid camera and I walked over to the iconic lifeguard boat. As I was waiting in line, two young women were taking photos of each other. I offered to take their group photo and I also asked if they would take mine. We agreed and chatted about my Happiness Box Project.

Emily loved my idea and shared with me, “I’m doing something similar to you, but instead of a box, I’m just travelling. I lost my husband to cancer a few months ago, I’m blogging about my travels to find meaning.” We exchanged Instagram accounts, and took quarantine selfies with my polaroid camera.

By August, most of the museums re-opened. Summerfest roller skating was cancelled this year, but at the end of July they reopened the amusements. While Summerfest normally closes on Labor Day, the River Rink extended the season until 11 October. The River Rink made the rink a beach with socially distant tables for eating. It was fun riding the Ferris wheel and carousel, but watching people walking around with blow up aliens was the highlight. A group of teenage girls let me borrow their alien, which they named George, and took a photo of me and George. This endearing photo from 12 September can be seen on the first page. George was a good photo buddy.

I went again on 10 October, conquered my fear of the Ferris wheel once and for all! Although I still wanted to hold on tightly as I descended into the air, there were less butterflies in the pit of my stomach. The last photo on page 1 is from my last day at Summer to Oktoberfest at the River Rink; I loved the teen’s overalls, she loved my shirt, and it was a perfect opportunity!

On 16 September, I became the moderator of the Lehigh Valley, PA sub on Reddit. It was an exciting day, as this is my first time being a moderator on any website. I joined Reddit in November 2018 for the gluten-free sub and forgot about it until March 2020. I’ve become active on Reddit since and I am happy to contribute to the site.

Lehigh Valley, PA was an inactive sub and I’ve been working on making it active again; I had to pack my patience after a slow start. Since October, the community has grown, and I’ve generated some discussions about events operating in a limited capacity around the Lehigh Valley and created a Discord stream. I’m excited to see what the future holds for this subreddit and I’m honoured to be a moderator.

“There are no sorrows when we break bread.” ~ Quevedo

By October, some of the groups I belong to were able to start meet-ups again, although the number allowed to attend were severely limited. On 9 October, the last day of Sukkot, I attended the rooftop Sukkot Shabbat at RSJ Moishe House in Philadelphia. I met Jonathan in January at a Shabbat and we kept in touch. Ten people were allowed to attend. By 7:30, we were all there. I met Sarah, an up and coming opera singer and I enjoyed chatting with her throughout the evening about music and theater.

Truly, there are no sorrows when we break bread and share an Uzbek meal. Laughter ensued when we shared gluten-free Graham crackers and marshmallows for s’mores. There was a lot of laughter around the Shabbat table and the campfire.

Halloween was different. Between COVID-19 and the riots, parties were capped to 25% occupancy and although the city didn’t have a curfew for Halloween, many events were cancelled beforehand. I attended a Halloween Costume Cruise on Ben Franklin Yacht from 5-9 pm.

I had a blast as Harley Quinn from Birds of Prey. I met Mr. J, although he was looking more like Joaquin Phoenix than Jared Leto, but I like that Mr. J better. I also saw my Suicide Squad twin and her boyfriend was Heath Ledger’s Joker.

I sat with a nice group of ladies that included me into their group for the evening. They encouraged me to dance, which I’ve always been too shy to do. I had fun dancing to It’s Tricky and Hot in Herre. (I kept masked and socially distanced.)

A rare Halloween full moon, a Blue Hunter’s moon, illuminated the Delaware River and I loved taking photos with the illuminated Philadelphia/Camden water front. Sitting on the deck of the yacht was a perfect way to cool down after a night of dancing.

On 2 November, Dad retired from Montgomery County after 33 years as a deputy sheriff. Dad has a senior SEPTA pass now and I’m hoping I can take him on some adventures!

I am happy to announce that the Rothman Rink at Dilworth Plaza opened its ice-skating rink on 6 November! I spent my self-care day at the rink on 7 November. I also spent time at my favourite piercing shop, Infinite. My piercer was John and he was wonderful. The selfie is featured on page 1.

Winterfest at Penn’s Landing is scheduled to reopen on 27 November! My body is calling for a weekly dose of vitamin ice!

This year was a creative year for me. As you enjoy your handmade card, I decided to create and donate six Hanukkah cards for JRA/Next Gen’s Letters From the Heart. My cards will be delivered with Hanukkah meals to those in need. I also participated in USPS’s Operation Santa. I made a beautiful Christmas card and gifted a camera (plus a Sally’s Beauty gift card) to a 15 year old gal who reminded me of myself when I was a teenager. I shared my blessings this year.

The holidays are going to look different this year. I hope regardless of what the season brings this year that you have a beautiful holiday full of love and light. Happy holidays and best wishes for a healthy and joyful 2021!

Warm regards,


P.S. I start 11 January 2021!

This year, I’ve lost two people near and dear to me. In March, I lost Mary Connor, who was a long-time family friend. She was also Nan’s neighbour. In June, I lost Mrs. Davenport, my library manager for the past 13 years.

We also lost a lot of great people this year. Here’s a segment from CBS Sunday Morning, it’s easier to show a video:

Some other memorable moments from 2020:

Biden also won the presidency. Of course, it wasn’t without drama. However, it was a good day. I look forward to the hope and better feelings.

Just for laughs:

My great aunt was also just diagnosed with COVID-19. Joel and Avi are going to pray for her, and I will as well. Please take a moment of silence and prayer.

2020 was truly a merry-go-sorry year. I am thankful for the people I “met” this year, and the lessons that the year has imparted on me.

This evening I write my last note and early tomorrow morning (I’m going to set my alarm for 7am… we’ll see) I open Happiness Box 2020.

2020 was the best year to start Roarin’ 20’s 2.0. Quarantine was a merry-go-sorry experience, but we all learned something from it and I think the lessons we pulled from COVID-19 will serve us going forward this decade. At least, I hope it does. I hope kindness can last and that we can pull together as a community.

Regardless of how we all viewed the year, we were all in this together, and we all experienced a whole range of emotions together. I’m thankful for this blog community, the Writing.com community, and my Jewish communities. I am also thankful for friends and family. Many of you helped during the year. I’m truly thankful for y’all.

Let’s look at New Year’s Eve and the New Year as a Kintsugi. We’re putting the broken pieces together in gold, to make beautiful art.

Published by


Creator of the Happiness Box Project Initiative, a project where you write your happiness or gratitude each day, then open the box in the New Year. The Initiative is to teach joy and gratitude, to pass it on to others.

One thought on “2020: A Year in Quarantine (And Thankful Thursday 31 December 2020)”

  1. Hi, Jessica Marie!

    You finished the year with a tremendous flurry, dear friend. It goes to show that even in this quarantined, locked-down year when your activities were severely limited and scaled-back, there were still many highlights and lowlights for you to document and remember.

    Like you I began this year going about my daily business, free of a mask, free of worry and without any inkling of what was to come. When the year started I was still living in a city across the state from where I am now. The pandemic set in less than a month after we moved here. If and when we ever get our normal lives back, I dare say we will never again take for granted the simple pleasures we once were able to enjoy. I can’t wait for that wonderful day to come, and hopefully it will come in 2021.

    Thanks for sharing pictures and reminders of what you did this year, your trips to the beach and skating rinks, meeting all those new people and getting involved with new groups, your new ink friends, how you adapted and spent various holidays this year and the famous people we lost.

    My wish for you in the coming year is continued growth, discipline, maturity, satisfaction in your accomplishments, saving $$$ and maintaining stability and peace of mind on the tough anniversaries of past traumas. You can do it. You got this, Jessica Marie.

    Happy New Year to you and your loved ones!


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