25 August 2020
Why We Quarantined
To enter the U.S. at SeaTac airport in August 2020, no quarantine of any kind was required.
However, Lori and I decided weeks in advance that we were going to quarantine after our arrival for 14 days, based on WHO recommendations and the comfort level of some close family members we planned to spend time with after nearly two years away.
Lori works in the health field and felt a personal commitment to following the evidence-based guidelines set forth by experts.
For my part, I just wanted all of us, particularly our older family members and those at high risk, to stay healthy.
The worst thing imaginable in my opinion would be to lose a someone close to us on account of our irresponsibility.
Lori and I quickly discovered on our return, however, that acting responsibly in the pandemic is totally subjective, and that EVERYONE has a different comfort level with social interaction (and Covid-related hygiene habits).
We [wrongly] assumed that people, more or less, fell into two camps: those who flout the rules and recommendations, and those who take them to heart.
Instead, there is an INFINITE spectrum and a multitude of factors involved.
We looked into the four of us getting Covid tests upon arrival and being done with it, but couldn’t find any places at the time with a reasonable cost or turnaround time.
Even so, we had a few close family members who were uncomfortable with us solely relying on the Covid test and were pushing for the quarantine.
It became clear that we would need to set our dial of precautionary behavior to that of the most cautious and conservative person we planned to spend time with in order to avoid straining important relationships.
Coming from Cambodia, where at the time of departure there was zero community transmission and most people went about their days without the pandemic in the forefront of their minds, was no easy task.
But we did what we could do when we returned to the U.S., and took all the precautions we could reasonably take under the circumstances.
We didn’t please everybody all the time, but knew we could live with the outcomes of the choices that we did make at each step.
And all of those choices started with quarantine.
Choosing Where to Quarantine
We flew into Seattle and quarantined in our hometown in Southern Oregon.
Normally, we’d fly into Portland or Eugene. Doing so this time around would have required booking a third flight on our own, which would have increased our exposure, of course.
But the real deal breaker was the fact that the baggage fees for all our crap on a domestic flight would have bankrupted us.
Welcome back to the good ‘ol U.S.!
So, that 330-mile gap meant either finding a quarantine location near Seattle for 14 days, or renting a car.
My parents generously offered their house for us to quarantine, temporarily relocating to my sister’s family’s place, which was also quite generous of my sister and her husband.
A buddy of mine offered up their Tahoe cabin, but as nice as that would have been, the logistics, car rental cost, and Covid travel restrictions in California made going that route unrealistic.
We thought we might get lucky and stumble on a friend with a vacant vacation house in the PacNW, but it never materialized.
After exhausting all other options, we took my parents up on their offer, which had the very attractive bonus of toys ⏤ lots of toys. And seeing Lori’s parents from afar (though we weren’t quite sure how we were going to navigate that with the boys). To top it off, we were able to borrow one of Lori’s parents’ cars as well.
Ultimately, a one-way rental car from Seattle to Southern Oregon ended up being massively cheaper than what we would have paid for a two-week house and car rental near Seattle or elsewhere.
But we couldn’t just rent a subcompact like we had in the past. We needed something big enough for, well, everything.
Getting Our Stuff From Point A to Point B
Initially, I thought we might need to rent two cars.
Fortunately, my brother-in-law was able to do some quick measurements of the cargo area of their minivan. From that info, I was able to determine that renting a minivan would do the trick, provided that it had the newer style, rear folding seats.
Another factor we had to take into account was child seats (which are mandatory in the U.S., unlike Southeast Asia).
We had one for Riley, but we’d have to finagle one for Noe. In the end, I was easily able to add a booster seat to the reservation for a minimal cost.
After leaving customs and immigration with our bags at SeaTac, Lori stayed with Riley and Noe and I hopped on the shuttle to the rental car lot.
It took ten minutes from the time we got off the shuttle to the time we drove out of the lot with the car. I’m sure the pandemic helped with that a bit.
We rolled up to Arrivals to collect Lori, Riley, and our stuff and Noe yells, “Look mommy! Daddy just bought a car!” If only it were that easy, Noe. If only.
First Night Lodging Challenges
After doing a bit of research on SeaTac area hotels, I ended up booking a family suite at the Holiday Inn Express, just down the street from the airport, which turned out great.
Lori and I prefer to travel on the cheap. With young kids, however, we’ve learned that sacrificing small comforts to save a small bit of money is rarely a good idea.
In past trips back to the U.S. from Southeast Asia with Noe, we looked forward to Grammy and Grampy greeting us at the gate in Portland, after 40 or so hours of travel.
Grammy generously volunteered to be on night duty with Noe while Lori and I tried our best to get some sleep and adjust to the time change.
A 14-day quarantine made that impossible this time around.
We flew from Phnom Penh to Seattle on an ideal itinerary for giving our boys the best chance at sleep and adjusting 14 hours backwards to PDT.
Still, we knew that anything could happen. And two boys doubles the chances of catastrophe.
So, we spent a bit more for a suite with a separate room. The hope was that if one of the boys was having trouble sleeping, it hopefully wouldn’t affect the other.
Plus, Riley sleeps much better in general if he’s not in the same room as us.
Turns out, I drastically underestimated our boys. They passed out just after 9pm local time and slept well after sunrise the next day, with Riley waking briefly in the night a couple times.
Quarantine Day 1
Surprisingly, we ended up having to wake the boys ourselves. Who knows how long they would have slept otherwise.
The quickest way to get young kids adjusted after a 14-hour time change? Don’t let them sleep too long and get them outside in daylight as soon as possible and as much as possible!
In addition to getting adjusted, we have another reason for needing to get the kids up and at ’em today.
We have a seven hour drive ahead of us to our quarantine location.
Just a quick stop to get some caffeine for the road and we’ll be on our way…
Lori and I debated whether we could count the travel day in our 14-day quarantine. We decided to go ahead and count it given that the guidance is currently split between 10 and 14 days for those showing no symptoms.
If any of us showed symptoms during quarantine, that would undoubtedly change things. We agreed to cross the bridge if we got to it.
So, we planned to do a straight drive, more or less, making a few stops and taking necessary precautions.
A quick stop to get the wiggles out…
A quick (and extremely social-distanced) stop to say hi to some close friends who are moving to…Cambodia!
Extreme social distance socializing!
Our friends of course had as much interest in catching the ‘Vid prior to their flight out next week, as we had in adding an extra day to our quarantine, so they hung out on their front porch while we huddled around their camp table out on their lawn.
They prepared us a very nice Pacific Northwest lunch and sent us with some local produce. We even got to catch up a bit in the short time we had chatting across the yard.
Awkward as heck, but we couldn’t have asked for a nicer pit stop with good friends on our way into quarantine.
Lunchtime was quickly followed by nap time.
Arrival at our quarantine station for the next 13 days. Time to wash hands!
Which we quickly discovered would be the least of our worries. Nanny and Poppi had hooked us up big time:
Two lobster tails? Seriously?
This quarantine business might not be so bad after all.
Our first full day in our quarantine digs and what’s on tap?
Think I’ll start with a morning hike to the flower boxes to give them a good water, then maybe take a trip to the garage to finish unpacking. Add in time with Lori and the boys and that’ll pretty much pack out the day.
The boys are just thrilled to have toys and an outdoor space for a while to play where they won’t have to dodge motorbikes or cower from the sun at 9am.
Yes boys, that’s grass. Soft, green grass. And…a swimming pool!
When I showed Noe where he’d be sleeping, he says, “Where’s my bed? This one’s too small!”
The Mister has been spoiled by having a king size bed to himself for the past two years in Laos and Cambodia. I ask him if he’d rather sleep on the floor and that seems to nip things in the bud pretty quickly.
With the boys down, it’s time to go through our mail stash from the past 20 months…
It’s sad how much junk mail we still receive having requested only e-versions of everything important and signing up to a number of websites that are supposed to some how curb the influx.
The worst culprit by far is each of our undergraduate and graduate alma maters that send requests for donations like ten times a year (which, by the way, are virtually impossible to stop).
I get it, I get it. But for the love, join the 21st century and send an email!!!
Day 3 – Day 7
By the third day, we were ready for an uber-cautious, socially distanced walkabout the neighborhood. Fortunately, in these here parts, you don’t have to worry too much about encountering anyone, particularly at mid morning. And, if you do, you can easily cross the street.
Then, it’s back to the homestead for some quality time on Nanny and Poppi’s “Outpost”.
Again, we couldn’t have rented a better quarantining facilities for two energetic little boys. And the August weather was about as perfect as it gets…for us, at least.
Being August in Southern Oregon, afternoons did tend to heat up. For that, we had plenty of toys inside (and air conditioning) to keep everyone happy.
Noe has been talking about hiking the “Loop Trail” since we were last here in December 2018. He was stoked to finally live out his dream, but it was bittersweet. What he really wanted was to walk the Loop Trail with Poppi.
Outposts and Loop Trails are fun and all, but sometimes, you just need some time with Monkey.
A funny thing happened in quarantine.
Noe’s finally old enough on this visit to play with some of my old toys that I’ve stored since I was a kid. Not sure if he or I was more excited about this. I brought out some of my old Legos and we went about putting the set together, followed by a bit of free styling.
While he was happy about playing with the “new” toys, they just didn’t capture his imagination like I thought they might.
When he tired of the Legos, I tried some of my old He-Man action figures, which were my very favorite toys around his age.
I had over a dozen still with all of the accessories and thought he’d go nuts when he saw them. Not so. I showed him what each does and how the accessories go on.
Over the next few days, he’d line them up and rearrange their accessories, but beyond that, he just didn’t have a lot of interest.
I asked Noe if he liked playing with the He-Man and he replied, “Daddy, I’d rather just make a fort.”
It occurred to me that they were a big deal to me because I was really into the He-Man cartoon and my friends were into all of it as well.
Noe’s 35 years late to the game and…the kid doesn’t watch cartoons. Doh.
I thought for a moment of acting out with the figures what we typically did with them at his age, but could only remember fighting, punching, stabbing, and screaming, and all of which he’s done just fine without.
I took stock of the toys in storage that I had set aside for my future children decades ago, and was taken aback by the violence and consumerism most of them blatantly encouraged (neither of which Lori and I care to promote with our kids, to be honest).
Lori and I hoped to do some pretty heavy purging of what’s left of our stuff in the U.S., and after three decades, I decided it was time to add the majority of what’s left of my childhood toys to the pile.
Except for the Legos. Both boys loved their Duplos, so I’m still holding out hope for those.
A “Visit” from Some Special Neighbors
We had a some special visitors show up one day at the end of the driveway, Grammy and Grampy!
Many of you may already know that Lori’s parents and my parents live across the street from each other. Lori and I, in fact, grew up in these same houses across the street from each other. We reconnected in 2009, and only then started dating.
While Lori and I moved out of the area two decades ago, our parents have remained.
Which makes visiting a unique experience, particularly with little ones.
As mentioned earlier, my parents were staying up in the Portland area during quarantine, but Lori’s parents were very much hunkered down in the neighborhood.
We’d see them outside working in the yard and would chat a bit before heading off on a walk or something. We were hesitant to do more than that to avoid messing with the boys’ emotions more than we already had.
After all, we had just yanked them from their lives and everything familiar to them in Cambodia and plopped them down in this strange and “new” place, where people talk and look funny and everything is different.
But, of course, the grandparents were itching to see their grandkids in real life (not just on a screen), and the boys wanted to see Grammy and Grampy, so long as they’re right there across the street.
So, that was that. And it seemed to work out fine. The boys seemed to understand that we were still doing this “quarantine” thing, and that they could wave but not approach their grandparents.
The grandparents watched and lobbed questions and comments over the lawn, and the boys showed off and did what they do.
Was it awkward? Heck yes! But everything these days is awkward.
No kids, you can’t hug or even go near your grandparents that you haven’t seen in twenty months. Grammy and Grampy, have fun observing and shouting out questions.
At least, this craziness would all be over in a matter of days. Little did we know it then, but post-quarantine would open up all sorts of new challenges.
It’s easy when everyone knows you’re in this self-isolation bubble. It’s much harder, when you’re let back out into the world and forced to exercise an unprecedented amount of discretion with each and every person you might encounter.
Day 8: Stretching Our Legs
After a week of staying pretty close to our home base, we decide its time to take advantage of the beautiful weather and amazing hiking right at our doorstep.
In the Portland area, it would have been unthinkable for us to even consider a hike during quarantine.
In these parts, you’re unlikely to encounter many other hikers, particularly if you go midweek, even in “normal” times.
So, we suited up and set out to do something we haven’t done in way too long. Go on a walk in the woods.
Being back in the States, we got to pull our beloved Deuter hiking carrier out of storage and actually use it ⏤ easily the most comfortable thing we’ve used for hiking with a toddler.
Moving to Cambodia, we figured we’d scout out the hiking, then bring the carrier back with us, but that didn’t happen.
Sometimes, we wonder if we should have gotten one with a rain/sun cover, but it does add quite a bit of heft and bulk to the carrier.
We got ours used, but they can be hard to come by. They’re almost always available new online.
To say the boys loved the outing would be an understatement.
Our quarantine digs were about as good as any family could hope for, but by Day 8, we were definitely starting to feel cooped up.
A short mid-morning hike was just what we needed.
In addition to our little excursion, Day 8 was also special owing to a very thoughtful quarantine care package we received from a couple of our closest friends, with some fun goodies for everyone.
The boys had never received a package by mail before, which made it extra exciting.
Day 9: Provisioning
Only part way through the amazing list of stuff my parents left in the fridge, but time to replenish some basics.
So, how do you get groceries in quarantine?
Initially, we were going to try getting our groceries delivered. Then, my sister suggested we do “Curbside Pickup” at one of the big supermarkets in town.
We were skeptical at first, but after trying it, we wondered how we ever lived without it, especially with little ones.
You just select your groceries online, select a pickup time, let them know when you’re there, and some one brings your groceries out and puts them in your trunk a few minutes later.
The amount of time and effort saved is CRAZY, and best of all, it’s free, even in our little town.
Of course, nothing’s perfect, and there were certainly times when they were out of specific items (usually certain types of beer). But on the whole, it was pretty slick.
One of the requests from my parents (in exchange for staying at their house) was making sure we looked after their cat, Sushi. The boys had no problem taking the reins on this one, especially Noe. And Nanny and Poppi were thrilled to receive the Proof of Life photos each day.
Just waiting on the stoop…for Covid to be over.
If you think Riley’s driving this thing, you don’t know our boys.
Delivery! Our favorite pizza joint in town. EIGHT containers of ranch dressing come standard.
Sushi, where are you?
Into our tenth day of self-quarantine and we’re beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
We haven’t killed each other and zero symptoms, so things are looking pretty good.
It’s a beautiful day, so we decide to hit the park, and this town’s got no shortage of them. We never fully appreciated that until we found ourselves here in the time of Covid.
But what about avoiding other people, you ask?
Itching for a change of scenery, we start to consider other places to go where we’re unlikely to encounter other people. Lori tells me she knows just the place.
Day 11: Downtown
Well passed its prime when Lori and I were growing up, downtown was still an integral part of the city where many of the community’s oldest and most essential businesses were located.
Mid-morning on a weekday in the height of summer would have seen a healthy number of people walking the streets and cars rolling down the main drag.
There have been various efforts to revitalize the downtown core over the years, some more successful than others.
Yet, for many of the most well known area businesses, Covid was the last straw.
Here, in August 2020, downtown feels more like a ghost town.
This was the old Payless when I was growing up. Not sure what it was in recent years, but vacant these days.
This is where I got my first pair of real shoes back in the day. Not sure how long they’ve been out of business, but the same old signage is still there.
Before Staples and Office Max/Depot all came to town (and long before Amazon), this is where most people bought their office supplies.
Again, same signage that’s been there all my life, but no one home.
At various points, this was a cute little corner cafe.
Everyone looks forward all year to Music on the Half Shell, weekly free live music concerts in the main park in town during the summer months.
This year, you can only tune in on your radio dial apparently.
One of the businesses that seems to still be doing some business.
While we’re in the area, we swing by the neoclassical county courthouse to show the boys where Grampy spent his days before retiring.
We decide it’s time to show the boys something a bit more lively, and head over to the municipal airport to see what we can see.
In addition to catching the landing and taking off of a few light aircraft, we catch the crew of a life flight helicopter whose call was just canceled who take the time to show off a bit of the aircraft for the boys.
After that, it’s back home for fun with boxes.
Day 12: Tidying Up
Guess who’s coming to visit, tomorrow? Nanny and Poppi!
A day or two earlier than planned (depending on when you start counting), but after consulting with everyone we plan on being in close contact with for the foreseeable future, and in the face of no symptoms, we’ve come to the decision that quarantine will have served its purpose for our particular circumstances.
Day 13: Freedom & Reunion
Nanny and Poppi aren’t due back into town until the afternoon, so we take advantage of the perfect summer weather and head on a hike in the Umpqua National Forest.
Noe’s actually been here before (though he doesn’t remember it, because he was just a month old). It may have been the first hike we ever took him on.
We debated over whether we should hike during quarantine and ultimately decided that in this particularly low traffic area the benefits would outweigh the risks, taking the proper precautions, of course.
In hindsight, we are especially glad we did, because in a matter of weeks a massive wildfire swept through the area and reduced the area to wasteland.
All in all, quarantine ended up being a mostly positive experience, largely owing to the kindness and generosity of numerous family and friends.
One benefit of being sequestered from the rest of humanity is that we got a chance to decompress after a very hectic last few months, without many demands.
With quarantine behind us, the four of us are just hours away from seeing the grandparents, in person, for the first time in a very long time.
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