Christmas in Bed

Dickens' Christmas Books

So, it was—is—COVID. I called the doctor very early on Friday, begging for cough medicine. They called back and asked if I wanted to come for a swab.

“I already tested negative…”

But that prompted me. I tested again. Two bold lines.

I called back.

Bundled up and with a mask, I went to the drive through pharmacy and got cough medicine and Paxlovid.

Now, Saturday, I feel much better. (Fingers crossed.) Cough and fever gone. But I’ll be housebound—quarantined—for a while.

Reading and dozing. I read a paragraph or two. I come to, and the book is flat on my chest.

I look out the windows and yearn to be out there cutting wood, blowing leaves, mulching.

DAMN! I have a thousand bulbs to plant! Why did I put that off?!

The dogs are thrilled. Lying in bed all day sleeping. When I get up, they go to the woodstove and lie so close in front of it. I’m afraid they’ll start smoking.

“What does a dog do on its day off—lying around is its job.”

What will I do for the next few days? Trapped in paradise. Surrounded by thousands of books I really should look at.

The last time I was trapped was January 2021. I had a positive test at CVS. I only took it to get an airline ticket to Egypt. I had no symptoms. Back then, I was able to “work.”

The cough medicine had me in dreamland yesterday and last night. It just abated. So now I’m sober again.

Two very large gray squirrels are poking around the yard. Animals don’t usually come close to the house. I think all the scent the dogs leave is a repellant.

My beloved redbuds are ugly this winter. For some reason, they all went to seed this year.

The pea-like pods have turned black and still cling to them. Thousands of them—on every mature tree.

My primitive self tells me it must be some kind of omen. I’ve been here 14 years now, and there’s never been anything like this. Does it portend fertility and plenty? Or is nature launching seeds for survival? I will have to cast the entrails and divine what this means.

Less messy would be Bibliomancy.

The practice of asking a question, opening a book at random, and interpreting the first passage your eyes (or fingers) hit upon as an answer was once widespread among the Greeks and Romans, the Muslim world, medieval Europe, and elsewhere. The Bible, the Book of Psalms, the Koran, and the works of the Roman poet Virgil were among the books most commonly used. Divination employing Virgil’s writing even had its own name, the sortes Virgilianae. (Because it’s the 21st century, you can now practice it online.) And you didn’t even necessarily need to read the books to use them for divination—in Russia, people would tie books to the ceiling using string, and then pay attention to which way the books swung when certain names were mentioned. The direction of the swing could indicate the name of a future spouse, or girls who would marry within the year.

Christmas Eve

Certainly the strangest one ever.

Enforced introspection.

No company—except the dogs.

No alcohol.

No appetite.

Just me and my mind.

A year ago on Christmas Eve, the first thing I saw that morning was a text from Emory. We were going to meet at the warehouse and work the daytime away. The text was from Emory’s phone, but the author was his wife.

Emory never woke up on Christmas Eve.

I miss him. Another person to miss in my little circle. There was magic in that man. A force of nature. Long gray beard and flowing gray hair. Oil stained jump suit. He appeared like some mix of the God of the Old Testament and Santa Claus.

A master… of so many things.

It was a beautiful day today. All I could do was look at it.

The protocol for COVID and the med I’m prescribed is, “Take it easy. Bad outcomes can result from trying to do too much too soon.”

Now it is evening.

I don’t want to watch any more tv or movies.

Food doesn’t taste good, and I’m not hungry, anyway.

I’ll just crawl under the mound of bedclothes and write a bit.

(Thank God I have that still.)

I’d love to be out cutting wood or blowing leaves. Or be down at the warehouse messing about with books.

Or at a restaurant or bar with… Those guys… they all mostly vanished with COVID.

I’d be a danger to my family.

But when there is no escape. No fight or flight. Serenity is the only path left.

It is dark and quiet as a mouse.

Silent night.

Not a whiff of a breeze. The mountain is motionless.

All is calm.

This computer screen glows, propped on my torso and knees. The only light in the house.

All is bright.

Thousands of lights twinkle down in the valley. Many are homes where dinners are being served to family and friends.

Presents under the tree.

I last put up a tree here til 2016, I think.

I was away most of December 2023. No time to decorate. I brought up three old creches from ground level.

I’ve had carols playing on the sound system quite a bit the last few days—via the phone and Pandora and bluetooth.

No question of a white Christmas. It is nearly 50 degrees outside.

I don’t want to mess around with the phone.

I remember the Halloween I was quarantined with chickenpox. Or was it measles? I think I was seven. It was devastating.

Is this a test? A forced discipline to make me… do what?



Christmas Eve in solitude.

Yesterday after I finished the Bradbury, I went downstairs looking for comfort reading in the library I had built in the spare bedroom.

I chose one of Barbara’s books. I admit with some guilt I never had read them all. Maybe I wasn’t ready.

I chose The Jackal’s Head for no reason.

It turns out it is the first “Elizabeth Peters” book.

“Elizabeth Peters is a pseudonym for an established writer who knows her Egypt well,” the jacket blurb says.

Perhaps my hand was guided. She’s in Luxor. 1968. For the protagonist is certainly her voice. It is comforting to hear it again. I’m nearly halfway through. 120 pages or so.

That was a magical trip. Perhaps the most magical. It is like going to another planet. The art museums are a couple hundred feet beneath a barren mountainous desert. Not a blade of grass. No cactus or succulent. Dirt and rock whose color changes with sunlight all day.

Oddly, I got a Christmas email today from my guide there.


Wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Merry Christmas

He was a great and knowledgeable companion. Coptic, with excellent English and very knowledgeable about the tombs and ruins. I think he got me down to almost every open tomb in the Valleys of the Kings, Queens, Nobles and Artisans. He was not permitted to lead me down into many, though. Part of the gig is many tombs have their own thawb-clad “guide” who is mostly there to hustle you. If you let him take your picture or latch on to you and tell you things about the tomb (often very wrong), his hand will be out and your exit impeded until you pay a bribe—baksheesh.

But I think Medhat enjoyed sending me down all those tombs. He could have a smoke at the entrance until I returned.

I hadn’t thought of him in quite a while.

I hadn’t heard from him since shortly after I returned.


Christmas Eve.

My own A Christmas Carol with me as the villain/protagonist.

The ghosts?

Family and friends.

Good to reflect on them.

I lit candles earlier. I didn’t think of it, but now I know why.

Reading her book took me back to those rocky slopes.

Not a blade of grass. Not a drop of water.

But far beneath the surface of the earth, ancient galleries—thousands of years old. The paint often looked as though it was still wet. Those who made the galleries and filled them and decorated them are the same species as I am. But they are as alien to me as I would be to them.

Let’s see. Going backward.

Emory—Christmas Eve.

Brother Tony, John Adams, brother Joe, Barbara ten years ago, brother Jimmie, Mom—Christmas morning 1977. Dad—just before my 21st birthday.

Will their spirits visit tonight?

It is good to hear Barbara’s voice rise from those pages.

In a few days, I can return to the land of the living. Christmas will have come and gone. But not New Year’s.


I no longer yearn for anything. I just hope the next year doesn’t have many of the tangles that this one had.

“Emory did not wake up this morning,” to begin with.

I went down to the warehouse today. No one will be there until Tuesday. Still, I took my mask. I wanted to get my luggage—lost on the way back from Portugal.

There are a few other things I wanted in order to get through the next days until I can return from the Valley of the Kings—the valley of the shadow of death.

Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

I wanted to see my Dickens’ Christmas books.

I look at them every year about this time.

Dickens' Christmas Books

God bless us every one.

Strange driving down the highway and back up the mountain. Did anyone notice I was different than them?

I couldn’t interact with anyone. Couldn’t stop for a coffee.

There was a Christmas party at the warehouse on Friday. Funny sweaters. Food. Gifts.

Warehouse Christmas Gifts

There were a lot of leftover cookies and fruitcake out on the table—as if people had just left in a hurry.

Is this some of test?

Well, of course it is.

Just a random obstacle thrown up across my path. Not administered by any sentient being.

I know who the ghosts of Christmas Past are.

Who is Christmas Present?

Who will show me Christmas Future?

Well, time to put this aside.

I’ll pick up Barbara’s book and read about her adventures in Egypt in 1968. She would have turned forty that year, I think.

It is good to hear her voice—across the years, across the void—alive and unchanged for fifty-five years.

With luck, I will read until I sleep and awaken on Christmas morning.

I will go and jump on my parents’ bed and beg them to let me go downstairs and see what Santa brought.

My sleepy teenage brothers will stumble down—more interested in breakfast than indulging this child’s fairytales.

When I get to the kitchen table for breakfast—long after everyone has finished and disappeared elsewhere in the house—I will eat the bacon and eggs and burnt Wonder Bread toast with yellow squares of melting pats of butter in the center—set before me. I will watch my mother’s broad dimensions from behind as she creates the magical dishes for the family feast to come later. Her apron wrapped round her ample waist and cinched in a bow behind her.

Christmas Morning

I had a good and deep sleep.

I’m still tired. The lingering effects of the plague. (I hope they linger not long and this thing goes away.)

Another day of quarantine and forced relaxation.

It is a beautiful day. Thin white cloud cover. The high will be 53.

What did I do in the previous long-ago life before I became a servant to the book?

I would get the Sunday paper and spread it out on the floor in front of the tv and put an old movie on the VCR.

Now there is no newspaper of any size or note.

Should I look through the obscenely expensive satellite tv listings and see if there’s a Christmas movie? I poked through my DVD collection and only found A Charlie Brown Christmas last night.

It was depressing.

It is ABOUT depression. Growing up with it, I never thought about it. I just thought it was… Charlie Brown. And funny. But Charlie is clinically depressed. Odd children’s movie. Odd script by Schultz. But it works and has a happy ending with all the dysfunctional children singing a carol.

No appetite still, and my mouth tastes yucky no matter how often I brush.

The dogs don’t seem to wonder that their human is hanging around the house so much. I read somewhere they forget most things in a few hours.

But then, so do I.

All those years of racing against the world.


Christmas is over.

I went nowhere. I did nothing.

The middle of the day was occupied with watching It’s a Wonderful Life on tv. It took forever. Commercials. I stopped counting at 8 on one break. I got to where I would get up every break and vacuum a bit. Or bring some wood in. Or water plants. Or hang pictures.

I have a thing about hanging pictures. Avoidance. When I actually do it, I find it takes just a couple of minutes to do. So, the new hangings are a big deal—to me.

Or I’d go downstairs and bring stuff up to part with or stock upstairs. (Pantry—memo to self—do NOT buy any more jars of tomato sauce no matter how great the sale is. There are well over a dozen down there.)


Do laundry (that didn’t last long.)

Finally, the movie ended, and I laughed and cried and felt good all over.

Christmas got up to 57. I had to throttle back the woodstove so it wouldn’t get too warm.

I wasn’t hungry still. A can of 130-calorie chicken noodle soup (with a little basil olive oil, ground pepper and hot sauce, it was pretty good.) I ate it out of the saucepan to save having a dish to clean. (Wash dishes.)

I had no presents to open, but I considered some of the things I rediscovered as “surprises.”

Now it is just after 6 a.m. Tuesday. Boxing day.

What will I do with another day off?

Funny, I’m not itching to get back to work. Or run errands. But I would like to spread mulch, cut and haul wood, blow leaves—but right now exertion frightens me.

Should I keep writing this “journal entry” of my venture in to the Land of COVID?

A friend at work has had it over a month now. And really sick for much of that time as well. That’s another reason I’m fighting it with sloth.

I’m tired. Is it my body embracing laziness? Or a symptom of the disease living inside me? I could curl up, burrow under the thick layers of bedclothes above me and sleep some more. I’d wake up after sunrise—though it is cloudy today, so there will be nothing to see.

I made some scones for breakfast—well, I don’t eat breakfast. What I really want is some Christmas cookies. Something baked and sweet.

The mix was years old. Undated. Likely a gift. (Yep. I got to rooting in some of the cupboards.)

Simple recipe. Water, cream, mix. Knead…

I had no cream, so I substituted olive oil. I stirred in a lot of colored sugar.

Even though I can’t taste much—they are terrible. But they were warm. (And ugly.)

The dogs will get them—mixed in with canned.

There are some more old mixes in the cabinet under the counter. I’ll see how the dogs like these first.

Christmas day… then I turned football on… for about 15 minutes. Just tedious. But it is wired into me after a lifetime. It used to be the “patriotic” thing to do. The American Pastime. Now it is corporate and crazy.

Christmas Vacation was on so I switched to that. Commercials. But it was still funny.

For dinner, I spread some foie gras mousse on a big thin slice of very hard pumpernickel bread.

THAT tasted good. But one was enough. Libation? Fizzy water. Sometimes flavored.

December 26th is drippy. I’ll be able to dump the ashes on the garden at some point.

If I get enough initiative, I’ll go through some of the LAST boxes of books from Pennsylvania and see that time capsule again.

All this enforced down time at home, and you’d think I’d have made more progress. But—”Easy does it.” Well, a work in progress.

It is almost 10.

Dead silent and gray. Fog has rolled up the mountain from the valley. The view is now bare black trees and after a couple hundred yards, an impenetrable white void.

Foggy Forest

Probably time for a shower.

The world is back at work down in the valley. Kids, home from school, are putting together Legos or bending their thumbs with video games.

How many hours a day can these dogs sleep?!

This is not what I thought the 2023 holidays would be like.

Wednesday, December 27

It is still foggy out early this morning.

I awoke at 4 and took my last dose of COVID medicine.

I finished The Jackal’s Head.

It is signed and inscribed to me. I still have the ABE receipt laid in.

I went on a mission about 12 years ago to make sure I had a complete collection of her books. I succeeded.

I’m also finishing volume 25 of my journals. I will leave the last few pages empty and start a new. Any day now and certainly by New Year’s. The next blank journal will be the Little Prince edition I got at The Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World in Porto, Portugal. That will be a different look.

I still have a little dry cough occasionally. I think it is my body trying to expel stuff left by the plague. I feel ok this morning. But then I’ve pretty much been lying in bed or on the recliner the last 6 days.

My quarantine ends today. I will go in and see how things go. I don’t know how long I will last. I really don’t want a relapse.

This “plague thing”—it has been dominating life for almost four years now. After all the precautions, it finally came for me. And still no one is willing to do anything about it.

More and more December 2019 and before seems like another era.

Something in the paranoid section of my mind makes me wonder if there isn’t some other layer we don’t know about. That our strings are being pulled by… somebody else.

What did I accomplish with my “stay-cation”?

Not a lot. For much of it, lying around was about all I was really fit for.

I did write some. Not as much as I could of—should of.

I had enough energy to go through five boxes of my old collection from Pennsylvania. If there are any more in the garage, there can only be a few. There weren’t any thrilling surprises. A long run of Robert Graves first editions. The only book I have that is signed by mother. A 1/2 leather quarto of Millet and Corot. She signed it in full in 1946—before I was born. It’s not her taste at all that I was aware of. (Although we did have a large reproduction of The Gleaners in the old house.) Maybe she got it at a church “rummage sale” or something. I remember she bought a Vermeer at a church sale in Amherst, New York. It was 50 cents or something. She had to put it on hold on go home and get the money. Her tastes ran more to the Readers Digest Condensed books that came every month in a cardboard sleeve. But the Vermeer… I wonder what that was all about.

Four boxes are going to the warehouse to be sold online. A small stack is going up the garret.

Garret Stack

I got a few long put off paper projects done but didn’t get to the big cleanup I had planned.

Still, some things are better than they were before my “lying in.”

There was a lot of time for introspection (when I was awake.) I learned I certainly don’t want to be weak and frail. I’ll redouble my efforts there—when I feel well enough.

That is one change since 2019. So many people have turned “inward.”

Well, time to go and face the music—er, books.

Wednesday night

It is an ugly sloppy night out. The dogs didn’t want to venture out into it.

Christmas 2023 has ended.

The year is ending.

I am tired. But I think my body is mending.

It was a frightening odd week. I felt this disease could kill me if it wanted to. It has powers of destruction. I suppose I kind of hid from it. Hoping it would overlook me.

At least I hope it is over. It has other powers as well.

I am under the bedclothes. The evening has aged. Winter days—time speeds up when evening comes. A short fast day ending in hours of darkness.

I managed just over a half day of work. Lots of paperwork and emails and things to check off my “to do” list. The last few hours I spent going through carts of books.

Friday morning

I feel good. But I’m still apprehensive. Cautious.


11 days ago I was in Portugal. Another time. Another world.

That was a fun trip despite its outcome. Turns out they didn’t confiscate any of my tinned fish or meats. When my appetite returns, I’ll get into these.

Portugal Tinned Food

Nor did they take or break my ginja (chocolate cups included.)

Portugal Gingja

I put in most of a day at work on Thursday. I have to wear a mask til Saturday.

The Kabuki show.

Rebreathing my own CO2 makes me huff and puff. My reading glasses fog up. It makes me feel warm and confined.

The Rescue Mission picked up the food donations. They now bring a truck and Gaylord to transport the stuff.

I’m not sure if we had a good Christmas season. I was absent or ill for most of it. I hear the stores were really busy. I’ll see the numbers next week.

They’re trying to close the book stalls along the Seine for the Olympics.

Book Stalls


Why not put in tv screens and interactive displays in Notre Dame too?

I almost got to Paris this year. That got canceled along with Dublin and Baltic States trips.

Still, 2023 got me to Morocco, Greece, Cornwall, Venice, Portugal and London.

How will I fill 2024? I have a couple of plans already set.

I decided last night it was time to clear out most of my travel and site guides.

Chuck's Travel Guides

(There are a lot more than these.)

I would bring them home to remind me of places I’ve been or prompt me to go places.

So many places to go, things to see…

But it is time to clear out a lot of the detritus.

My beech tree caught my eye yesterday.

Beech Tree

It glows in the dull forest this time of year. She still wears her mantle of leaves. I saved it about 8 years ago. It was threatened by dead and overhanging trees all around it. It was just a sapling. I cut the offenders out to give it more light. It has been its own reward.

I wrote a series of stories about it some years ago. Maybe I should get into those and formalize them.

I did get three Round and Round stories out in the last couple of weeks. Those and these “regular” stories. Six stories over 3 weeks.

Well, if my body wasn’t working, my fingers were.

10 Comments on Article

  1. Holly Smith commented on

    I’m glad you’re over covid (Paxlovid for the win!). Thanks for writing these weekly blogs; book nerds like me really appreciate them.

    Here’s to a happy, healthy 2024!


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      So nice to hear from a reader!
      Makes me want to keep trying!
      Happy New Year

  2. Aurem commented on

    Covid is potentially an extinction level event. It infects the brain 100% of the time, it can damage all organs, notably weakening the heart. It is airborne and lingers in the air like smoke, but it is more of a vascular disease rather than a respiratory illness. The newest dominant variant is called JN.1 and some of its distinguishing symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, and other GI problems. Covid-19, which always was and should have been called SARS-Cov-2 or SARS2, perhaps most startlingly is known to damage the immune system, permanently impairing more of it with every infection, and ultimately leaving us vulnerable to all other infections as well as more cancers. SARS2 causes AIDS.

    Governments and “public health” have downplayed the known severity, although if you read the fine print on the CDC’s website you’ll find that they do in fact list all of the risks, but it’s too late for them to walk back their ineptitude, so all we can do is protect ourselves as best we can on the individual level, with N95 respirators or better, with certain nasal sprays such as Enovid that can help to neutralize inhaled viral particles, with vaccines (none of the vaccines are able to prevent this unmitigated, ever-evolving virus but Novavax is by far the safest and is up to 9Xs more effective than the mRNAs), with mouthwash that contains cetylpyrifium chloride (CPC) such as Colgate Total, and most importantly with ventilation and HEPA + far-UV air filtration in indoor spaces where people gather. It is also crucial to know that you must avoid over-exertion for about six months after catching this virus, as too much exercise or physical activity can easily lead to Long Covid, from which perhaps fewer than 10% of people ever recover.

    The big lie was that we could go back to normal, or wish this novel pathogen away by pretending it’s “mild” or it’s over. See for an overview, with citations.

    I sincerely wish you a full recovery, and hope you will be able to protect yourself from reinfection. Paxlovid is still supposed to be helpful in lessening the duration and severity of the acute stage of infection, but the virus is evolving such that Paxlovid may not be an effective option for long (and it was never a silver bullet).

    Unfortunately with every new infection, our immune systems take another massive hit and staying safe from further infections becomes increasingly difficult. This current wave of SARS2 may actually prove to be the biggest/worst yet. I’ve seen estimates that up to 1/3rd of Americans are expected to catch it within the next two months. Testing and data reporting is almost nonexistent (by design, as the pandemic proved to be politically unpopular, hence the politicians and media have minimized and memoryholed it), but wastewater levels are unprecedented and epidemiologists are still able to model predictions based on the limited data they have. It ain’t good. The CDC quietly announced that the overburdened healthcare system may have to begin rationing care in the coming weeks. There is nothing to do but protect yourself and urge your loved ones to do the same. High quality, well-fitted N95 or better respirator masks are probably the most effective tool for prevention. Even then, the virus can infect people through our eye membranes too.

    Good luck to you, and to us all.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      It is a scary and diabolical disease.
      Really dreadful more research isn’t being done on its source and possible mitigation.

      Thank you for your thoughts!


  3. Gary Fowler commented on

    Sorry to hear about your covid. Obsevations, in case helpful–we’ve had two bouts here: Recovery took a bit longer than we expected (we’re our mid-70’s), and “long covid” is a real thing, slowing us down for about a year. It becomes a balance between pushing too hard and giving in too easily. I must add, again, how much I appreciate your work and enjoy your blog. Please take care!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I really appreciate your input.
      Fingers crossed it is behind me – but really is a diabolical and scary disease

      Thank you so much for reading AND commenting.

      Happy New Year


  4. Patricia Reidy Lawrence commented on

    2023 was a rough one for me too. I lost my husband in January and let you know back then that your poetry about Emory was a great comfort because I too lost my Mr Fix-it. It’s been a struggle learning to navigate the world on my own. The first time for me, ever. I went from my parents’ home on my wedding day to our married life that evening. (That’s how it was done back that long ago.)
    I was curious about Bibliomancy and asked The Internets to give me a random verse from the Bible. This is what it replied with,
    “Here is a random verse from the Bible:
    For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

    This verse is part of a letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent to the exiles in Babylon, assuring them that God had not forgotten them and that he would restore them to their homeland after 70 years1. It is a verse of comfort and hope for those who trust in God’s plan.”

    I am not particularly religious any longer but the assurance of “welfare and not for evil” was a message that I needed to hear.

    My best wishes to you in 2024.
    Get well soon,
    and PS those scones sounded terrible. Olive oil?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I remember that so vividly!
      Still heart rending.
      Thank you so very much.

      There’s magic in books I am convinced.

      LOL…I didnt have any other liquid that water. I thought maybe it was as close to cream as I had?
      (Plus I wasn’t thinking straight!)
      They were dreadful but the dogs loved mushed up w some leftover chicken bouillon.

      Happy New Year

  5. Jeff Kirk commented on

    Thanks for another great year of blog stories! And for taking us along on your “adventures “ across the world, and down the mountain to the warehouse. I truly believe there are many for followers of your writing than the comments would lead you to believe. Best wishes and good health for 2024!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so very kind!
      I really appreciate the input.
      So often I’m writing in a vacuum

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