When April Has Showered Sweetly With His Rains

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur 
Of which vertú engendred is the flour… 

Oh, let’s just do this in modern English, shall we?

When April has showered sweetly with his rains…
When the West wind has breathed so sweetly…
Through every grove and field…
When shoots and flowers…
Have broken through the earth…
When the sun shines…
And the birds sing…
This is when good folks to Canterbury go

The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, adapted by Lindsay Price

April may have been when good folks went to Canterbury, but for us it’s when it starts to seem there’s another artistic event every day. Here’s what we did over the past week: North sang with the church youth choir during the Earth Day service, Noah’s band competed in the state band festival, North and I read poems at a poetry reading at the public library, I attended my book club, North acted in two performances of the school play, and three short films Noah helped make were screened at a film festival for high school and middle school filmmakers at the American Film Institute.

Sunday: Earth Day Service

There’s a children’s choir and a youth choir at church and when North expressed interest in singing with one of them, they were inexplicably put in the youth choir, even though the children’s choir goes through eighth grade and the rest of the kids in the youth choir are all in high school. As the children’s choir is bigger and seems better organized, I asked if they’d rather switch but they said they like the music in youth choir better, so we’re letting it be.

It was a very musical service. The two choirs performed “This Pretty Planet” together as the gathering music at the beginning of the service. The younger kids were in white tops, dark pants or skirts and kerchiefs made of green felt to which they’d attached cutouts of lady bugs, flowers, etc. The older kids were in street clothes. They sang the song in a round. It goes like this:

This pretty planet spinning through space,
Your garden, your harbor, 
Your holy place,
Golden sun going down,
Gentle blue giant spin us around.
All through the night, safe ’til the morning light.

During the offertory the children’s choir sang two more songs alone and then for the commencement music the youth choir sang another song “The Oneness of Everything.” It’s a long song, but here’s how it starts:

Far beyond the grasp of hands, or light to meet the eye,
Past the reaches of the mind
There find the key to nature’s harmony
In an architecture so entwined.
Like the birds, whose patterns grace the sky
And carry all who join in love, expanding,
The message of peace will rise in flight
Taking the weight of the world upon its wings,
With the oneness of everything.

Considering they practiced just once (right before the service) they sounded pretty good.

And speaking of music, one of the several hymns the congregation sang together, “Mother Earth, Beloved Garden,” was written by someone I knew in college. (We were in a housing and dining co-op together and I had a class with her girlfriend.) I wouldn’t have even noticed if Beth hadn’t pointed to her name in the hymnal, but I was pleased to see it.

Tuesday: State Band Festival and Favorite Poem Night

At festival earlier this spring, one of the three bands Noah played in got straight superiors so they advanced to the state level, which was held at Towson University on Tuesday. Noah managed to leave the house in his band clothes and they got top marks again for their performance pieces and their sight reading. They played a Sousa march, a piece by Copland, and song called “Children’s March.” Noah played crash cymbals, suspended cymbals, triangle, and bells. He seemed pleased with their scores in a muted, Noah sort of way.

That evening, North and I read at Favorite Poem night at the public library. It’s the third year in a row I’ve done this—and North’s first year—but I considered doing it for years before I did. The problem was I took the name a little too literally and it was hard to commit to any one poem as being my favorite. Finally, two years ago I decided one of my favorites would be good enough and read Emily Dickinson’s “One Need Not Be a Chamber to Be Haunted.” And then last year I had just read a Pablo Neruda poem, “The Wide Ocean,” at my stepfather’s memorial service, so I read that one again at the library. As I was trying to decide what to read this year, I thought I could do the two poems my father chose to have read at his memorial service eight years ago, as those are meaningful to me, if not exactly favorites. So, I read an excerpt from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” and Raymond Carver’s “Late Fragment.”

North read “Pronoun,” which is the first poem of in Freakboy, a novel-in-verse about three characters with different gender identities and expressions. There were a couple other kids at the reading, including one North knew from acting class. He did a very dramatic recitation of an e.e. cummings poem he had by heart. I think he stole the show, but another memorable moment occurred when the last reader was reading “Casey at the Bat” off his phone, not realizing it was truncated. Left without the last couple stanzas (right after the second strike), he looked at the crowd and said, “Well, you know how it ends, right?” and a good chunk of the audience chanted back, “There is no joy in Mudville—Mighty Casey has struck out!” much to North’s surprise. Later I explained, “Well, it’s a famous poem,” and they wanted to know, “Is it an old people poem?”

Wednesday: Book Club

Wednesday my book club had its fourth and final meeting on Kristin Lavransdatter, a three-volume, 1125-page novel set in fourteenth-century Norway following the life of a woman from early childhood to death. I struggled to finish the book by the last meeting but I managed it, just barely, because I’d invested so much time in it over the past couple months I couldn’t bear for there to be any spoilers. And I won’t give you any, in case you intend to read it, which you should if you like historical novels with sweeping, multigenerational plots and intimate psychological portraits.

Wednesday and Thursday: Canterbury Tales

The spring play at North’s school was The Canterbury Tales and it opened Wednesday and closed Thursday. The kids have been in rehearsal for months, having auditioned and received their scripts shortly before winter break. For the last several weeks, North’s been in rehearsals for two plays at once, as Romeo and Julian rehearsals at Highwood Theater overlapped with this play. It worked because all the school play rehearsals were after school and all the Highwood ones were either in the evening or on weekends, but it still made for some busy days. One recent Saturday North had a costume fitting for one play in the morning and a rehearsal for the other in the afternoon.

Beth got involved with the play, too, helping sew costumes on two Saturdays and designing the programs. The director had the idea to have Beth re-write all the kids’ bios using gender-neutral pronouns as a show of support for North. It was well-intentioned, but North, Beth, and I all thought using pronouns other than what the kids preferred wasn’t quite the right thing to do. After all North doesn’t like it when that happens to them—so I suggested writing the bios in the first person with no gendered pronouns at all and that’s what Beth did.

Beth and I attended the play on Thursday. In case you’re wondering what a middle school production of The Canterbury Tales would be like, the answer is: in modern English, mostly in prose, cut down to seven tales, and only mildly bawdy (although bawdy enough to surprise some parents).

The play was performed in the band room, which is an amphitheater-style room so the actors were in the front and the audience was on folding chairs around and above them. It was very well done: the costumes looked great, almost all the kids projected, and even though a lot of them had never acted before, there wasn’t much stumbling over lines and the actors portrayed their characters convincingly and with humor. North’s friend Zoë was one of the novices, and she did a great job playing the knight in the Wife of Bath’s tale. She seems to be a natural.

North played the Pardoner, one of the pilgrims, so they were on stage in the opening scene, in all the scenes between the tales and they narrated their own tale. It was a good one, featuring the black-cloaked figure of Death, who touched people on the shoulders causing them to act in ways that set their own deaths into motion and then stalked away cackling. In the intercalary scenes North’s character was a comic figure, with a lot of good one-liners. If you’re looking for them in the picture, they’re second from the left—in between the church choir performance and the play they dyed their hair purple. Also, the crutch isn’t a prop– they fell over a chair and twisted their ankle a couple days before the first performance.

Saturday: Montgomery County Youth Media Festival

Saturday morning we went to the American Film Institute to see the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival. Noah and his collaborators submitted three short films and they were all accepted, which is impressive considering the festival as a whole had about a one-third acceptance rate. All Noah’s films were made with other members of the production team at Blair Network Communications, the television station at Noah’s school.

Of Noah’s three films, the two in the documentary category were short bits profiling school events, one held by of the Free Minds Book club, which was facilitating correspondence between incarcerated kids and Blair students, and another by the Japanese club, which was teaching students to make rice balls and raising money for world hunger. The film in the narrative category was the longest one (and Noah’s favorite). It was a PSA about not being late to class. It featured the school mascot, the Blazer, and his fictional nemesis (invented for this film), the Reverse Blazer, who attempts to make a kid late to class by plucking him out of the hall and causing him to teleport to the athletic field. The Blazer then appears and pursues the Reverse Blazer, but the Reverse Blazer escapes, so as the Blazer explains everyone must be diligent about being on time for class because the Reverse Blazer is still out there. This film got a lot of laughs from the audience, which is also what happened when it aired on BNC.

Noah’s school dominated the documentary category with nine of the thirteen finalists; this isn’t that surprising because Blair houses the Communications Arts Program and filmmaking is central to the curriculum. The narrative film category was more balanced, with The Blazer being the only entry from Blair. I also noticed about a third of the middle school films were from Noah’s middle school, which also has a communications magnet.

The winner in the documentary category was a film about refugees in Paris, made by one of Noah’s classmates. A horror film won the narrative category. My interpretation of it was that it was about hallucinations brought on by sleep deprivation in three kids in a college (or maybe boarding school) dorm. There was a lot of impressive film making but I have to say Noah’s peers seem to be a morose bunch (either that or the judges who picked the finalists are). It seemed every other film was about death or mental illness. At first I was surprised, not that kids would make films on these topics but that so many of them would and then I remembered being a teenager and I wasn’t so surprised any more.

I would have liked to stay for the whole festival but it was five hours and we did have other things to do that day so we left during the break between high school and middle school films and went out to lunch at Noodles and Company and then got bubble tea (for North) and ice cream for the rest of us before heading home.

It’s been a busy but fun week with our young artists. And we have a bit of a breather before our next two performances, which will be Noah’s band concert on Thursday and Romeo and Julian in mid-May.

Joys and Sorrows

The new year got off to a bit of a rocky start. In the first two weeks after winter break, the kids had a snow day, two two-hour delays, and an early dismissal—all for three-quarters of an inch of snow, one unusually cold morning, and a little (I swear not much at all) ice on the sidewalks. It was disheartening, especially because it was a busy couple of weeks for work. I can and did work with the kids home– they’re old enough not to bother me too much when I’m working—but I just can’t concentrate as well when I’m not alone in the house, so each new cancellation or delay was frustrating. It’s possible I’ve been ruined for working in an office, after almost six and a half years of working at home.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad two weeks, though. North attended the first rehearsal for both the school play and Honors chorus. I didn’t have much post-holiday letdown and whenever I was tempted to wish we could just fast-forward through the next two months, have done with winter, and let spring come, I remembered two things. First is that Beth loves winter. Second is that Noah will leave for college in less than two years, so I really shouldn’t be wishing away any time. He’s been working on his senior year course schedule, which is why this is front of mind. I just can’t believe he’s picking courses for his last year in high school, as if that were truly happening any time soon. (Yes, I know, it is.)

Anniversary

Beth and I had an anniversary on Thursday. It was the twenty-sixth anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the fifth anniversary of our legal wedding. Beth’s mom posted this photo, taken in our apartment in D.C, of us opening wedding presents on Facebook. Look at us! We were practically babies. Well, twenty-four and twenty-five. I was a mere eight years older than Noah is now. Now I am trying to imagine myself at his wedding eight years hence and wondering where the baby who lived the first year of his life in that apartment with the salmon-colored wall went.

As of Tuesday, I didn’t have a gift for Beth. I’d decided to get her some gift certificates from AFI too late to order them through the mail, so I got on a bus to Silver Spring that morning and picked them up from the theater. While I was in downtown Silver Spring, I also got a mocha, lunch at BurgerFi, and spent a long time browsing for some small gifts at Whole Foods so I’d have something to wrap. I settled on treats one might eat at the movies (dark chocolate-covered almonds and milk chocolate-covered pretzels) to keep the gift thematically consistent, and got a card with a heart on the front and I was done.

Except when I got home, I opened the card and discovered it was a Valentine’s Day card. Why are these on sale already? Who buys valentines a month in advance? Clearly not me. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about another card I’d seen there, which was obviously superior. So, the next day, instead of being practical and going somewhere in Takoma for a new card, I went back to Silver Spring and got the card I wanted. It has different colored buttons all over it in the shape of a heart and it is blank inside.

Thursday I made our anniversary cake, the one we had at our commitment ceremony and at our legal wedding. It’s a spice cake, with a lemon glaze. I covered it in red and blue colored sugar. Because I didn’t leave myself quite enough time to bake a cake for forty-five minutes and scalloped potatoes for an hour at different temperatures, dinner was a little late, so Beth and I exchanged gifts before dinner rather than after. She got me Reckless Daughter, the Joni Mitchell biography that came out last fall and which I thought someone might get me for Christmas. That’s one of the advantages of a mid-January anniversary—it’s a chance to get (or give) what you didn’t get (or give) at Christmas.  North had dinner at Xavier’s, but when they got home, we all ate the cake we always eat together in mid-January and our anniversary was over.

MLK Weekend

Saturday I worked a little and Beth took North and Xavier ice skating and out to dinner, bringing back take-out for Noah and me. Yesterday, Beth, North and I went to church. We’ve never been church-goers, but recently North has become curious about church and asked recently if we could try out a Unitarian Universalist congregation. (We’ve been to UU services a few times when visiting Beth’s mom.) It was the third time Beth and North have gone to this church and the first time I went with them. There’s a part of the service called the Communion of Joys and Sorrows in which people tell the congregation about a joy or sorrow in their lives and light a candle for it. I recall Beth’s mom’s church does this, too, but with stones dropped in a bowl of water, if I’m remembering correctly.

Two of the people who shared we knew slightly. One of my colleagues from my teaching days shared that her son had won an award at college. And there was a lesbian couple who shared that one of their mothers had suffered a fall and broken an ankle and that a nephew was newly married. Beth thought one of them was a gym teacher from Noah’s middle school. Overall, there were more sorrows than joys. I asked Beth if that was always the case and she said so far yes, speculating that maybe people need more support for their sorrows or don’t want to seem to be bragging about their joys. If I’d had to share something I probably would have gone with a sorrow, too, because it was one day before the eighth anniversary of my father’s death.

I knew the day was coming and I wasn’t feeling very emotional about it. Some years I feel it keenly and some years I don’t. However, when I woke this morning, it hit me hard. I lay in bed thinking about Dad and about the fact that there’s snow coming tomorrow and Wednesday and if we get off with just an early dismissal and a two-hour delay on the affected days, we’ll be lucky. Everything seemed bleak. I didn’t particularly want to get up and I didn’t particularly want to spend two hours picking up trash around Long Branch creek, even though that’s our traditional MLK Day of Service activity. We’ve been doing it since the kids were small.

But Beth made homemade waffles, which made getting up a little more attractive and all of us except North, who was feeling under the weather, went to the woods near the creek and picked up trash and recycling, mostly beer cans and bottles. It was cold but we were moving around so it wasn’t too bad. I even got warm enough to unbutton my coat and take off my gloves, which I shouldn’t have done because I got cuts on my hands from the thorn bushes and they ended up smelling like stale beer. I also kept getting stickers in my hair, which I should have worn in a ponytail. Even with all the thorns, it was good to be focused on poking around in the brush, looking for the next can. It kept my mind off other things.

After a quick lunch at home, Beth and I went to AFI to redeem one of the gift certificates I got her for our anniversary. We saw The Post. Have you seen it yet? If not, you should as soon as you possibly can. It made me feel hopeful about journalism and democracy, and that’s no small feat these days. Now, as the fifty-year-old daughter of a journalist I must admit movies that take place largely in 1970s newsrooms are right in my nostalgic sweet spot, so you can take my recommendation with that in mind. From the movie, we went to Eggspectation for coffee and cake. I got a piece of chocolate-peanut butter Smith Island cake.

The best thing about the whole day was how it was a mostly unintentional tribute to Dad. He might not have taken part in an organized creek clean-up, not being much of a do-gooder, but he was in the habit of picking up all the trash on his block.  (I, too, often come home from walks with a tote bag full of recyclables.) He was a newspaper editor in the 1970s (and beyond) with a passion for investigative journalism and politics. He loved coffee and most desserts, but especially chocolate.

But we always do the creek clean-up on MLK day, The Post was opening this weekend and I’d just gotten Beth movie ticket certificates so it was natural we’d go see it. All the plans were made before I even thought about what day it would be. The only detail I added with him in mind was going out for cake.

My father wasn’t an easy man to get along with and we didn’t always get along, especially when I was in my late teens. But there’s no doubt that I am his daughter in many deep and lasting ways. And that’s more of a joy than a sorrow.

Note: The last photo is of a little altar my sister made for Dad today.

Southland in the Springtime: Part I, Ashville, NC

We just got back from a very fun spring break road trip. We spent the first leg with Beth’s mom in Asheville, North Carolina, where she lives part of the year now.

Five hours into our drive, around three in the afternoon and near Roanoke, Virginia, Beth said, “It’s greener here.” It was. There was light green, gold, and dark pink fuzz on the branches, all of which were bare at home. I thought once we reached Asheville the altitude might cancel out the effect of a day’s drive southwest but it didn’t. Lawns were green, flowering trees were blossoming, and daffodils were in bloom, with some already finished. Over the course of nine and a half hours and four states (Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina), we’d driven into spring.

The drive would have been about twenty minutes shorter but we went to a different street by the same name (Way instead of Court), which as it turns out is a very similar looking cul-de-sac in an entirely different neighborhood. The residents of the house drove up as we were standing on their porch and an elderly man said, “Can I help you?” which I think is Southern for “What the hell are you doing on my porch?” Eventually we found the right house, where Beth’s mom, Ron, and a homemade spinach lasagna awaited us. It was warm enough that evening to eat ice cream on the screened porch.

Saturday we explored the city. We took a trolley tour through its beautiful Victorian neighborhoods, downtown area, and arts district. We learned a lot about Asheville and its famous residents, particularly the Vanderbilts and Thomas Wolfe.

After that we had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant, with a lot of plants, a sheet of glass with water coursing down it and skylights. I got barbequed tofu with cole slaw—all the barbeque joints the tour leader pointed out put me in the mood—and a spicy carrot-apple-ginger drink. I was glad to have something zippy because I was stuffy from a cold the four of us had been passing back and forth for weeks. (It was my second time around with it.)

From the restaurant we proceeded to the establishment that most intrigued Beth on the trolley tour—The French Broad Chocolate Lounge. Noah was hoping for couches made of chocolate, but instead there was an extensive selection of chocolate in solid and liquid forms and a line out the door. There was an employee—a chocolate bouncer if you will—monitoring the line and admitting people in groups. There were tiny chocolate-mole truffles to sample in line. Once inside we ordered drinking chocolate (I recommend the dark chocolate liquid truffle) and various other treats.

Next we moved on to a festival in a nearby park. June spent most of her time climbing up and sliding down inflatable structures. There was also a kids’ karaoke booth that inspired Noah to say, “I don’t know why anyone would ever want to do that,” but June studied the songbook and was seriously considering it before losing her nerve and deciding against it. Many kids performed songs from Frozen, but oddly one chose “Piano Man,” and sang it as if she’d never heard it before, which might have been exactly what was happening. June got her picture taken with the Easter Bunny and we went home, where we dyed Easter eggs and I had a short but deep nap.

We’d had such a big and late lunch no one but the kids even wanted dinner so they had leftover lasagna. Noah finished a take-home geometry test and then he and I read a Douglass Adams short story, “Young Zaphod Plays it Safe,” that comes between books four and five in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.

Easter morning after the kids found their baskets, we had a cinnamon roll-French toast casserole Ron made and then we went to church. YaYa had asked me to bring some half-opened cut daffodils from our yard for the flower ceremony, which is a Unitarian tradition. Members of the congregation bring flowers to make an eclectic communal bouquet and then at the end everyone takes different flowers home. There was a lot of music at the service and people lit candles to symbolize their joys, concerns, and sorrows. The children had an Easter egg hunt during the sermon. As we left we collected flowers, leaving with more daffodils, a tulip, a sprig of grape hyacinth, and a yellow, spiky flower I couldn’t identify.

After church we went shopping for provisions and then had a picnic and a hike to a waterfall in Pisgah National Forest. It was a pretty walk, but the trees were a bit more bare than in downtown Asheville. The fall wasn’t a steady stream of water, more like a heavy rain falling from a high rock into a creek. The kids and I went behind the water where we climbed rocks, observed the multi-colored cliff wall, and got good and muddy.

On the way out of the forest we stopped to see Sliding Rock, a natural waterslide Beth and I slid down during road trip through the Southeast we took in our mid-twenties. When YaYa and the kids saw it, the older and younger generations had a similar reaction, “You went down that?” We used to be interesting, apparently. June said she wanted to try it some day, until she learned the pool where you land is eight feet deep.

We came home and June had a bath in YaYa’s whirlpool before we went out to dinner at a Jamaican restaurant. I had jerk tofu with grilled pineapple and vegetables. Asheville is known as a foodie town for good reason.

Monday we visited the Biltmore, a mansion belonging to the Vanderbilts and the largest private residence in the U.S. It did make Hillwood, a D.C. mansion June and I toured two weeks previous, look downright modest, though as far as I know, the Vanderbilts had no Fabergé eggs. What they did have was a 250-room Gothic style house with 99 bedrooms, lovely mountain views, a swimming pool, and a bowling alley on 125,000 acres of woods and farmland. There weren’t as many formal gardens as I expected but we did see a very nice area planted with tulips.

We had lunch in a restaurant located in the converted stables and visited a few of the numberless gift shops on the property before going back YaYa’s house. Noah, who had been feeling under the weather, had stayed home. We collected him and Ron and headed out for an early pizza dinner, stopping at Barnes and Noble to look for my book club’s next book (Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones). They didn’t have it, but June found a graphic novel her friends had recommended and spent most of dinner reading it. (By breakfast the next day she’d finished it and she risked carsickness re-reading it much of the next day.)

Beth had a work crisis that evening and had to work a little, but afterwards she and I went back to the chocolate lounge, which I think is her new favorite place. We bought chocolate bars and toffee for later and more liquid truffles (I tried the milk chocolate one this time, also very good). Then we came home and ate the cake Ron had made earlier in the day. It was triple layer Italian cream cake with jelly beans and chocolate shavings on the frosting.

Tuesday morning we packed to leave. June gave a farewell violin concert under the tree in the front yard she’d climbed many times and we said our fond goodbyes and hit the road by 9:15 en route for the beach.

Stay tuned for more spring break adventures.