About Steph

Your author, part-time, work-at-home writer.

Officially Done

Well, I said I’d tell you how the snow day went if there was one and you knew there’d be one, right? The snow picked up again late Sunday afternoon and evening. We had eleven inches by the time we went to bed that night and after that there was no more accumulation. School was cancelled Monday and there was a two-hour delay on Tuesday. Because the cancellation was announced on Sunday afternoon and the roads were messy, North asked to stay over at Zoë’s house, where they’d been since morning. They came home late Monday afternoon with tales of sledding and making snow sculptures and toting a bag of chocolate chocolate-chip cookies they’d baked with Zoë.

Beth’s office was closed, so she worked at home, and I did, too. Noah kept plugging away at his two Ithaca scholarship application essays and finished them. He’s now all done with applications, though he and I might be taking a trip to visit Boston University next month, as that’s the only school he applied to without visiting.

Champlain College, one of schools we visited last spring (though he didn’t end up applying there), sent an “Officially Done” sticker in one of their mailers, with the suggestion that he wear it when he finished all his college applications. I stuck it to his shirt when he submitted the application and he gamely agreed to let me post of picture of him wearing it on Facebook. Then he took it off and stuck it to his bedroom door, right next to the “2019” sticker he got during one of many gun control protests last winter and spring. It represents the year he can vote in state and local elections. But it’s also the year he leaves for college, so it makes sense for those two stickers to keep company.

He didn’t have much time to celebrate, though, because he had an oral presentation and Logic homework due the next day. He didn’t end up finishing the Logic, but he put a dent in it. I’d been camped out in his room for a couple hours, still reading Jack London (short stories now, having finished The Call of the Wild the day before) and occasionally offering opinions when he’d get stuck with the essays. Once he switched over to homework, I went for a long walk in the snowy woods by creek and through a tangle of side streets in our neighborhood I’d never explored. I actually got a little lost, so the walk was longer than I intended, but I was home in time to make a mushroom and kale frittata for dinner, which we followed up with brownies Beth made earlier in the day. I won’t complain about the snow day. It was okay. I didn’t get as much work done as I would have if I’d had the house to myself, but was good for Noah to have more time to work. That’s a common trade-off.

I was glad there was school on Tuesday, even if it was an abbreviated day. One reason was that it meant North’s winter chorus concert would go on as scheduled. North found out about a week before the concert that they had a solo and they were excited about that, so I gently nudged Noah into coming to the concert, even though he had work to do (including the now overdue Logic). He’s already been accepted to two colleges and he’s missed a lot of his sibling’s performances over the years. Now that there are only a few left it seems more important that he be there. North was happy he came. And perhaps thirty-seven years from now, the two of them won’t be having social media exchanges like this one I had with my sister when I mentioned he was at the concert:

Sara: Just like when you stopped your homework to watch my one 5th grade performance of P.T. Barnum. Oh wait. No you didn’t. #notbitter

Me: He has skipped probably more performances than we could count for homework. I skipped one.

Sara: Yeah, but it was THE ONLY ONE.

Me: That’s not true. I remember going to a District Chorus concert. And various gymnastics performances and field hockey games.

Sara:  I mean the only performance of P.T. Barnum. And I had the lead. And a solo.

Sara: WHY DO YOU STILL NOT LOVE ME???

Anyway… We all had an early dinner and drove out to the high school where the concert was taking place. (North’s school has no auditorium.) The performers had to be there forty-five minutes before concert time so we took our seats and Noah opened up his laptop and worked on his oral presentation until the concert started.

There were three groups singing—the Glee Club, the sixth-grade chorus, and the Advanced (seventh- and eighth-grade) Chorus. North’s in the Glee Club and Advanced Chorus and because the soprano and alto sections of the Advanced Chorus joined the sixth-grade chorus for one of their songs, they were singing eight of the ten songs.

Their solo was in the very first song of the concert, “Remember Me,” from Coco. In fact, it was the first few lines of the song. So the concert opened with Mr. N introducing North and North stepping up to the mike and singing:

Remember me
Though I have to say goodbye
Remember me
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you each night we are apart

It was lovely. We were very proud.  The next Glee Club song was “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman. Apparently, there was a movie music theme.  There was also a songs-in-foreign languages theme, as the sixth-grade chorus sang in German, Hebrew, and Spanish. (Mr. N said they were putting the “International” into Silver Spring International Middle School.) And later the Advanced Chorus would sing a Polynesian song and one in Zulu.

Toward the end of the concert, the Advanced Chorus sang three poems set to music. “Night Fall,” by Roger Emerson, “Dreams,” by Langston Hughes, and a section of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Bells.”  While they sang “Dreams,” the lyrics were projected on two screens to either side of the stage.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Mr. N made some comments about how the day of the concert was Martin Luther King’s actual birthday and how if he could be there he’d be pleased to see kids of different races and social backgrounds all making music together.

“The Bells” is a particular favorite of mine. I used to teach it. They sang the first stanza, while one student accompanied the singers with jingle bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells—
Hear the sledges with the bells—
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

North said this song was their favorite and I liked it, too. I thought the music was well suited to the words and the singing was fast but delicate and precise, just like bells.

The whole concert was over in less than an hour. It was nice North got a solo because next quarter they’re switching their Wednesday afterschool activity from Glee Club to Drama Club and only Glee Club members got solos, so chances are they won’t have a chance for that at the spring concert.

As we left, I was thinking a little sadly about how my father, who died nine years ago on the day of the concert, will never be in the audience for one of North’s concerts or plays. Not that he’d be traveling down from New York for school concerts if he were still alive, but if North gets their way, they may someday have a performance in his adopted home town. And depending on where North’s adventures take them years from now, I may not make every single performance either, but I know I am far from officially done watching my youngest on stage.

Orange You Glad?

The new year is almost two weeks old. On the first day of 2019, Beth and I went for a hike at North Point State Park. We invited the kids, but they both declined. (They’d both been up to see in the new year and we had not, having left the neighbors’ New Year’s Eve party early in favor of a regular night’s sleep.) There was an organized First Day hike at the park, but high winds felled a big tree, which caused the rangers to re-route the hike off the trails, and along the park road and down a pier into the Chesapeake Bay. The rangers had said it wasn’t actually forbidden to walk the trails and it didn’t seem that windy, so we rambled in the woods a bit and then went home. That night I made a pot of black-eyed peas for good luck, but I ended up burning it. I salvaged just enough so everyone could have a scoop on brown rice with smoked cheddar on top and vegetarian sausage on the side. Still, I had to wonder if the fallen tree and burned peas were some kind of bad omen. 

It certainly could have been, if Beth or I were federal workers, but luckily our livelihood doesn’t depend on the President’s tantrums. My friends who work at the Department of Justice and the Smithsonian aren’t so fortunate. Even though I had work, I was out of sorts, a bit of post-holiday letdown, I guess. (Even the swearing-in of the new Democratic majority in the House didn’t help much.) I’m in the habit of taking a short walk every weekday I don’t have some other errand getting me out of the house and I’ve noticed since I started doing this a little over a year ago, it improves my mood, so I decided longer walks were in order. I tried to get off sidewalks and onto the muddy paths by the creek at least a couple times a week and I found even a half hour walk in the gray and brown winter woods can be restorative. Truth be told, though, the chocolate chip cookies I made one evening were even more cheering, if less healthful.

Our wedding anniversary was Friday. It’s been twenty-seven years since we committed ourselves to each other in the living room of our D.C. apartment, in front of friends and family, and six years since we made it legal in the living room of our Takoma Park house, in front of the kids and an officiant. 

Every year I make the same spice cake we had as a wedding cake on both those days. The first time around, it had white frosting with little purple frosting violets, but I’m not much of a cake decorator, so ever since then I’ve made a lemon glaze for it. But this year, I switched to orange, because my gifts to Beth had an orange theme. I wasn’t originally planning this. I got her a bottle of orange-olive oil that caught my eye in a catalog and then I saw a bar of orange-infused dark chocolate at the co-op and that was when I knew I had to go all the way, so I found an orange, pink, and white striped gift bag and a card with a still life that I think included an orange—it’s an orange fruit anyway, so I’m calling it an orange—and put it in an orange envelope. This is what I wrote on the card:

Knock, knock
Who’s there?
Orange
Orange who?
Orange you glad you married me?

North was unimpressed with my reasons for switching to the orange glaze from the traditional lemon one. “How could you?” they asked, right before I made it, and then demanded, “Does Beth know about this? It’s her anniversary, too.” We are all a little set in our ways sometimes and I am certainly no exception, so I can’t blame them. Anyway, I finished the cake with orange sprinkles. It was pretty. I should have taken a picture for you, but I forgot.

I ordered pizza and hoped it would arrive around the same time as Beth, but it was a half hour late. When it finally came we ate and then exchanged gifts. Beth got me a pair of rain boots, which I very much needed, as my old ones were in bad shape, with multiple cracks in the rubber around the ankles. 

After dinner, we ate cake in front of the television, watching the second episode of the new season of Series of Unfortunate Events. We probably could have watched two before North’s bedtime, but this is the last season, so we are trying to savor it.

A snowstorm was predicted to start late Saturday afternoon and it arrived on schedule. When the snow started, I stood at the window and watched it a long time, trying to see the beauty in it, because my bad attitude about snow doesn’t do anyone any good. It even worked, at least a little. It’s undeniably pretty.

We woke to six inches of snow and it kept falling on and off throughout the day today. There was a cascade of cancelled events, including a dinner party friends of ours were throwing Saturday night and church the next morning. The pool and the library (my normal Sunday afternoon destinations) were closed. North was supposed to have a meeting at the theater about a talent show they’re directing (they won this opportunity in an auction) that was also rescheduled.

When I got up this morning and couldn’t find the newspaper, which was never delivered, I gave up on the day having any semblance of normalcy and I decided to forget about breakfast for a while and went back to bed with The Call of the Wild, which North’s reading for school, and read the last four chapters. Later in the day when North asked what I’m glad about, I could say, in all honesty, that I’m glad I’m not a sled dog in the Yukon.

By this morning, eight surrounding counties had already cancelled school for tomorrow, but there’s no word yet from our county. I am trying to resign myself to a closure so if the kids go to school on time, or with a two-hour delay, it will be a pleasant surprise and if school’s cancelled I will greet this news with equanimity. I’ll let you know how that goes. It wouldn’t be a bad day for Noah to miss school, actually. He had a ton of homework this weekend, including but not limited to two oral presentations, and a chapter in his logic book with questions, and he’s working on an scholarship application for Ithaca that requires two five-hundred word essays. It seems unlikely he will finish all that today. So I know he’d be glad of an extra day.

And I’m glad of a lot of things other than not being a sled dog: that I married Beth and we have two great kids chief among them, but I’ll also be glad when Noah walks to the high school bus stop and the middle school bus pulls up to our curb, whether that’s tomorrow, Tuesday, or sometime after that. 

Little Cabin in the Big Woods

Saturday: Arrival

We arrived at the cabin at Blackwater Falls State Park around five, after a drive that featured heavy traffic at the beginning and driving through snow on untreated roads with very little visibility at the end. YaYa was already there. She’d laid out crackers and cheese with a little container of honey mustard as a welcome. We snacked and rested a little between unpacking and setting up the Christmas tree that had made the journey from Maryland with us on top of our car.

This was our third Christmas in a row at Blackwater, but the first one (at least with the kids) in one of more rustic cabins that Beth and her family stayed in when she was a child and where Beth and I spent a Christmas with her family a couple years before Noah was born. The older cabins are a little smaller, wood-paneled, and quite charming.

YaYa wanted to hear the recording of Noah’s winter band concert, so we played the three Wind Ensemble’s three songs, while Noah pantomimed playing the different percussion instruments he’d played in the concert so she could hear which sounds he’d made.

North and I started dinner—grilled cheese and soup—and almost immediately North cut their finger badly on a soup lid. It looked deep and Beth and I were afraid we were going to be heading back out into the snow to drive to the nearest urgent care, which is forty-five minutes away in good weather. But ice, pressure, and elevation stopped the bleeding, so I resumed cooking and we ate dinner, watched Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and called it a night.

Sunday: Settling In

In the morning Beth strung the lights on the tree and we hung ornaments on it. We had brunch at the lodge, and browsed the gift shop, where YaYa bought me a Blackwater Falls State Park windbreaker as an early Christmas gift. Back at the cabin we collected sticks for kindling so we could have a fire later and the kids explored the teepee previous guests had left in the woods behind the cabin. Later I kept seeing these all through the park and I wondered if there had been a teepee making tutorial at the nature center recently.

Beth and YaYa went grocery shopping and the kids and I made gingerbread cookies with dough I’d made at home on Friday. I was using my mom’s gingerbread recipe, the same one I use every year. In fact, when I’d called her on Friday to thank her for the Christmas gifts we’d opened early to lighten our load in the car and to celebrate the solstice, she was in the thick of making gingerbread cookies with my five-year-old niece, Lily-Mei. They seemed to be having fun but also “’xasperating” each other in Lily-Mei’s words.

When Beth and YaYa got back from the grocery store, the gingerbread was done and the kids were watching an episode of Dr. Who. North then launched into a solo baking project, chocolate-peppermint cookies, while Beth and I took a short walk through the snowy woods to the top of the sled run. There wasn’t anyone sledding—it must have been between sessions—and there was a truck grooming the snow.

After we returned from our walk, YaYa got out the tinsel and she and North put the finishing touches on the tree, while YaYa reminisced about hanging tinsel on the Christmas trees of her youth and how her father insisted on all the tinsel being perfectly straight. North listened with interest and said they were glad YaYa was more relaxed about it. Then they sang a song from Peter and the Starcatcher at YaYa’s request.

People split up to read, commune with their electronic devices, and nap for the rest of the afternoon. The kids collaborated on dinner—fettucine with tomato sauce, broccoli, and Greek olives. The olive were among the treats my mom bought us on her travels in Greece this fall. When the kids started cooking I wondered why I’d never given them joint responsibility for a meal before. Then they started squabbling about whether the water was boiling sufficiently to add the pasta and whether it was “naughty” to sample more pasta than strictly necessary to test for doneness… and then I remembered. But they did put a decent meal on the table, with no adult help, so perhaps we’ll try it again someday.

After the dinner dishes were done, we watched Christmas is Here Again, which was longer than I remembered so North was up late, but Beth reminded me, “It’s vacation,” and so it was.

Monday: Christmas Eve

It snowed overnight and in the morning there was seven to eight inches accumulated on the picnic table behind the house and our bedroom window was fringed with icicles. The longest one was probably eighteen inches long.  There were even bigger ones out the kitchen window. I asked Beth what she wanted to do that day and she said she hoped to read, make a pot of black bean soup, work on a puzzle with Noah, and not leave the house except maybe to take a walk. That sounded pretty good to me, though North opined “that doesn’t sound very exciting.” I think that was the point, actually.

And that’s basically how the day went. Beth didn’t leave the house, even to go for a walk, though North and I took a walk down the park road to the end of the cabins. Beth made soup, which simmered in the crock pot for most of the day, and she worked on the puzzle with Noah. It was a jumble of different images of Santa Claus. Beth, Noah, and YaYa watched The Last Jedi. I finished a Joni Mitchell biography I’ve been reading since October and listened to David Sedaris’s “The Santaland Diaries.” We had the NORAD Santa tracker (muted) on the television screen most of the day. Every now and then someone would glance at it and comment on Santa’s location and the number of gifts delivered. In the evening we watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns.

After that, North wanted to open one present each. This is a tradition Beth had growing up and I didn’t. North likes it and Noah doesn’t, so we made it opt-in. I decided to sit it out with Noah as I’d already opened my gifts from my mom on the solstice and then I’d received the jacket from YaYa early, too. YaYa opened a calendar Beth made with pictures of the kids (always a popular grandmother gift). Beth opened a fleece jacket and North got a t-shirt that said, “Stay Bold.”

It was a nice, low-key day, except for the fact that the cat sitter called to tell us the heat was out at our house and Beth had to make and receive a lot of calls, as she tried to coordinate a time when the cat sitter could let the heating company technician into the house. And then the tech called the house phone instead of Beth’s cell or the sitter’s to say he was coming, so of course he was locked out and he left. When he came back he needed a part and left without fixing the furnace. The sitter set up a space heater in our bedroom, the cats’ favorite hangout spot. It wasn’t too cold outside, mostly in the forties, and the house has thick walls and holds its heat for a couple days, which is good because the heat was still out when we got home three days later, despite Beth’s persistent efforts to convince the oil company to send someone to the house.

Tuesday: Christmas Day

By eight a.m., everyone was awake and ready to open presents. Most of us had already opened our stockings. A great many gifts were exchanged while we ate clementines, nuts, and candy and Noah took pictures. Noah got camera equipment, including a new lens and a camera bag. North got a certificate to get their hair dyed and a weighted throw blanket with cats on it. Everyone got at least several of these things: books, socks and other clothes, tea, mugs, soap, scented candles, Amazon gift cards, and tiles.

I knew this ahead of time because I saw it unfold during our Christmas shopping trip to Rehoboth, but Beth and North got each other the same pair of fuzzy blue socks because when North was showing them to Beth to gauge if she liked them, Beth thought North was dropping hints that they wanted them. Not exactly a “Gift of the Magi” situation because nobody sold their feet to buy the socks, but still a bit of Yuletide irony.

North made breakfast, a skillet pancake with lemon curd and homemade cranberry syrup. But before we ate Noah wanted to try out his TARDIS mug. When you fill it with warm liquid, the image of the TARDIS fades from one side and appears on the other. It’s a pretty cool effect. One of Noah’s other gifts was Crooked Kingdom, the sequel to Six of Crows, which we’d just finished on Christmas Eve, in a serendipitous bit of timing. So we read the first two chapters of that.

When we’d finished, Beth and I hiked the Balanced Rock trail. The trail was covered with snow, but well-marked with orange blazes. We had to step carefully because you couldn’t tell what was under the snow. It could be rock, a spongy layer of wet leaves, mud, or an inch of ice covering another inch of water. It was a lovely walk, though, with evergreen boughs and rhododendron leaves covered in snow. We had the trail nearly to ourselves—there were no footprints other than ours, except near a place where the trail crossed another trail—and just once, I glimpsed another person ahead of us on the trail. We had to scramble and crawl at the end when it got steep near the two boulders, one atop the other, that give the trail its name. When we got up there it was so quiet we could actually hear the snow creaking as it shifted on branches and showered to the ground. That was the only sound, other than the occasional cawing of a crow.

Beth and I had leftover black bean soup for lunch with crackers, cheese, and olives, and the cranberry sauce that was the byproduct of the syrup North made. Beth, North, and YaYa went swimming at the lodge after lunch. I would have gone, too, but I’d forgotten to pack my suit. I was sorry to miss it because the pool is in a room with big windows and I enjoy being in the pool or hot tub, looking out at the snow.

But having the afternoon free in the cabin meant I could read Elevation, one of my Christmas presents, in one sitting (it’s only 146 pages and they are small pages) and make a batch of peanut butter-chocolate kiss cookies. They were just going in the oven when the swimmers came home. Beth made a fire and I relaxed in front of it while YaYa made her signature spinach lasagna for Christmas dinner. After dinner, we all watched a Dr. Who Christmas special from a few years back.

Wednesday: Boxing Day

The next day was our last full day at Blackwater and there were a lot of things we hadn’t done yet that people wanted to do. In the late morning we went to the sled run and the adults watched the kids sled. North had neglected to bring their waterproof gloves (purchased last year at the sled run gift shop/snack bar) or any gloves at all, so the adults all lent them our cotton or fleece gloves in turn, each pair getting soaked as they used their hands to brake. After three runs, they were out of gloves, so they quit. Noah did a fourth run and then the session was closed. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the snow was sparkly, and there was a bonfire going at the foot of the hill (behind a barrier so no one can sled into it).

From the sled run we drove to the White Grass Café where we had lunch. On the drive there and back the kids were alternating songs from North’s favorite musical, Dear Evan Hansen, and Noah’s, Hamilton, while North expounded on plot and characterization in Dear Evan Hansen for YaYa, who hadn’t heard of it. We dropped YaYa off at the cabin and then the four of us were going to hike down to see Blackwater Falls, but halfway down the series of stairs and platforms, they were closed due to packed snow and ice. Beth was disappointed because the falls are special to her, especially in winter when they’re partially frozen. We could still see them, but we weren’t right up next to them. It looked like there was just a little ice on the falls, with water pouring around it. We drove to the other side of the canyon to take a different trail that affords another, more distant, but less obstructed view, and took some pictures. Watching the falls made me think about the last waterfalls we visited, in Ithaca, and wondered if we’ll be making regular visits to any of them in the next several years.

North would have liked to go to the pool again but the roads were slushy and Beth was afraid they’d ice up as afternoon temperatures fell, so we settled into the cabin to read and work on the puzzle, which Beth and Noah finished. This turned my mind to college, too, because Noah wrote his main Common App essay on puzzles, how he likes to do real ones, and also enjoys the puzzle-like aspects of film editing and computer programming. I was glad to see writing and re-writing that essay several times has not ruined puzzles for him.

Noah’s also become more interested in still photography lately and he’d taken a lot of pictures on this trip. Using his laptop to project them on the television screen, he showed them to YaYa so she could pick the ones she wanted. Then he set up her new tiles on her purse, phone, and wallet.

Beth made one last fire, we had a supper of leftovers, and set to work taking decorations off the tree and packing. We had a discussion about whether to rent a modern or rustic cabin next year. Beth voted for rustic, because they remind her of her childhood, the kids voted for modern, I abstained because I prefer the look of the old cabins, but I missed having a washer/dryer. YaYa cast the deciding vote for modern because it’s more convenient to have two bathrooms.

Thursday: Departure

In the morning, there was the usual end-of-vacation scramble to clean out the fridge and pack the car. Actually, more than the usual scramble. We are still discovering things we may have left there—a thermos of Beth’s, a shirt of Noah’s, an almost full box of Greek pastries and candy. But we were on the road by ten thirty and home by three. When we got home we found the house cool but habitable. It really hadn’t been that cold outside and with the space heater going our bedroom was sixty-two degrees, with the other rooms maybe ten degrees cooler.

Sorting through the mail we found many Christmas cards and another merit scholarship offer, (from UMBC) and a somewhat disappointing statement from Ithaca about Noah’s total aid package there. We went out for Chinese food, after having decided we’d rather eat in a heated restaurant than have take-out in our unheated dining room. After dinner, Beth dropped us off at the house and went to the hardware store for another space heater to put in North’s room that night.

Friday and Saturday: Home

Over the past couple days Beth succeeded in getting someone to come fix the furnace and ran errands, I did an endless stream of laundry (five loads so far) and blogged. Noah applied to RIT—his last application—and did some homework, but only for an hour on Friday and a few hours on Saturday. One nice thing about our vacation was that Noah didn’t have to work at all while we were gone. North met up with a friend from Peter and the Starcatcher Saturday morning and in the afternoon we went to see Mary Poppins Returns and then went out for tapas. We’ve got few more days to ease into our normal routine, and while there’s an orthodontist appointment, a visit to the MVA, and a mammogram on the agenda on Monday, I hope we’ll find time for fun as well.

Taking Flight, Part 2

We’ve had a very exciting few days around here. Noah got his first college acceptance letter on Friday, North’s show wrapped up on Sunday, and then Noah got his second acceptance letter on Tuesday.

College Letter #1

Noah applied early action to UMBC and Ithaca College. The UMBC application was due earlier—he was working on it on Halloween before and after trick-or-treating—and the notification was supposed to be in “late December,” but I’d seen so many of you posting pictures of your kids’ college acceptance letters I wondered if it might come early and it did.  There was no mystery about what was inside. “YES” was printed in gold letters on the outside of the envelope. The mail came late that day and Beth brought it in with her when she came home from work.

We took it in to Noah’s room, but he wasn’t that excited about it, as UMBC was his safety school. In fact, Beth had to prod him to open it so we could see if there was anything about aid in the package. There wasn’t. I was happier than Noah was, not because I’d been in much suspense about whether he’d get in to UMBC, but because it felt like the ball was rolling now. And UMBC is a solid, affordable choice, if maybe a little too close to home.

Closing Night

Two days later we went to closing night of Peter and the Starcatcher to see North in the younger cast. These actors were in third to seventh grade, so the performances were not as polished as those from the older cast, but the play was still fun. The principal characters, Peter and Molly, were well acted. The actor playing Peter brought out a whole different side of the character and his growth over the course of the play. And we all loved North’s melodramatic death scene as Slank.

This is what he says as he drowns:

Oh, the waves swallow me up in a great shroud of sea. And the sharks start nibbling at me feet, just like me mother’s kisses. Mother! You left me on the steps of a tattoo parlor, wrapped in a half-eaten bag of fish and chips, round me neck a note: Orphan Bill Slank, too wicked to end well!

They delivered these lines just perfectly as they flailed on the stage floor under a strip of undulating blue fabric meant to represent waves.

Beth pointed out later that North had a good almost-death scene as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast a couple summers ago. And I added if they want to do it again, Highwood is doing MacBeth next spring and no matter what role they play they have a decent chance for an on-stage death.

North was also quite animated and charming as Fighting Prawn, though the whole native-culture-as-comic trope bothers me, even though F.P. is sympathetic and given good reasons for his hostility toward the English. The script does comment critically on British colonialism during the time the story takes place and it’s definitely an improvement of the treatment of the Indians in Peter Pan, but still…

After the show, North was a bit sad about not seeing their friends in the cast for a while. There’s always a bit of a letdown afterward, but we’re all enjoying getting to bed on time and having North home in the evenings. Well, at least until Honors Chorus starts next month, but that’s only one evening a week.

College Letter #2

On Tuesday, I brought in the mail and noticed a large, plain envelope from Ithaca. Because Noah had only applied there a couple weeks earlier—while we were at the beach for Thanksgiving—and wasn’t supposed to hear from them until early February “at the latest,” which I took to mean sometime in January at the earliest, I thought it was just more in the stream of college mail he gets more or less constantly and in envelopes of all sizes. Most of these he never looks at, so I opened it in case it had anything interesting in it. (Boston University recently sent some relevant information about scholarship opportunities for National Merit semifinalists that sat unopened for a long time before I opened it.) 

Anyway, you know what was in the envelope because I told you in the first paragraph of this blog post. He got in to Ithaca. I told him when he got home. And this time he was happy because Ithaca is tied with R.I.T. for his top choice. He gave me a big hug and we did a little dance together. It wasn’t even until about fifteen minutes after he got home that we noticed another letter behind the first one in the folder, offering him a merit scholarship for students in media, named after Rod Serling, who used to teach at Ithaca. His archives are there as well. It would cover about a third of his tuition. If he goes there, we will have to call it his Twilight Zone scholarship. (It’s better than Agent Orange scholarship, which is what a college friend of mine who majored in chemistry and had a scholarship from Dow Chemical called his.)

Noah’s also applied to Boston University—he just sent that one in last weekend—but now he’s considering winnowing down his list. He may just apply to R.I.T. and forget the rest, which would make for a more relaxed winter break and January. Either way, he’s taking flight, as we watch fondly and proudly.

Taking Flight

Act I, Thursday Morning: CAP Presentation

“It was a big day for Noah,” Beth said when it was all over.

“It was,” he agreed.

It started with him dressing up in a suit for the first time ever. There have actually been a lot of occasions when we considered buying Noah a suit—mostly notably when he was in sixth grade and we got legally married, and for various oral presentations he’s made in high school. The C in CAP stands for Communication, so there have a been a lot of presentations over the past few years. But we got married in our living room, and he had a school-issued tuxedo shirt for band that year, so a suit seemed like overkill and then he had a habit of saying, “I really should have a suit for this,” a day or two before or he needed to make a presentation so we never bought one.

This time he thought to ask well ahead of his senior CAP presentation. The senior presentation summarizes five school assignments—two required and three of the students’ choosing—and explains what the student learned in them and in CAP in general. Noah spoke about and played clips from the movie he made this fall about the process of making his Halloween costume, the podcast of interviews with parents and alumni of his preschool, a dystopian film about social media, a paper comparing 1984 to the Trump campaign, and a research paper about a local hospital’s plans to move and the impact of the move on the community. The assignments spanned his four years of high school and gave a nice overview of his skills as a researcher, writer, audio technician, and filmmaker. It’s also the last big assignment he has in a CAP class because in their senior year, CAP students mostly take classes outside of CAP. The senior seminar will focus on interview and resume skills before it ends in late January and his AP Lit class will last until the end of the school year, but other than that, he’s finished with CAP.

Around one o’clock in the afternoon of his presentation day, there was a bomb threat at his school and everyone had to evacuate and stand out in the cold for an hour and a half until the time school would normally be dismissed. I think it’s telling that, after hearing from the school, texting him and ascertaining he was alive, the first thing Beth and I both thought of was to be grateful it happened after his presentation, which was during the second period of the day. While they were standing around and chatting, his senior seminar teacher told him he’d passed. (Anyone who fails gets a phone call from a teacher that evening and has to do the presentation again, a possibility much dreaded by CAP students.)

Act II, Thursday Evening: Winter Band Concert

Afterschool activities were cancelled while the police searched the building, but they completed their search in time for evening activities to go on as scheduled, which was nice because Noah had his penultimate high school band concert that night. He got home at his usual time and studied for a King Lear test before we had an early dinner of spinach quesadillas with black beans and corn on the side (which North ate an hour before we did before hopping on a bus to play rehearsal). By six o’clock, we were on our way to his school.

There are five bands at Noah’s school: two jazz bands, the ninth-grade Concert Band, Symphonic Band, and the Wind Ensemble. Noah plays percussion in the Wind Ensemble. There were a couple seasonal nods in the jazz selections. The Jazz Combo played “Autumn Leaves,” and “Let it Snow! Let it Snow Let it Snow!” The non-jazz bands play in order of expertise, so they get better as the concert goes along, not that any of them sound bad. Blair has a great music program.

So, the Wind Ensemble played last. Noah got to play drum kit in their first song, “Ride.” That’s a rare treat, though it also makes him a little nervous because it’s more visible than most percussion roles. He played snare, triangle, and chimes in the next piece. The real showstopper (and I guess it literally stopped the show, being the last song of the concert) was the “1812 Overture.” They played a version arranged without strings and also without cannons. Later Beth and I both made the joke that on a day with a bomb threat the cannon-free version might be better. But even without cannons, they rocked it. Noah played snare drums, triangle, and tambourine. And he got a chance to do it again the next day when they gave a shortened version of the concert for a group of visiting preschoolers. (He says the preschoolers were an appreciative audience, clapping every time the music stopped, even if the musicians were only warming up and doing scales.)

After the concert, Noah noted that at his next band concert, the band teacher will be calling him up to the stage and announcing where he’s going to college. It’s a spring concert tradition for all the seniors. It was something to think about as we drove to the theater to pick North up from their last rehearsal before Peter and the Starcatcher opened, because that happened the next day…

Act III, Friday Evening: Peter and the Starcatcher

Peter and the Starcatcher is a prequel to Peter Pan. I’d seen North play Peter in a scene during their acting class showcase last month and few more scenes done by the whole cast at a preview event a week before opening night, but other than that, I didn’t know much about it. North is playing four roles, two in each of the rotating casts. In the older cast, they are Alf (a sailor) and a mermaid. In the younger cast, they are Slank (the captain of one of the two ships), and Fighting Prawn (the king of the fictional island of Mollusk). Being in two casts meant North had to be at nearly every rehearsal for two and a half months. It’s been intense and it’s meant a lot of late nights.

Opening night featured the older cast, who are (mostly) in seventh to twelfth grade. The set was beautiful and quite elaborate, featuring two ships with moving parts and an alligator that runs along the ceiling. North’s part as Alf was bigger than I thought from what they’d been saying and I also didn’t know Alf had romantic scenes with a character played by an eighteen-year-old boy in drag. But that’s part of why we go to the theater—to be surprised.

Later North told me they’d been assigned some of another sailor’s lines at the last minute because of an illness that caused several parts to get re-arranged and there was supposed to be a kiss but the director nixed it because of the age gap between North and the actor playing their love interest. “Did you want to kiss him?” I asked and their eyes got big and they said, “No!”

It was a fun show, with good acting in many roles, but especially the girls playing the pirates Black Stache and Smee, who had excellent chemistry with each other. North’s often cast in comic roles and Alf was no exception. They’re playing more against type in the other version of the show, at least with Slank, who is something of a villain. Fighting Prawn is comic, too (though I think the script’s attempt to re-write the Indians of Peter Pan only partly succeeds in erasing the racism of the original).

As I write, North’s at the second of five shows this weekend. They will be at the theater from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. today and from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. tomorrow. And then they will do it all over again next weekend, with five more shows. We’ll go to closing night so we can see North in their younger cast roles.

You might expect flying in a show about Peter Pan, and other than the alligator and a stuffed cat, there isn’t in this one, but nevertheless, the theater’s announcements about the upcoming show said it was “taking flight.” It’s been quite an exciting few days here, watching our kids test their wings in endeavors academic, musical, and theatrical.

From Twelve to Fifty-Two

At the trans kids’ parents’ support group on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving people were talking about holiday plans and extended family who were less than supportive of their kids. When asked, Beth and I reported that we were spending Thanksgiving at the beach, just the four of us (and Christmas with an accepting grandmother). Some people were a little jealous. We’ve spent four of the past five Thanksgivings in Rehoboth. It’s a nice tradition that certainly inspires thankfulness.

Thanksgiving

I was out the door of the rental house headed for the beach around 3:30, about an hour after we’d arrived. (I was disciplined enough to unpack, get food in the fridge, and make our bed first.) I promised to return between 4:30 and 5:00 to help put the finishing touches on the dinner we—well, mostly Beth—had made at home the day before and transported with us.

I swung by Café a-Go-Go for a café con leche before I hit the beach. It was cold, 31 degrees. But my coffee was warm and the late afternoon sun was turning the dry beach grass gold, the sea silver, and the clouds and sea foam faintly rosy.

After a short stay on the beach, I headed back to the house to trim and roast Brussels sprouts and to heat up the brandied sweet potatoes. Beth had everything else under control and after we’d made our traditional centerpieces (turkeys made from apples with feathers consisting of raisins and dried cranberries stuck on toothpicks and olives for heads), we sat down to feast on the aforementioned vegetables, plus a tofurkey roast, stuffing, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, cranberry sauce, and rolls. Later we ate pumpkin and apple pie and watched an episode of Blackish.

Beth’s Birthday & Black Friday

Beth turned fifty-two the next day and we brought her presents while she was still in bed. The kids got her toffee and a chocolate coffeecake. I got her gift certificates from AFI and the promise of a dessert date. We ate the coffee cake with breakfast before North and I headed out to Christmas shop.  People always assume we’re headed for the outlets when we say we’re Christmas shopping in Rehoboth and while we do sometimes visit them, we mostly stick to the downtown shops. The bookstore and the tea and spice shop are favorites of ours.

Actually, for me it was more watching North shop than doing any of my own. They were a shopping whirlwind, getting all of their shopping done in one day, most of it that morning. Our last stop was the bakery for Beth’s birthday cake, which I’d pre-ordered. It was a chocolate cake with coffee frosting, which is what I usually make for Beth’s birthday but since I wasn’t going to be the one decorating, I thought it I should have the bakers do something beyond my capabilities—so I asked for a playing card made out of frosting, specifically the Queen of Hearts. Can you guess why? It was because there are fifty-two cards in a deck and she’s the queen of my heart. (North had known about this plan for a few weeks and they were quite taken with it.) It was a long hike out to the bakery, which is up near Route 1, and then back to the house so I was glad to have North with me to wear the backpack full of gifts while I carried the cake box. We even managed not to slip and fall on the ice-slicked sidewalk near the canal.

We had Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch, followed by birthday cake and ice cream. Then Noah, who’d been at the house that morning doing Logic homework, came shopping with me and North. After that, I took a solo walk on the beach and saw a ragged V of geese flying south before going back to the house to collect everyone and walk back to the beach for our Christmas card photo shoot. Beth used Noah’s camera to take pictures of the kids standing on a jetty and some of them jumping or doing cartwheels (that was just North) on the sand.

From the beach we walked to Grotto, where we had pizza, and then to the bandstand for the holiday singalong and tree lighting. It was still pretty cold, probably near freezing, so a half hour seemed about right for this activity. Beth had a hot chocolate in a thermos she’d procured earlier from Starbucks for her free birthday drink. She was pleased it had stayed warm. The kids tried to get hot chocolate at a nearby coffeeshop but the line was crazy so they gave up.

The singalong started with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” and then proceeded through the usual selection of secular Christmas songs, plus “Let it Go,” (which we all agree is not a Christmas song). While we were singing “The Christmas Song,” when it got to “kids from one to ninety-two, I nudged North and sang, “kids from twelve to fifty-two” instead, because that’s us and it’s the last year it will ever scan because it’s North’s last year with a one syllable age.

We walked home via the boardwalk. The moon was either full or close to it and it made a gorgeous white column on the black water. Back at the house, we warmed up with leftover pumpkin pie (and cake) and inaugurated our Christmas special viewing with A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas because those are Beth’s favorites.

It was a nice day, with the tail end of Thanksgiving, the beginning of the Christmas season, and Beth’s birthday all rolled up into one. Beth says she likes it best when her birthday falls on the day after Thanksgiving. (It’s usually before.)

Saturday

The next day wasn’t quite as busy. I knew it was going to rain in the afternoon so after breakfast at Victoria’s (a boardwalk hotel restaurant), I got in some more shopping, and then settled myself on the sand with an apple-carrot-beet juice to drink while I watched the choppy, gray waves. It was much warmer than the previous two days, in the fifties, so it was pleasant to sit still and just be.

North and I met up for lunch at the Greene Turtle, which I patronize mainly for the view. It’s on the boardwalk, one story up, and we got a corner table, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling window on two sides, so I could watch the panorama of boardwalk, beach, and ocean while I ate my apple-pecan salad and split an order of mozzarella sticks with North. Afterward we took a walk on the boardwalk and beach and I took them to a juice bar for an açai bowl. While there I realized I didn’t have my debit card and North exclaimed, “Again?” because I’d just finished telling them a story about how I’d lost one at the Greene Turtle years ago. So I gave North some cash and went back the restaurant in hopes of retrieving it. And luckily, they had it and they didn’t even make me feel like an idiot, saying cheerfully they had a pile of them in the office as people left them on the tables every day. By the time I left the restaurant the second time, the rain had started, only sprinkles, but it was supposed to get heavy so I headed back to the house.

We spent a cozy afternoon variously playing Connect-4, reading King Lear and Six of Crows and the New Yorker, and working on college applications. Noah sent off his Ithaca application and started his Boston University one. By dinnertime it was pouring rain and windy, but Beth and North braved the elements to pick up takeout from Grandpa Mac’s. We ate our pasta bowls in front of the television, watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Sunday

In the morning we packed and had breakfast at Egg (where for some reason I was the only one to order their scrumptious pumpkin-pecan French toast) and came back and packed some more, and left the house. Noah helped clean out the fridge by eating ice cream, garlic bread, cranberry sauce, and drinking milk and eggnog. It’s handy sometimes having a teenage boy.

The kids headed for a hotel lounge where they could squat and watch Dr. Who on a laptop while Beth and I went to sit on a bench on the boardwalk and enjoy a lovely sunny day. Beth read while I wrote most of this blog post by hand in a composition book because I am cutting edge like that.

Being slightly more up-to-date than me, North had been vlogging our trip all weekend, constantly recording themselves narrating what they were doing. I find it a little odd, but who I am to talk, really?

After I finished writing I took a short walk on the beach and then we all met up on the boardwalk having acquired fries, pizza, and a smoothie for a makeshift lunch. (I also fetched cheese, fruit, and water from the nearby car.) After a trip to Candy Kitchen, the kids and I went down to the water and got our feet wet. They accomplished this by wading barefoot into the water. I was wearing rainboots but I might as well not have been because the very first wave went over the tops and soaked my feet. As I removed the boots, turned them upside down, and peeled my sodden socks off my feet, I regarded the holes in them and decided to just throw them in a trashcan on the boardwalk.

As we drove home, I wondered how often they empty those trashcans off season and how long that little part of me will still be there, near the sea and the sand.

Chasing Stars

The night of the midterm elections we gathered in front of the television with popcorn and Halloween candy to watch the results. I thought I might overeat from the stress, but I soon found I’d crossed over into too-nervous-to-eat territory, especially as the House victories did not pile up as quickly as we would have liked and Noah, who was watching both the television and FiveThirtyEight on his laptop, announced that the probability of the Democrats taking the House had dipped. When it got down to 39 percent, he looked stricken and I thought how 2016 was his only reference point for following and deeply caring about an election. “It’s happening again,” he murmured.

But as you know, it didn’t. The Democrats took the House and there’s a remarkably diverse group of firsts headed for Washington, DC—the first Muslim women, the first Native American women, the youngest Congresswoman ever. Democrats gained seven governorships and didn’t lose any, and they made gains in state legislatures across the country. If it wasn’t for losing ground in the Senate, and some heartbreaking close misses at more Governorships in Georgia and Florida, it would have seemed like an unalloyed victory. We all went to bed past our bedtimes, more relieved than ebullient.

The next day I checked and the candidates I wrote postcards for did worse than average—only about twenty percent won—and that was disappointing, but Beth pointed out they wouldn’t recruit postcard writers for safe races, so I’m planning to write some more for Mike Espy’s Senate run-off in Mississippi this weekend.

And, as you also know, in the week and a half since the election, the wave only got bigger. Every time I hear how many seats the Democrats won in the House it’s a different number, but I know it’s in the mid-thirties and there are still undecided races, including at least one of my postcard candidates in California. Meanwhile the losses in the Senate are smaller than initially predicted. My postcard victory rate is up to about twenty-five percent.

Two days after the election, there were pro-Mueller investigation rallies all over the country after the President fired Jeff Sessions. There were two nearby, one in front of the White House and another one, which was more convenient but probably less impactful, in downtown Silver Spring. All day I was torn between which, if any, to attend. One complicating factor was that North had left the house without their ukulele, which they needed for a coffeehouse rehearsal after school, and they’d also forgotten their script for play rehearsal after that. I wasn’t sure if delivering the instrument and the script to school for them would constitute helicopter parenting but it would have taken me within walking distance of the Silver Spring protest, so I was considering that plan, even though it would have gotten me there very early and I’d promised to read several scenes of King Lear to Noah after school.

But then North texted me to say they’d found a ukulele to borrow and Noah came home and wanted to know if I could also quiz him on a huge pile of notes for a test in his Logic class on the history of mathematics and I hadn’t managed to make dinner ahead of time, so it seemed simplest to stay home, read Lear to Noah, quiz him on the Logic, and make a tomato-eggplant stew.

Beth went to the White House protest and because North thought I might be at the Silver Spring protest and they were in that neighborhood with time to kill between rehearsals anyway, they went to that one and sent me short video of people chanting. So the Lovelady-Allens were represented at each of the rallies even if we didn’t all make it.

Middle School Coffeehouse 

The next day we attended the coffeehouse at North’s school. They were going to play the ukulele and sing their original song “Chasing Stars.” I know most of you saw the music video Noah and North made of it when I put it on Facebook in July, but just in case you didn’t, here’s your chance.

The advertised start time for the coffeehouse was 6:00 and the performers were supposed to arrive at 5:45, so North left fifteen minutes before Noah and me. Noah had stayed after school to finish the Logic test and I was hoping he’d have time to practice his drums before we left but he took a long time to get started and after only fifteen minutes, I had to tell him to stop. Or I thought I did. The bus got us there at 5:50 and then we waited almost an hour for the coffeehouse to start. Apparently, there had been a mistake in the publicity and it wasn’t supposed to start until 6:30, then the band and orchestra teacher announced, much to Beth’s and my dismay, that they were delaying the start because the rain might be slowing traffic. So… let’s say it would have been safe for Noah to finish drumming. I was frustrated because he’s been so busy he’s been skipping practice a lot. I was also bored because in our rush to leave the house, I’d forgotten my phone and I hadn’t brought anything else to read either. I tried to take my own advice—given in a recent ghost-written blog post—about using unexpected waiting time as an opportunity for mindfulness, but I failed at it.

Once it finally started, the show was very nice. North went second out of ten performers. They sang well, but looked nervous, especially at the beginning of the song. They relaxed into it somewhat as they went on. As I told them later, when I used to give conference papers I always liked to go early so I could enjoy everyone else’s presentation and they nodded, either agreeing or humoring me.

And there was a lot to enjoy after North’s song. There are many talented singers and musicians at their school. Kids sang songs by Adele, the White Stripes, and Vance Joy and other pop singers. One boy played “Fur Elise” on the piano and there was a violinist who played a very impressive and intricate piece. North wasn’t the only one playing an original composition. A boy who went to North’s elementary school and attends the same church as Beth and North played a song he’d written on the piano and two more boys performed their own jointly written song for guitar and mandolin. Everyone did a great job.

Toward the end of the show, there was a sixth-grade girl whose background music cut out in the middle of her performance of “Feel Better When I’m Dancing” and she just kept singing, completely self-possessed. Eventually people in the audience started clapping and stomping their feet to the beat to replace the missing music. It was one of those moments that makes you feel better about humanity. Also, I think that girl is going places.

Snow Day

About a week later, North was supposed to have the chance to perform “Chasing Stars” again at their induction into Tri-M, the music honor society. They were elected the President of their school’s chapter last spring, so they were going to give a speech and sing.

But we got a couple inches of snow that morning and school and all after school activities were cancelled. This is the earliest measurable snow I remember having in all the sixteen and a half years we’ve lived in Maryland and the latest in the morning a snow day has ever been called. I got an alert on my phone at 5:00 a.m. saying it would be at least a two-hour delay, with a possible cancellation, to be decided by 7:00. This is pretty standard procedure. At 6:50, the alert said it would be a two-hour delay. I didn’t quite trust it, though, because it was still snowing and it was supposed to snow until noon. Sure enough, at 8:45, fifteen minutes before Noah was supposed to leave the house, Zoë called and North put her on speaker phone and I heard the dreaded words, “No school!”

North was actually disappointed when the two-hour delay was called because the seventh grade had a field trip to Medieval Times planned and the students had been explicitly told a two-hour delay would scotch it, but North was consoling themselves with the fact that the induction ceremony would go on if there was school. Well, so much for that.

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate snow days?  Yes? Okay. I’ll spare you the unreasonably emotional rant. I mean, what’s the point in saying it all again? It really makes no sense now that my kids are old enough not to be underfoot all day. Still, I felt really sad that morning, actually crying at the kitchen window as I watched it come down. I’m not sure exactly why snow days do that to me, but I have a theory it’s a trigger for me because my father died shortly before the big blizzard of 2010 that had the kids out of school for weeks. Fortunately, snow when we’re away from home doesn’t have that effect on me, so if it snows while we’re at Blackwater this Christmas, I can enjoy it.

North, perhaps wanting to avoid their morose mother or perhaps hoping to escape before I thought to give them a chore, left the house shortly after nine, meeting Zoë at a park. They spent the rest of the day at Zoë’s house, where the two of them made a snowwoman in a bikini, played with Zoë’s Guinea pigs, and watched television, not returning until after dinner. Noah spent most of the day in his room working on his senior presentation. I folded laundry, worked, and went on some errands, partly to get out of the house, partly because I needed stamps for the weekend’s postcard writing. I even stopped in a nearby store thinking I might try to do some holiday shopping but apparently that was a bridge too far because I started thinking about the impossibility of anything ever genuinely pleasing anyone and then I decided maybe I should just go home and leave the shopping for a less grim day.

High School Film Screening

The next day was Friday. There had been some speculation that there might be a two-hour delay but the kids went to school on time. That evening there was a screening of films made by students at Noah’s school and another local high school at a local art space. We got there about a half hour before the films started so we had some pizza and then went upstairs to look at the art on display. There was an exhibit of poems printed over each other, some abstract black and white architectural photographs, and a room in which visitors were encouraged to add a line to a collective poem written on the wall in marker.

The films started late, but comparing it to the coffeehouse the week before, it was remarkable how much less impatient I felt when I’d been fed and given something interesting to look at. The films were excellent. One of them we’d seen at the Montgomery County Youth Media Festival last spring, but most of them were new. Noah’s was about the White Oak duckpin bowling alley and the community of bowlers there. (One of Noah’s favorite parts of making the film was getting to go behind the lanes and seeing the pin -setting machinery.)

You can watch it here if you like. It’s about six minutes long:

We also really liked the film about a local tattoo artist who will cover gang and white supremacist tattoos for free. The students from Bethesda-Chevy Chase mostly showed footage from their weekly news show. In addition to screening the films, it was a chance for the students from the two schools to network and discuss possible collaboration. It was a fun event.

So, how to wrap this up? The election results were encouraging, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and we are all chasing stars in our own way, whether political or artistic.

Spooked, Part 3

Two Sundays ago I woke thinking of the synagogue shooting the day before. I was full of sadness for the world and the little spark of hope I usually feel after voting was almost extinguished. I muddled through the next couple days and on Monday evening I was idly checking my phone to see if there were any new Postcards for Voters campaigns; I was thinking I was probably finished because the deadline was the very next day and I was out of postcard stamps. When Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s name came up as one of the options I think I may have yelped with excitement. I know I went around the house telling everyone in my mildly amused family. A Senate campaign for an endangered Democrat who risked her seat by voting no on Kavanaugh was definitely worth a trip to the post office.

I initially started writing postcards with the goal of flipping the House and improving the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the Senate. But some days the only campaigns on offer were ones I’d already written for and down ballot races. It was tempting to learn about a lot of different campaigns and I started thinking about the importance of party building and getting people (especially women) in the pipeline for higher office so I ended up writing for all kinds of campaigns, for Governors, state legislators, even a county commissioner and a school board candidate. I also wrote for a ballot initiative in Florida to restore the voting rights of people with felony convictions who’d served their time. All in all, I wrote 231 postcards, from mid-September to the first day of November. Forty of them were in the last four days of that span.

I tracked down postcard stamps at the second post office I visited—they’ve been hard to find so I think my neighbors had been doing the same thing I was. I’d committed to write twenty-five postcards for Heitkamp and I thought it would be nice to have some on hand for upcoming special elections so I bought forty. But they kept extending the deadlines so I wrote five more for Andrew Gillum in Florida and then ten for Tedra Cobb in New York on short deadlines. I would have kept going but I ran out of stamps again. 

On more than one night, I camped out in Noah’s room writing postcards while he worked on homework or his first college application. He’s applying early action to the University of Maryland Baltimore College and the Honors College there. There were four essays for the Honors College, separate from the main essay he’s using for all his college applications, so he had a lot to write, too.

It was a shame it was such a busy week for him, because I would have liked him to come to the vigil in downtown Takoma for the victims of the shootings in Kentucky and Pittsburgh Monday night. North had rehearsal so they couldn’t come either. Beth and I could only stay for part of it because we needed to go pick them up, but it was nice, the speeches, and songs and the candles in the darkness while we gathered with our neighbors to honor the lives lost. My friend Becky, who’s active in gun control groups, was one of the organizers. Thanks for everything you do, Becky.

Noah didn’t skip trick-or-treating on Wednesday, though he was working before and after. He also took some time before dinner to get the battery-operated decorations and the fog machines up and running. I fed everyone a quick supper of grilled cheese sandwiches and canned soup and the kids were off around seven.  I stayed home giving out candy to about forty kids dressed as everything from Astronaut to Zombie. Several people asked to take pictures of our yard. Our around-the-corner neighbor came by with her daughter and posted a picture of our porch on Facebook with the caption “Best House in the Hood.”

When the kids got home at eight-thirty, I was tempted to tell them they should trade candy later because North needed to wash off their bloody makeup in the shower and go to bed and Noah’s application was stuck. He’d tried to submit it before dinner and the Common App site wouldn’t recognize the PDF. But it wasn’t really a crisis because it wasn’t due until the next evening and I realized it was probably the last time the kids would ever trick-or-treat together, so I didn’t rush either of them along.  It all ended well. Noah tweeted to the Common App before he and North left and they responded quickly with a workaround and before he went to bed on Halloween, his first application was in the bag.

The next weekend, Beth and Noah went on their annual fall camping trip. They’d had to cancel a few weeks earlier because of Noah’s workload so I was glad they got it in before the cold weather sets in—it did get down into the thirties at night. This year they went to Catoctin Mountain Park and stayed in a charming but drafty cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corp during the Depression. Noah worked on overdue logic homework that fell by the wayside while he was working on a presentation for his senior seminar and the UMBC application, but they also hiked and made S’mores and relaxed.

Meanwhile back at home, North and I watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, and I took them to therapy and to get their hair cut and to the pool and the library. It was Noah’s half-birthday on Saturday so we all had cupcakes, which we ate separately. That was a little strange, but it was nice when the campers came home and we were all re-united over a dinner of breaded tofu and baked Parmesan-squash rings Beth made for us. They’d also brought home a pecan pie from an orchard they’d visited on the way home.

Today North’s acting class had its last meeting and they performed the scenes they’ve been working on since September. Mondays have been a tight squeeze for North all fall. They generally got off the school bus and I thrust a packed dinner at them, they grabbed their scripts and got on second bus to acting class, which they had to leave fifteen minutes early to catch a third bus to rehearsal at the theater.

So we did the first part of that except I didn’t have their dinner ready because I was going to bring it to the performance. I finished making the curried lentil-vegetable stew, put a thermos full of it into a lunchbox along with a Reese’s peanut butter cup and a couple lollipops from their Halloween stash and got on a bus to the Rec Center.

The kids performed scenes from The Parent Trap, Peter and the Starcatcher, one of the Harry Potter books, and The Hunger Games. In a was a strange coincidence, North ended up in a scene from the same play in which they’re performing at Highwood next month. They’d hoped to be in a scene from Dear Evan Hansen but couldn’t convince any other students to do it with them. So I got a preview of that scene with North in the role of Peter. (In the Highwood version they’re playing four small parts, but more on that in a later post.) The play is a prequel to Peter Pan, and in the featured scene Peter is shyly approaching a girl who kissed him in an earlier scene and who now seems to regret having done it or at least has mixed feelings. North did a good job conveying Peter’s embarrassment and hopefulness. I also liked seeing Grace (the teacher’s daughter who’s been in acting classes with North since they were both three) in the Hunger Games scene. She made an excellent Katniss. The scene was the one in which Katniss and Rue pair up. It made me wonder if I could entice North to read that series with me.

After the scenes, Gretchen had the kids discuss their scenes and explain what acting techniques they’d been using. North had left for rehearsal by that point and I was sorry not to hear what they would have said. Right when the improv exercises—with audience participation—were about to start I slipped out of the auditorium. When I got to my bus stop North was still at theirs (directly across the street) sitting on a bench, illuminated by the streetlight, eating lentil stew out of their thermos. We waved at each other. My bus actually came first, even though I’d stayed inside ten minutes longer.

Even though it was cut a little short, it was nice to see North up on stage. I always enjoy seeing them in their element. And it also kept me busy on a day when I was full of nervous energy about the election tomorrow. We’re all a bit spooked now, but soon we’ll know a little more about what the future holds, for better or for worse.

Spooked, Part 2

Most years Noah is working on his Halloween costume right up until the Halloween parade and usually we’re sliding it into the hatch of the car hoping the tacky paint won’t smear. (And almost as often he’s still applying the finishing touches he didn’t complete in time for the contest right before he leaves for trick-or-treating.) I thought we might avoid that rush because he made his costume so far in advance this year for the film he was making for school. But last Saturday morning found him on the porch, painting details he didn’t have time to include when he was filming. (He did finish the costume Saturday, though. No new work was needed on Halloween.)

Beth, North, and I had a busy morning. We had an initial meeting with a new therapist for North, then we went to Silver Spring to vote early. There was a moderately long line, but it moved quickly. When someone saw it and left, Beth said under her breath, “Get your ass back here and vote!” As I went through the stations, I made sure to thank every poll worker I encountered. It seems a more vital job than ever these days. From the polls, we went to Michael’s for more green spray paint for Noah, who needed it for his back panel, and then to Starbucks for coffee for the adults and a Witches’ Brew frappuccino for North.

We didn’t know it at the time but the shooting at the synagogue in Squirrel Hill took place while we were driving to vote. I read about it later in the day on my phone. Remember how I said in my last post we’d have a new political horror within the week? I didn’t have anything that horrible in mind. I just don’t know what to say about it, the loss of life, the President’s refusal to stop using the same inflammatory rhetoric about the migrant caravan that lead to it. Words fail.

So I had a heavy heart as we set out for the rec center Halloween party at 1:40. It was a party this year rather than a parade because the day was cold and predicted to be rainy. It never did much more than sprinkle and the parade probably could have gone on, but they have to make the call a few days ahead of time.

The party was at a local elementary school but not the same one where it used to be years ago when the parade terminated at a school. (The route has changed quite a few times in the many years we’ve been going.) I think I liked the old school better because it had a bigger gathering space in the gym. It felt crowded in the cafeteria where the line-up for the contest was. There was less mingling and I didn’t see as many people’s costumes. We did see Keira, an eighth grader from North’s school dressed as a mailbox. Over the years, Keira has been as serious about her Halloween costumes as my kids, maybe even more so. The details on the mailbox, from the rivets to the labels with the USPS logo and collection hours were just spot on. She could have been in the group category because her mom was dressed as a postcard, but she sized up the room and decided to enter Teen to Adult instead, which put her in competition with Noah. (Most years she’s in North’s age group.)

I could see why she did it, though. There were some good groups, one of people dressed as objects representing Takoma Park businesses, two men in prison jumpsuits marked “Cohen” and “Manafort” with a baby in a suit with a briefcase representing Mueller. Creatively used babies seemed to be a theme this year. There was a Frankenstein’s Monster and Bride of Frankenstein with a baby Dr. Frankenstein complete with a white coat and goggles, and a woman dressed as Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter books with a baby dressed as a mandrake in a fabric pot attached to her.

North assessed the nine-to-twelve year old line and decided their main competition was either the girl in Harlequin tights with bleeding eyes or Beetlejuice. North was going for Scariest. (They later told me they’d rather not win anything than win Cutest, but when you’re dressed as Lizzie Borden, there’s really not much risk of winning Cutest.)

The contestants went outside one category at a time for the judges to get a better look at them and take names. Noah and Keira were the only two people who came outside for Teen to Adult, which struck me as strange. There should have been more than that. Group costumes came close on their heels, though, so maybe people in those two categories got mixed up.

The parade took place in an abbreviated form through the halls of the school and we ended up in the gym for a concert and the contest results, which were announced in between songs. The band wasn’t the Grandsons for the first time I can remember and while the new band played a lot of crowd favorites—“Monster Mash,” “Ghostbusters,” and “This is Halloween”—they weren’t as good as the Grandsons in our collective (but admittedly change-resistant) opinion.

We watched the winners of the Four and Under and Five to Eight categories. North was not expecting to win because when they were outside, no judge took their name. This wasn’t a good sign but it’s not a perfect predictor. While the judges usually take more names than there are winners, occasionally they don’t get a winner’s name and the winner is announced by costume, so I thought there was a chance. Most Original went to Medusa. Noah immediately protested that Medusa is not original–“The Greeks thought of her thousands of years ago!”—but it was a very nice execution. The girl’s headdress was a tangle of snakes almost as big as she was. Scariest went to Beetlejuice and none of us remember who won Cutest because we are, as a whole, uninterested in that category.

We waited through another song to hear the Teen to Adult results. Most Original was Keira’s mailbox and it was impossible to begrudge her that win. She’s a worthy opponent. Then someone—again no one remembers who—won for Cutest. I had thought it was likely they’d find more teens or adults during the parade part of the festivities and I guess that’s what happened. There was no announcement for Scariest, which was disappointing. Even though Noah was going for Most Original, hackers are plenty scary so that would have worked, too.

I am always sad for the kids when they don’t win the contest because they put so much work into their costumes and it means a lot to them. But losing is part of competing. They both know that and they are generally good sports about it. That said, Noah seemed to take it harder than usual this year, either because it was probably his last year in the contest or because no winner was announced in a category he could have won. Rather than shrugging it off, he spent some time afterward fretting about whether the judges even understood his costume. He wondered if the news story on which it was based was too obscure. Anyway, we hung around to see the winners in the group category—the Takoma businesses group won first prize—and then North went through the inflatable corn maze and we went home.

We were in Halloween mode, so we launched into carving our pumpkins. Beth’s is the sugar skull, mine is the zombie hand rising from the ground, Noah’s is the cat superimposed over a ghost, and North’s is the cannibal pumpkin—yes, that’s a tiny carved pumpkin in the mouth of the big one. We ate candy corn while we carved and listened to our Halloween playlist and set aside the seeds to roast, all long-standing traditions. These are the things that hold us together and even in our sadness for our country, let us hold tight to each other. 

Spooked, Part 1

Last Saturday, we made out annual trek out to Potomac Vegetable Farm for our jack-o-lantern pumpkins, cider, kale, pumpkin bread, and decorative gourds. It’s a long drive out there, forty-five minutes when there’s no traffic and there’s usually traffic. It’s just a little farm stand in Northern Virginia, with no corn maze, hayrides, petting zoo, or rides like some other pumpkin farms have. But we started going there many years ago because it’s run by the family of a friend of ours from college, and we are a family prone to loyalty and tradition. The kids have never even asked to go somewhere else. They may not realize it’s possible.

It was a busy day. There was a homecoming at the kids’ preschool and we all went, though not at the same time because North had a rehearsal for Peter and the Starcatcher so they had to go at the very beginning and it made more sense for Noah to go at the end, so he’d have a longer uninterrupted block of time for homework. He was working on a film for his senior seminar about making his Halloween costume. He’s going as a Chinese spyware microchip. The film’s called The Halloween Hack. (One big benefit of choosing this topic was that his costume was almost finished a week before Halloween, which never happens.)

At the Purple School homecoming we hung out in the play yard and chatted with a couple families from North’s class and one from Noah’s and with more from other classes while Noah was inside interviewing alumni and their parents for more episodes of the podcast he produced for the school last summer. It was nice to catch up with some people we haven’t seen in a long time, particularly the family from Noah’s class.

We went straight from preschool to the theater to pick up North and then we drove out to the farm. Rehearsal was over at 4:30 and the farm was closing at six, but Noah’s interviews ran late so we didn’t get to the theater right at 4:30 and then there was a traffic jam, so it was around 5:40 by the time we got to the farm, but that was plenty of time to examine the pumpkins and gourds, make our choices, and take the traditional photographs.

Afterward we had dinner at Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant we discovered a couple years ago, which has pretty decent vegetarian shrimp (or at least it seems like that to two adults who haven’t had real shrimp in over thirty years and two kids who’ve never had it). Then we went to Dessert Story for honeydew bubble tea and macarons (North and I split a serving of each) and Nutella-Oreo waffle sundaes (Beth and Noah’s choice). We listened to Halloween playlists all the way there and back, but even so it never got to “Purple People Eater,” which was the only disappointing thing about the outing, from North’s perspective. Beth said it was “a little melancholy” knowing it could be Noah’s last trip to the pumpkin patch with us and I had to agree.

This week Noah burned the midnight oil working on his film and other homework for several nights in a row. Tonight he’s working on his UMBC honors college application essays. Meanwhile I’ve been writing a series of Christmas-themed blog posts for a herbal supplement and tea company. One of them involved finding and testing holiday recipes using tea. Tuesday afternoon, while I was sitting down to compose that one, with a glass of freshly made hibiscus-orange punch at my side, I was amused by the contrast between the cheery tone of the blog post I was going to write and the decal of a ghostly woman with bleeding eyes who peers at me while I work in October, so I posted a picture on Facebook.

My friend Allison (hi, Allison!) responded, “You seriously don’t get spooked by this a hundred times a day?” And actually, I don’t. I did a few times last year, which was the first year she haunted my desk, but this year I’m pretty used to her. Maybe after almost two years since the election of Donald Trump, it takes more than a creepy image to scare me. I mean, consider the last few weeks: the indifference to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the pipe bombs sent to Democratic politicians and CNN, and the White House’s attempt to erase trans people out of existence. And by next week there will be some new horror. I can guarantee that.

So I’ve picked up the pace of my get-out-the-vote postcard writing, because the midterm elections are in less than two weeks and in many states early voting is already in progress. So far I’ve written 161 postcards to voters in California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas and I’ve got a batch of fifteen more stamped, addressed, and ready to write this weekend. Because no ghost or ghoul would terrify me more than another two years of the Trump presidency with both houses of Congress under Republican control.