About Steph

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All Roads Lead to Oberlin


Thursday morning North and I were in the kitchen making our breakfasts and I mentioned we’d be hitting the road soon, and asked “And where will that road go?”

“To Oberlin,” North answered.

“And why is that?” I asked.

“Because all roads lead to Oberlin,” North said, right on cue.

A little while later, having missed this exchange, Beth came back from her morning walk and said she supposed she wouldn’t need to use Siri to navigate because “…all roads lead to Oberlin.” In case you hadn’t guessed, this was the name of the accepted students’ day at Oberlin. It’s a slogan they’ve been using since we attended Oberlin in the mid-to-late 1980s and who knows how long before that?

It was a longer journey than we anticipated. The weather slowed us down—as we crossed Pennsylvania (this is the bulk of the drive) there was almost every kind of precipitation—rain, snow, sleet, hail, even graupel. The crazy thing was that in between, there would be bright, sunny spells. We also stopped a lot—for walking, restroom, and meal breaks, and Beth had to stop and work on an unexpected work project for a total of two hours, about half of that time in a Starbucks, the rest in parking lots, where I paced to get some steps. We left Takoma Park around 9:30 a.m. and didn’t arrive at our AirBnB in Oberlin until 9:30 p.m. We passed the time with a diverting mystery audiobook, so it didn’t seem that long.

The AirBnB was the same one where we stayed almost six years ago when Noah visited Oberlin as a prospective. I had a deeply evocative memory of lingering on the back porch on a cool summer morning watching the rain and trying to imagine him in college while he slept in. North would not have that opportunity, as the admitted students’ schedule was jam-packed. (Noah didn’t end up applying to Oberlin so we never did an admitted students’ event there with him.)


At eight a.m. Beth took North to pick up some coffee and a bagel at the Slow Train Café and then to registration, where the two of them met Oberlin’s mascot, an albino squirrel. (You occasionally see these, minus the Birkenstocks, on campus.) I stayed at the house to eat breakfast because we didn’t have any joint events with North until late morning. They were going from registration to sit in on a Psychology class, and then to a session for students interested in the pre-law program and other preprofessional majors. One of the features of the day was that they split up the kids from the parents more than at Johnson and Wales or St. Mary’s. As a result, North spent more time talking to current and prospective students than at the other schools and we think that gave them a better sense of the vibe of the place. “I can see myself here,” they said later in the day. It was also a softer sell. There were no announcements about where to go if you wanted to commit on the spot (at St. Mary’s they have a gong they ring when someone does).

Beth came back to the house, and we hung out until it was time to meet North for the President’s address in the lovely Finney Chapel. North said they’d found talking to the pre-law administrator informative and they enjoyed their class, which was in the same building I used to have psych classes (it was one of my two minors). From there, we were separated again. North had lunch at a dining hall while Beth and I ate with other parents and staff in a hotel. All day, whenever we told people in addition to being the parents of a prospective, we were also alumni, they were surprised and kind of delighted. The food, at least the vegetarian option, was less delightful. I needed to go back to the car to get some cheese and a hard-boiled egg to supplement it because it had almost no protein and I need some at every meal to keep my blood sugar regulated.

We met up with North in the lobby of the hotel where we left for a campus tour. North had requested a slower-paced one so it was a private tour.  I kind of miss hearing other people’s questions when it’s just us and a guide, but she happened to be interested in law and psychology, just like North, so they bonded over that and I always enjoy walking around Oberlin’s beautiful campus. Every now and then I would point out places of interest to North.

Afterward we stopped at the biggest classroom building on campus because North wanted to rest on a bench for a bit. Beth perused a directory and saw that an English professor we’d both had and another one I’d had at Oberlin were still there. It was kind of wild to think North could take a class from one of my old professors, just like Allison‘s daughter does. (Hi, Allison!).Next we went to drop-in hours at Disability Services where we had a chat with a staff member about the kinds of accommodations North might be able to get for migraines.  

And from there, it was off to a session about the practicing arts at Oberlin (all but music because there’s a whole conservatory for that). We listened to art, creative writing, dance, film, and theater professors and staff talk about their departments and then split off for a tour with the Managing Director for Theater, Opera, and Dance. We saw multiple theaters including a main stage and black box theater, backstage space, rehearsal spaces, the costume shop, and scenery shop. The facilities are extensive, impressive, and recently renovated. They put on ten major plays a year, plus smaller shows, not to mention dance and opera performances. It seems like quite a vibrant program. North is hoping to act in college and is thinking of minoring in theater.

The director had so much to say that the session ran over, but it didn’t really matter because our next stop was flexible. It was separate receptions, one for students and one for parents. Beth and I might have skipped this, as we’re not big on socializing with strangers, but we were both hungry, and we figured there would be food, so we went and snacked on crudites, cheese, chips with guacamole, and a frosted cookie in the shape of a white squirrel that we split. We were not entirely anti-social and did talk to the father of a prospective and an admissions staff member.

From there we went to have dinner at a dining co-op. Student-run housing and dining co-ops were one of the most important aspects of my time at Oberlin. I ate in co-ops all seven semesters I was on campus and lived in them five semesters. There’s something very empowering and educational about being part of a group endeavor like that. Over the years, I had jobs that ranged from doing KP, serving as a waiter, cooking, cleaning bathrooms, and acting as recycling coordinator for my house and a representative on the board. I met a lot of my friends in co-ops and had a lot of fun. I must have sold it well because North says they will definitely live in a co-op if they go to Oberlin. (The picture of North is outside Harkness, with the OSCA twin pine logo behind them.)

I never lived in Harkness, a vegetarian co-op, but I had a close friend who did, and I ate there one Winter Term when my regular dining co-op had closed for the month, so it was a familiar space. It really looks very much like it did in the 80s, including the industrial kitchen, where we went to bus our dishes after dinner.

We sat at a different table from North, so they could mingle more freely, and we listened to current students and prospective students at our table talk about things like if there’s “a good party scene” at Oberlin. (The answer was it depends a lot on what you mean by that.) We had salad, pizza that North later said tasted a lot like the homemade pizza we make every other Friday, and brownies.

It would have been nice to linger in Oberlin, but we had three-and-a-half-hour drive ahead of us because we were staying with Beth’s mom in Wheeling that night. Beth would be spending the week in West Virginia, and North and I would fly home from Pittsburgh the next day.

Saturday and Beyond

Our flight wasn’t until mid-afternoon, so we had time for a visit to a nearby coffeeshop, a walk around the neighborhood, and a visit with Beth’s aunt Carole. That morning in Wheeling, North declined their offer from Johnson and Wales, so it’s down to Saint Mary’s and Oberlin.

We came home to piles of clean, folded laundry on my bed and Noah making roasted cauliflower with yogurt sauce for dinner.  Almost immediately, I checked the porch ledge to see how the mourning dove chicks were doing. I don’t think I’ve mentioned them this year, but there’s a nest there every spring. Before we left, we’d gotten to the nerve-wracking part where the parents start to leave the babies alone, first occasionally, then for longer and longer periods. They do not always survive this. But the babies were alive and well and bigger than the last time I’d seen them. Over the course of the next few days, I saw the parents less and less and one of the chicks was creeping closer to the edge of the ledge, craning its neck to peer down, and wiggling all over. Later one of them seemed to be trying to open its wings. And this morning, when I went out to get the newspaper, one of them was perched on the wicker chair. I thought the other one was gone, but later I saw it on the porch floor. They spent the morning moving around the porch until one of them took off. The other one is still there as I write, but I doubt it will be there for long. Talk about symbolism. That’s a bit heavy-handed, universe.

North went to school Monday and Tuesday, and they have the day off today because it’s the day between third and fourth quarter. That drove home how little of North’s time in high school is left (six and a half weeks because the seniors get out three weeks before everyone else). It started with covid and virtual school, and if you’ve been reading here a while you know all the twists and turns there have been along the way. I feel grateful they are where they are today, at a fork in the road, with each path leading to a good place.

Update: Thursday, 4/11

All yesterday afternoon I kept peeking out at the remaining chick. I saw it taking little flights all over the porch and in the early evening, both parents came back to the ledge and called to it, and they all met on the porch floor and the adults fed it. The next time I checked, all four birds were gone, and I haven’t seen them since.

That night in a video call with Beth, who’s still in Wheeling, North told us they’d chosen Oberlin.


Spring Fever: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 83

North’s birthday was also the first day of their spring break. Over break they studied for the IB math exam they’ll be taking in May, the two of us went to Koma for coffee on Tuesday, and on Thursday they went to the U.S. Botanical Gardens with El. That was their night to cook, and they felt ambitious enough to make sourdough bread (from a mix they got for Christmas) for the grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup they’d already been planning to make.

We often travel over spring break, but we’ve been making a lot of trips to colleges, with one more trip coming up in a couple days, and Beth has been to Wheeling to stay with her mom twice this year and she’ll be back for a third time soon, so we decided against it. But shortly before break I said in an offhand way that maybe we should take a day trip and North was all over it. They planned a very nice one, a morning browsing the historic bayside town of St. Michael’s, lunch at one of four vegetarian-friendly restaurants they identified for our consideration, and then a stroll in a nearby park. We decided to do it on Good Friday because Beth’s office is closed that day.

But we didn’t take this delightful-sounding outing. Remember how I said only two posts ago that I might not write about covid again? Silly me. Noah had started to feel mildly ill on Sunday, the day after North’s birthday, and I did, too, a day after that. I had a sore throat and some congestion. I might have had a slight fever on Tuesday—I don’t know because I didn’t take my temperature. The worst day was Wednesday, mainly because of intense fatigue. But I tested negative for covid Wednesday morning. We went ahead and went to family therapy, and when we mentioned both Noah and I had upper respiratory symptoms, the therapist immediately sent us home (per office policy, which we didn’t remember from our intake paperwork). I was already starting to feel better by Thursday.

On Friday morning, shortly before we were going to leave for St. Michael’s, North said if we were going to eat in an indoor restaurant, Noah should really test for covid, so he did… and he was positive. I followed suit and I was positive, too. Beth and North were negative. By this point, none of us was feeling very sick, but we decided to ditch the St. Michael’s trip and take our germs somewhere that was likely to be less crowded.

We got takeout from Busboys and Poets and had a picnic lunch at Fort Washington Park, which is on the Maryland side of the Potomac. It has nice river views, but it turned out the lighthouse was under construction and a lot of the places you can walk nearby were fenced off and inaccessible. We did learn about the interesting history of the fort. During the War of 1812, as British forces approached, the commander of the fort, outmanned and outgunned, decided to set fire to the fort and flee. Flaming ships were launched in the direction of the British forces. (That last tidbit seems right out of Our Flag Means Death.) The commander was court martialed for abandoning his post, btw.

Over the next several days, we didn’t strictly isolate, but we tried to stay away from each other more than usual. Well, not all of us. Noah and I hung out in his room reading and we cooked a stir-fry together on Saturday, since we couldn’t infect each other. Also, as Beth and I were sharing a bedroom and breathing the same air all night long, I wasn’t that careful around her either. But we opened windows for air circulation, and ate in separate rooms or outside. We masked on the occasions when all four of us came together to watch tv or to dye Easter eggs in the back yard.

The egg dyeing was on Saturday afternoon. As we waited for the eggs to dry and then decorated them with stickers and the little felt hats we use for this purpose every year, North read us a list of one hundred reasons they should attend Oberlin, sent to them in an email, and quizzed me on whether in my experience each one was true. (Beth had gone inside by this point.) This was fun and funny and happy and sad all at once, thinking how close North is to leaving, no matter where they go, and how precious it felt to do this kind of ridiculous activity (taping little hats to colored eggs—why do we do this?) one more time. I am not saying one last time, because who knows what the future holds? North’s college spring breaks may sometimes coincide with Easter and even if both kids move far away, who’s to say they won’t happen to visit us near Easter some year?

Later that night I said to North, “I have a question about the Easter Bunny. When there are no minors in the house any more…”

North interrupted, “I still expect him to bring me candy.”

I clarified the question was about whether the Bunny still hides the baskets and North was adamant that he still does, so the baskets were duly hidden.

North’s last day of break was Easter Monday. They made brownies in the afternoon, and I quit work a little early to watch Emily in Paris with them. I made egg salad with our Easter eggs for dinner. They went back at school today, having never gotten sick. It will be a short week for them, though, just two days, because on Thursday morning we are leaving for Oberlin’s admitted students’ day. Our last MCPS spring break is over. It’s time to think about what comes next.

Petals and Parties

Tuesday: Blossom Party

The National Park Service and the Washington Post Capital Weather Gang each make a prediction for the peak bloom of the cherry blossoms every year. This year, the only day of overlap between the two predictions was North’s birthday, so we thought there was a good chance their birthday, a Saturday, would fall during peak bloom. They wanted to go see them on their birthday, after their birthday party the night before. It seemed like a good plan. But then the second week in March it was remarkably warm, over seventy degrees most days, and the blossoms reached peak bloom on the Sunday six days before North’s birthday.

The peak lasts just four to five days on average and North had already convinced me to let them stay home from school Tuesday because the juniors were taking the SAT that day and not much instruction was going to happen. So, afraid we’d miss the blooms if we waited until Saturday, I asked the kids if they’d like to come down to the Tidal Basin with me on Tuesday and they both said yes. (I tried to talk Beth into it, too, but she couldn’t take the time away from work.)

The timing was a little tricky. North had a dentist appointment in the city at 8:30 a.m. and Noah had a concert at 6:00 p.m., also in the city, so North preferred a morning visit, and Noah would have liked an afternoon one, but North also had a virtual therapy appointment at 4:00 p.m. so they needed to be back home for that, and we settled on morning. Then North invited a friend to join us and set the time to meet them at 10:45 at the Smithsonian Metro station. From there they’d go to the MLK Memorial, where Noah and I would meet them.

Beth took North to the dentist and after the appointment left them at a coffeeshop at near the Friendship Heights Metro, as they had some time to kill. Noah and I left the house at 9:35 and arrived at the Smithsonian stop at 10:25. I was thinking we’d meet North and El there instead of the memorial, but once we got above ground it was cold, in the low forties and very windy, and the zipper on my jacket was broken, so suddenly getting warm drinks seemed like a better idea than waiting for twenty minutes, so we went to Starbucks and then walked to the MLK Memorial, where North and El were waiting on a bench, surrounded by puffy pale pink petals.

We walked to the FDR Memorial and then North and El decided to stay there while Noah and I walked the perimeter of the Tidal Basin. We haven’t done the whole loop in a long time, as there was a narrow window between when North was old enough to walk that far (maybe age five) and before they developed mobility issues (around eleven). It was a nice walk. There were a lot of people, but the path wasn’t jam-packed. We saw ducks and geese on the water and the sky was partly blue. It was warmer and less windy among the trees than it had been on the streets walking from the Metro. And the trees were just perfect.

We paid our respects to Stumpy, the famous little cherry tree with a mostly hollow trunk that doesn’t look like it should be able to bloom but does every year. There’s a lesson there, I think. Sadly, Stumpy is among the over 150 trees that are slated to be cut down after the bloom is over this year because the seawall around the Tidal Basin needs to be rebuilt to prevent the frequent floods that endanger all the trees. I understand why it’s necessary, but it’s still sad. A lot of people must feel the same way because there were a lot more people than usual taking Stumpy’s picture.

We met back up with North and El and decided to have lunch at Panera. As we walked, the 12th graders talked about their college plans and compared notes on the cliques in the theater program and the Visual Arts Center (a magnet art program within North’s school that El attends). North was navigating with their phone, and it turned out the Panera they’d found was in the Ronald Reagan Building basement. We had to go through security that was tighter than some airport security—Noah and I had to remove our watches—and then the restaurant, which I thought would be in the food court, was off down a long, empty corridor, and when we finally found it Noah discovered he’d ordered ahead to the wrong Panera, so he peeled off to go get his food. He spent the rest of the afternoon at museums, killing time until his concert. He said later it was a fun day.

Meanwhile, because there were no seats at Panera, North, El and I walked (for the second time) past a big cybersecurity event in the atrium flanked by two menacing, two-story-tall robot statues, and we returned to the food court where we joined the many middle and high school tour groups in matching hoodies or windbreakers. I was tired and hungry, and it was good to eat my grilled cheese and soup. Then we splurged on ice cream before we got on the Metro and headed home.

Friday: Bowling Party

Friday morning North left for school with a container of rainbow-sprinkle blondies. The treats weren’t for their birthday, they were for El, who shares a birthday with North. (They couldn’t come to North’s party because they were having a party of their own the same night.) Our kitchen was a busy place for a few days there because in addition to normal meals and North making blondies Thursday afternoon, Beth started making North’s three-layer lavender cake with lemon frosting on Wednesday (making lavender-infused milk and lavender syrup) and continued with the different steps through Thursday (making the cake and frosting) and Friday (assembly and decoration). North asked for a cake with a lavender plant and a bee in the frosting. Didn’t it come out well?

We met North’s friends at 5:30 at Roscoe’s, where we picked up a bunch of pizzas and other food. We ate at the public picnic tables on Laurel Avenue, with North and their friends at one table and Beth, Noah, and me at another. It was a chilly, windy afternoon and Beth and I were not dressed warmly enough, so once we’d finished eating, we walked around the empty tables under the tent, frequently looping back to ours. I caught bits of the party conversation, which centered on summer plans, jobs, mutual acquaintances, classes, and the theater program at North’s school and Miles and Maddie’s school. Five out of the six kids have just finished a show at one of those schools, either as cast or crew, so they had stories to share with each other. They also talked a bit about college, as all the guests are juniors just beginning their college search and North’s at the end of theirs.

We ate cake next—the lemon frosting was so good it rivals the fresh strawberry frosting Beth often makes and the cake was nice and moist. North opened cards, including a hand-drawn one with bees and flowers that Marisa had made that Miles and Maddie signed, too. Marisa illustrated her own wrapping paper as well. North’s presents included a pair of crocheted sunflower earrings, a journal, and some contributions to their tattoo fund. When all the presents were opened, and North had read all the affectionate messages in the cards aloud, and the cake was eaten, I observed that the bowling alley was probably heated, and everyone gathered up their things and we left.

We went duckpin bowling. This form of bowling is popular in Maryland, and I remember taking Noah to a few birthday parties at these lanes when he was in elementary school (the little balls are great for kids) and then in high school he filmed a short documentary about a bowling league there. However, we are not big bowlers, and we hadn’t been there as a family since the summer North was four, on an outing they do not recall. We got another pizza and pitcher of soda that came free with the lane, and we also ordered fried pickles and tater tots. The kids made short work of the fried treats and ate most of the pizza, too. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and conversation was lively. After our two hours were up, the guests’ parents came to pick them up—Anastasia, who is the only one with a drivers’ license, and who had helped ferry guests to the bowling alley, joked that she didn’t think she’d have to wait long for her ride.

Marisa came home with us because she was sleeping over. Her older brother goes to St. Mary’s, so she and North talked about its pros and cons in the car. Beth and I went to bed soon after we got home, so I don’t know much about what they did, but I heard them making popcorn in the kitchen around one a.m. and North says they watched Bottoms. In the morning after a breakfast of bagels and fruit salad, Marisa’s dad came to get her, and the party was over. I couldn’t help but think in a gently melancholy way of all the birthday parties both kids have had in this house over the years—starting with Noah’s first birthday party—and how this was probably the last one.

Saturday: Blossom After-Party

But I didn’t have much time for nostalgic thoughts on North’s actual birthday. It was a very busy day and it started with a bang. North found out that morning that they got into Oberlin and with more aid than we expected. So now Oberlin is in the mix, much to everyone’s surprise, honestly. We will be headed to Ohio for an admitted students’ day the first week of April. Now North has heard from all six schools where they applied, and they got into five. (Only Mount Holyoke turned them down.)

Later that morning Beth and I went to an appliance store to look at induction stoves and we bought one. We’re doing a mini-kitchen renovation—we’re getting a new stove, new flooring, and a new back door. More on that in a later post perhaps.

In the early afternoon we left for our main outing of the day. We were returning to the Tidal Basin because North wanted to go on their actual birthday and because Beth hadn’t been yet. North wanted to bookend this trip with visits to Starbucks and Baskin-Robbins to collect free coffee and ice cream.

After a warm week caused the blossoms to pop early, we had a rather chilly week and that prolonged the bloom, so the timing wasn’t bad after all. It wasn’t easy getting there, though. There was a lot of traffic and we got diverted away from the road we were intending to take and had to drive over the bridge to Virginia. It was hard to get turned around back in the right direction and then we needed a bathroom break, so we stopped at National Airport, so the detour was a lengthy one.

When we finally got back to the Tidal Basin, we actually found a parking spot in one of the lots not too far from the blossoms and we walked there. There were more blossoms in the air and on the ground than there had been on Tuesday, but there were still plenty on the trees. We walked to the Jefferson Memorial and walked up the stairs to the statue. After that North wanted to rest on a bench, so the rest of us went to the FDR Memorial and then to where the food trucks and stage was. We watched some flamenco dancers and Noah got churros. It was a bit of a rushed visit because it was getting late, but any time I get to go to the Tidal Basin twice in a bloom period, I consider it a bonus.

On the way home, we stopped at Baskin Robbins, where everyone but me got ice cream—it was already six and I thought if I had some my blood sugar would not come down in time for dinner, even if we ate late. North opened some family presents we’d brought with us, a check from Beth’s mom, a pair of cherry blossom earrings, three skeins of lavender yarn, and a brown-sugar cinnamon syrup for coffee. North was pleased with everything.

Back at home Noah and I made a tater tot casserole, which was the birthday dinner North requested. Noah menu plans on Saturdays and he agreed to this dish, even though he doesn’t like vegetarian chicken or peas and he’s not even a big fan of tater tots and he ended up eating leftover pizza for dinner. The rest of us ate the casserole, which is quite good if not low carb—we made one corner of it only half-covered with tots for me. After dinner we ate leftover cake and started to watch See How They Run, which North chose, but we only had time for about half of it.

After the After Party: Sunday to Tuesday

It was just a coincidence that Beth and I undertook this nostalgia-inducing project the day after North turned eighteen, but North is in the process of clearing unwanted possessions out of their room as well as removing things they left behind in Noah’s room the last time that they switched bedrooms (in 2019), and there’s been a steady stream of dolls, stuffed animals, and books exiting both rooms.

On Sunday Beth and I sorted through the toys, and I did the books on Tuesday. I resisted the urge to keep very many toys. Other than a couple that belonged to me as a child, I only kept a rag doll that Noah was devoted to as a toddler. North is keeping a few stuffed animals, so I didn’t save any of theirs. Beth, who is less of a pack rat than me, said she was proud of me.  It was a little harder to part with books, but I filled a cardboard box with kids’ books to give away, and only kept about a quarter of what North didn’t want.

We have everything sorted to go to Value Village, the fairy tree (a hollow tree near the playground where people leave trinkets), Little Free Libraries, and the art materials library (think a Little Free Library for art supplies). It will take a while to get rid of everything—I can only carry so much on my walks—but we are freeing up space in both rooms. Noah has a new bookcase he can fit in his room now that the toy box and doll crib are gone, and he’s agreed to house the Harry Potter books and the Series of Unfortunate Events books there. When the question of ultimate ownership of these tomes came up, I said whoever produces grandchildren first gets them. I try not to give the kids the impression I expect them to have kids of their own or that I am owed grandchildren. I don’t want to be that kind of mom, but after the momentous week we’ve had, I must admit the thought of reading those books again to a beloved child, however far in the future, is comforting.

During Covid, Year 4: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 82

During Covid

Often, I will be talking about something that happened “during covid” and then I will have to stop and correct myself, because I know it’s not over. People are still getting and dying of it, but the numbers are way down. The official U.S. death toll stands at 1,184,376, as of March 9, which is only about 60,000 more than a year ago. That’s still about three times the number of people the flu killed in the 2022-23 season, but nothing like it used to be.

When I say something happened during covid, I’m not even sure what span of time I mean. My first instinct was to say March 2020 to August 2021, because that’s the month both kids returned to full-time, in-person school. That felt like a clear end point after almost a year and a half of mostly living in our bubble of four, socializing only outdoors with some exceptions at the end to visit family.

But then I remember what a shitshow that first semester back was for our school district. Buses would sometimes stop running for weeks at a time because so many bus drivers were sick and so many teachers were out that they couldn’t find subs for them, and North’s classes were often left completely unsupervised. Thanksgiving break started a day early because of the teacher shortage and by January it was so bad I was sure they’d go back to remote school, but they didn’t and then things gradually started getting better. So maybe “during covid” was March 2020 to January 2022.

But then again, none of us even got covid until November 2022 when Beth, North, and I all came down with it. And then North got it again in August 2023. (Noah has managed to dodge it completely unless he had an asymptomatic case.)

Despite all that, in its fourth year covid has touched us less and less. (I’ve even stopped reading pandemic novels, which I was doing compulsively earlier, though Noah and I did watch the last two seasons of The Strain this year.) It was almost to the point that I thought of skipping this yearly update until I remembered covid did send North home from camp two days early in August, so it has still affected us directly this year.

It’s ironic that North is the only one to have had covid twice because they are the most careful of all of us.  They still mask at school and on public transportation and any time they’re inside in public. None of the rest of us do that. I only consistently mask in Lyfts and at medical or therapy appointments that I am attending with North. I wore a mask to Beauty and the Beast and again to Grease, but that kind of event is hit-or-miss for me. My mental calculus went like this. Reasons to mask: 1) large number of people, 2) some quite close to us, 3) for a few hours. Reasons not to mask: 1) a large airy auditorium with a high ceiling. I could have easily gone the other way and I did in similar conditions at the admitted students’ days at Johnson and Wales and St. Mary’s. I wish I could tell you there was a logical reason for this discrepancy, but there isn’t really. I am still more generous when tipping masked baristas or Lyft drivers, just because the mask signals to me that they still consider their work more dangerous than it was four years ago and I want to respect that.

Even if it’s a shifting frame of reference, covid is still a marker of time. I often note that things have changed since covid, or that we haven’t done something since before covid, or that it happened during covid:


In describing a campus tour at Towson University: Beth and I both feel that campus tours don’t show you the inside of the facilities as extensively they did five years ago. She speculated it was a covid-era change that was never reversed.


The big thing we did after Noah got home and before North left for camp was to go to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair on Saturday afternoon. We used to go every year, but we haven’t been since 2019, first because of covid and then because of schedule conflicts, often with North’s camp.


On Saturday afternoon Noah and I made pumpkin ravioli from scratch. He has a pasta machine and ravioli cutting tools he hasn’t used in a while (the last time might have been three years ago, when he was home for covid).

Some things have changed for good since covid. Beth’s office never required people to return to the office and most days she works at home.

Testing for Covid

And because it’s still with us, testing is now routine, when anyone starts to feel sick.


Darryl was feeling ill, so he didn’t come. His symptoms (fatigue and body aches) seemed like they could be covid, but Peggy got him a test and it was negative.


Friday morning, the day before our rescheduled pumpkin outing, having had a sore throat and some congestion for a couple days, I decided to take a covid test. I was wondering if it would derail the expedition a second time. Would it have? I honestly don’t know. We were going to be outside for all the planned activities and maybe if I stayed away from the pumpkin stand, allowing others to go up to it and if I didn’t go inside the restaurant to pick up the food… I was already trying to talk myself into it, even though I was simultaneously thinking I probably shouldn’t be in a car with the whole family for a non-essential activity. But the test was negative, to my relief. That’s a very specific kind of relief that exists now, isn’t it? The, oh it’s just a cold relief.

Just the other day, North brought some covid tests home from school because they’d noticed we were running low on non-expired tests. They wanted to test because a member of the Beauty and the Beast cast had been performing sick for a week and had tested for covid, but only once. North’s test was negative.

Having Covid

And as I mentioned, people still get covid, including North.


Friday morning we found out that North had tested positive for covid and had to come home, missing the last two days of camp and a field trip to Hershey Park.


North was one of two campers sent home that day. The camp reported that three more tested positive at home after camp was over. Over the next few days, North was sick, but not too sick, with a sore throat and some congestion and fatigue. While we were waiting for Beth and North to get home, Noah prepared for their return by consulting the FDA web site that has revised expiration dates for covid tests and he separated our stockpile of tests into expired (4) and non-expired (6) boxes.

We didn’t make North isolate, as that’s just not good for them. We masked when we were in the same room with them and on the first night they ate dinner in the living room, one room over from the rest of us. There’s no door between those two rooms, so conversation was possible. On Sunday North had a headache and didn’t want dinner, then on Monday we all ate dinner on the porch together and Tuesday they had a headache again. For the first couple days we had the A/C off and all the windows of the house open, for air circulation, until both kids requested that we turn in on Monday morning when the weather got hotter and stickier…

Beth, who had the closest contact with North (on the ride home) tested on Saturday and again on Monday and Tuesday, each time negative. Even so, she decided not to go into the office Monday or Tuesday, although partly that was because she had a lot of work to do before our upcoming beach trip and she didn’t want to waste time commuting. Beth and I started masking again when inside stores and places of business, which we had only stopped doing last month. (Ironically, North never stopped.) North didn’t leave the house until Wednesday…

North took a covid test and it was negative, which was cause for celebration. Meanwhile, Noah, who had seemed sluggish all day, decided he’d better take a covid test before we left, just in case. Also, negative. Beth, Noah, and I immediately shed our masks for the remainder of the trip, though North still wore theirs in public most of the time.

I can’t predict what the next year of covid will be like, for the world, the country, or our family, but I’m hoping it recedes more and more into the range of serious, but ordinary contagious diseases. (Recent research on long covid may make this more likely.) And if it does, maybe I won’t have anything to write about next year.

What do you mean when you say “during covid”?

Song as Old as Rhyme

About a week before Beauty and the Beast opened, we watched the animated Disney version for family movie night. North was in a drama camp production of this play the summer they were eleven. They played the Beast and in the words of the father of a fellow cast member, North “brought the beast.” I mean, just watch the video clip in that post if you don’t believe me.

As I watched the movie for the first time since that summer, I was surprised by how many of the lines I remembered verbatim from the play down to how they were delivered by the campers. I also remember trying to explain to my not very interested youngest child how it was not a good idea to get into a romantic relationship with someone who treats you badly in hopes you can change that person. North is much more attuned to the problematic nature of the story now and as we watched, they kept yelling at Belle and reminding her the Beast had basically taken her hostage.

Tech Week: Monday to Wednesday

Tech week started on the Saturday we went to St. Mary’s so North missed the first day, but they’d been at rehearsals most afternoons and evenings the week before and on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the next week they were at school until 9:45 or ten every night. Often, I was already in bed when Beth brought them back home.

On Tuesday morning I asked North how the rehearsal the night before had gone and I head a litany of things that went wrong—an expensive curtain torn by a falling part of the set, one of North’s shoes gone missing, and a fight (a real one, not a stage fight). I asked who was fighting and why, and North replied, “Two freshman. I don’t know why,” with perfect senior scorn. (Luckily, they did find their missing shoe the next day.)

Opening Night: Thursday

Apparently, there were a lot of mishaps on opening night, too, including multiple people injured in separate incidents both backstage and onstage. One of the backstage accidents involved a glue gun. A girl twisted her ankle onstage during an acrobatic move and a boy’s cochlear implant fell out, but by watching the pit orchestra conductor he was able to come in at the just the right time in the song. (That’s a sign of a true performer in my book.)

North’s friend Maddie was in the audience that night and she said you couldn’t tell anything had gone wrong at all. North seemed pretty blithe about it all, so I guess there were no real disasters. And the show went on. A couple weeks earlier one of the cast members had mono and another thought she might have it, too, and I was wondering what would happen if mono swept through the cast, but it didn’t, so that was another bullet dodged.

Friday there was no show and no rehearsal, so North got to come home at three-twenty and spend the afternoon and evening relaxing. We ordered pizza and watched Joy Ride and they got to bed reasonably early and slept in a little.

Second Performance: Saturday

While Beth was taking North to school for their late afternoon call time and coming back home, Noah and I prepared and assembled spinach manicotti for dinner. Beth and I both took a disco nap while it baked because we are early-to-bed people and we knew we’d be up a little later than usual, plus we were losing an hour that night due the time change, and Beth was leaving the next morning to spend another week in Wheeling with her mom.

We ate an early dinner and drove back to North’s school. There was a big rose-shaped balloon in the lobby and bouquets of roses for sale. Beth bought one to give to North after the show, taking care to select one with a lavender rose because that’s North’s favorite color.

The show was really well done. It was the most ambitious play the theater department has ever put on, with a cast of over sixty, plus more than forty musicians in the pit orchestra. The leads have truly amazing voices, especially the girl playing Belle. Lumiere was just perfect, very funny, and he stole a lot of scenes. The set wasn’t elaborate but featured intricately painted backdrops (rented it turned out). The costumes were lovely, though I kept wondering if the kids playing enchanted objects were overheating under the lights because a lot of them were all covered up, especially Cogsworth in what looked like very thick material. When I said after the show that his costume looked hot, both kids laughed, and I had to clarify I was not lusting after teenage boys. “Teenage boy clocks,” North scoffed.

North was in three numbers. They played a washerwoman in the opening crowd scene and sang several lines as a solo or duet in “Belle,” one describing the bookish protagonist as “never part of a crowd.” They were also in “The Mob Scene” and the finale.

As I watched, I felt a lot of emotions. The joy of watching something well done, pride that North was part of a successful production, but also sadness that it was their last play of high school. And if I’m being honest, more sadness that North didn’t get a bigger part in their last play because I know they would have liked one. And back to pride again because they didn’t quit in the face of that disappointment.

I’m glad Beth got to see the play before she left. This time she knew further ahead of time that she was leaving, so we were able to get tickets for one of the earlier shows.

Meanwhile, there was a matinee today. Because it was the only matinee, there were a lot of kids in the audience and North said a lot of them were in Belle’s yellow dress. There will be two more evening performances next weekend. In between we’ll be going to see Maddie in Grease at her school on Wednesday night and North’s got a morning performance at school on Thursday for visiting elementary and middle school students. As a result, I’ll be taking them somewhere and/or picking them up in a Lyft every day for four days in a row.

I don’t really mind, though. Other than reviewing three more shows, this is the end of their high school theater career and that’s a big deal. North has loved performing ever since they were three and taking preschool drama classes. In high school they spent more time on costume crew or as a theater reviewer for Cappies than acting, but whatever the nature of their involvement, it’s been a passion of theirs for a long time. And I hope they continue to find a way to continue to pursue it in college, wherever they go. For them, it’s their tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme.

Down by the Riverside

Hitting the road for the third weekend in a row—though this was day trip—Beth, North, and I were in the car by seven a.m. on Saturday morning. We were bound for Southern Maryland to attend Admitted Seahawks Day at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland.

Early on a rainy weekend morning in March, this drive takes two hours. (It took a little longer coming home.) I ate a breakfast I’d made the night before in the car, and we listened to the Normal Gossip and Moth podcasts. By nine, we’d walked through puddles and past rain-drenched signs that said “SMCM Bound,” “Seahawk Crossing,” and “Life is Better by the River” and we were sampling pastries from a table outside the auditorium—I got a slice of zucchini bread.

There was a presentation by administrators, a vice president, the director of Admissions, and the President of the college. The school mascot, Solomon the Seahawk, made an appearance on stage before the administrators spoke. North thought he was less creepy than Wildcat Willy. They also appreciate the fact that he does not send out emails. (They are not a big fan of mascots in general.)

The President’s speech was more memorable and funnier than these speeches generally are. She noted that St. Mary’s is usually fifth or sixth on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of best public liberal arts colleges and then came up with reasons to eliminate the others ahead of it—e.g. the top four are military academies or a pseudo military academy (VMI), and that isn’t even really what people think of as a liberal arts college. By the time she was finished, St. Mary’s had come out on top.

When the presentation was over, it was a little past eleven and there were events North wanted to attend at noon, one, and one-thirty, we so decided to have an early lunch at the dining hall, where we had coupons for a free meal. The food was not exceptional but fine, maybe a little better than average cafeteria food, and the dining hall itself was quite pretty, with wooden beams and a soaring ceiling. On our way out of the building, we bought a couple lattes (one for me and one for North) at the coffeeshop. They were happy to see lavender syrup on the menu because that’s one of their favorite flavors. 

Next, we went to a panel about Academic Support Services and accommodations, which was not as entertaining, but it was informative.  Then we took a Performing Arts tour. It turned out to be more focused on music than theater, which was what North would have liked to learn about. Next, we went on a tour of the Psychology building since North’s been thinking of majoring in Psychology. North said they liked seeing the posters summarizing student research projects. I was impressed with the ample opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty and conduct original research. Psychology is the most popular major on campus—it was the only academic department with tours in two time slots—and it’s a big department for a small school.  I also noticed that in this group, there was the highest proportion of kids already wearing St. Mary’s t-shirts or sweatshirts and one girl even had a St. Mary’s Psychology t-shirt. After the two tours we had a little time, so we popped into one of townhouses where juniors and seniors can live, even though we’d seen one of those last spring.

After that we split up. North went to a prospective student meet-and-greet and Beth and I went to a session for parents. At their session, North learned from another prospective there that two current students had approached her and said she shouldn’t go there because there was nothing to do. North speculated they might have preferred a more sports-and-parties-oriented kind of school, and they seemed more amused than put off by hearing this.

While we were on campus, North kept seeing acquaintances from school, maybe a half dozen or so. They had also learned through Instagram that their best friend from elementary school (Megan) was attending the event and we saw her mom at the parents’ forum, but we didn’t get to say hi because she came in after us, and I didn’t catch up with her on the way out. North never ran into Megan, but I was thinking it would be cool if they both ended up at St. Mary’s and re-kindled their friendship. I was always fond of Megan.

Those were our last events. When we reunited, we took a stroll down to the boathouse because it’s just so pretty down there I didn’t want to skip it. The whole campus is lovely, full of red brick buildings and paths and woods and a pond, but the St. Mary’s River and the dock full of paddleboats, sailboats, and kayaks you can check out during warm months is quite the draw. The signs (and the t-shirt in North’s swag bag) may well be right that life’s better on the river.

It was almost four and North was wiped out by this point. They asked if Beth could fetch the car and drive it to us. She did and while we waited, I walked the length of one of the docks and sat with North in the Adirondack chairs looking at the water. “This is a good school. I like this school,” they said, noting however that they did want to hear from Oberlin and Mount Holyoke before deciding.

The next day, though, they declined their offers from Aberystwyth and Towson.

Before the Leap

I’ve had a Leap Year blog post tradition going here since 2012. Each year I write about the leaps one kid or the other has experienced in the past year. (It still bugs me that I didn’t think to do this in 2008 because North was almost two then and the transitions that occur in the year from one to two are some of the most dramatic ones you see in parenting.)

This is what I had to say about the previous posts in 2020:

Two leap years ago North was in kindergarten in a Spanish immersion program and I wrote a blog post, called “Leap Year” about how kindergarten is a year of social, cognitive, and physical leaps. That year North learned to spend a longer day away from me than in preschool, they learned to speak Spanish, and they learned to read and write in both English and Spanish. Plus, they learned to jump rope and pump on the swings. It felt like a big deal.

Then one leap year ago Noah was in ninth grade and I wrote another blog post, called “Hop Year” about how the transition from middle school to high school had gone smoothly and how being in a high school humanities-based magnet program wasn’t that different from being in a middle school humanities-based magnet program.

Well, here it is, four years later and Noah’s in the midst of another transition, this one bigger than starting elementary or high school. He’s living away from home, managing his own life, taking the first steps of young adulthood. I thought I should write a leap year blog post about that. “Vault Year” seemed appropriate, given the magnitude of the changes.

Little did I know that just a few weeks after I wrote that, covid would send Noah home for almost a year and a half, but still, he did leave home, and then he did it again, going as far as Australia and Los Angeles before bouncing back here.

While I was writing my 2020 post, North and I discussed the fact that in 2024, they wouldn’t be starting anything new. Instead, they’d be finishing their senior year of high school. North asked me to write it about senior year anyway. I could call it “Before the Leap,” they suggested. I agreed and I try to keep my promises so—even though it’s been four years and North doesn’t even remember this conversation—here goes.

Senior year has been decent for North, especially if you compare it to what came before. Covid hit in the spring of their eighth-grade year, so most of ninth grade was remote school—which was not good for them—and they were dealing with a cascade of health problems at the same time, including partial paralysis and non-epileptic seizures. Tenth grade they were back at school, but they were absent a lot (about a quarter of the days of second semester) due to migraines and chronic pain. In eleventh grade they didn’t attend school in person at all from the end of October to the end of January, due to mental health challenges, and after that they had half their classes online and half in person.

This year we got an accommodation for a shortened school day (five periods instead of seven), and they don’t go in until third period. They get more sleep now and this has helped eliminate morning migraines (though they still get them in the late afternoons four to five days a week). Their attendance and grades are good, straight As for first semester. They are taking AP English and IB math and they’re involved in extracurriculars, mainly GSA and theater. They are the lead Cappies critic for their school, they directed a one act play, and they’ve had small parts in the fall play and spring musical (which opens next week).  They’ve been accepted to four colleges, one is an honors college, and at two of the others they’ve either been admitted to the honors program or invited to apply. They’ve lined up a summer job. Compared to where things were this time last year, they are doing really, really well.

Last weekend, right before we left the condo, I texted North this photo commenting, “The building where we stayed is named after you.” I didn’t mention the other part of the high rise’s name, but it seems appropriate. North is at a high point—not of their life, no one wants to peak at almost eighteen—but of high school. We are proud and excited to see them take the next steps in their journey, wherever that may take them.  Maybe this was a leap year after all.

As for Noah, it could be he’s poised on the edge of something new as well, if he accepts the six-month job at the video production company. He’s been waiting to get a formal offer and a contract for two weeks now. The uncertainty about that is driving me a little crazy, but it hasn’t been radio silence from the company. They’ve been in touch, and he went into the office for a one-day job yesterday, editing video footage for an educational technology company’s social media. If it all works out, this will be his first full-time job. That’s a big leap, too.

48 Hours

Friday Afternoon and Evening

It was about 3:30 Friday afternoon when we left the house for the second time. We’d swung by the co-op to get some groceries for our weekend getaway to Ocean City, and while we were there, we’d picked up a few staples Noah wanted and dropped them back at the house before hitting the road. I felt light-hearted and happy. Beth and I were embarking on our first full weekend alone in twelve years. (Our last overnight was in Pittsburgh in 2016 during a visit to Beth’s family in Wheeling.)

It took four hours to drive to Ocean City, mainly because there was a surprising amount of traffic for a random weekend in February, mostly between Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. There were some compensations, however. Beth had been wanting an Oreo Shamrock Shake since we saw them advertised during the trip to Providence and we stopped at McDonald’s and got one. Also, around Easton there was a beautiful sunset that stained the sky with oranges, reds, and purples. We were driving over the Choptank River around six, near the tail end of it, and that was a gorgeous sight.

When we got to Ocean City, we drove straight to the pizzeria we’d chosen for dinner. It was late and we were ready for dinner, so it was a pleasant surprise that service was remarkably fast. We were eating our fried mozzarella and mushroom and spinach white pizza within fifteen minutes of setting foot in the place. It was quite festive in there, too, all decked out with sparkly green St. Patrick’s Day decorations.

After we ate, we went to the condo where were staying. It was on the eleventh floor of one of those classic Ocean City high rises, with two glassed-in sun porches, one in front with an ocean view and one in back with a bay view.

After unpacking a bit, I stood on the front sun porch, looking down at the ocean and trying to decide if it was worth going back down eleven floors for a quick stroll on the beach when I already had a very nice view of it. Go ahead and guess what I decided. Yes, that’s right, I went.


Saturday was the nicest day I can remember having in a long time. Beth happened to get up to go to the bathroom as the sun was rising and when she opened the bedroom door, red light poured into the room. A few minutes later I stumbled out to see the dramatic sunrise from living room, though I was too sleepy to think to take a picture of it, and then I went back to bed.

About an hour and a half later, I had breakfast on the sun porch, watching the waves as I ate my eggs, veggie sausage, and oatmeal with bananas and walnuts. Rain was predicted in the morning, but there was just a little drizzle streaking the porch windows before we set out on our day’s adventures.

We drove to Berlin, where we got coffee (me) and hot chocolate (Beth) at a café. For Valentine’s Day I’d promised to take her out for hot chocolate and ice cream (two of her favorite treats) on this trip and I’d researched the best places to get each in the greater Ocean City area and gave her several options. She chose this one because it has dark hot chocolate. She was not disappointed.

From there we went to the always lovely Assateague Island National Seashore. We started off with a walk on the beach. There were gulls in the sky, sandpipers on the sand, and surfers in the water. We walked all three trails (forest, dunes, and marsh). We saw a blue heron in the water, and a pair of bald eagles in a tree. We speculated that they were checking it out as a prospective site for a nest. We didn’t see any of the famed wild horses on the trails, but we saw some by the side of a parking lot, by the side of the road, or in the case of one horse, in the middle of the road between two lanes of traffic. As we got close, I could see someone in one car had rolled down her window and was petting its nose. You are not supposed to do that because they are wild horses, but people will take stupid chances sometimes.

We’d had a long ramble in the park, and we’d worked up an appetite for lunch. We went back to Berlin, where we ate at a farm-to-table restaurant run by the same person who used to run one of our favorite restaurants in College Park (when I was in grad school there) and later in Rehoboth. It was a long wait to be seated, but worth it. I got a vegetarian cheesesteak with mushrooms and Beth got an eggplant sandwich and they were both very good. We ate on a pretty enclosed porch.

After lunch we walked around downtown Berlin and browsed in various shops. We bought some aged Gouda, sour cherry jam, and dark chocolate. It turned out the ice cream parlor Beth had selected was closed for the season—I tried to check for that, but not all the websites were up to date—so we drove back to Ocean City and got hot fudge sundaes at Dumser’s Dairyland, which was her second choice. We sat at the counter and admired the displays of antique ice cream dishes in different colors of glass and metal. I don’t usually eat maraschino cherries because they’re not my favorite, but on the drive to Ocean City the day before we’d listened to an episode of Poetry Unbound (one of my favorite podcasts) that featured such a joyous ode to the bright red preserved fruits, that I felt I had to this once.

By this time, it was late afternoon, and we were ready to go back to the condo and relax. I read for a while on the sun porch. That night we watched The High Note on the couch where we ate the prepared food that we’d bought at the co-op on our way out of town. (I had a spinach and cheese pie and falafel.)

Sunday Morning and Afternoon

In the morning, I jokingly told Beth I had enough of my diabetes medications to stay another day. (I always travel with extra just in case I get stuck somewhere) and she noted that she could work from anywhere. In fact, she had to work a little that morning because a New York Times story about organizing at Microsoft came out and as the Communications Director of her union, she’s always on call to communicate with the members about things like that, vacation or no.

But we did not stay. Before leaving we took separate walks. Mine was on the short side. I walked about six blocks north on the beach (from 114th St. to 120th St.) and then back along the path that runs through the dunes parallel to the ocean and connects all the beach access paths. It was cold, in the low thirties, with ice on the puddles in the condo parking lot, but it was sunny, so after walking I was warm enough to sit in the sand for a little while in front of our building and watch the waves before going back upstairs to finish packing.

We left the building at ten and found an open Candy Kitchen—some were closed for the season—where we bought candy for the kids (and some not for them). We picked gummy mermaid tails for North because they are fond of gummy candy, and this was a novel shape. For Noah we got chocolate-covered pretzels covered with mini–Reese’s Pieces. Right before Valentine’s Day I’d seen chocolate-covered pretzels in a banner on the Nuts.com website marked “For Her,” and as this is one of his favorite confections, we’d been teasing him about that. Seriously, though, why do pretzels need to be gendered? In case you were curious, the featured “For Him” product was a box of mixed nuts. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?

Next, we headed to the Ocean City boardwalk where we took another stroll. Most everything except t-shirt shops was closed, but it was fun to walk there on a pretty day and people watch and look at the stilled roller coasters and Ferris Wheel and the shark statue emerging from the wall of Ripley’s Believe It or Not and the dinosaur skeleton statue on the beach, and the front of the shuttered haunted house and, and the very eclectically decorated façade of the Ocean Gallery, and of course, the ocean. I only thought a little about the time we lost the kids on this boardwalk (but I will probably always associate it with that terrifying day). I went and got my boots (and my socks) wet and said goodbye to the Atlantic until summer and then around 11:30, we got in the car to drive home.

We made a pit stop in Cambridge, first going to a café where we got coffee and cake—I recommend their limoncello-olive oil cake and Beth recommends the chocolate-pistachio cake. We took the food to the Choptank River Lighthouse grounds where we had a picnic lunch of dinner leftovers, a mandarin, and cake. Then we strolled over to the lighthouse. It’s a replica (built in 2012) of a classic Chesapeake style lighthouse that used to be on the river nearby. It was closed for the off-season so we couldn’t go up to the top or visit the museum, but I like lighthouses, so it was a scenic place to eat lunch. While we were eating on a bench by the water, I listened to a couple have an extended argument about the composition of a photograph of the lighthouse one of them was taking. It’s interesting what other people will fight about sometimes.

We got home at 3:35, almost exactly forty-eight hours after we left. We were reunited with our offspring, who survived the weekend without us, and gave them their candy. I told Noah that his pretzels were called “Peanut Butter Explosion,” and I thought that sounded sufficiently macho for him to eat them. He laughed and then when he bit into one and some of the candies fell off onto the kitchen floor, North said, “I can hear the explosion.”

It was good to see them again, but it was also good to get away just the two of us. We will be empty nesters someday not so far in the future, so there should be an opportunity to do it again before another twelve years goes by.

Rhode to College


On the Thursday the before President’s Day weekend we made a six-state, nine-hour-fifteen-minute-with-frequent-stops-drive to Providence to attended Accepted Students Day at Johnson and Wales University.

I took this picture of a chicken statue outside a convenience store near the Maryland/Delaware border, thinking I’d made a Facebook album of whimsical roadside statuary, but there was no more. It was around this point in the trip that we started seeing scattered patches of snow on the ground. By Connecticut, there was an even layer of it everywhere that hadn’t been plowed. I asked Beth if she was enjoying the snowy landscapes and she said, “Yes!” enthusiastically.

Somewhere in New Jersey we got a text from Noah, informing us the job he’d interviewed for was his if he wants it. It’s a six-month, full-time junior editor position, starting in early May, at a video production company where he did some gig work back in October. He’s waiting to see the contract, which has some key details (like salary) he didn’t get over the phone, but we were all very happy to hear the news, as his job search has been proceeding slowly.

When we crossed the Rhode Island state line we started seeing signs that read, “Don’t Litter Our Clean Rhodes.” I was taken with those. There was also one that warned motorists of “Rhode work.” You have to admire their commitment to the bit.

We arrived at our AirBnB just before 6:30, ordered Chinese, and watched an episode of Gilmore Girls. Our progress through this show has slowed considerably in the six months Noah’s been home because it’s a Beth-Steph-and-North show and we aren’t watching television in that configuration much these days, so it was nice to get in an episode. We are near the end of season five (of seven) and we started it when North was fourteen, so our goal of finishing it before they leave for college isn’t seeming very achievable, especially since they recently accepted a camp counselor job at a Girl Scout camp this summer, which will have them away from home from early June to mid-August. Everything’s coming up employment for the Lovelady-Allen offspring.


Accepted Students Day events didn’t start until 11:30, so the next morning we all took a mid-morning walk to a neighborhood bakery, where we got coffee, hot chocolate, olive bread with cream cheese, and a ginger scone. I immediately started plotting to return to try the lemon cake I half-wished I’d ordered instead of the scone (which is no shade on the scone, which was very good).

The event started at a hotel in downtown Providence. We walked past a group of enthusiastic cheerleaders and picked up information packets and stood in line to get our pictures taken with balloons that read “2028” and signs that read “JWU” and “JWU Mom.” There was only one of those, so Beth and I had to share. (Beth joked she was going to write “a sternly worded email” admonishing the school for the lack of signs for non-binary parents.) Someone in a Wildcat Willy costume was circulating and giving people high fives. North said, “I got an email from him, saying I might see him here.” North then opined he had “too many muscles and too many teeth.”

After the preliminaries, there was a luncheon in the ballroom. While we ate, we listened to the President of the University, the Director of Admissions, and an alumni speak. The administrators sounded like administrators at any school, but the alum was a business major who was active in Republican politics, trying to “modernize the party.” North admitted later this choice “got in my head.” They knew it wasn’t a lefty liberal arts college, but they did wonder why a mainstream school would select someone with strong beliefs on either side of the political divide to represent it. We were also curious what it would mean to modernize the Republican party. Would that mean arresting its slide toward authoritarianism or accelerating it? So, that was distracting.

Appropriately for a university with a famous culinary school, the food was much better than usual for this kind of event (though I don’t believe it was student-made, except for some chocolates on the table). There was salad and rolls, and the vegetarian entrée was risotto with asparagus, artichokes, green beans, mushrooms, and sun-dried tomatoes. Sadly, I had to leave about two-thirds of the meltingly soft rice on the plate (thanks, diabetes), but I ate half a roll and all the chocolate cake with raspberries and whipped cream. So now you know where my priorities lie. Beth advised North, “I like the school that gives you chocolate cake.”

Next, we attended sessions on Residential Life and Dining Services, New Student Orientation, and a Q&A panel of current students. Most of the questions for the students focused on student clubs and campus recreational facilities. There was a table with popcorn and quite a spread of desserts (multiples kinds of cake, brownies, cookies, etc.) at this event, but it was too close to lunch for me to partake. I did tuck a packet of peanut butter protein balls into my coat pocket for later.

Since we had toured the Harborside campus last spring, we toured the downtown campus. This would be where North’s academic classes would be (the culinary ones are at Harborside) and where the library, bookstore, and administrative buildings are.

The student ambassadors were very friendly and attentive. One noticed North’s crutch as we were on our way to one of the sessions and directed us to a more accessible entrance to the auditorium. Another saw we were falling behind our tour group and offered to take us around on our own private tour. It seemed like a good sign for getting accommodations should North need any and personal attention in general.

Oddly, though, we couldn’t get much information about the honors program. North recently got an invitation to apply, but details about it are scarce online and neither the tour guide nor a staff person at the orientation session was able to say much about it. It was very different from Towson, where we attended a whole panel about their honors college last spring. (North got into that program, which I may not have mentioned because Towson is relatively low on their list.)

By this time, it was almost five, and we were all tired. We perused the menu of a nearby pizza place where we got pizza last spring, ordered from the hotel lobby, and returned to our AirBnB. Friday is movie night for us, and North thought we should watch something Noah wouldn’t like. We watched Family Switch and I have to say I think it fit the bill. Speaking of their brother, North observed, “He doesn’t know how to appreciate a good bad movie.” After the movie, I blogged a little and we played Uno and got to bed later than we intended.


Saturday morning Beth went to a nearby park for a walk and North and I visited the bakery again (and I got the lemon cake, which worth a second trip). It was snowing and it was cozy to sit there with our coffee, tea, and pastries, watching the snow and eavesdropping on a college-age straight couple having what North interpreted to be a bad first date at the next table. Then we drove home, through heavy snow in the early part of the drive that petered out in Connecticut. When we got home, we congratulated Noah on his job offer and he presented us with a plate full of chocolate and chocolate-peanut truffles he’d made in our absence. (On Valentine’s Day he’d promised us a surprise on our return.)

It was a nice trip, but it didn’t feel as clarifying as the Accepted Students Days we attended with Noah, the ones that ended up steering him toward Ithaca and away from RIT. JWU was North’s first choice last fall when they were accepted and it’s still high on their list, but they’ve become less sure recently and the program didn’t sway them back to it or rule it out for them.

But they don’t have to decide yet. We’re attending another Accepted Students Day at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland in a couple weeks, and they are still waiting to see if they’ve been accepted to Oberlin and Mount Holyoke, and we can’t forget Aberystwyth, the school in Wales. They were originally told they had to accept or decline their offer there in late January, but they applied for an extension, and they were given until the end of March. So, there are a lot of pieces that haven’t fallen in place yet, but sometime in the next few months we’ll know where their Rhode to college ends.

Ups and Downs

So, what’s been going on since Beth came home a little over three weeks ago? Let’s see. The snow gradually melted, late winter flowers (crocuses and snowdrops) appeared in our yard and the woods by the creek, first semester ended, and North is now a second semester senior. On the last day of first semester, they brought home a cookie jar they made in ceramics class and then made a new batch of chocolate chip-almond butter cookies to fill it. (This is a new favorite recipe.) Rehearsals for Beauty and the Beast are underway and North reviewed Cabaret at another high school.

Most recently, I got shingles, we got a new mattress.


I don’t know why I never got the shingles vaccine. I guess I just never got around to it. If you’ve never gotten one either and you’re over fifty, I recommend you make that appointment, because shingles is no fun, even if you have a mild to moderate case like I did. It started with an itchy rash on the left half of my chest that eventually wrapped around to my left side. For around a week and a half, it only caused nuisance-level discomfort, so I put off finding out what it was. I should not have done that.

By Thursday it had started to get more uncomfortable, so I got it checked out and received a prescription for an antiviral medication. It was too late to help the more established part of the rash, but it did stop the newest part in its tracks. That section faded before it progressed from itch to pain. The oldest part of the rash did get quite painful, though. I told Beth it felt like I’d been kicked in the ribs and then left to lie in the sun until I got a sunburn over the bruise.

“Why are you topless in this scenario?” she asked.

“I’m wearing a bikini,” I said.

“You don’t have a bikini,” she said.

On the very worst night (Sunday) as I was lying in bed I was trying to breathe as shallowly as I could because the movement of my chest rising and falling hurt. After that, the rash started to hurt less every day and now it’s back to mildly itchy with very little pain.

On the Upside

We have a new mattress. We’d been sleeping on the old one, which we got when I was pregnant with Noah and we decided to part with our futon, for twenty-three years. We tried to get a new mattress in 2013 but for reasons you can read about here, we didn’t go through with it. (Read that post before the next paragraph if you don’t want spoilers.)

Fun fact, I’m pretty sure we never even had bedbugs. When we got it inspected by an independent company the result was inconclusive (!) and they wanted to bring in an expensive bug-sniffing dog, which we declined, and by then we were so puzzled we didn’t know what to do so we waited more than a decade. No one ever had any bites.

Last weekend, Beth, Noah, and I went to mattress store in Silver Spring and bought a new mattress for our bed and one for his room, too. I was half-afraid when the delivery people came, they would tell us they us we had bedbugs, but they took away the old mattresses and left us with new ones and it seemed like a small miracle.

Our new mattress is adjustable, and Beth has been having fun raising and lowering the ends of it. Most of the time we’ve had it I’ve been too miserable with shingles to feel comfortable in any position, so I didn’t care much, but that will probably change soon.

As a bonus, when we were preparing to move the old mattress and box spring out of the bedroom, we did some decluttering and deep cleaning (and by “we” I mean mostly Beth) so now the bedroom is less dusty and we have divested ourselves of a breast pump I knew was on the lower shelf of my bedside table and a pacifier we didn’t know was behind Beth’s bookshelf.

There are some good things on the horizon, too. Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and we will finally get to try the raspberry-white chocolate cheesecake bars with Oreo crust that North made over the weekend. Noah has a job interview, tomorrow, too. Fingers crossed for that, and more info to follow if it works out. Thursday we leave for a three-day road trip to attend Admitted Students Day at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, and the following weekend, Beth and I are having our first weekend getaway (to Ocean City) since 2012 when my mom took the kids for a weekend so we could spend the weekend in Philadelphia.

I hope you are experiencing more ups than downs these days.