About Steph

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

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.


You Across the Table

Cornbread and butterbeans and you across the table
From “Cornbread and Butterbeans” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops

Beth’s home, after nearly three weeks in Wheeling. Her brother has taken over caring for their mom. I think this was the longest we’ve been separated since I went to Spain for the fall semester of my junior year of college in 1987. We all missed her, but we got along okay. The kids pitched in with some extra chores, helping me grocery shop and shovel snow and we all spent a lot of time in Lyfts and buses going to and from extracurricular activities, stores, and medical appointments. On our anniversary, Beth sent a purple African violet to the house because we had potted violets at our commitment ceremony in 1992 instead of cut flowers. It was a sweet gesture.

Nothing as notable as the one-act performance or our anniversary happened in the second half of the time Beth was gone. The main thing she missed was seven inches of snow, after a nearly snowless winter last year. But it snowed in Wheeling, too, so she didn’t really miss it.

She took a lot of long, snowy walks in Wheeling Park, sometimes alone and sometimes with her high school friend Michelle or our college friend Stephanie, who lives in Morgantown and came to visit her.

In Takoma, the snow started with a dusting on MLK day before the big events Monday night into Tuesday morning (4.25 inches on our backyard table) and Thursday night into Friday (3 more inches). School was cancelled Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. This means in the space of four days we blew through all our allotted snow days for the year plus one, which will have to be made up. I hope the district decides how to do so soon, because I’d like to know what the school calendar looks like next semester. I am so very tired of this whole, broken system for dealing with winter weather…but next year it won’t be my problem. 

On Tuesday I divided the shoveling into three pieces. I assigned North the smallest stretch, I took the middle one, and Noah did the longest one. (We have a corner lot and a big back yard, so we have a lot of sidewalk to shovel.) After they finished shoveling, North made a snowman. It’s nice they don’t feel too old for that. On Friday, Noah shoveled the whole walk because there were indoor chores that I wanted North to do.

Thursday, the only day North had school, there was an afterschool read-through of Beauty and the Beast. They’re in the ensemble and they have a couple solo singing lines as a washerwoman. Since it’s a small part, they’re going to pitch in with costumes, too.

During this week and a half, North continued to bake, making a pan of brownies as a thank you for a friend who drove their phone back to our house after North left it in her car, and an apple crumb cake. We also continued to watch scary and/or violent movies and television shows, stuff Beth wouldn’t like—we all watched Us and The Terminator, the kids are watching a Korean zombie show, Noah and I finished the fourth and final season of The Strain (which we’ve been watching for years), the kids and I started American Horror Story, and Noah and I started Angel since we finished Buffy last month and I miss that universe. We also watched some tamer fare. We went to see Mean Girls at a theater in Silver Spring over MLK weekend (and to prepare we watched the original version at home).

Saturday I menu planned for the first week Beth would be back and made the cake for our belated anniversary celebration. It’s the cake we had at both our commitment ceremony and our legal wedding, a spice cake with a lemon glaze. Sunday the kids and I did the grocery shopping. I’d been going to the farmers’ market and co-op alone but taking them with me to the supermarket to have extra arms to carry groceries home on the bus (Noah) and for help locating items (North, who after Beth is the most familiar with the grocery store layout because they used to tag along on shopping trips with her until their early teens).

For dinner that night Noah and I made burrito bowls. It was quite the complicated endeavor, involving cooking dry black beans (which I hardly ever do any more), locating the rarely used rice cooker in the basement and figuring out how to use it, making a roasted poblano salsa for tofu sofritas, using a copycat recipe based on Chipotle’s sofritas Noah found online, and preparing many little bowls of different toppings. Beth got home a little after six, while we were still busy in the kitchen. When I heard the car, I hurried outside, slipping on the crocs I keep on the back stoop. The crocs weren’t quite up to the snow in the driveway, and we stood by the car hugging for a long time while snow melted into my socks.

We ate dinner and watched an episode of Mixedish. At the table Beth kept exclaiming how good it was to see us all. Then we had cake, and Beth said it tasted “like love.” I gave her a chocolate tasting kit that Suzanne featured in a Christmas gift post. She seemed delighted with it. In addition to a promise of new headphones (I lost a pair and broke another while she was gone), she gave me a card with rainbow stripes coming out of a heart in which she’d written:

Happy anniversary.

I will forever remember this one as the one where we were away from each other and I was full of longing for you and the life we have built together.

Love you will all my heart.

“What does it say?” North wanted to know after I’d read it, so I handed it to them, and then North gave it to Noah.

“I didn’t know it was going to be so public,” Beth protested, and now it’s even more public because I put it on the Internet. (Don’t worry. I did ask her if it was okay.)

Beth had stayed over at Michelle’s house the night before and they’d stayed up late talking, so she was exhausted and went to bed early. I got into bed to keep her company for a little while, then got up to finish the dishes and to write some of this.

Monday morning before she left for her walk, Beth suggested going away for a weekend to reconnect. I said it sounded like a good idea. We’re still thinking about where and when. That night I made almond flour cornbread and a butterbean stew with kalettes for dinner. I did this because Saturday while I was trying to menu plan and struggling to come up with ideas, I’d heard the Carolina Chocolate Drops song “Cornbread and Butterbeans” and I thought, “That sounds good.”

The first line of the song is “Cornbread and butterbeans and you across the table,” so I sang it to her and said, “Now I have all those things.”

She’s been home a couple days now, but I am still very glad to have her across the table.


One night last week at dinner I asked North, “What’s the title of your one act?”

“The Accident,” they replied. That seemed a bit on the nose, as Beth’s been in Wheeling for the past ten days, taking care of her mother in the wake of her fall at Blackwater.

Out with the Old

Beth drove us from the cabin back to Takoma three days after Christmas and then stayed at home for a few days while her three aunts cared for her mom. 

We squeezed a lot in the last few days of the year. We all had breakfast at the newly opened Koma Café and went to the movies twice, seeing Wonka and The Boy and the Heron. Beth grocery shopped for us. On New Year’s Eve, North slept over at a friend’s house, Noah stayed up with pretzel chips, ice cream, and sparkling grape juice to watch the ball drop, and Beth and I were in bed before ten, where we listened to illicit fireworks going off a mile away in a playground near North’s old elementary school. (We had a good idea where it was happening because people often set off fireworks there.)

In with the New

The morning of New Year’s Day, I stood on the porch and watched as our car disappeared up the road. I’d sent Beth off with a little container of black-eyed peas and smoked Gouda I’d made the night before because it did not seem like the right year for any of us to skimp on luck. My walk that morning took me by the playground and sure enough it was littered with spent fireworks and the empty boxes that had contained them. It seemed kind of a melancholy sight.

When she left, Beth wasn’t sure how long she was going to stay in Wheeling, but early in her visit, her mom fell again and broke her foot in three places, and she still has a lot of back pain from the original fall, so it could be a while.  Beth and her brother (who lives in Seattle) are going to work out a schedule of who will be staying with her for the next several weeks.

Winter One Acts

Tuesday I was back to work, and Wednesday North was back to school. There were rehearsals for the one acts on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, which was opening night. Thursday was the first rehearsal that all the actors in North’s play attended, even though they’d been rehearsing since early December.

The one acts were performed on Friday and Saturday night. Noah and I were originally planning to go on Saturday, but there was supposed to be snow, and we didn’t know if the second night would be rescheduled if it was cancelled, so we decided to go Friday just in case. (The snow ended up being an hour of flurries late Saturday morning that never stuck followed by a whole afternoon and evening of rain, but better safe than sorry.)

There were five plays performed, two of which were student-written. In a strange coincidence, there was a lot of thematic overlap. Three of them were about the theater, one about a playwright struggling with writers’ block (with potential characters appearing on stage and then being deleted) and two about performances. The play North directed, titled as you may recall, “The Accident” has a play within a play and there are accidents on both levels of the plot. The principal one is that because the person bringing the set and props to the theater is in a car accident, they play must go on without them. It was funny and well done. I would have never known the actors had not rehearsed it all together until the day before opening night if North hadn’t told me.

As we were walking out of the school North asked which play was my favorite, “besides mine.” At first, I said “Hidden Depths,” a sensitive student-written piece about a bullied high school student with home troubles, but then I remembered “Removing the Glove,” about a society which is biased against left-handers, in a not-so-subtle and funny metaphor for homosexuality. (Also, kind of perfect for us personally because the only cisgender heterosexual person in our little family is left-handed.) It would be hard to choose a favorite, really, because they were all good. 

It was a fun evening, and we were all sorry Beth had to miss it. North shot a video of their play from the wings to show her when she gets home. I’d include it here, but it’s copyrighted. North also saved a copy of the program to give to Beth before she watches it to increase the verisimilitude of the experience.

In the Lyft, on the way home, I started to feel nauseated. I do get carsick sometimes, especially in the back seat, so I thought that was it, but it didn’t pass when we got home. It took me a while to figure out it was probably low glucose. I’d forgotten to take my meds with dinner, which was a slice of pizza, and I spiked on it and then crashed. The thing is, I don’t usually feel anything at all when my blood sugar goes high or low, but it did happen once before, when I ate too much of Noah’s graduation cake and then crashed last May. What seems most relevant is that the rise and subsequent fall is rapid. It’s unfortunate that this symptom of low blood sugar makes it seem impossible to eat. But going to sleep works for me, because when you sleep, your liver releases stored glucose. I briefly woke a couple hours after I went to bed, and I felt fine.

Other Amusements and Occupations

Speaking of food, in addition to the play, North has been keeping busy with baking projects. They made a cranberry cake with lavender frosting (using culinary lavender they got for Christmas) and a batch of chocolate-chip almond butter cookies, freezing a sample of each for Beth. Both were excellent.

We also watched a couple movies (The Menu and Insidious) Beth would not enjoy because of scariness or violence. And over the course of several days, Noah and I took the Christmas decorations down. I removed the Christmas card display and boxed up the Santas and nutcrackers and other Christmassy knickknacks while he dismantled the Christmas village and took down the inside lights and the evergreen ropes (carefully unwrapping the wire that held it together so it could go in the yard waste). It was a week after New Year’s Day before he pulled the candy cane lights out of the ground and we were done, except for the wreath, which I decided to leave up a bit longer, and the rest of the outside lights, which we usually leave up all winter.

Spring Musical

There wasn’t much of a break between Winter One Acts and preparations for the spring musical. Dance auditions for Beauty and the Beast were Monday evening. When I picked North up, I asked how it went and they said they didn’t know. They’d gotten a migraine and had used all their good meds for the week on the weekend one act performances, so they’d had to audition with it. When they emerged from the auditorium, I’d been waiting in the lobby for fifteen minutes, so I knew it had been loud in there, with “Be Our Guest” playing over and over and a lot of high-spirited cheering.

“I’m dying,” they informed me. “I think I’m dead.” But once we were in the Lyft, they put on their headphones and closed their eyes and almost as soon as we were home, they were in bed for the night.  Like me two days earlier, they found relief in sleep.

Acting/singing auditions were supposed to be Tuesday, but there was an early dismissal because of a rainstorm with high winds and potential for flooding, so North was home by one p.m. It ended up being lucky for them because they got another migraine that afternoon and they still weren’t eligible to take any of the good meds. 

Dispatches from Wheeling

All this time I’ve been texting a lot with Beth, and we all FaceTimed a couple times.  We got to see her for the longest time since she’s been gone today in a virtual family therapy session. It was nice to look at her face for an hour.

Meanwhile, there’s been a little progress. YaYa’s pain is slowly decreasing, and her doctor has approved a walker and some other assistive devices for her house that might help make it easier to get around. She’s going to see a physical and an occupational therapist. Plus, Beth’s brother arrived from Seattle on Tuesday. He can only stay a couple days, but then he’ll be back about a week later, and the tentative plan is for Beth to come home then, either for good or for a visit. If she goes back to Wheeling, she might take Noah with her so she has another pair of hands.

Tomorrow is our anniversary, thirty-two years since we had our commitment ceremony in our apartment in D.C. with friends and family in attendance, and eleven years since we were legally married in our living room with our first and sixth grader there to witness it. Although I wish we could be together to celebrate, I can wait. After all, we sometimes joke we were engaged for twenty-one years. Beth’s where she needs to be, and we have practice being patient.

A Taste of Christmas


“The bag didn’t fall off and the tree didn’t fall off,” Noah observed, gesturing to the roof of the car, when we stopped for lunch at a Sheetz in Virginia. It was true. Both the rooftop bag and the tree were still securely attached to the car. The ride was going very smoothly. We got out of the house roughly on schedule, the weather was clear, and traffic was light, all the way from the DC suburbs to Blackwater Falls State Park, even though it was the Saturday before Christmas.

When we got close to Blackwater, we started seeing snow on the ground. They’d gotten a foot of it five days earlier and it was mostly melted, but in places it was still a few inches deep. We wondered if any would be left on Christmas. No more was forecast, so that was our only chance for a white Christmas. Because we’d just finished watching White Christmas the night before, the kids predicted it would snow on Christmas Eve and they would each find love at the resort. (“Siblings, siblings/there never were such devoted siblings,” North sang, altering the lyrics to “Sisters” slightly.) Stay tuned to see if either of these predictions came true.

We arrived at the park lodge around 2:40 and met Beth’s mom in the lobby. We had to wait about an hour to check into our cabin, so we chatted with each other and wandered around the gift shop. While Beth was somewhere else in the lobby, I bought her a rainbow-striped sticker in the shape of West Virginia to put in her stocking. She’s getting a new work laptop and she’d been saying she needed stickers for it.

When we got into the cabin, we unpacked, and Beth went out to get some groceries for dinner and the next morning. She came home and made chili and almond flour cornbread for dinner. (I asked if she really wanted to cook after the drive, but she said she preferred to get her responsibilities out of the way early—we were all cooking one meal during the trip.) After dinner, we watched Christmas is Here Again, because the internet connection was too slow to download The Shop Around the Corner, which YaYa had mentioned was her favorite Christmas movie. Once we finished the movie, we found the other one had finished downloading, so we had it all lined up for the next evening.

Christmas Eve

We only had one day in the cabin before Christmas and there was a lot we wanted to do. We needed to trim the tree and deck the halls and make chocolate-peppermint cookies and gingerbread and take a lot of walks.

I was awake a little earlier than I would have liked. It’s so dark and quiet there, it would have been perfect for sleeping in, but I was wide awake at 6:20, so I got up and went for a walk down to the Pendleton overlook. I left the house a little after seven, hoping to see the sunrise, but I think I was actually too early because it takes the sun a while to clear the mountains. It was a pretty walk anyway. There was a smear of pink in the sky over the ridge, and some snow on the rocks in the river below, and golden light glowing in some of the windows of the lodge on the other side of the dark canyon.

After breakfast, Beth did the main grocery shopping for the trip, Noah and I read, and North got busy making the chocolate-peppermint cookies. They were pleased with the crackle and shine they got on them this year. They’ve been perfecting them for the past six Christmases.

When Beth was home and the cookies were baked and the kitchen cleaned up, we decorated the tree. Decorating a tree is always the same, isn’t it? Everyone oohhs and aahhs over the ornaments they’d forgotten and reminisces about when they were made or purchased. Somehow, despite the petite tree and multiple boxes crammed full of ornaments, we made them all fit. Beth also gathered some evergreen branches from the woods behind the cabin to line the mantel and North arranged the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer figures around them, making Rudolph and Clarice seem to kiss.

We took a little break for lunch before Beth and I went on another walk, this one down to the falls. The day was mild and big chunks of ice were melting and falling off the rockface and crashing to the ground as we approached the staircase. The wooden stairs were wet and half-covered in slush, and I didn’t have appropriate footwear on, so I only went halfway down the steps and waited for Beth at the upper platform as she went to the very bottom and then climbed back up. Then we browsed the gift shop near the falls. Beth spotted the same sticker I bought her at the lodge, and I was afraid she was going to buy it, but she was torn between that and another one, and decided to wait and think about it, to my relief.

When we got home, Beth and YaYa set out on another walk, while the kids and I shaped gingerbread cookies from the dough I’d made at home, decorating them with colored sugar, nuts, dried cranberries, and hard candy. They came out well and when I took my first bite of one, I thought, this is the taste of Christmas.

I made kale and potato soup for Christmas Eve dinner. While I was cooking, Beth asked me if I’d packed the cranberries, remembering she hadn’t seen any in the freezer, and we came to the distressing realization that when I read “cranberries” on the packing list I thought it meant dried cranberries for gingerbread and not the frozen cranberries that North needed for the cranberry-orange muffins they were planning to make for Christmas breakfast. North tried soaking the dried cranberries we had left to see how much they’d make, and it only came to a quarter cup, when the recipe called for one and half cups of fresh cranberries. So, after dinner, Beth set out to see if she could find any fresh, frozen, or dried cranberries at Dollar General, which was the only store open anywhere nearby. Alas, there were none to be had.

That night we watched The Shop Around the Corner, which I recommend if you’re in the mood for a 1940s Christmassy movie with Jimmy Stewart that’s not It’s a Wonderful Life. North was crocheting a sock with the multicolored yarn and crochet hooks my sister got her for Christmas. (We’d opened presents from my West Coast relatives on the Solstice to make room in the car). They finished it as we were watching the movie. It was their first attempt at a sock (earlier this year they made a sweater and part of a blanket) and it fits and even has some ribbing at the top. They finished its mate a few days later.

After the movie, North opened the last window of our Advent calendar and ate the chocolate Santa they found behind it, Noah read “A Visit from St. Nicholas” aloud (a Christmas Eve tradition), and we put things in each other’s stockings without any pretense at secrecy, just the occasional instruction to “avert your eyes.”


Despite the kids’ predictions, it did not snow on Christmas Eve. By Christmas morning, there was a little snow left on the deck and in piles near the road, where it had been plowed, but that was about it. YaYa, North, and I were all up by seven, so North and I opened our stockings together. YaYa wanted to wait until Beth was up, so they did theirs together a little while later, and Noah was last. In addition to sweets and a clementine each, everyone had several little gifts. Coffeehouse gift certificates (from Starbucks and Koma, a new one in Takoma Park) were popular. Beth was surprised to see the rainbow WV sticker and declared I was “sneaky” to have gotten it under her nose.

Noah set the mood by lighting the gas fireplace, plus setting up fireplace videos on two screens in the living room, declaring, “The more fires the merrier,” and putting on Christmas music and occasionally singing along, most enthusiastically with “Feliz Navidad.”

North started making a delicious breakfast of eggs, vegetarian sausage and bacon, orange-cranberry muffins (light on the cranberries) and blackberries. I had a cup of the chocolate-peppermint tea I got in my stocking with it.

After breakfast, we opened presents. Food, books, and clothes were the most popular gifts. A great deal of chocolate was exchanged, YaYa got elderberry-infused honey and jam, and I got three flavors of fruity teas plus chai. I got four more books to add to the three I’d opened on the Solstice and left at home. Noah got even more than that.

North got a pastel colorblock sweater they’d admired in Rehoboth over Thanksgiving weekend and fuzzy socks in pale green and red and white. Noah got a flannel shirt, and we got sweatshirts and robes from YaYa. I got gloves and a pair of navy corduroys I’d bought myself from an expensive catalog, immediately regretted buying, and almost returned, until I asked Beth if she’d like to buy them for me for Christmas and she said yes, so she reimbursed me for them and took them from me and wrapped them. So that wasn’t exactly a surprise, but now I have them. There were some practical gifts, too. Noah got a toolkit, North got headphones, and Beth got a Dutch oven that was so big and heavy we almost despaired of fitting the gift into the crowded car and considered leaving it at home. In fact, I thought we had until we were unpacking the gifts in the cabin and I saw it among them.

From the late morning to the mid-afternoon, Beth took a long hike up the along the ridge behind Lake Pendleton. The ground was soggy from all that melted snow and as mentioned previously, I had failed to pack boots, but I accompanied her for the first leg of the walk, up to the lake and then I wandered its shore for a little while. The lake was still frozen, and it was lovely there.

We settled in for a quiet afternoon of reading and crocheting. I’d been considering finishing the book I had in progress before starting any Christmas books, but I’ve been wanting to read Holly and stopping myself from buying it for months, and there was a big chunk of the other book left, so I switched over to King, getting up every hour to go outside and walk twice around the perimeter of the house to keep my Fitbit happy.

YaYa made a scrumptious dinner of spinach lasagna, garlic bread, and salad, and we watched The Nightmare Before Christmas afterward—which somehow Noah had never seen, though we’ve watched it without him several times—and Christmas was a wrap.

After Christmas

Then things took a turn. The morning after Christmas, YaYa had a bad fall and after she was checked out at the nearest hospital, Beth ended up driving her home to Wheeling where she’d be more comfortable that afternoon. Beth stayed overnight at her house. She returned to the cabin Wednesday morning, along with her aunt Carole and Carole’s granddaughter Holly, who had come along to drive YaYa’s car back. We had a nice, if short, visit with them. We served them gingerbread and chocolate-peppermint tea and drove to the Pendleton canyon overlook. That night Beth and I had a soak in the hot tub at the lodge and Thursday morning we all went to the accessible falls overlook as a last little goodbye before we left the park.

We were sorry to miss the last two days of our visit with YaYa, and it wasn’t precisely a white Christmas, and the kids did not find their true loves, but that would have been difficult given that they didn’t even leave the cabin until Tuesday afternoon when I suggested a walk to the falls, and then once more when we went to White Grass Café for lunch on Wednesday, after Beth got back. But we all got a taste of Christmas. I hope you did, too.

Merry and Bright

Eight days out, Christmas preparations are in full swing. The living room and yard are decorated. My shopping is finished, barring any last-minute impulse purchases. Our Christmas cards are a little more than half addressed, and I’m more than halfway finished wrapping presents, but there are some left and more come in the mail every day, so it’s hard to get caught up. I am not stressed about the gifts, but I do wish the cards were in the mail.

In addition to the pinwheel cookies, our resident baker made Christmas crack, or toffee bark if you prefer to call it that, which I think I might. They filled a tin with it and gave it to our new next-door neighbors as a housewarming gift, and in the two days since they made it, we finished the rest. Sometime this week I’m going to make gingerbread dough, which we’ll take to Blackwater with us and bake there.

We’ve been watching a lot of Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas movies, mostly with gay or lesbian protagonists. We usually watch one or two in December, but so far, we’ve watched four and I don’t think we’re finished. I can’t really say what accounts for this behavior. To balance it out, the kids and I have also been watching Christmas horror (Krampus and the Day of the Beast) and Friday night all of us watched Tokyo Godfathers, which is also kind of dark and takes place at Christmas (though North asserts is not a Christmas movie).

Our main Christmas activities over the past few days have been a visit to Brookside Gardens to see the lights, and a trip to Butler’s Orchard to get a Christmas tree. We went to Brookside on Thursday. It was hard to pick a day because of the need to ration North’s migraine medicine, but we settled on that day partly because it’s North’s night to cook and if we went to the lights on the same evening they could take part in two medication-enabled activities for the price of one. This is the kind of strategizing we do constantly. I commented after we’d figured out the plan that North’s headaches are like Noah’s homework used to be, the axis around which the whole family turns.

Anyway, it was a fun outing, and it felt particularly festive because just that day North had found out they got into Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, bringing the number of schools to which they’ve been admitted to four. (The third one was Towson University, which I don’t think I mentioned.) Both Saint Mary’s and Towson are state schools. Saint Mary’s is the public honors college. So now their current choices are one school in Wales, one in Rhode Island, and two in Maryland. They’ve heard from all the schools to which they applied early action, and there will be a pause of a few months before they hear from the remaining two (Oberlin and Mount Holyoke) to which they applied regular decision. It will be interesting to see where they land.

Getting back to Brookside…at a stand just inside the entrance, Beth and the kids got hot chocolate, cookies, and funnel cake. My blood sugar had gone higher than I expected on dinner (or maybe my newly changed sensor wasn’t fully calibrated yet) so I decided to abstain, except for a sip of Beth’s hot chocolate and few bites of North’s funnel cake.

Once we had food we started to walk through the gardens. The lights were lovely, as always, and mostly the same as always. (Beth did notice a snail she thought was new.) I have too many favorites to list, but the Loch Ness monster is probably my top pick. It blows fog out of its mouth. I’m also fond of the croaking frog. We saw a toddler boy standing by it with a look of pure wonder on his face.

We walked through the display a little more quickly than usual, as it was chilly evening. Also, Noah had forgotten his camera and usually he stops to take a lot of pictures. I was kind of sorry not have those. I took some, but his are always better, partly because he has a fancy camera and partly because he’s a skilled photographer.

Two days later we headed out to Butler’s, where we get strawberries in the spring and blueberries and blackberries in the summer, in addition to Christmas trees in December. I don’t know why, but there were a lot fewer trees on offer than usual. There was also a sign saying they only had six-foot trees, although, as Beth pointed out, the orchard seemed to have “a generous interpretation” of six feet. Many were probably more like five and half feet, based on how they measured up against our son, who’s 5’ 8’’. We picked a silver fir that was probably about six feet tall that North liked. I was concerned that it might not be big enough for our ornament collection, but there was nothing much bigger, so we had it baled and put on top of the car. (And later when I looked at a picture from last year of North standing near our tree right after we’d picked it out, it looked about the same size, so we’ll see.)

We went to the farm market where we shopped for little gifts and treats for ourselves. I got a caramel pecan turtle truffle and a slice of gingerbread for later. Noah got a bottle of something called “eggnog milk” because he wanted to see if it was any different from regular eggnog. He reported later that it was not.

There’s another week of school and work before winter break. We’ll be opening presents from my West Coast relatives a little early, on the Solstice, to make room in our always-crowded car for the drive to West Virginia. That will add a little more merriment to the last days of the wait for Christmas.

Magic, Wonder, Joy

Almost a week ago Beth, Noah, and I picked North up from school toward the end of fourth period and drove to the Wheaton Metro stop, where we boarded a train headed for the city. We had gotten tickets for the White House Christmas tour from Beth’s office.

We’d been to White House tours or events a number of times in the over thirty years we’ve lived in the DC metro area. Five, the number is five: a Christmas tour during the Clinton Administration; an East Wing tour and the Easter Egg roll in the Obama years; and two garden tours, once during the Obama administration and one last fall. And now we’ve come full circle and done the Christmas tour again.

A lot of labor groups had been scheduled for that day; you could tell from the conversations of people in line. We saw our around-the-corner neighbors Chris and Mel and their two teen and preteen daughters. (Chris works at the AFL-CIO.) They had to step out of line at one of the security checkpoints because there was a problem with someone’s i.d., but it was resolved, and they were able to rejoin the line. I was glad for them. It would have been sad to be turned away.

At the entrance to the East Wing there seemed to be a tree growing through the porch roof. I’m guessing it was the bottom and top halves of two trees, or maybe the same tree, set up above and below the porch. Anyway, it was a fun effect. When we entered, we walked through a hallway full of sparkly lights and cookie-and-candy-themed decorations hanging from the ceiling and the walls. Actually, there was candy everywhere. The theme was “Magic, Wonder, and Joy” and given the prominence of sweets, I’m guessing that President Biden or the First Lady must have a sweet tooth.

The whole tour really was magical. I enjoyed looking at photographs of the former first families (especially the Carters, given Rosalynn’s recent death) in the White House at Christmas time, the portrait of Michelle Obama, and all the Christmas trees, decorated with different themes. There was a gold star family tree with the names of fallen soldiers, a tree covered in numbers meant to evoke an advent calendar, a tree with the names of the all the states on it, and one with letters from children.

I appreciated getting glimpses of the Capitol and the Washington Monument through the windows of the East Wing, framed with wreaths, ribbons, and ornaments. One room had Nutcracker decorations, there was an antique creche that’s been on display every year since 1967, and a gingerbread house in the shape of the White House. Because it’s the two-hundredth anniversary of the publication of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” there was a display of vintage editions of the famous poem behind glass and there was also a giant sugar cookie in the shape of the book set up behind the gingerbread White House. North said it would be fun to be a White House baker, commenting “Life goals.”

Reindeer twined along a track near the ceiling toward the end of the tour and the U.S. Marine Band was playing near the exit. As we walked out, Beth said that when she’s in the White House it just seems like a museum and it’s always when she walks out and looks back that it hits her where she just was.

Right before we left, we were handed chocolate bars. I was saving mine for later, so I asked if it was good chocolate as others were eating theirs. It was decent, middle-of-the-road chocolate, it was concluded. Much like Joe Biden himself, I joked. On the way home, North was paging through the brochure and said they might try the pinwheel cookie recipe in it. And a few days later, they did. It was a moderately complex operation–making two kinds of dough, rolling them out on top of each other, rolling them up, and cutting them into slices. They came out beautifully and they were quite tasty. There’s orange peel in the vanilla dough and you can really taste it. North said they might add them to their regular Christmas baking rotation.

Our house is not as elaborately decorated as the White House (or as it is for Halloween), but Beth and Noah put up the outside lights this weekend, and North decorated a wreath. I haven’t gotten the mantle decorations or the Christmas village set up yet, but it’s on the agenda for this week or maybe even later today. And the first Christmas cards have been trickling in, so the mantle is not devoid of cheer. Little by little, the magic is taking shape.