About Steph

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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.

Thankful

Before the Beach: Weekend to Tuesday

Three days before Thanksgiving, North got into the baking and pastry arts program at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. This is currently their first-choice school, though they haven’t decided for sure and are keeping their options open until they hear from the rest of their schools.

When they got the notification, they were on their way home from Winter One Act auditions. North will be directing a one-act play in early January as their senior project. There was a flurry of excited texts between North, Beth, and me, but Beth had to wait a day to give North in-person congratulations because she was out of town. She’d taken a four-day trip to visit a friend in Morgantown and her mother, who was turning eighty, in Wheeling.

While Beth was gone, the rest of us watched two horror movies (A Quiet Place 2, and Lights Out), plus Noah and North started a tv series about Korean zombies, Noah attended a cast party for the Scooby Doo movie and North attended and reviewed a production of MacBeth for Cappies. Remembering all the kid-friendly dinners I used to make when the kids were little and Beth was travelling for work, I made dinners I knew would still be popular (vegetarian chicken, broccoli, and spinach fettucine with alfredo sauce one night, causing Noah to exclaim “Pasta!” because I hardly ever make it anymore, and tacos another night because that’s one of North’s favorite dinners.)

On Tuesday, North and I were busy in the kitchen. I made Beth’s birthday cake, chocolate with coffee frosting, which is the cake I most often make for her and which she’d requested this year. North made almond flour cornbread for Beth’s birthday eve dinner, and they also made pumpkin pudding because we had some leftover pumpkin puree from another project they wanted to use up.

Beth returned home Tuesday evening, later than she intended because car trouble kept her in Wheeling until late afternoon. We were all happy and a little keyed up to be re-united and because we were leaving again for the beach the following day for our annual Thanksgiving trip.

Birthday Eve: Wednesday

We arrived at the beach house around 5:15 p.m. the next day. Beth headed right back out to get some groceries, while I put away the groceries we’d brought, distributed linens to all the bedrooms, and made our bed.

We had canned chili with the cornbread for dinner. Because Beth’s birthday was on Thanksgiving this year, we’d decided to have her cake on Wednesday night to space out the festivities. We had it after dinner, but we saved the presents for the real day. We’d picked up a new numeral seven candle at a Dairy Queen on the drive to the beach because when I packed the candles from our (frequently re-used) stash, I noticed the wick on the seven looked broken. We all agreed the new one looked more like a one that a seven, and in fact when I put the photo on Facebook, someone commented “Happy 51st” and Beth set the record straight and then I commented that she can pass for fifty-one.

After dinner, Beth and I took a walk on the boardwalk. I invited the kids to come with us, and North said, “It’s not going to be romantic?” but they didn’t come, and it was kind of romantic to be walking in the dark, just the two of us, listening to the sound of the waves crashing on the sand.

After our walk, we watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and The Mayflower Voyagers, a re-telling of the Pilgrim story with Peanuts characters. This last one is kind of obscure and getting hard to find online, possibly because it’s a rather outdated, white-washed version of the story. Beth joked that “the woke mob” was conspiring to get rid of it, but we eventually found it.

Birthday/Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a pleasant, low-key day. I went for a solo walk on the beach in the morning and again with North after lunch. In between those walks, as soon as everyone was home and awake at the same time, Beth opened her presents. Even though she’d asked for a gift certificate for a skate shop so she could buy herself new ice skates, she seemed surprised that we’d all pitched in (with assists from my mother and sister) to get one big enough to cover the cost of the skates and not just contribute toward it. The kids and I also got her a high-end hot chocolate mix, some orange-chocolate bark, a box of chocolates, and two dark chocolate bars. (Beth is serious about chocolate.) She was very pleased with everything.

After the presents were opened, we all set to work making our main Thanksgiving dinner table decorations, turkeys made from apples, toothpicks, raisins, dried cranberries, and olives. I have been making these since I was a kid and along with a little glass turkey North bought for Beth’s birthday eight years ago and some gourds leftover from our pumpkin patch expedition, they graced our table another year. I am thankful for the continuity they represent—of family, love, and tradition.

The kids and I are reading The Golden Spoon—a murder mystery that takes place on the set of a baking competition based on The Great British Baking Show—together and I read to them for an hour in the afternoon. Late in the afternoon I laid down to rest and surprised myself by falling asleep almost at once and sleeping deeply for almost an hour. That felt luxurious.

Everyone was responsible for a cooking a dish or two for Thanksgiving dinner, so people were in and out of the kitchen all day—Beth made mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy, I did the Brussels sprouts, Noah assembled the stuffing, and North was responsible for the cranberry sauce, and basting the tofurkey roast. North also whipped cream for the pies. We had six little tarts— three pecan, two apple, and one pumpkin—mostly from the farmers’ market, to give us maximum flavor choices without buying three whole pies. The cream was surprisingly hard to find, we’d struck out at a few stores until it occurred to North that we could try ordering a cup full of heavy cream from the Starbucks around the corner from the house and it worked.

After dinner and dishes, we took a family walk on the boardwalk, my third visit to the beach or boardwalk that day, and then we initiated this year’s Christmas specials viewing with A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Black Friday

I was up early Friday morning, and when I looked at my weather app and saw the sun had only risen three minutes earlier, I decided to hurry down to the beach to see if I could catch the tail end of the sunrise. It took twenty-five minutes to get dressed and walk down there (the house was several long blocks from the beach) but when I got there, the sun was still fiery orange and there was a trail of molten gold running down the ocean and wet sand. It only lasted about five minutes, but I stayed another hour, walking and sitting and walking again, and there was still some pink lingering in the clouds when I left. I love the quality of early morning light on the beach in the late fall and early winter, the way there are shadows clearly delineated in each little depression in the sand.

I saw two dolphins making their way north and a surfer. It was a middle-aged man in a wetsuit, and he stood on the beach for a long time before he entered the water. I wondered if he was waiting for the right kind of wave or if he was trying to psych himself up to get in the cold water. Given how quickly he was in and out, I decided it was the latter, but as someone who has never been immersed in the ocean in Delaware in November (and never will be), I give him props for riding even one wave.

Back at the house, I had a small breakfast to tide me over until we went out to Egg. I am largely adjusted to having diabetes—it’s been almost two years and three months since I was diagnosed and I’ve figured out some hacks—but I still have moments of wishing I could eat things I probably shouldn’t and the pumpkin praline French toast at Egg spurs those feelings in me. I had frittata instead and watched sadly as someone at the next table ate what I really wanted.

Christmas shopping was next. When we tell people we go Christmas shopping in Rehoboth over Thanksgiving weekend, people always think we mean the outlets, but we shop downtown, which is busier than an average day, but never mobbed. It’s a very sane Black Friday shopping experience.

The kids and I hit BrowseAbout Books, the Christmas store, the tea and spice shop, Candy Kitchen, and other stores. Beth split off from us, so I don’t know where she went. I was relatively productive, and didn’t do any more shopping after lunch, opting instead for reading with the kids. In the mid-afternoon, we did our Christmas card photo shoot on the beach. On the way back to the car, even though it was cold, we picked up a pumpkin-cinnamon frozen custard and split it four ways. I was craving that flavor and I reasoned it was only going to get colder later in the day.

Our next event was the holiday sing-along and Christmas tree lighting in the early evening. As Beth was parking and the kids and I were approaching the bandstand where a chorus was singing “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” I commented, “It is,” gesturing at all the decorations on Rehoboth Avenue.

Once we’d met up with Beth, we moved through the crowd, relocating a few times, trying to find a space where more people were singing, and fewer people were having loud conversations that made it hard to hear the music. Beth said she thought more people used to sing at this event and I agreed. We all sang, though, “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “All I Want for Christmas,” etc. North even valiantly tried to sing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” even though they don’t know many of the lyrics. (Neither do I.) Right before seven, the countdown began and then the tree lit up, its multicolored lights and big star joining the light of the moon in the night sky.

After it was over, Beth went to fetch the car while the rest of us went to Grotto to pick up the pizza, stromboli, and mozzarella sticks we’d ordered ahead of time. We all met up, drove home, and ate the food in front of the tv. That night we watched The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman (the song got me in the mood), and Frosty Returns.

Small Business Saturday

The next morning after we checked out of the house, I did some solo shopping and took a short walk on the boardwalk and beach before we all met up for lunch. The day was cold and windy, and the beach was covered in seafoam. I saw a boy standing on the wet sand shoveling and at first, I thought he was shoveling foam. It was sand, but the foam was so deep, you could have shoveled it.

We tried a new (to us) restaurant that’s in the space where a Greene Turtle used to be. I used to eat at Greene Turtle more for the ocean view than for the food—and Beth and Noah refused to eat there—so we didn’t mind the change in ownership. Overall, it seems to be an improvement it terms of pleasing everyone, though North thought the pizza was too saucy. It was very festively decorated for Christmas, with lights, and presents suspended from the ceiling, elves sitting up on the beams, and a tree near the restrooms. But my favorite part was the Santa hats on the chair backs.

The kids and I went back to the beach after lunch so they could stand barefoot in twenty-three frigid waves. What can I say? It’s a goodbye-to-the-beach tradition. The number of waves is always the last two digits of the year. I don’t do it barefoot in the fall or winter, though. I wear rain boots. A little water went over the tops and my socks got damp and sandy, but I didn’t mind much. It just meant I got to take a little bit of the beach home with me.

Of Pageantry and Pumpkins

Prologue

The day after I last posted, North got their first college acceptance. It was to Aberystwyth University. That’s the one in Wales. We were not expecting to hear so soon and the date by which they have to commit or decline is at the end of January, by which point they will not have heard back from all their schools. But that’s a problem for another day.  They are excited to have gotten in somewhere. Every now and then, apropos of nothing, they will announce, “I got into college!”

Meanwhile, we’ve been taking part in a lot of fun and seasonal activities, including a parade, pumpkin-carving, and two plays. This seems appropriate, as Halloween is all about spectacle. Or maybe it’s about death and little chocolate bars, I’m never sure.

Saturday: Parade & Play #1

The last Saturday of October is always the Takoma Park Halloween parade. Unfortunately, it’s also always an all-day tech rehearsal for the fall play at North’s school, so between a covid-cancelled parade in ninth grade, and tech rehearsals and other obstacles in subsequent years, North has not marched in the parade or competed in the costume contest since they were in eighth grade and went as a doll with its mouth sewn shut. Right before the parade, they were saying sadly that they had no idea the last time would be the last. Their brother competed every year the contest was held from the time he was a toddler until his senior year of high school, and they expected to do the same. Noah could have made a costume this year as he has time on his hands and the oldest age group is teen and adult and plenty of adults enter. But that’s not behavior Beth and I have modeled, so I guess I can’t complain.

The three of us who were not in tech rehearsal did attend the parade however, because it’s fun to watch. It was an unseasonably warm day (mid-eighties), so we stationed ourselves in a shady spot on with a convenient fence for leaning along Philadelphia Avenue and waited for the parade to start. It was about a half hour late in doing so, but that wasn’t a surprise. We used to see a ton of people we knew at this event, but it has dwindled over the years, and we only knew two kids, the younger sisters of a preschool classmate of North’s. The younger of the two was dressed as groceries. She had a paper grocery bag with the bottom cut out around her torso and a platform covered with food packages (a cauliflower-crust frozen pizza box being most prominent) on her head. It was a good costume. If I had been judging the contest (an empty nest goal for me) she would have been in the running.

I don’t think there were any standout, must-win-or-there-has-been-a-miscarriage-of-justice costumes this year. Some of my favorites included a girl in an elaborate, homemade peacock costume, another girl dressed as Maleficent with huge feathery black wings and curly horns, toddlers riding in wagons repurposed as a firetruck and the space shuttle, King Arthur dragging a papier-mâché stone on wheels with a sword stuck in it, and a tiny, adorable werewolf with nicely done face paint, gray fur, and a torn flannel shirt. A woman dressed as a scarecrow was walking the parade route on stilts. There were only two Barbies (one in the box and one in the pink cowgirl outfit), but a lot of skeletons, zombies, and fairies. There was also a well-executed box of French fries and a half dozen kids in the same inflatable costume that makes it look like an alien is carrying you.

At the end of the parade route, there was a local band (the Grandsons) playing while people explored an inflatable corn maze, played games, and waited to hear the results of the costume contest. Sometimes they draw this out by having each age group announced at intervals in between songs, but this year they made all the announcements during a single intermission.

It ended up being hard to tell who won because you couldn’t always see people coming up to claim their prizes from the judges as they weren’t up on a platform as they sometimes are. And though there was a big spiderweb background where the winners went to get their pictures taken, other people were using it, too, in between winners. I’m pretty sure Maleficent, the French fries, the space shuttle, cowgirl Barbie, and a different King Arthur-themed group won something, though, and exasperatingly, a Rubik’s Cube won most original in one of the age groups. (There is a Rubik’s Cube almost every year. It’s a classic, but not original.) I paid special attention to Scariest in Teen and Adult because that’s the prize North would have wanted to win. It went to a girl being swallowed by a gelatinous monster, which apparently comes from this fictional book. (I had to look it up later. I’d seen her in the community center when I ducked in to use the bathroom before prizes were announced and I’d wondered what she was.)

On the walk home we discussed Noah’s criteria for Most Original prizes (they should not be characters from a book or movie because someone else made them up and are therefore not original). I thought maybe characters were okay if execution was creative. After that I said Most Original should be homemade, though, and he insisted store-bought costumes should be disqualified in all categories— “You can’t enter a baking contest with something you got from a bakery!” he insisted, and I conceded that was a good point. Beth said she thought Cutest should be reserved for Four and Under and Five to Eight. None of us have ever been fans of that category, the kids always aimed for Scariest (North’s favorite), Most Original (Noah’s), or Funniest (good for both in a pinch). After a pause, Beth opined that “We probably take this more seriously than anyone in Takoma Park, including the staff of the Recreation Department,” who organize the event. She may be right.

That evening Beth, Noah, and I went to see a play, Scooby Doo and the Haunted Mansion, produced by several local families with teens (and one preteen) while North stayed home with a migraine. Noah had been hired to film it (and the dress rehearsal the night before) and then edit the footage. These families have been putting on a Halloween play for seven years, but this year was their big finale, as their kids are outgrowing it. We learned about this event in 2020 when, due to covid, they substituted a movie for the play (and screened it to a small, outdoor audience) and Noah helped Mike film and edit it.

Because that was the only other year we went, I didn’t quite realize how big the production would be, both in terms of set and audience. The impressive set, sprawled out across the lawn of a spacious corner lot, consisted of four rooms of the haunted house, plus the Scooby gang’s van, and a fortune teller’s house. The plot has to do with Fred inheriting a mansion that seems to be haunted by two ghosts and a werewolf. You will not be surprised to learn that all is not what it seems, and the kids and Scooby get to the bottom of it. It was good campy fun, with a lot of opportunities for the actors to ham it up. And yes, it does contain the line, “And I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you meddling kids!” which made the audience cheer. Speaking of the audience, it was standing room only on the sidewalk and street in front of the house. We brought camp chairs, but we would not have been able to see if we’d used them, so we stood.

Sunday to Monday: Pumpkins

We carved our pumpkins the next day. We had been holding off because we had a very warm week before Halloween, with highs in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties nearly every day, and if we’d carved the pumpkins the weekend we got them, they would have rotted. But with two days to go before Halloween, it seemed safe. We fired up the Halloween playlist, broke out the candy corn, and set to work. Beth carved the devil mask, I did the bat, Noah the cat from My Neighbor Totoro, and North the Cheshire cat. I think they turned out well. Monday morning, I roasted the pumpkin seeds from the jack-o-lanterns, netting a quart of seeds.

Tuesday: Pretending or Panhandling? (and another Pumpkin)

Over the weekend we were discussing the issue of towns that limit trick-or-treating to kids under a certain age, which can be as young as thirteen. Both my kids have gone trick-or-treating through high school, and if North had their way Noah would have gone with them this year, but he declined. North said they didn’t understand why people object to older trick-or-treaters and isn’t it better than teens going to parties and getting drunk or doing drugs?

I agree. I think it’s a good thing for kids to keep exercising their imaginations. (I admit, I do feel a little curmudgeonly when teens show up at my door in street clothes or with the barest attempt at a costume, but even so, I give out candy and keep my mouth shut because you don’t know about the kids’ abilities, or the circumstances of their lives and I would rather err on the side of generosity.) The theater director at North’s school must be of the same mind about teens trick-or-treating because Mr. S gave the cast and crew the evening off for Halloween. And what group of kids is more likely to want to dress up as something fanciful than theater kids? Anyway, rehearsal ended at 6:30 and Beth picked them up, so they were home by a little before 7:00.

About ten minutes before Beth left to fetch them, we all got busy putting candy in bowls and starting the fog machines. Our first trick-or-treaters arrived at 6:05, just as we were finishing our preparations. In addition to last-minute decorating, I was making a soup of evaporated milk, Swiss cheese, and rye breadcrumbs cooked in a pumpkin shell for dinner. (When you serve it, you scoop chunks of cooked pumpkin into it.) I often make this on or around Halloween, but North’s not a fan, so they had canned chili, which they ate ahead of the rest of us so they could start the time-consuming process of applying their makeup.

This year they went as a frozen person—not a character from Frozen, but a person who has been frozen—and it involved so much latex on their face that it took a half hour to apply. I think the eyelashes are the creepiest part. The costume was a kind of variation on the year they went as a drowned person. The frozen corpse was supposed to be their costume last year, but when they had to skip Halloween, I packed up all the materials and makeup we’d bought for it and put it away for this year, just in case. At the time, the unused costume made me terribly sad, so digging it out of the basement seemed like a redemption arc.

Speaking of costumes, we got a dispiriting number of people at the door in no costume at all, more than usual. But I gave candy to all mendicants, and everyone was polite and said, “Happy Halloween” or “Thank you,” even the toddler in the Cookie Monster costume who was so confused about what was going on that he tried to walk into the house when I opened the door. My favorite costume was probably the dolphin, even if it was store-bought. There were no elaborate homemade costumes. As always, a lot of people complimented our decorations. “You really step it up,” one preteen boy told us and another kid sad, “This is the best house so far.”

We had trick-or-treaters arriving until past nine-thirty. In between groups, we watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We are just past the midpoint of the last season and within striking distance of finishing, which I didn’t think we’d ever manage.

North got back home at nine with their loot and reported that a lot of people wanted to know how they did their frosty makeup. One fellow trick-or-treater told them they should be a makeup artist. (It took North an hour to get it off and their eyelashes were a little paler than usual the next day.) We did a little trading between North’s stash of candy and what we had left over from trick-or-treaters and then the kids stayed up to watch Censor. As Beth and I were going to bed, around 10:15, I said to Beth I couldn’t believe North was going to stay up late the only day of tech week they could have gone to bed early, but Beth said she understood— North had suffered through two rehearsals with a migraine to save their good meds, which they can only take twice a week, for Halloween, and they wanted to have fun. Plus, there was no school the next day.

Wednesday: Pupusas

The reason there was no school was because it was the day between first and second quarter. Knowing this, we scheduled a family therapy session in the morning. On the way home, Beth dropped North and me off at the Langley Park farmers’ market so we could get pupusas. This was a long-planned lunch date, as it was the first Wednesday North had off school this year. I thought it was a nice touch that it happened to the Day of the Dead. I wondered if there would be any acknowledgement of the holiday, as the market is largely patronized by Latino immigrants, but they tend to be Central American, rather than Mexican. We saw one child with skull face paint, but that was it.

They were giving out lottery tickets to win a basket of honey, pasta sauce, and other goodies from market vendors, but we didn’t win. A cold front has come in the day before and it was about 45 degrees, a little chilly to be eating on a bench in the shade, but it was still fun, and we picked up a latte (me) and a white hot chocolate (North) to warm us as we walked home. After we got home North took a pre-rehearsal nap, and Beth drove them to school mid-afternoon.

Thursday to Saturday: Pumpkin Again & Play #2

The next day was opening night for Lavender, the school play. North said it went well. On Friday, there was no show, but North had to attend a Cappies event at school. They were home in time for dinner, though. We had takeout pizza, watched the last half hour of Bros, which we had started a whole week earlier (North has been busy) and an episode of Mixedish.

We also had pumpkin gingerbread cupcakes with cream cheese filling and frosting for Noah’s half birthday. As half-birthday cupcakes are a tradition that we’ve observed for the kids but not the adults in the family, I always thought the kids would age out it and in fact, I’d decided that it would end after college. But Friday morning I was headed to the co-op anyway, it occurred to me it was Noah’s half birthday and as he is living in the house, it seemed odd not to buy cupcakes. So, I did. They were very good, and everyone appreciated the seasonal flavor.

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). We ran into a couple of difficulties. Once we’d rolled the dough out to the middle thickness the machine can make it seemed so thin and fragile, we were afraid to change the setting to the thinnest one, so we used it as is. Because the dough was a little thicker than called for, we had leftover filling. But the biggest problem was that the dough stuck to the plates where we set the cut ravioli and when we tried to lift them, the bottoms of almost all of them tore. So, we decided to bake them rather than boil them, and they came out fine and we ate some of the leftover filling on the side. It felt like snatching culinary victory from the jaws of defeat.

After dinner, we drove to North’s school, where they had been since three o’clock, to see the play. It was written by an alumnus of the school, who only graduated last year. It takes place in a fictional European kingdom in medieval times and concerns an arranged marriage between two nobles, each of whom is hiding a same-sex relationship from the other (and everyone else). It was very well written and funny. The acting was great, and the costumes were sumptuous.

Long-time readers may remember that in middle school North was in a lot of plays, two school plays and quite a few at a local children’s theater that went out of business the summer they were thirteen. Other than drama camp performances, though, they haven’t acted in a play for over four years, so it was really good to see them up on stage again, playing a priestess, a servant, and a bear.

Their biggest scene was the first one in the play, in which they play the priestess who marries the reluctant bride and groom, joining them in “holy heterosexuality,” a line that got laughs. (They said this surprised them on opening night because they’d said the line so many times it no longer seemed funny to them.) Later they were in the background of a few scenes, either as the priestess or a kitchen servant. Finally, they were one of several actors in bear suits who chase a large group of characters through a forest in the climax.

We all enjoyed the play. During intermission, however, I embarrassed myself. In the restroom, a middle-aged woman in line told me how much she’d enjoyed North’s acting… and I had no idea who she was, so I couldn’t reciprocate with something about her child. (Unless it was a teacher, I was pretty sure it was the mother of one of North’s peers.) When I got back to my seat I scanned the program, racking my brain about whose mother she could be. I had three candidates, but the most mortifying possibility was that she was the mother of Ranvita, North’s ex-girlfriend who was playing a noblewoman in the play. (Ranvita and North broke up in May after over a year of dating.) Sure enough, after the play was over, I saw her in the lobby with Ranvita’s father, whom I did recognize. What can I say? You don’t see as much of your kids’ friends’ parents when they’re in high school, even if they’re dating. I hope she didn’t think I was holding a grudge about the breakup, because I absolutely am not.

The play runs through next weekend, and then North will get a little bit of a break until it’s time to start working on the Winter One Acts, one of which they will be directing, as their senior project. I can’t wait to see it.

October Harvest

Sisterly Visit

My sister came East for a wedding the second weekend in October, and we got to see her for a few hours Saturday afternoon. We were hoping to take her on our annual pumpkin stand outing, but events conspired against us. The day was rainy, North had to review a show for Cappies, and Sara had to leave earlier than she originally thought because she didn’t realize she was invited to the rehearsal dinner. So that left us a three-and-a-half-hour gap when everyone was available, but it was nice to see her anyway. When Sara comes East, we mostly meet up at the beach, or before our mom moved West at Mom’s house, so she hasn’t been to our house in twenty years. We showed her around the house (she admired the newly yellow kitchen walls and the not-so-new kids’ self-portraits from preschool on the living room walls). I took her through the front yard full of Halloween decorations and the mostly moribund garden out back.

Then we had a leisurely lunch at Busboys and Poets, where she was impressed with the array of gluten-free options (I’d chosen it with this in mind) and then we came home and served her gluten-free mochi brownies Noah had made the night before and then we sent her on her way to Winchester, Virginia with a piece of gluten-free almond-flour cornbread North had made for dinner a couple days previous.

Last Open House

The next Tuesday there was an Open House at North’s school. This was a surprise because the school has not had them in years past, unlike all five of the other MCPS schools our kids have attended.  (The first couple years I thought it was because of covid, but I later learned they just didn’t do it.) I have always enjoyed getting a glimpse of the kids’ school day, so when I found out it was happening, it was a given that I was going—the only question was how many and which periods I would visit.

It turned out the Open House didn’t cover the whole day, just the end of second and fifth, and all of third and sixth periods. Luckily, the classes I most wanted to see just happened to be third (AP Lit) and sixth (Mythology and Modern Culture), so I was having a hard time choosing the morning or afternoon block when I decided to do both, even though it was busy work week. I haven’t had a chance to do this since North was in middle school, and I knew in the future, I’d remember having gone, but I would not remember writing a blog post about adaptogens for a supplement company.

North has an abbreviated schedule with no first or second period class, so I commuted with them to school for third period. They take a bus-to-train-to-bus route every day, leaving an hour and a half before they need to be at school. We got there about half hour early, which is what happens when North catches every bus and train. We sat at the tables outside the school, and I ate the yogurt and plum I’d packed for breakfast.

AP Lit started with a warm-up in which the students had to write down an example of juxtaposition, euphony, and/or motif. The teachers asked people to share, and a few did, then she went over definitions and examples of each term on the electronic board. I noticed that the Emily Dickinson poem she put up for euphony wasn’t on the screen long enough for anyone to read and find where the euphony was. (I can’t help it. Whenever I’m in a high school English class I tend to think how I would teach it differently.)

Next the kids were asked to produce poems they’d chosen to bring to class to share and they rotated through pairs, reading their poems aloud for each other (or exchanging copies to read silently) then explaining to each other why they chose the poems they did. This activity also seemed rushed. I might have done fewer rotations in hope of achieving a deeper discussion. The teacher then asked for people to share their poems with the whole class, and a few kids did.

The last activity was silently reading an Amiri Baraka poem, “An Agony, As Now,” and annotating it in preparation for a timed writing on it the following class. I got a copy, too, and I have to say, it’s a hard poem. While the students were working on that, she had them come up to her desk one by one and pick a poet for an individual poetry project. One girl who had just read “The Road Less Travelled” out loud announced no one could pick Robert Frost because she loved Robert Frost, and she was calling dibs on him. It didn’t work. Someone who got called up before her chose Frost and the girl was put out. North later said she probably wasn’t that upset, she’s just dramatic. North didn’t get their first choice (Emily Dickinson) either, but they got their second choice (Anne Sexton), and they seemed okay with that outcome. At least they did not complain loudly.

I went back to the outside tables for fourth period while North went to computer science. I’d brought my laptop, and I thought I might work, but I read the newspaper and wrote some of this. North usually eats in the theater room, but they came out to join me for lunch. It’s nice they’re allowed to eat outside. The day was pleasant when the sun was out, but a little chilly when it went behind the clouds. I probably should have brought a jacket. There were kids eating at the picnic tables and on the sidewalk and throwing footballs around and one annoying boy kept trying to ride a locked Lime scooter without paying for it, causing it to beep loudly. North said, “That kid has to be a freshman,” with scorn befitting a senior. The lunch period is generously long, fifty minutes. (In my high school we only had twenty-five minutes.) We both ate and they did some math homework and we talked.

There was an information session for parents prior to the afternoon class block and I ended up stuck in for most of fifth period. You weren’t supposed to go to your kids’ classes until it was over. It was sparsely attended, as was the Open House as a whole. It wasn’t well publicized and as I mentioned, the school hasn’t done it before, or at least not in the last few years. The parents at the session skewed toward those with kids in ninth grade. In fact, at one point a mother introduced herself as having a ninth and twelfth grader and the principal joked, “but you’re not here for your twelfth grader” and right after that I had to introduce myself as the mother of a senior, which was a little awkward.

I managed to catch the last five minutes of North’s math class. The students are about to start a statistics research project and the teacher was explaining how to construct a hypothesis for it and what a null hypothesis means. North’s project will be to determine if schools in more affluent areas win more Cappies awards for their school plays and which categories are most affected. They got curious when, as a critic, they noticed how much more elaborate the costumes and sets are in wealthier schools.

Mythology was next. The vibe was more laid back than in AP Lit. The teacher spent almost the whole class going from small group to small group talking to them about their ancient Egyptian culture research projects. North was in the mummies group and the group told the teacher they were going to focus on the how-to aspect of mummification and how social hierarchy affected who was mummified and who was not. The teacher suggested they include information on canopic jars and the evolution of mummification techniques. The teacher obviously has a lot of enthusiasm for the material, which is always nice to see. I noticed some of the groups were getting off topic, though, when the teacher wasn’t with them. When I mentioned it to North later, they said, “Well, it’s an elective, so that will happen.” Seventh period was closed to parents, so North headed off to ceramics and I made my way home, walking to the Metro stop for the exercise and then taking a train and a bus.

Working Man

Noah was out of the house all day Thursday and Friday working. As of two weeks ago, he’s junior editor on an as-needed basis for a video production company in DC. In those two weeks, they’ve had him come into the office six days. So far, he’s worked on two projects, sorting footage from a conference into categories and matching different voiceovers to an ad for biofuels. He has no guaranteed hours, so it’s hard to tell how regular it’s going to be, but it’s good work experience and nice for him to have some money coming in, in addition to what he makes on the more occasional work he does for Mike. I think he must be feeling flush because he bought concert tickets for Royal and the Serpent and Nightly and he’s going to a live recording of the Nightvale podcast. The office is not near a Metro stop, so like his sibling, he has a long bus-to-train-to-bus commute.

Alluring Applications

And speaking of his sibling, they have completed three of their six college applications: to Johnson and Wales University (the culinary school in Rhode Island and their top pick), Saint Mary’s College of Maryland (the public honors college), and Aberystwyth University in Wales (yes, Wales). Towson University (another Maryland public school) is up next. They have been very organized and on top of this, getting the applications with November 1 deadlines finished before fall play rehearsals goes into crunch time, which will happen very soon. Yesterday they mentioned they’d forgotten to switch their career path from chef in one of the non-culinary school options, but then they said breezily that might just make them seem “mysterious and alluring.”

Pumpkin Day

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.

We set out around 3:20, and traffic was heavy for a while, but we got to the farm stand in plenty of time. On the way, we listened to my Halloween playlist, which North downloaded to their phone because the Apple one we listened to on the way to Cedar Point has too many songs that don’t belong on a Halloween playlist, in their opinion. The downside of this was that we couldn’t complain to each other about the playlist, so we turned our critical eye to people’s Halloween decorations, or rather the relative scarcity of them. The ones we saw were quite nice.

When we arrived, were surprised to find the stand unstaffed with instructions on a laminated sheet at the counter explaining how to pay electronically. The whole set up was quite trusting, but apparently, it’s working for them. We loaded up the car with jack-o-lantern pumpkins, a soup pumpkin, decorative gourds, sauerkraut, apples, apple butter, apple cider doughnuts, and apple cider.

We’ve been coming to this stand since before the kids were born, back when the farm was located there and there were pumpkins in the fields, and a cider press and farm animals. (It’s moved out to cheaper land as the area has gentrified.) In 2018, we thought it would be the last time with Noah, but he came with us in 2020 when he was spending his sophomore year of college at home, and again this year, so I’m not going to make any predictions about whether it will be North’s last time or not, but it could be. Or maybe one or both kids will settle in the DC area, and we’ll be bringing our grandkids there. You never know.

From the farm stand we set out for Meadowlark Botanical Gardens for a pre-dinner stroll. It was a pretty day and we enjoyed the changing leaves, fall flowers and berries, the koi in the ponds, and the pavilion, arch, totem poles, and statues in the Korean Bell Garden. We also got a glimpse of the holiday lights in the shape of flowers, mushrooms, and small trees that are being installed.

As always when we visit these gardens in October, the place is teeming with dressed up teenagers taking homecoming photos. Between the girls in tiny dresses and teetering heels, the boys in suits, and a wedding party, people in formal wear probably outnumbered visitors in street clothes. It makes you feel undressed, taking a walk on a Saturday afternoon, dressed in khakis and a flannel shirt. We didn’t realize it when the wedding was in progress because everyone was up on a deck that was partly obscured, but as we were leaving, we saw the two brides in big white dresses and realized it was a lesbian wedding. It made me think about how when Beth and I had our commitment ceremony in 1992, it would have been quite daring to have it in such a public outdoor space. The world really has changed.

Sitting in a pavilion overlooking a small lake, we ordered from Sunflower, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant and our traditional dinner spot for this outing, and we went to pick it up.

We took it to the picnic tables at Nottoway Park, to eat. We used to eat inside the restaurant, but starting in 2020, we added the picnic component, and we’ve kept it, even though we occasionally eat inside restaurants now. There is a nice community garden in the park and after we’d had our fill of seaweed salad, dumplings, two kinds of soup, two kinds of noodles, vegetarian shrimp, sushi, and a stir-fry, we took a little walk down there. There were tomatoes still thriving and a lot of fall vegetables (cabbage, chard, collards, etc.) and zinnias in many of the plots. It was almost full dark, and a half moon had risen as we left.

Our last stop was for ice cream. We tried a new-to-us place, which I recommend if you’re local. I got half pumpkin and half green tea. Beth placed a similar order, half pumpkin, half coffee. I told her it was like a pumpkin spice latte in ice cream form. We ducked into a nearby CVS to look for candy corn, but Christmas had overtaken the store and there was none to be found. (Beth found some the next day.)

“Another successful pumpkin outing,” Beth said as we carried the pumpkins to the porch after driving home. Noah noted that none of them fell out of the hatch onto the highway.

“Is that the bar?” I asked. It isn’t, though. Even if we’d smashed a pumpkin or two, we’d still have had another chance to pick out pumpkins and autumnal treats, walk in a beautiful place, and eat delicious food together one more time. That feels like a windfall.

Here’s our October harvest:

  1. A rare visit from a sister, sister-in-law, and aunt
  2. A last chance to get a sneak peek into North’s school day
  3. Encouraging developments on the job front
  4. Three completed college applications
  5. Pumpkins, gourds, apples, and other fall delights

HalloWeekend

A week ago, on Saturday morning, we were in a hotel room in Western Pennsylvania discussing the comparative usage and etymology of the phrases “fraidy cat” and “scaredy cat,” having discovered that Beth and I would use either term, but the kids had only heard of the latter. The reason for this was that we were on our way to HalloWeekends at Cedar Point (having picked North up at school on Friday afternoon and driven most of the way there the day before) and as we were preparing to hit the road and drive the last few hours, Beth was considering buying one of the necklaces with cats on them that let scare actors know you don’t want to be scared. She speculated it was supposed to evoke the idea of “fraidy cat” and the kids were surprised by the term, which sent us down a pre-breakfast googling rabbit hole.

The trip was a long time in the making. When Noah graduated from high school in 2019, he asked if we could go to Cedar Point that summer, but North was in a play and had a couple day camps and we had another trip planned and we couldn’t fit it in, and you can probably guess why we didn’t go to any amusement parks in 2020 or 2021. It’s a lot easier to get to Hershey Park from where we live, so when we did go to one in 2022, that’s where we went.

But Noah doesn’t ask for much, so it had been bothering me for a long time that we never granted his wish. And then when North got covid this summer and missed a camp field trip to Hershey Park we decided a fall visit to an amusement park was in order. As always, it made more sense to go to Hershey Park. It’s only a couple hours away and Cedar Point is in Ohio, nine to ten hours away. But it’s always going to be that far away, and we’ve been to Hershey Park in the Dark, but not Halloweekends, so we decided to road trip to Ohio over Columbus/Indigenous People’s Day weekend.

I’m glad we did it. It was a lot of fun, long drive and all. We arrived at the park mid-afternoon Saturday and stayed until the evening and then all of Sunday, too. We stayed at the Hotel Breakers, which is a stately early twentieth-century hotel right next to the park and on the shore of Lake Erie. (You can see it in the background of the first picture.) Cedar Point is the amusement park of Beth’s childhood and her family used to stay at this hotel and she really loves it. We got a suite with two beds in one room and a fold-out couch in another, so Noah was able to close the doors between the rooms and have his own space at night. Being so close to the park allowed us to go back to the room in ones and twos as people wanted, which was convenient because the kids wanted to stay longer than we did both nights.

The hotel went all out when it came to lobby decorations. There were spiderwebs on the chandeliers, skeletons riding the carousel horses that usually reside there, life-size figures in various spooky tableaux, and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was playing on a continuous loop on a television. Right outside the front entrance there were witch legs sticking out of planters.

The park was also nicely decorated. There were giant collages made of pumpkins and different colored squashes– my favorite was the skull—and all sorts of skeletons and monsters, both statues and animated, talking ones. We all liked the big ogre that sang “Ogreface” to the tune of “Poker Face.”

North used a loaner wheelchair because they didn’t feel up to hours of walking. It works just like at Hershey Park. You get a pass that allows you and your party to go to the front of the ride lines and then they make a note of when you’re allowed to go to the next ride (based on the length of the line you skipped). It was easier pushing them around Cedar Point, which is flat, than Hershey Park, which is a little hillier, but even so by the second day my arms were sore.

Over the course of one and a half days, in different combinations, we rode all kinds of rides—many coasters, a mine ride, a Ferris wheel, swings, a train that goes through a village of skeletons (this is a permanent feature of the park—it’s not for Halloween), and one of those tower rides that drops you from a great height. This last one is called the Power Tower and it’s 240 feet high. North was the only one who wanted to ride it. Together the kids rode much scarier coasters than I ever have, but Beth said that’s because in my youth there weren’t coasters with the cars hanging off the sides of the track or with so many inversions. I do want to note, as I do whenever we go to any amusement park, that in 1989, the week before my college graduation, when it was the tallest coaster in the world (205 feet), I rode the Magnum at Cedar Point. It is far from the tallest now and I would never ride it.

While we were in line for the Blue Streak, which at 78 feet is the smallest wooden coaster in the park and right at my limit, I was explaining to Noah that in my experience, the years from my mid-teens to early twenties marked the peak (pun intended) of my roller coaster bravery. So when the ride was over and a middle-aged woman in the row in front of me asked her friend, “Why is this ride so much scarier than it used to be?” and I relayed the comment to Noah, he laughed.

We had minor mishaps on two rides. On the Wild Mouse, a small coaster with cars that spin on the tracks (think of it like a teacup ride that also goes up and down), North’s car got stuck on the track, still spinning, and it was a while before they could get off, quite dizzy. On the Ferris Wheel, there was no malfunction, but we misjudged how cold it would be up there after dark. In the daytime it had been in the mid-fifties, and I was warm enough in my hoodie with two layers underneath. I enjoyed the first two rotations of the wheel and the lovely view of the all the lit-up rides and the shimmering surface of the lake, but during the third rotation we were stopped for a long time near the top and we were all freezing, especially Noah who was only wearing a t-shirt under his denim jacket. So we when we got to the bottom we were all aghast when it started back up again for a fourth and final spin, again with long stops.

After that, Beth lent Noah her fleece jacket, hat, and gloves, so he could stay in the park with North to do some of the haunted mazes and outdoor scare zones, while Beth and I retreated to the hotel to rest and relax after a long day. (She may have mentioned once or twice that she told everyone it was going to be cold and to dress warmly.)

On Sunday we did fewer rides and took in some shows. We saw a short musical murder mystery play called Wake the Dead. The premise is that it’s the funeral of the victim and his four potential heirs are expecting to find out who will inherit, but instead each is accused of his murder and must mount a defense in song. In the end the audience votes and then the guilty party (who presumably varies from show to show) sings again. It was fun and featured an actor who did a spirited version of Meatloaf’s “Hot Patootie/Bless My Soul.”

Next, we attended a recitation of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” with a brief frame narrative in which the murderous narrator is about to be executed for his crime and then sets out to explain himself to the witnesses to the execution. I’m not sure the extra bit added much. The story stands alone and the actor who recited it did a nicely creepy job.

After the second show, we split up because the indoor mazes opened at five and the kids wanted to do more (the outdoor fright zones weren’t open on Sundays). Beth was not interested, being the self-described fraidy cat in the family, but I stayed with the kids for two mazes. The first was a tour of a haunted house with members of a paranormal society leading you through it. Just a few steps in I got North’s wheelchair stuck in a doorway and North said, “Noah is better at this,” and I handed it over to him. He was very good at maneuvering it through narrow spaces, even when the lights went out and it was not at all clear to me which way to turn. I walked behind him and held onto the hem of his jacket. Later I told Beth that there were so many people jumping out at you it made it less scary, because there was no suspense. You were pretty much always expecting it if it had been thirty seconds or more since the last one. The second maze was a dance club run by vampires. It was called Orpheus, so I thought it was a nice touch that “Don’t look back” was spray-painted on the wall in two places. There were more mazes, but by that time I’d had enough so I left the kids and went back to the hotel.

Beth had already eaten dinner, but I hadn’t so I invited her to join me on the beach while I ate half an apple, plus a cheese stick and a latte I got at the Starbucks in the lobby. (Finding diabetic-friendly vegetarian food in the park was kind of a challenge so I carried food with me.) Cedar Point and Lake Erie hold a lot of childhood memories for Beth, but it’s also very near Oberlin and we went to the park once or twice and to the lake many times in college, so it has nostalgic early relationship vibes for us, too. We didn’t stay too long, though, because it was cold out and we wanted to go inside and soak in the hot tub while we waited for the kids to come back. That was nice, as after over 24,000 steps that day, my feet were sore.

On Monday morning Beth and I took separate walks on the beach. It was lovely down there. There was a big flock on seagulls near the water and the remnants of the sunrise in the sky. I would have liked to walk longer, but we had a nine-plus-hour drive ahead of us, so I said my goodbyes to the beautiful lobby and lake, and we hit the road, back to work and school and the routines of the week.

September Pivot

Last Thursday, I posted this on Facebook: “Steph Lovelady wore socks to book club last night and slept with a blanket and thinks September may have done its annual pivot.” So far, it seems to be true. We’re enjoying highs in the seventies and low eighties and the humidity has vanished. We are pivoting in other ways, too, settling into the new routine of the school year.

North is three and a half weeks into their senior year and their extracurriculars are getting started. They are a triple threat in the theater department. They are lead critic for their school’s Cappies delegation, they have two small roles in the fall play, and they are on costumes crew. They’re also attending improv club and are active in their school’s GSA*. Oh, and they’ve joined a book club that meets at a local bookstore and reads LGBT+ poetry. (They started attending this over the summer.)

Cappies will be like last year, in that they will attend plays at other high schools and write reviews. Being lead critic means they will also be organizing the assignments for their school’s delegation. Outside of drama camp North hasn’t acted since middle school and as long-time readers know, when they were younger that used to be a big part of their life. The play was written by a recent graduate of their high school, so technically, it’s a world premiere. It has a medieval setting and North has an ensemble role as a servant and a small speaking part as a nun. It will be fun to see them onstage again. They could have been costumes manager again, but they decided (wisely, I think) that they had enough on their plate as it was, though they will still be pitching in with costumes on days when they don’t have rehearsal.

You may remember that two years ago the GSA began organizing to eliminate or alter the Powder Puff flag football game that precedes the Homecoming football game to make it less sexist. It took a while, but their efforts are paying off. At a recent meeting with student government, the SGA** said that kids of all genders can participate in the flag football game (which was formerly all girls) and the cheerleading (which was formerly all boys) and that none of the cheerleaders will wear tutus. But in an unexpected turn of events, this morning North learned the whole cheerleading event is cancelled, though the flag football game is still a go (and open to all).

Now because of long-standing tradition and the fact that up to now the recruiting was single sex for each event, it will probably still be mostly girls playing flag football, but it’s a start, and more than the GSA expected. There’s talk of making it more like a field day in which people of any gender try out sports they don’t play next year. And they are getting rid of the name Powder Puff. I’m proud of North for advocating for something they believe in and for persisting across three school years before they saw results.

Noah hasn’t had much work, but he is travelling to Pennsylvania next week to help Mike film a commercial for a supplement store. And Mike thinks he may have a lead on some work logging footage at a conference after that, with some friends of his. It’s not certain yet, but I hope it’s something that could help Noah get his foot in the door. Tonight he attended a Zoom call for Ithaca students, alumni, and professors to discuss the job market in post-production film work in the context of the writers’ strike.

Since he has a lot of free time, he’s been helping with housework and yardwork. Last week on top of his normal chores, he organized the chaos that was our Tupperware drawer (he even labeled the shelves), scrubbed the mildew off the bathroom ceiling and walls, and got the weeds along the fence that divides the driveway from the yard somewhat under control.

Meanwhile, we’ve been on several excursions recently, in groups of three and four:

Takoma Park Folk Festival

Two Sundays ago, we all attended the Takoma Park Folk Festival. I look forward to this event every year. We got there soon after it started because Joe Uehlein, who is the father of a friend of North’s and the husband of a friend of Beth’s, was playing “songs to fit the times in which we live,” according to the program, and I like to support performers I know.

It had been raining earlier in the morning and it was damp and attendance at Joe’s set was a little sparse, but as the day wore on, it got sunnier, and more people turned out. We stayed for several hours, taking in performances by Susanna Laird (“a mix of folk, blues, gospel, and jazz”), Brad Engler (“classic folk themes and spirited vocals and guitar”) and Friends and Amigos (“indie-pop covers and originals in English and Portuguese”).

We saw a few people we knew around the festival. The younger sister of North’s best friend from elementary school was working at the face-painting booth, and I waved at a mom of one of Noah’s preschool classmates from a distance and wondered if the small child she had with her was her grandchild. She has a daughter a few years older than Noah, so it’s possible. Finally, the mother of one of North’s preschool classmates came and joined us while we were listening to Friends and Amigos. She’s our city council representative now, so she wanted to talk city politics.

In addition to listening to music, we ate festival food (I had an eggroll and ice cream) and Beth and North checked out the craft fair. It was a pleasant afternoon.

Airport 77s Concert

Just five days later, on Friday night, Noah, Beth, and I went to hear the Airport 77s, a local band, play at the Sligo Creek Golf Course. I hadn’t heard of the band or the weekly series of concerts the golf course hosts, but Mike, who has filmed a music video for the group, was going to play the bass for a couple songs, and he’d invited us to come watch.

It turns out a golf course surrounded by stately old trees is a really nice place to listen to a concert on a mild September evening. The set was a mix of covers (mostly of 70s and 80s classic rock) and originals–“Dad rock,” in Beth’s words, which is appropriate–Mike and his wife Sara have three girls, the oldest of whom is North’s age. Just a couple songs in, Beth said, “We’re the demographic” and we totally were. We found ourselves singing along often.

We got chipwiches from the concession stand settled in to listen. There were a lot of families with small kids, and we were seated near a booth that was giving away crayons and coloring pages, so there was a steady stream of adorable children running by our blanket.

Mike came on toward the end of the two-hour concert, joining the band for Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” and the Romantics, “What I Like About You.” He was introduced as “the second meanest guitar player in Silver Spring,” and “Captain Chaos.” We went up to chat with him for a little bit once the show was over and he was in a cheerful post-performance mood.

A Haunting in Venice

Saturday afternoon, the kids and I went to see A Haunting in Venice. Beth sat it out, going kayaking instead, because this movie is more of a mystery/horror hybrid that the previous ones in the series and she is not a fan of horror. (Season 6 of Buffy is proving challenging for her.)

I went through a big Agatha Christie phase in eighth and ninth grade, reading dozens of her books, and I went on to teach And Then There Were None in my genre fiction class at GWU from the late nineties to mid-aughts. When Noah was in middle school, I read And Then There Were None aloud to him and he read at least one other Christie novel on his own. It may have even been Hallowe’en Party, the book on which A Haunting in Venice is extremely loosely based. North hasn’t read any Christie, but they did see a stage version of And Then There Were None because a friend of theirs was acting in it several years ago.

I enjoyed the film. Even though the plot has very little to do with the novel, it preserves that Christie feeling that makes me so nostalgic and I appreciate how all these recent Poirot films flesh out the characters a little. It’s not searing psychological drama, but the characters are more well-rounded that in Christie’s novels, which are really all about the puzzle and not the people.

Sitting in the theater I had a moment of deep contentment, thinking of my fourteen-year-old self and imagining how happy it would have made her to know my middle-aged self would be here, enjoying this movie with my grown and almost grown kids.

Takoma Park Farmers’ Market Pie Contest

As soon as we got home from the movie, North got to work on their entry in the annual farmers’ market pie contest. They’ve entered a pie every year since they were seven or eight (with a break when the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 for covid). When they were ten, they won for most unusual pie, with a cantaloupe pie, and when they were thirteen, they won for best kids’ pie with a mushroom pie. This year they made a Dutch pear pie. It’s just like a Dutch apple pie, but with pears. They used a pie crust recipe they learned to make at the Johnson and Wales culinary camp they attended this summer, and the filling was spiced pears with a strudel topping. They called it Perfect Pear Pie and in my completely unbiased opinion, it really was. All the elements worked together nicely. Anyway, it didn’t win, but we enjoyed the slices we bought.

The contest is a benefit for the farmers’ market matching funds for SNAP recipients and that’s a good enough cause to justify eating multiple slices of pie, so in addition to two slices of North’s pie, we got a slice of fig custard pie, pecan pie, and chai custard and split the five pieces between the four of us. They were all excellent. The judges must have quite a hard job each year.

Next weekend, we will celebrate another kind of pivot. Saturday, the fall equinox, is North’s half-birthday and suddenly (or so it seems to me) they will be closer to eighteen than seventeen. That seems momentous, as eighteen is such a milestone. We always have cupcakes on the kids’ half birthdays, so I know there will be sweetness in the day. I hope fall gets off to a sweet start for you, too.

p.s. Do you like North’s new glasses?

*Gay-Straight Alliance, or maybe Gender and Sexuality Alliance. No one is really sure.
** Student Government Association

Watery Weekend

I know it was a week ago, but how was your Labor Day weekend? Our was hot—it got up to the high nineties on Sunday and Monday—so we sought out water, wading or swimming in a creek, a river, a bay, and a pool.

Saturday: Sligo Creek

The kids and I go on a creek walk every year at the end of the summer, usually the week before school starts, but when we don’t manage that, over Labor Day weekend. That’s what happened this year, as the week before school started first North had covid and then we were at the beach.

Our neighborhood is sometimes called Between the Creeks because, you guessed it, it’s between two creeks. Usually we wade in Long Branch, but this year North proposed Sligo because they’d discovered a pretty stretch of it while on a walk recently. Noah and I were game.

I needed to pick up Their Eyes Were Watching God from the library for book club and the library’s new temporary-during-renovation location is in a storefront near Sligo Creek, so we made that part of the outing. There’s a Starbucks on the way, too, so we’d been out of the house for about an hour before we entered the creek, carefully stepping around the poison ivy on the shore. The heat hadn’t set in yet—it was only in the mid-eighties that day—so it was pleasant to amble around doing errands and then spend another hour wading in the creek.

North led us to a deep pool and then to a fallen log where the kids tried to limbo. Noah found a dead moth, still perched on a ragged leather jacket caught on a branch. We crossed underneath two bridges, a footbridge (pictured) and the tunnel-like space under the New Hampshire Avenue bridge, where the rafters are filled with more branches, presumably from the last time the water was that high.

We came home in the late afternoon, washed our feet and legs with poison ivy scrub, just in case, and Noah and I made manicotti with homemade tomato sauce for dinner, then finished Kiki’s Delivery Service, which we’d started the night before. It was a very nice day.

Sunday: Patapsco River/Chesapeake Bay

Sunday afternoon, we drove to Fort Smallwood Park in Anne Arundel County at the confluence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. We’ve been there a couple times before. The draw is that drones are allowed and there’s swimming, so there’s something for everyone in the family. In the car Noah realized he’d forgotten his bathing suit and he didn’t want to swim in his clothes, despite our encouragement to do just that. Instead, he waded up to his knees, flew his drone, and lay on a towel on the sand and read a Game of Thrones book.

Beth, North, and I went deeper into the water. It was slightly salty, with little swells from power boats, and a pleasant temperature. We stood in the water and talked. I floated on my back a while. That might have been when my phone, which I’d accidentally left in my swim bottom pocket fell to its final resting place at the bottom of the river. I didn’t realize what had happened until I got back to my towel and started looking for it. Then I remembered I’d had it with me right before I went in the water. I was intending to take a picture of Beth and North, but they were too far out to get a good one, so I went to take it back to my bag and to stash my wedding ring somewhere safe, too. (It’s a little loose so I don’t like to wear it in bodies of water.) Apparently, I only put the ring away and not the phone.

I thought about going back into the water and looking for it, but the water was too murky, the area we’d covered was too large, and it just seemed impossible, so I didn’t even try. Everyone was reading, so I tried to force myself to concentrate on the afterword to Robinson Crusoe, which I’d finally finished a couple days earlier, but it was hard because my mind kept wandering from Crusoe’s watery misfortune to mine.

When we were about to leave and I was on my way to the restrooms I looked carefully at the clearer shallow water along the shore, just in case the phone had washed ashore, but it hadn’t. Before we got in the car, I asked North to try to track it with their phone one last time, but their phone couldn’t reach mine, so we drove away, leaving it behind.

We stopped twice on the way home and I consoled myself with a child-sized frozen custard at Rita’s and then an hour later, a Pineapple Paradise drink at Starbucks (while Beth dropped off bags of clothes at Value Village). What the hell, I thought, my glucose monitor wouldn’t be tracking my blood sugar for a while anyway. (I take the readings with my phone.)

Monday: Long Branch Pool

Beth got me a new phone at the AT&T store the next morning after spending a long time on the phone with AT&T the night before. She is very good to me.

She and I went to Long Branch pool that afternoon, the last day it was open for the season. North and I went a few times at the beginning of the summer, but I don’t think we went at all in July or August. Noah isn’t much for swimming pools and he declined to come, as did North, who was originally planning to come but decided it was too hot to leave the house a second time that day. (They went for a walk with me that morning and we got iced lattes at Takoma Beverage Company.)

I thought the water might be too warm for swimming laps, but it was actually a perfect temperature. I guess that was because it hadn’t been hot for very long—and the week before had been unseasonably mild. I did twenty-five laps in the crowded and somewhat chaotic lap lane and then I went down the slide for good measure, since I won’t be able to do it again until next year. Beth soaked in the main part of the pool and then retreated to a chair to read a magazine. I would have liked to read there for a bit, too, but I needed to get back to the house to make dinner, so I hit the showers and we left.

Despite the heat, we had a picnic dinner—vegetarian hot dogs, baked beans, devilled eggs, corn on the cob, watermelon, and vanilla ice cream with peach-sour cherry sauce. (I’d recently found the sour cherries leftover from earlier in the summer at the bottom of the chest freezer.) Noah hosed and scrubbed the dirt off the patio table, and North shucked the corn and made the sauce. We usually have a backyard picnic with some variation of this meal on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day, but it was the first of the long summer weekends we were all together, as Noah left for California before Memorial Day, and the four of us we were scattered over three states on the Fourth. It was nice to have one last (well, also first) summer picnic dinner together.

After Labor Day

In addition to all the profound contributions of the labor movement to our lives, Labor Day also makes us think that fall is around the corner. Despite this, it was hot the week afterward, our hottest weather of the summer actually, with a high close to 100 degrees at least one day. But today it started to feel more bearable after a rain. (Out for a walk afterward, I actually saw steam rising from the street.)

Tomorrow the high temperature is only supposed to be in the low eighties and the weather chart has some enticing numbers that start with seven after that. The cooler weather will come just in time for the Takoma Folk Festival tomorrow and the pie contest the weekend after that, both classic September events for us. We’re looking forward to hearing some live music and North is currently deciding what kind of pie to bake.

As for October, we are already making plans for a trip to an amusement park (probably Cedar Point) over Columbus Day/Día de la Raza/Indigenous People’s Day weekend and a quick visit from my sister the following weekend. She had a wedding to attend in Virginia and is swinging by for a day. Among other activities, we’re thinking of taking her to the farm stand where we always get our pumpkins. Summer weekends are (almost) over, but we’re gearing up for fall ones.

Senior Sunrise

My youngest child is now a senior in high school. How did this happen, people? The night before school started, I was indulging in some nostalgia, looking at old back-to-school blog post pictures and showing them to North. They thought I was gathering them to make a Facebook post and while that wasn’t my intention, once they said it, it seemed like a good idea. So, the next morning after I took the traditional photo by the front gate, I posted sixteen of them, starting with my tiny two year old about to start nursery school and ending with the one I just took. (The only photo not by the gate was ninth grade, the year school was mostly online. That picture is of them in their pajamas, sitting at a card table with a laptop in the dining room.)

But I am getting a little ahead of myself. On Saturday Beth and North went to the optometrist to pick out frames. We found out right before North left for camp that they need glasses and we were hoping to get them before school started, but there was an unanticipated hurdle with the insurance, so there was a delay. We’re hoping that if eyestrain has been contributing to North’s increased migraines, wearing glasses might help. Both Beth and North picked out frames and apparently while they did so, North made comments like, “These are too much like Mommy’s” or “These are too much like Grandmom’s.”

On Sunday morning North completed the last half hour of the agreed-upon time for working on the summer math homework. In a little over three hours, they got about a third of the way through it. Their reward was Sweet Frog. Actually, it was unrelated– we always have ice cream or frozen yogurt on the last day of summer break. We went mid-afternoon, in case of a headache, but they didn’t get one, so we all had dinner together (a tofu-tomato-basil stew Beth made) and watched a couple episodes of Blackish. Over the weekend North had been cleaning out their binder from last year, getting school supplies together, and preparing their breakfast and lunch for the first day, so there was no rush to get things together that night.

North has an abbreviated schedule this year, five classes instead of seven, and their counselor arranged it so that they don’t have a first or second period class. This is partly a mental health accommodation and partly a migraine one, because in tenth grade and the first quarter of eleventh, they were getting a lot of morning migraines, and these ended when they stopped getting up early to go to school and were better rested.

They’re taking AP Lit, Myth and Modern Culture, IB Applications of Math, computer science, and Ceramics III. They are a little nervous about that last one because they never took Ceramics II and had Ceramics I during the pandemic when it became more of a sculpture-with-found-materials class, but there was no way to fit Ceramics II into their schedule. Otherwise, they got all the classes they asked for, which is not bad considering the counselor had only five slots to manipulate.

On Monday morning, a little before eight, North was ready to go the Ride-On bus stop in front of our house in order to arrive at school at nine-thirty. Last semester when North only had afternoon classes, Beth drove them to and from school, but she’s not able to do that this year, so North will be getting there themselves on public transportation. Their route involves two buses and the Metro. They are still fine-tuning exactly when they need to leave.

I took the picture at the gate and while I was doing it, Noah came out on the porch to wish North a good day. Beth was out on her walk, but she got home before the bus arrived, so she was able to say goodbye, too. North got to school in plenty of time and then because of a suspected gas leak and evacuation which happened before they arrived, classes were shortened, and they had an even longer wait for third period than anticipated.

They took the school bus home, arriving around three-thirty. They gave a brief report about their classes. In case you were wondering, the math teacher made no mention of the summer homework, so North thinks it was voluntary. Speaking of homework, they didn’t have any that night and they went to bed with a headache around 4:50. They tried one of the new rescue medications for the first time. They say it’s not as good as the really effective one, but better than the least effective one. They were able to come to the dinner table, though they didn’t want to eat much, and to stay awake until 9:15.

The second day of school was strangely similar to the first. There was a shelter in place, again before they arrived, because of a “disturbance” in the neighborhood. North said it was a false report of a shooting. They had a little homework in their Lit class, creating a get-to-know-you infographic, and they got a headache again, at the same time, and again came to the table, but didn’t eat much. This was kind of a shame because I’d let them choose dinners for the first three days of the week. It was broccoli-cheddar soup on Monday and black bean soup on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Noah had a little work with Mike, a family friend and local filmmaker who often employs him for short-term jobs. They were filming a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a solar panel installation at a warehouse in Baltimore and getting drone footage of the panels. Mike took him out to lunch afterward, so he was gone from early morning until early afternoon. Mike might end up needing him to edit the footage, but that’s up in the air (no pun intended). Noah hasn’t heard back from any of the jobs he’s applied for, so it’s good he has an occasional side hustle.

Soon after Noah got home, Beth and I left to pick North up at school and go to family therapy. On the way home, North got another migraine and tried the second new medication they’d been prescribed and found it did nothing, so they went back to the mildly effective one they’d used Monday and Tuesday—they are allowed to mix them– and went to bed. They got up for dinner and I was glad they were able to eat some carrots and most of the broccoli-cheddar-quinoa patties I’d served them, but they went back to bed afterward, only emerging briefly to make their breakfast and lunch for the next day after I’d finished the dishes.

Thursday after school there was a kickoff meeting for the theater program, with information about the fall play, Cappies, and improv. We had a psychiatrist appointment late that same afternoon and as we weren’t sure how long the theater meeting would last, we rescheduled it, unnecessarily as it turned out, but North wanted to be able to stay for the whole thing if it ran long.

Friday was Senior Sunrise. There’s a tradition at North’s school (and some other area high schools) of the seniors having a sunrise picnic at the beginning of the school year and a sunset one at the end. The event started at six a.m., so Beth and North were up before the sun. North wanted coffee and Starbucks isn’t open before six, so they stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts. North said the sunrise itself was “underwhelming” but the spread of fruit salad, doughnuts, and muffins was nice. They said they kind of wished they’d brought a blanket because the AstroTurf of the football field was damp with dew, but then when they didn’t have to lug a blanket to all their classes, they were kind of glad they hadn’t brought one. Since they were at school for first and second period, they sat at the picnic tables outside the school and did English homework.

North’s got one week of senior year under their belt, but there’s one more back-to-school festivity to come. There’s a long retaining wall along the parking lot of North’s school and every year it’s painted white, and during the second week of school, the seniors paint their names on it in red or blue. The names stay there for the duration of the year and the next summer. The painting will take place next Friday during lunch. It’s a nice tradition and a reminder that all the students who pass through the school leave their marks. It’s time to find out what North’s mark will be.

Three Days at the Beach: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 81

I: Home, with Covid

Friday Evening through Wednesday Morning

Beth and North got back from camp on Friday evening around dinnertime. 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.

By Monday, North was well enough to work on their online summer math homework packet. I had only stumbled across the packet on their school’s website while they were at camp, and it was surprisingly long, over two hundred problems. It was unclear if it was mandatory or voluntary—outside of magnet programs our experience has been that summer assignments are voluntary, but I’ve always made the kids do them. Also surprisingly, it said it was due five days before school started, which has never happened.

So, on Sunday we discussed what to do about this lengthy assignment due in three days, using brainstorming and decision-making techniques we learned in family therapy. Finishing it by the due date seemed impossible. We landed on having North work on it for about three hours and then deciding whether or when to finish based on what the teacher said on the first day of school. Once North started, they discovered it was dynamic. When you get a problem wrong it explains why and then gives you another similar problem, so unless you get them all right, there are even more problems than we thought. I was kind of glad to hear that, though, because it sounded like an educational design.

I wish I had found the packet earlier, because North had a lot of downtime from mid-July to mid-August and this would have been a productive activity for that time, but I didn’t think to look because there was no summer math homework last year. The fact that it was so poorly publicized was one of North’s reasons to believe it couldn’t be mandatory. However, the fact that it had a due date made me think it might be.

On Wednesday morning North was feeling better and covid test they took was inconclusive. Beth couldn’t see a second line and the rest of us weren’t sure if there was the faintest second line or not. In any case, it was a marked improvement.

North had an appointment with the migraine doctor that morning. We didn’t want to cancel so we requested a switch to virtual. This particular doctor habitually runs late, but even so I was impatient when we had to wait forty minutes for him to open the meeting. The reason for my irritation was that we were leaving for the beach right after the meeting. Anyway, he eventually arrived, and we discussed the path forward. He’s going to increase the dose of North’s preventative and prescribe two more rescue meds for them to try. If none of that works in three or four months, the next step is probably Botox.

II. At the Beach

Wednesday Afternoon and Evening: Happiness

We left the house shortly before noon and arrived at our lunch spot, the Taco Bell just past the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, an hour later. It was good timing because Beth had a Zoom call that she had to take in the parking lot. I brought her lunch to the car, and the kids and I ate at picnic tables outside. She was still on the call when we got ice cream from Dairy Queen, so I brought her a mini blizzard, too.

We listened to podcasts all the way there. My contribution was an episode of This American Life I’d saved because it was all stories about the beach. It was called “A Day at the Beach.” Noah’s podcast was a discussion of climate change and North’s was a role-playing murder mystery.

We got to the house about 4:30. After we’d unpacked, North and I made an early dinner. North made a tomato-mozzarella-cucumber salad with pesto while I shucked and boiled corn and cooked vegetarian hot dogs. There was a picnic table on the second-floor deck, so we ate outside. The deck was shaded by big maple and oak trees, so it was like being in treehouse.

After the dishes were done, we headed out to the boardwalk. When we were about a half block away, I said, “I can smell it” and someone said, “The ocean?” and I said, “Happiness,” because for me, it’s pretty much the same thing.

We all got our second frozen treat of the day. This was quite the indulgence for me, but it was going to be a short trip, so there wasn’t a lot of time to pace ourselves. Anyway, I got frozen custard and everyone else got ice cream. The kids and I went down to the beach as the setting sun was painting orange streaks across the sky. Noah and I waded in the water, but North didn’t want to deal with taking their boots off and putting them back on, so they stayed on the sand. I took pictures of both kids in fake pensive poses.

North seemed very happy, laughing harder at my jokes that they merited. I think we were all glad covid had not derailed the trip. Though it should be noted, we don’t easily give up beach trips. We went to the beach the last time North had covid nine months ago. We went when they were semi-paralyzed, three years ago. By the time we arrived at this one, North was feeling better and so far, none of the rest of us felt sick.

I didn’t want to leave when everyone else did so I stayed behind sitting on the sand, breathing in the smell of the ocean, and watching the waves in the gathering darkness until they were illuminated by the lights from the boardwalk and the occasional flashes of people’s cell phone lights. Then I walked the mile or so back to the house.

Thursday: Drinking in Life

Our first morning at the beach we had a late breakfast on the patio of Egg, a favorite restaurant of ours that’s steps from the rental house. (The house is in a cul-de-sac, right behind the restaurant.) Noah and I both got lemon-blueberry crepes and I gave him a quarter of mine. The paper tag on my tea bag string said, “Drink in Life.” Coincidentally, that was my plan for the day.

After breakfast, I biked to the beach on a bike that came with the house. It was a men’s bike and I found it hard to get on and off because of the bar. In fact, I tumbled off it at the bike rack on Rehoboth Avenue near the boardwalk. It was more embarrassing than painful.

I stayed at the beach and boardwalk most of the day. Beth, who spent much of the day working, ferrying people around, and cooking dinner for us, drove North to join me and we swam together. The waves were big, which I like, but a little too rough. North and I both wiped out. Neither of us was hurt, but I lost a ponytail holder I liked, and we both got a lot of sand in our suits. The water had a lot more sand in it than usual. I heard people complaining about it all day, including parents offering helpful suggestions about sand removal techniques and finally one frustrated mom who said, “If you’re going to keep crying about this, can you go stand ten feet away?” Kind of harsh, but to be fair, the kid didn’t try any of her suggestions.

At eleven-thirty, Beth picked North up so they could pick up a lunch order from Grandpa Mac and to visit an Italian bakery. I stayed at the beach. I saw dolphins and pelicans. I got clams for lunch on the boardwalk, read a few sections of the newspaper I found in my bag because I’d accidentally left my book at the house. Then I took a walk, lay on my towel with my eyes closed and listened to the waves, and swam again, not long though because the water was still rough. By this time, it was three and I was missing my family. I texted North and asked if they’d like to meet up at Funland, giving fair warning that it looked like it might rain.

By the time we did meet, around 3:45, it was raining, so we started out under the roof, with the carousel. We both rode it. I haven’t been on one in a while so that was fun. The rain slowed to a drizzle and most of the outside rides were still operating, so North went on the Free Spin, the Paratrooper, and the Sea Dragon. I enjoyed watching their pink platform boots dangling off the seat of the Paratrooper.

Then we went to sit on the boardwalk where it was quieter because they’d gotten a migraine, taken the good meds, and were waiting for them to take effect. We watched the ocean and a rabbit nibbling dune grass. We went back into Funland shortly before five, thinking to get in line for the Haunted Mansion, which opened at five, but the line was crazy long and after we’d waited in it for fifteen minutes or so it was clear we wouldn’t make it through before Beth was coming to fetch North at 5:30. Beth had to record the President of the union making a speech on Zoom that evening and then edit it, so pickup had to be at a precise time. I wondered if North had wasted their meds.

I couldn’t get in the car with them because I had the bike, so I did a little shopping at the tea and spice shop and Candy Kitchen, then biked home, where Beth and Noah had made a delicious dinner of gazpacho, salt-crusted potatoes with cilantro-garlic sauce, and a spread of fancy cheeses for dinner. I did the dishes and then while Beth was working, the kids and I watched an episode of Shadow and Bone. One of the reasons Beth had to work so much on this vacation is that she’s the Communications Director of her union and her senior writer, who would have covered for her, resigned unexpectedly the week before we left. Also, there’s a new President and he needs to consult with her often about speeches and it was an eventful week for the union.

Later in the evening, we had Italian pastries Beth bought and chocolate-raspberry fudge I’d picked up for dessert. I bought the fudge because I know garlicky meals always make Beth crave chocolate and I didn’t think she’d have time to go out and get herself any. I’d had a nice day, but I was sad she wasn’t getting much of a vacation. I stayed up longer than I probably should have, waiting for her to finish editing the speech and come to bed.

Friday: End of Contagion

North wanted to try a coffeeshop that was just a few doors down and we’d never tried because we don’t usually stay in this part of town. I’d said I’d take them but I was up a couple hours before they were so I had breakfast at home and just got a latte there, while they had a lavender latte, tater tots and an açai bowl on the patio.

We came home and Beth had returned from her morning walk, and she said she could drive us to BrowseAbout where Noah wanted to get a book. I was planning to go to the beach from there so Beth and North watched an episode of Heartstopper—she did manage to carve out time to watch tv with each kid during the trip– while I was packing up my beach things and having a little gazpacho for a lunch appetizer, since I didn’t think it would be easy to take that to the beach and I wanted to have some. 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.

At the bookstore, I bought The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires for North and Silver Nitrate for Noah. Then Beth swung by to take both kids back to the house and I walked to the beach. It was 12:30 and sunny (the day before had been overcast) so I thought I should probably start out under a boardwalk pavilion, where I’d have a view of the ocean and protection from the sun. I ate my lunch and read a few chapters of Robinson Crusoe. I went down to the water a little before two and swam. The water was still rough, but not as sandy as the day before and the waves were fun. Twice I was swept up the underside of one and propelled into the air above it. This is my very favorite thing to experience when swimming in the ocean.

The waves had carved a little cliff into the beach, and I was sitting there with my feet in the water when Beth turned up at my side. I was pleasantly surprised to see her. We sat there watching the water for a while and then lay on our towels. We took a walk to Funland to find out what time the Haunted Mansion opened that day (it varies), and the answer was five o’clock every day for the rest of the season, which meant if we wanted to do it, we needed to do it that day because we were leaving the next day before five. I texted North to see if they wanted to come to Funland and they did. Noah did, too. So, Beth got on her bike and went back to the house to fetch our offspring and drive them to the boardwalk. (Being further from the beach and boardwalk than North can easily walk was kind of inconvenient.)

North and I stood in line for the Haunted Mansion for a half hour. I amused myself taking pictures of its kitschy exterior, which I love.  Meanwhile Noah rode the Paratrooper and then when we got out of the Mansion, North rode the Graviton and the kids rode the Paratrooper together. We still had tickets left but it was time to meet Beth for pizza at Grotto. (One of the great things about Funland is that the tickets never expire. We arrived in Rehoboth with seventy-four tickets purchased in years past—some of the iconic green tickets were faded almost to yellow—and left with twenty-nine, so it felt like all the rides were free.)

We ate mozzarella sticks, deep-fried Brussels sprouts, pizza, and spinach stromboli out on the patio. It was a lovely evening and afterward we migrated to the boardwalk where we got ice cream and frozen custard. I got Nutella ice cream, and it was very good. I was loath to leave the beach because it was the golden hour before sunset, but we’d planned to watch Red, White, and Royal Blue at home, so I tore myself away.

Saturday: Saying Goodbye

The next day we packed up the house, returned the keys, and split up for our last few hours in Rehoboth. Beth went kayaking in the Rehoboth Bay, Noah wandered around downtown, and North and I hit the beach. I had my longest swim of the trip with them. We were in the water almost an hour. This wouldn’t be unusual for me, but I’d been taking shorter swims because of the roughness of the surf. But it was the last day, so we had to seize the day. We had a nice talk in the water, in between diving under waves and I lost another ponytail holder. This time it wasn’t even a scrunchie but a plain hair elastic, which tend to be more secure. I told North that of everyone in the family, they were the one I worry least about in rough water. They are a very good swimmer.

We all met up at our traditional last-day lunch stop, a crepe stall in a little alley off Rehoboth Avenue, where had a feast of crepes, fries, a bagel sandwich (for North who doesn’t care for crepes) and orangeade. We had a few more stops on the agenda. I got a scrunchie to get my wet, tangled hair out of my face, we went to BrowseAbout so North could get stickers to decorate their crutches, Beth got a Rehoboth t-shirt with a drawing of a kayak, and we picked up sea salt caramels, saltwater taffy, and an assortment of gummy candy at Candy Kitchen. The kids and I went down to the beach get our feet wet one last time and just before 2:30, seventy hours after we arrived, we left the beach.

I didn’t want to leave. I never do. But there were compensations. We had to stop for an hour in the middle of the drive at a Starbucks so Beth could work, and it was surprisingly pleasant for me to have a little oasis of time I could read your blog posts and do other things on my laptop without feeling guilty that I wasn’t putting away perishable food, doing post-trip laundry, or sorting the mail.

When we got home, I checked the garden and found new sunflower and zinnia blooms, and we ate takeout Indian we’d picked up on the way home and then I did the aforementioned chores and we watched the last half hour of Red, White, and Royal Blue, which is cheesy but fun. I was grateful to have had this last-hurray-of-summer getaway with my wife and both kids and that we all came home well.