Accidents

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

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

Out with the Old

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

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

In with the New

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

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

Winter One Acts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Amusements and Occupations

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

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

Spring Musical

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

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

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

Dispatches from Wheeling

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

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

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

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.

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

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.

We Went to the Animal Fair: Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 80

We went to the animal fair
The birds and the beasts were there 

From “Animal Fair,” traditional 19th-century folk song

Noah flew home the first Saturday in August, after a busy week in Davis with my mom and my sister’s family. After they saw Barbie and went to a trivia night and swimming in a river, they went to Oppenheimer and a play, visited a botanical garden, went out for crepes, and cooked together. Noah and my brother-in-law Dave, who both like puzzles, put together a thousand-piece one. Everyone watched his senior project movie. Both mom and Sara said it was fun to have him there.

First Week Home: Television, Chores, Food, Movies

In the almost two weeks that he’s been home, we haven’t kept him quite as busy, as Beth and I are both working and North left for camp five days ago. Even so, he and I have been reading We Are Satellites, and in combination with different family members, he’s been watching Blackish, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Shadow and Bone, What We Do in the Shadows, and Only Murders in the Building.  It’s been fun getting back to series that we’d stopped watching while he was gone. In addition to these shows, I often find him in the living room watching Scandinavian game shows of all things. It’s a new interest.

He’s been helping out around the house and yard, too, cleaning in the bathroom and kitchen, vacuuming, folding laundry, sweeping the porch, and mowing the lawn. It’s nice to have an extra hand with the chores—it’s allowed me to tackle some long-neglected weeding that always seems to be too low on my priority list to start.

On his first full day at home, I made a peach-blackberry cobbler with berries we’d picked at Butler’s Orchard in July and frozen, so even though he didn’t get to go on that expedition with us, he got to enjoy the harvest. Later that week I cooked some of his favorites—breaded tofu sticks with blackberry applesauce, a minestrone-like soup, and ravioli with pesto and broccoli.  (Our basil is doing so well this year I’ve made two batches of pesto since he’s been home and there’s plenty left.)

On Thursday we went through our family movie night nomination-and-veto process, which netted us eight movies to watch on Friday nights for the next couple months or however long Noah’s home. But sadly, we couldn’t start any of them because North had a migraine the next night, so we watched one North had vetoed that the rest of us wanted to see—Nimona. The irony was that we all thought North would have liked it.

Second Weekend Home: Fair, Camp, Party 

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

But the fair is the same as always, full of memories, both of when the kids were small, and when Beth and I were impossibly young, newly in love, and went to the Lorain County Fair in Ohio, right before I left for a semester in Spain during my junior year of college.

We were all happy to be back at the fair, but it took some strategic planning. North had a therapy appointment in the morning and wanted to save their good migraine meds for camp, so we decided to go in the early afternoon to avoid the late afternoon headache danger zone. It meant we probably wouldn’t get to ride the Ferris wheel after dark, which we all, but especially Beth, like to do.

We arrived a little before 2:30 and headed for the rides first. We’d narrowed down everyone’s most important fair goals and were trying to figure out the quickest route that included all of them without much backtracking in case it was a migraine-abbreviated visit.  All four of us rode the swings. I was surprised Beth tried them because she usually doesn’t, and she declared them “mildly unpleasant” after she got off. I think she just wanted to make sure she still doesn’t like them. That’s often a good thing to do, for informational purposes. Next, we all rode the Ferris wheel, and the kids and I rode the Mouse Trap, a tiny roller coaster-cum-haunted house.

Having finished with the high priority rides, we went to the rabbit barn, which North loves best of all the animal displays. As we entered, they asked, casually, “Can I have a rabbit?” because many of the bunnies on display are also for sale and we do not currently have a pet.

“No,” I said.

“I had to ask,” they said. Fair enough, I thought.

We admired all the varieties of rabbits, including very large ones and very fluffy ones and some that had coloring like calico cats. We skipped the rest of the animals and visited the Cheese pavilion where I got some cheese curds and the Chilly Mall, where we enjoyed the air-conditioning, North got some bee and honeycomb earrings, and everyone got some old-fashioned candies (sesame-honey bites and cream-filled caramels for me) to take home and then the ice cream parlor where we all got ice cream. I got peach, as I often do at the fair. It seems right to get a fruit flavor, as “agricultural” is right there in the fair’s name and peach seems like the most summery flavor possible.

By this point, everyone had done what they most wanted to do, so we went back to the rides for North’s second tier ride, Genesis. While we watched the row of seats rise and fall, Beth took my hand. She said the fair reminded her of being young and I said that night at the Lorain County Fair in 1987 I’d been tempted to cancel my semester abroad and stay with her. “But you didn’t,” she said.

“No, but I came back, and we got married and had kids and now we all come to the fair,” I said, “so it worked out.”

We had an early dinner of pupusas and watermelon (Beth), lo mein and a fruit cup with chocolate sauce (North) and spinach-tomato-humus crepes (me and Noah). Noah also got some churros and candied almonds. After dinner, we decided to go back and see some more animals. Some of the barns were already empty for the day, but we visited some cows and then we went to the barn that has goats, alpacas, and llamas. By that point, it was six-thirty and North hadn’t gotten a headache, but we were all ready to go home and the sun wouldn’t go down for more than an hour and a half, so we gave up on riding the Ferris wheel again after dark. There’s always next year.

On Sunday morning, Beth drove North to camp in south-central Pennsylvania. I stayed behind to attend a potluck for a family from North’s preschool who was visiting from abroad. Onika and Jeff’s daughter Merichel was in North’s preschool class for two years and the kids stayed friends into elementary school. Then about seven years ago Merichel’s family moved to Switzerland. We haven’t been in close touch, but we met a couple times when they were in the States. We found out in March that Onika has stage IV pancreatic cancer, and we’ve been in somewhat closer touch, mainly through her Caring Bridge account where people leave messages and encouragement.

Another preschool family was organizing a gathering so people could see Onika, Jeff, and their two oldest kids. It was attended mostly by preschool folks, families from Merichel’s class or her brother’s, and the teacher, but I also got the chance to meet Onika’s sister. It was nice to see people I don’t often see these days but who were important to me when North was little and really nice to get to talk a little with Onika. She was just the same as ever, warm, and quite direct about her illness. It was not a sad gathering at all while I was there, just the opposite, but I did feel sad when I left.

Second Week Home

Other than North’s absence, the next week was much like the last one. We watched Buffy most nights and passed the midpoint of season 6 (that’s the darkest one if you watched back in the aughts and remember). On Wednesday night we played Settlers of Catan with the Seafarers extension kit Noah got for Christmas. Beth won, as usual, but also as usual it was pretty close. She always seems to be able to pull out the win in the end, even though Noah was in the lead in the beginning. (I almost always come in last.)  Also on Wednesday, I made a spinach-alfredo sauce to put on vegetarian chicken cutlets and fettucine. What Buffy, Catan, and spinach all have in common is that North’s not a fan.

On Sunday we’re all driving up to camp to fetch North and hear their stories about what they’ve been up to this week—so far, I’ve seen pictures of them at the opening night campfire and at goat yoga. Often on the way to camp or back we’ve passed this attraction and thought we should go someday. As North will age out of camp after this year, we decided this was the year. I’m looking forward to that—and a few days at the beach the following week—but also just to the four of us being together again. It’s not our normal arrangement anymore, so that makes me value it even more.

But Wait, There’s More…

That was how the post was going to end when I finished writing it on Thursday night, but before Beth had a chance to post it (yes, she posts my blog), on Friday morning we found out that North had tested positive for covid and had to come home, missing the last two days of camp and a field trip to Hershey Park. Beth got in a couple hours of work before she had to leave to spend most of the day driving up to camp and back. So, no Turkey Hill for us, and some family togetherness sooner than planned. Fingers crossed North doesn’t get very sick (so far, they just have a sore throat and some sniffles) and that we don’t all come down with it. I’m half-expecting we will, though so if anyone is unscathed, it will be a pleasant surprise.

Summertime, Part 2

North had a busy first two weeks of summer break. They volunteered at an outdoor, nature-and-art-based day camp at their old preschool the first week. The camp is for five-to-ten-year olds (mostly alumni of the school) and North had attended it as a camper. On Thursday night they said a week at camp goes a lot more quickly than a week at school. They didn’t know it at the time, but the week was over for them. The next day the school experienced sewer issues and rather than cancel, the director decided to take the kids on a hike. The junior counselors were allowed to bow out if they wanted to, and North did.

The next week North travelled to North Carolina to attend a career exploration program at Johnson and Wales’s Charlotte campus. They spent two days and three nights there, baking in the mornings and going on field trips (to a bowling alley and an amusement park) in the afternoons. They flew there alone, finding their way to campus and back to the airport. It was a much higher degree of difficulty solo travel experience than I had when I flew alone for the first time the summer I was seventeen (and was dropped off and picked up at the airport). The whole week I kept thinking about how both kids were off in the world, doing what they want to do in their adult lives. It was a like a preview of the empty nest.

On Tuesday, the second night they were gone, Beth and I had a date night at MotorKat, a newish restaurant in Takoma we hadn’t tried yet. We ate out on the patio, which was strung with rainbow-stripped pennants for Pride. We got salads, a spring onion-tofu pancake with smoked mushrooms, and cauliflower skewers. If you’re local, the pancake is really good. As we were finishing our entrees, it started to drizzle, then rain harder. One by one, people abandoned their tables and moved inside. We did, too, but we were the last ones to give up on outdoor dining. When the second-to-last couple went inside, one of them said, “We salute you!” We got a new table inside because we wanted dessert. Beth got a trifle, and I got chocolate crème brule, and both were excellent.

We were back at home on the living room couch watching a module of an online parenting course we’re taking as part of family therapy when we heard a loud bang outside. A transformer had blown, which is not actually that unusual. What was unusual was that we still had power. Even more unusual, the transformer was on fire and raining sparks down on a couple of our trees and our fence. Beth said later it looked like fireworks.

If everything hadn’t been soaked from the rain, I think the trees in our side yard would have caught fire. Police and firefighters arrived and blocked off the street for a while. Apparently, they don’t put out electrical fires, though, so they just watched it until it started to taper off and then left. We would have felt better about it if they’d waited until it was completely out, but it did go out eventually and a couple days later the power company came, cleaned up the debris and repaired it. The only sign left is the melted gray plastic stuck to some of the leaves of the trees.

On Thursday afternoon, North came home happy and bearing two galettes (one mushroom-cream cheese and one almond cream-berry) and a bag of scones (chocolate chip and cheese).  They were excellent. It was nice to sit around the table all together and sample them before they went to bed with a headache.

We went to pick up their orthotics the next day. They have a compression body suit, inserts for their shoes, and knee braces. Well, one brace. It turned out they got two left ones so they can only wear one.  We’re all hoping these devices help them stand and walk with less pain, but it’s too soon to tell. And we can’t get the right knee brace for a couple weeks because all three of us are embarked on new travels–Beth to Wheeling and St. Louis and North and me to Davis, California and the Oregon coast. More on that later…

Summertime

One of these mornings
You’re gonna rise up singing
Yes, you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky

From “Summertime,” (Porgy and Bess), by George Gershwin

End of School

It’s officially summer break now. School came to a slow, drawn-out end this year. North’s online classes finished a week before the in-person ones did and by the last week of in-person classes only one (Statistics) was actually conducting any educational activities and that class only on Monday. Yesterday, the last day of school, was a half day, and it didn’t seem worth Beth driving them to school for three shortened classes in which not much was going to happen, so they didn’t go.

The year ended on a high note, though. North was pleased to get straight As in their fourth quarter classes, especially Statistics because that was their most difficult class and they had to work for it. In their favorite class, painting, the last assignment of the year was a free choice project. They made a collage of tiny paintings based on photographs of things they’ve baked in recent years—chocolate-marshmallow muffins, an orange cake with candied orange slices on top, chocolate-peppermint cookies, a Black Forest cake, and banana pudding bars. They painted them on polaroid film and strung them across a piece of cardboard on golden wire with little white lights on it. The background is overlapping hand-lettered recipes for the baked goods. It’s very cool.

Speaking of art, North’s cherry blossom painting was displayed at an art show at a local mall last month. We missed it because we were out of town for Noah’s graduation. I was kind of bummed about that.

Even before school ended, we engaged in several summery activities:

Summery Activity #1: Dodging Wildfire Smoke

In one way, summer came early. The wildfire smoke from Canada drifted all the way down to our area about a week and a half ago. This isn’t something we normally experience though I know many of you in Western states and provinces live with it for much of the summer every year, and now it’s starting before it’s even really summer. We only had poor air quality for two days but what I hadn’t realized about living with smoke is how many decisions in entails. When is it bad enough to shut the windows, to mask, to refrain from hanging laundry outside, doing yard work, or sitting on the porch? I guess when it’s a fact of daily life, you develop a system. My sister, who lived in Oregon for many years, told me what her cutoffs were for all these activities, based on the Air Quality Index.

Summery Activity #2: Swimming, Swimming in the Swimming Pool

North and I went swimming two weekends in a row at the Long Branch outdoor pool because the Piney Branch indoor pool where I usually swim laps on Saturdays has been closed for lifeguard training. It’s reminded me how pleasant it is to swim outside. What deters me is that there are fewer dedicated lap lanes and kids are more likely to intrude on them. Also, it’s slightly less conveniently located.

But it’s been nice having North come along, except for one thing and it’s not a little thing. They’ve been harassed by the same two boys both times we went. The second time a lifeguard noticed and made them leave North alone. Because it had happened the week before, I’d been glancing up from my laps every now and then to see if anyone was bothering them, but I missed it when it happened. Apparently, the boys sang a song to them, which when North looked up the lyrics on their phone in the car on the way home caused them to exclaim, “This is a very sexual song… (reading a little further) …Eww!”

Summery Activity #3: Going to Pride

The weekend before school ended was Pride, both in Takoma and in D.C. North went to the D.C. Pride festival with Sol last year and they decided to do it again. They wanted a ride to the Metro, so we decided we’d all swing by Takoma’s much smaller Pride festival before dropping them off. We visited some booths and picked up pins and temporary tattoos. North spun a wheel to learn a trans fact at a trans booth and learned the pronoun “hir” was coined by a writer for the Sacramento Bee in the 1920s, “so it’s not new,” a person staffing the booth informed us.

The farmers’ market was in progress nearby, so we walked through it even though Beth had been shopping at the Silver Spring farmers’ market the day before. We ended up with the first local sweet cherries of the year and two little basil plants to replace a bigger one a squirrel destroyed by digging up its pot and snapping its stem. While we were in downtown Takoma, North got a cold brew and Beth and I got gelato. I went with cherry, to be seasonal. It was very satisfying.

A few hours later North called for ride home from the Metro. They’d amassed a lot of tchotchkes, including heart-shaped stickers with the colors of various Pride flags they’ve used to decorate their walker, a couple rainbow rubber bracelets, Mardi Gras beads, and some 3D printed animals. They said they had fun.

End of School Activity: Cappies Gala

The next day was the Cappies Gala at the Kennedy Center. North has been writing reviews of plays at DC area high schools all year. All the critics who reviewed at least five shows were eligible for vote on the nominees for the award ceremony and they’d voted. North only had two tickets and as Beth had driven North to most of the plays they reviewed, and she could drive other kids, she was the obvious choice to attend.

When I asked how it was, what Beth and North both said first (in separate conversations) was that it was very loud. Apparently, the audience screamed for every nominee and kept it up for three hours. Beth’s ears were still ringing when she woke up the next morning.

Perusing the program, I learned there were awards for: marketing, props, costumes, hair and makeup, choreography, special effects, sound, orchestra, lighting, sets, stage crew, stage management, ensembles, dancers, various kinds of actors (in male roles, female roles, featured, supporting, in a musical, in a play, comic, etc.), vocalists of various kinds, critics, best play, and best musical. There were performances from different shows interspersed between the awards. Beth says the vocalist who sang “I Hate Men,” from Kiss Me Kate was very talented and the scene from Dracula was quite creepy. There was a brief quote from North’s review of Eurydice in the program.

An actor from North’s school won for Vocalist in a Male Role, apparently the first time someone from the school had won a Cappie since 2009. He’d been the lead in My Favorite Year this spring.

Cappies has been a good experience for North. They’re thinking of doing it again next year and if they do, the theater director told them they might be lead critic for their school.

End of School Celebration

Thursday afternoon North came home from school, finished with eleventh grade. They folded laundry, rode the exercise bike, made a tofu and broccoli stir-fry for dinner, watched an episode of Gilmore Girls with us, and took a bath.

The next day they mostly took it easy, and I knocked off work early so we could go to the movies. We took the bus to Silver Spring, North started the festivities with a chai, and we saw North’s friend Norma, who came over to chat while they were drinking it. (Silver Spring was hopping that day. Later in the expedition we saw Zoë.)

Then we went to see The Blackening. We decided on this film because North wanted to see it and Beth doesn’t like horror, so she wouldn’t be missing anything. It was fun. I liked the way it played with horror movie tropes (especially, but not entirely, racialized ones). There was some commentary, too, about the social and personal cost of trying to determine who or what is Blackest. That was the point of the movie, but I think I missed a few African American in-jokes because a few times the (about half Black) audience was laughing and I had no idea why. I didn’t mind that, though. That’s what makes something an in-joke.

When the movie was over, we met Beth at Matchbox and had pizza on their patio. It was a pretty evening to eat outside, warm but not hot or humid, and predicted rain did not materialize. From there we went to Ben and Jerry’s (where we saw Zoë) and then home with a detour back to Ben and Jerry’s when I realized I’d left my backpack hanging off a chair—much to my relief no one stole it. 

At home we watched the first hour of Sister Act. I’d nominated this for family movie night in hopes that we’d watch it before North reviewed Sister Act for Cappies, but that happened in April. Based on what we’ve watched so far, North says the plot is about the same in the musical.

Dispatch from Los Angeles

Noah’s internship seems to be going well. It’s at a production company that makes documentary films. He’s been on a couple shoots I know about so far. One was interviewing a lawyer who specializes in the Americans with Disability Act. The last one was in San Diego at the Lacrosse World Games where they filmed an indigenous lacrosse team.

The company is very small operation—a filmmaker plus an intern (currently Noah) on the smaller shoots, and temporary crews hired on an as needed basis for bigger shoots. The filmmaker told him he was used to interns being “slower and less capable” than he is, which is an oddly backwards way to give someone a compliment, but there you go. The filmmaker also went out of his way to secure extra funding so Noah could come along on an out-of-town shoot.

The timing of the shoot means Noah won’t be able to come up to Davis while North and I are there visiting my mom and my sister’s family in early July, which I’d been hoping he could do. I’m sad about that, but also happy that he has this opportunity. Some of his peers from Ithaca who came to L.A. haven’t been able to find internships yet—the writers’ strike has made it very difficult—so I’m glad he did.

When he’s not working, he’s been exploring his environs and socializing. He attended a few plays at an experimental theater festival in Hollywood and he went to a birthday party for another Ithaca student, someone he knew from his IT job at school.

Noah’s summer is underway, and North’s is beginning. Next week they’re volunteering at a day camp at their old preschool and the week after that, they’re headed to the Johnson and Wales University campus in Charlotte, North Carolina, to participate in a two-day culinary program for high school students. It should give them an idea what it’s like to work in a culinary lab.

Both kids are spreading their wings and taking to the sky for trips long and short. I am very proud of both of them.

May Harvest

Because we were out of town the weekend of Noah’s graduation and Beth was also gone the weekend before that, we had a lot of chores and errands to do over Memorial Day weekend, but we also found time for fun.

Beth did yardwork, took North out for driving practice and to Value Village to look for clothes to wear at the upcoming Cappies Gala at the Kennedy Center, kayaked, set up Noah’s big television (on loan to us) in the living room, and organized her office (aka Noah’s room, which is now full of his boxes she needed to re-arrange so she can work in there). I mowed the lawn, swam, cleaned the bathroom, did laundry, and cleared out my mail drawer.

On Sunday we went strawberry picking. “I feel like someone is missing in this car,” I said as we pulled into the dirt road that leads to Butler’s Orchard. We’ve been to Butler’s in various configurations to get Christmas trees or to visit the farm market, but we’ve never been berry picking when it wasn’t all four of us because Noah was home for the summer all through college. I sent him photos from the fields and asked him to guess where we were so he could be included. (It wasn’t much of a challenge.)

There are always a lot of parents with small kids picking berries and we amused ourselves by listening to their parents’ instructions:

“If you hold it like this, the berries won’t spill, and we can take them home.”

Las fresas rojas son las fresas más dulces.

“Get out of the road!”

It was all so familiar and also so far away. It’s been a long time since any of us needed reminding to hold the basket steady, pick only red berries, and stay out of traffic. We filled our cartons quickly. The berries were so juicy our fingers were stained red when we finished. We may have sampled a few berries (and if we did, they were divine).

We wandered over to the snack bar, but we’d reserved a late afternoon picking slot and by the time we were done, it had closed for the day. North wanted to go look at the farm animals, so we did, but they declined to go down the giant slides.

At the farm market we got apricots, local cheese, granola, salad dressing, and treats—a strawberry roll for me, a strawberry slushy and a caramel for North, and a brownie for Beth. We also picked up some lotion and soap that Beth’s mom likes.

As we left, Beth said, “Another successful trip to Butler’s.”

We always have a backyard picnic on Memorial Day and again, it felt strange to do it without Noah, though less so than berry-picking, as we’ve had a few Labor Day picnics without him already. North was saving their good pain meds for an event at school the next day, so I offered to make it a picnic lunch instead of a picnic dinner in case they got a migraine in the afternoon (which is when they always start). But a little before noon, while I was just starting the shortcake dough, North emerged from their room saying they felt sick to their stomach. They didn’t think they’d want a big lunch, so I went back to the dinner plan, and then they got a migraine in the late afternoon.

So that’s how it came to be just Beth and me for dinner, and because it was a rainy day, we ate our vegetarian hot dogs, baked beans, devilled eggs, new potatoes, and watermelon on the porch instead of the back yard. We used a little side table Noah brought home from school. It used to be on the balcony of his apartment.

One of the potatoes was home-grown. I’d planted a wrinkly, sprouted potato in a big pot back in mid-March and I dug it up on Memorial Day in hopes there would be a few and we could have them for our picnic. There was only one, but I was still kind of excited to see it because we’ve never grown potatoes before. We had also new potatoes from the grocery store, so I just mixed ours in with the rest. It had a different color skin, so I could tell it apart. It was a very respectable little potato, with a nice, creamy texture.

On Tuesday evening North was inducted into the International Thespian Society. The ceremony was held in the courtyard of their school. First there was cake and socializing. There was music playing from shows the school has put on in recent years and kids kept breaking out into song.

Then Mr. S, the theater director, called each student being inducted to light a small candle from a big one (“the candle of Thespis”) and set it to float in tub of water. He would say something about their theater work, announce how many stars they had earned, and invite them to say a few words. Some kids shared memories of theater and of course there were some inside jokes. North had two stars, for their work as “a costumes whiz” and for their Cappies’ reviews. After all the students had lit candles, Mr. S explained that the candles were like the theater because of their ephemeral beauty, which has to be appreciated in the moment. It was really lovely. Eventually, North will get a certificate and a pin, but they haven’t arrived yet.

While we were waiting for the ceremony to start, I was texting with Noah. He had his orientation earlier in the day, he officially accepted the internship, and he started today. So, our harvest for the last four days of May comes to:

  1. Three quarts of strawberries
  2. One new potato
  3. One award, two stars
  4. One internship

On to summer!

Arts & Sciences

It’s been a busy week for all of us, full of artistic events and (mostly medical) appointments.

Monday Afternoon and Evening: Visual and Musical Arts

In art class, North’s most recent project is a painting of cherry blossoms, based on some photos Noah took while he was home for spring break. The cherries on our block were just starting to bloom when he left in mid-March. On Monday, their teacher asked North to finish the painting so she could put it in the art show at their school later in the week. This was a nice thing to learn because the kids don’t always know ahead of time what’s going to be on display.

That night Ithaca’s Campus Band (for non-music majors) had its twice-yearly concert. It’s livestreamed, so we got to watch Noah play triangle, suspended cymbals, snare drums, and timpani. It was a short concert, just four songs, but I always enjoy hearing him play. I have since he was nine and it was a little bittersweet watching his last college band concert after all these years. My favorite song was the last one, “The Cave You Fear,” because I could hear him playing the timpani pretty well. I asked Noah about the title, and he said it’s a Joseph Campbell quote: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” That’s something to think about, as he stands on the brink of his adult life.

Tuesday Morning: Medical Science

North had an appointment at the pain clinic at Children’s on Tuesday morning. They were being evaluated for POTS because of some dizziness they’ve been having. I didn’t go because I thought it would mainly be a procedural appointment, during which their heart rate would be measured in different positions (laying down, sitting, standing). And they did do that (and found they don’t have POTS), but they also had a long consultation about pain as well.

It was a new doctor and Beth and North both reported that they liked him. North has had a lot of experiences of not feeling heard by pain doctors, but he seemed to listen, to have reviewed their chart before the appointment, and to have consulted with the neurologist they’re seeing for their migraines, all points in his favor. He gave them a referral to see another doctor to consult about possibly getting braces to help stabilize their joints and he mentioned that the new migraine drug they are about to start might help with other kinds of pain, too. We’re all feeling cautiously hopeful about these developments. North mentioned it would be nice to have their hands freer if braces made it possible to use their cane and crutches less. They were specifically thinking of standing for long hours in the kitchen at culinary school more easily.

Tuesday Evening: Literary Arts

That night was Favorite Poem Night at the library. North was considering coming with me but didn’t because they’d gone to bed with a migraine. For years I didn’t read a poem at Favorite Poem Night because the pressure of picking one favorite poem was too overwhelming. Seven years ago, I chilled out and realized it could be just a poem I liked, and I read an Emily Dickinson poem (#670, “One Need Not Be a Chamber to Be Haunted”).  I’ve read a poem most years the event has been held since then. It was cancelled for covid in 2020 and I think in 2021, too.

Tuesday, inspired by all the spring wildflowers (dandelions, asters, buttercups) in my yard, I returned to Dickinson and read poem #81, even though it’s actually about fall flowers and how they extend the floral season just when it seems to have ended.

We should not mind so small a flower—
Except it quiet bring
Our little garden that we lost
Back to the Lawn again.

So spicy her Carnations nod—
So drunken, reel her Bees—
So silver steal a hundred flutes
From out a hundred trees—

That whoso sees this little flower
By faith may clear behold
The Bobolinks around the throne
And Dandelions gold.

There were many lovely poems read, including pieces by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Alice Walker, Jack Prelutsky, Ada Limón, Mary Oliver, Robert Penn Warren, and Maya Angelou, among others, but I was particularly excited to see “What You Missed that Day You were Absent from Fourth Grade,” on the program because I just love this poem. There were two precocious little girls who read poems in French and the poet laurate of Takoma Park—yes, we have one—read from his work. It was a fun event.

Thursday Evening: Visual Arts

We had a fairly uneventful 504 meeting at North’s school Thursday morning. We didn’t make any changes to their accommodations, decided that they will stick with the half-virtual, half-in person schedule they’ve had since January for the rest of the school year, and discussed possible changes to their senior year course schedule, but we didn’t make any final decisions about that.

After the meeting was over, we decided to take a sneak peek at the art displayed in the hallway and we discovered that not only was North’s cherry blossom painting there, but also their winter landscape, which is based on a composite of a photo Noah took of me at Blackwater Falls State Park and other photos both kids have taken there. North noted with some amusement that the cherry blossom picture had been hung upside down. The blossoms are supposed to be dangling down from the branch. Beth needed to get back to work so we didn’t have a chance to look at the other art right then, but we returned that evening.

Walking through the art at a more leisurely pace, we found North had three pieces in the show. The ink wash cityscape they completed largely at home last fall and winter was there, too. We got to chat with their ninth-grade ceramics teacher who taught them virtually during the pandemic, and with their current painting teacher, and to look at painting, drawing, photography, and digital art from other classes. There was a whole room that was dedicated mostly to ceramics and other forms of three-dimensional art, which interested North because they are signed up for Ceramics 2 next year.

Friday: Theatrical Arts

In the morning, North had a psychiatrist appointment, again pretty uneventful. That night North and Beth went to see Sister Act at a high school in Virginia, so North could review it for Cappies. They’ve been really busy with this activity recently—in the past two weeks they’ve also attended and reviewed Mean Girls and Legally Blonde. The theater director and Cappies’ co-ordinator for their school reads the reviews and he pulled them aside recently and told them he really enjoys their writing.

Beth has gone to many of these shows with North and I intended to at the beginning of the school year, but because the Cappies have a meeting to debrief after the play and many of the plays are at schools pretty far away (often in Virginia), going to one usually means getting home after midnight. After the one time I did it in October, I was never up to it again. I am not the night owl I was in my youth. I always had mixed feelings about skipping the plays because I like theater and I would have liked being familiar with the performances when I read North’s reviews. And as this was the last play North would review this year, I had some FOMO as Beth and North left the house, around five p.m.

It turned out to be a good night for me to stay home, though, because an hour or so after they left, I started to feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. I ended up putting the pizza and salad I’d ordered straight into the fridge as soon as it arrived and crawled into bed at seven. I listened to podcasts for a couple hours until I fell asleep during one. I woke recovered in the morning, so I’m not sure what was wrong.

Apparently, I missed the best show of the year, according to Beth. She raved about the acting, the choreography, and the pit orchestra. North wrote the production was “dynamic and enchanting, with stunning acting, magnificent vocals, and expert behind the scenes work.”

Upcoming: Visual Arts, Medical Science, and Pastry Arts

The play was just the beginning of a busy weekend for North that will include a therapist appointment, Sol’s birthday party, and a trip to the National Art Gallery with Ranvita. Then next week North has in-person appointments at urology, the pain clinic, and a Zoom meeting with Accessibility Services at Johnson and Wales University to get more detail about what accommodations are possible in the Baking and Pastry Arts program.

Speaking of pastry arts, North has volunteered to make my birthday cupcakes next month, so in addition to appreciating both offspring’s musical, photographic, artistic, and theatrical talents, we’ll soon have the opportunity to appreciate the younger one’s baking, too.

Three Years, Coronavirus Chronicles, Part 79

 

Well, here we are three years after the world changed. With every update I do (and here are a few), covid impacts our everyday life less and less, though of course, it’s still with us. As of Sunday, the death toll in the U.S. is up to 1,119,000 (it’s almost seven million worldwide) and 2,000 Americans a week are still dying from it. The death rate has been very stable for over a year. Does that mean it’s endemic now? Apparently not, but it’s trending in that direction.

Falling Sick

The diminishing presence of the idea of covid in our lives makes it a little ironic that it was in this tail end (fingers crossed) phase that we actually got covid. North, Beth, and I all had covid in November—two years, eight months into the pandemic. You can read about that here and here if you missed it. North had it first, testing positive two days before Thanksgiving. We all had mild cases, though North’s was the worst, about like having the flu. Mine was like a cold and not even a bad one. We had a trip planned to Rehoboth for Thanksgiving and we went anyway, keeping to ourselves in the rental house, cooking, ordering takeout, and taking walks on the beach and boardwalk. Beth and I didn’t test positive until the day after we got home.

Traveling Further

Even though we got sick, in the past six months, our world has opened up considerably. We’ve traveled more widely than any time since the Before Times. Noah spent the fall semester in Australia, and I spent a week in Oregon while my mom was recovering from knee surgery in September. It was the first time flying since covid for both of us.

And there’s more travel on the horizon. Noah is looking for an internship in Los Angeles and he’s bought an airline ticket for three days after he graduates in late May. (A one-way ticket! I don’t even want to think about the implications of that.) North and I will be visiting family in California and Oregon in early July and Beth will be heading to Saint Louis for a convention while we’re gone.

Continuing Precautions

We still take precautions, though. We’ve all gotten the bivalent booster (Beth and North in September, me in November, and Noah in January). We test when we feel ill, and when required, though that doesn’t seem to happen as much as it used to earlier.

Of the four of us, Beth is the strictest about masking, as she always wears K95s in public buildings, whereas North and I often wear cloth or surgical masks. North still masks at school every day, one of a shrinking minority. Noah doesn’t mask at school, but he did when we went to the play last Saturday.

At the beginning of the winter, I started wondering when I would stop masking, but since there were big spikes the past two Januarys, it seemed prudent to wait until the end of the winter and see if it happened again this year. Well, it’s mid-March now and there hasn’t been a spike, so I’m thinking more seriously about it. I still notice when people are masked when they’re not and it can affect my behavior. Here are some examples. In this one I was trying to decide whether to go to book club shortly after having covid:

12/4

The average age of members is probably around seventy and some of them are in their eighties and frail, plus masking in the group has gone from almost universal to about fifty percent, just in the past few months. It didn’t seem responsible to go, so I stayed home.

The last time I went to book club, last week, I was the only one in the room wearing a mask.

Here I was picking Noah up at the airport:

12/23

We had some trouble finding the driver and when we did connect, the driver was irritated with me and rude and accused me of wasting his time. Then in the car when I cracked the window because he was unmasked, he rolled it back up. Also, he was vaping the whole time. It was the first time in my many times in a Lyft I didn’t tip the driver…

Speaking of tipping, when I get takeout coffee, I am still more likely to tip a masked barista than an unmasked one. And speaking of restaurants, eating inside them is another tough call. We don’t in general, though we make occasional exceptions, as you know from my last post. Here’s the dilemma: Right after we let North eat in a diner with friends in November, they brought home covid. Then when North ate in a café with friends in February one of the friends got covid, although they didn’t. It can be hard to balance caution with letting them have a more normal teenage social life. North’s birthday party is going to be in a restaurant that’s usually crowded but if the weather’s nice, we’ll have it outside.

Experiencing Normalcy

One time I especially appreciated not being in the grip of the worst days of the pandemic anymore was when Xander died in October. He got to die at home and had a much more peaceful passage than his brother.

10/17/22

When Xander’s brother Matthew was paralyzed by advanced heart disease three months into the pandemic, he was euthanized in the parking garage of the animal hospital and only one of us was allowed to be with him. This was much nicer and more peaceful. We were all petting Xander and talking to him, and he wasn’t scared. The vet was gentle and respectful. It’s some small comfort that his end was quick enough that he didn’t suffer much but not so sudden we didn’t get a chance to say a proper goodbye.

This used to happen more often, but occasionally something still happens for the first time since Before. The biggest one in the past six months for me is that I am back to swimming weekly.

1/31/23

I went swimming on Saturday afternoon at the pool where I used to swim weekly before it shut down first for the pandemic, then for extensive repairs. It re-opened in late November, but between being out of the habit, being salty about the fact that they were not honoring pre-pandemic punch cards, and the pool’s erratic schedule (it’s always been prone to unannounced closures and still is), I didn’t manage to show up at a time it was open until this weekend.

2/15/23

You may recall I finally got the Piney Branch pool to agree to honor my pre-pandemic punch card, but I wasn’t sure it would actually work until I successfully used it on the first Saturday in February. I am pleased about this, as I had $25 worth of swims left on the pass. It should last me the rest of the month and a week into March if I go every weekend. I’ve been swimming three Saturdays in a row now and it’s nice to be doing it again after an almost three-year-long break.

Turns out my pass lasted a little longer than that because in late February the boiler broke and the pool was closed for a week, but it opened again the first Saturday in March, and I used up the pass last weekend.

Another normal thing that happened at North’s school was that the Winter One Acts were put on… in winter.

1/18/23

It felt novel for the winter one acts to be put on in winter, as last year a covid surge and subsequent scheduling problems delayed them until May and the year before, of course, they didn’t happen at all, as school was closed for most of the year and there were no extracurriculars even when it opened briefly in the spring.

Questioning Normalcy

Sometimes it can be hard to know if things that didn’t happen did not happen because of covid or some other reason, as when I was trying to figure out whether there would be a Visitation Day at North’s school in on Columbus Day, like there used to be at every other MCPS school my kids have attended. (The answer was no.)

10/20/22

That made me think, okay, maybe this school has never done this, and it wasn’t a casualty of covid until another senior parent posted, no, visitation day did happen the last year before covid, so now I don’t know what to think about the past or the future, but it didn’t happen this year.

And it can also be hard to know if covid has caused things. At one point, I thought the leg cramps I started experiencing in late November could be an after-effect of covid.

12/11/22

We got back home just in time for me to attend a virtual meeting with my own health care provider about some mysterious leg cramps and pain I’d been experiencing. It had been worst while we were at the beach and right after and seemed to be resolving by the time I saw her, but I kept the appointment to talk about what to do if it comes back. I’m wondering now if it had something to do with having covid, because of the timing.

I do still have hints of them, mostly in the car, but they are much improved since I started taking magnesium for them, so I don’t question their origin as much.

Imagining Other Pandemics

In 2020 and 2021 I read a lot of books about real and fictional pandemics—the plague mostly, but also polio and the flu. By 2022, I guess I was over it and didn’t feel the urge to read any more. (Or maybe I just switched to pandemics on screen. Noah and I watched Station Eleven during his spring break last year and over the summer we watched the first couple seasons of The Strain. Earlier, in 2020, we watched Counterpart.)

My interest in reading about pandemics was piqued again as the third anniversary of covid approached. In February I read Hamnet and Love in the Time of Cholera (which has less to do with cholera than I expected) and I’m currently reading Sea of Tranquility. I don’t know if I’m finished with this particular obsession or not. Time will tell.

As for depictions of this pandemic, we only recently got up to the part of Blackish that portrays it.

1/18/23

[W]e got to the midpoint of season 7 of Blackish. We’ve reached the covid era episodes and while the first couple about it were excellent and very evocative, I was disappointed that it basically fell out of the plot after that, as if it barely happened and didn’t deeply alter our lives for years.

We’re still in season 7, up to the episodes aired in February 2021, and it continues to surprise me how the characters seem to be living in a parallel universe in which it’s not pre-vaccine (for most people) covid times.

How does covid still affect your day-to-day life? Or does it?