Spooked, Part 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooked, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spooked, Part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joys and Sorrows

The new year got off to a bit of a rocky start. In the first two weeks after winter break, the kids had a snow day, two two-hour delays, and an early dismissal—all for three-quarters of an inch of snow, one unusually cold morning, and a little (I swear not much at all) ice on the sidewalks. It was disheartening, especially because it was a busy couple of weeks for work. I can and did work with the kids home– they’re old enough not to bother me too much when I’m working—but I just can’t concentrate as well when I’m not alone in the house, so each new cancellation or delay was frustrating. It’s possible I’ve been ruined for working in an office, after almost six and a half years of working at home.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad two weeks, though. North attended the first rehearsal for both the school play and Honors chorus. I didn’t have much post-holiday letdown and whenever I was tempted to wish we could just fast-forward through the next two months, have done with winter, and let spring come, I remembered two things. First is that Beth loves winter. Second is that Noah will leave for college in less than two years, so I really shouldn’t be wishing away any time. He’s been working on his senior year course schedule, which is why this is front of mind. I just can’t believe he’s picking courses for his last year in high school, as if that were truly happening any time soon. (Yes, I know, it is.)

Anniversary

Beth and I had an anniversary on Thursday. It was the twenty-sixth anniversary of our commitment ceremony and the fifth anniversary of our legal wedding. Beth’s mom posted this photo, taken in our apartment in D.C, of us opening wedding presents on Facebook. Look at us! We were practically babies. Well, twenty-four and twenty-five. I was a mere eight years older than Noah is now. Now I am trying to imagine myself at his wedding eight years hence and wondering where the baby who lived the first year of his life in that apartment with the salmon-colored wall went.

As of Tuesday, I didn’t have a gift for Beth. I’d decided to get her some gift certificates from AFI too late to order them through the mail, so I got on a bus to Silver Spring that morning and picked them up from the theater. While I was in downtown Silver Spring, I also got a mocha, lunch at BurgerFi, and spent a long time browsing for some small gifts at Whole Foods so I’d have something to wrap. I settled on treats one might eat at the movies (dark chocolate-covered almonds and milk chocolate-covered pretzels) to keep the gift thematically consistent, and got a card with a heart on the front and I was done.

Except when I got home, I opened the card and discovered it was a Valentine’s Day card. Why are these on sale already? Who buys valentines a month in advance? Clearly not me. And then I couldn’t stop thinking about another card I’d seen there, which was obviously superior. So, the next day, instead of being practical and going somewhere in Takoma for a new card, I went back to Silver Spring and got the card I wanted. It has different colored buttons all over it in the shape of a heart and it is blank inside.

Thursday I made our anniversary cake, the one we had at our commitment ceremony and at our legal wedding. It’s a spice cake, with a lemon glaze. I covered it in red and blue colored sugar. Because I didn’t leave myself quite enough time to bake a cake for forty-five minutes and scalloped potatoes for an hour at different temperatures, dinner was a little late, so Beth and I exchanged gifts before dinner rather than after. She got me Reckless Daughter, the Joni Mitchell biography that came out last fall and which I thought someone might get me for Christmas. That’s one of the advantages of a mid-January anniversary—it’s a chance to get (or give) what you didn’t get (or give) at Christmas.  North had dinner at Xavier’s, but when they got home, we all ate the cake we always eat together in mid-January and our anniversary was over.

MLK Weekend

Saturday I worked a little and Beth took North and Xavier ice skating and out to dinner, bringing back take-out for Noah and me. Yesterday, Beth, North and I went to church. We’ve never been church-goers, but recently North has become curious about church and asked recently if we could try out a Unitarian Universalist congregation. (We’ve been to UU services a few times when visiting Beth’s mom.) It was the third time Beth and North have gone to this church and the first time I went with them. There’s a part of the service called the Communion of Joys and Sorrows in which people tell the congregation about a joy or sorrow in their lives and light a candle for it. I recall Beth’s mom’s church does this, too, but with stones dropped in a bowl of water, if I’m remembering correctly.

Two of the people who shared we knew slightly. One of my colleagues from my teaching days shared that her son had won an award at college. And there was a lesbian couple who shared that one of their mothers had suffered a fall and broken an ankle and that a nephew was newly married. Beth thought one of them was a gym teacher from Noah’s middle school. Overall, there were more sorrows than joys. I asked Beth if that was always the case and she said so far yes, speculating that maybe people need more support for their sorrows or don’t want to seem to be bragging about their joys. If I’d had to share something I probably would have gone with a sorrow, too, because it was one day before the eighth anniversary of my father’s death.

I knew the day was coming and I wasn’t feeling very emotional about it. Some years I feel it keenly and some years I don’t. However, when I woke this morning, it hit me hard. I lay in bed thinking about Dad and about the fact that there’s snow coming tomorrow and Wednesday and if we get off with just an early dismissal and a two-hour delay on the affected days, we’ll be lucky. Everything seemed bleak. I didn’t particularly want to get up and I didn’t particularly want to spend two hours picking up trash around Long Branch creek, even though that’s our traditional MLK Day of Service activity. We’ve been doing it since the kids were small.

But Beth made homemade waffles, which made getting up a little more attractive and all of us except North, who was feeling under the weather, went to the woods near the creek and picked up trash and recycling, mostly beer cans and bottles. It was cold but we were moving around so it wasn’t too bad. I even got warm enough to unbutton my coat and take off my gloves, which I shouldn’t have done because I got cuts on my hands from the thorn bushes and they ended up smelling like stale beer. I also kept getting stickers in my hair, which I should have worn in a ponytail. Even with all the thorns, it was good to be focused on poking around in the brush, looking for the next can. It kept my mind off other things.

After a quick lunch at home, Beth and I went to AFI to redeem one of the gift certificates I got her for our anniversary. We saw The Post. Have you seen it yet? If not, you should as soon as you possibly can. It made me feel hopeful about journalism and democracy, and that’s no small feat these days. Now, as the fifty-year-old daughter of a journalist I must admit movies that take place largely in 1970s newsrooms are right in my nostalgic sweet spot, so you can take my recommendation with that in mind. From the movie, we went to Eggspectation for coffee and cake. I got a piece of chocolate-peanut butter Smith Island cake.

The best thing about the whole day was how it was a mostly unintentional tribute to Dad. He might not have taken part in an organized creek clean-up, not being much of a do-gooder, but he was in the habit of picking up all the trash on his block.  (I, too, often come home from walks with a tote bag full of recyclables.) He was a newspaper editor in the 1970s (and beyond) with a passion for investigative journalism and politics. He loved coffee and most desserts, but especially chocolate.

But we always do the creek clean-up on MLK day, The Post was opening this weekend and I’d just gotten Beth movie ticket certificates so it was natural we’d go see it. All the plans were made before I even thought about what day it would be. The only detail I added with him in mind was going out for cake.

My father wasn’t an easy man to get along with and we didn’t always get along, especially when I was in my late teens. But there’s no doubt that I am his daughter in many deep and lasting ways. And that’s more of a joy than a sorrow.

Note: The last photo is of a little altar my sister made for Dad today.

White Christmas

Solstice

Thursday after school North went to AFI with their new friend Xavier and one of his moms to see A Muppet Christmas Carol and Noah came home still wearing a party hat from a party in his calculus class and no homework due the next day. He was quite chipper—drumming and reading Wizard and Glass ensued. Beth got home late—she was out getting a Christmas tree—but we had enough time to open presents from my mom and sister and eat gingerbread cookies. We were opening some of our presents early so we wouldn’t have to pack them all and I’d made gingerbread dough so we could take it with us to bake at Blackwater Falls State Park, where we were spending Christmas again. When I’d finished the dough, I baked about a dozen cookies for our Solstice celebration—a mix of snowmen, stars, and Christmas trees. After we’d opened the books, essential oils, a narwhal puppet, a cookbook, and spices and other goodies from my mom’s recent trip to Asia, North went to bed. When, later that evening, I found Noah up past his bedtime and told him to go to bed, he seemed genuinely surprised. He felt so unencumbered he’d forgotten it was a school night. (He’d been drumming on things other than his drums all afternoon and evening, which is often how I know he’s happy.)

Rain to Snow

After everyone had finished another day of work and school and errands and packing, we left Saturday morning a little after ten-thirty and drove to Blackwater. It was raining on and off the whole way and the temperature dropped from the high fifties to the high forties. (I know this because we have a new—to us—car we bought just last week and it has a screen on the dashboard that tells you things like that. It also tells you the name and artist of songs when you play music, which is educational for people like me with poor recognition of currently popular artists.)

About twenty minutes into the drive I told Beth it was good it was raining because it would make her happy when it changed to snow. Although the week overall was very cold, it didn’t get cold enough for snow during the drive, though we did see ice in the road cuts and patches of old snow here and there at the higher elevations.

On the way, we sang along with Christmas music and the kids had a spirited discussion about mistletoe and consent. Noah finds the whole concept of mistletoe problematic while North thinks it’s not that hard to ask before you kiss someone and he should just lighten up. Another topic of conversation: are all songs that portray Santa in a sexual or romantic light—e.g. “Santa Baby,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and “I Wish My Mom Would Marry Santa Claus”—automatically creepy? North is a definite yes on this one.

We got to the cabin just before three, where we found YaYa and a pot of delicious homemade vegetable soup, which we enjoyed between putting up and decorating the tree and watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as a light snow fell.

Christmas Eve

We woke to a pretty dusting of snow on the ground and all over the tree branches outside the window and spent a cozy and relaxing day. North and I made hash browns to eat with breakfast. Then the kids and I made gingerbread cookies from the dough and decorated them with colored sugar and dried cranberries. In the afternoon YaYa took North to the pool up at the lodge—they stayed for hours—while Beth and I took a walk down some muddy trails to the partially frozen pond and on from there to the edge of the gorge where we admired the deep slopes of snow-frosted evergreens and the Elakala waterfall on the far side.

When we got back Beth and Noah watched Rogue One while I read. I was trying to finish a book I got last Christmas in time to start a new stack. (I didn’t quite manage it by Christmas but I did finish it while we were there.) I recommend it if a true crime-based, Appalachian Gothic novel that inspired a classic noir film sounds like your thing.

I made kale and potato soup for dinner with North’s help, while singing Christmas music together. I thought we harmonized particularly well on “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman.” After dinner, we watched Frosty the Snowman and Frosty Returns and just before North went to bed, Noah gave a very dramatic (and slightly menacing) reading of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” for some reason in an English accent.

Christmas Day

Santa’s first gift to Beth was seven inches of fluffy white snow that fell overnight. I’d given North instructions not to get out of bed until six at which point they could look in their stocking, and to be very quiet, as the fireplace was right outside the adults’ rooms. However, it was Noah who was up first, at 6:30, and he decided to wait for North to wake before they opened their stockings together at 7:10. Beth and I were up soon after that, and then YaYa soon after us. 

Everyone gathered around the tree with chocolate and clementines from our stockings to eat while we opened presents. (Did you know they call clementines “Christmas oranges” in Canada? I just found this out this year and now I want to call them that, except I’d feel like a poseur, since I’m not Canadian.) There was a great quantity of books, socks, soap, jam, tea, mugs, pajamas and clothes exchanged in all directions.  Noah’s big present was a new video camera and he also got three bags of pasta, while North got new headphones, an essential oil dispenser, and the promise of a hair dye job. Noah helped set up the oil dispenser and soon North’s room smelled pleasantly of peppermint.

Beth and North made a cranberry cake for breakfast and we ate it spread with lemon curd, along with eggs and veggie bacon. While we were looking out at the snow, I made an idle comment that someone should decorate the tiny evergreen tree in front of our cluster of cabins. Well, North was right on that, choosing several ornaments from our tree and adorning the little one.

While everyone else read, YaYa helped North run through their lines for the school play. It’s not Romeo and Juliet after all, but The Canterbury Tales. North is playing the Pardoner, which seems like a pretty good part, even though they were hoping for the Wife of Bath.

Noah worked on a puzzle of famous book covers he and YaYa had started earlier and everyone else went for a walk. We went back to the gorge overlook, but this time we took a more direct route, walking along the park road instead of the trails, because of the trails were covered with snow and it was quite cold. It was twelve degrees, three with the wind chill, which is about how cold it was most of our stay. Even so, it was good to be outside and moving in the fresh air and peaceful scenery. (Somewhat less peaceful while we were singing “Frosty the Snowman” and North was trying to make snowballs out of the powdery snow and throwing them at trees.) As we did many times during the trip, we saw deer with big fluffy white tails bounding across the road and into the woods.

When we got back to the cabin, Beth and North stayed outside to dig out the cars (Beth) and make a snow angel and a snowman (North). YaYa and I went inside and I made grilled cheese sandwiches and heated up soup for everyone’s lunch.

That evening we watched The Polar Express and most of us watched a Dr. Who Christmas special, which centered around the WWI Christmas truce. I knew that story but I wasn’t sure if it was real, apocryphal, or from a work of fiction. But then my friend Regina posted this on Facebook so now I know. I haven’t watched Dr. Who since the eighties, so I didn’t have the whole backstory, but I could follow well enough. The kids are both fans, especially Noah.

Post-Christmas

We spent three more days at Blackwater. Sadly, after taking the first three days of break off homework, Noah had to start working the day after Christmas—he had considerable homework, some of it due during break. There was a paper revision to submit online the day after Christmas and a history quiz (on two chapters of new reading) to take on New Year’s Eve. And that was just a small part of it. Homework over break is nothing new, but homework due during break is. I blame Governor Hogan, for compressing the school year and making us start a week late, even though the dates of the AP tests didn’t change.

Part of what Noah had to do was read in a four hundred-page book about how high-achieving high school students are overworked. I am finding this bitterly ironic, even though the book’s interesting. (I’m reading it, too.) He was working the rest of the time we were at Blackwater, though he took occasional breaks to work on the puzzle or read with me or go on outings. (Once we were home he worked straight through the last three days.)

The rest of us spent a lot of time reading our new books and we went to the pool two more times. I swam about sixty laps in the tiny pool each time, spending almost as much time turning around as swimming, but it was still good to be in the water and moving. North and I had it to ourselves the first time I was there and most of the second time. The pool was in a very pleasant room with a lot of natural light and windows looking out on snow-covered trees. And there was a hot tub, which Beth, North, and I all enjoyed the last time we were there.

We got three more inches of snow a couple days after Christmas and the kids tried out the park’s sled run. There’s a track that conveys your sled—with you on it—up the hill and then you sled down. They did three rides each, two together and one separately, after much negotiation about that ratio. The adults stood by the bonfire at the bottom of the hill or watched from inside the snack bar, which had a nice view of the hill.

Our last full day we all went out for lunch at an Italian restaurant in Davis, the nearest town. Afterwards Beth and I left everyone at the cabin and ventured slowly and carefully down a series of snow-covered wooden staircases that lead to Blackwater Falls. We’d all seen them the day before from an overview on the other side of the gorge, but they are lovely and close to Beth’s heart, so she wanted to see them up close, even in nine-degree weather. It didn’t feel quite that cold because it was a sunny day and we were exercising, climbing up and down all those stairs. (I did feel my nose hairs freeze, though.)

The falls were half-frozen, with water stained gold from the tannin in the hemlock and spruce trees tumbling over the bulging layers of ice. There were impressive icicles as well, of varying colors, from white to gold to brown, hanging from the rocks near the falls.

Later that day we watched as four well-fed looking deer pawed at the snow in front of the cabin, uncovering grass to eat. Earlier in the week I’d spent a long, fascinating time watching a woodpecker hollowing out a hole in the dead tree branch from the comfort of the cabin’s couch. I couldn’t tell it had just found a particularly tasty cache of bugs of it was making a shelter, but it kept climbing most of the way into the hole it was making, with just its tail sticking out and then getting back outside to make it bigger.

On Thursday, our last day at Blackwater, Beth and YaYa took the ornaments off the tree and dragged it out behind the cabin. North also removed the ornaments from the outside tree and then we all started to pack. As we sat around the table eating YaYa’s homemade cheesecake that night, Beth said, “I don’t want to go home.” I knew how she felt. It’s how I often feel when we leave the beach. But it’s not too soon to start dreaming about next year. On Friday morning as we were checking out, YaYa made reservations for another cabin, for Christmas 2018.

Year’s End

We’ve had a few days at home before work and school resume tomorrow. I’ve been extraordinarily social. On Saturday morning, I had coffee with a close friend from my grad school/adjunct days. Joyce now lives in Indiana but was in Maryland visiting family. I hadn’t seen her in a couple years so it was nice to catch up with each other. That afternoon we drove out to Northern Virginia to visit a high school friend of Beth’s who was having a small get-together with us, her son, nephew, and a co-worker. Heather put out quite a spread, including a homemade apple tart and a cheese pie made with puff pastry. We contributed pizzelles Beth and North made. (Later I made buckeyes and we continued taking sweets to everyone who invited us anywhere.)

On Sunday evening, we went to a New Year’s Eve party at our neighbors’ house, where Beth learned to play a card game called Hand and Foot. I don’t pick up games easily so I watched. I still have no idea how this game works, but everyone seemed to be having fun. Meanwhile North and the other kids jumped on the backyard trampoline in the dark. The kids had glow sticks so it was very pretty to watch from inside, but apparently, it was less harmonious out there because they all came inside with different versions of an argument the adults seemed uninterested in getting to the bottom of.

Back at home, we set the kids up with two bottles of sparkling cider and a wide array of salty snacks so they could welcome in the new year without us, as we preferred to go to bed. It was a big deal for North who had never stayed up until midnight on New Year’s Eve before. It’s possible Noah never has either but he was unimpressed with the television coverage of Times Square. “So we’re going to watch this for two hours?” he said after a few minutes and then it seemed like he might bail and North was upset because they didn’t want to be all alone at midnight, but a compromise was reached and he stayed in the living room along with some electronics to entertain himself. The kids were very quiet and we actually got to sleep before eleven and everyone got the New Year’s Eve they wanted.

On New Year’s Day, North and I met up at the U.S. Botanic Garden with one of my oldest friends, Brian, and his wife Jann who were in town for a wedding.  (I met Brian when I was twelve and he was twenty-four and renting the apartment on the third floor of our house and he used to babysit my sister and me if my mom was out at night or out of town overnight). The gardens are all inside a big greenhouse. We wandered from room to room admiring desert, tropical, Mediterranean, and medicinal plants and then we climbed up on the catwalk to see the plants in the atrium from a higher perspective. There are models of iconic D.C. buildings (the Capitol, Supreme Court, various monuments, etc.) all made of natural materials in the lobby and Brian really got a kick out of these. Finally, we toured the model train display. The tracks go through elaborate landscapes that change from year to year. This year the theme was Roadside Attractions, so there were models of Mount Rushmore and other less well known sights such as the Corn Palace in South Dakota, the world’s largest statue of a pistachio, etc. It was a nice place to stroll and talk for an hour and a half on a bitterly cold day.

Beth picked us up at the Metro and we dropped North off at Xavier’s. His moms invited us to come in and socialize later when we picked them up. They were having another lesbian couple with kids over for dinner. It so happens we know this couple. Their kids went to the same preschool as ours, though in different years. So, we ended our holiday with a brief, impromptu three lesbian couple get-together over tea and cranberry cake.

2017 was not an easy year by any stretch of the imagination and I doubt 2018 will be either, but I hope the combination of nature, family, and friends we enjoyed over the past ten days will help give us the strength to face whatever’s coming our way in the months ahead.

Happy Birthday, Happy Thanksgiving

Wednesday

“Happy Thanksgiving Eve,” Beth said to me as she came back into the bedroom after her shower on Wednesday morning. I was still in bed looking at my phone.

“Happy Birthday Eve,” I responded. Beth’s birthday was on Thanksgiving this year and we were kind of stumped about when we should serve her cake. For breakfast on Thanksgiving morning, before we drove to Rehoboth for our Thanksgiving dinner and a weekend of Christmas shopping? As an afternoon snack when we arrived? I checked to see when her birthday had last fallen on Thanksgiving so I could consult my blog and see what we’d done, but, alas, it hadn’t happened since 2006 and I started writing this blog in 2007 so the answer was lost in the sands of time.

For this year, we settled on the night before Thanksgiving. I spent much of that afternoon cooking. With North’s help, I made a birthday cake for Beth, a chocolate layer cake with coffee frosting. I made the cake and North made the frosting and frosted it. After North consulted with Beth, they decorated it with chocolate jimmies and red sparkles. Their conversation went something like this, after North showed Beth the topping options and Beth chose the jimmies:

North: That’s it? No sparkles?
Beth: Do you recommend sparkles?
North: I always recommend sparkles.

Later I asked, “Should we use the fancy platter” and North said, “Yes,” in an exasperated tone that clearly said, “Why can you never recognize your own best ideas?”

For Beth’s pre-birthday dinner, at her request, I made breaded tofu sticks, tater tots, and homemade applesauce. I also made cranberry sauce and brandied sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving and mixed a little of the cranberry sauce into the applesauce. After dinner, Beth took her shift in the kitchen, making stuffing and mushroom gravy.

Thanksgiving Birthday

In the morning, I made pumpkin-pecan muffins and served them with scrambled eggs, clementines, and vegetarian bacon and sausage. Before we ate, Beth opened her presents: fancy olive oil in a ceramic jug with multicolored stripes, a Christmas ornament shaped like a pierogi, and an assortment of dark chocolate bars.

We left for the beach around 10:30 and arrived at our rented beach cottage about four hours later—we had to make a lot of pit stops. We explored the house, admiring the charming alpine slope of the ceilings in the attic bedrooms and in the living room. Then we unpacked, made up the beds, and by 3:15 I was on the beach. Afternoons are short in late November so shadows were already long in the golden light. The waves that were tall enough not to be all foam were translucent at the tips. The angle of the sun hitting the sea spray was such that there was a tiny rainbow with almost every wave. Once I’d noticed a couple of them, I couldn’t stop seeing them. It was magical.

I took a long walk. At the south end of the boardwalk, where there are beach houses, I could smell wood smoke. In the middle, where it’s commercial, I could smell French fries, even though none of the food stalls was open. I guess that aroma lingers. At the north end, where the big hotels are, I smelled smoke again, presumably from the fireplaces in their lounges. The only business open was Victoria’s, the ground-level restaurant at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel, where people were eating Thanksgiving dinner behind the big windows that face the boardwalk. I was not alone on the beach, far from it. I guess people were working up an appetite for their dinners.

Over the course of the weekend while on the beach, I’d see countless parents photographing their children dressed in everything from church clothes to Christmas pajamas, a bride and groom in full wedding regalia, and a group of a half-dozen middle-aged to elderly men releasing star-shaped balloons and embracing each other, which reminded me that on the other side of the country, my mom and a group of relatives were gathering this weekend to scatter my stepfather’s ashes in the Pacific Ocean.

Back at the house, Beth and I heated up the food we’d made at home, and she mashed potatoes and made a fire. We shared our gratitudes and ate. We are thankful for: each other, the beach, the fact that American democracy has not completely collapsed and all the people working to keep that from happening, smiles, cranberry sauce, and the Internet. We ate: vegetarian turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy, Brussels sprouts, rolls, and cranberry sauce. After a break for dishwashing and digestion, we ate pumpkin and apple pie in front of a fire and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Before we went to sleep that night, I said, “Happy birthday,” to Beth and she said, “Happy Thanksgiving,” to me.

**************************************************************************

I am thankful for many things, of course, but top of mind is the fact that Beth was born the day before Thanksgiving fifty one years ago, that the beach is just a few hours away, that we can afford to go there two or three times a year, that we can afford to buy Christmas presents for each other and our loved ones, that Noah had much less homework than usual and so had some free time, that the weather was lovely all weekend, so sunny and mild that I spent hours roaming the beach and boardwalk every day for four days in a row, and for our family togetherness whether we’re collecting shells on the beach, singing at the annual sing-along and Christmas tree lighting on Rehoboth Avenue, browsing in the little downtown shops, eating at our favorite restaurants, or watching Christmas specials together in front of the fires that Beth and North built. (Saturday evening North lit one all by themselves.) That bond will get us through the hard things in life.

Of course, there are hard times and sad times and we don’t always have everything we’d like. North decided this year they are too old to sit on Santa’s lap in his little house on the boardwalk, but they couldn’t quite let go of the tradition completely, so they left a note in his mailbox. Inspired by that, I left my own anonymous note in the mailbox Sunday morning, asking for something dear to my heart but unlikely to happen—and no, it wasn’t Trump’s impeachment. It felt somehow therapeutic to leave the folded-up piece of notebook paper in the little metal box and walk away down the boardwalk.

A Strange Halloween

Before Halloween

As I mentioned earlier, North went on the MCPS sixth-grade outdoor education field trip this week. They left on Monday morning and returned Wednesday afternoon. In some ways, this trip seemed less momentous than when Noah went on it because when he went it was the first time he’d been away from home and not in the care of relatives. I didn’t blog about it because he told us almost nothing about whatever happened on that trip. Really, it was something like, “we saw a snake and a turtle.” But I do remember missing him sharply, even though he was away less than three days. North on the other hand has been to sleepaway camp the past three summers, so I was used to the separation and didn’t faze me. But in other ways it was more complicated than Noah’s Outdoor Ed experience because the kids’ sleeping quarters were segregated by gender and this was distressing to North.

I should say here that the school has been pretty accommodating of North’s new gender identity. They are permitted to use the unisex restroom in the nurse’s office and the counsellor has briefed all their teachers on their preferred name and pronouns. Most of the teachers (with one exception) are on board and most of the kids who know have taken it in stride (again with one exception). But it took a while to figure out how we’d handle the housing problem.

North didn’t want to sleep in the girls’ area and they didn’t want to be all alone in a separate room and those were the choices on offer, either that or come home both nights. Coming home wasn’t an ideal solution because Outdoor Ed is supposed to be a team-building exercise for the class and breaking it up into three pieces would compromise that. Plus, Beth would have to drive forty-five minutes to Rockville to fetch them Monday night and then forty-five minutes back home and then do it all over Tuesday morning, Tuesday evening, and Wednesday morning. But if North chose the separate room, Beth would have to miss work, so she could act as a chaperone because they weren’t allowed to be alone overnight. This wasn’t ideal either, but that’s what North chose. I have to admit I asked if they could consider sleeping in the girls’ area just to simplify things. After all, only a few months ago they were quite happily attending Girl Scout sleep-away camp. They were not open to the idea, to say the least.

Beth drove North to school Monday morning. In the rush, they forgot the bag lunch they were supposed to bring so Beth gave them the apple slices and crackers from her lunch—North didn’t want the garlic cheese curds. When I found the forgotten lunch on the couch, it made me a little sad to see the plain brown bag.  I decorated every elementary school field trip lunch bag, covering them with stickers, and even though I didn’t think I’d keep doing it in middle school (for one thing North’s making their own lunch now). I hadn’t even thought about how I wasn’t doing it until that moment. Always with the growing up…

Anyway, I learned from Beth that when they arrived at school kids were piling their luggage up into two piles—boys’ and girls’. So rather than just dropping North off as planned, Beth parked the car and found the sixth-grade team leader to find out where North should leave their luggage. He said in either pile was fine—North was on both lists. But this is the whole point for North. They don’t want to choose, so Mr. O took their luggage with him.

Beth went from the middle school to work, came home, raved over the dinner of butternut squash fritters, apple slices, and vegetarian sausage I’d made (maybe because all she had for lunch was cheese curds and she was very hungry), and then she drove out to the environmental education facility, where she’d stay until Wednesday morning. (The kids would be there until Wednesday afternoon.)

Monday evening I kept thinking of how my time alone with Noah could be fun—we could read Stephen King, watch scary movies, put the finishing touches on the Halloween decorations—if only he didn’t have so much homework. Instead, on Monday he did a calculus packet, finished a biology lab report, and read and answered questions on a chapter of his biology textbook. I told him he should go trick-or-treating Tuesday no matter what his homework load, and he agreed.

Halloween

But he didn’t get a lot of homework on Tuesday and when he got home from school on Halloween, he got the electric things and the fog machine working, then read an essay about the role of joy in various ancient religious traditions for his World History class. Because he finished shortly before dinner time, we even snuck in a little Wizard and Glass. It was only fifteen minutes, but I’d hoped to read with him while Beth and North were out of town, so it made me happy.

Meanwhile, I got occasional updates from Beth—they were learning about watersheds and had done a Predator/Prey simulation. North was a carnivore and Beth was a habitat-destroying developer. “Not cast to type,” was her comment. Later she said they were going to see a presentation by someone called Reptile Man, who I assumed was a man who spoke about and displayed reptiles and not a half-reptile, half-man mutant. But you never know, it was Halloween. (Later there was photographic evidence of Reptile Man’s giant albino python.) The kids also watched a little of Ghosthunters on Icy Trails, but they didn’t have time to finish it. (This was one of my pet peeves at a kid. I hated it when we’d see just part of a movie in school.)

Noah set out to trick or treat around seven, and I listened to my new Halloween playlist almost twice through, read Austerlitz, looked at Facebook photos of all your kids in their adorable or gruesome Halloween costumes, and occasionally gave out candy, from the time the first trick or treater, a teenage boy in some sort of mod get up, arrived at 6:40 during “Werewolves of London” until the last two, a chef and a detective, arrived at 8:30 during the second playing of “Vampire Girl.” We didn’t get too many kids, probably less than a dozen. I kept thinking I heard people on the porch but usually it was just the fog machine switching itself on and off.

Noah came home and reported that among the people who gave him candy were a former employee of Equifax and someone who works for the federal government and is investigating Equifax. They both appreciated his costume. Noah and I blew out the candles and unplugged all the electronic things around 9:10, but I left the porch light on another fifteen minutes or so, just in case someone else came. It was a strange Halloween, without Beth and North, and I didn’t feel quite finished.

Day of the Dead

Beth dropped by the house the next morning, after Noah had left for school. She said everyone did a lot of walking outside and the kids made masks and the teachers were in costume. The theme was fantasy football so they were dressed partly in football jerseys but with wardrobe elements fantasy characters would wear. It was a nod to Halloween, I guess.

That afternoon I went to North’s school to pick them up. We went to the nurse’s office to get the vitamins and Lactaid they’d taken to Outdoor Ed and while we were there we had to iron out a detail about permission for North to use the nurse’s bathroom. We handled the vitamin pickup first and during this discussion the nurses kept referring to North as “he,” even though the name we’d written on the bottle was “June,” as we still use that name for official business. This wasn’t the first time I’ve heard someone take North for a boy since they got their hair cut short and started wearing more boyish clothes, but it still startles me. I let it go until we got the vitamins back, then I explained the situation with North’s gender identity and the bathroom to both nurses. They seemed open to the idea and then seemed to recall they’d heard something about a kid needing to use the nurse’s restroom, but they hadn’t been introduced to North. It’s a big school and sometimes communication isn’t seamless.

As we approached the bus stop, we saw a 12 pulling away. I knew it would be twenty minutes before the next one, but I didn’t really mind. I knew I was more likely to hear details about Outdoor Ed while we were in transit than once we got home, and I did. North cut their arm falling in the creek while taking water samples, they enjoyed the confidence exercise (a sort of obstacle course), there was a campfire. The predator/prey exercise was fun. They saw many snakes, not just the python. The food was okay, but not great. The vegetarians had cheese dippers, which they describe as an inferior sort of mozzarella stick with the tomato sauce on the inside, way too many times. All in all, they seemed happy with the experience and eager to get home and see how much candy I’d saved for them. I asked if they’d like to light the jack-o-lanterns one last time that evening, since it was still Day of the Dead, and they said yes.

I made a pumpkin-apple cake with a cinnamon-pecan glaze to celebrate everyone being home together and Noah wanted to know if we could have cake every time we were all at dinner together. North made dessert, too, little sugar skulls molded of a powdered sugar-and-water paste, and with that little gesture, our strange Halloween was over.

When Life Gives You Lemons

We’ve known since the middle of September that North wouldn’t be able to go trick-or-treating this year because they’ll be on a two-and-a-half-day outdoor education field trip over Halloween. (All the sixth graders in Montgomery County go on this trip but not all at the same time. North’s school was split into three shifts and they drew the short straw.) A friend of mine commented it was bad luck indeed, as Halloween is “the holiest day” in our family calendar.

We carried on as best we could, though. Beth and North went camping two weeks ago and the campground had some Halloween-themed activities—trick-or-treating from tent to tent, and a costume contest. North wore a yellow t-shirt with the word “Life” written on it in black marker and carried a bag of lemons. Get it?  They won the contest, but said they felt kind of bad about it because the competition was mostly little kids. But we do take costume contests seriously here. Both kids have won the Takoma Park Halloween parade costume contest (Noah several times) and Noah won a costume photo contest at his school in ninth grade. We continue to expand our costume contest empire, little by little.

We also went to our favorite pumpkin patch in Northern Virginia a week ago. This was a fun expedition, even though traffic was awful both ways. At one point, I told Beth we were on “the highway to hell,” because we were listening to a Halloween playlist Noah found and that song was on it. But we finally arrived after about an hour and fifteen minutes (a half hour longer than it usually takes). We got pumpkins, decorative gourds, and cider and then went out to dinner at Sunflower, where we ordered a veritable feast of vegetarian Chinese food (and ate almost all of it). Toward the end of the drive home, the playlist ended and we had our D.J. take requests. North wanted to hear “Purple People Eater” and “Monster Mash,” opining it was “a disgrace” any Halloween playlist should lack those songs. I picked “Season of the Witch,” and Beth chose “Werewolves of London,” which caused a lot of howling in the car.

And slowly, over the course of a few weeks, we decorated our yard with our ever-growing collection of ghosts, skeletons, zombies, etc. This year’s additions include a portrait that screams when you press a button (we hung it on a nail next to the front door), more spider webbing, a metal cut-out of a witch, a large window decal of a ghost, and pumpkin-head torso that emerges from the ground.

The Takoma Park Halloween parade was Saturday. North had considered expanding their Life costume to be the game board of the game of Life, still holding the bag of lemons, but they decided that might just be too confusing. So, they printed up business cards with a recipe for lemonade to hand out along the route and they were done. Noah decided to go as the Equifax data breach. He wore a thrift store trench coat with the Equifax logo painted on it and credit cards pinned all over it and glasses with bushy eyebrows and a false nose. There was originally a mustache under the nose but it was oddly narrow and both my and Noah’s first thought when he tried it on was “Hitler,” so he cut it off. I also warned him not to wear shorts under the coat, even though the day was warm, because “flasher” wasn’t the look he was going for either.

As often happens, Noah was engaged in costume-making right up until the deadline. North and I helped him pin the credit cards—they were all printed with his name and the number 1031 2017 0000 0000—to the trench coat. We decided to walk to the beginning of the parade route because no one’s costume was bulky this year and it’s always hard to find parking. (It was also the first year in recent memory no one’s costume required large quantities of cardboard—so of course this was the year Beth had been saving it).

The festivities begin in the Co-Op parking lot. There were games for little kids, a spider web background for picture taking and a can-you-guess-how-many pieces jar of candy corn. North and I both submitted guesses. Mostly though, people walk around and look at each other’s costumes. I was surprised at the dearth of political costumes. These are always popular and last year there were even more than usual. Maybe everyone needs a break from politics these days. The closest thing we saw was probably the group of famous artists (Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’ Keefe, Andy Warhol, and Bob Ross) carrying a banner that protested funding cuts to the NEA. 

There was a strangely large number of teenage girls dressed as cats and about the usual number of zombies.  We saw two adults dressed as bacon and eggs and a girl dressed as a deviled egg (egg with a trident, cape, and horns). Probably the best costume we saw belonged to a girl who’s a year older than North and used to wait at their elementary school bus stop. She always has memorable costumes. This year she was a bowl of fruit loops. She stood inside a giant papier mâché bowl filled with sliced up pool noodles of many colors. There was a milk jug suspended over her head with white cloth “milk” tumbling down into the bowl.

Eventually, people gathered under the banners with their age groups and began to walk the parade route. I walked with North in the nine-to-twelve group and they were concerned that the judges never asked their name. Some years they take everyone’s name and costume and some years they just take the names of the top contenders. (Beth and Noah were in the teen and adult area and once we got to the end of the route and found each other, we learned no one took his name either.)

Along the way North saw a lot of kids they know, one from drama camp dressed as an archer and another as Wonder Woman, two basketball teammates dressed as milk and cookies, a former classmate in an Octopus’s Garden group costume with her family.

There was a band playing and I thought I probably had time to get an iced latte at Takoma Beverage Company before the costume contest results were announced. It was a close thing, as it turned out. I missed all the four and under and some of the five-to-eight winners. A vampire cheerleader and a monster from Where the Wild Things Are won in that age group. The nine-to-twelve group was next. Scariest went to the girl with the half-unzipped face. (Google zipper face if you want to see it—there are a lot of make-up tutorials—but be warned, it’s pretty gory, so I’m not including any links.) Funniest went to the bowl of fruit loops, and cutest went to a Starbucks latte. North was disappointed not to win, but all the costumes that did win were very well executed, so it was hard to complain. “The judging was fair,” they said.

In its publicity, the rec department advertised the categories would be Scary, Funny, and Cute this year, which was a change. There used to be an Original category instead of Cute. I thought this worked against my kids, especially Noah, who when he wins, tends to win in Original. Before the parade I thought North had a shot in Funny and Cute and Noah in Funny and Scary—after all the Equifax disaster was pretty scary. As it turned out, though, categories were inconsistent across age groups, with some groups still using Original and others not.

Teens and Adults were up next. Scary went to a woman in a black Victorian dress with a bustle and a black, metallic-looking unicorn head. The effect was kind of steampunk and very cool. Most Original went to the chicken from Moana. We all instantly protested to each other that characters in Disney movies are not original, even though it was a very nicely done costume. Funny went to Seven Snow Whites (some of them cross dressing) and one Dwarf. More family protests—they should have been in the group category! So, Noah didn’t win either. It was the first time since 2012 that neither of the kids has won.

We stayed to see the group costumes judged. A Ghost Busters group won first prize (“First prize?” we all exclaimed. What happened to the categories?) But the protesting artists won second prize and I was glad to see them win.

We made our way home and before we had a dinner of pasta with pumpkin sauce and carved our pumpkins into a cat, Jack Skellington from Nightmare Before Christmas, a skull-and-crossbones, and a scary clown, North made lemonade out their lemons. Because when life gives you lemons, there’s just one thing to do.

I’m North

Guest blog post

Hi! I’m North. But you might know me as June from other blogs. That’s my old name. I’ll be North today. I like cats, and most every animal except for dogs. My favorite color is aquamarine, (specific, right?) my favorite food is olives, and my favorite animal is deer. Sounds like a pretty average kid, right? Well in some aspects, you are right. I’m in middle school, hate gym class, and love lunch (no, seriously. I’m in love.). But there’s one thing about me that isn’t ordinary. You probably already know it. I’m transgender. There, just officially came out on the internet. No going back from that.

Ok, let’s get something straight. When I say transgender, I probably don’t mean what you think I mean. I was assigned female at birth, which I am not. But, if I had been assigned male at birth, they would have been equally wrong. I’m genderfluid, which means on any given day, I could feel anywhere on, or off the gender spectrum. I could fell more feminine, masculine, in the middle, or genderless! There are countless ways I could feel on any given day. But no matter how I feel, always refer to me in the third person using they/them pronouns. If you don’t know what those are, look them up! I’m sure there are countless people on the internet who can explain it better than me. But the simple version is, that they are used to refer to a person not female, nor male. You can also always use these if you aren’t sure. Remember, it’s always ok to ask somebody about their pronouns. Just pull them away for a second, and ask. A lot of transgender people feel good when you ask them their pronouns. It indicates a sense of respect for that person. So, if you aren’t sure, just ask.

Ok, I’m going to tell you some things that you probably should, and shouldn’t do around transgender individuals. Keep in mind that I am just one of the many, many, transgender individuals out there, and I do not speak for everyone. These are just some generalizations that I believe most transgender people do or do not like.

Let’s start on the positives, things that most trans people like: Asking their pronouns. This indicates that you don’t want to offend this person by referring to them in the wrong way. Letting them pass. If you know your friend is trans, they are meeting new people, and think they’re doing a really great job at passing, let them pass. Let people think they were born that way, even if you know they weren’t.

Now, what most trans people don’t like: Dead naming. If somebody goes by a different name than their birth name, that name probably doesn’t make them feel good, so just don’t say it.

Using the wrong pronouns. If you knew them before, and mess up occasionally, that’s okay, but just try to use the right pronouns.

Well, I gotta go now. You might see me again, I don’t know. Well, Goodbye, Aloha, Ciao, Hasta luego, See ya!

Happy National Coming Out Day!

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Monday: MLK Day

The Monday before the inauguration was MLK day. Our traditional service project for this day is to participate in a creek cleanup. We choose this activity a long time ago because it’s easy for little kids to participate, or if they choose not to participate, to run around in the woods while the adults fish beer cans and trash out of the creek and off its banks.

It’s been a few years since I’ve participated. Two years ago, I was miserably sick with strep throat on MLK day and a year ago I don’t remember what happened but I know I didn’t go—maybe Noah had too much work and I stayed home to supervise. But this year everyone was well and community service seemed too important to waive because of homework. Beth and I wondered, independently of each other, if a creek cleanup was enough given the circumstances. My first thought for an alternative activity was volunteering at a food bank, but you have to be thirteen and June’s only ten, and the environment is dear to my heart, so we stuck with the creek cleanup.

All the creek cleanups I’ve done over the years have been along Long Branch creek somewhere between our house and June’s school, but this one was a bit farther away, in between the Long Branch community center and library. The strip of woods that surrounds the creek is wider there so instead of working in the creek and very close to it, we had a bigger area to cover. The amount of litter was greater, too. In under two hours the four of us filled five garbage bags full of recycling and two with trash.

It does seem like a worthwhile activity when you’re confronted with the trash-strewn woods and then you and a bunch of strangers get to work and after a couple hours, large swaths of it are cleared. But as Beth pointed out, it just points to bigger social problems, because someone might have been sleeping on those two mattresses other volunteers dragged out to the community center parking lot. This is not an uncommon find and I always wonder if we should just leave them be. Not to mention that well over half of what we were picking up was empty beer cans and bottles, probably not the leavings of social drinkers.

So, feeling simultaneously like we’d accomplished something with our morning and that we hadn’t, we went to La Mano and got lattes and steamers and headed home, where Noah immediately took a bath to get the smell of stale beer off himself.

Friday: Inauguration Day

Beth and the kids only had three days of work and school the next week because they were off Friday for the inauguration, not that we had any intention of going, or watching it on television or turning on the radio any time between the hours of eleven and four. I also observed a Facebook blackout during those five hours. (Beth decided to watch the Obamas get on their plane and fly away and it made her cry.)

We decided the best thing we could do with the day would be to binge-watch A Series of Unfortunate Events, as the first eight episodes were released on Netflix on Friday the thirteenth. I made (vegetarian) pasta puttanesca and chocolate pudding for dinner the night before, a meal the children make for Count Olaf and his theater troupe in the first book. We are hard core fans of this series, and the audiobooks, especially the ones Tim Curry narrates. We even bought a new, modern-sized television to watch it. This was an event.

I would have liked to be watching at the exact moment Trump was taking the oath of office, but Noah had a classmate coming over at noon so they could finish a documentary they were making on Edward Snowden for their media class (and submitting to a student documentary contest run by C-SPAN), so we had to stop shortly before then. Starting Thursday night and continuing Friday morning and evening, we watched the first four forty-five minute episodes, which I realize might not constitute a binge for some people but for us it does.

If you love these books, you will probably love the show, which captures their quirky essence much better than the movie. If you haven’t read them, start there. I have to say, though, I was identifying with the three Baudelaire children, with their house burned down, the people who were supposed to be looking out for them dead or missing and suddenly in the care of someone who does not wish them well. So, maybe it was not as escapist an activity as planned. Still, the Baudelaires and resourceful, brave, and loyal to each other. That counts for something.

After lunch, June and I made peanut-butter chocolate chip cookies while listening to the Indigo Girls, I read several Shirley Jackson essays, and then I took her to a voice lesson. She’s got a recital next weekend so she and the teacher worked on diction, expression, and other performance considerations. After the lesson, June had her jury for the recital and she passed it. I could tell she was nervous because she was clutching the front of her pants with both hands, but from her face you would have never known it.

On the way home, we swung by Roscoe’s to pick up pizza and an arugula-beet salad, which we ate at home, not really wanting to interact with other people than necessary on this bleak day. Once Noah had put the finishing touches on his movie and had submitted it to C-SPAN, we watched one last episode of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and went to bed so we could all be rested for the big event of the weekend.

Saturday: Women’s March

Beth and Noah were out the door by seven. Beth was supposed to show up at her office to greet the busloads of CWA members arriving at her office and Noah was going to assist Mike, the CWA photographer who was filming the march. I was proud of Noah for going because he absolutely hates crowds, but he knew was important. It helped that he had a task to focus on and that he got to use some cool photographic equipment like a 360-degree camera and a steady cam. He even endured holding hands with strangers during a CWA sing-along, but I missed that as it happened before June and I got there. This must have been horrifying for him. 

June and I left about an hour later, right after she made her “Another Girl Scout Against Trump” sign. It was a last-minute job, but if you look carefully you’ll see she printed out and taped the Girl Scout insignia to it. She chose this message because she was appalled to hear some Girl Scouts marched in the inauguration parade. She also decided to wear her Girl Scout vest over her hoodie.

While we were at the bus stop in front of our house, a stranger pulled over and asked if we’d like a ride to the Metro. I thought about it and decided it was a day to trust women, so I said yes. She told us she had a disability that made marching hard so she was shuttling friends to the Metro and seeing June’s sign, she figured that’s where we were headed. As we approached the Metro I could see steady streams of people on foot, many in pink hats, all walking toward the stop. June looked surprised and excited to be seeing crowds already, in our little town. The trains were crammed, but we got on the first one we saw because people packed themselves in tighter to make room for us.  We were right next to a group of women scientists in their lab coats.

We arrived at CWA headquarters shortly before nine. There was a mini-rally on the sidewalk in front it, which repeated every time new busses arrived, meaning we heard some of the speeches and chants twice. In between we went inside and sampled fruit and an egg and bagel sandwich at the breakfast buffet for members who’d been on buses since the wee hours of the morning. They’d come from states as far away as North Carolina, but the ones who arrived while we were there were from New York and New Jersey.

We set off to march with the second group, but we got separated from them almost immediately in the chaos on the mall. We were much too far away from the stage to hear the rally program or even to catch more than glimpses of the Jumbotron blocks away. So, we turned our attention to the crowd. We drifted through it to people-watch and read signs.

Some of the most popular signs were “Girls Just Want to Have Fun-damental Rights” and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” and various feline-themed signs. I also saw a lot of “Love is Love is Love” and “Black Lives Matter” signs and portraits of Trump in the style of Obama’s iconic Hope posters, except they either say “Nope” or “Grope” and there were also a lot that said “Make America Think Again.” The next day over dinner we discussed how making fun of Trump’s physical appearance (hair, skin, small hands) was a slippery slope, even though he himself treats people that way. (It was our “When they go low, we go high” moment.) But we all thought “Super Callous Fragile Ego, Trump You Are Atrocious” was fair game.

I thought this one summed up things pretty well: “There Are So Many Things Wrong with Trump I Can’t Fit Them on This Sign.” June’s sign was popular as well. All day people were taking her picture and many former and current Girl Scouts wanted to pose with her. (Beth tweeted her picture to the Girl Scouts.) I learned later people left drifts of signs in front of the Trump Hotel and lined the White House fence with them and when the fence was completely obscured, they tossed more over the fence. I wish we’d seen that and done it, too.

By eleven-thirty, the mall was completely packed, I was feeling a little claustrophobic and needed to use the bathroom badly. The march wasn’t even supposed to start for an hour and a half, so we started looking for porta-potties, I found a bank of them but the lines were several dozen people deep behind each one, so Beth suggested we walk back to her office and re-group. We got back there around noon, used the facilities, and stayed over an hour, mixing with more members who’d arrived. We split one of the box lunches that had appeared on the buffet table between the three of us, to supplement the hard-boiled eggs and trail mix we were carrying. Beth ate the veggie wrap, I ate the apple, and June had the potato chips.

Back at the mall, we hung back a bit to avoid getting trapped in the mass of pink-hatted humanity crammed onto it. It was unclear how we’d know when it was time to march because no one within blocks of us could hear anything, but eventually people started walking down the length of the mall. Beth noted the crowd wasn’t going along the official march route. Later we learned there were too many people to fit on the official route. It was already filled from end to end by the time the march was supposed to start so people spilled out into nearby streets and reached the White House by various routes, like water pouring into all available channels.

Our tributary went by the Trump Hotel and a small pro-Trump counter rally. The crowd took a break from chanting “Black Lives Matter!” “Tell Me What Democracy Looks Like. This Is What Democracy Looks Like!” “Hands Too Small, Can’t Build a Wall,” and “We Need a Leader, Not a Creepy Tweeter!” etc. to chant “Shame” at them.

We also were going along the Inauguration parade route for a while and the stands were still there. They were quickly packed with people who wanted to watch the march go by. Workers who had been taking one of the stands down before the march arrived stood by and watched. One of them was standing on a truck full of stand parts, grinning and laughing.

Considering how chaotic the march was, the police response was restrained. There was not a single arrest. I realize this was probably because while diverse, the march was still majority white. A group of half a million people of color marching on the street without a permit might not have been so tolerantly received. However, once we were almost to the White House the police started throwing up metal barriers in the street to keep the marchers away from it. Some verbal communication would have been appreciated here because it looked like people might get trapped between the fence that was already blocking access to the White House and the new barriers. We had to look lively to get back on the other side ourselves before the line of barriers was complete.

At this point, we turned around and walked back to Beth’s office again. Mike and Noah were already on the Metro, so we got in the car and drove home, tired, footsore and joyful. June kept commenting on the fact that neither Beth nor I had been to a big march until we were in college. She seemed happy to have reached this milestone earlier than we did.  But she’s living in more dire times.

Of course, I would have rather taken my ten-year-old daughter to the inauguration of the first woman president. That’s what I fully expected to do and I’d been looking forward to it. Beth and Noah went to Obama’s first inauguration when he was seven and it was a great experience for him. But this was excellent experience for her, too, if the point is learning about democracy.

Today, two days after the march, Beth and Noah went to work and school. I was home working, too, but also tending to June who had been felled by a stomach bug Sunday night, and was staying home from school. It was a chilly, rainy day, but I was still warmed by the thought of half a million people all returning to their regular routines, but possibly taking a short break to write their Senators and representatives, as I did.