Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.
Attributed to Horace Greeley, New-York Daily Tribune, July 13, 1865
I actually think Washington and its surroundings are a very fine place to live, but we like other places, too, and spring break is a good time to visit them. Often we go east, to Delaware or Maryland beaches, but we have gone as far north as Vermont and as far south as North Carolina. This year we went west, for three reasons: to visit Beth’s mom in Wheeling; for North’s first college tour at Beth’s and my alma mater, Oberlin; and to visit North’s half-sibling Avery in Ypsilanti.
Before I write about the trip, though, a word about the mourning dove chicks. Sunday afternoon, just one day after my last blog post, I went out on the porch and noticed the nest was empty. I am really not sure what to think about this. There were no signs of struggle, no blood or feathers on the porch floor, but I didn’t think they were quite ready to fledge. I hadn’t seen any of the hesitant initial flights to the floor and back to the nest I often see, but on the other hand they weren’t tiny and helpless any more. In my mind, it could have gone either way. It could even be that the smaller one got snatched and the bigger one flew away from the scene of the crime. Since I’ll never know, I am hoping for the best.
Monday: Takoma Park, MD to Wheeling, WV (via Morgantown, WV)
Back to our travels: we hit the road around 10:30 and immediately turned around because a block or two from the house North and I realized we had not packed any masks. We were the only people wearing masks when we stopped at The Blue Goose Fruit Market and Bakery for treats and I was one of two masked customers when I went into Taco Bell to pick up our lunch order.
As we drove west, Trump signs got more common and spring seemed to rewind a bit. When we stopped in Morgantown to visit Stephanie, a friend of ours from college who teaches at WVU now, she had crocuses in front of her house and there were cherry trees in bloom nearby. It was nice to see them again as their bloom is so fleeting and our cherry trees were done. It was also nice to see Stephanie and drink peppermint tea and eat crumbly cheddar and talk about the books she’s teaching and her students and climate change (she teaches Environmental Humanities) and North’s thoughts about college.
We arrived in Wheeling around 6:30. YaYa had prepared a nice dinner for us, a vegetable-white bean soup, salad, and bread. We’d brought some leftover banana pudding cake North and their friend Ranvita had made on Sunday and when Beth’s aunt Carole came over after dinner, we all had some.
In the morning I read my book club book (Palace Walk) and Beth and YaYa went for a walk in Wheeling Park. Carole came over a little after noon to dye Easter eggs with us. North made the trans flag on one and got tie dye and batik effects on a few more. Beth made the Ukrainian flag with a heart sticker. I made very busy yellow and green one covered with spring-themed stickers. I initially put on just a few then decided more is more. Our collection of little felt hats was pressed into service, as it is every year. YaYa chose a green beret with a pipe cleaner spiral on top. Carole went with a more classic, unadorned look for her pink and half-green, half-blue eggs.
Later in the afternoon, YaYa, Beth and I went to Oglebay park to walk among the daffodils and tulips and around the little lake with its swan boats and ducks and a turtle sunning itself on a log. Beth’s aunt Jenny came by for a fly-by visit and then we had dinner at Carole’s house, which is two doors down from YaYa’s. She made spinach ravioli with sauteed vegetables and a salad and then she put out ice cream and gingersnaps. We lingered at the table for an hour or so after we’d finished and the two members of the older generation asked the lone representative of the younger one about high school and North was quite expansive about the classes they liked and the ones they didn’t and everything else they were asked about. We went back to YaYa’s house and Beth’s friend Michelle from her own high school days came over and we had a wide-ranging discussion about everyone’s health issues and life changes and work and relationships, in other words all the important things.
Wednesday: Wheeling to Oberlin, OH
Beth’s aunt Susan came by the next morning, full of news about her great grandchildren. And with that visit we’d seen all three of YaYa’s sisters in the space of two days. After Susan left, Beth and YaYa went back to Oglebay because YaYa had wanted to go to the gift shop the day before and it had been closed. While they were gone, I took a long walk in Wheeling Park and the adjacent cemetery.
After lunch, we hit the road for Oberlin. With pit stops so Beth could take a work call and so North and I could get coffee and use a restroom it took three and a half hours to get to our AirBnB. Beth went out for some groceries and I made egg salad out of some of our Easter eggs for dinner. I served it on toast with broccoli on the side.
We took an after-dinner stroll through Oberlin, traversing Tappan Square and walking through town. I felt right at home when I saw a short-haired young woman in Birkenstocks with a guitar slung over her back. Beth told North about three separate times that she thought they could be happy in Oberlin because “it’s a happy place.” We pointed out the movie theater where we had our second date (in July 1987) because every trip to Oberlin is a trip down memory lane for us and the kids just know to expect that.
We got back to the house just in time for me to log onto my book club meeting. It’s hybrid now and it’s not ideal because there are almost always technical snafus at the beginning and it’s hard to hear the people who are in person when you’re remote and I haven’t gotten the hang of how to jump into the conversation when I’m not in the room, so I just settled in to listen. Even with all the drawbacks I was glad to be able to do it. It’s better than missing it entirely. While I was in book club, Beth worked a little and then she and North played Battleship on their phones.
In the morning Beth took a walk around campus and I read until North got up and then we went to the campus art museum. I had a strong desire to take North there because I visited it when I was a prospective at Oberlin and I was really taken with it. I remember thinking if I went to Oberlin I’d go there all the time, and while I didn’t go as often as I anticipated, I did go often enough to have favorite pieces. I showed North St. Sebastian Tended by Irene which I wrote an essay about for an art history class and this sculpture I really loved. Beth showed North her favorite painting and we browsed the rest of the eclectic collection.
From the museum we went to the campus bookstore, where North selected Wilder Girls, which is a book I’ve considered reading and now that it’s going to be in the house, I probably will. North says it’s horror with lesbian characters—“What more could you want?”
We were wandering around looking for somewhere to eat lunch (almost none of the haunts of our college days are still open, so there was no obvious choice) when I noticed North was slowing down and limping and in the interest of letting them get some rest before the walking tour, we decided to eat at a nearby Mexican place, rather than continuing to compare menus. I had a spinach quesadilla with a side order of refried beans. I wasn’t sure how the white flour tortilla would affect my blood sugar and I still don’t know because my sensor had just expired and I didn’t have a new one on yet.
We attended an information session held in a lecture hall where I had an intro Psychology class my first year. The presenter talked really fast for an hour, talking about the things every college touts at these things—student faculty ratio, the abundance of clubs and cultural events, how environmentally friendly the school is, although Oberlin’s goal to be carbon neutral in the next few years goes above and beyond. He also covered the Experimental College with its student-taught classes, the student-run co-op housing and dining halls, and opportunities to work closely with faculty. I never took an ExCo class but I knew people who did and I did eat and live in co-ops and my senior year I helped a professor teach literary translation workshop I took as a sophomore, so it all rang pretty true for me.
The walking tour was next. Beth asked the guide if he could go a little slow so North could keep up and he did. The tour didn’t take any longer than advertised, though, so either he cut some of his normal stops or he always walks pretty slowly. Oberlin is a smaller campus than many we toured with Noah, so maybe the guides don’t have to rush as much. We went from North quad to South quad, stopped at the library and saw a model dorm room. I peeled off from the group at the library because the id card office is there and I wanted to get an alumni id so I could use the pool later. The tour left before I finished and I had to catch up with it following Beth’s texted directions.
After the tour, I asked North if the presentation and tour made them more or less interested in Oberlin and they said they said about the same. What’s drawing them to it is the pre-law program, which I don’t think even existed when Beth and I were students. As North and I walked to the house, Beth went back to the library and got her own id card.
After a short rest, we went to the gym and Beth rode an exercise bike while I swam in the pool where I used to swim laps in college. The locker rooms have been renovated beyond recognition, but the pool looks pretty much the same. I looked at the board of swim team records and noticed a few date back to the early nineties, just after I graduated. It pleased me to think of someone just a couple years younger than me still holding a pool record. It was not a record day for me. The pool in Takoma where I swam closed at the beginning of the pandemic and never re-opened so I have only swum laps a handful of times in the past two years and I could feel it. I did about two-thirds of my usual routine and called it quits. My time wasn’t bad, but I was tired and Beth was finished so I didn’t want to make her wait.
While I am normally not at all self-conscious in changing rooms, I discovered I am when the average age of women in the room is about twenty (and most of them are members of the swim team, which had just finished practicing). I considered the irony of the fact that when I was that age (but not on the swim team) I actually wrote a poem called “In the Women’s Locker Room at Carr Pool” which was about all the different types of bodies in the locker room, students and faculty and little kids, all ages and shapes, and how they were all beautiful. I need to try to see myself with my younger self’s eyes.
Back at the house, we got excellent Thai takeout and watched an episode of The Gilmore Girls and then the second half of Being the Ricardos (which we’d started about a week earlier).
Friday: Oberlin to Ypsilanti, MI (via Lake Erie)
We lingered in bed that morning, and before we left Oberlin, we went out for coffee at a place called Slow Train Café, which might have been named for how long it takes to get your coffee. It wasn’t the baristas’ fault by any means. They were swamped. The coffee was good when we got it. We also checked out another bookstore, where we got a couple Oberlin t-shirts, one for Beth and one for my niece. (My sister also went to Oberlin.) Lily-Mei’s shirt had a squirrel on it because the squirrel is the unofficial mascot of the college. It’s because there are albino squirrels you can occasionally glimpse on campus. (We didn’t see it any on this trip.)
We hit the road, had lunch at Panera, and stopped at Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie, where North sat on swing with a view of the water and then collected little shells on the beach, while Beth and I took a short walk along the shore.
We got to our AirBnB in Ypsilanti a little after four. We unpacked a bit and I set out a variety of snacks from our store of food—garlic cheddar, olives, smoked almonds—and some raspberry lemonade we found in the fridge because North’s half sibling Avery and one of their moms was coming over.
We sat in the living room and got to know each other. As you can see, there is definitely a physical resemblance between the kids, which I knew ahead of time from pictures, but it seemed stronger in person, probably because Avery’s intonation and hand gestures are similar to North’s. When you see the whole package it’s kind of eerie. Besides having lesbian moms (not so surprising for donor-conceived kids) they have more in common. Avery is non-binary, into theater and likes to bake. Like North and the donor, they had red hair as a baby that changed to light blonde and then darkened as they got older. They also have joint issues and migraines.
Avery has met several of the group of fourteen known half-siblings, so I imagine it was less novel for their mom than it was for us, but it was a pleasant chat. Everyone got along and we all met up with Avery’s other mom at a pizza place for dinner. The kids had plans to spend all of the next day together, but North came back to the AirBnB with us for the night, where we watched an episode of Gilmore Girls before bed.
It was a very Good Friday.
Saturday: Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, MI
Avery came by the next morning to pick up North. It was the first time I’ve watched North leave in a car driven by a peer, as none of their friends drive yet.
North and Avery spent the day wandering around Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, shopping for books and crystals. They had lunch in a diner and then went back to Avery’s house where they had takeout pasta for dinner and watched a horror movie. North slept over at their house.
Left to our own devices for twenty-four hours, we got a leisurely start to the day. Beth took a walk. I did laundry, messaged back and forth with my friend Megan about meeting Avery, and read my book club book. After lunch, we went on our own little adventure. We visited the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens and explored a small area of Ann Arbor. At the botanical gardens we walked through the conservatory, looking at cacti, a lemon tree, and other plants. Beth was quite taken with a kaleidoscope that’s aimed at a planter full of succulents. The images of the plants make the design when you spin it. Outside in the formal gardens, the daffodils were just getting started, but not much else was blooming, so we didn’t spend long there and took a walk on a wooded path that passed by a creek and some ponds. We saw geese and turkey.
In Ann Arbor, we picked up some groceries at a food co-op, got coffee (me) and drinking chocolate (Beth) at an upscale chocolate shop, where I also got myself a tiny dark chocolate Easter bunny and some toffee-almond eggs, and we made a pilgrimage to Zingerman’s deli, where we walked out with fancy bread, cheese, olive oil, potato chips, pastries, chocolate bars and a lighter wallet. Are you familiar with Zingerman’s? We’ve never been in person but we are fans of the catalog, and apparently so are a lot people on my Facebook page, based on the response to the pictures I posted there. I got Noah something for his birthday which I will not reveal here because he often reads my blog.
Back at the house, I blogged and then made dinner—sherry-cream mushrooms on toast, salad, and some leftovers (sautéed Brussels sprouts and an Easter egg). Beth and I watched the season finale of Abbott Elementary and the first episode of Severance.
Easter Sunday: Ypsilanti to Somerset, PA
In the morning, North came back from Avery’s house as we were packing up the house. Beth told them the Easter Bunny had left a basket in their room and after a brief search North found their basket of candy, bee socks from the botanical gardens, and dill pickle potato chips from Zingerman’s in the under-bed storage drawer.
It turned out we’d had a misunderstanding because we thought the visit with Avery was over and we were about to leave town and North thought they were going to see Avery again and have lunch before we left, so there was some texting between Avery’s mom and me and North and Avery and it was decided we’d swing by their house so the kids could have a proper goodbye. We all went inside and chatted for a while and my eyes were drawn to a picture of Avery in elementary school that looked a lot like North at that age. Then they showed us their garden and we piled back into the car.
We drove out of Michigan and all the way through Ohio and into Southwestern Pennsylvania, where we arrived at our third and final AirBnB around dinnertime. We picked up some canned soup at a Dollar General (no grocery stores were open on Easter) and Beth and North collaborated to make mushroom melts and soup. Afterward we watched two episodes of the Gilmore Girls and ate Easter candy. We watched four episodes on the trip, satisfying progress toward my recently announced goal of finishing the series before North leave for college so we don’t end up in a Buffy situation like we have with Noah now. (Not starting that show earlier in the pandemic was a strategic mistake.)
Monday: Somerset, PA to Takoma Park
We had to be out of the house by eleven, which meant rousing North from bed at ten. It was quite a chilly day in the Laurel Highlands with snow predicted. Beth and I both got in our morning walks before it started to precipitate. The house was in a neighborhood set on a very steep hill, terrace style. On my walk I found a path that went through the woods on the back side of the hill and then past a barn with horses in a corral and a pond. Spring seemed to have the weakest hold here of all the places we’d been, with forsythia just get started and daffodils and hyacinth the only flowers.
As if to emphasize this, by the time we left, freezing rain had set in. Eventually it changed over to snow and for a while it was like driving through a snow globe, with big fat flakes, sticking to the ground and the trees. Beth enjoyed it, as she never seems to get enough of winter weather. About a half hour after our stop for a late lunch it changed back to rain.
When we got home, we discovered spring in Takoma has advanced. Many more trees have leaves than when we left and there are azaleas and dogwoods in bloom.
“It was a good trip,” Beth said as we ate Indian takeout for dinner, and it was. I think it was one we’ll remember for a long time.