Weekend Snapshots 53

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Friday

On Friday we went to our friends’ house to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The grand finale was the lighting of sky lanterns, which we tried to send up to the heavens with our wishes.

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With each launch I made a fervent wish…

OH MY GOD, PLEASE LET THAT LANTERN KEEP RISING AND NOT LAND ON THE NEIGHBOR’S ROOF!

OH MY GOD, PLEASE LET THAT FLAMING LANTERN THAT JUST FELL INTO THE AZALEA BURN OUT BEFORE THE SHRUB BECOMES COMPLETELY ENGULFED IN FLAMES!

OH MY GOD, PLEASE DON’T LET THAT NICE MAN I JUST MET AT THIS LOVELY DINNER PARTY SELF-IMMOLATE AS HE TRIES TO LIGHT THE FUEL CELL ON HIS LANTERN!

Saturday

My daughter and I spent the day at a local high school for her Destination Imagination tournament, where I served as an appraiser for a category in which she was not competing. (“Wear a funny hat,” they told me)!

What’s Destination Imagination? my sister asked.

Well…it’s an activity for kids who…aren’t athletic, was my daughter’s coded explanation.

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My family and my friend and I went to see Postmodern Jukebox that evening…Those are some crazy talented artists!

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 Sunday

We made a flash visit to Arlington to meet up with some of my family, including my sister & her crew who were down from Princeton. We went to our nostalgic favorite, Peking Gourmet Inn:

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One of these things is not like the other…Spot the giant among pygmies.

 

Old People Dating

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A repost in honor of Valentine’s Day…

Thanks to our church, which hosted a Parents’ Night Out yesterday, my husband and I were able to go out on an extremely rare date night. Our daughter fit the target age for the participants, and I somewhat eagerly enlisted the boys to be helpers. My husband brought the kids from home and I left work so that we could all meet up at the church at 5.

As we signed the kids in, the kind adults who were supervising the evening asked, “So what are you guys going to do on your date?”

“Uhhh…we’re not really sure yet,” I admitted, “but I guess we’ll go out to dinner.”

“Where do you guys usually like to eat?”

I’m pretty sure they weren’t asking about our dashes into Subway between soccer and piano practices, or to Panera on a Saturday in the middle of a day of running errands with a minivan chock full of kids…It’s the kind of question that would be easier to answer if a date night was something that happened more frequently than say, the appearance of Halley’s Comet in Earth’s atmosphere.

The last time we had a regular date night was fifteen years ago, when we were married with no children. We were both singing in the church choir and practice was on Thursday evenings. I was pregnant with our first child at the time, (the boy who is now 6 feet tall), and I was always ravenously hungry. We would go to Ruby Tuesday, which was both close to our rehearsal, and had a menu that met both of our needs. While my husband demurely nibbled at his salad bar dinner, I would devour every last bite of one of those Pantagruelian platters groaning with three different kinds of meat. You know…the kind that would only be appealing to obese middle-aged men and me in my pregnant, callow youth.

Yesterday, as we got back into the car, we giddily pondered our restaurant options as wondrously as if we were contemplating a rare and precious diamond. We made a spur of the moment decision to go to an Italian restaurant, because we can be crazy like that. We showed up at 5:30 with all the other geriatrics.

As I sat there in the warm and elegant ambiance, I drummed my fingers impatiently, my eyes darting around, wondering if the bread would arrive in my lifetime. After gulping down the bread and an appetizer that we rashly ordered in our expansive mood, we were both full.

“I guess it’s too late to cancel the rest of our dinner, right?” I asked.

We had a couple bites of our main courses, but took most of them home in boxes. This would have never happened in our Ruby Tuesday days! After polishing off my meat slab platter, I’d still be picking croutons off my husband’s salad.

Dinner was done and we still had a couple of hours to go before we had to pick up the kids. The restaurant is right next to Trader Joe’s, so that’s where we headed next. We got into an intense debate about the merits of Trader Joe Honey Nut O’s versus Honey Nut Cheerios.

“Their version tastes much better than Honey Nut Cheerios,” my husband told me, “It’s less sweet.”

“Well, it may taste better, but the misplaced apostrophe is burning my eyes,” I replied.

As we rang up our purchases, we still had an hour and a half before we had to pick up the kids.

“Well…what should we do now?”

“Oh, I know! Let’s go to CVS and pick up my prescriptions and get Epsom salt,” my husband said.

“OK, Gramps! Let’s do it!”

As my husband was paying for our purchases, I remembered I had a $5 coupon attached to a CVS receipt that was floating around in my purse. I pulled it out and tentatively showed it to the cashier. “Would we possibly be able to use this?” I asked doubtfully.

“Sure!” she said as she tore it from my receipt.

As we walked back to the car, we were both jubilant. My husband said, “I can’t wait to try my Epsom salts!” I said, “I think this might just be the best day of my life. I feel like I just won the jackpot! This is the first time in my whole life that I’ve actually been able to use one of those CVS coupons. I’m so inordinately happy, I think I could dance a jig right here on the sidewalk! Could you smell the scent of victory, crackling like ozone in your nostrils when I got to use my coupon? Because I sure did!”

Flush with my unexpected success, I had another idea…

“HEY! Let’s go to the CoinStar at Harris-Teeter!”

We drove over to the grocery store and my husband obligingly lugged in the heavy container full of change that I had stashed in the car.

Have you ever used CoinStar? It’s mesmerizing to watch the sum grow from piles of pennies that have just been lying around the house. We didn’t want the magic to ever end. After emptying our container, we pulled out every last penny from our pockets and wallets until the clinking of the coins finally stopped.

Wow. This is the best date ever,” I said with a sigh of contentment, “First, the coupon and now this!”

It was now 8 o’clock.

“We still have half an hour. We’re supposed to pick up the kids at 8:30.”

“Yeah, but I’m sure it will be fine to pick them up early. And then we can get home, so I can try my Epsom salts.”

And that’s what we did.

And it was good. Really, really good. I can’t wait to do it again next year!

Later, you wake up beside your old love, the one
who never had any conditions, the one who waited
you out. This is life’s way of letting you know that
you are lucky…

Read the rest of Starfish, by Eleanor Lerman here.

Youth Sunday & Other Forms of Torture

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We woke up at the crack of dawn to get to church by 8 am for the first of two back to back services led by the youth of the congregation.

A couple weeks ago the boys were asked to perform a Mozart duet as the closing voluntary. Those two short weeks felt like an eternity in hell, during which time I was roasting on a spit in slooooooow motion.

Just learn one page! I exhorted as they sturmed und dranged over the impossibility of pulling it together at such short notice. You can play the first page twice!

Please don’t be mean to your brother! I begged my older son, who becomes a complete tyrant when it comes to music.

You’re getting there! Just keep practicing!!! I nagged for two weeks straight.

Hey, Olympic committee! I totally deserve a gold medal for my performance of a lifetime! And a trip to Disney World. By myself.

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And then the church sprung the torture known as “Rite 13” on me. I have now been subjected to this particular agony three times…Thank God it’s the last one I’ll ever have to endure.

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This girl laughed in my face during the whole ceremony as tears leaked out of my eyes, and I guess that was a blessing, because it probably saved me from the ugly crying that would have disgraced us all…

It’s a wrap. I’m going to bed!

Hoops

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While we were in Arlington, the kids were itching to get outside and play basketball. I drove around looking for a free court and we eventually ended up at my old middle school. Williamsburg Middle School is barely recognizable to me now…

“Did you like going to school here?” my daughter asked as we pulled into the parking lot.

“Well…does anybody really like middle school?” I mused.

I remembered that walking down the hallway was like walking through a minefield. I remember having my bra snapped and my butt pinched, and whipping around to a sea of grinning faces. I remember the nightmare of an overgrown, shaggy boy who would nudge me into the lockers with his giant pot belly to belch in my face.

But as I thought about it some more I remembered that it was at middle school that I met friends with whom I am close even now. It was here that I began to act and sing and discovered that there was something other than studying that I could do…

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“I guess it wasn’t so bad…,” I concluded. I made new memories by spending the next hour watching my own middle-schooler and her big brothers shoot some hoops.

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Good citizens of Arlington! Aren’t there better places to park than on a basketball court?!

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Breaking and Entering

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With the kids’ busy schedules, it’s been hard to find time to visit my parents in Arlington. This past weekend we were finally able to make a lightning strike visit that lasted less than 24 hours.

We weren’t going to able to leave Charlottesville until after 6 pm on Friday night, so I told my early-to-bed parents in advance that they should go to sleep and that we would see them the next morning. Meanwhile, I made arrangements with my best friend who lives in Maryland to meet up that evening. With three kids of her own and a job to juggle, these occasional late night get-togethers are usually the only times we get to see each other.IMG_1557

The kids and I tiptoed into my parents’ house at around 9 pm. I got the kids settled into their fold-out beds in the basement, and then crept back upstairs to wait for my friend to arrive after her own kid-chauffeuring shift ended. At 10 pm she finally tapped on the door, and we slipped out of the house. My sister had still not gotten home, so I sent her a text explaining where I was and asked her not to lock me out.

Wild and crazy party animals that we are, my friend and I drove around looking for a coffee shop that was still open. Everything was closed, so we settled for the 24 hour Harris Teeter. We slowly ambled up and down the aisles, getting caught up on each other’s lives and admiring the produce.

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There are only so many hours that you can spend in Harris Teeter before you simply have to move on.

We drove back to my parents’ house where my sister’s car was now parked in the driveway. We sat in my car chatting for another hour. At around 1 am I saw the light go off in my sister’s room and I got slightly nervous. Might she have spotted my parked car, assumed I’d returned for the evening, and then locked the door? To my dismay, my suspicions were confirmed. The door had indeed been locked.

No matter. The light had only just gone out, so I was sure my sister was not yet asleep. I knocked on the door, hoping that it wasn’t loud enough to wake my parents, but just loud enough so that my sister would hear me. I was relieved when the living room light went on, but puzzled when it went back out again moments later. This happened a couple more times. I started knocking again, a little more loudly, but my sister didn’t open the door. I even knocked on her bedroom window. The door remained shut. By this time my dear friend had joined me on the doorstep. She stood there shivering in solidarity, while I began to lose my mind.

I hated to freak out my children by waking them up out of a sound slumber with a knock on the basement window, but I had no other recourse. I ran around to the back of the house and knocked and knocked to no avail. I can’t remember now how many times I went back and forth from front to back, trying windows, back doors, and knocking, knocking, knocking…

Eventually, my son woke up and saw me at the window. The poor boy looked utterly dazed and bewildered to see me wildly gesticulating at the window. Finally, he understood the problem and I ran around to the front door to wait for him to open it. Strangely, it remained locked.

Had he gone back to sleep, thinking it had all been a dream?

I ran around to the back again and finally realized he had opened the basement door rather than the front door. I ran inside and up the stairs to retrieve the bags I had left on the front doorstep.

My sister and mother and son were waiting for me in the living room.

They had heard my knocking all right.

At 1 am, my mother had gone to the kitchen to get some medicine for her aching legs. She had noticed the headlights on a car she didn’t recognize and was immediately suspicious.

My sister was heading to the living room to open the door for me when she met my mother there.

“Turn out the light! Don’t open the door!” my mother hissed at her.

“It’s probably Adrienne,” my sister replied as she continued toward the door.

“NO!” my mother insisted, waving her away. “She’s asleep downstairs. It’s an old man and an old woman. (“It was dark,  and you were walking so slowly,” was her only explanation for this when I asked her  about this later). If we pretend we’re not here, they’ll go away.”

“Let me look out the window – I bet it’s Adrienne.”

NO! It’s an old man and an old woman. If you look out the window, they’ll know we’re here. Don’t open the door!

“Well, then let’s call 911,” my sister said and she got out her phone.

Later she explained: “And that’s when I turned around to see a really tall, scary man standing in the living room!” (In case you haven’t figured it out, that tall, scary man would be my son).

And that’s when I ran through the living room, breathless and within minutes of getting hauled off to jail for breaking and entering.

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The Fixer

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Whenever we go to visit my parents in Arlington, there’s a slew of things my mother wants my 15-year-old son to fix for her. I sometimes worry that it’s too much pressure to place on his shoulders, yet he somehow always manages to pull it off. He fixed a printer on one occasion, a DVD player on another. He’s helped her with her computer, despite the fact that all of her settings are in Korean – a language he doesn’t know at all.

A couple weeks ago, my mother told me over the phone that the next time we came, she wanted my son to have a look at her television.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“It’s not working at all. It doesn’t even turn on,” she replied.

It seemed like a lot to ask of a kid. I could only promise that he would try.

When we arrived, he headed straight to the basement and got to work on the TV. A short time later he reemerged at the top of the stairs and announced that it was working again. My mother’s eyes shone, and she clasped her hands in rapturous joy and wonder.

“I knew you could fix it for me! Isn’t he so smart?” she crowed, “Thank you so much!

And…can you blame this proud mama? My own heart swelled with pride.

Later that evening I found myself alone in the basement with my brilliant whiz kid.

“By the way…” I asked him, “Good job fixing the TV! How in the world did you manage to do it?”

“I…plugged it in.”

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Knot of Vipers

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IMG_2653For a while now, I’ve been unable to wear one of my favorite necklaces. It’s been snarled up in a “hopeless nœud de vipères,” as my husband put it. A couple days ago, I grabbed it off my jewelry tree and brought it to work with me, thinking that I would get it untangled when I could find a free moment that morning. I was sure it would be hanging around my neck by lunchtime.

By lunchtime I had made no progress at all. Instead of going for my usual walk around campus during lunch, I hunched over the cursed necklace for the entire hour, trying and failing to make any headway. I grimly resolved that the deed would be accomplished by the end of the workday. Several times that day – I couldn’t help myself – I literally shook the necklace in childish, impotent rage, no doubt creating new knots with each shake. By the end of the day, it was still a tangled mess. I stayed at work an extra half hour, trying to meet my self-imposed deadline. Finally, I gave up and drove home under a heavy cloud of failure, gripping the necklace between one hand and the wheel to save what little progress I had made in untangling it.

It was time to enlist the help of an expert. My husband had once volunteered to untangle a couple of my sister’s necklaces…We marveled not just at the feat he accomplished in untangling the necklaces, but at the extraordinary patience it took to perform these delicate operations.

“I have a challenge for you,” I said, handing him my necklace after dinner.

“OK,” he said amiably, “I’ll work on it before I leave for choir rehearsal.”

When I left the house at 7 pm to take our daughter to her violin lesson, I snapped this photo of him:

IMG_2655It was the last I saw of him until the following morning.

I could tell he’d been awake for some time and had been impatiently waiting for me to open my eyes. They were barely halfway open when the words came spilling out of his mouth:

“Do you have any idea what time I went to bed?”

“Nnnooo.”

“It was after 1 am.”

Really?! Why?” My husband is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise-sort-of-fellow, so this was surprising news indeed.

“I was working on getting your necklace untangled all night long. I couldn’t wait to get it done and present it to you with a flourish.  I kept thinking I almost had it, but it’s actually impossible to tell if you’re making progress, or just making it worse! At 10:30 I was still working on it. I had to move into the kitchen and lean over the counter for better light. I couldn’t believe it when I checked the clock again and it was after 1. That’s when I finally gave up and staggered to bed. My feet were killing me from standing there for so long. I’d worked on it for something like 6 hours, because I even took it to choir practice and worked on it there…I almost hit a deer on the way home, because I was trying to drive with the damn thing in my hand so it wouldn’t get more tangled,”

“Oh my gosh! I did that too!”

“And you should have seen what happened to my fingers!”

“Did they turn black?” I asked, knowing the answer in advance, for this had happened to my fingers too when I was struggling to untangle the necklace at work.

“Yes!”

“Sooo…did you manage to get it untangled?”

No! There’s also a little bit that’s broken off, which will have to be reattached when we eventually get it untangled. But I think it’s almost there.”

There was a moment’s pause.

“You know what else was really bad?” he asked ruefully. “I made the terrible mistake of turning the whole thing into a metaphor for finishing my book. If I could just get the necklace untangled, I thought, my book would also just magically fall into place…” 

By now I was deeply regretting that I had asked him to help me with the necklace.

“But there was one moment when it really felt like I was truly in Hell.”

I shuddered as I tried to imagine what that moment in a day full of dreadful moments could possibly be.

“I was working away at it during choir and then we started singing that awful hymn…you know the one…” he said, breaking out a few bars of a song we both loathe in his most twee voice, “I the Lord or sea and sky, I have heard My people cry…My hand will saaaaave.

I burst out laughing so hard it hurt.

Although my husband hadn’t gotten the necklace entirely unknotted, (and had broken off a piece in the process), he had done the lion’s share of the work so that by the end of the that workday, I finally managed to get the knot of vipers untangled.

IMG_2657Here are some important life lessons I learned in the process:

  1. Ask for help when you need it. Two sets of blackened fingers are better than one.
  2. Don’t set arbitrary and unreasonable deadlines for difficult tasks.
  3. No deer need to die. Scotch tape is your friend.IMG_2663
  4. Sometimes une pipe really is just une pipe. Investing an ordinary object or event  with metaphorical significance is kooky and unproductive.
  5. Ration out pain when possible…Untangling a nœud de vipères is bad enough…doing it while singing a kitschy hymn at the same time is too much for anyone to bear.
  6. Most importantly: marry someone who will untangle your necklaces for you and make you shriek with laughter. That’s a keeper for sure.