Brotherly love

I just took my boys to get their flu vaccine. Whenever we’ve gone in the past, they’ve always had to get a shot. Their younger sister, who goes to another practice, has always been able to get the coveted FluMist. Every year the boys have railed against the injustice of it all.

This year, for the first time ever, the nurse offered the boys the choice of the shot or the FluMist. Twelve year old Nicholas played it cool. He explained to the nurse that while he would be totally o.k. with getting a shot, it might be interesting just this once to see what the FluMist would be like. He even offered to go first.

When the nurse shot the mist up his nose, I could tell the sensation was an unpleasant surprise to him. I’ve never had the FluMist myself, but the nurse explained that it could sting and make your eyes tear up. Outwardly, Nicholas acted as if it had been no big deal as he hopped off the exam table. But as the nurse prepared Teddy’s dose, he wordlessly came back to his little brother’s side and held his hand.

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The dream

My son has loved and lost many fish over the years…A couple years ago he had a dream so beautiful and sad that he reported it to me the next morning through tears. In his dream he witnessed all the beloved fish he ever had swimming up to heaven. I wish I were an artist so I could paint the picture he described to me so vividly. I wrote this poem for him instead.

It happened only once, and never again
A vision so beauty laden
As to bring a young boy to his knees
A silvered ripple of gold, orange, red, and ebony:
Comets, black moors, celestials, veiltails,
Shubunkins, telescope eyes, ryukins, and pearl scales,
Swimming upstream through the cold night air
Their spellbinding, unrehearsed synchronicity
Shimmering and incandescent as they made their way
To some promised piscatorial paradise
Where the neglected and the overly loved
Find blessed peace and rest.

For my son

Junks I Collect No. 4: Miniature Chairs

Miniature Chairs

My favorite!

Some of these have a slot in the back so they can be used as place card holders. I, being the true “junks” collector that I am, have never used them for so practical a purpose.

My little niece who came with her family from Wales to spend this past Christmas with us was completely enamored with the little chairs. She carried them around everywhere in a little plastic tub. I’m going to mail some of them to her, because I love a girl who can appreciate my “junks”!


Dear Tooth Fairy,

For some reason everyone is focusing on the presidential elections. I have far bigger fish to fry.

Tooth Fairy, we’ve noticed a precipitous decline in the level of service we’ve received from you over the years. When our oldest son began losing his teeth, we could count on you to unfailingly fulfill your duty in a prompt and efficient manner. With our second child, while you did not have a perfect track record, we could generally trust that you would complete the required tooth for dollar transaction in a timely fashion. With our third child, you have repeatedly exhibited gross negligence in regard to your one duty.

You have been delinquent almost every single time our daughter has lost a tooth. Again and again, the shameful scene repeats itself. My daughter trudges downstairs the morning after losing a tooth and reports, without any surprise at all, that you have forgotten to come yet again. Even when she tapes a reminder note to her bedroom door, you still manage to drop the ball.

Enter a caption

I understand that you have many clients in your purview. I’m sure you’re overworked, underpaid, blah blah blah.  Yes, you eventually come through:

But I’m writing to let you know that we are putting you on notice. Could President Obama have kept his job had he abrogated his responsibilities in this reckless and irresponsible fashion? I think not! This dereliction of duty cannot continue without consequence. You’ve been warned.



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A wonderful day

My best friend and her family came to visit us today!

I wrote earlier that meeting Janel was a “crossroads” moment when life took a turn for the better. She and I met when we were both graduate students, and I was at one of the lowest points in my life. I was sad, lonely, and living in a roach and rat infested welfare hotel that Columbia University had bought to gradually convert into graduate student housing. When Janel and I became friends, everything changed. We sublet a beautiful pre-war one bedroom apartment on Riverside Drive from a classmate who was spending the year in the Czech Republic. We would stay up all night yakking and chortling into the early hours of the morning. We would throw parties for any occasion or for no occasion at all. We started a singing group together. Among the people whom we auditioned and accepted into the group were…

…our future husbands!

Janel and I now each have two boys and a girl. They call us “Auntie Adrienne” and “Auntie Janel.” When my sisters and I envision our old age, we always assume that my “beloved Janel” (as my sisters like to refer to her) will be sitting in a rocking chair right next to ours. Her friendship has made the best times in my life more joyful, and has sustained me in the worst times of my life. It’s always a beautiful day when I get to see my friend, but today two out of my three kids had the day off from school, I had taken the day off from work to be with them, the sun was shining, and…

We started the day with a walk along the Saunders-Monticello Trail, an easy 2 mile stretch along the south side of the Thomas Jefferson Parkway, which begins at the base of Monticello.

We didn’t get too far, because the kids found a little pond and spent a good 20 minutes skipping stones.

It gave us more time to catch up!

We drove up the mountain to the Thomas Jefferson Visitor’s Center at Monticello to have an al fresco lunch at the cafe there, before going back down the road just a little ways to find the entrance to the road leading up to Carter Mountain Orchard. We picked far too many Pink Ladies and ate some sinfully scrumptious apple cider donuts. The views up there are stunning. All day I kept thinking how lucky I was to live in beautiful Charlottesville.

Janel asked my daughter to put the apple she had just picked into the bag “in a dramatic way” for a picture. She readily complied. (Look at how that little silly’s hand is emoting in the second photo)!

We posed for our own picture…

…and then went to pick up Nicholas at his school. While we were waiting for him, the kids played on the swings,

and then our youngest four played an epic two on two soccer game on a full-size field. My daughter was literally weeping with exhaustion by the end of it.

We drove our matching minivans (!) to Peter Chang’s for dinner.

Finally, we said our goodbyes, made plans to see each other again soon, and headed back to our own homes with so many happy new memories. Here are three that I’m going to store up to remember on days that are less wonderful than this one: 1) the feeling of the warm sun on our backs as we stood between the rows of apple trees waiting for the children to come fill our open bags, 2) how we laughed and laughed as we watched the kids playing their two-on-two soccer game with funny strategies like perfectly executed throw-ins (to themselves!), and 3) our little daughters chatting comfortably and companiably with each other at the other end of the dinner table.

It was “wonderful, wonderful, most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful and after that, out of all whooping!”*

*From Shakespeare’s As You Like It, Act III, Scene 2

Helping Hands & Dokte Ray

Imagine an orphan growing up in Haiti: the poorest country in the Western hemisphere whose dark past includes genocide, slavery, environmental devastation, political violence and upheaval. Imagine a child losing her parents to the catastrophic earthquake in January 2010, which killed 300,000 people and  left 1,000,000 homeless. What could an orphan growing up under these circumstances possibly expect to achieve in life?

The Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation sponsors its children to go to college. They are becoming lawyers, agronomists, economists, bank managers…These children, growing up in the most challenging of circumstances, are “rich in spirit and hope” and they are making a difference in the world!

This past Friday the Helping Hands service group I co-lead celebrated the successful conclusion of our “Make a Difference Day” project to collect clothes and money for the Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation, with a visit from its founder, Dr. Raymond Ford. We presented Dr. Ford with the eight boxes of clothing for the children of the orphanage and school that were donated by our own elementary school. Dr. Ford told us that these clothes are very much needed and appreciated, as there are no stores anywhere nearby to buy clothing, even if there were the money to do so.

(Hang on! Did somebody mention money?) We also presented Dr. Ford with a check for over $1236.00!!!

About 800 of these dollars came in the form of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters – the spare change our children brought back in the little baggies we distributed to everyone in our school at the beginning of our project. These pennies and dimes dug out from underneath sofa cushions and gathered from minivan crevices add up to something incredible and transformative! We had hoped to raise $800 by the end of the year: enough to support one orphan for an entire year. In just a couple months, we were able to raise enough to do so much more. According to Dr. Ford, one teacher’s salary, for example, is $100/a month. The money we donated could be used to pay a year’s salary for a teacher, who will make a difference in the lives of 40 to 50 children during that year.

The Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation was the vision of the community elders of Grison-Garde. In fact, the website gives top billing to the community in its description: “A Cooperative Project of the Grison-Garde Community and the Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation.” Dr. Ford had been visiting Grison-Garde on medical missions for years when a group of village elders approached him with their dream of creating an orphanage and school. Dr Ford’s father, Dr. Robert Ford, provided the seed money for the project. Today there is a clinic, an orphanage, a school and an “elderly village,” where older “orphans” are housed and cared for. Wells have been dug to provide potable water. A solar panel electrical system has been installed. In an area where unemployment is at over 75%, these projects have provided vital work for the people of Grison-Garde, who are the cooks, the teachers, the caretakers, the carpenters, and the construction workers.

Our Helping Hands kids had all kinds of questions for Dr. Ford. One of them raised his hand and asked tentatively, “I hope this isn’t too personal, but: how old are you?!”. The answer? 72. What a role model for our kids to have! To them, this is what a superhero looks like:

After all the questions were answered, the kids crowded around to get his autograph.

Dr. Ford has given our kids a gift of incalculable value in teaching them that they too have the power to make a difference in this world.

There is still much work to be done. More wells need to be drilled. The children and elderly need to be fed. “Dokte Ray” reported to us that he had just gotten back from one of his many trips to Haiti, where he and a team of 20+ volunteer doctors, nurses, and other support personnel spent a week treating many, many sick and malnourished children.

Would you like to be a part of this story? 100% of all donations to the Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation go directly to the Haitians. NO salaries or expenses are paid to Dr. Ford or any volunteers, who pay their own way to Haiti to provide medical care. All donations are tax deductible, and you will receive a letter for tax purposes. That’s a lot of bang for your buck!

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Call Me Jezebel

About four years ago, we spent a year in Carrboro, NC – surely one of the coolest little towns on the face of the planet. My husband spent his sabbatical as a Fellow at the National Humanities Center, where he spent long hours pondering over eternally vexing and abstruse philosophical questions. And me? I got to hang out for a year.

I met Amanda, a fellow collector of “crazy but true” stories (she’s got an endless supply of the most entertaining ones). She’s also a collector of poetry, and she introduced me to some  poems that are now among my favorites. She herself is a gifted poet, who can put words together on a page that will make your toes curl. Her writing can make you gasp and then forget to exhale. We would meet at the Open Eye Cafe every Tuesday from 9 pm till closing, where we’d drink weak, lukewarm tea, read what the other had worked on that week, and dream up all kinds of kooky plots and schemes. During that year Amanda hatched a non-profit to help the prostitutes of Durham, a business plan to market ironic tampons and maxi pads, and  we started writing blues songs together. It was that kind of year…all about Possibilities with a capital P.

Here’s a twisted little poem I wrote for one of our Open Eye sessions in the prevailing spirit of “what if?” It’s written from the point of view of the woman who’s married to Batman. She’s had a youthful dalliance with the Man in the Yellow Hat, and is now having an affair with Robin. It seemed somehow appropriate for the week of Halloween…

Call Me Jezebel

Hurl your stones and call me Jezebel.
You have no idea what a living hell
It is to be married to the Prince of Darkness.

Would it kill him to leave one lousy light on, I think
As I grope my way to the kitchen for a drink,
Praying I don’t wake that damn butler, (“His Highness”)

I could swear today I saw the old toady look at me and sneer,
As he purred – sotto voce – in his beloved master’s ear.
Then off He swooped – all dark glamour and leather menace,

Gunning the engine of that sleek monstrosity –
A monument to selfishness and impracticality,
Bordering on sheer malice.

How are we supposed to fit a car seat in that thing?
I asked him once, but that was in the beginning…
Before I gave up buying lamps and looking for windows to open.

So maybe I was a fool for trading in the sun for the moon:
The boy next door, who came to call on me one afternoon
Yellow hat in hand, tall and slim and soft-spoken.

Dazzling in his golden wholesomeness, he asked me to wait for him.
But when he ambled back, with a pet monkey peeking from under his hat brim,
My chiropteran Lucifer had long since swept me up under his black wing.

They tell me he still lives alone in that fairy tale house of his,
But can you blame me?  Who wouldn’t be suspicious
Of a grown man who shares his bed with a monkey?  In traitorous spring,

I’ll admit, I called him, one bitter, lonely night
But when he answered, half-choking with delight-
I hung up:  on him, on a life half-lived, half-loved, then lightly betrayed.

He was the bright peddler of my fondest, callow dream,
Too soon outgrown and cast downstream.
But sometimes I used to wonder, should I have stayed?

Until the night I saw a boy with a bird’s soul and name.
(A harbinger of my Spring?) He was awash in moonlight and aflame
With reverence for the Devil himself:  my husband.

Dynamic duo?  Hardly!  He suffers the boy to trail starry-eyed in his wake,
Chirping sophomoric punchlines that would make your teeth ache
Like a mere sidekick:  Sancho Panza or Doctor Watson.

But it’s this bejeweled bird who casts the unjaded, vital glow
That fleshes out and deepens his black shadow
And in so doing, animates the demon’s chiaroscuro!

It’s true I chose him for a ripe and gratifying vengeance
But in his guileless, openhearted innocence
I found light and sweet consolation…Oh, I know

It torments him.  He weeps and talks of betrayal
I cover his mouth with my own – to no avail.
The words I whisper fall glib and hollow.

I tell him we are necessary to one another,
Each to each:  an unholy trinity. (Father, Brother, Sister? Mother?)
This tripartite union is our shared lot. It is our fortune.

Not for me the storybook house with shutters and flower filled window boxes.
I’ll live out my life here, in a mansion built over a cave, breathing air foul and noxious,
Befitting an unworthy chorus member in a gothic cartoon.

I’ve relinquished the sun,
Sold my soul to the moon.
But I’ll never give up my starlight.

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This is what happens when your kid cannot figure out what he wants to be for Halloween. A very frazzled mommy has to come up with something in the fifteen minutes between getting home from work and leaving for trick-or-treating. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty…and I’m not talking about that crazy ‘do my husband was sporting, although I did keep having to quickly avert my gaze every time my eyes inadvertently lit upon him.



I followed my son around with an extra roll of toilet paper & tape. My pockets were bulging with the bits of t.p he kept shedding with every step he took…

And after:

He hit four or five houses and was D.O.N.E., and frankly: so was I.

He’s going to have a detailed costume proposal with specs, sketches, statistical data, and a breakdown of costs for Halloween 2013 on my desk by the end of next week.

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