Sweetest 16

Sixteen years ago my sister’s first child, and the first baby in our family was born. That summer we all gathered around her as she slept, staring in silent wonder at the miraculous, perfect little human being that had been sent to us as a gift…

She was so much more than we could have ever wished for. She has continued to enchant us as she has grown.

When she was about six or so, she started to beg for a sibling: “Just one little sister, please!”

This happened:

Again….so much more than anyone could have ever wished for!

To her siblings and to her younger cousins, and to us all really – she is a rockstar:

She has won all kinds of honors and awards:

including playing at Carnegie Hall after winning a piano competition:

The accolades are impressive, of course, but we love her for the kind, sensitive, and generous human being she has become.

Although today is her birthday, we celebrated the event a few weeks ago:

The obligatory photo-fest:

…which became a Cheese-Fest:

The reception:


And a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday to the sweetest 16 year old we know:

Happy birthday! We adore you and hope that all of your wishes (and more!) come true! xoxo


We continued our Grand Tour in Buffalo. Yes, Buffalo.

First stop? Why, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, of course!

The next day we went to Niagara Falls:

We rode the Maid of the Mist:

And pretended to be a family of serial killers:

My daughter was especially perky before the boat started heading towards the falls.

The serial killer get-ups can only do so much as you go through this:

Here’s that perky girl post-deluge:

There were rainbows everywhere:

We continued with the serial killer theme in the Cave of the Winds:

You have to admit, that’s one very stylish family right there.

The last place we visited was the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. This impressive building houses an eclectic collection of modern and contemporary art:

At the end of the week, we compared notes and discussed what our favorite part of the vacation was. For everyone, except me, it was seeing Niagara Falls.

“My favorite part was when we were driving in the car, taking turns picking songs, and singing them at the top of our lungs,” I said.

My husband looked at me as if I was crazy, and it’s very possible that I am. But for me, it wasn’t so much about the destination as the journey itself and the people I shared it with.

World Cup

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program (i.e. The Grand Tour du Nord) to bring you this World Cup update.

The World Cup has profoundly changed my life in so many ways…

When my oldest child was just a toddler, I signed him up for recreational soccer. He loved every second of it. As the ball dribbled past his legs, he would crouch low with keen focus to inspect the ants crawling around on the blades of grass. As the ball sailed past him, he would gaze up at the sky and find dragons in the clouds above him.

We gave up on soccer for a few years. In 2010 we went to England to visit my husband’s family in Manchester. Our stay happened to coincide with the World Cup. Our kids watched the games on their grandparents’ tiny television, mesmerized. Since that fateful summer, all three of them have been obsessed with soccer.

That fall my father-in-law made all of their dreams come true, by sending them these Manchester United jerseys:

They like DC United too:

My daughter wrote about her impressions of her first pro game for a school assignment:

This past year our son’s team got to greet the DC United players as they came onto the pitch for their first game of the season:

My husband and I, both unathletic couch jockeys, have even managed to be conscripted as assistant coaches at one time or another:

Every fall and spring, my weekends are spent driving from field to field, not only within our own hometown, but as far afield as Maryland and West Virginia.

Even our recent vacation schedule revolved around soccer and was dictated by what time we would need to get back to the hotel to watch the World Cup games:

For all of my grousing, soccer has taught my children some valuable lessons and skills. They have learned the importance of teamwork, dedication, and of course: sportsmanship.

Yesterday, I came home to this reenactment of the Italy vs. Uruguay game:

It really is a “beautiful game.”

Tomorrow: Back to our regularly scheduled programming and: Buffalo. Yes, Buffalo.

Pittsburgh, Day 2

The next day we walked around downtown Pittsburgh. We saw University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, begun in 1926 and built over a decade. The building houses departments, classrooms, labs, a theater, food court, and lounge areas. The “Nationality Rooms” are classrooms sponsored and designed by different ethnic communities to represent their heritage. At 535 feet, the Cathedral of Learning is the tallest and perhaps the most distinctive educational building in the Western hemisphere.

Directly facing the Cathedral of Learning is the Heinz Memorial Chapel:


Just down the street is the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens:


We had lunch in the café:


and then walked through the many different rooms.

There are Chihuly pieces artfully tucked around the conservatory:

…and model trains, which run throughout the exhibits:

My favorite room was the Butterfly Forest in the Stove Room:

It was quite amazing to see the chrysalises. Some of them hatched as we watched:

These ones looked like pieces of gilded jade:

The last place we visited was the Bayernhof Museum, open by appointment only. This 19,000 square foot museum is located in the middle of a residential neighborhood and was the house of Charles Brown, the founder and CEO of Gas-Lite Manufacturing:

Brown was a prankster and an eccentric who collected music boxes and other automatic musical instruments. The tour guide gave us many examples of the practical jokes Brown played during his lifetime, including introducing his longtime girlfriend to everyone as Adolf Hitler’s illegitimate daughter. Ostensibly, his house is a music museum. Throughout the tour, the guide plays select instruments, some of which are remarkable. In fact, the Bayernhof  is really a personal museum that enshrines one very wealthy man’s oddball taste. The house itself is full of jokes, including fake bats in an artificial cave, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The tour takes you through hidden passageways, a cheesy indoor pool room decorated with a Sound of Music mural,

a game room with the dogs playing poker picture made even more tacky by the fact that it’s rendered as a tapestry, and room after room stuffed with icky collections ranging from Hummel figurines to beer steins.

I think Brown’s greatest and final practical joke was specifying in his will that his house should be turned into a museum. A foundation now ensures that this monument to poor taste, which has frozen into perpetuity bad 70s interior design, is being run as a music museum. The trustees spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building up Brown’s collection of automatic musical instruments and in repairing problems that have arisen over the years due to slapdash building. It’s an odd place, but worth a visit if you happen to be in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh, Day 1

I was looking forward to a week of lazing about on the beach for our family vacation. At the last minute, my husband decided to change the plan. We cancelled our reservations at the beach and made new ones – in Pittsburgh.

I’ll admit I was pretty crabby about this turn of events. As we walked the streets of Pittsburgh, I collected photos just so that I could write up a snarky blog post about it along these lines…

So New York City has the Guggenheim? Well, Pittsburgh has this:

Parking garage

Parking garage

The Eiffel Tower in Paris? Big deal! Pittsburgh has this:

Radio tower?

Radio tower.

Rome’s Ponte Milvio covered in love padlocks? Yawn! Pittsburgh has this:

We spent a couple of days wandering around the city, and while it will never be one of my favorite spots in the world, I have to admit we did do some interesting things…

On our first day in Pittsburgh, we checked out a couple of the numerous inclines:

At the top, you get a commanding view of the city:

Heading back down:

We walked over to Point State Park to cool off by the fountain:



I’ve been away longer than I expected…We got back home this evening after a weeklong road trip through America’s hinterland. It was not a soft landing.

We discovered that in our absence, another grisly murder had taken place in our home. Who knew hermit crabs were such thugs? We had already buried one, posthumously named Abel, before we left for our trip. This time, Cain, the murderer who had torn Abel limb from limb got his comeuppance. This time it was Cain’s legs that were strewn about the sand. When my son tried to move his lifeless body a whole demonic host of tiny winged insects flew out of its shell. It was like something out of a horror movie. My poor son is scarred for life.

We did our own crime scene analysis. My son wouldn’t accept the fact that the last crab standing (the one I insisted he name after me) could have committed such a heinous crime.

“But she would never do such a thing. She’s a goody two-shoes!” he insisted.

“Yeah, but she could only be pushed so far. Remember, she had just witnessed Cain murdering Abel in cold blood. I bet Cain stupidly thought he could take her on too, even though she was twice his size and when he got up in her face she was all, ‘Don’t mess with me, you little punk.’ Or maybe she was avenging Abel’s death.”

Cain is now buried in our garden and my namesake now has the entire tank all to her murderous self. She seems to have lost a limb or two in the fight…

"You talking' to me?"

“You talkin’ to me?”

but she’s a tough chick. We’re hoping she pulls through.

And the moral of the story is: Don’t mess with Adrienne. She’ll get real crabby on your @$$.

Hangin’ with the Harpies in Minneapolis

Unaccountably, our beautiful new baby niece was not given the name my fellow Harpy sisters and I had gently suggested to her parents. Though we were disappointed by the fact that she will not bear the name “Ameliabelledrienne,” we decided to fly to Minneapolis this weekend to pay her a visit:

The weather forecast called for clear and sunny skies, but powerful thunderstorms rolled in as soon as we Harpies arrived. High winds recorded at over 68 miles per hour brought stately old trees crashing down all over Minneapolis and St. Paul. The weatherman called the storms a “freak occurrence” and said he had never seen anything like it in all his time in the Twin Cities. We call it “making an entrance.”

We got to see our nephew Dandelion and his mama:

And we got to spend some time with our beloved brother:

It turns out that the little kid with whom I used to roll around in the back of our old station wagon on long car trips singing songs and playing games…the kid with whom I fought pitched battles and whom I banished from my room countless times…the kid who was the closest companion of my childhood…has grown up to become an amazing father.

To be able to witness this with one’s own eyes has to be one of the sweetest privileges of adulthood.

Unfortunately, we Harpies cannot always control our own strength, and our presence can sometimes bring unintended mayhem. Poor Dandelion and his mother came down with a stomach bug and we weren’t able to see them for the rest of our short stay.

We were, however, able to gloat over our new niece and impart our blessings upon her. She hung on our every word:

By the end of our visit, she was cackling with the Harpies:

I think she liked us:

The feeling was mutual:

The Harpies had wreaked enough havoc upon the good people of Minneapolis. It was time to fly back home. As we boarded our plane to go home, the sun started shining for the first time since we’d arrived:

Sorry, Minneapolis. We’ll try to reign it in next time…

Twelve years ago today another baby was born during a ferocious thunderstorm that caused the hospital delivery room lights to flicker on and off throughout his birth.

Since that dark and stormy night, this boy has been the calm in the eye of the storm and the blue skies after the rain. Happy birthday! xoxoxo

An Update

Remember my new grandchildren? The creepy little ones with pinchers?

They are far, far creepier than I could have even imagined. I had just about come to grips with the idea that I would now have two grandchildren, when that wayward son of mine brought home three.

This past weekend I was visiting my new niece in Minneapolis. (More on this tomorrow). When I got back, my son told me that while I was away, one of the hermit crabs had murdered the other one in the middle of the night. He had heard chirruping and had thought his new charges were playing with each other. When daylight broke, he awoke to the stink of dead fish and the sight of the hermit crab’s lifeless, dismembered body.

We have buried Abel and have painted the murderer’s shell with the mark of Cain. And now it’s just Cain and my namesake, Adrienne.

The next day we left on our family vacation. We are trying to regroup after the tragedy in a glamorous, exotic locale whose charms may help us forget, if only for a little while…We are in Pittsburgh.


I love you


Earlier this week, I wrote about how delighted I was to finally get junk mail from my grad school. It was the proof I needed to convince myself that it wasn’t all a dream…that I had in fact gotten the degree I had struggled to earn for far too many years. What finally got me to actually finish the degree long after my heart was no longer in it was a phone call from my mother during which she dropped the most devastating weapon in her arsenal: an emotional nuclear bomb that rained all over my angst-ridden psyche. “Just finish it for your father’s sake. It would mean so much to him. Please. Do this one last thing for him, before he dies,” she said to me over the phone in a quavering voice. It was a bravura performance, which could have won her an Oscar. It spurred me to drag my heaving flanks across the finish line, staggering and gasping all the way. Although my dad was in perfect health at the time, my mother wasn’t exaggerating about one thing. It did mean a lot to him. I wrote this essay five years ago about my father’s reaction when I finally received my Ph.D., but it always felt too personal to share. It still feels too personal, but I’m banking on the fact that my dad will never read this. Besides, after writing about being seen naked by my in-laws, what is there left to hide?


The words “I love you” have never, not once, either on purpose or by accident, ever fallen from my father’s lips. It’s not that he doesn’t feel genuine love. I think he worships my mother. His children know that he loves them deeply in his own way. It’s outward, obvious expressions of love that make him uncomfortable.

When we were little, we used to always give my mom and dad a goodnight kiss. One day, when I was about five, I kissed my mom, and then went to kiss my dad. As I drew near, he said, “You don’t have to do that,” and fended me off with a stiff arm. I froze in mortified hurt and wordlessly slunk off to bed. We never touched each other again until the day I went to college. My parents were about to drive back home after helping me unload my things and dropping me off at my dormitory. My mother gathered me into her arms as if I were five rather than seventeen. She kissed me and then hugged me for a long time as if she never intended to let me go, all the while tenderly whispering into my ear all of her hopes and dreams for me. When she finally did let me go, she wiped the tears from her eyes and urged me to give my father a hug. Deeply embarrassed, I tentatively approached him and awkwardly held out my arms to him. He patted me stiffly on the back and turned to leave with an “O.K., well, see ya.”

My mom is a woman who almost always gets what she wants when she wants it. One day she summoned all her considerable powers of persuasion to get my father to say the three words she’d never heard from him.

“Just say it,” she cajoled, “I won’t even look at you. Please, just once.”

My dad remained uncomfortably mute.

Never one to give up a battle and completely unaccustomed to failure, my mother tried a hundred different ways to get him to say those words.

Exhausted and demoralized, she tried a final tactic. “I’ll say it first and then you say it back to me…I love you.”

There was a long silence, and then finally he mustered a sheepish, “Me too.” She gave up. It was the best he could do.

Shortly after I defended my dissertation and was finally awarded my Ph.D., I got a letter from my dad addressed to Dr. Adrienne X. It was written on pages and pages of his favorite yellow lined pads. It must have taken him ages to write that letter. In his barely decipherable handwriting I read very formal words of congratulations and advice about my future. In those words I know he was really saying: “I love you. I love you. I love you.


 I love you too, Dad.

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Wheat Belly Weekend, Pt. 2


Every good Wheat Belly Breakfast should start with one of these:

Chocolate Croissant. Mmmmmmmm...

Chocolate Croissant. Mmmmmmmm…

We spent Saturday shopping in Soho, home to one of my favorite stores: Pearl River.

For lunch we went to L’Ecole, where the prix fixe menus are prepared by student chefs at the International Culinary Center. Bobby Flay and David Chang of Momofuku fame got their start here!

Next on our agenda: ABC Carpet and Home at 888 & 881 Broadway at East 19th Street. Six floors of fabulousness.

Wheat Belly Weekend flew by like a dream…The next morning it was already time to go home.


My sister and I drove on to Arlington, making it just in time to take our mom and dad out for Father’s Day at their preferred dining hour of 4:30 pm!


A rare smile from the man we have affectionately dubbed: The Easter Island Head.

Finally, it was back to Charlottesville and this cozy bunch:

I love you, fellow Wheat Belly Sisters. And I love you, Teddy, for caring about your sisters enough to send us Wheat Belly, even though it hurt our feelings and made us feel rather grouchy. We forgive you, because you gave us the gift of Wheat Belly Weekend.

I’m already looking forward to next year!

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