The gift

I began this latest move like every other one I’ve ever made – that is, with the very best of intentions. Inspired by the snippets I’d read of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, I zealously tackled the unfathomably large quantities of stuff I’ve acquired over the years. I returned things to their rightful owners. I found new homes for towering mountains of clothing, toys, and books. I filled dumpsters with load after load of trash. I carefully sorted and packed things away in boxes, neatly labelled with their contents. In the end, of course, as always happens despite my good intentions, I ran out of boxes and time and desperately began dumping drawers into plastic garbage bags and clearing surfaces by indiscriminately sweeping everything into buckets, shopping bags, laundry baskets, and garbage cans. Even after officially moving, we had to make a few trips back to the house to pick up things we had left behind in the rush. I am sadly resigned to the fact that it will probably take the next ten years to sort through all of those hastily filled buckets, bags, baskets, and cans…

Last week I went back to our old house, which is still on the market. There was one last thing I needed to get and it had been preying on my mind. Seventeen years ago, my mother-in-law came from England to visit us in our first house in Charlottesville. With the brio that only elderly women possess, she brought me plants from her own garden that she had dug up that morning and wrapped in tissue right before heading to the airport. They traveled in her purse across the Atlantic. She presented them to me with a flourish upon her arrival.

The primulas she brought me had been planted in the beautiful garden of my husband’s first home in Scotland.

When they moved to Manchester, they brought some to transplant to their garden there.

I planted my mother-in-law’s gift in the very first garden of our very first house.

When we moved to our next house, I divided it and brought it to our garden there.

There were many plants that I loved and nurtured for ten years in that garden…

but there was only one plant that I absolutely had to bring to our new house:

Once I’d dug up the primula, I decided to do a quick check of the kitchen drawer where we had stored batteries. I couldn’t remember packing them, and we desperately needed some at the new house. I opened the drawer, and there they were. A nagging thought occurred to me and I opened the drawer just below that one. There I discovered another gift from my mother-in-law – the family heirloom silver. Heavy silver forks engraved with the initials of my husband’s godmother, bone-handled knives, ladles with royal crests…

“Oops!” I thought to myself sheepishly as I pulled them all out of the drawer. I’m glad to have these, of course…but the real treasure is still my primula.

Birthday

For my birthday this year I got a new old house, a miserable cold from my daughter, and an extra year of life! My iPhone wished me a happy birthday and informed me that I just turned the age I thought and said I was all last year. Hooray for declining faculties working in your favor for a change!

I dragged myself home from work today and wasn’t sure I was feeling up to going out, but I’m glad we did! We went to Lampo Neapolitan Pizzeria for dinner, where the only sure way to get a seat is to show up at 5 pm. We may have disgraced ourselves just a tiny little bit by inhaling shocking quantities of the thin crust wood-fired pizzas…

We had to try the desserts too, of course:

We ended the evening back at home where I got to take some birthday pics with these kids, the very best, most priceless gifts I ever got:

 

Now and Then…

The last time we moved was a decade ago. Our daughter was born shortly after we moved, so we combined our new address announcement with our new baby announcement:

And now here we are, ten years later:

These bonus outtakes made me laugh out loud, very possibly because I am just a little bit evil. I believe I captured the precise moment when the kids no longer had to “pretend to be annoyed!

 

Picnic at Ash Lawn-Highland

It was a gorgeous day for the annual Mary Ellen Brown Family Picnic. Mary Ellen Brown was a conversation group leader at the Lorna Sundberg International Center at the University of Virginia. The family sponsors the picnic for international students, scholars, and their families to honor her memory. This year for the first time, it was held at Ash Lawn-Highland, home of President James Monroe.

Our House

When I was a little girl we took a long car ride from our house in Pennsylvania to Georgia, where my dad’s friend had a farm. Visiting that farm was like entering a foreign land populated by mythical beasts I had only ever read about in books. There were horses that stood impossibly tall and imposing. There were dozens and dozens of pigs that squealed and ran in a comical panic whenever we approached their pen. Indoors, I found a giant, fluffy orange cat lounging on a bed.

The only animals I had ever known to that point were dogs; the cat was as exotic to me as the horses and pigs. I knelt down and stared straight into his green eyes. I began to stroke him from his head to the tip of his tail. With our eyes locked, I felt that we were communing with each other on a spiritual level. I could tell he was appreciating my ministrations, because he was slowly wagging his tail, just like our dogs would do when showered with such loving attention. Suddenly, the cat leapt onto my face and raked downward with his claws.

Tears mingled with the blood trickling down my face as I ran to find my mother. In a very Korean way, she urgently whispered to me to stop crying and to say nothing of my encounter with the cat. Our hosts would be embarrassed by what their pet had done, she explained, and it would be rude to upset them. She dried my eyes and washed away the blood, but there was nothing she could do to hide the long red tracks made by the cat’s claws.

Instead of expressing the slightest regret or embarrassment, when our hostess noticed my face she cackled with mirth and drawled, “I see you met Tiger.”

I’ve been wary of cats ever since, though what this episode really should have taught me is to be wary of people – a far scarier species.

This is all to say that I never considered that I would ever share space with a cat.

This is Scooter. He’s a feral cat that the family who sold us our house had been taking care of when they lived here. Before they moved out of the state a couple years ago, they trapped and relocated Scooter to their friend’s farm many miles away. The cleaning lady, who was keeping up the house while it was on the market, noticed the cat hanging out on the back porch and alerted Scooter’s former owners that he had somehow managed to make the long pilgrimage back home.

For the week we’ve been in our new house, Scooter has been sitting on the back deck or in the back yard. Whenever our eyes meet through the glass doors, he yowls at me with a grumpy, pissed off expression on his scrawny little face.

“Don’t feed him, or he’ll never leave,” advised my friends.

Promise me you won’t feed that cat!” commanded my mother, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, over the phone.

“We should call the SPCA to trap him and take him to the shelter,” suggested my son.

We’ve been negotiating all sorts of things via our realtors:  the replacement of pipes, the cutting of keys, electrical repairs…A couple days ago I got another message relayed to us by the sellers’ realtor. The former owners were begging us to keep Scooter as a barn cat.

Here’s the thing…My husband and I reported to each other that we both felt our mood lift the moment we first pulled into the driveway of what is now our new house. It’s an old yellow farmhouse originally built in 1920 to serve as the rectory for the Reverend Howell C. Lewis and his wife Bessie, who served the Presbyterian church just around the corner. There’s an ineffable sense of serenity here. To us, it felt like home. Scooter thought so too. He knew and loved the place long before I ever did.

I just bought my very first bag of cat food. I’m sure it won’t be my last. Scooter and I both chose to make this house our home, and I guess that means we’ve chosen each other. But Scooter is such an undignified name for a cat who suffered and wandered in the wilderness to find his way back to his own hallowed grounds, don’t you think? Meet Parson Scooter, resident cat.

Work was interesting today…

Some days are more interesting than others…

Today a couple of the UVa Men’s Basketball coaches and two of the players came to my office to hand deliver this thank you note and gift from Coach Bennett to me:

Even though I’m only 5’3, I’ve been tearing it up on the basketball court. My athletic prowess has been a huge, unexpected asset to the team.

OK, the truth is I helped with the paperwork for a last minute international recruit.

Sadly, I missed seeing them because I was busy with a panda photo shoot:

After spending so much time with the panda, I decided I needed a photo to commemorate our time together, so I handed my camera to my colleague. And then this happened:

It’s not every day you get felt up by a panda.