IMG_0386The last time we visited Montpelier was 18 years ago, soon after my husband and I had moved to Charlottesville and about a year after we were married. He had been pining to go back to the house again since it was restored to look as it did in the 1820s when James and Dolley Madison lived there. He reminded me that when we had first visited the house, there was nothing to see but a single room decorated in art deco style with an elaborate zinc bar. It was the sole relic of the days when Montpelier was the private country estate of the duPont family, before they bequeathed it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1983. The garden was nothing but overgrown boxwoods.

Why did we even bother go to Montpelier if that’s all there was? I asked my husband as we drove back from our visit.

Well, we didn’t have all that much to do back then…he replied with a nod toward the passel of kids in the backseat.

A lot more than that has changed since we were last at Montpelier. The five year restoration included removing 20th century additions to the house, restoring the brick exterior, and furnishing rooms with period pieces. The restoration was completed and celebrated on Constitution Day, September 17, 2008. It’s remarkable to stand inside the library where Madison sat looking out onto the Blue Ridge Mountains, surrounded by books he would have consulted as he worked on what would eventually become the Constitution of the United States.

Photos aren’t allowed inside the house; the only photos I could take were of the Annie duPont Garden:



James and Dolley were inseparable…


View of the Blue Ridge from the front porch of Montpelier

Denver, Co

I recently spent a week in Denver, Colorado at NAFSA, a conference for international educators.

We had barely stepped off the plane when a couple of my colleagues and I headed to Red Rocks Amphitheatre to watch The Big Lebowski…but really to see the awesome Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Unprepared for the chilly mountain air and not yet acclimated to the two hour time difference, we had to leave halfway through the movie to head back to the hotel.

We had to get a good night’s sleep so that we could enjoy all the scintillating presentations the next day…

…at the Colorado Convention Center.

Haka dancers opened for the keynote speaker:

New York Times columnist David Brooks:

And Aloe Blacc sang at the opening celebration…

With all the conference sessions, we had very limited time to explore Denver, but we did get to see a few things.

NYC has a Duane Reade on every street corner. Denver has its own kind of corner pharmacy:

The perils of smoking too much pot?

You could smell it everywhere, but not at the Convention Center!

Larimer Square:

Our Uber driver told us, “Don’t bother with the Denver Art Museum. If you really want to see something you won’t see anywhere else in the world, go to the Clyfford Still Museum!” And so we did:

I still kind of wish I had gotten to see the Denver Art Museum, or the Museum of Contemporary Art…(Next time)!

We loved the shops and restaurants at Union Station

and the Tattered Cover Book Store was fun to explore:

In the Cherry Creek neighborhood on our last evening in Denver, we happened upon Osaka Ramen:

which had pretty good ramen:

…interesting “My Wife’s Donuts,” filled with mochi, dusted with kinako sugar, and served with salted butter:

and the most delicious french fries I’ve ever had anywhere:

We went back to our hotel and spent our last few hours in Denver admiring the views of the city at night in Peaks Lounge on the 27th floor of the Hyatt Regency Denver:

Our flight back home the next day, or at least the DC to Charlottesville leg of it, was spectacularly horrifying. After three or four delays, we were finally allowed to board the plane hours more than three hours after we were supposed to depart.

As I walked across the tarmac, I peered into the cockpit. I was alarmed to see that the pilot looked young – as young as a college kid maybe…like an inebriated frat boy type maybe. He was tossing his head back and guffawing. Uneasily, I took my seat and dutifully listened to the announcements.

I’m sorry you all had to wait here for so long. I don’t know why they didn’t send you home on a reserve plane, and instead put you on this plane, which hasn’t been serviced in a while. I tried to spray down the bathroom, but, well, you know what happens when a plane sits outside in the heat for days…

My colleague and I glanced over at each other with alarmed expressions on our faces. We tried to relax as the plane started to taxi down the runway, but just as it was reaching maximum speed, the pilot suddenly took a sharp right and brought the plane to a stop.

We seem to be having some mechanical issue that has prevented us from taking off. We’re going to wait here for the crew to come out and check the plane. It might just be a quick fix, or we may have to head back to the terminal…In the meantime, I’m going to have to cut off the AC, so it’s probably going to get pretty hot in the plane. Sorry about that…

“I think we should get off right now,” my friend said anxiously. Given the circumstances, it was a perfectly reasonable suggestion.

The door’s locked. What can we do?” I answered.

We kept looking out for the crew to arrive. As far as we could tell, they never showed up. Instead, the pilot kept gunning the engine.

And then suddenly: “We’re off! he announced without any further explanation. The plane took off and we endured a short, but harrowing flight to C’ville. The tiny little plane kept getting buffeted by the winds. At one point, it juddered so hard, it felt like it might burst apart at the seams. I had my eyes clenched shut the whole time and was saying one long fervent prayer, which only ended with an abrupt “JESUS!” when the plane landed hard at Charlottesville Airport. It turned out my friend had been praying the entire time too…I guess the prayers worked. We got back home alive! Denver was great, but:


Soccer Season Wrap-Up

My son’s early soccer days…

And at last weekend’s “Sunburn Tournament”…

Sunburn Tournament champs!

My daughter’s very first day of soccer

Guest playing for tournaments for the last two weeks in a row, in Richmond:

And at the Sunburn Tournament for her age bracket:

I didn’t get any medals myself, but I think we can all agree that I am the true winner of the Sunburn Tournament: