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:



Two things happened today…

This morning we (finally) signed the papers to buy our house!

IMG_5854We hope to host family and friends here for many years to come.

(PLEASE! Let’s not move for AT LEAST another twenty years, my husband begged).


Our house has been referred to as The Old Rectory in real estate documents we’ve seen, because it was originally built in 1920 for the minister of the Presbyterian church around the corner from us.

One day my kids discovered another name on an old sign hidden behind some foliage:

IMG_5853This fall we discovered why it’s called Leaf Land:

IMG_7006IMG_7048Leaf Land it is!

The other momentous occasion that happened today was my son’s graduation from middle school. I thought for sure we were going to miss it, but our attorney was able to meet with us earlier than expected. We raced over to the school straight from his office, expecting only to see our son waiting for us in front of the school. Miraculously, we arrived just moments before they started calling out the names of all the graduates!

I can still hear the wistful tone in my dad’s voice as he held my oldest son in his arms for the first time. You’re not going to believe it now, he said, but in the blink of an eye he’ll be grown and out of the house and you won’t even know how it happened.

Every single day I feel like it’s all going much, much too fast.

I swear to you this happened a few months ago:



And this? This was yesterday:

Scan 4

First day of elementary school


Slow it down a little, please!


This girl…

Preschool GraduationIMG_6987.JPG

First Day of Elementary School


Elementary School Graduation

We’d been preparing for my daughter’s graduation for months. As I drove her to school, we would discuss the particulars: what she should wear, the fact that she should – for this very special occasion – actually comb her hair, etc. Most importantly, I apologized to her in advance for the fact that there would be ugly crying. I explained to her that it simply couldn’t be helped. She would have to avert her gaze and pretend that her mother was not disgracing herself in the audience with racking sobs and snot streaming out of her bright red nose.

Nothing went as planned. The dress I thought she would wear was too small for her. I pulled a dress out of my own closet and it fit her perfectly. She put on a pair of my ballet flats and they fit perfectly too. When we stood back to back, I realized she had snuck past me. My ten year old daughter is now about an inch taller than me.


It was only a week before her graduation when I realized I would not be able to be there. I broke the news to her in the car as I drove her to school one morning.

I’m so sorry, I’ve got some really sad news. I just realized that I’m going to have to miss your graduation because of my conference in Denver, and I’m absolutely devastated!

I never realized until that very moment that it’s actually possible to hear and feel someone grinning from the back seat.

My husband texted me photos of the graduation as it was happening. I stood transfixed in the middle of a busy Expo Hall as the photos came through one by one. People rushed around me, politely averting their gaze, as I stood there staring at my phone with big fat tears streaming down my face.



Mamas and babies

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks, during which time I: helped chaperone a trip to Virginia Beach for my daughter’s 5th grade class, ferried her to two soccer tournaments, ferried my son to his soccer tournament, got him packed up for a two-week program at NYU, sold our old house, went to a work conference in Denver, cried in the middle of the Expo Hall as my husband texted me photos of my daughter’s elementary school graduation in real time, helped pick out the winning (two) covers for my sister’s upcoming novel, and almost died returning back to Charlottesville.

To get back in the swing of things, here are a few photos from the trip to Virginia Beach, the annual field trip for the fifth graders right before they graduate…kind of a baby version of Beach Week for graduating high schoolers and college students.


Learning about whelks at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News

See that long, wavy thing that vaguely looks like a pasta noodle? I learned that each segment at one time contained a baby whelk in the making!IMG_9635



There she goes! Leaping into new adventures…

Everyone had breakfast at the Golden Corral, where I witnessed another freaky sight:


Deep fried bacon!

Next stop: the Virginia Aquarium:IMG_5716



The octopus was working on opening a prescription pill container:IMG_9833IMG_9844


This is what happened when I asked the girls to pose for a photo…

The highlight of the day was the Dolphin Discovery boat ride:

IMG_5720Mama dolphins and their days old babies came up to our boat to check US out and say hello!