We are here.

We are staying in a flat in the Budenberg Haus Projekte, an award-winning building designed by Foster + Partners and developed by a group which reclaims and renovates derelict buildings and sites. The complex looks like an ocean liner rising up alongside a canal at the site of the old Budenberg Gauge Factory.

IMG_4062There is a courtyard with wavy grass that I imagine was designed to look like rippling waves…

IMG_4066I love the look, but I feel really sorry for the poor person who has to mow.

The old factory (the one with the clock) between the two new wings has been incorporated into the new complex.

IMG_4075IMG_4057IMG_4059IMG_4067It’s weirdly designed so that when you enter, there is just a small landing that leads down a steep set of stairs to the rest of the flat.


The ceiling is curved, which adds to the feeling of being in a ship…

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Family Reunion in the U.K.

We got back home from our family reunion in Arlington, did a gazillion loads of laundry, and repacked our bags once again for our family reunion in England.

We spent a night with my sister and her family in New Jersey before heading to Newark. En route to the airport, we made a special drive-by pilgrimage to the “dollhouse” (as my mother always called it) that we lived in for a year in Cranbury, NJ…


Ready to board…

Finally on the plane!IMG_0632We made it! My son’s IT skills were put to good use almost immediately upon our arrival.


Helping Granny with her iPad.

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My husband is sitting underneath a portrait of himself as a child. He says that whenever he looks at the picture he tastes pineapple, because he was given a “pineapple-flavoured ice lolly” to help him get through the sitting.

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Helping Granddad with his Bakewell Tart.

Going to the cinema with Granddad…IMG_0661


Ghost Tour

My friend Victoria does a wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful ghost tour of Old Town, Alexandria. I’ve been meaning to go on one of her tours for years, and I finally got the chance to do it last weekend with my family.

We met Victoria at 8 pm in front of Market Square.


After the introductions were made, we began our tour of Old Town with stops along the way at points of interest to hear ghost stories about the people who had lived (and died) there.


I think it’s worth noting that Victoria and I became friends in 10th grade, when we were in plays together. I think it was being “Pickalittle Ladies” in Music Man that cemented our friendship. She is a true thespian, who tells her stories with dramatic flair. IMG_3906IMG_3908IMG_3911

Carlyle House, built in 1753 by the city’s founder, became a hospital during the Civil War.IMG_3914IMG_3919IMG_3925IMG_3926

Gadsby’s Tavern, where George Washington liked to take the occasional pint. IMG_3941IMG_3945IMG_3954

Victoria told her (and my) favorite story at the former site of a restaurant located across from City Hall, which used to also house the jail. She recounted the gripping story of a jailbreak and of Dominic, an enslaved person who caught the escapee and won his own freedom, all with his delicious oyster stew. Confused? Well, you’ll just have to book your own ghost tour to hear the rest of the tale…


Make sure you ask for Victoria…she’s the best!IMG_0606IMG_0607

Blitz Family Reunion

My family headed to Arlington this weekend for a gathering of the clans…

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The boys were exhausted after their last day of summer PE


Patches” proudly shows off the latest alterations to her ancient vest…

The cousins bonded over Minecraft…IMG_3837


The oldest cousins reconnect…

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It feels like this photo was taken about two minutes before that last photo was taken…


We had dinner at Peking Gourmet, a sentimental favorite…


After dinner we headed to Old Town, Alexandria, where my friend Victoria gave us a ghost tour. (More photos in my next post).IMG_3919IMG_3925



Completely wrapped around her little finger…



My Chariot of Fire

“I’ve known this car longer than I’ve known you,” I recently told my 11-year-old daughter.

“I don’t like it when you tell me that,” she replied.

I was surprised by her reaction on two fronts. First, it revealed her suspicion that in our 15-year-old workhorse minivan a.k.a. my Chariot of Fire, she might have a rival for my affection. Second, I hadn’t realized that I had ever told her that fact before.

When we first bought the minivan, my memory was a lot sharper and I wasn’t so prone to repeating old stories. When we went shopping for the car, I was shockingly great with child (with my second son). I caused unease wherever and whenever I lumbered into sight.


Two days before Baby #2 was born.

As I got behind the wheel of a spanking new car to give it a test drive, the young salesman slid into the passenger seat and looked over at me nervously.

“Uh…when are you due?”

“Aaaaaaaany minute now,” I said, “For all I know, it could happen right here, right now.”

He blanched visibly.

Until this time we had driven hand-me-down cars. The purchase of a brand new car was made possible only by the generosity of my grandfather, who had died recently and left a sum of money for each of his nineteen grandchildren. My husband and I planned to use the money I received from his estate as a downpayment for the car.

The fact that the money came from my grandfather was problematic. He was the scion of a family of Catholic martyrs, three generations of whom were massacred by the Japanese in one day. During the occupation, he was a leader of an underground resistance movement, and as a result, was repeatedly arrested and tortured by the Japanese.

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My grandfather is on the left. My mother is in front.

Three generations later, our lives still reflected that history. My father, whose family also suffered under the Japanese occupation, refused to ever buy Japanese products. Once when we were visiting my brother, who was in college at the time, he noticed a pair of flip-flops on his floor.

“Why are you wearing Japanese shoes?” he asked curtly.

When he saw the futon upon which my brother slept, he said: “That’s a Japanese bed.”

My husband and I had our hearts set on buying a Honda Odyssey, but given my family history, it wasn’t at all clear that this was going to be politic or even possible at all. I finally screwed up the courage to ask: “Uh, Mom? Do you think Grandpa would be really upset if he knew we used his money to buy a Japanese car?”

“Do what you want!” she replied waving off the question in her usual no-nonsense way.

When we drove in our new car together for the first time, my husband remarked: “Wow. You’re a much more confident driver now.”

“Yeah. Because I can SEE.”

It was a revelation for my vertically challenged self to have a commanding view of the road. I did feel confident, and I felt free. I learned to love driving in my minivan.

My sweet pimped out ride. See that Albemarle County Schools magnet on the gas cap? Custom, Baby. I’m thinking about having flames painted along the sides next…

It is not a fancy car. We bought the base model without any extra frills. When we transport other people’s children, they will often stand expectantly by the door, waiting for it to open automatically.

“Oh, sorry,” I have to explain, “You have to open it yourself.” Latterly, I’ve had to add: “You have to give it a really hard yank to get it open.”

My mother always shakes her head when she gets into her preferred second row seat on the right and silently surveys the detritus strewn about the cabin. But you know it’s bad when children make comments about the mess.

The exterior of the car is not pretty either. Within weeks of owning the car, my husband backed into a fire hydrant.


The fire hydrant dent and the sticker for my last neighborhood’s community association.

My initial reaction took me by surprise. I was elated: There! It’s done. And it wasn’t me! And now, I really could be free. There were many more dents and dings along the way…none of which were worse than that first one, and none of which we ever bothered to fix.

Each dent is a reminder of where we’ve been. The first one? That was in New Jersey, where we were visiting my sister and her family. The latest one?

IMG_3827That’s paint from the entrance to the garage of our new house…the fourth one we’ve lived in since buying the car. The dent in the rear door came from a friend who offered to help me pack for a sabbatical year in North Carolina. As she was leaving, she lost control of her car on our driveway’s steep slope and slammed into the back of our car. The indicator light showing that the door is not closed all the way has thereafter remained forever lit. Another dent came from a teenage girl who rear ended us while talking on her phone. When I inspected the damage, it didn’t seem worth taking her insurance information given the condition of the rest of the car. I immediately regretted it when we started driving again, and my kids noticed her get back on her phone. I leapt from my car and ran over to her, shaking with rage and shouting at her like a lunatic in the middle of sleepy little Crozet.

This sticker is from my first teaching job in Charlottesville, or Lynchburg rather. I would leave in the early hours of dawn and drive an hour and fifteen minutes to get to the campus of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College.

IMG_3825.jpgWhen I first went to get the faculty parking sticker, the woman behind the counter explained to me that students needed to go to a different office to get their parking passes. No one would mistake me for a college student now. And now Randolph-Macon Woman’s College ceases to exist. (It’s become Randolph College).

We’ve been expecting car trouble for years, but it has continued to hum along without complaint or issues. We have since inherited two back up cars, knowing that the day would eventually come when we would have to give up our minivan. Only very recently has it begun to show mechanical signs of age. Yesterday, my husband took it to the dealer and they diagnosed a very expensive transmission problem. It is time for our beloved minivan to ride off into the sunset. I spent last night cleaning out the car in preparation for donating it to NPR. Among many other things, I found the tray of an old stroller, spilled snacks that could very well be fifteen years old, cassette tapes, DVDs…

I know it doesn’t make sense to grieve for a chunk of metal, but I do. It has carried our babies home from the hospital. It has held car seats and booster seats. That little boy in the first photo just learned how to drive in it. For fifteen years now our car has safely ferried our family for miles and miles. At almost 270,000 miles, we could have circled the earth ten times. We could have driven to the moon and a good bit of the way back down to earth.

After all this, what is there left to say, but this:

Well done, my good and faithful Chariot of Fire. Thank you.



Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

40 Ku Klux Klansmen traveled from North Carolina to our beloved community today.

Charlottesvillians came out to say that this town is about love, not hate.

People’s Picnic and Community Celebration at IX Park:

IMG_0490IMG_0492IMG_0501IMG_3783IMG_3785IMG_3802IMG_0497I saw this posted in a restroom:


Mayor Signer kicked off the Unity Cville Concert at the Pavilion.


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War of the Groundhogs

As first discussed in Us vs. the Groundhogs, we are at war with a gang of thuggish, overgrown rodents who have invaded our backyard.


After reading my last post on the subject, a friend suggested that cayenne pepper might scare them off. We forthwith emptied five bottles of the stuff into all the entrances to their burrows under our barn and run-in shed and then sat back to wait for them to flee.

Perhaps the cayenne pepper imparted a delicious piquancy to the-all-you-can-eat buffet that was once our backyard, because they attacked it with even more unbridled gluttony.

When my mother heard our sad little tale, she reached into her own cupboard.

“This is from our garden. It’s too hot for humans to eat,” she said as she handed me a takeout container. From a kitchen drawer she dug out a homemade mask and handed it to me.


“Wear this and use the scoop that’s inside, but wear gloves too. It will burn your skin.”

Was this a bridge too far? After all, only the most heinous and depraved regimes resort to chemical warfare…I examined my heart and felt slightly guilty when I found there – a sense of glee as I took her pepper flakes.

After a dawn blitz with the noxious pepper flakes, we held our breaths and waited for the dust to settle. From deep in the bowels of their underground bunker, we could hear the groundhogs guffawing at us with naked contempt.

I heard somewhere that human hair repels deer. Surely dog hair might be even better, I reasoned to myself. I imagined that the “Taste  the Wild” dog food our hounds eat might imbue their fur with a badass don’t mess with me kind of kick. After giving our dogs a summer hair cut, I saved all their fur and we shoved it into the groundhog holes.

For the last few days we haven’t seen the groundhogs. We’ve been cautiously jubilant. We’ve been slapping each other on the backs and heaping praise on our fierce and mighty hounds, who at long last are earning their kibble.

​How long can we hold on to our hard-won advantage? Only time will tell…

Weekend Snapshots 49


We joined C’ville’s brand spanking new Y.

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It’s fun to be at the Y.M.C.A.!


Fireworks in Crozet…



My 17 year old was going to cut quite the figure tooling around town in my rusty, dented minivan with a dying transmission and 268,000+ miles on it. Fortunately for him, my cousin came to the rescue and passed on his muuuuuuuuuuuch cooler car to the kid.


First car…IMG_3767

First time driving the whole family…IMG_0428

First time being the sound engineer at church…(with his trusty sidekick).IMG_0433