Breaking and Entering

With the kids’ busy schedules, it’s been hard to find time to visit my parents in Arlington. This past weekend we were finally able to make a lightning strike visit that lasted less than 24 hours.

We weren’t going to able to leave Charlottesville until after 6 pm on Friday night, so I told my early-to-bed parents in advance that they should go to sleep and that we would see them the next morning. Meanwhile, I made arrangements with my best friend who lives in Maryland to meet up that evening. With three kids of her own and a job to juggle, these occasional late night get-togethers are usually the only times we get to see each other.IMG_1557

The kids and I tiptoed into my parents’ house at around 9 pm. I got the kids settled into their fold-out beds in the basement, and then crept back upstairs to wait for my friend to arrive after her own kid-chauffeuring shift ended. At 10 pm she finally tapped on the door, and we slipped out of the house. My sister had still not gotten home, so I sent her a text explaining where I was and asked her not to lock me out.

Wild and crazy party animals that we are, my friend and I drove around looking for a coffee shop that was still open. Everything was closed, so we settled for the 24 hour Harris Teeter. We slowly ambled up and down the aisles, getting caught up on each other’s lives and admiring the produce.


There are only so many hours that you can spend in Harris Teeter before you simply have to move on.

We drove back to my parents’ house where my sister’s car was now parked in the driveway. We sat in my car chatting for another hour. At around 1 am I saw the light go off in my sister’s room and I got slightly nervous. Might she have spotted my parked car, assumed I’d returned for the evening, and then locked the door? To my dismay, my suspicions were confirmed. The door had indeed been locked.

No matter. The light had only just gone out, so I was sure my sister was not yet asleep. I knocked on the door, hoping that it wasn’t loud enough to wake my parents, but just loud enough so that my sister would hear me. I was relieved when the living room light went on, but puzzled when it went back out again moments later. This happened a couple more times. I started knocking again, a little more loudly, but my sister didn’t open the door. I even knocked on her bedroom window. The door remained shut. By this time my dear friend had joined me on the doorstep. She stood there shivering in solidarity, while I began to lose my mind.

I hated to freak out my children by waking them up out of a sound slumber with a knock on the basement window, but I had no other recourse. I ran around to the back of the house and knocked and knocked to no avail. I can’t remember now how many times I went back and forth from front to back, trying windows, back doors, and knocking, knocking, knocking…

Eventually, my son woke up and saw me at the window. The poor boy looked utterly dazed and bewildered to see me wildly gesticulating at the window. Finally, he understood the problem and I ran around to the front door to wait for him to open it. Strangely, it remained locked.

Had he gone back to sleep, thinking it had all been a dream?

I ran around to the back again and finally realized he had opened the basement door rather than the front door. I ran inside and up the stairs to retrieve the bags I had left on the front doorstep.

My sister and mother and son were waiting for me in the living room.

They had heard my knocking all right.

At 1 am, my mother had gone to the kitchen to get some medicine for her aching legs. She had noticed the headlights on a car she didn’t recognize and was immediately suspicious.

My sister was heading to the living room to open the door for me when she met my mother there.

“Turn out the light! Don’t open the door!” my mother hissed at her.

“It’s probably Adrienne,” my sister replied as she continued toward the door.

“NO!” my mother insisted, waving her away. “She’s asleep downstairs. It’s an old man and an old woman. (“It was dark,  and you were walking so slowly,” was her only explanation for this when I asked her  about this later). If we pretend we’re not here, they’ll go away.”

“Let me look out the window – I bet it’s Adrienne.”

NO! It’s an old man and an old woman. If you look out the window, they’ll know we’re here. Don’t open the door!

“Well, then let’s call 911,” my sister said and she got out her phone.

Later she explained: “And that’s when I turned around to see a really tall, scary man standing in the living room!” (In case you haven’t figured it out, that tall, scary man would be my son).

And that’s when I ran through the living room, breathless and within minutes of getting hauled off to jail for breaking and entering.





The Fixer

Whenever we go to visit my parents in Arlington, there’s a slew of things my mother wants my 15-year-old son to fix for her. I sometimes worry that it’s too much pressure to place on his shoulders, yet he somehow always manages to pull it off. He fixed a printer on one occasion, a DVD player on another. He’s helped her with her computer, despite the fact that all of her settings are in Korean – a language he doesn’t know at all.

A couple weeks ago, my mother told me over the phone that the next time we came, she wanted my son to have a look at her television.

“What’s wrong with it?” I asked.

“It’s not working at all. It doesn’t even turn on,” she replied.

It seemed like a lot to ask of a kid. I could only promise that he would try.

When we arrived, he headed straight to the basement and got to work on the TV. A short time later he reemerged at the top of the stairs and announced that it was working again. My mother’s eyes shone, and she clasped her hands in rapturous joy and wonder.

“I knew you could fix it for me! Isn’t he so smart?” she crowed, “Thank you so much!

And…can you blame this proud mama? My own heart swelled with pride.

Later that evening I found myself alone in the basement with my brilliant whiz kid.

“By the way…” I asked him, “Good job fixing the TV! How in the world did you manage to do it?”

“I…plugged it in.”

IMG_2783 2IMG_2784 2IMG_0368IMG_2036

Knot of Vipers

IMG_2653For a while now, I’ve been unable to wear one of my favorite necklaces. It’s been snarled up in a “hopeless nœud de vipères,” as my husband put it. A couple days ago, I grabbed it off my jewelry tree and brought it to work with me, thinking that I would get it untangled when I could find a free moment that morning. I was sure it would be hanging around my neck by lunchtime.

By lunchtime I had made no progress at all. Instead of going for my usual walk around campus during lunch, I hunched over the cursed necklace for the entire hour, trying and failing to make any headway. I grimly resolved that the deed would be accomplished by the end of the workday. Several times that day – I couldn’t help myself – I literally shook the necklace in childish, impotent rage, no doubt creating new knots with each shake. By the end of the day, it was still a tangled mess. I stayed at work an extra half hour, trying to meet my self-imposed deadline. Finally, I gave up and drove home under a heavy cloud of failure, gripping the necklace between one hand and the wheel to save what little progress I had made in untangling it.

It was time to enlist the help of an expert. My husband had once volunteered to untangle a couple of my sister’s necklaces…We marveled not just at the feat he accomplished in untangling the necklaces, but at the extraordinary patience it took to perform these delicate operations.

“I have a challenge for you,” I said, handing him my necklace after dinner.

“OK,” he said amiably, “I’ll work on it before I leave for choir rehearsal.”

When I left the house at 7 pm to take our daughter to her violin lesson, I snapped this photo of him:

IMG_2655It was the last I saw of him until the following morning.

I could tell he’d been awake for some time and had been impatiently waiting for me to open my eyes. They were barely halfway open when the words came spilling out of his mouth:

“Do you have any idea what time I went to bed?”


“It was after 1 am.”

Really?! Why?” My husband is an early-to-bed, early-to-rise-sort-of-fellow, so this was surprising news indeed.

“I was working on getting your necklace untangled all night long. I couldn’t wait to get it done and present it to you with a flourish.  I kept thinking I almost had it, but it’s actually impossible to tell if you’re making progress, or just making it worse! At 10:30 I was still working on it. I had to move into the kitchen and lean over the counter for better light. I couldn’t believe it when I checked the clock again and it was after 1. That’s when I finally gave up and staggered to bed. My feet were killing me from standing there for so long. I’d worked on it for something like 6 hours, because I even took it to choir practice and worked on it there…I almost hit a deer on the way home, because I was trying to drive with the damn thing in my hand so it wouldn’t get more tangled,”

“Oh my gosh! I did that too!”

“And you should have seen what happened to my fingers!”

“Did they turn black?” I asked, knowing the answer in advance, for this had happened to my fingers too when I was struggling to untangle the necklace at work.


“Sooo…did you manage to get it untangled?”

No! There’s also a little bit that’s broken off, which will have to be reattached when we eventually get it untangled. But I think it’s almost there.”

There was a moment’s pause.

“You know what else was really bad?” he asked ruefully. “I made the terrible mistake of turning the whole thing into a metaphor for finishing my book. If I could just get the necklace untangled, I thought, my book would also just magically fall into place…” 

By now I was deeply regretting that I had asked him to help me with the necklace.

“But there was one moment when it really felt like I was truly in Hell.”

I shuddered as I tried to imagine what that moment in a day full of dreadful moments could possibly be.

“I was working away at it during choir and then we started singing that awful hymn…you know the one…” he said, breaking out a few bars of a song we both loathe in his most twee voice, “I the Lord or sea and sky, I have heard My people cry…My hand will saaaaave.

I burst out laughing so hard it hurt.

Although my husband hadn’t gotten the necklace entirely unknotted, (and had broken off a piece in the process), he had done the lion’s share of the work so that by the end of the that workday, I finally managed to get the knot of vipers untangled.

IMG_2657Here are some important life lessons I learned in the process:

  1. Ask for help when you need it. Two sets of blackened fingers are better than one.
  2. Don’t set arbitrary and unreasonable deadlines for difficult tasks.
  3. No deer need to die. Scotch tape is your friend.IMG_2663
  4. Sometimes une pipe really is just une pipe. Investing an ordinary object or event  with metaphorical significance is kooky and unproductive.
  5. Ration out pain when possible…Untangling a nœud de vipères is bad enough…doing it while singing a kitschy hymn at the same time is too much for anyone to bear.
  6. Most importantly: marry someone who will untangle your necklaces for you and make you shriek with laughter. That’s a keeper for sure.

The Cat Who Came In From the Cold

If you’ve been following our story, you may have noticed that our family is gaga for animals. We collect them as casually as people collect, say, matchbooks or Pez dispensers. Oh, look! A _______________! We don’t have one of those yet! You can fill in the blank with any number of the fish, rodents, lagomorphs, and dogs that have passed through our house. My daughter has most recently been drawing up an action plan to convince her father that having a couple of sheep in the paddock out back would not only be a good idea, but essential to her happiness.

She has a tough road ahead of her. My husband is one of two people in our household, who do not think that sharing your space with an abundance of animals is delightful. His mini-me, our second son, rolls his eyes heavenward and heaves a weary sigh whenever a new animal is added to our menagerie. He dutifully helps take care of the dogs, but with no great enthusiasm. Whenever one of us starts talking about adding yet another hamster, or a couple of ducks, or a fish to the mix,  our very own Jiminy Cricket  issues dire predictions about the troubles that are likely to ensue as a result of our animal profligacy. He tries to warn us of our folly, and then eventually throws his hands up in despair and retires to his own bedroom, one of the only places in our house where peace and order reign.

In the past we have considered providing shelter to horses, llamas, goats, ducks, guinea hens, quails, turtles, and even snakes. The one animal I was never tempted to keep was a cat. But…sometimes you choose, and sometimes you are chosen. Parson, a cat we only latterly discovered to be a “she” rather than a “he,” chose us, or rather chose to let us live in her/our house.

My daughter took over Parson’s care and feeding, and we tried to make her as comfortable as possible on our back porch. In the corner of our porch, we installed a pet carrier outfitted with a cozy bed and a self-warming pad. For the two years we’ve lived in our house, Parson has spent her days and nights there. She has expressed satisfaction with our services by rubbing up against our legs when we go out to greet her. Our dopey little dogs have repeatedly tried to make friendly overtures to her, signaling their goodwill with their cocked heads and wagging tails. She will have nothing to do with their foolishness. As soon as she catches sight of them, she hisses at them as if she is ready to start World War III.

The polar vortex had us worrying about Parson. It’s been so cold the kids have now twice had an hour school delay.  One day we opened the door to see if we could coax the cat inside to warm up for awhile. We finally managed to lure her in with some treats, but as soon as the dogs came running up to greet her, she hissed and ran under the oven to hide. She was still there a few hours later when I had to leave the house. I was dreading what I would find when I returned home.

“Did the cat ever come out?” I asked my children when I got back.

“Oh yeah! She came out,” Jiminy Cricket replied casually.

“How did you get her out?”

“I just put some food out in the kitchen and she came out to eat.”

“And she’s back outside now?”


No? Where is she?”

“She’s in my room. She likes it there.”

Oh! Well, let’s let her outside so she can go to the bathroom.”

“Not a good idea,” Jiminy Cricket said, shaking his head, “It’s way too cold out there for her.”

“Well, but…how’s she going to go to the bathroom?”

“We set up the guinea pigs’ litter box in my room.”

There are so many reasons for being shocked by these revelations I don’t even know where to begin…

“So what are we going to do with her? She hates the dogs…”

“She’ll live in my room.”



Still shaking my head in wonder, I braced myself for the difficult conversation I was going to have with my husband about the matter. I explained to him our son’s surprising position on the cat.

“Well, that’s no good.”

My heart sank.

“She can’t stay in his room forever.”

“I know…”

“Eventually, I want her to come out and socialize with everyone, including the dogs.”

And that, my friends, is a Christmas miracle.

Gingerbread Houses at the NIH

My daughter and I spent the second day of the New Year at the NIH.

On the way to the clinic, we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the gingerbread houses, which were still up a day after the display was supposed to have been taken down:


“Dad would be happy to see this one! It’s his alma mater!”



img_2564-2img_2563-2img_2562-2img_2561-2img_2558-2This one was the winner…img_2566

But my daughter’s favorite was the Harry Potter castle:


There were two of them!img_2570-2

The Children’s Inn, where we had spent the night before:


By the time my daughter’s appointments were done, the houses had all vanished without a trace.

Happy 2018!

Yesterday afternoon, we managed to record a song for our annual holiday video, just before hitting the road to spend New Year’s Eve with my family in Arlington. Like a lot of things my family does, it was thrown together at the last minute, the process was rather stressful, and the product imperfect. Still, we did it together, and despite some grumpy moments, we did it with love. My son contributed one of his compositions to finish out the video.

Wishing you and yours a wonderful, wonderful 2018 full of peace, love, and not too many grumpy moments!