Author Archives: owonderful

How to slay at your high school reunion

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If parties are torture for introverts, high school reunions are another order of cruel and unusual punishment altogether. I wrote about the last high school reunion I went to five years ago here. I’ve now subjected myself to the ordeal on at least a couple other occasions.

I disgraced myself in an even more painfully hideous way at an earlier reunion. The room was buzzing with lively conversation and laughter. Determined to overcome my natural tendency to stand around at a party like an awkward stump, I practically broke a sweat in my effort to be witty and engaging. I had to strain to hear and to be heard as I exchanged pleasantries with an old classmate of mine. I finally felt myself begin to relax and loosen up. After one particular exchange, I brayed with unbridled mirth. Mid-chortle I realized that the hideous sound that had just emanated from my person was the only noise in a room that had suddenly and inexplicably fallen completely silent. My interlocutor looked at me with raised eyebrows. I slowly turned around to see that photos of several of our classmates who had died at a tragically young age were being projected on a screen and that everyone was observing a moment of silence in their honor.

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Photo booth fun at the 20th

It’s abundantly clear to anyone with two brain cells to rub together that people like me should not attend reunions, yet I continue to do so. Why?!, you might very well ask. I go for the sake of my dear friend with whom I made a pact years ago that we would be there for each other on these occasions.

A couple days before the reunion, she flew in from California and came to Charlottesville to spend some time with me before we headed to Arlington. As I was planning how we should spend those two days, I jotted down a list of all the great galleries, stores, and restaurants I could take her to. But as I wrote my list, I began to reconsider. My list was perfect for an indoor kitty like myself. But my friend is a nature girl. She loves the outdoors and goes backpacking in the wilderness for weeks on end, (for fun and not because someone forces her to)! I decided not to be selfish and to plan something that she would enjoy.

I took Friday off and we went to Humpback Rocks, a popular hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains a short drive from where I live. Despite its proximity, I’d never been there, because indoor cats like air conditioning and cozy couches to curl up on.

RockfishValleyWe talked and talked as we climbed higher and higher. It wasn’t long before I was gasping and gulping for air like a fish out of water. My friend, on the other hand, floated along as serene and graceful as a cloud. Every now and then she’d cast a discreet, sidelong glance at my heaving chest and would gently suggest, “Why don’t we stop and have a little rest, Ada?”

We eventually made it to the tippy top:

Humpback

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Oh, and by the way?

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She glided up that mountain in a skirt!

The next morning we drove to Arlington and went our separate ways for a few hours. I spent the day with my family.

“So what are you going to wear to the reunion?” my sister asked.

“A muumuu. Want to see?”

From the bottom of my bag, I pulled out the crumpled ball that was my dress and gave it a shake.

“It’s super comfortable. It’s basically a big t-shirt…practically a nightgown!”

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It’s a party dress! It’s a nightgown!

My very stylish sister looked askance at my outfit and said, “Ummm…Aren’t you supposed to wear a fancy outfit and make an effort to impress when you go to a high school reunion?”

“Yeah, well…this is it. This is all I got. I’m not a fancy person, as dad will tell you.”

Later that evening my friend came to pick me up at my parents’ house and we headed to the reunion. As we pulled into the parking lot she turned to me and nervously asked: “Well…are you ready?”

“I guess so,” I replied and we headed to the restaurant.

The minute we entered through the doorway, my friend transformed before my very eyes. She sparkled and effervesced. Her eyes flashed as she flitted around the room, talking to this person and that person. She left a shimmering trail of fairy dust wherever she went.

I…was an awkward stump.

I trailed along in her wake, my recently-overtaxed-mountain-scaling-calves screaming with each awkward step I took. I stuck my hand out awkwardly here, went in for a bumbling, awkward hug there, and had wooden, awkward exchanges…

I made it through the evening and was relieved to finally slip back into my parents’ house late that night. As I mentally took stock of the night, I began to reinterpret my performance in a more charitable light. Perhaps I had exaggerated my awkwardness in my own mind…Unlike at the last reunion, my face wasn’t shockingly red from sunburn. This time I hadn’t aggressively guffawed during a moment of silent remembrance.

“Hunh!” I thought to myself with a creeping sense of pride and perspective, “I scaled that mountain, dammit! Just like I scaled Humpback Rocks!”

As I peeled off my name tag, I realized my dress was stuck to my skin. Unbeknownst to me until that very moment, I had brushed up against poison ivy somewhere along the Blue Ridge. I’m not exactly sure how long the rash on my shoulder and arm had been weeping, but I could now see that rivulets of yellow pus were visibly oozing down my arm. Crusty bright orangey-yellow dry tracks revealed to me that this had been going on for quite some time…possibly for hours.

And that’s how I killed it yet again at another high school reunion.

A Fishy Story

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For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Galatians 6:7 

My children are descended from a long line of liars on both sides of their family tree. From the moment they entered the world, they’ve been raised in an intricate and treacherous web of secrets and lies. It’s exhausting to live like this, but we know no other way. It’s programmed deep in our DNA.

Mostly we lie for benign reasons. Like many parents, we’ve spun tales of Santa and the tooth fairy.

IMG_2606But we’ve also dipped our toes into more questionable acts of deception. For instance, when my oldest son was a toddler he once asked me why a squashed squirrel in the middle of the road wasn’t moving.

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How could I break this kid’s heart?

“Oh, him?” I replied, “He’s just taking a little nap. They do that sometimes.”

Another time I wandered down the feminine product aisle in the grocery store with my second son.

ScanWith his blankie clutched in one chubby fist, he trailed the pointer finger of his other hand along the packages of maxi pads and tampons as we walked down the aisle.

“What are these?” he asked.

“Oh, just ummm…things for women.”

“But, what are they?…Cheese sticks?”

“Yep. Cheese sticks,” I replied. “For women.”

I will admit that there have been more egregious examples of deceit. It’s possible that on an occasion or two, I may have asked my kids not to mention something to their grandparents, “because they’re from another generation and another culture and they wouldn’t understand and we wouldn’t want them to worry or make them sad.”

It was only last week that I realized all these years the little punks have been storing up every single lie ever told in their steel trap brains.

I was driving my 15-year old home from his afterschool activity. As we pulled into our driveway, his older brother happened to pull in right behind us. He emerged from his car, dripping with sweat and lugging the enormous gym bag he insists on carrying everywhere. (It’s actually the large duffle bag I used myself when I was a college student to carry an entire semester’s worth of clothes and books back and forth between my house and campus. I’ve offered more than once to buy him a smaller gym bag, but he’s always demurred, because “it holds all my stuff.”)

But I digress…He had told me that morning he would drive straight from school to the open mat session they were having at his Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym, just as he had done the week before.

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So sweet. So innocent. Such liars.

“Oh, hey!” the 15-year-old addressed his older brother as he got out of the car, “So you went boxing again?”

Through the car window, I could see my son shoot daggers at his younger brother with his eyes. He put his fingers up to his lips and curled his lips into a silent, but unmistakable “SHHHHH.”

Busted.

It’s difficult for me to understand the appeal of grappling with a sweaty stranger, yet I’ve let my son do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. When he started talking about doing boxing, however, I put my foot down and told him in no uncertain terms that he would not be allowed to do this. The boy is about to apply to college. Does he really need to get his head bashed in for sport?

I suspended his driving privileges for a couple days and read him the riot act for lying to me about the boxing. When his dad came home and was apprised of the situation, he launched into a lengthy disquisition of his own.

“Even worse than the fact that you went boxing, is the fact that you deliberately lied to us about it…” he said in an injured tone.

My son could bear the hypocrisy no longer. He yelped in fury and began to enumerate the many times we had lied to him and to others.

We all went to bed that night feeling bruised and battered and not unlike that squashed squirrel in the road.

At 1:30 am I awoke from deep slumber to the strong smell of fish frying. Surely this was just one of those nonsensical, yet hyper-realistic dreams?

I stumbled down the stairs to investigate and found my thwarted pugilist standing over a frying pan.

“What the hell are you doing?!” I asked, my eyes squinting in the bright light of the kitchen.

“Frying fish,” my son replied as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

“Wh- why are you frying fish at 1:30 in the morning?!”

“I was hungry.”

“Where did you even get the fish?”

“I caught it a couple weeks ago.”

“Well, where has it been all this time?”

“In the chest freezer.”

The exchange was so surreal and yet so banal. I was at a loss.

“The whole house reeks now. Next time you’re hungry, could you please just have a bowl of cereal like a normal person?! And make sure you clean up after yourself when you’re done!” I said and lumbered off to bed.

When I went downstairs the next morning I saw that he had, for the most part, cleaned up his mess. I did find a carefully labelled Ziploc bag left on the counter top that had until very recently contained “two longnosed sunfish fillets.” As I looked around the kitchen I also discovered a gallon jug of canola oil. I stopped buying vegetable oil years ago when I read about its carcinogenic properties.

“Where did this come from?” I wondered out loud.

“Oh!” my daughter piped up, but then immediately stopped herself, “Well…actually I don’t think I’m supposed to tell you.”

She took one look at my face and began to sing like a bird.IMG_1163

“Last week when ‘N’ drove himself back from his piano lesson in Crozet, he stopped off at Great Valu and bought fish and frog legs and that’s when he got the oil too.”

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That one in the middle? She’d sell her brothers down the river for a song.

Her response so perfectly reflected our bizarre and dizzying reality. It’s damn near impossible to keep track of what we are or are not supposed to tell each other or what we know or are not supposed to know. Though I hadn’t known about the vegetable oil, I had in fact known about the fish and frog legs. I had seen a small fillet in the fridge, but it disappeared soon after and I had forgotten all about it. As for the frog legs…my son fried them up and ate them the very same day. (And by the way, in case you, like my eccentric son, were wondering? “They taste like river chicken…kind of chickeny and fishy at the same time.”)

“But wait a minute…what about that other fish he bought? Did he already fry that?” I asked.

“No. He bought that fish to feed to his other fish. And he caught the sunfish at his friend’s house to eat himself,” my daughter patiently explained.

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My kid buys groceries for this thing.

“So you knew about the sunfish?”

“Well…yeah,” she answered evasively, wondering if this admission would get her into trouble.

“Did you see it? Was it a whole fish?”

“No. He came home with the fillets. He must have cut it up at his friend’s house.”

“And you saw him stash the fish in the freezer?”

“Yeah.”

“And how come I never saw this ginormous bottle of canola oil until this morning?”

“Oh, that’s because he was hiding it in his gym bag.”

Day at the Zoo

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IMG_5225The kids had a day off school on Friday and I took a day off work so we could loaf with the animals at the Metro Richmond Zoo in Chesterfield, Virginia…

We could hardly tear ourselves away from the baby monkeys in the animal nursery.

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Just hangin’ out…

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Fox on a Box

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Maybe she’s born with it…Maybe it’s Maybelline.

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Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!

The giraffes are the main attraction…IMG_5272

IMG_5280They eat right out of your  hand…IMG_5285…with their enormous blue tongues.

Speaking of blue…

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It’s not every girl who can coordinate her sneakers, shorts, brand new braces, and…

IMG_5342…bird accessory!IMG_5338

 

The Dell

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IMG_1344Lately, I’ve been spending my lunch hour at the Dell, which is a short stroll from my office.

It’s a poem fashioned out of water, flora, fauna…and ruins.

IMG_5154IMG_5177An old archway is all that’s left of what were once Italianate gardens…

IMG_1325IMG_1329Orderly geometry has given way to an overgrown, naturalistic landscape. The Dell has been transformed into a pond that is used for stormwater management. Its wild beauty makes it easy to forget its utilitarian purpose.

A meandering trail wraps around the pond and is strategically dotted with benches. I never like to sit though, because around every corner there’s always something new to see.

Sometimes a community of turtles sun themselves by the lily pads…IMG_1309

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Native plants are planted around the perimeter of the pond…

IMG_1297IMG_1304IMG_1305IMG_1321 From time to time I have to push aside long grasses that have fallen into the path. I feel them tickle my legs and hope I’m not brushing up against poison ivy. In this landscape, unexpected things sprout up by themselves…IMG_1334

But there are some reassuring constants. At one end of the pond, I look out for my friend, the king of the pond. I always find the giant koi lazily patrolling his favorite corner of his watery realm…

IMG_5149Dragonflies chase each other all over the pond. Every now and then they take a break…

IMG_1292IMG_5189IMG_1290IMG_5180FullSizeRender 49As for the industrious bees, they never have time to play.IMG_1289IMG_5165At least they are appreciating the flowers as they toil away…IMG_5155

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-bound stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

From Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things

College Bound

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I’m not quite sure how this happened. One minute my friends and I were pushing our babies in strollers, the next minute we’re taking those babies on college tours. Earlier this week I took some family photos for friends who are actually dropping their daughter off at college this weekend…

Family photo 2017 closeup 2Jeff and Kat 2017Dad and Claire 2017 full lengthClaire and Mom 2017 closeupAndrew and Mom 2017 1Claire and Andrew 3Dad and Kids 2017IMG_5000Dad Claire Mom 2017 2

Good luck & Godspeed

A Day by Emily Dickinson

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.