Decorating for Christmas…

It’s that time of the year…



We’ve been getting live Christmas trees for the past few years. They do well for about half a year or so and then they precipitously expire in a melodramatic cascade of brown needles. This year we actually managed to keep our Christmas tree alive for the first time ever. (I must remember to saw out 1/3 of the rootball in February as the nurseryman instructed us to do to keep it happily growing in its pot). It’s way too heavy to hoist back onto our porch, where it lived last Christmas, and this makes decorating it more complicated.

Since we can only put up ornaments that can handle rain or snow, I thought birdseed ornaments would be just the thing. It turns out they are crazy expensive to buy, but a snap to make. I found a recipe online that uses unflavored gelatin, corn syrup, flour & birdseed pressed into cookie cutters prepped with cooking oil spray.

Here are a few:


Next time I’ll use a mixed birdseed and more colorful ribbons so they look a little more interesting.

The problem in our household is that everyone wants Christmas decorations, but no one actually wants to put them up…


It’s a start!

Weekend Snapshots 46


The primula my mother-in-law brought from Scotland to England to America is blooming again. This humble little flower made its way to me from across the ocean wrapped in a napkin stashed in my mother-in-law’s handbag. It’s held a spot of honor in every garden of each of the three houses we’ve lived in here in Charlottesville. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve divided this sentimental favorite to share with friends…


In the evening I picked up my daughter and three of her friends after their second ever quartet practice. I laughed during the entire car ride home as the young musicians discussed their plans to get rich busking on the Downtown Mall.

“Whose case should we use to collect money?”

“Definitely mine,” said the cellist, “It’s the biggest.”

“Yeah, mine is way too small,” agreed the flautist, “It would fill up with money way too fast and we’d have to keep emptying it all the time, which would be a pain.”


Dream big, girls. Dream big!

Later that evening we had family movie night.


Little Mr. Muffet sitting on his tuffet, watching The Lord of the Rings.

We’ve been watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy over the course of several weeks. Though Tolkien wrote his great epic in the 30s and 40s about hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards, it’s uncanny how many parallels can be drawn between the trilogy’s war between the forces of good and evil and current events. Trump, Daesh, the refugee crisis, the environmental crisis…they’re all in there. I found this gorgeous edition for my daughter who has only read The Hobbit, and still has the pleasure of reading the trilogy ahead of her. The rest of us are lined up to re-read them when she’s done!





MarieBette Café & Bakery and their brioches feuilletées are one of the many reasons I love living in Charlottesville:



There are only about two and a half days in any given year when I want to be outside, and Saturday was one of them!


My husband took the kids to play frisbee golf:


…while I had fun getting my hands dirty in the garden! I transplanted a few things, planted some seeds…


and finally finished the oyster shell path I began last year! It only took three more 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shells and the last dregs of my will to carry on. If you see me hobbling around clutching my back like an old woman, you’ll know why.


Winter Jewels Hellebores are one of the very first plants I put in my new garden. These flowers are so great! They bloom crazy early and then continue on for months, untouched by deer, insects, late snows and other gardening catastrophes. They self seed and are easy to divide too. img_2969

In the evening we all met up again for dinner at Smoked, a bustling barbecue restaurant in the newly opened Piedmont Place in Crozet. There was a rather long wait for a table, so we spent a lovely hour at Over the Moon Bookstore.

I’ve been trapped in a loveless marriage with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for what seems like an eternity, but has really probably been less than a year. I thought I’d step out on Wolf Hall to have a meaningless fling with Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl, but I’m not enjoying that book nearly as much as I thought I would. So now I’m condemned to slog through TWO books before starting some of the books I bought at Over the Moon. I was discussing this with the bookseller and she told me she didn’t understand this at all:

“Life is too short. I give a book ten pages at the most, and if I’m not hooked, I just stop reading it.”

Do you feel obliged to finish a book once you’ve started? Even if you hate it?



Spotted on my way to book group brunch…


Did I mention how much I love living in Charlottesville?img_2981

This month my book group read my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt! I artfully posed some copies on the table only to realize with bitter disappointment once I got home – you can’t see the books!!!img_2984-2

You may not be able to spot the books in the photo, but you can find your own copy of Annabelle Kim’s Tiger Pelt online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. It’s a great pick for book clubs! No loveless marriages here…I promise it will move and inspire you. Readers of this blog may recognize some of the events in Tiger Pelt, because the boy’s story is inspired by my father’s life story. If you read it, I would love to hear what you think.

After I got back home, I began to redecorate for spring:

img_2987My daughter and I gave her guinea pigs’ pad a new look for spring too:


I feel that it’s still missing a certain je ne sais quoi…A seagrass wallpaper to pull in a little more texture? Some ambient lighting perhaps? Some cushions for a pop of color? A chaise longue in the corner? Nothing but the finest for these round-the-clock industrial poop factories:




Move over, Sisyphus

img_7141The daily grind has been more challenging than usual these days. Since everything seems impossible and futile at the moment anyway, I thought I’d tackle a Sisyphean task that has been plaguing me for months. The side entrance we always use to enter the house has drainage issues. Rain was washing soil from the garden beds into the pathway. It got so bad, we would have to take a running leap to get over the permanent mud puddle that was forming at the base of the steps.

When I was a little girl, my dad took us to visit Mount Vernon. I wouldn’t be able to tell you what happened to me two days ago to save my life, but I can clearly remember the distinct pleasure of walking on the crushed oyster shell paths at Mount Vernon decades ago. They crunched softly underfoot and gave just a little with each step. With a visceral memory of that delightful sensation, I thought oyster shells would be the perfect solution to our mud problem. Back in the spring I discovered that our local Tractor Supply store carried 50 lb bags of crushed oyster shell for chicken feed and I hauled five bags home. After shoring up the sides of the garden beds with the plentiful quartz rocks that are all over our yard, I poured all 250 pounds of oyster shells onto the muddiest part of the pathway at the base of the steps. It worked beautifully! What a relief to be able to walk rather than leap over the path to get into the house!


Now to figure out how to sift out all those darn leaves and acorns…

I’d meant to finish up the rest of the path months ago, but I’d run out of rocks, I’d run out of shells, and I’d run out of will. I had scouted out more rocks in the paddock, but the thought of digging them up and hauling them back just seemed too daunting. Finally this weekend I tackled the project. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop…even to change out of my church clothes. My husband has more than once accused me of the crime of “ballistic intention,” and I’ll admit guilt to this one. I worked like a woman possessed. I dug up huge rocks and dragged them back in multiple loads in the little red wagon we used to pull my kids in when they were little. And yes, I did it in my dress and gold ballet flats. img_1746The paddock has a beautiful down slope that made the first part of the trip a breeze. But then the upward slope would loom before me like a nightmare. Trudging up that slope with my load of stones over and over again crushed my spirit and made me feel like I would never ever experience happiness again.

img_1748But I kept trudging. It took me two days. I had to keep stopping every ten steps or so to catch my breath and so that my heart wouldn’t explode. Every now and then I’d give up, abandoning my burden to go inside and collapse in a quivering mass of flesh and ruined hopes and dreams.

img_1739For the very last load, my son pulled the wagon while I pushed from behind, and…we did it! The path is outlined:

img_1752Now all I need is another ten bags of crushed oyster shells…

img_1754…and a new back.

It was brutal. I’m physically wrecked. I had to give up every now and then to preserve the tattered scraps of sanity I have left. But I’ve outlined the path, and I’ll keep on going until the job’s done.

Oh deer.

foxIt’s a wild kingdom in my backyard. First, this fox appeared. Since spotting him, I’ve been trying to convince my daughter that this is a pretty clear sign that keeping pet ducks is not a good idea. So far, she’s not buying it. It’s true the fox hasn’t done a thing about the fat, lumbering groundhogs that have taken up residence under the barn and run-in shed. We saw our adopted kitty lurking around one of the huge holes they’ve made, but at half their size, I can’t imagine what she could possibly do to deter them from their destructive burrowing.

And then there are the deer. Recently, a whole herd of deer has been camping out in my backyard. Today I counted ten of them. Just looking at them makes me feel itchy. Almost every one in my family has been treated for Lyme Disease at one time or another, thanks to deer ticks. Once my husband stopped his car to let a deer cross the road. Instead of saying “thank you” and going on his merry way, the deer rammed into the car and put a huge dent in it. Furthermore: I find their eating habits deplorably rude. The yard is lush with weeds. I wouldn’t mind one bit if they ate those, but instead, they go for the plants I’ve bought and lovingly cultivated. They treat my garden like an all you can eat salad bar. Which is all to say: I don’t like deer.


Oh sure! Make yourself at home! Can I pour you a drink?



If only they could do something useful, like graze in straight rows…

I’m trying to live with it. It helped to read up on deer symbolism in Korean culture. Because they are beautiful and gentle (except when they are ramming into the side of a car), they are considered to be holy animals. Deer are often portrayed in Korean art as one of the ten symbols of longevity along with the sun, mountains, water, stones, clouds, pine trees, turtles, cranes, and mushrooms of immortality. They are associated with longevity because their antlers are ground up and used medicinally and because when they’re not greedily helping themselves to my garden, they are supposedly adept at finding those mushrooms of immortality. Finally, deer are associated with friendship because they travel in herds. When they move from one location to another, they turn their heads to make sure they don’t leave anyone behind. I’m not so sure I’m going to make friends with these deer, but as long as they stay in the paddock, I think we can maintain a cool civility.



The End of the Middle

I was complaining to my 16 year old son about a litany of problems – my inability to read small print, creaky joints, grey hairs sprouting with cruel, mechanical rapidity…

“I’m SO OLD!” I wailed in despair.

“Oh, Mom. You’re not old, he replied, “You’re just at the end of the middle.”

Perhaps I should be grateful that he didn’t situate me at the beginning of the end…?

A few weeks later I asked him, “Do you think I should try to figure out how to do Snapchat?”

Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, “No. Don’t bother. Snapchat’s not for people like you.”

Hear that, fellow geriatrics?! Snapchat? Not for the likes of us! Thus spake the 16 year old, so it must be true.

Maybe as a result of being “at the end of the middle,” I’ve been experiencing some really weird symptoms lately. For example, my legs feel unbearably hot, especially at night. Once I emailed my two sisters to ask them if they too felt like their legs were as hot as the barrels of curling irons. One of my sisters thought this was crazy talk. The other one said: YES, she too experienced that very same phenomenon! She is the researcher extraordinaire of our family, especially when it comes to medical conditions. She told me for years she was dying to google “hot thighs,” but was scared it would unleash a Pandora’s box of internet porn into her computer. When she finally broke down and did the search, she discovered that we are both suffering from a form of neuropathy for which there is no cure or treatment. Diagnosis: decrepitude.

Speaking of ancient things, my husband and I had been sleeping on the same mattress for eighteen years. I actually started campaigning for a new mattress eleven years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Every time I moved in bed, I felt like I was being stabbed by a gang of vicious mattress coils. Because it always takes us forever and a year to do anything, eleven years later I was still waking up sore every morning on that very same, stabby mattress. Finally, I decided that as someone who was at the end of the middle, I deserved, nay: needed a new mattress to help me ease into my twilight years.

AND it should be a king size bed, because you’re so tall, I announced to my husband, “and it should be a memory foam mattress with cooling gel, because I’m so. freaking. hot!

My husband raised an eyebrow, but wisely remained silent.

We got a Loom and Leaf mattress, which is sort of like the poor man’s TempurPedic Breeze, and I love it, by the way. What in the world were we waiting for?! I love having a king size bed…It’s so big I feel like I need a passport to visit my husband’s side of the bed. I got linen sheets in keeping with my “cool” theme. They’re heavenly. We slept without any blankets or bedcovers for a couple weeks. I would have been fine with this arrangement, but I finally had to take pity on my husband, who begged me through blue lips and chattering teeth for a quilt.

This being at the end of the middle business has necessitated a whole slew of changes…We moved our queen size bed to our son’s room. We moved the full size bed that had been in our garage apartment to our daughter’s room. And we moved the twin beds from my son’s and daughter’s rooms into the apartment. The new king size bed made the placement of my dresser and our nightstands problematic. For weeks I’ve been moving heavy furniture around, trying to solve the puzzle.

I had given up on ever making our existing furniture work, and had resigned myself to buying a new dresser and new nightstands when inspiration suddenly struck. After removing the mirror from my dresser, it fit perfectly into the bedroom alcove:

IMG_1051 (1).jpg

I think I need a longish vertical something for that space to the left of the window…

With the dresser out of the way, we could fit our original nightstands where they were in the first place.


And now this elderly, Snap-Chat-unworthy senior citizen needs to go take a looooooooooong nap to recuperate from her labors.

Hall Bank

My husband has been in England for the last couple of weeks. He’s helping his parents move from Hall Bank, the house they’ve lived in for almost forty years:

He never liked the house, mostly because he associated it with the painful move from his beloved Scotland. For our three children and me, however, it is a place we will always associate with some of our happiest memories.

We’ll remember celebrating birthdays there…

…and learning how to ride bikes in Granny and Granddad’s driveway on bikes specially bought for the kids’ summer visits:

We’ll never forget playing ping pong in the garden:

…often with our bare feet in the impossibly soft, cool carpet of grass.

It’s been a peaceful haven of rest:

unconditional love:

…and so much joy.


Mr. Fix-it

I recently got a text from my scholarly couch potato husband, which read: “I tried to hang the mirror. Please don’t get mad at me.”

I arrived home to this:

…and I was mad.

It reminded me of another incident when my husband tackled a home improvement project that proved to be more complicated than he had anticipated. It was a sultry summer day in Virginia…the kind of day when you can see wavy lines rising up off the asphalt. We were living in our first house in Charlottesville.

Back then I spent most of my days holed up in that south facing bedroom over the front door, struggling to write my dissertation. My desk was right against the window and I felt like an ant being burned alive by a sadistic kid with a magnifying glass. I was hot and crabby, and – as is my wont – I whined about it.

Sidebar: my husband is from Keep Calm and Carry on England. This is the same stiff upper lip England where the simple act of washing one’s hands is a high adrenaline sport for which one alternately risks third degree burns and frostbite in the pursuit of cleanliness:

Do your people not believe in comfort?!” I once asked my husband reproachfully, raising my newly-washed, throbbing red hands so he could bear witness to my suffering, “Would a mixer tap be a frivolous luxury that only shameless hedonists would ever consider installing?!”

“Huh!” my husband replied with genuine surprise, “I never even noticed that!”

And why would he take note of such an insignificant inconvenience? He grew up at a time when the consumer public had to purchase plugs for appliances separately and do the wiring themselves. That’s right. You would buy a curling iron or a washing machine, say, but then to make it actually work, you’d have to buy a separate plug and wire it yourself.

Having dealt with this throughout his young adulthood in England, if there was one home improvement project my husband felt confident about, it was electrical wiring. One day after patiently listening to me complain about how hot I was, he said he would install a ceiling fan light for me.

“Really?” I asked anxiously as we drove back home from Lowe’s with our new ceiling fan, “Are you sure? Shouldn’t we call an electrician?”

“We don’t need an electrician!” he scoffed, “Just leave it to me.” He never likes me to be anywhere near him when he’s trying to fix things so he shooed me downstairs and got to work.

After a rather long time, he passed me on his way to the basement and informed me that he was going to have to turn off all the electricity to the house. He was worried that he might electrocute himself, and since he wasn’t exactly sure which breaker controlled the light switch to that particular room, he would shut everything down just to be safe. And I mean everything…including the air conditioning. Almost instantaneously it became unbearably hot in the house. I sat quietly in my corner in the dark, trying not to expend any energy and pretending not to hear the expletives that were coming with increasing frequency and volume from upstairs.

In the end, my husband was forced to ask me for help. I’m quite sure this was as supremely painful for him as it would have been to say…remove his own appendix with a butter knife.

“I need you to hold the fan for me while I try to attach it,” he said grimly.

We dragged a chair over to the spot so that I could stand on it and hold the fan up for him. If you’ve never held a ceiling fan, I can tell you that they are surprisingly heavy. I stood there silently with my spindly arms trembling under the weight of the fan, unable to wipe away the rivulets of sweat trickling down the sides of my face as my husband tried to figure out the wiring.

Finally, he uttered the most exquisite words I ever heard fall from his lips: “I’m going to have to call an electrician.”

“Oh, thank God!” I said, immediately lowering my arms and unburdening myself of the monstrously heavy ceiling fan. I ran outside into my garden, where it was actually cooler than it was inside the dark and unairconditioned house.

In no time at all, an electrician drove up to the house.

“It’s the room at the top of the stairs!” I practically sang to him, “You’ll see my husband in there.” He headed inside and I turned back to tend my garden with a beatific smile on my face.

In no more than five minutes the electrician was back outside.

“Wow! That was super fast!” I exclaimed when I saw him emerge.

“Uh, your husband didn’t let me install the fan, ma’am,” he said.

“What?!” I asked, certain that I must have misheard him.

“He asked me to show him which wires were which and he said he wanted to do the rest himself.”

I blinked my eyes and took several deep breaths as I watched the van drive away.

About a half hour later, my husband called me back inside and led me up the stairs to inspect his handiwork.

“I’m cross, because it was impossible to get the screws to fit exactly in the holes, but I think they’re pretty secure. It’s probably best to avoid sitting or walking directly under the fan though…just in case.”

I tried to hold it in, I really did, but later that evening, I just couldn’t hold it in any longer: “You do know the electrician could have installed the fan in ten minutes, right? And we wouldn’t have to be worried about getting our skulls crushed in by a fan falling on our heads. And we’re going to end up paying him the same amount for coming out and not installing the fan…I don’t understand why you couldn’t let him do his job and you do your job! He couldn’t write books on political theory or give seminars on philoso…”

“Isn’t it sooo nice to be able to work in that room and be comfortable?” he interrupted me with a satisfied smile playing on his lips. And, of course, I had to admit it was.

Not too long ago I was feeling heartbroken. I wandered around in a daze with tears steadily leaking out of my eyes. One day I couldn’t get myself out of bed at all. My husband had absolutely no idea how to fix it, but that didn’t stop him from trying. He made all kinds of suggestions that were preposterous and that I rejected out of hand. He cracked corny jokes that did not make me even lift my head. He tried to distract me by dragging me out of the house and taking me places. He sent me texts to say he was sad that I was sad. He even installed this new light for me:

I used to fantasize about how amazing it would be to have a professional handyman around for a week or even a day to tackle all my home improvement projects. I’ve come to realize that I have something far better. My Mr. Fix-It doesn’t always know what he’s doing, but by God, he never gives up trying. And somehow he always manages to figure out a way to bring light into the darkness. For that and for so much more – I love him.

Related Post: My Scholarly Couch Potato

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!


Weekend Snapshots 35


Pippin Hill Vineyard. It was a beautiful evening for my beautiful friend’s “Celebration of Life.” We arrived just as the sun was setting…


My friend is gone, but her spirit remains. After listening to moving remembrances of an extraordinary woman and a life well-lived, we stepped out into the night under a big gorgeous canopy of a million twinkling stars. As we looked up at the heavens to admire the spectacular sight, my husband said, “That’s Carla.”


We spotted the first crocus of spring…At our old house, I knew exactly what to look for, because I had planted everything. I dug up some of my favorite plants to move to our new house, but there are so many other beloved plants I left behind. I’m going to miss my blue and purple crocus lawn, the Virginia bluebells, and my grand old tree peony, but I’m looking forward to seeing what pops up this spring at our new house.

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