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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.

War of the Groundhogs

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

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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.

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“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…

Old Friends…

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Earlier this week we spent an evening with friends.

IMG_0189We were celebrating the 12th birthday of their daughter. Our girls met each other as toddlers in the Little Sisters Preschool in our old neighborhood. When I did the math, I realized our girls have been friends for a whole decade: a marvel!

IMG_8031When I was a child, my family blew around from town to town like tumbleweeds, wherever the winds and my father’s schooling or career took us. At my daughter’s age, I had moved six times and had never been in one place long enough to make lasting friends.

One of the great joys of finally settling down has been the ability to forge friendships with longevity. It makes me happy to think that my kids will have friends they’ve known since they were tiny. Although I’ll never have that experience, I am delighted and amazed to have friends I’ve known for decades.

Last week I spent a long weekend in Tucson, Arizona with some of those friends. A few years ago my college friends began getting together once a year. Three out of the four of us live on the East Coast, but Debbie moved to Alaska and has missed all of our reunions. This year, we made a special effort to plan our reunion around her already scheduled visit with her daughters to Arizona.

“Hey! I was your age when I met your mom for the first time!” I exclaimed to her 17 year old, whom I had just met for the first time. “Your mom was so sweet, she took me out for dinner for my first birthday away from home. Your poor mom! I was so homesick, I cried the whole time!”

That was then:

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After our first year, we moved out of the dorms and into an apartment over a clothing store called Rosey Jekes.


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If I learned anything in college, it was that a side bun is never a good idea.

This is now:

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More on Arizona tomorrow…

 

 

 

Us Vs. the Groundhogs

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IMG_0072Last year a couple of fat groundhogs moved into our backyard. I wasn’t too concerned about this development until I saw the deep burrows they made under the barn and run-in shed. Internet research alerted me to the fact that these burrows can undermine the foundations of structures to the point of collapse.

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My first thought was to shovel rocks into the holes. Apparently a lot of people come up with this simplistic idea. Alas, the sages of the interwebs universally declare this to be a useless endeavor that will only cause the groundhogs to dig more holes. Furthermore, they shake their heads and roll their eyes while they do it.

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Last fall I bought a solar-powered stake you pound into the ground near the burrow. The stake is supposed to vibrate in such a way as to scare the rodents away. We followed the instructions to the letter, and miraculously – it seemed to work! The groundhogs disappeared.

They disappeared because they retreated to their love nest under our barn. They made love all winter long to the sexy ultrasonic vibrations of the groundhog repeller stake. This spring they reemerged to lay waste to our yard…with four new babies in tow.

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It was time to get control over the situation. I called up the professionals and explained the situation.

“Yes, we can certainly help you with the groundhogs,” the pest control man said reassuringly.

“Fabulous!” I said, congratulating myself on my quick thinking and decisive action.

“We have two different kinds of traps we use. We would bait either kind with cantaloupe.”

“Mmmhmmm…”

“One is a Havahart trap. It might be hard to catch the babies, but we’d do our best…The other is a kill trap – ”

I didn’t need to hear another word.

“Oh, DEFINITELY the Havahart trap is what we would want.”

“Well…the thing is: it would be illegal for us to catch and release them, so even if we caught them with the Havahart traps, we would still have to euthanize them once we caught them.”

I’m many things, but I’m not a murderer. Especially not a baby murderer…

 

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The other day my daughter tried to scare away a groundhog by running towards it. It turned on her with its big yellow teeth and snarled viciously at her, causing her to scream and run the other way.

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Later that day my husband was heading out to Lowe’s for various things.

“Hey! If you see anything to get rid of groundhogs, buy it!”

He returned with this container.

IMG_0043He chuckled as he pointed out the claim that “the animal simply leaves.”

We spread a thick layer all around the entrances of the burrows.

“UGH! That stuff smells TERRIBLE!” my daughter managed to gasp between dry heaves.

“Let’s hope the groundhogs think so too!” I said.

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The Human Library

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Ada reading

After my mama, the drama queen pulled out the television plug at both ends and chopped up the cord in the driveway for dramatic effect, my siblings and I were left with books and storytelling for entertainment. We had always been avid readers, but in our post-TV years, we became insatiable book consumers. Every week we would stagger out of the library, arms trembling with the weight of a teetering tower of books. Reading was a solitary pleasure, but storytelling was a communal ritual. The best stories could be told over and over again without losing their power to eviscerate us or make us scream with laughter. To this day I find myself in the middle of an experience, already weighing its merits as a worthy story and framing it in my mind to tell to my family the next time we get together.

Lately, the radio has been gratifying my love of storytelling. I’m a hardcore fan of This American Life. Ira Glass is my secret nerd crush. I adore the stories he spins in his dorky, entirely-unsuitable-for-radio-voice. I was hooked on Serial (Season 1) and waited for each episode as anxiously as a junkie trying to score her next hit. To my disappointment, I just couldn’t get into the second season of Serial…but then came the latest This American Life spin-off. S-Town is a dazzling, brilliant work of art. Host Brian Reed’s voice and intonation get increasingly awkward with each episode. I haven’t quite figured out why, but for me – his ragged upspeak somehow adds to the raw, forlorn beauty of the work.

Other radio favorites:

The Moth: the stories and the storytelling can be patchy, but are almost always compelling.

StoryCorps: When I read John Green’s Fault in our Stars I was PISSED. It was so mawkish and emotionally manipulative, yet I couldn’t help weeping as I read it, while simultaneously kicking myself in the ass for weeping. StoryCorps makes me cry every single time I listen to it, but I don’t feel like I’m being played like a cheap violin.

Last week I experienced “The Human Library,” hosted at the University of Virginia. The Human Library is an international initiative that began in Copenhagen in 2000. Today there are Human Library events all over the world during which people can “check out” humans with a story to tell. I went through a catalog of short bios and picked four different people. I was given twenty minute appointment slots for each person and visited them in various rooms on the Lawn where they were stationed for the day. The stories they told were fascinating, brutal, thought-provoking, and deeply personal…At the end of each twenty minute session, I experienced that rare and miraculous feeling of true human connection. In my perfect fantasy world this is how I would spend my days – exchanging stories with my human family.

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