Tag Archives: family

Weekend Snapshots 56



My daughter’s soccer team was playing in a pre-season tournament in Arlington this weekend. Serendipitously, The Wolves, a Pulitzer-nominated play about a girls’ high school travel soccer team, was having its final run this weekend at the Studio Theatre in DC. My sister got tickets for the three of us and we decided to tell my daughter only that she had a surprise in store.

I picked her up early from school on Friday to make sure we would beat the traffic and make it to DC on time. As we walked to the car, she asked, “So are you going to tell me now what the surprise is, or are you going to make me wait until we get there to find out?”

“You’re just going to have to wait till we get there,” I said, “But remind me…you’ve never had an allergic reaction to any anesthetics, right?”

She merely smirked and rolled her eyes at my clumsy attempt to throw her off the scent.


It took me to Ruckersville to come up with a second gambit: “Hey! You really like organ meat, don’t you?”

“What’s organ meat?” she asked me, not even looking up as she tap tap tapped away on her phone.

“You know…like, intestines, brain, heart, liver, kidney…,” I said, forcing down the wicked laughter that was bubbling up inside me.

“I’d gladly try organ meat,” the little saucepot replied serenely, not even glancing up from her phone, “but I haven’t yet had the opportunity to eat it.”

DAMMIT!” I cursed inwardly, frustrated by the girl’s infernal insouciance.

I brooded over the problem all the way up Route 29 until we reached Culpeper, when a devious idea began to form in my brain.

“You did remember to bring a fancy dress and your nice shoes, right?” I casually asked.

My girl whose standard uniform consists of sweatpants and a t-shirt dropped her phone and whipped her head around to look at me with a horrified expression: “Wait, WHAT?!


Ah, sweet victory!

“OK, you really got me that time,” she said. We collapsed in a paroxysm of laughter, and I could finally relax for the rest of the trip!

Our first stop was the W Hotel and the POV rooftop lounge:



Virgin Mojito!

Everything was delicious, but I’m going to dream about the Buñuelo Fritters for the rest of my life. They tasted like impossibly scrumptious, warm air.



The pop up “Museum of Contemporary American Teenagers” at the Studio Theatre


The play was amazing!


The tournament didn’t begin until the late afternoon, so we had all morning to relax…

Grandpa & Grandma tested out the new leg massage contraption their favorite son sent them…


Lunch at Rice Paper, Grandma’s favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the Eden Center in Falls Church:


My girl’s own cheering squad, including her grandparents, my sister, and my BFF, turned out in the bitter cold to root for her team…



The girls advanced to the finals with two wins under their belts.



Because of Daylight Savings, we woke up ten minutes before we had to leave for the first game of the day.

We raced out the door with my dad, who decided to play hooky from church to join us on the field. I can’t emphasize enough how exceedingly rare and hardly-to-be-believed-bordering-on-miraculous this was.


This man skipped church, sat in the freezing cold, and used a porta potty. Now that‘s true love.


Good thing they won!


Tournament Champs!



It’s hard to know.


On Monday, Lit Hub published this piece by my sister, in which she talks about “Returning to Writing After a Stage Four Cancer Diagnosis.” I shared it the same day on Facebook with mixed emotions that included both trepidation and relief.

When Annabelle first learned that she had Stage Four lung cancer this past spring, she only confided in our oldest sister. This is how our family rolls. We blunder through life trying (and often failing) to navigate the intricate web of secrets and lies we construct to protect each other from the truth. Months later she finally revealed her diagnosis to my younger brother and me in a masterfully worded email that led us ever so gently to the terrible conclusion. After reading her long email, I sat reeling. I was struck by the fact that even in that moment, she was trying to take care of us, just as she has all her life. She somehow managed to reveal the heart stopping news in such a way as to reassure us that this was not the worst thing in the world, but an unfortunate blip on her horizon that she would get through.

When I talked to the sister who had borne Annabelle’s secret by herself for months, she said with a rush of pent-up emotion: “I’m so glad you know now, because it was horrible to be the only one to know. But I’m so sad you know, because now that you do, I know you can never be happy again.”

Until the publication of her essay, Annabelle had been slowly titrating the news of her diagnosis to family and friends. It took her multiple attempts to tell my parents. I think they are in such denial that the fact hasn’t actually sunk in even now. I have had several painfully uncomfortable conversations with my mother in which she’ll casually ask, “Is Annabelle sick or something? Do you know what’s wrong? It’s not cancer, is it?” Each time this happens, I call my sister to ask her if she was perfectly clear in explaining the situation. The last time it happened, she said, “I JUST got off the phone with her and we discussed it. She definitely knows.” I think my mother knows, but doesn’t want to know.

It was a relief to post Annabelle’s essay, because like our oldest sister, it was hard for me to carry on as if nothing was wrong. But now that it’s out there, how do we carry on?

Annabelle’s essay begins with a quote from her novel Tiger Pelt, which is partly inspired by our dad’s life: “Fall seven times, get up eight.” That’s what Annabelle’s doing with her usual (unusual)? strength, humor, and grace. That’s what I’m going to try my best to do. But now that we all know, what else can we do?

  • If you buy things on amazon.com, (is there anybody who doesn’t?), you can go to https://smile.amazon.com/ and choose Lung Cancer Research Foundation as your charity of choice. At no cost to you, Amazon will donate a percentage of your purchase price to the charity. Great strides are being made in research and development, especially in immunotherapy drugs that make it possible to live with cancer as a chronic, but treatable condition. Even if you don’t pick Lung Cancer Research, pick ANY charity, because – why not?!
  • If you’d like to make a direct donation to the Lung Cancer Research Foundation, you can do so here.
  • If you happen to be going to the Virginia Festival of the Book, come say hello! My sister is on a panel to talk about Tiger Pelt in the context of “International Stories, Shared Humanities.”
  • Be inspired by Tiger Pelt, a story of hope and survival against terrible odds. We are a family of survivors!
  • “Be kind for you never know what battle someone is fighting.”…When I posted my sister’s essay, I knew I would hear from family & friends. To be honest, I dreaded this a little, because I knew it would bring me right back to the day I learned the news. What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of love and support from friends who wrote or called or told me in person that they were moved by my sister’s words and that they are holding her and our family in their hearts and prayers. This has meant the world to me and I thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart.

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.”

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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.



We didn’t get around to doing everything we usually do in the lead up to Christmas. Our advent calendars never got hung, the little decorative trees we usually put out never emerged from their long hibernation in a cabinet somewhere, we never recorded a song for the annual holiday video we make in lieu of a Christmas card…

I apologized to the kids for this year’s lapses. My daughter regretfully noted that it might be her big brother’s last year to experience the traditions we failed to keep. He graciously consoled us by saying, “We’re just so busy…”

The day before we left for our annual pilgrimage to Princeton for the holidays, our Christmas tree still hadn’t been decorated. I delivered a holiday edict with a bellow that I’m sure could be heard at the North Pole: “GET PACKED UP, CLEAN UP YOUR ROOMS, AND GET THAT TREE DECORATED BY THE TIME I GET HOME FROM WORK!!!!”


A bit rough around the edges, but it’s done.


We may not have gotten around to everything, but we did observe a few of our favorite traditions, including the annual Christmas party at our friends’ house.

When my roommate Janel & I were in graduate school together, we decided to start a singing group. Two young tenors strolled into our apartment on Riverside Drive and auditioned with a rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem sung in a round. We let them into the group and into our hearts.

On Saturday evening, over twenty years later, we gathered together with our children and sang Dona Nobis as a prayer before dinner.


We decorated cookies…


…and sang Christmas carols:


As we were leaving to head back to Arlington, my friend showed us a special ornament in the shape of a book. They’ve been inscribing Christmas memories in it for years. Craig showed us the page for 1999, a year we all met up in Princeton. Our oldest son was in utero at the time. We didn’t know if he would be a boy or a girl, but we had nicknamed him “Sh’Diamond”!


En route to Princeton the next day, we spotted another couple who were taking a rest from their travels at the Delaware Welcome Center…IMG_2396IMG_2400IMG_2408

Tonight we’ll watch the cousins in their Christmas pageant, we’ll return to the house for Christmas eve dinner, and then my sisters and I will retreat to the office for our traditional sisters’ gift-wrapping marathon into the wee hours…

We couldn’t get around to everything this year, but here we are!

Here we are as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the fates allow
So hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.


Weekend Snapshots 52


The theme for the weekend was “things fall apart” with a soundtrack of Christmas carols in the background…

My workhorse camera and constant companion of many years finally quit without so much as two weeks notice. (Today’s photos courtesy of my phone). The 17-yr-old backup car I’ve been driving after finally giving up my old minivan (RIP) is shambling into retirement like a grumpy old man. (Heat? You want me to give you heat AND get you to where you want to go? WHAT? And the door has to open too? This generation is so damned spoiled!). Our oven has ceased to function. Even our dog, Tallis, has been causing us worry. We suspected renal failure, but after lots of expensive labs, it looks like he’s just an old man with constipation who needs to be on Metamucil and wear doggie Depends. For real.


My son had his piano recital.


We practically yanked him offstage mid-bow to race off across town to catch the last part of the Spanish Renaissance Christmas concert my husband was singing in…



The forecasts were predicting snowfall from one to ten inches. We were ready to hunker down for a cozy snowbound day in pjs, but it turned out to be more like a dusting.

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IMG_3423With no excuse to laze about at home, we ran around town doing all the usual weekend things like getting our cars Jiffy-Lubed, piano lessons, and shopping for a new oven…

At the end of the day we all converged from different parts of town in three different cars for dinner at Lime Leaf. My daughter reminded me that this was the restaurant where my friends held a surprise baby shower for me before she was born. Naturally, a commemorative photo was in order:


Back at home, my husband spent the rest of the night working on the final exam for one of his courses. Here’s an exam question for you: Were Shih Tzus bred to: a) keep the manufacturers of paper towels and Nature’s Miracle in business? b) be foot warmers for Chinese emperors and empresses? or c) both A & B


Hard at work warming the emperor’s feet.

(Tallis was probably being a captain of industry in the next room performing duty A).


The latest addition to our menagerie…


Our new friend perches himself here all day and scolds us through the window for all of our many failings.

With a broken oven, our resident baker has had to explore no-bake options. This weekend’s delicious experiment was Tiramisu:


We capped off the weekend with an evening, candlelight Lessons and Carols service…

When our 17-yr-old wasn’t making us laugh, he was making us cry by reminding us that this would be the last Lessons and Carols service he would ever sing with us.IMG_7051