Dearest Yang, Pt. 5

I have so many pictures of our kids, but this is the only one I have of us together…IMG_0610Remember when I stopped by to visit you on my way back from the doctor’s office, after I had gotten my cancer diagnosis? I knew you’d just had surgery, but we didn’t realize until then that we both had cancer. It was so terrible to discover that we were both going through the same thing, but it was also a comfort to have a friend who truly understood.

Remember how we texted back and forth comparing appointment schedules, biopsies, and scans, and how we tried to fit in visits in between? Remember the time we spent together as you were undergoing chemo treatments? Sometimes we chatted, sometimes I just sat next to you while you slept. Sometimes we continued our conversations over lunch after your infusion was finished.

Remember when you had your son drive you to my house to visit me after my surgery? You were still weak from undergoing treatment, but you wanted to bring food to me. Remember how you asked, “Are you ok with pig feet?” Yang! Could you tell I was having a bit of a panic attack trying to figure out how to politely say that I didn’t think I’d be able to eat pig feet?! (I’m so sorry)! Remember how when I was worrying about what was going to happen to me you texted me: “I am together with you“? Yang, even though we can’t see each other right now, I am together with you too. Thank you for being such a good friend to me. When we see each other again, let’s take another picture together, OK?

xoxoxo,
Adrienne

 

 

Dearest Yang, Pt. 4

Just a quick note today…Remember the Lunar New Year party you had at your house a couple years ago? It was both exhilarating and terrifying! I wrote about it here…

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If I had a lantern to light this evening, my wish would be for good health: for you, for my own family, and for everyone around the world who is suffering right now.

Thank you for being a light in this exhilarating and terrifying life, my dear friend. We’ll get through this dark night together.

“Though we are far, our hearts our near.”

Love,
Adrienne

Dearest Yang, Pt. 3

Remember when you and Stefan taught us how to make German potato pancakes?

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Your boys knew exactly what to do and confidently got down to business.

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Whereas my kids looked a little dubious!

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They eventually got the hang of it!

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I’m pretty sure this was the first time I ever let the kids handle sharp knives!

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Thankfully, no digits were lost in pursuit of potato pancakes that evening!

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After all that hard work, the kids demolished those pancakes in the blink of an eye! I’m sure they tasted even better, because they all took part in making them.

After dinner, your boys taught my kids how to play Settlers of Catan.

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Let’s do this again when social distancing is a distant memory. We can have the party at my house this time. Maybe we’ll make Korean pancakes (pajeon)! I’ll have to get a recipe from my mom…

I miss you, and am thinking about you all the time. Please stay strong! I’ll write again tomorrow.

Love,
Adrienne

Dearest Yang, Pt. 2

Isn’t it funny that we both have three kids who are all in the same grades and have often been classmates?

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Remember how our youngest ones met in Kindergarten? You laughed when you told me how your son would crow about my daughter’s soccer exploits. He would brag to you about how she had scored ten goals in one game.

IMG_0608Remember the funny story you told me about the assignment they had to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up? I loved how you bubbled over with laughter when you told me your son said he wanted to be a cook so that he could make delicious soup for my daughter.

“And what does she want to be when she grows up?” you asked.

“A lawyer!” he said.

One day my daughter came home from Kindergarten looking a little perturbed.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“There’s a boy in my class and he’s telling everyone we’re going to get married and it’s so embarrassing!”

Of course it turned out that it was your son.

What a silly girl not to realize she had what we all dream of  having: someone willing to dedicate his life to our happiness!

You’ve raised such sweet and generous children, my dear friend. They are a beautiful reflection of their mother’s spirit.

It’s late and it’s been a long day. I spent most of it giving travel signatures to students in face masks anxious to get home to their families around the world. I went shopping to stock up on groceries in case there are none the next time I venture to the store. My oldest son stepped off the train this evening at 7:30. Who knows when he’ll get back to New York? Has your son returned home yet? I hope so! Doesn’t it feel good to have everyone together again back in the nest, even though it’s under trying circumstances?

I am sending you lots of love and thinking about what I will write for you tomorrow…

Love,
Adrienne

 

 

Dearest Yang,

 

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I’ve been trying to remember when we first met…Was it nine or ten years ago when you first moved to Charlottesville from Germany and our boys became friends at school? This is the earliest photo I can find of our two boys together.

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They look like they could be brothers…

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At elementary school graduation

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2012

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2012

I think our boys were glad to have each other through their last years at elementary school. Being a non-white student in a rural community with little diversity can be hard. I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been for your son to go from a German school to an American one. Remember when you told me he never uttered a single word at school and I was shocked, because he never ceased talking at our house? I loved hearing his perfectly unique, lilting Chinese-German accent. Our boys are both sensitive dreamers, who have always marched to the beat of their own drums. Remember how we used to laugh and sigh about their shockingly messy backpacks? And to discover they both never knew what their homework assignments were, and that when they miraculously did manage to complete their homework assignments, they both scrupulously forgot to turn them in? Remember when my boy started to learn Chinese, and we talked about him going with your family to visit China one day? Remember how we discovered they both had a passion for music? We tried (as meddlesome parents are wont to do) to get them to play the piano together. We failed, of course.

I’ve been so glad for your friendship over the years. Like our boys, we have a lot of similarities…Maybe we look like we could be sisters? We both married academics from other countries, and followed them to Charlottesville. But you have always been braver and more resilient than I am. I don’t think I could have made the move from China to the U.S. to Germany and back to the U.S. again with three young children in tow. I have always appreciated and admired your open-hearted spirit. I have always loved hearing your generous laugh. Your friendship has been a treasure to me, especially during these last couple of years, which have been difficult for both us. Many of the things that used to bring me joy (like writing) have fallen by the wayside. I wanted to come visit you this week, but I worried about your health. You told me to stay at home, because you worried about mine. You said, “I have to keep you healthy. I like to read what you write to me.” And so this week I will write for you, my dear friend. More tomorrow…

Love,
Adrienne

 

 

Advent

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!!!!”

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

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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.

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We decorated cookies…

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…and sang Christmas carols:

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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”!

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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.

 

Thankful

When one of your dearest friends moves far away and you don’t get to see her very often, and she tells you she’ll be in town for Thanksgiving, but you’re going to be in New Jersey, and you’re devastated, but at the last minute you figure out a way to see her for just a few hours, but you worry that it’s been so long since you’ve seen each other and things may have changed and then this happens…img_2109img_2108img_2107img_2106…and you have one more thing to be thankful for this year.

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Friday

8 am: This was the sight I saw as I pulled out of the driveway. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school and work we go…IMG_5828

Later that day my college friend Lizochka drove up from Charlotte to Charlottesville for a visit. She arrived at the university towards the end of the workday, so I could take her on a quick tour of the Grounds. The leaves are at their glorious peak, so despite the rain, it was a great weekend to be in C’ville.

Saturday

Our oldest son had to be at his testing site by 7:45 am for the last SAT he’d ever take. My daughter would be heading to her last soccer game of the season. As we discussed the complicated logistics over breakfast the kids asked me how Liza and I were planning to spend our day.

“Oh, we’re going to get up to aaaaaaaall kinds of mischief.” I told them.

“But what are you going to do? Are you going to go around painting graffiti or something?” asked my 15-year-old son, who is always willing to play along.

“Well, you’re just going to have to tune into NBC 29 News tonight to find out!” I replied with my best attempt at exuding an edgy, menacing sort of vibe.

My amenable son raised his eyebrows and pretended to be suitably impressed.

My daughter shot us down in flames by deadpanning with devastating accuracy:  “Are you going shopping at Roxie Daisy?”

OK, kid. Yeah, whatever:

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Unrepentent miscreants that we are, we recorded our every move:IMG_1771IMG_1772

I want to steal this chair. It was like sitting on a cloud. A really, really expensive cloud. ($3000+).IMG_1796

We hit up all my other favorite spots on the Downtown Mall too:

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From O’Suzannah to Rock, Paper, Scissors, and an obligatory stop at Caspari to say hello to the zebra finches!

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No visit to C’ville is complete without a stop at MarieBette, where we had our lunch:

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And last but not least, we poked our heads into Patina, my favorite store in Charlottesville.

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Cute book lamp!

We had a cozy dinner at home with a table full of family and friends, and then we spent the rest of the evening tucked up on the couch, watching the charming movie The Big Sick.

Sunday

A jiu-jitsu takedown? A hug? Who can tell?

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Bidding a fond farewell to my sweet friend…

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It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this boy play his guitar…IMG_4556

At choir, we got started on Christmas music… “Hey on, Sir Ass, hey!”

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Onward.

 

 

 

 

 

How to slay at your high school reunion

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:

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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.

Old Friends…

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…