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.


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!


House Hunter


Grey Dove Lane

Our old house just got put back on the market again. We are crossing our fingers that it will be sold in the spring market.

“I’d be shocked if it hasn’t sold by the end of October,” our realtor said with reassuring confidence last August.

“I’m shocked that it hasn’t sold,” she told us at the end of October.

I too was shocked that our house wasn’t immediately snatched up by a nice family, who could see how obviously pretty it was…who could sense the happiness and serenity it held for us and would surely hold for them. I feel like a parent whose child tries out for a play only to get rejected. What?! Can’t you see how gorgeous she is? Can’t you see how talented she is?! Can’t you see how perfect she would be for the lead?!  My sadness is mixed with a heaping portion of guilt, because it was me who insisted that she try out in the first place.

Late last summer we finally found the house for which we (or mostly I) had been looking for years. In anticipation of our move, I had packed up dozens of boxes, which remained stacked against a wall in our basement for years as we fruitlessly searched. There was nothing wrong with our old house. We spent ten very happy years there. For that matter, there was nothing wrong with the house we lived in for seven years before we moved to that second house. People talk of the seven year itch in the context of marriage. Our first two houses were casualties of a seven year itch of a different sort.

I’m going to blame my itchy feet on my gypsy parents, who treated moving like an everyday nuisance – like having a cold, or a hangnail. We changed houses like people change clothes. Sometimes we would stay in a place for months rather than years.

“Tell your teachers this is your last week of school,” my parents would announce with infuriating nonchalance, “We’re moving to Florida next week.” (Or Texas, or Pennsylvania, or Virginia, or Korea).

They thought it prudent to hide from us the fact that we would be moving until the very last minute. I believe this was to forestall the inevitable annoyance of having to listen to the bitter complaints and protests that would spew forth like a raging river as soon as my sisters and brother and I got wind of yet another move in our very near future. My parents explain their unwillingness to share such momentous news with us as a way of insuring that the knowledge of an impending move would not lead us to slack off in our studies. At the age of eighty and seventy-eight, they are still tormenting us with their unsettled ways. In a couple of weeks, we will see them off as they move back to Korea, after they swore that they were finally settling down forever in Arlington. One minute they say they’ll be back for good in July. The next minute they say they’ll go back to Korea for the fall semester after spending a summer in Arlington. Who knows? If there’s one thing I’ve learned to count on after all these years, it is not to count on anything they say about where they intend to live and for how long.

By the time I left for college, I’d lived in at least seven houses. Once I got to college and graduate school, I never stayed in one place for very long. I moved from dorms to apartments every year or two. When my husband and I made the move to Charlottesville and bought our first home together, I imagined that my peregrinations were at last at an end. We would spend the rest of our lives in a classic brick colonial with a spacious yard. We renovated the house. I planted a garden. I planted trees.


Our first house

But then my husband got tenure, and it was definite. We WOULD spend the rest of our lives there. The immediate and wonderful sense of relief I felt once we first knew our future was secure was tainted with a creeping, inexplicable feeling of panic. I suddenly felt an unreasonable, overwhelming need for some sort of change of location. We’d already lived in the house for longer than I had ever lived anywhere. If we were going to live in Charlottesville for the rest of our lives, I needed to move.

My husband was born in Scotland and moved to England when he was twelve. Before he left to continue his graduate studies in the U.S., he’d lived in just two houses for his entire life. He still considers the move from Scotland to have been a painful rupture with the golden age of his childhood.


House in Scotland

He abhors change of any kind. He could not fathom why I felt the need to move. But long-suffering good egg that he is, he helped me find our next house, and we lived there for ten years. (He still, by the way, speaks longingly of that first house we lived in).

There were many reasons to love our last house. It’s in a lovely neighborhood carved out of an old apple orchard. The land was never subjected to the drastic clearcutting that so often strip bare subdivisions to make way for houses. There are trails that wind through many acres of common land: woods, craggy hills, and a pretty little lake. It’s a neighborhood where people walk in the evenings, nodding to each other as they pass, stopping to give dogs pats on the head, or to chat. Friends my daughter has known for almost her entire life lived just up the hill or down the road from us.

There were compelling reasons to move however. We tended to get snowed in, which is particularly dangerous for my daughter, who needs ready access to an ER even for minor illnesses that could be weathered at home by the rest of us. We needed more space. I wanted to be closer in to town. After four out of five members of our family were diagnosed at one time or another with Lyme Disease, I wanted to move out of the woods. And after all, well…we’d been there so long.

I’ve lost track of the number of houses we looked at in a search that lasted for years. There were a couple I plunged into hopeless infatuation with along the way. Sometimes the timing wasn’t right. Some houses my husband dismissed as unsuitable for one reason or other. We finally found a house we both loved. It’s quirky, creaky, impractical, and perfect. I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave this place…At least for another ten years.



Now and Then…

The last time we moved was a decade ago. Our daughter was born shortly after we moved, so we combined our new address announcement with our new baby announcement:

And now here we are, ten years later:

These bonus outtakes made me laugh out loud, very possibly because I am just a little bit evil. I believe I captured the precise moment when the kids no longer had to “pretend to be annoyed!


Our House

When I was a little girl we took a long car ride from our house in Pennsylvania to Georgia, where my dad’s friend had a farm. Visiting that farm was like entering a foreign land populated by mythical beasts I had only ever read about in books. There were horses that stood impossibly tall and imposing. There were dozens and dozens of pigs that squealed and ran in a comical panic whenever we approached their pen. Indoors, I found a giant, fluffy orange cat lounging on a bed.

The only animals I had ever known to that point were dogs; the cat was as exotic to me as the horses and pigs. I knelt down and stared straight into his green eyes. I began to stroke him from his head to the tip of his tail. With our eyes locked, I felt that we were communing with each other on a spiritual level. I could tell he was appreciating my ministrations, because he was slowly wagging his tail, just like our dogs would do when showered with such loving attention. Suddenly, the cat leapt onto my face and raked downward with his claws.

Tears mingled with the blood trickling down my face as I ran to find my mother. In a very Korean way, she urgently whispered to me to stop crying and to say nothing of my encounter with the cat. Our hosts would be embarrassed by what their pet had done, she explained, and it would be rude to upset them. She dried my eyes and washed away the blood, but there was nothing she could do to hide the long red tracks made by the cat’s claws.

Instead of expressing the slightest regret or embarrassment, when our hostess noticed my face she cackled with mirth and drawled, “I see you met Tiger.”

I’ve been wary of cats ever since, though what this episode really should have taught me is to be wary of people – a far scarier species.

This is all to say that I never considered that I would ever share space with a cat.

This is Scooter. He’s a feral cat that the family who sold us our house had been taking care of when they lived here. Before they moved out of the state a couple years ago, they trapped and relocated Scooter to their friend’s farm many miles away. The cleaning lady, who was keeping up the house while it was on the market, noticed the cat hanging out on the back porch and alerted Scooter’s former owners that he had somehow managed to make the long pilgrimage back home.

For the week we’ve been in our new house, Scooter has been sitting on the back deck or in the back yard. Whenever our eyes meet through the glass doors, he yowls at me with a grumpy, pissed off expression on his scrawny little face.

“Don’t feed him, or he’ll never leave,” advised my friends.

Promise me you won’t feed that cat!” commanded my mother, aka She Who Must Be Obeyed, over the phone.

“We should call the SPCA to trap him and take him to the shelter,” suggested my son.

We’ve been negotiating all sorts of things via our realtors:  the replacement of pipes, the cutting of keys, electrical repairs…A couple days ago I got another message relayed to us by the sellers’ realtor. The former owners were begging us to keep Scooter as a barn cat.

Here’s the thing…My husband and I reported to each other that we both felt our mood lift the moment we first pulled into the driveway of what is now our new house. It’s an old yellow farmhouse originally built in 1920 to serve as the rectory for the Reverend Howell C. Lewis and his wife Bessie, who served the Presbyterian church just around the corner. There’s an ineffable sense of serenity here. To us, it felt like home. Scooter thought so too. He knew and loved the place long before I ever did.

I just bought my very first bag of cat food. I’m sure it won’t be my last. Scooter and I both chose to make this house our home, and I guess that means we’ve chosen each other. But Scooter is such an undignified name for a cat who suffered and wandered in the wilderness to find his way back to his own hallowed grounds, don’t you think? Meet Parson Scooter, resident cat.