Category Archives: Community

Final First Day of School

It’s here.  My daughter’s last-ever first day of school.  That thirteenth, and final first day.  Her senior year has begun.  She looks the part.  She appears confident, fit, athletic, in control.  A beautiful young woman. 

It was twelve years ago that my husband and I worried over our little girl (and she was so little) as she boarded the bus (and the bus was so big) for Kindergarten.  Thank goodness our area didn’t have all-day Kindergarten then.  I wouldn’t have been ready.  (See Moving up to Middle School, October 18, 2011.)  Eleven more first days followed, and eleven more years.  We checked off the major  first-year milestones:  elementary school, middle school, high school.  But I don’t remember growing older. 

My husband has been whistling “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof even more frequently than usual these days.  I understand, and those unsettling lyrics rattle around in my head: 

Sunrise sunset, sunrise, sunset!
Swiftly fly the years,
One season following another,
Laden with happiness and tears…

No school bus for our daughter, not since sophomore year.  This tall young woman got in the car, waved happily, and drove away. 

Is this the little girl I carried?

Wasn’t it yesterday when she was small? 

Wonder where she’ll be this time next year? 

The Political Survey for Unwelcome Callers

Phone ringing incessantly?  Telemarketers driving you crazy?  No worries!  Put an end to those meddlesome calls with this handy dandy survey. Before the caller gets that first word in, begin with this quick preface:

I wholeheartedly believe in the worth of your product/cause.  I am eager to buy/donate.  But first I must request a few moments of your time to answer some important questions concerning the upcoming presidential election.  Your responses may determine the future of our country, which hangs in the balance.  Here goes:

  • Bernie Sanders often compares himself to which of these figures:

a.  The Lorax  

b.  King Nebuchadnezzar

c. Larry David 

d. Stalin

 

  • True or False:  Donald Trump’s orange skin justifies his referring to himself as a “Person of Color.”

 

  • Continuing with the subject of Trump’s orange skin, who is his Brother from Another Mother? 

a. Jerry Gourd from Veggie Tales

b. Oompa Loompa #2 

c. John Boehner 

 

  • Which of these is a favorite saying of Ted Cruz:

a. They will know we are Christians by our love.

b.  They will know we are Christians by our massive assault weapons.

c. They will know we are Christians when we bomb those heathens straight to hell.  Peace be with you.    

 

  • John Kasich is an ardent advocate of:

a. Women remaining in their kitchens at all times.

b. Women leaving their kitchens only to support his campaign.

c.  Women leaving their kitchens only for Planned Parenthood-related activities.

d. Women leaving their kitchens only to give birth.

 

  •  If Hilary Clinton is elected President, her first executive order will:

a. Declare that henceforth Bill will be referred to as First Lady.   

b. Declare federally funded abortions for all first-time mothers.

c.  Declare mandatory abortions for all third-time mothers.

d. Demolish all houses of worship except United Methodist Churches.

 

  • Which of the following is true of Ben Carson?

a. If elected President, he will perform lobotomies on illegal immigrants in the Oval Office on Tuesdays & Thursdays.

b. On Halloween he will trick-or-treat in his Allen West costume.

c. Plans to abolish the prison system, because prisons turn everyone gay.

 

  • In Chris Christie’s fondest dream, he’s President and he has the power to:  

a. Permanently shut down all access to and from Fort Lee, NJ.

b. Force Bruce Springsteen to be his BFF.

c. Declare “Blitzkrieg Bop” by the Ramones our new national anthem.

d.  Carpet-bomb Fort Lee.

 

  •  Which is true of Jeb Bush?

a. Oh how deeply he regrets that exclamation point! 

b.  His amazement at the fickleness of fate will never cease:  He was supposed to be the successful one, not George W! 

c.  He has the best hair of any of the candidates.

d.  All of the above. 

 

  • Which is true of Marco Rubio?

a. He is the smiling, sunny Ted Cruz.

b.  He is hailed by Rush Limbaugh as a “legitimate, full-throated conservative.”

c.  He urges you to support Marcomentum by purchasing many fine Under Armour products from his New American Store. 

d.  He looks forward to extending the Overseas Railway from Key West to Cuba. 

 

Thank you for your time, and have a super-great day!  

 

Turning the Tables on Calls Unknown & Unavailable

Our home phone was out of order for nearly a week recently.  I missed the landline only for daily talks with my mother in Atlanta.  What a golden silence ensued, with the absence of calls from Unknown and Unavailable.  A mute phone, much like a sleeping child, can be such a pleasure.  I could expect no appeals for questionable charities, no reminders to schedule unneccesary service for this or that appliance, no giddy voices informing me of a life-changing message from my carpet cleaning company or that I’d won a Caribbean  cruise.  No hale and hearty howdy-dos, no manglings of my first name.  No calls requesting “The Lady of the House.”  She’s not here, Sir, but I can put you on with the Lady of the Lake. 

All too soon, and all too often, the phone was ringing again, the same unwelcome numbers popping up.  What to do?  Try to ignore the ringing, let the machine pick up.  Hear our greeting, hear the caller click off, followed by a loud dial tone.  No message, of course.  Or quickly answer the phone and just as quickly hang up.  Or pick up the receiver, say nothing, put it down, walk away.  None of these approaches offers much satisfaction, and each time, the call is a distraction.  Annoyance intensifies.   

It got me reminiscing.  During my college days at UGA, a common practice to avoid studying was the group prank phone call.  Hanging around the dorm on a Tuesday night, we’d look through the Freshman register, pick out a cute unknown guy, call him up and make outlandish conversation.  Typically the boy on the other end was happily willing to play the game, intrigued by possible evidence of female interest.  This was, of course, back in the day of the campus phone system, with no caller ID.  Another wholesome pastime made obsolete by cell phones.  We were often on the receiving end of such calls, and we were more than ready.  My friends and I were creative.  We were well-versed in winging it.  We were experts in nonsensical, playfully belligerent banter. 

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In my Rutherford Hall dorm room, with resident partners in crime.  The black wall-mounted rotary phone at the left was a source of much amusement.   

Maybe it’s time to turn the tables on unwanted callers.  It wouldn’t be as much fun as in the old days.  But nothing now is as much fun as it was back then. 

What to do?  Telemarketers make unwelcome demands on our time.  Why not make unwelcome demands on their time? 

Telemarketers’ questions are unfailingly annoying.  Why not annoy them right back?  Perhaps with a survey.  Surveys are ubiquitous, and almost always bothersome.  Express interest in a product online, and a survey pops up.  Buy an item, and the surveys never cease.  Schedule a service call for your disabled washer, and you’ll soon be pestered by recordings inquiring about your degree of satisfaction in scheduling the appointment.  If you’re lucky enough to get the appliance fixed, you’ll be endlessly harassed to rate the technician’s promptness, politeness and level of expertise.  After our phone service was restored, I received multiple entreaties on both landline and cell phone: Tell us how we did! How can we serve you better?  By never calling again, that’s how.   If you were doing really well, I wouldn’t have needed to call in the first place.   

Another ongoing annoyance is the constant volley of ludicrous comments and claims in this Presidential primary season.  What could be more annoying to callers than my asking them to participate in a brief political survey?  It’s doubtful they’d listen.  They’d hang up on me.  Imagine that! 

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  Another photo from the old days. My roommate Pam and I at a Rutherford-Myers red, white and blue party, probably about to respond critically to a remark made by track-suited fellow student. 

Back then, we were always honing the craft of repartee. 

Next up:   The Survey

Before the Blizzard, A Treacherous Drive

In my last post I wrote about what was, for my family, quite a lovely blizzard.  But a sudden snow two days before the storm had less than lovely effects. 

All focus was on the massive, looming storm.  Forecasters noted, as an afterthought, the possibility of snow showers, perhaps a “dusting,” on Wednesday evening before the blizzard.  It was presented as insignificant, a non-event.  There seemed to be no reason to reschedule the planned Church Council meeting.  But by 6:30 that frigid evening, snow was falling in fat flakes and accumulating quickly.  My daughter observed, with some concern, that cars negotiating the sharp turn in front of our house were creeping along.  When traffic slows down here in Northern Virginia, we take notice.     

But I wasn’t going to overreact.  I was no longer a novice at snow driving.  I still tend to avoid it if possible, but I’ve had some practice and years of good advice from my Rochester-bred husband.  When I left for the meeting, I was surprised to find myself behind a line of cars moving at a snail’s pace.  Surely they were being overly cautious, I thought.  But before long, even at that slow crawl, I felt my car beginning to slide.  It was evident that the roads hadn’t been pretreated; there was not a trace of salt or sand.  The trip was just short of a nail biter.  All through the meeting I kept an anxious eye on the falling snow.  How much worse could the roads get?  It probably wouldn’t be that bad, I kept telling myself.

Just before 9, I texted my family from the slippery snow-covered church parking lot.  I would start for home, but I could tell it was going to be no easy ride.  It was only three miles, but over old country roads that were notoriously narrow, steep and twisting.  H and D both responded immediately.  From H: he could come get me if I’d rather not attempt the drive.  The roads were slick; they were bad on his drive home at 7.  From D: the street in front of our house was a sheet of ice covered by powdery snow.  Oh my.  I’d start out anyway, and see how far I got.  I was glad I’d worn my snow boots, dressed warmly and put a blanket in the car. 

Usually, I find that the worry over an anticipated event is far worse than the actual event.  In this case, the real thing was at least ten times as bad.  That drive home is best described as absolutely treacherous.  It was a combination of gridlock and out-of-control thrill ride.  Traffic inched along hesitantly, stopped periodically, then inched along again.  Maintaining momentum uphill was tricky.  It was difficult to adhere to one of H’s most frequently repeated snow tips: increase your speed as you approach a hill.  If you take it too slowly, you’ll get stuck!  Not sliding sideways downhill was nearly impossible, no matter how slow the speed.  Several times I considered leaving my car on a side street and starting to walk. 

At one narrow turn in the road, we were stopped for such a long time that I got out and picked my way along the side to see what was going on.  The car ahead of me was poised at the top of a steep, twisting hill.  The driver said she was waiting for traffic to clear, since her car handled badly in snow.  Two vehicles had been lodged at odd angles farther down the hill and were just getting disentangled.  Once back in my car, I watched as the driver ahead began her descent.  She immediately skidded sideways, but was able to maneuver back on the right track without too much difficulty.  Suddenly, she was gone.  She’d made it down the hill and up the next.  It was my turn.  My antilock brakes, fortunately, were in good shape.  Somehow I managed to avoid drifting into a ditch or a stranded car, of which there were many.  Thankfully, the car behind me gave me plenty of time to take the hill on my own.   

When I pulled into the driveway, my heart racing, H was outside waiting.  He’d been half-expecting my call for help. 

I was among the lucky ones.  My drive, though frightening, didn’t take very long, and I arrived safely, my car intact.  Many drivers in the area were stranded for hours.  The beltway was an ice-bound parking lot.  Hundreds of traffic accidents were reported.  City and county governments made profuse apologies.  They repeatedly promised far better road prep for the coming storm.  

Lessons were learned, it would seem.  Well before the first blizzard flake fell, roads were treated, and plows were at the ready.  Once the snow began in earnest, the roads were relatively quiet.  Most drivers heeded the message of Wednesday night and left work in plenty of time, or never left home that morning.  I’ve learned a lesson:  If snowflakes are falling on untreated local roads, I won’t be at the meeting.  Let’s just cancel that meeting. 

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This was the snow that caused all the problems. 

It doesn’t look menacing, does it? 

Assessing the Storm

An unaccustomed sight appeared throughout Northern Virginia today:  school buses.   Due to the blizzard and what should have been an inconsequential “dusting” that preceded it, schools were closed for seven days.  During the final two weeks of January, with the snow, the MLK holiday and a teacher workday, school was in session for one day only.  During times such as this, I’m especially thankful that I like my daughter.  And while it makes me sound cold and unloving, I’m glad she’s not younger.  How pleasant it is that my constant accompaniment for her every snow venture is no longer required.   

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Our family’s winter storm experience was, all in all, quite enjoyable.  As blizzards go, it was a good one, at least for us.  I know there were others who weren’t nearly so lucky.  It was forecasted accurately and well in advance, allowing plenty of prep time.  The snow began right on schedule, at 1 PM on a Friday.  I was back home after a second shopping trip for those “just in case” provisions.  School had been canceled, allowing my daughter plenty of time to meet friends for an early lunch.  She was anticipating not seeing non-neighborhood buddies for a while.  Even my husband arrived home from the office well before the snow started to accumulate. 

The snow fell according to plan, persistently and without a break, until the following evening.  This wasn’t a showy storm.  The flakes were small but steady.  Saturday brought some wind, but no howling gales.  And most important:  our area never lost power.  We had heat, light, hot water and all those interior comforts that are especially cherished when the weather outside is icy. 

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My husband was ready with the snow blower he’d bought just after the Blizzard of 2010.  He was told he’d probably never need something that big down here in Virginia.  He wanted it anyway.  Growing up in Rochester, he dreamed of owning a powerful, sleek snow blower the way some kids dream of owning a Maserati. 

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In this case, it was a dream worth realizing.  The big blower came in very handy.

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H cleared our long driveway.  He opened up walkable paths between our house and those of our neighbors on each side.  (If you’ve ever tried body-plowing through twenty-eight inches of snow, you know it’s not easy.)   He then cleared our neighbors’ long driveways. 

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He opened up a path on a side street that was untouched by plows for several days.  He continued up and down that street until he’d cleared a lane wide enough for a car to pass through. This photo, taken by my daughter, shows how the sharply cut snow sections resemble two huge layers of angel food cake. 

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Here he is, returning from a full day of snow blowing, the afternoon sun’s rays falling on him like a benediction.  You could say that all this work could have been accomplished by shoveling.  That might be theoretically true, but it would have required far more helping hands and strong backs than were available.  Plus many, many additional hours.  His work was all the more valuable because it would be several more days before the streets into our neighborhood would be approached by snow plows. 

With every gathering storm, I’ve always been grateful that I can ride it out with a snow management and removal expert by my side.  This was certainly true during the Blizzard of 2016.  A good boy from Rochester is indeed a good thing. 

Once Again, Truly Big Snow

 

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The last snowflakes of the Blizzard of 2016 (aka Winter Storm Jonas) fell five days ago, on Saturday evening.  According to careful measurements by my husband and daughter, we got about twenty-eight inches.  Most of the snow remains very much with us, in far less attractive configurations than the graceful, pristine drifts in which it fell. 

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Last winter brought frequent snows to Northern Virginia, as my ten snow day posts of 2015 attest.  (See here and here.)  But we haven’t had a truly stupendous snow event  in five years.  In December 2009 and February 2010 we were treated to nearly back-to-back blizzards.   My daughter has been wishing for a similarly substantial storm ever since.  She likes her snow measured in feet.  She delights in tossing out the expected routines of daily life for all-consuming, all-day snow play and management.  To her credit, she pitches in with the digging out.  And the inconveniences that massive snows may bring: they’re simply part of the adventure.  What she recalls most distinctly about our loss of electricity during the 2010 storm was using the grill to melt butter for birthday cake icing. 

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Here she is, barely visible atop a snow mountain at the Reston Town Center after the February 2010 storm. 

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And, after the more recent storm, atop a snow pile in the parking lot of a local shopping center.  I guess she’ll always love to climb snow piles.   

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On a snow mound at our house during the Blizzard of 2010.

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And two days ago, with Kiko on a similar mound in the same place, after the latest storm.  Big Snow, happy kid. 

Christmas Eve 2015: Magic in the Live Nativity

039Christmas Eve is here again.  Much like last year, the day is wet, cloudy, and unseasonably warm.  It’s time again for the live nativity at our church.  The baby Jesus, of course, is the real star of the show, but he’s small.  The camel, however, is quite large, and he tends to be the traffic-stopper.  Last year, our camel was not Samson, who was busy elsewhere, but his colleague Zeke.  Zeke enjoyed kneeling in the mud, and he therefore appeared in many selfies.  

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Kiko had the privilege of meeting Zeke, since the camel leaned down for a hello sniff.  The year before, Samson stood so tall and aloof that Kiko never seemed to notice him. 

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We also welcomed this little ox and burro, as well as a sheep and a goat.  I’m hoping we’ll see the whole gang again today.

If you have the opportunity to experience a live nativity in your area, I advise you not to miss it.  The shepherds and kings may be rag-tag; the baby Jesus may be a doll; Mary and Joseph may be played by a teenaged brother and sister.  With luck, there will be a few real animals.  I hope you get to meet a camel, an elegant and surprisingly sweet regal creature. 

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Give the humble tableau a chance, and perhaps, unexpectedly, your heart will be touched.  The make-shift nativity could speak to you of a God who turns the world upside down, who sent his own Son to live among us, in the mud and grit, to suffer and die, just as we must do, to wipe away our sin and invite us into the heavenly fold.  There is a chance that you might be overwhelmed by a sense of majesty.  Stranger things have happened, after all, on Christmas. 

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May you rejoice in the off-key songs of the tinsel-haloed angels with their awkward cardboard wings.  May you feel the power of the light in the darkness, the divine, holy light that will never be extinguished.  No matter what.  No matter what.  Amen. 

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For a previous Christmas Eve post, with more about that light in the darkness, see here.    

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