In the Midst of COVID

COVID-19 is here. We are in the thick of it in Maryland. Our governor has just announced we will be at home and schools will be closed until May 15th.

I highly doubt that, come May 16th, we will be free to join crowds, hug strangers, and go back to our favorite restaurants. I think it’s going to be longer than that. A lot longer.

And it will be okay.

Would I like to go out and get sushi with my friends? Or go and see the new Marvel movie in the theater? You bet I would. But there will be other times for that. Right now, we need to listen to the CDC and stay away from each other. COVID-19 is highly dangerous and very deadly. As much as I would like to go back to my parents’ house and use this time as an extended vacation with them, I can’t. It’s too dangerous to their health.

But I have a secret. While my friends are posting about the horrors of having your kids around you 24/7, I have found this time of enforced togetherness a kind of blessing, similar to our time in Switzerland. We had nothing to do, nowhere to go, nowhere we have to rush to be. Instead of rushing, my family has gotten a chance to breathe and just be together. We are playing games, having reading time, adventuring in the unknown of online learning, and getting to experience the regular occurrence of family meal times.

It turns out I like my kids. They are turning into neat people to talk to. I hope they think I’m a pretty good listener with a few cool things to share.

Please stay well and healthy. Be safe and be smart.


Somethings really do need explanation

Let me recount a phone conversation I had the other day.

“Hello, ____ Vet Hospital, can I help you?”

“Yes. I need to make an appointment for our new kitten.”

“Great! Last name?”


“And the pet’s name?”

“Lord Durin Thunderbolt Orc Slayer.”

“…..  Say again?”

“Lord. Durin. Thunderbolt. Orc. Slayer.”

“Lord? -”

“Durin Thunderbolt Orc Slayer. Tell you what. Let’s keep this simple. Let’s just go with Durin Orc Slayer.”

“Durin Pork Player?”

“No, Orc and Slayer. As in ‘you slay me’.”

“Ooooookaaaaayyy. I’m gonna write this down and if you need to change anything when you come in you just let the person at the front desk know.”

“No probs. We’ll see you Sunday.”

And here he is! Lord Durin Thunderbolt Orc Slayer Carlson! Our new family member!

When we got to the vet the front desk manager and the vet tech giggled and claimed to love his name; calling it “the best name I’ve heard in awhile.” The vet was completely unphased by the name, but right at the end of the visit he asked about it which means that, really, he’d been dying to know for the entire check-up.

Our home has been orc-free for 2 weeks now. He is constantly on patrol for orcs, pouncing on feet that might be orcs at 3am and racing around the house in order to guard the perimeter at all times. He is earning that high-quality kibble!

He joins our sons and our other kitten, the luxurious and succinctly named, Albus.

SFC Trip to Banff, Part 2

In my last post I told you all about fishing and hiking around Lake Louise. It was beautiful. Now I’m going to introduce you to Johnston Canyon and the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel.

After the big hike at Lake Louise we (I) wanted something a little flatter (for my knee). Barbara and I bent over a map with our coffees and found the Johnston Canyon hike and – if we (the kids) were up to it – continuing on to the Ink Pots.

Johnston Canyon is an extremely popular hike because of the flatness, well maintained trails, and incredible grandeur payoff in the views of the lower and upper waterfalls. It’s only a half mile to the lower falls and another mile further to the upper falls. So a really doable and quick hike. People any fitness of ability level (including crutches or wheelchair) can go on these trails. If you want/need to park close get there before 9am. If you don’t you’ll have to park in the over-flow parking or along the road. My knee was pretty stiff and I had very little problem. The kids bounded ahead with Mark racing after them.

I was actually glad to be going a little slowly because it was so freakin’ beautiful.

The Canadian National Parks have taken special care to put in these walkways that (a) even the terrain and (b) let you walk almost over the top of the creek bed.

The water had that wonderful blue color that glacial water has. It was the same color as the Rhine River.

There are plenty of waterfall along the way. Shorter. Wider. Not quite a grand as the lower falls, but very beautiful.

And then you come to the lower falls. You can tell it’s the lower falls because you run into a bit of a traffic jam. People patiently wait in line to get a view and plenty of pictures of the falls. It is worth the wait.

From here you can go up a steeper incline (you’ve only gone about 30 meters up so far) and get to the upper falls. My knee wasn’t up for that so I waited by this wonderful view contemplating life and the existence of everything as they went on to the upper falls.

Mark and the others reported the upper falls were beautiful. You can see that this is a view of the same “lower falls” just at a higher point on the trail. It really puts into perspective just how tall these falls are.

We didn’t get to the Ink Pots – deep pools of water along the river that flows to the falls – unfortunately. Perhaps this means I’ll go back again sometime to see them. There were also other trails we wanted to hike but didn’t have time for, like the C Level Cirque, the Banff Cave and Basin National Historic Site, the Upper Hot Springs, the Banff Gondola… and that’s just in Banff! Jasper and Canmore are just a short drive away. Up there you can hike on the Columbia Ice Field, Burgess Pass, and the Bow Valley Provincial Park. Even that still only scratches the surface!

Our travel companions continued on and experienced Jasper and bears!

But before they had an encounter with a grizzly we went to check out some of the most luxurious accommodations in Banff. And, arguably, all of Western Canada: The Fairmont Banff Springs.

Mark’s dad had told us about it when we were talking about our upcoming trip. Back in the 1880s a guy named (Sir) William Cornelius Van Horne became the president of the Canadian Pacific Railway and oversaw the development and completion of the trans-Canadian Railway. One of the things he and other railway VIPs loved was the beauty that was surrounding the construction path of the railway. Being not completely stupid, they also saw a money making opportunity knocking on their door.

Tourism. And if you have tourism you’re going to need hotels.

If you want the RICH tourists you’re going to need really, really nice hotels.

And this hotel is stunning. The guidebooks tell us that it was built in a Scottish Baronial Style because apparently Banff, Canada is named in honor of Banff, Scotland. The building as it is today (which I am given to understand is a bit different than the original structure) looks like late-19th century castle.

Here is a picture from the Banff Springs website….

We admired it for a while in temporary parking – they have free 10-min parking set aside for touristic gawking – and decided (a) we really would like to see the inside and (b) we also needed a snack. So I said I’d check it out and apparently walked in like I owned the place.

The inside was absolutely gorgeous. Grand. Magnificent. You can tell their guests are the rich, famous, and royalty. They have guest rooms, suites, and then the “gold” experience. I will never be rich enough for the gold experience.

They really feel their Scottish heritage. The Tartan rugs. The bluestone walls (very like the stone you find in Scotland). And several paintings by Scottish artists of both the Canadian and Scottish Banffs. Even the porters wear kilts.

Now that they are open year-round I imagine those kilts become slightly drafty around January.

We could have gone for the Rocky Mountain Afternoon Tea at $49 per person ($24.50 per child), however, given the hiking ensembles we were wearing and how we probably smelled we decided to go to the small cafe at the end of the grand hall.

If the drinks and treats available at the cafe were any indication afternoon tea would have been spectacular.  There were individual tiramisus,  creme brulee, mini fruit tarts, fresh croissants, pain au chocolate, … you name it, that had it. And every non-alcoholic beverage you could want. About 30 different kinds of teas, 4 different coffees, 10 different types of coffee drinks, fresh juices, and about 7 different kinds of bottled waters.

We picked our desserts and drinks and sat at long tables that reminded me of old library tables with lights wired into the middle of them. It was fun and we had a really nice little snack in the midst of incredible opulence.

Re-energized, Barbara and I went shopping and the boys went out and found the candy store. Banff had your normal touristy stores, but also had some galleries that showcased beautiful works of art – European and First Nation. I came away with a couple of pieces to decorate our new house. Now I just have to find a frame…

Banff is a great place for families to go. It doesn’t have the tourism crush that places like the Grand Canyon and Yosemite can have, but it does have a variety of amenities that ensure hikers of all ages will have a great time. I highly recommend it!


The Swiss Family Carlson go to Banff!!

Just when you thought our travels were over, we went off to Banff, the onomatopoeiadic capital of Canada. It’s the sound an exclamation mark should make. It’s also one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The trip got all planned when I was on a Skype call with my friend Barbara. As you may recall she was our downstairs neighbor and became one of my best friends. She taught me how to make rösti and shared Epiphany cake with us. She and her family were going to go on a vacation in North America. Specifically Canada. And even more specifically the Canadian Rockies in the Banff/Jasper area. For 3 weeks, because Europe cares about their working people and know that everyone needs a long vacation break in order to come back rested and reset.

But for us this would be a vacation of 3.3 actual days. Because we’re American. We would get into Calgary in the early afternoon and drive the 1.5 hours to Banff in a really swanky Fiat 500x rental car that Avis swears is a “mid-sized car.” (I am really liking their definition of mid-sized. The Fiat 500x is definitely on my list of Cars To Buy.)

The drive was promising. The car was smooth and the landscape promised some grandeur.

Our hotel was actually a sort of condo complex called The Hidden Ridge Resort. It was very resort-y in that it had a pool and a hot tub and featured a lot of redwood beam-type architecture. The room we reserved was the most basic you could find there – a one bedroom condo with kitchenette and living room (I think the pictures of are our actual room!). It had a nicely sized range, a microwave, a coffee pot, a hot pot, a full-sized fridge with freezer, and all the pots, pans, and dishware you would need for a family of 8.


Their mascot was a bear.

In our case we were a family of 4 with another family of 4 who was camping near by. We cooked dinner at the condo several times and had breakfast there every morning. That was perfect, actually. We didn’t have to worry about where we would get food first thing in the morning and we would sit pouring over our maps deciding which hike to take while comfortably sipping our coffee. And then in the evening when we were wiped out we could fire up the grill and sit at a comfortable table having burgers, sausages, salad, and beer and chatting for as long as we wanted. It was 5 times the comfort at about a third of the price of eating out.

Everyday we tried to see something new. Banff was full of wondrous view and beautiful hikes for people of all ability levels. The easy hikes were the most crowded so I was glad that all of us were at about an intermediate hiking level. Well, really Richard and Barbara and their boys are advanced hikers and climbers and they were very gracious about us holding them back for the first 3 days of their Canadian vacation. But every hike was more beautiful than the last.

The first day the 4 boys requested that we go fishing. Now I have been fishing ever since I was 2 years old – In fact, the night before my wedding my dad took me out to our river fishing spot and he and I caught catfish in the dark – so I knew what I was doing in the fishing department. I was actually the only one who knew what they were doing. It was a little scary.

I had found this shop called Wilson Mountain Sporting Goods online. They were right by Lake Louise and had fishing tackle for rent for $9CAD per day. They also have bikes, mountain bikes, climbing gear, and bear spray for rent.

Yes, bear spray.

This was a big deal around Banff. There are grizzly bears there. Big ones. And they are very active. Just this April, a grizzly chased a woman and her dogs down a path in Banff and then in May, a grizzly chased a couple of people and their dog for 20 minutes until they made it to a Parks’ truck where they hid until the bear left. Just about every camping and hiking supply store in and around Banff sell or rent bear spray. Barbara bought two canisters at a whopping $40 each, but if you think about it, $40 is quite a low price to save yourself from being mauled by a bear.

Not that we saw any during our hikes.

But I digress… We were fishing!

The gentlefolk at Wilson Mountain rented us 4 poles and then I bought some spinners and hooks to help actually catch the fish. Lures are not included in the rental of the poles. Then we walked across the parking lot and bought our fishing license from the Parks service station. We got a nice map and some descriptions of the local lakes and the fish therein.

Right down the road and just off of a railroad depot was a river spot that our helpful Parks guide assured us was (a) a good spot for fishing and (b) devoid of people at this time of day. He also circled a few more locations to try should this spot on the Bow River not pan out.

The Bow River has Cutthroat Trout, Bull Trout (which I had never heard of), Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Mountain Whitefish. We caught a bunch of rocks instead.

So we moved on to Emerald Lake, which our guide assured us was also great for taking kids fishing. Emerald Lake had all the trout that the Bow River had and none of the Whitefish.  The boys perfected their casting technique and their patience.

But we didn’t mind too much. It was just so gorgeous. The water is actually emerald green. Mark took two of the 4 boys out in a canoe. Emerald Lake is one of those lakes in the Yoho National Park were you can rent canoes right along with some fishing poles. Our guide told us that Emerald Lake is a great spot for kids and for beginning fisher-people.

There was also a hike along the edge of the lake that was about (if I recall correctly) 2.5 miles around. The route was flat and practically paved so it’s perfect for novice hikers or people with kids. And you don’t get nearly the traffic that you see at the more popular lakes. We walked up to the resort that is just up the hill and over looking the lake. There is a cafe and a restaurant there that serves ice cream, sandwiches, and hot tea, along with fuller meals and adult beverages.

After a whole day of fishing and being surrounded by beauty we called it a day and went out to eat. The restaurant scene in Banff is quite varied. You can get just about anything there, from some lovely Indian curry to shawarma to hamburgers. The kids were all very pleased. And as our hotel has a grill and a kitchen we ended up going to the grocery store and making the rest of our dinners in the leisurely comfort of our condo.

The next day we were back out and put in a full day of hiking!

The consensus was that you can’t go to the Banff and not see Lake Louise. There are buses and tours and copious amounts of overflow parking. The crowds are thick and people cover the lawn of the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.

Lake Louise is actually at the start of the trails. The parking lot is right there and if your goal is to just see LL then there is no hiking necessary. However, if you want to hike there are two different trails available.

The first trail goes right around the lake and then up along a ridge and to a tea house. The trail is an easy 5.3 km long and keep you right on the edge of the lake. It’s a very popular trail and has foot traffic that rivals the busiest New York sidewalk.

Given that we didn’t come to Banff to be in crowds of people we opted for the less busy trail up to Lake Agnes and Big Beehive.

Both trails start at the same place, but about 200 meters in they split and the Lake Agnes trail starts going uphill and slightly away from the lake. It’s a 5.5 km hike so almost the same distance as the Lake Louise trail and it also takes you to a neat tea house that sits just above the shore.

Before you get to Lake Agnes, though, you are treated to the incredible Mirror Lake.

Not to be confused with the Mirror Lake in Yosemite, this Mirror Lake is a very small lake that is mostly a pass-by destination as hikers make their way up to the must larger Lake Agnes. We took a minute there to rest, drink some water, and eat some gummy bears.

You also get an early view of the Big Beehive mountain. It rises out of the trees like some kind of bee skyscraper. And people climb this. People like Mark and our friends. But I am getting ahead of myself. We haven’t reached Lake Agnes yet.

We had another kilometer uphill to go. And it was worth the hike.

The tea house is a neat little building right at the front edge of the lake. While the others went up to the top of the Big Beehive, I stayed with the boys and we played along the water’s edge at the opposite side of the lake before heading back to the tea house and having a lovely pot of tea. The boys chowed down on chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate. The others joined us before long and we all had a nice cup of tea. It was only 65-70F at that altitude (yes, that is snow in one of the photos above) so something hot was very welcome.

There is even a tea house challenge! You have to visit both tea houses at Lake Louise and Lake Agnes. The guide books tells us that you can connect the two Tea Houses by the Highline trail to form a 14.6 km loop. It takes a minimum of 5 hours of hiking to complete. If you are in good shape and don’t stop for tea.

The walk down to the parking lot was steep, but easy. My knee gave me some trouble when I was about 3/4 of the way down, but I would recommend this hike for someone who is in okay condition. And I would also recommend hiking poles if you aren’t in the best of shape. The boys didn’t have a problem at all. They didn’t even complain for the entire day!

(Well, H complained later and said that it was boring. We asked him what would make hikes more interesting and he said, “Not going on them.” We continue to campaign for the benefits of hikes.)

As our friend said, if you come to Banff you must see Lake Louise. It was such a remarkable hike and the woods was so beautiful and peaceful.  And in the next blog post I’ll tell you all about our hike along Johnson Canyon and show you the impressive Fairmont Banff Springs.


Transforming the House into Our Home (with Chandelier Update!)

The move has happened!! It was weeks of taking small loads in our minivan and then a long and hard 4 days of “real” moving with a moving truck (and a few very excellent friends), but we managed to clear out our rental house and move to our new home.

Our house looks like Boxlandia rather than the Carlson Household, but we are starting to win the battle on the boxes. With my Mom’s help I got the kitchen tackled first. Then we moved into the dining room and got the bedrooms sorted out.

I even got my youngest’s room finished! He’d picked out a Marrakesh stencil pattern he wanted done on one wall in yellow and grey. Stenciling is trickier – and slower – than it seems. You can only do so many repeats at a time until you have to stop and let the stencil dry out. If you don’t, you risk having wet paint smeared across the lovely grey surface that you’d just gotten all nice and pristine.

Considering I could only do about 3 or 4 stencils in a session, it took me over a week to get his wall done. But it is spectacular! He is so pleased. “It turned out better than I imagined it could.” The boy sure knows how to get me willing to commit to more fussy projects.

The unpacking is a constant chore. Just this week I finally got the boxes unpacked in the living room. Now it is clean! And I feel calm – or at least a lack of stress – when I sit in the room.

Today I went down to the basement and got some entertainment gear out and put away – dishes, glasses, grilling equipment, etc. And now we can see most of the bar top. The likelihood of having a housewarming is looking better and better.

I also got a new TV stand delivered! And it was brought as an actual piece of furniture. Not a flat box with pieces of MDF that I had to put together myself. The boys were delighted to help get the television set up on top and then, with the unerring accuracy of a bloodhound on the trail of an unwashed convict, they found the Wii in the bottom of some random box and got it set up to play in record time.

This inspired Mark to get his stereo equipment out and set up as a unit with the TV as well. We are almost ready to start having family movie nights again!

And then there is the CHANDELIER!! We have a winner and it isn’t anything that we thought we’d get. But that’s what happens when you walk into a lighting store to check out a your two favorites in person and end up hating them. This is (a) round and with (b) gold tones. Two things that would never, ever be in my Boolean search parameters. But I ended up really liking it.

What we have left are the rooms that are easy to avoid. Like the office and a section of the basement family space where I avert my eyes as I pass by to get the laundry. Many of the boxes are full of mementos. Or things that we shoved in there in moments of desperation during any one of our last 3 moves that would should now really and painstakingly go through and purge.

And on top of that there is the decorating aspect of making this house into a home. Pictures to hang. Mirrors to position. Furniture to nest (and purchase). The foyer needs painting, too. There was a great hanging shelf in there that the previous owners took with them. I filled the holes and I need to repaint the wall to cover some other incidental scratches and dings. And I would LOVE to find a shelf like it again.

And clearly I need to buy another orchid. And a basket.

But we are far enough along that I can look forward to an actual house warming party! The plans are in the works and we would love to have you all over to see the house once we are finished unpacking. xoxo

The Move has Begun!

OMG, people! It’s official! We can finally move into our house!!

I’m going to hyperventilate and faint.

The previous owners have just moved out and as of this week we can start bringing boxes into the house. And boy! do we have boxes!

We didn’t bother to unpack most – at least I hope it’s most because otherwise we need a more stringent purge and some counseling sessions about our consumerism – of our possessions because we knew that the stop at this rental house was blessedly temporary. That is saving us tons of time.

All 4 of us stopped by on Sunday and dropped off a few things. Rugs mostly and a small cafe table with 2 chairs. Oh, and H took a literal armload of his stuff animal menagerie and dropped them into the closet in his new room.  Then he changed his mind about our building him bookshelves and a window seat and instead requested a desk, bookcase, and comfy chair. He also changed his mind about which wall he wants the Moroccan tile stencil to be painted on. 3 times! And the more I look at his walls the more I think I kind of want to just put a fresh coat of paint on them and the trim.

E has also been dictating his hopes for his room, too. So far there is teal, a red star, and really dark grey walls. I’m trying to counsel him out of the dark grey walls and into a lighter shade of grey, but he is unmoved. I also tried to explain that his room will look like a dark cave if we painted it that grey color. “I like caves,” was the reply.

I’m moving the wine over next.

We still have miles of books that need to find their way over as well. Some of them might go with me when we do our final walk-through with our real estate agent, Rob Spicer. He’s been so fantastic. Very warm and approachable. I’ve felt like I can call him anytime with any questions I might have and he’ll either know the answer or know where he can find the answer.

My plan for completing the moving in is to take a load over every day in the mini van and to pack 3 boxes everyday – if possible. It is the end of the school year and “things happen” so I’m not sure if I can actually meet my goal, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I may swap “pack 3 boxes” for “purge a bag” on some days. And I do need to give myself at least 2 days to paint. Or probably 4 days to paint. Which will turn into 8 days.

Then we will have a big push and get a moving truck right after the kids are finished with school. Following all that up will be a group of professional movers to help with the big heavy stuff like the sleeper sofa and the filing cabinet.

And there is something that happens when you move. You start seeing your furniture and your style differently. I’m looking at our couches, chairs, rugs, and even throw pillows in a new and highly critical light. Is this neutral brown color what I really want to see all day everyday? Is there another color that will go with our crazy couch? Should I recover the couch? Is now the time to fix the dining room table? What is the real aesthetic I’m going for?

I’ve even subscribed to a decorating magazine to help give me some ideas and direction. And with all that I have a huge and growing list of “should Is” and “I shoulds”. It’s a bit terrifying. And potentially expensive. But this feels like the time to do at least some of the list. It feels like a Fresh Start Moment. It feels buoyant and hopeful and like I’m about to complete a very long journey. Like this squeezing of my chest is just about to stop.

Let’s see what we can make of it.

Time to move some boxes.




Things are crazy here. Spring break was a disaster. We were supposed to fly back to Iowa and Minnesota and got caught in that whole Delta Flight-Canceling Fiesta that was going on. We were there. Ready to go. Bag checked. Mickey-D’s food choked down. And then ….

Flight canceled.

We were alerted to this fact by a woman behind us yelling FFFUUUUCCCCKKKKKKK!!!!!! At the top of her lungs.

Eyes swiveled to her and then towards what she was looking at, eyes and mouth twisted up into full-on bitch-face mode.

CANCELED flashed next to our flight number and the fine print below informed us we would be rescheduled to the next available flight. Yeah, right. If the 100 foot-long line at the customer service desk – evidence of the previous day’s cancellations – in the check-in area of the airport was any indicator the next available flight would be in June.

A seismic groan echoed through the concourse and a gate attendant clicked on his microphone. His tone as he went through the typical apology was only quasi-apologetic and mostly pissed off. This had been going on for days and, as he peevishly told us, “I was here for 16 hours yesterday and I’ve been here for 8 already.” So buckle up.

I immediately called Delta’s help line and was just as instantaneously put on hold. Seeing no hope there I got up and stood in the line for Mr. Cheerful.  As I stood there watching our hopes for seeing our family fly away, Delta cheerfully told me all the ways that I spend more money with them. Not bloody likely, Delta.

I actually reached Mr. Cheerful before I was helped on the phone. I suspect everyone in the help room was cowering under their desks and waiting to wake up from this nightmare and no one was getting help anywhere.  He gave an attempt at a gracious smile as he asked what he could do for me. I told him I needed re-booking for 3 tickets.

He turned white and broke into a sweat. Then he literally rubbed his face with his hands and said, “Oh, God.” Then he clacked some keys and looked at me with a severely down-turned mouth. “I can’t get you out until Monday afternoon. Maybe. At the earliest.” This was a Friday and we only had a week of break to see 2 different families and there was driving to do in the middle.

So we had to cancel.

Everyone was devastated. But we did try to make the best of our now stay-cation. They had a fine time with museums and movies and sleeping in. But it wasn’t the same.

And then, instead of blog (I’m stuck on a Berkeley Chronicle), I got focused on a new project of summarizing some conference videos (more on that in another post), getting pre-schoolers enrolled in Rock Creek, and writing another 2 or 3 parenting articles. All for pay.

In reality I did that for about 40% of my time. The rest of the time I read, watched movies, and cruised around home decorating sites fantasizing about my new house. I have narrowed it down on that chandelier – we have a top 4: 3, 5, 7 & 9 in case you are keeping score at home.  We need to go to a lighting store to see them in real life just to make sure. That might happen this weekend. Maybe.

The moving is going to happen soon! We can start at the end of the month! I already have some things in boxes – things we didn’t bother to unpack when we came back to America. I kind of feel ahead. It’s a luxurious illusion that will pop like a soap bubble in about 2 weeks. Then I will be scrambling to purge out what we don’t need and pack away what we don’t need right now.

We have the truck scheduled. And my parents are coming to watch the kids while we haul boxes and then drive that obscenely huge metal box on wheels to our new house and unload things. Mark is insisting I get a back brace. He has even threatened to get it for me for Mother’s Day. I asked for a Roomba instead.

In the meantime, I am getting the boys reassigned to new schools. (Oh, yeah! I have a phone call to return!) And I’m trying to put off buying anything large that has to be delivered until our new house is officially open to us and the previous owner has moved out. — Like a new bed for Mark and I. I am totally not moving that thing more than I have to.

But all this will be soon!! Soon! Soon! Soon!


And I promise that I will finish that Berkeley Chronicle and a couple other projects I’ve been working on for you. Uh … Soon.

Oh My Actual God! We Bought A House!

As you may recall, we had put an offer on a house and had it accepted. It was like my boyfriend and I deciding to go steady.

Well, today we got engaged!

I know, I know. We actually bought the house so shouldn’t it be the wedding? I’m waiting to declare nuptuals until after we move in. Which won’t be until June.

So. Engagement.

We had a walk-through of the house and I love it even more than I did when we had the inspection.  The room are generous, the ceilings are tall, the light streams in from every window no matter the time of day. I’ve been watching Grand Designs on Netflix and so I’m trying extra hard not to slip into hyperboles of sweeping vistas and the surprising cozy warmth inside an example of modern architecture.

I finally get to fantasize about decorating. About what kinds of flea market finds could look amazing right there. What kinds of floor layouts will allow the kids to gallop through the room without barking their shins.  Walking through the rooms I envisioned entertaining our book club. Having the girls over for sushi and wine. Grilling with friends on the massive gas grill that we are inheriting.

I eyeballed the space available for the chandelier.  “Eyeballed” because I forgot to bring a measuring tape. Of course. Mark, being taller, had a more level view and declared it 2 & 1/2 feet long. More on the chandelier will be coming in a future post.

I also got to explain some plans to Mark for a window seat in what will be H’s room, layout a wine cabinet, request several new bookcases, and figure out bed-to-room assignments.  (We will have a guest room.)  Ooo! And a really awesome idea that has been fermenting about a work space that can be disguised as art when company comes over.

And did I mention we have a cedar closet?? We do!!!!!

It was hard for us to leave the house and get to the signing. Well, it was hard for me. Mark had an agenda that included food before we showed up at our noon title appointment and so he sailed out of the house, pulling me along behind him. In just a bit of a similar fashion as when we walked down the aisle after saying “I do.”

We got our sandwiches at the cutest little market that is biking-distance away and headed to the title company where the most efficient and dapper man I’ve met since moving back from Switzerland greeted us and started walking us through signing about 50 different documents.

And one of the soon-to-be-previous owners was there, too! She was delightful. She and her husband are moving back to Holland for work. They were sad to be moving, but it’s to move back home so there is a bit of joy there, too. And I know exactly where she is coming from. We had a great conversation about moving overseas and kids and pets and Dutch architecture. It was lovely.

And she gave us a key.

To our house.

And before I knew it I had signed documents. One of which said that I have such aliases as Mark’s name and his mother’s name. Government at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.

Being pros at all this title stuff, they got our chatty and bewildered selves out of their building by shaking our hands, giving us a bottle of champagne they order by the crate, and pushing us to the elevator before we could wake up out of our fog of happiness.

And we were done! It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining. It was warm. We had champagne.

So we went home and drank it.

The whole bottle.

And we finished it just in time to stagger to the kids’ school and pick them up like the responsible, home-owning parents we are.

House Hunters: Maryland Edition

One year ago this week we were skiing in Kandersteg as a part of a typical day in our Swiss lives. Now we are almost 8 months into our lives back on the east coast of the United States.

And it seems we are likely to remain here.

Because we’re buying a house.

We originally moved here in 2001 for Mark’s career, so it’s not like this unexpected, but it does make me wonder: When does one become “from” somewhere? Are we marked as “from” a place because we are born there? Or is it after we’ve lived in a place for X number of years?

Our kids were born here. Their whole lives are in Maryland. They are “from” Maryland. Is that enough to anchor us and make us “from,” too?

These existential questions aside, we are buying a house here and it is such a lovely house.

isynknxtuikz6k1000000000You walk right from a small foyer into a large and open living room. The windows face west and get tons of light.

Then you can either go into the kitchen (complete with an induction burner range) …

or into the generously spaced dining room. (The chandelier does not convey.)

img_1010And we even have our own office space!

We have an embarrassing number of bedrooms – 5 in total. There are 4 on the main level and 1 on the lower level. The one the boys are fighting over has that neat built in “cozy spot” with the closets and shelves.

We have what I’m calling a lower level. “Finished basement” doesn’t seem to really convey the feeling of the space. The full-sized windows make it bright and airy. The faux wood floor and fireplace make it feel like a real living room. And the doors walk right out into a huge back yard with a large slate patio.

The laundry room is the only part of the house that feels kind of basement like. Even then it is dry and clean and has the potential to be another kitchen if we wanted.

Check out the back yard!


The boys have tons of room to run around like dogs! I’m already sketching out improvements in my mind. Like a pergola. And a veggie garden.

Hilariously, we can see the golden spires of the Mormon Tabernacle looming up from beyond the treeline in our back yard. Mark is hoping we can hear the choir from the yard.

We’ve already had the inspection and the results were great! There are just a few things we will have to do, but nothing horrendous, and nothing that would make us back away from the sale.

I will need to shop for a new chandelier and I will be exercising some non-existent design muscles in figuring out where our stuff needs to go and keep the house looking beautiful. I like antiques and I like finding potential diamonds-in-the-rough, which sometimes get rougher after I’ve worked on them. Stay tuned for all that hilarity.

We will settle at the end of March and move in after the boys have finished the school year.

But yay! A house!

Thank God It’s 2017

It’s a new year, people. The dumpster fire that was 2016 is over and we stand basking in the shiny new-ness and promise that is 2017.

I, for one, am full of the relief and hope that only a new beginning can bring.

2016 wasn’t all bad, though, and before I move on I want to acknowledge all the very good things that happened in my life that have been so totally overshadowed by the bad things snowballed down to catch me up and roll me down the mountain with it.

* I lived in Switzerland for half of this year. It was freakin’ fantastic. We gorged ourselves on some of the world’s best cheese and chocolate. We reveled in the beauty of the architecture and the ease of travel. We embraced simpler and European lifestyles.

* I feel happy in my writing. Really happy. It’s what I would prefer to be doing almost all the time. I constantly carry notebooks with me and jot down ideas, phrases, and characters. I made a conscious decision in 2016 to dedicate more time to writing. It helped me to find my voice and helped the words come more easily, which leads to more happiness. The constant practice has paid off in being published more often and in my blog being nominated for an award!

* I indulged in traveling. In this year alone I went through Iceland, Athens, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Iowa, Minnesota, and Southern California. I got to go to the Floyd County Fair for the first time in about 15 years and relive my youth through the eyes of my niece and nephews. I traveled to Hogsmeade with my boon companion, Margaret, and we frolicked in all things Harry Potter. I traveled. And I found glimpses of myself. And I decided that maybe travel wasn’t such an indulgence after all.

* We sold our house. It was relatively painless, although I bitched and moaned about the buyer a bit to Mark and any friend who would listen to me. They were awesome at giving a sympathetic nod and handing me a glass of wine. But the house sold! And in very little time, too. Which freed us up for more adventures.

And now, as I stare out across the – as of yet – unblemished field that is 2017, I am looking forward to accomplishing a few things.

* Buying a new house. We don’t know where, yet. There are heaps possibilities!  So many that it is a smidgen daunting, but also dreamily endless.

* Finishing writing a book. I am close, but oh so very, very far away. It might mean less blogging, but, oh! to finish a book! That is quite a dream.

* More travel! I already have trips planned to Northern California, Ontario, and Colorado. More are percolating around in my head. Maybe London? Perhaps Florida? Could a return to Spain be lurking?

* Purging and downsizing. As the boys get older they outgrow a lot of things – clothes, toys, games, to name a few categories.  And I outgrow things, too. There are things from storage I haven’t touched in almost 3 years now that need to go. I started the purge in 2014  and found the more crap I took out of the house the more peaceful and the happier I felt. With all the moves coming I am poised to continue purging. I doubt I’ll ever be finished.

But isn’t that life? To never be finished? To constantly move forward? Even if it is slowly? Even if the path is hard? Even if the path is leading you into places you never wanted to go? Isn’t is always to go ever forward and never back?

“Ever forward, never back” is actually mine and Shaun’s travel mantra, which might actually explain quite a bit of our misadventures. However, it is also a poem by Vince Gullaci. The poem is much more hopeful and less bumblingly intrepid than our mantra.

Our dreams
much more
than this
from stone
to sky
to what vaulted
sense of future
do our eyes scan forward
from this.

And so it is my wish for you, in this pristine 2017, that you scan the horizon and find a vaulted future for yourself to move boldly into.