2018 Manifesto

1. I will CALM DOWN about October. The arrival of fall fleece weather causes such a frenzy of excitement that I over-schedule every corner of October to take maximum advantage of no longer sweating the instant I open my front door. October then becomes this giant blur. It begins with a couple of mums on the front porch, a giant scarf around my neck and the first hot beverage of the season but it always seems to end in a frantic fit of exhaustion and shame when my kids find me shoving one more snack size Kit Kat in my mouth before I set fire to all of their Halloween candy whilst yelling, “WE FORGOT TO GO TO AN APPLE ORCHARD!” October is crafty in that it promotes itself as this super chill month full of deep breaths and crisp fall air but in actuality, you never stop moving the entire time before tumbling into November and then Thanksgiving which bleeds into the December holidays and then you wake up sometime in January five pounds heavier with wrapping paper stuck to your pajamas. It all begins innocuous enough. I’m on to you, October and I will not fall prey this year.

2. I will step away from the news at regular intervals so as not to fall into a pit of depression and despair, believing that the destruction of mankind is imminent and all hope has been lost.

3. I will invest in me.

*insert tremendous eyeroll here*

But, lo, I am firmly in my forties now and no longer as physically resilient as I once was. Basically, stuff on my person hurts. So, this year, I’m striving to fix what’s broken. That means, I’m going to wear the stupid brace at night to help alleviate the carpal tunnel syndrome I developed while growing three children with my body. I’m also going to do the stretching I’m supposed to do to help alleviate the plantar fasciitis I developed from excessive hiking to get some alone time away from the three children I grew with my body. I’m going to make the appointments and take the supplements and drink the water and get that weird bump behind my ear looked at so I can be as healthy as I can be for me and for the three children that wrecked everything when I grew them with my body.

4. I will finally figure out how to make the theme song from “Parks and Recreation” be my phone’s ringtone because it is delightful. I should probably ask Henry how to do this, better preparing him for the years and years he’ll spend down the road exasperatingly troubleshooting technology for his parents.

5. I will make a HUGE punch list of the home improvement items around this house that need to get accomplished so we can actually accomplish them. Bob and I talk all the time about our to-do list, casually mentioning over breakfast that the laundry room needs painting or the basement curtains are still waiting to be hung or the crack in the hallway needs patching. Frankly, someone needs to write all of this stuff down because we are easily distracted and inevitably one of us gets busy with something else or decides to take a nap or retreats with a book or goes shopping instead, forgetting all about the laundry room, the basement and the hallway. Then, the next weekend, we LITERALLY have the very same discussion about the things that need to get done around the house. It’s all very counter-productive. Bob asked for some sort of a master list some months ago so we can go room by room as time permits to complete the work and I love a good checklist so I’m going to make this happen. I’ll probably laminate it, to be honest.

6. I will show my kids new places and new things. As much as I love to lament parenthood, I think my kids are pretty much the coolest people on the planet. They’re so interesting and they love to learn and are so curious and they’re getting easier and more fun to take out in public. Bob set a goal of traveling into the city frequently this year to show them a new museum or exhibit and I’ve set a goal of two vacations with them to places that none of us have traveled before. This year, I really want to focus on more experiences and less stuff.

(I’m also in that post-Christmas deep regret stage as I try to organize and find space for the hoard of presents I brought into our home so, we’ll see how this one pans out is all.)

7. I will be generous with my time, resources and talent. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to better the lives of those around me. Not just for my husband and my children, but looking beyond that. I’d like to figure out how to extend generosity – in whatever form that takes – farther out in the circle. I have a certain set of talents and expertise and I have friends that are extremely talented and super smart in other things and sometimes, I feel like if we could just pool our gifts, combine our resources, we could make lives better. Easier. Lovelier. Kinder. For ourselves and for others. I’m going to figure out how to build that community of generosity this year. I feel like the world could use a lot more of it.

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First Line

I’ve had a pin attached to my bag since last summer. The pin commemorates the centennial of the National Park Service, which was founded in 1916. Rightly, the NPS filled 2016 with much celebration and our family delighted in exploring new parks and participating in some of the special events taking place during such a special year.

My discovery of the National Parks really began when I moved to Washington D.C. in my twenties and embarked on a job in the city. I spent many lunch breaks strolling the National Mall, weaving in and out of tourists visiting the various memorials and monuments. Witnessing the construction of the National World War II Memorial was especially moving. After Henry arrived, he became my constant companion on these walks. I would swing by his daycare, two floors down, sweep him up, plop him in the stroller and off we would go.

As our children have grown older and with our move to Richmond and now Northwest Virginia, our National Parks exploration has expanded. I will forever refer to this time of our lives as The Battlefield Years. We’ve hit a lot of them. Like, a lot-a lot. In our various visits to Gettysburg and Antietam and Appomattox and Cedar Creek and Harpers Ferry and Petersburg and Yorktown, we’ve never – not once – had a negative experience. We have always been met by extremely competent and friendly park employees excited to share their knowledge with us, with our children.

I’m always left in sort of a state of awe after a visit to one of our national parks. It’s hard to believe that such an opportunity exists for us. To revisit so easily a part of our country’s past that’s preserved and protected solely for our enjoyment. That people work so enthusiastically and doggedly to fulfill that mission. That for $20 (and a musket for Charlie from the gift shop) we get to see, and get to show our children, what it was like to live, to fight, to survive in an era when this country was filled with so much turmoil. (There’s also ALWAYS nice potties and access to snacks in a national park. I won’t downplay how important bathrooms and a constant stream of sustenance is to a successful family outing.)

Charlie’s biggest dream is to become a park ranger and I’m pretty sure nothing Henry and Millie could ever do could top that. Sorry, you two! It’s really impressive how you became Secretary of State, Millie, and how you became President of The Lego Group, Henry, but Charlie’s a National Parks employee living in a tent on a fire tower in Wyoming with only his binoculars, a typewriter and some CLIF bars so he wins. You’ll both just have to try harder!

We’ve barely even tapped the breadth of the National Park system either. That’s one of the driving reasons for my camper obsession – so we can head west and visit as many parks as possible with the kids. There is so much to see! and to do! I want to go to ALL THE PARKS. (But, I definitely need the camper to make that happen, Bob.)

That these parks are so accessible in an era of budget cuts and funding issues is amazing. That large swaths of pristine land is preserved and prevails in an era of destructive environmental practices is amazing. That a staff of dedicated park service employees are such champions for their landscapes is amazing.

I’m a big fan, is my point. I’m like a National Parks groupie. I’m John Cusack, standing outside their gates with a stereo held above my head blaring, “In Your Eyes.”

So, it was with profound disappointment that I read about our new administration’s gag order, to include all social media posting, covering the Department of Interior and, thus, the National Park Service. Although such orders are not necessarily unprecedented and will hopefully be lifted, the focus of the orders on climate change information amounted to a blackout of scientific data. (You can read about the details from a reputable outlet here.)

This seemed retaliatory in nature and was instantly met with subversive tweets from social media managers at a variety of national and state parks and agencies in direct defiance of the gag order.

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I mean, come on. This is fantastic! These park rangers are not having any of this. They are amazing. Especially that last one. I like the cut of your jib, US Fish & Wildlife.

Additionally, several alt-Twitter accounts have popped up recently to better disseminate information about legislation and actions that may negatively affect the parks but which the parks are no longer allowed to report on.

The response from everyday Americans to the assorted National Parks’ Twitter accounts was extraordinary. I followed all week as tributes popped up to the work the NPS was rather slyly engaged in. I was delighted to see a spotlight shone on the parks and people that I consider to be such treasures. Also, some people are really, really funny.

Some of my favorite tweets from the past 10 days:

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(A reference to Mirriam Webster and Teen Vogue’s coverage since the election.)

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(#leslieknopeforpresident)

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Image: Captain RibMan / John Sprengelmeyer

I’m going to need that last one on a t-shirt. And, a tote bag. Also, a commemorative pin. Quite possibly, a tattoo.

Palate Cleanser

All I can think about lately is the election. And, since a tremendous amount of nervous, nauseated fretting won’t affect the outcome, all I’m going to write about today is food. I would suggest this piece is refreshingly free of controversy and discord but since I posit the best place to get a New York-style bagel in the region, I’m not guaranteeing there won’t be passionate disagreements on all sides.


My sister arrived in town a couple of weeks ago. She visits once or twice a year and we make a long weekend out of lounging, with the occasional burst of energy that affords a local winery visit or trip to town for browsing antiques.

The shared genetics between us are strong and this is best exemplified in our passionate love for super tasty food. Janet and I both adore a great meal. So, when she visits, one of our primary goals is to seek out delicious eats. We’re not food snobs by any means. More akin to Joey Tribbiani in the Thanksgiving trifle scene from Friends. We just really like good food, wherever it is found.

I especially appreciate food that I don’t have to: plan for, shop for, prepare with my own hands, listen to people complain about or clean up. And, since Bob and I have three young children and therefore never seem to leave the confines of our own home for a meal (Chick-fil-A doesn’t count), this time, I loaded Janet’s visit with reservations at a host of restaurants. It was a record-setting out-to-eat pace for a four-day visit but we managed it all like the champion eaters we are.

If you are local or semi-local or not-local-at-all but also adore good food and would like to visit, here’s where you should eat:

Stop #1 – Royalicious Bagel Bakery, Charles Town, WV

We literally drove straight from the airport to Royalicious. This nondescript bakery is located in the – ahem – Wal-Mart shopping plaza in Charles Town, West Virginia. You will be suspicious. I get it. I was, too. But I wasn’t suspicious enough to decline the lox, which was delicious. Royalicious serves a New York-style boiled bagel that is amazing. This place received high marks from Janet, too. It’s a no frills joint but that’s part of the adventure.

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Stop #2 – West End Wine Bar & Pub, Purcellville, VA

Since Janet arrived for a visit on her birthday, we headed to West End for a big celebratory dinner. This newer restaurant is located right in town and I’m delighted we have some additional options for finer dining closer to the house. I snapped a picture of one of the starter plates we ordered to share. It’s some sort of a mozzarella-sauce-sprouts concoction that is all farm-to-table and local and organic and happy and what-not but all you need to know is that it was gooooooood. The starters were definitely the stars here although the service was excellent, too.

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Stop #3 – Roots 657, Leesburg, VA

I ended up having to work for a few hours the Friday evening of Janet’s visit so we grabbed a late lunch at Roots 657, a new cafe that just opened a few weeks ago right down the street from the winery where I’m employed. There aren’t a lot of easy places to grab a bite in the Route 15 corridor north of Leesburg so this explains why the parking lot has been packed since Roots opened. The other explanation could be that the food is amazing. Basically, you should go eat here immediately. Just drop what you’re doing and go order this ham and cheese mess in the picture below. It was delicious. All of it. So, so good. Also, super filling as Janet and I were not even the least bit hungry some seven hours later.

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Stop #4 – Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards, North Garden, VA

On Saturday, Janet and I ventured down to Charlottesville, Virginia. I needed a little trip away after a very busy few weeks at work and Janet joked that she needed a getaway from her getaway. Pippin Hill is a favorite place of mine and I was eager to show Janet the winery. A couple of friends were meeting us there for lunch and, in hindsight, I’m really glad I made reservations (which I initially thought was over-planning on my part). Pippin Hill has become extremely popular and they frequently close admittance on Saturdays when they reach capacity. So, a reservation to dine is a necessity. Our friends eventually made it past the gate and were able to join us but Janet and I had already worked our way through TWO wine tastings by then so when presented with a cheese and charcuterie board, well, there wasn’t anything left to photograph. In summary: delicious, great service, amazing view. The End.

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Stop #5 – Yearbook Taco Bar, Charlottesville, VA

On Saturday night, we ventured to the downtown mall in Charlottesville. I had never explored the area but had heard it was an experience. It was homecoming weekend for the University of Virginia so characters abounded but we eventually made our way to Yearbook Taco based on the recommendation of a Facebook friend. It was delicious and the shrimp tacos were light and perfect following an afternoon of indulgence at Pippin Hill. The best part was the used book store next door where I found an antique tome on Ulysses S. Grant for Charlie. Sadly, it appears Yearbook Taco is closing at the end of this year so you’ll have to hurry for the shrimp tacos.

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Stop #6 – Bodo’s Bagels, Charlottesville, VA

Look. Here’s the deal. The bagel sandwich I devoured Sunday morning at Bodo’s Bagels on the UVA campus was quite possibly the best bagel sandwich I have ever had in my entire life. That’s not hyperbole. Like Royalicious, Bodo’s also makes a New York-style boiled bagel and it was far superior to any others. The line was out the door and we stood in it, amongst all of the bodies and shrapnel from the Homecoming parties the evening prior, waiting patiently to try something that I had read somewhere was supposed to be really good. And, it was so good. So worth the wait. So worth smelling all of the hungover college students surrounding us. A++, would eat again. Also, currently wondering if they same-day ship.

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Janet and I arrived back home Sunday afternoon and settled for a home-cooked meal later that evening.

Here’s where I admit that at this point in the weekend, we were pretty much done with eating out. We were full. Maximum capacity reached. Time for a bowl of Cheerios. In fact, when errands kept us out of the house the next day, we could both barely muster up enthusiasm for lunch at Chipotle.

Good thing we were airport-bound.