Stalcup Whirlwind

June 14, 2010

I’m about to have an empty nest!
Saturday I drove Anna and Dan to Reagan Airport to catch a plane to Spokane. From there they took a midnight train to Glacier Park in Montana where they will embark on another epic adventure, this time hiking from Canada to Mexico via the Continental Divide Trail. I lay awake last night reading Yogi’s CDT Handbook by Jackie McDonnell.  McDonnell describes the CDT as more of a corridor of trails, parallel to the divide, rather than a single, well-marked trail.

For those of you who do not remember fifth grade geography, the Continental divide is the back bone of North America, the high ridge through the Rockies (at least up north) that separates water that flows west to the Pacific from water that flows east to the Atlantic.

When Anna and Dan first told me they were hiking the divide, I picture them astride a narrow ridge trying to scramble up and over countless snow-clad peaks and thought they had lost their minds.

But since then they have educated me. Now I understand that the “trail” is not a single path, and which trail a hiker chooses to take depends on the weather, the snow pack and their desire . . . at least some of the time.

Unfortunately, after a spring of low snowfalls, a sudden storm has dumped several feet of new powder on the icy remains of last winter’s snowpack making the highland trail they hoped to start on too dangerous to traverse. Yeap, the A-word . . .  Avalanche. So they are starting south from Canadian border later today on another trail, with a group of five other hikers, some of whom they met last year on the PCT.  They have formed a group that will hike together for the first week or so.

This is good for bear protection since grizzlies are less likely to harass a group of seven, we hope.  I try not to remember some of my own bear encounters. Like the grizzley who seemed to think he owned the ridge that was chock-a-block full of ammonites in Central Alaska. We would chase him off with the helicopter so we could show visiting scientists our fantastic fossil local and he would come roaring back. One time when we venture out of sight,  he climbed up onto the helicopter while the pilot cowered inside.

But I digress. I was writing about my empty nest. Since October Anna and Dan have occupied my basement, but in May they bought a condo in Reston, about two miles from my house and moved out, albeit temporarily.  Last Friday they moved back in–their bodies for a single night, their belongings for several months, so they could sublet their newly minted condo while they hiked.

My 18-year-old daughter, Sarah is graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology on Saturday. I can hardly wait. Last Friday was prom. She looked gorgeous in her lime green gown, yet as I drove to her boyfriend’s house in Vienna, I wondered if I had taken leave of my senses by agreeing to drive her and her date to the place where they were going to take pictures.  No one told me it was in Mount Vernon until we were in the car. We live in Reston, the prom was in Vienna one town away. Her her date also lives in Vienna, but here I was, driving to Mount Vernon–in D.C rush hour traffic on the beltway, no less–more than 20 miles away so they could meet up with their group of 42 friends, take pictures in a magnificent setting and get into two stretch limos–a Hummer and an Escalade to drive back to Vienna.

Three hours later I made it home to a wonderful supper prepared by my husband.  He had set the table out on the deck and as I sank into the chair and let out a sign, I realized that there were more places at the table than just our two. Then Anna and Dan appeared. I had forgotten that they had moved back in, for that one night. Then Sammy walked out on the deck.  The dog barked; the doorbell rang. It was one of his friends, who accepted his invitation to sit down and join us. Soon another friend appeared.

When I had first come home I had asked Sam why he had prepared the entire bag of frozen pasta. As I watched the three guys shovel it in, I wondered no more.

Last April I purchased Sarah a one-way ticket to Sydney. This is not as it sounds. I am not booting my youngest child out of the nest. She is willingly taking a gap year at Hillsong Leadership College in the heart of the city and I had only enough United mileage points for a one-way ticket.  I have promised to faithfully use my credit card so as to get her home. She will be gone from July to July, a little more than a year. I take fiendish delight in the thought of her shopping and cooking and cleaning up. After herself.

Oh yes, I feel a rumba coming on.

Then there is my beloved son, Sammy, in whom I am well pleased. My middle child. Sammy has outdone himself, graduating with honors from architecture school at UVA on May 23, the day after he turned 23. I think he is the most ambitious of my offspring and has, in the words of John Pinkston, “winning ways.”  Yes, Sammy will go far, I believe. Between his design skills and his warm personality, he will thrive. But meanwhile, the world is not bright in architecture land. Only three of his fellow classmates have landed jobs. Last spring I had strong sense that he belonging in a certain firm in Georgetown and since March I have been praying that the firm would get enough work to hire Sammy. Please join me in fervent intercession.

He job hunts, goes to interviews and hears high praise for his portfolio.  But still has no job.  Meanwhile he is painting the trim on my house, a job that should have been done ages ago, before the paint pealed on the south side.

He does not want to live in our basement, he wants to live with a group of guys in Arlington. I am sure this will happen soon, because as I have said before, I am about to have an empty nest.


Muckle Hairy Sporran

January 20, 2010

I adore Alexander McCall Smith, so when learned that a new 44 Scotland Street novel was to be released in paperback, I ordered a copy even though it would be months before it shipped. It arrived last week. This morning I got up and saw rain washing away my beloved snow and was comforted by the thought of spending the day curled up with my new book.

But I was only on page 22 before I was confounded. What on earth did McCall Smith mean by “muckle hairy sporran”?  Was it a Scottish rodent? Or perhaps some Scottish delicacy? Would you like fries with that muckle hairy sporran? I suspected that it was something any kindergartner in Edinburgh would easily comprehend, but alas, I live in suburban Washington, D.C. and had never heard of a sporran much less a muckle hairy sporran. First I looked up muckle which, when used as an adjective, means (in archaic Scottish) very big. That was easy enough. Then I googled sporran  . .  and found a shop that sells them, yes, those little furry purses that Scotsmen sling low over their kilts. I’ve always admire the Scots, so at ease with their masculinity they wear a skirt AND carry purse and still look manly! The shop sold all kinds of sporran from “full-dress” sporran to “daywear” sporran to “piper” sporran (for you bag-pipers) made of everything from seal skin to chinchilla, arctic fox, badger and black and white rabbit–with tassels!  There is even a little flask sized to tuck into your sporran for carrying a wee dram to warm ye when the cold Scottish mist rolls in.

Frances MacNab as painted by RaeburnBut I didn’t fully catch the drift of McCall Smith’s reference, which refers to a portrait of Francies MacNab rendered by the Scottish artist Henry Raeburn, until I found the portrait online.  McCall Smith described MacNab as “draped in tartan and wearing a muckle hairy sporran.”

Here dear reader, to enhance your reading pleasure, is MacNab in all his glory:  Now wasn’t that fun!


And now from Buddy!

May 25, 2009

Today Le Monde Magazine is going to interview the family dog, Buddy.

Le Monde: Buddy we understand that you live with the Stalcup family in Reston.

Buddy: Yes, I am their only pet. There was another dog when I arrived, but I got rid of him!


Always on the job, or the lap!

Le Monde: You got rid of him?

Buddy: Yes. Buster was okay, as dogs go, but he lacked the essential charm of a miniature poodle; he was too calm, too aloof, too . . . big.

Le Monde: How did you manage to get rid of him?

Buddy: Oh, little things. It wasn’t hard. I pranced on my hind legs, and hopped onto empty laps and looked fetching. The next things I knew, he was gone. Rumor is, he is buried in the back yard under a pile of white rocks.

Le Monde: How did you come to live with the Stalcups?

Buddy: I was rescued. It was quite dramatic really. My first home was with a family of Jack Russells. A despicable breed. While the Madame was home, she carried me everywhere and I was a happy pup. Then she began leaving the house for hours at a time and the Jack Russells refused to follow my instructions. Those dogs made my life miserable. I really don’t want to talk about it. Poodles rule!

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Of Mice and Mommies

February 13, 2009

The year my youngest child entered fifth grade, the headmaster of her small school talked me into teaching science to the eighth and ninth grade. The job was supposed to be part-time, but partway through the year it took over my life leaving me with little time to cook and even less time to clean. As the weeks turned into months, my house got so dirty it attracted vermin.

Perhaps vermin is too strong a word. If they had been caged, I might have thought they were cute with their soft gray fur, round ears, and liquid black eyes. Yes, mice.

At first, I shrieked, “MOUSE!” whenever one scurried by. But soon I ceased to do more than give a little start, and turn drone-like back to writing lesson plans and grading lab reports.

My youngest daughter thought the mice were adorable, so to appease her I put out humane traps–oblong plastic boxes, a muted shade of gray, which were supposed to catch the mouse live and unharmed. I baited these with crunchy peanut butter and sugary cereal, the kind of cereal that my kids crave, but are only allowed to sprinkle, as a topping, on bowls full of plain Cheerios. The kind my husband eats by the bowl full when I am not at home. But apparently Frosted Flakes do not draw mice they way they draw my dear ones.

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