The house is a wreck and it’s stressing me out, but the sky outside is crisp and clean and blue with November sunshine, so I pull your high chair over to the window. Between mouthfuls of Gerber pureed carrot you watch the shadows of the trees dancing on the fence. You keep glancing back at me as if to say, Are you seeing this?! The world is so cool!

Babies sort of force a person to live in the present.

You smile at me with those chubby cheeks and duck down hair, and emit a squeal that makes the cat turn her head lazily from her sunny spot on the floor. We haven’t gotten very many chores done today, and I’m not sure what we’ll eat for dinner, and speaking of eating I hope I’m introducing you to enough solid foods to keep your development going on a good timeline, and what if –

But I can’t worry about that right now, because you’re leaning toward me without taking your eyes off the outdoors, mouth wide open for another bite. When I slip the spoon in you hum loudly, MMMMM. You like carrots, apparently. That’s probably a good sign.

“Ba ba ba DA,” you announce, banging both hands on the tray table. You smile with orange lips when I laugh at you, then do it again. You like making us laugh. A few more drumbeats on your tray, and then you stop abruptly to stare at the spoon and hum aggressively. MMMMM. More.

Right now, all you want is this, sitting in our messy kitchen, making your mama laugh, another bite of carrot whenever it occurs to you.

Right now, I’ll try to just want this.

Tiny Changeling

The Engineer and I had a baby!

I haven’t written much during the pandemic – it hasn’t felt like there’s much worth sharing when time feels meaningless and trips home keep getting canceled and my creativity, like so many people’s, is stymied by the historical moment we’re living in. But this is one story I’d like to write down somewhere.

Finding Out

We had decided to start trying when 2020 began, and in late May we had pretty much written off the month. I still felt a little weird, though, so without telling the Engineer I decided to take a(nother) pregnancy test one Saturday when I got up to feed the cat.

At that point I had taken several negative tests in previous months, and I was fully expecting this one to be negative as well. After feeding the cat and sitting with her for a few minutes, I went to look at the test. It’s going to be negative. It’s going to be negative.

There were two lines.

I actually had to count the lines several times to believe it. I was so used to seeing just one, but there was definitely a second line.

Usually I try to go back to sleep after feeding the cat. No way that was happening now. So I tiptoed upstairs, grabbed a digital pregnancy test, and told a still-sleeping Engineer that I was going to read for a little bit (untrue) because I felt pretty awake (true). I don’t think he even heard me.

The cat, delighted that I was keeping her company for her breakfast, squeaked at me and twined around my ankles while I tried to wait the full five minutes for the test to run. I think I made it three minutes before “just going to check.” And there it was. Pregnant.

Tiptoeing upstairs again (the Engineer still didn’t stir), I grabbed the stuffed narwhal we bought over a year ago when we first started talking about kids. I set up the narwhal on our kitchen table with the pregnancy test and a note that said, “Can’t wait for my friend to get here! ETA: 9 months.” Then I settled down on the couch with my book and waited.

And waited.

And waited. I finished my book, read a magazine, watched a few episodes of something on Netflix, and still nary a sound came from upstairs. I tried to be patient. It was Saturday, after all, and the Engineer deserved to sleep in, plus I didn’t want to ruin the surprise by acting too weird before he had a chance to see the note and the narwhal. But by 9:30 (three hours, mind you, after I had found out!) I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Are you going to get up soon?” I asked, flopping across the bed to stare at the still-sleepy Engineer.

“Maybe. Why do you have so much energy?” he asked. “You’re like a Golden retriever.”

“I’m just in a good mood today,” I said evasively. “Come downstairs. I want to have breakfast with you.”

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll be down in a minute.”

He was not down in a minute. I positioned myself strategically between our couch and kitchen island so he would have to go around the other way and I could see his face when he saw the narwhal. The Engineer scrolled through his phone, stretched, and generally took his damn time getting downstairs. When he finally made his way down to the kitchen, he started telling me about a dream he’d had while I pretended to look at my phone, fairly vibrating with excitement. He put his frozen waffles in the toaster oven, turned toward the table, and stopped midsentence.

And then we cried and hugged and prayed and planned what order to call family members.

Getting Here

Everyone told me firsts are never early, so when I started having what I thought were merely Braxton Hicks contractions a week before Tiny Changeling’s due date, I didn’t take it too seriously. The day wore on, and the contractions didn’t get any more regular, but they didn’t go away either. I was uncomfortable enough that I didn’t eat much dinner. We spent most of the evening Googling “how to tell the difference between false labor and real contractions” and even called the birth center.

If they become regular and come consistently every 5 minutes. If you can’t talk through the contraction. If you have a baby at the end of it.

Well, I thought, none of that was happening. Let’s just go to bed. (It’s here I should note that the poor Engineer tried several times to ask if I wanted to go to the hospital, but my fear of inconveniencing other people by “overdramatizing” pain is so deeply ingrained that I kept saying no. Plus I didn’t want to pay for a false alarm visit – thank you, American healthcare.)

Except I couldn’t sleep, so the Engineer came downstairs with me to watch TV (and keep an eye on the stopwatch between contractions). We kept having to pause the show so I could breathe through another pain, and I couldn’t sit still so I walked laps around our kitchen and living room. The cat, confused by all the flurry of activity so late at night, walked with me.

Around 1:00 am, when several contractions had come 5 minutes apart on the dot, the Engineer said, “Okay, you couldn’t talk through that one. We’re going to the hospital.” Luckily he had packed his bag on a hunch the day before, so I threw some last-minute stuff in my suitcase and we said goodbye to the thoroughly puzzled cat.

At the hospital, they confirmed I was in labor, checked us into a room, and asked about our birth plan. I definitely wanted an epidural. (This was the best choice for me – every birth is different! No shame!) The anesthesiologist and nurse who guided me through it were fantastic. The nurse should have been a yoga instructor, her voice was so calming and grounding. Once the epidural was placed, I tried to get some rest – well, as much rest as I could with someone coming in to flip me over every half hour since I couldn’t move myself.

The rest of the night and morning passed in that weird timeless haze where you’re waiting for something to happen. I emailed my bosses with the subject line “In labor,” feeling SO ANNOYED that I wouldn’t have the chance to tidy up all those last-minute tasks I was planning to tackle this work week. It was Monday morning! Tiny Changeling wasn’t supposed to come for another 5 days! I was supposed to have stuff handled!

The day went on. The Engineer was such a good support, and our team of doctors and nurses were wonderful, but as the hours passed I was getting hungrier and more tired than I had ever been in my life. What I wanted more than anything was to hit pause, eat, sleep, and come back to it fully rested. I knew I could do this, just not in the state of exhaustion I was currently in. Eventually one doctor informed me that if we didn’t see progress soon, we’d need to consider a C-section.

For months, I’d been telling myself, “Whatever gets me and the baby out of there safely,” and I stand by that. No form of birth is “less than” another. But in that moment, after hours of labor, to be told I’d probably need a C-section honestly felt like utter failure. You said I was doing well! You said we were making progress! What happened?!

But Tiny Changeling was stuck, and we needed something more than I could give on my own. Another doctor came in to consult and recommended forceps. The Engineer and I agreed – and I immediately burst into tears. My emotions couldn’t take it anymore. The room started filling with people to assist or observe or do other medical roles, and they kept asking if I was okay, but I couldn’t explain, so I just cried AT them until everything was ready.

Three more pushes.

They placed our baby on my chest. “We have a little girl,” the Engineer announced.

“Wait, was it a surprise? I love that!” someone exclaimed from the back of the room.

And there she was, looking just like her dad, and also somehow just like me, and also completely herself.

Tiny Changeling arrived on January 25th, and our little family is so in love – even the cat is protective of her!

Endings Are Weird II

My dad is retired. Sort of. He went into the office the day after his retirement party, which bothered me because I like neat and tidy endings, but it also seemed appropriate. The fini flight, as they call it, was an echo of some other, real last flight years ago that none of us fully recognized for what it was.

I’ve been a pilot’s daughter my whole life. It was something fun to throw in the faces of boys in my third grade class when they went through that phase. They would muse about the secret lives of pilots, and with a bored air I would tell them I’d been in the pilots’ lounge tons of times. They asked me what it was like. Sometimes I would maintain an air of mystery. Sometimes I told them it was boring – all the TVs were turned to the weather channel. The trappings of pilot life didn’t impress me, since I saw my dad’s flight manual and wings and uniform too often.

On the fini flight the uniform was novel again. He looked the way I remembered him looking when he went off on trips when I was little, and I kept doing double takes all day. For the past few years he’s been wearing ties and button downs, because for the past few years he hasn’t been flying. He calls it optics, since the tremor from the Parkinson’s is bad enough that passengers might be somewhat unnerved by a shaking man flying them through the air in a large metal tube.

I was flown once by my dad. I was tagging along on a 25-hour layover to Boston to look at a college, and when the crew bumped me up to first class the man in the seat next to me seemed confused. Why was a random 16-year-old sitting alone in first class? There was a delay of some kind, and Dad came out to chat with the passengers. The man next to me said, “Ohhh. That has to be your dad.” (There’s a certain family resemblance.) I nodded proudly.

I thought there would be more flights like that.

There was a break, sometime after the diagnosis, and then he did go back to flying for a bit. On the whole, he always assures me, he’s doing well. When he grounded himself again we didn’t realize it would be permanent. It happened slowly.

Some endings are like that, I think. When Bird and I wrote a bio to give to the passengers on the fini flight, it was the first time I had written anything in months, and I procrastinated on it until the morning it was due (sorry, Dad, but I figured you’d understand given your own work process). I hadn’t realized that my writing had ground to a standstill until I had to break the unarticulated hiatus.

Sometimes we stop doing the things we love without meaning to.

The passengers seemed to like the bio, however it turned out. I noticed they kept thanking Dad for his service, and I noted to my stepmom that I honestly forget most of the time that he was ever in the military. Sure, I know intellectually that he flew for the Air Force, that that’s how he got into flying in the first place, but to me the finality of the day was about his commercial pilot life, not something he’d already retired from years ago. People take what they will from stories, I guess.

We always tell my dad he needs to write down his stories from years of adventures in flying, and he always swears he will. So, Mr. Retired, now’s your chance. I’ll write if you will.

All Are Welcome

The Engineer and I often talk about our “forever home” and the various attributes this dream house will have. We want a vegetable garden, a renovated carriage house where the Engineer can tinker with his five motorcycles (yes, we have decided on five) and I can read in the loft, a wood stove, a playroom for our kids, sustainable energy-efficient technology, and of course a library with a secret door behind one of the bookcases. But most of all, what we want is room to welcome others in.

When we scroll through Zillow over lunch, learning about each other’s architectural and aesthetic preferences (I always want to redo the kitchen cabinets, he always looks for staircases), we keep coming back to wanting a guest bedroom, a space that our kids and their friends can hang out, a place to offer anyone who might need a place to stay. Even though the word made me twitch for a while (due to its overuse in the Unfortunate Internship), the value we’re really looking for is hospitality.

Most of the time, I feel like this is a thing that Future Me will be able to do. Future Me will be the one to invite people over and have an open-door policy and be the second home to the neighborhood kids. (Future Me will have better furniture and magical amounts of free time, too.)

But that desire to welcome pops through in unexpected ways already. In our old apartment complex, our friends from church would literally just walk into our apartment at all hours; we often compared it to living in a sitcom where no doors are ever locked. When we were choosing our house here, we intentionally searched for a two-bedroom and got a daybed that converts to a king bed so we could encourage loved ones from the West Coast to come visit.

And a few weeks ago, one half of our New Couple Friends asked if she could crash on our couch since she would be in town to finish up some things at their old apartment. Instead of the couch, of course, we made up the day bed in the study, I made her tea and breakfast in the morning, and we had a lovely chat before she headed home. Although it never crossed my mind to say we couldn’t host her, I briefly wondered if it would make me feel harried or stressed to have someone over on a random Monday night/Tuesday morning. In reality, getting to hang out quietly comparing our DuoLingo progress in Spanish and laugh at my cat’s antics was comfortable. 

Maybe Future Me doesn’t have a monopoly on hospitality after all.




Moses Floating in a Basket: A Follow-Up to Skits and Donuts

Interestingly, “Teaching Moments with Skits and Donuts” has been one of my most popular posts over the years, but not necessarily because of the VBS experience that spawned the post. A lot of readers end up in the comments there searching for the apparently elusive lyrics to what I remember only as “the Moses song.” At least once a year I get an email asking for the lyrics!

After my mother kindly sent me the video last year of 6-year-old me belting this out with my VBS class, I transcribed the lyrics we learned and shared them in the comments of the original post. The inquiries didn’t stop, however, so I’ve decided to make them their own post in the hopes of helping out others who just can’t remember how that song goes. (And if anyone wants to repay me by pointing us to the lyrics of “More Joy in Heaven,” that would be great, because Bird and I can’t remember much beyond the refrain and what Bird calls “every second-grader’s Mariah Carey moment,” the ear-piercing key change in the line “With 99 safe in the field the shepherd set out to rescue the stray.”)

Anyway, without further ado, here are the lyrics I learned many years ago to the Moses song:

Mama had a baby
A long time ago
But she couldn’t keep him
‘Cause the Pharaoh said “No!”

She took him to the river
In a basket boat
Said a little prayer
“Lord, help him float!”

Moses, floating in a basket
Drifting down the river Nile
Who will, who will save him?
God will save this little child!

Pharaoh’s daughter
Was bathing in the Nile
She looked in the basket
And saw the little child

“What a cute little baby!”
She tickled his chin
“Now who will help me
Take care of him?”


Moses had a sister
Who loved him so
She told the Pharaoh’s daughter
“I know! I know!

I’ll go and bring you someone
To give him food!”
She ran and got her mommy
Yes, that was good.


Depression 2.0, Now With Fun New Features

I haven’t written here in a while – longer than a while, really, but let’s ignore the specifics. I haven’t written because the words have been gone.

I’ve reached for them, certainly. I could show you all the drafts I’ve half-started, all the snippets scribbled in an optimistically blank notebook that promise this time I’ll truly Start Writing Again, this time the words will be back for good.

But I’ve been busy with other things.

Shortly after finding gainful employment that fits beautifully with my past experience and skill set, I entered another major depressive episode. Except it was different, so I doubted myself. It didn’t seem like Last Time, more like a vaguely distant cousin of Last Time, and I wasn’t sure if I should be worried yet. Then my counselor announced she was closing her practice, and I burst into tears in my new boss’s office, and I had to leave church because I was shaking, and I thought perhaps I should be worried.

I found a new counselor relatively quickly, whom I am still seeing, and in my intake appointment she asked the usual series of questions. I told her I had depression, I already knew that, and she said she would ask anyway.

Turns out I also have anxiety and a touch of a panic disorder. Neat.

I’ve been learning what my new symptoms look like, what works for me in this season of life, and what old coping methods I can no longer lean on. One thing was the same, though. I wasn’t reading. And with me it’s a short distance from reading to writing.

So I’ve been absent here, not because there’s been a shortage of things worth writing about (in fact I tried, many times, to write about the things I was feeling, suspecting that if I could pin them to the page I might process them better, but they slipped out of my grasp) but because my brain did not want to give me that option.

I think I’m back now. We’ll see. But this post came easily, and that’s a start.

Found on Pinterest from The Paris Review. It expressed the sentiment well.



I was chatting with my dad a while ago about this blog when he mentioned that I hadn’t said anything about him or my mom in a while.  It makes sense, he said, because they aren’t really in my life anymore.  He said he understood, that it was logical for a person of my age and place in life.  It was just an observation.

And I thought about it.  It’s true, I don’t write explicitly about my parents very often.  And it’s true that as I’ve grown, particularly over the past few years since beginning college and leaving home, our relationships have changed as they need to parent me less and I cross that threshold into Seeing Parents As Actual Humans.

But I don’t think it’s true that they aren’t in my life anymore.

I don’t write about my parents precisely because their presence in my life is so ubiquitous that it would be like writing about air.  I don’t write about them because their influence, their values and ways of thinking and ways of challenging myself are so deeply ingrained that it seems obvious to me that those influences are there, unnecessary to state.  Anyone who meets me quickly learns how much I admire my parents, how both of them showed me how to be kind and work hard and stand up for myself and hold onto integrity.  Anyone who then watches me interact with either my mom or my dad then usually says to me afterwards, “Wow, you really are that close.”

I don’t call as much as I should.  I don’t always answer text messages.  (I’m trying to work on those things.)  I have even moved time zones, all the way to the other side of the country.  So, no, they aren’t as personally and directly involved in my life as they were when they were pulling me in a wagon around the state fair or picking me up from rehearsal in high school.  But, as much as I would love for them to still be nearby every single day, I do have the way they raised me, and so much of my vocabulary, my humor, my decision making comes from them that I forget that it needs to be stated.

So, Dad, I love you, but you were wrong.  I don’t write about you and Mom because you are still so deeply a part of my life that it seems obvious to me that you are there between the lines of everything I write.

But I’ll try to say it more.

Before I Typed “Me Too”

I’m sitting on our brand new couch, staring at Facebook on my phone, thumb hovering over the text box to type my own post.  Thinking.

Of course.  Me too.

Except it might sound like a bigger deal than it is.  I mean, I’ve never actually been assaulted, thank God.

I mean, there was that one guy on my first day at my new summer job who drove past me when I was walking to lunch and turned around so he could pull up next to me, call me beautiful, and ask if I wanted a ride, and when I said no thank you he said, “Come on, honey, it’s me,” and I thought if he decided he knew me then I couldn’t convince him otherwise, so I did what my mom always said to do in that situation and I did a 180 and zipped back the way I came because it takes a car longer to turn around than a person, and by the time he did turn around again (because of course he turned around again, he didn’t let it go) I was across the street and almost back inside.  I didn’t eat lunch that day.  But it’s not like he actually touched me.

I never went out for lunch again after that.  Except in my car.  Except even in my car I’m not completely safe, because there were those guys in the pickup (way to match stereotypes, boys) at the stoplight who honked at me while I was driving  and tried to get me to roll down my window and then when I wouldn’t look at them they started screaming at me without caring who stared.  No one really stared, though.  I guess we were all used to it.  But it’s not like they followed me.

Except that’s happened before, too, where I’ve noticed a car behind me making the same turns, time after time, and I’ve counted in my head and debated whether or not to actually go home, and told myself that if they make this next turn too I’m going to drive straight past the house because no way am I leading them to my sister.  In those cases, you go to a police station, or a bank, somewhere well-lit with lots of cameras, and go inside where there are witnesses.

I told the Engineer all that, rattled off the safety tips I carry like the pocket knife he gave me and the mace my dad gave me, the things I hope I never have to use, the things I hope I don’t freeze up too much to use if I ever do need them.  I told him all this because when we left the movie theatre the other night he asked, a little jokingly, if I really always check under the car before getting in when I’m in a dark parking lot.  I told him I do it less when he’s around.  Then I told him it’s not just under the car, it’s the back seat and the trunk area too, and if there ever is an intruder you’re supposed to drive straight into the next light pole because you’ll be wearing a seatbelt and odds are they won’t so you can cause a scene and maybe hurt them and people might not respond to yelling and screaming but they’ll whip out their phones for a car crash.

My new husband looked at me and said he hated that I had to know all that.

But it’s not like I’ve ever been physically attacked.

I shouldn’t make the post.  I log out.  Then log back in.

Except isn’t it an assault on my autonomy, on my personhood, when those frat boys honked at me when I walked to class and made me jump out of my skin?  Or when that guy stroked my hair on the bus because it was crowded and he could get away with it?  Or when a guy friend (who was dating my friend and who knew I was dating the Engineer) tried to get me to send him pictures, yes, those kinds of pictures, by saying it was only fair since I had the unsolicited one he’d sent?

Isn’t it an assault on my personhood to convince me that all of these things are normal, or close enough to normal that it shouldn’t count?  Isn’t that the problem, that we’re supposed to hesitate, supposed to belittle our own experiences because at least it’s not x degrees worse?  That’s why women are posting, because they’re sick of it.

So, yes.

Me too.

What I Learned From My August Self-Challenge

It was Tuesday, August 1st, and I was sitting at the kitchen table with Bird, staring at my computer.  I’d meant to post something on Monday, but I forgot, and now the private goal I’d had of posting something every day that week was gone.  But another calendar segment had just begun.

I looked up at Bird.  “I’m going to try to post something every weekday in August.”

“Okay then.  Let me know how that goes.”

I didn’t make it the whole month without interruption.  Moving across the country and then being housebound once I got there (we don’t have my car there and I can’t drive stick, so the Engineer’s truck is out) made for less-than-exciting anecdotes.  But for a good 3 1/2 weeks, I managed to post something Monday through Friday.  So if anyone noticed that for the first half of August I was writing something every weekday, I thank you for your attention.

Here’s what I learned about myself (and blogging) in this little challenge I told no one about:

  • I can’t not be a perfectionist, but I can reassign the Perfection Value to something else.  Rather than trying to write amazingly polished pieces or having a word count goal, consistency was the “perfect” thing I strove for.  Focusing on one aspect of the blogging process helped me give myself more leeway with the other parts.
  • I need to use the good ideas I have.  I’ve had topics sit in my drafts for months before I finally wrote them, simply because I thought I had to save it for the right occasion or it needed more tweaking.  In August I took the time to actually pursue those topic ideas and publish them because I needed to write something that day.  And it felt good to use those ideas.
  • Because not all the ideas I have are good ones.  I didn’t like all of the posts I made this month, but they were part of the Write Something/Anything process.  There’s a part in Gail Carson Levine’s Writing Magic where she talks about respecting every idea that comes forward, even the really stupid ones.  She says that once your creativity sees how you treat those mediocre ideas, it will start sending out the really good ones.  Other writing teachers have stressed something similar over the years, but that’s the image that stuck with me: the Not So Great Ideas are the brazen ones that come forward immediately, while the Great Ideas are shy and need encouragement from seeing how I receive the others.  And once I started using those mediocre posts (again, because I just needed to write something that day), better writing came through in the following days.
  • Life gets in the way, but that doesn’t bother me unless I really wanted to write that post.  Even after getting to North Carolina, when we had just set up the internet, I managed to keep posting for a week and a half, even though we had no furniture and there were boxes everywhere and if I had forgotten to post it would have been from busyness and exhaustion, not laziness.  I really wanted to keep writing, so I did.  And when I didn’t have any ideas that gave me that energy, and I finally stopped posting every weekday, I wasn’t kicking myself for it, because I wasn’t missing an opportunity to say something amazing.  Life just happened.
  • People do actually read my blog.  I keep forgetting that when I show people something I posted, they might start reading regularly.  And I actually gained some followers (welcome, new friends!) during this month of posting consistently, and my reader traffic increased as well.  While that truly wasn’t a goal of my little challenge, I like knowing that people enjoy my writing!
  • There are topics I stay away from.  I feel like they might not match whatever theme my blog seems to have, or I feel like other people could say it better because they’re more experienced/informed/well-known/etc.  Going forward, I probably won’t post them here, but I do want to write out those thoughts and explore them more.
  • I like writing every day.  I forget that sometimes.

Thank you all for reading!



Reminders of Robin Hood

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nottingham, randomly remembering the curve of our street between the park and the cemetery, picturing myself suddenly there at random moments throughout the day.  I miss it.  I miss the Left Lion at the courthouse, my nondescript little room in our flat, the tea places tucked into every spare shopfront, the wide sidewalks around the university, the way the castle was just suddenly there when you turned certain corners.

This could be partly because the neighborhoods around here are full of streets named after various British Things – Robinhood Road, and Guinevere Lane, and Sherwood Forest Elementary School.  Then there are the fairytale names, like Fernhaven and Friendship Circle (not joking), which somehow don’t seem too saccharine because of the stately mansions lining both sides of these streets.  With every turn onto another Yorkshire or Greenbrier Farm, you think Yes, that makes sense here.

In Notts, I never knew where I was going to spot another beautiful, astoundingly ancient building.  Our flat was in a boring block of similar brick buildings, but it only took a short walk to reach the historic part of town.  The castle, of course, was the most obvious, stumbling into the old moat where the Robin Hood statue stands, which made me feel like a villager living in the shadow of Castle Rock way back when.  But there were also the pretty neighborhoods where our architecture tutors took us walking, the twists and turns (our new town isn’t laid out like a grid either, and I can’t quite make sense of it yet).

Here, in North Carolina, our house is in an early-aughts subdivision sandwiched between two parkways.  It’s pretty enough, especially compared to our old apartments, but a few minutes’ drive from us is a castle-like hotel with sweeping grounds, a mews, a stable, and guesthouses that look like mansions in their own right.  When we were house-hunting, when we got tired of the depressing reality of homes within our budget, we would get lost in the Robinhood Road neighborhoods, oohing and aahing over the columns and wraparound porches.

So once again, I’m living on the edges of grandeur.

I’m happy that this new place in which I know no one reminds me of another place in which I knew no one that turned out to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve been.

(No matter how long I live in the South, however, I will never be able to pronounce it Notting-HAM.)