new york city kid in arkansas
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For 17 very hot days in July, we three rode in planes, trains, and many cars to see colleges, family, friends, and the ocean. Our hero and homebody Huck has his eyes on very far away schools, and so off we went to see them in person. Thanks to years of living in Chicago and New York City, we were the thankful recipients of amazing hospitality beginning and ending in Davenport, Iowa. (This trip was brought to you by Jeni & Nathan, Dan & Michele, Lisa & Martin, Kristin & Andrew, Jen & Carl!) The predictable outcome? Huck’s top schools are MIT and University of Chicago. We saw many other fine contenders that Huck will apply to – some with official tours and others with us awkwardly walking around pointing to pretty buildings – and we will continue looking closer to home as well. Another predictable outcome? Fayetteville has made the Schremmers soft. The East Coast felt brutal at times with its fast traffic, lack of parking and public restrooms, and expensive price tags. Thank goodness for its fine people and ocean.

Things we learned about our hero on this journey: He can survive on little food. It takes him about six hours to crochet a tote bag. He felt a real connection at U-Chicago. He can drink more La Croix than anyone we’ve ever known. The next time he visits New York will be for a full week and he won’t be rushed to do anything. He’s a good highway driver. He does not like most school colors. He has a morbid sense of humor, especially with his cousin Lily. He’s an Enneagram Type 9 Peacemaker until he snaps and wants to kill me. He loves that MIT is full of whimsy. He wants to double major in math and French, perhaps teach math in Paris someday. He loves the beach at night. He will not consider a school whose dorms are not air conditioned. He really missed his friends during our time away. And lastly, he loses important things regularly like AirPods (found), crochet needle (found), overpriced phone charger (not found), wallet and keys (not found).

Next on our journey: college applications, financial aid forms, essay writing, and a trip to the DMV.

Leaving the Ordinary World

The Call to Adventure: University of Chicago!

The Mentor, Dan, in Recliner

A Walk Through our Old NYC Neighborhood!


Huck’s Magic Tree

Most of Huck’s Toddlerhood was Spent on those Swings

Princeton with the Miller-Margulis Family: Mafia Experts!

Princeton University

A Dream Come True with the Dackows in Madison!

New Jersey Transit: The Supreme Ordeal

I Suffered Heat Stroke During the Columbia University Tour.

I Made a Full Recovery at Tom’s.

Walking Around Yale Like Idiots

Cape Cod!

A Very Quick Visit to the Ocean While Our Hero Waited in the Car Because He Hates Beaches in Daylight

Seizing the Sword at MIT!  (Hero’s Journey Theme Beginning to Feel Forced)

Walking Around Harvard like Idiots in the Rain

Tired Hero

Last Night in Cape Cod

Dramatic Hero

Marking the passing of time with these VERY tall toddlers!

Same Kids & More, Similar Cookie 2013

Michigan State University – Huck No Longer Poses Normally

The Road Back to Chicago!

More Proof of the Passing of Time: Baby Noah’s 21!

I Wish You All Could Have Seen this Routine.

No Trip to Chicago is Complete Without Troy & Alice Gardening

Cousin Laughter in Davenport Before Returning Home with the Elixir of Knowledge of All Things College Tour Related!

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Happy Summer! It’s that magical time when we Schremmers are officially used to zero structure, the smell of sunscreen and bug spray, the sounds of tree frogs, cold air conditioning, waking up without alarms, the drive to the pool, and finding the best shady spots in the backyard. June gave us a visit to Kansas, the Pride Parade, our second boosters, “Stranger Things,” books, plays, personality tests, and Troy’s sunflowers, pinball league, plantar fasciitis, and library concerts. One of these things is not as fun as the others.

On the first day of July (being a very sentimental person who never forgets an important date), I reminded Huck that 18 years ago we found out I was pregnant with him. Also being a very sentimental person, he took my hand and led me to his desk where he pulled out a file folder filled with my love notes over the years. Something about when I’m dead he’ll read them and cry.

On the second day of July Huck applied to the University of Arkansas in order to take math classes there his senior year as I sat next to him playing Mahjong on my laptop, ready to offer answers (or a credit card) when he needed them. I rarely win this game but when I do, it rewards my success with a distant little pitiful volcano eruption and the words “great job.” I showed this to Huck and we laughed as he answered basic questions on the application. He became frustrated when we had to pay for his ACT scores to be sent to the school and he asked, “Why is it so hard to win?” I stopped what I was doing and silently pondered this profound, yet confusing, question. What did he feel he was losing? What did he need to win in this moment? Does he somehow feel like a loser? Then he pointed to my game and said, “In Mahjong. Why is it so hard to win?”

On the third day of July Sunny turned ten, making me question my general feeling that she’s still our new dog in our new town. And that brings us to today, the fourth day of July when the night will be filled with sounds of violence, reminding us of the absurdity of it all.

To quote my beautiful summer book, Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land: “Though it will seem simple at first, it’s actually quite complicated. No, no, it will seem complicated at first, but it’s actually quite simple.”

To July!

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Toward the end of my niece Lily’s high school graduation ceremony last weekend, her principal looked out at the class of ’22 and said, “Let your parents take pictures this afternoon. Remember that for them this is like your first day of kindergarten, and they’re having trouble keeping up. Be kind; time flies.” My little sister Jeni next to me became a puddle of tears as she vividly pictured Lily at age five climbing up into a yellow school bus with her name on an index card safety pinned to her dress. The next day we dried our tears, and the three of us went to Home Goods to shop for Lily’s dorm room at KU, making plans for future slumber parties. I secretly began picturing her college graduation.

These last few weeks have been all about endings and milestones, as May always is. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with a getaway to beautiful Mt. Magazine, and Huck finished his junior year with stellar grades and various certificates of achievements. I attended our school’s commencement ceremony and said goodbye to some special students, and all three of us are now enjoying a summer break filled with “Stranger Things” and plans to visit family, friends, and colleges soon. I’ve been rehearsing for the next time Huck and I bicker over some issue that relates to my need for control and his for independence. I plan to say in my best choked-up mother-voice, “Be kind! Time flies!” I’ll let you know how that goes.

Thanks for letting us take pictures, Lily.

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Needing a few more cups to fill our dishwasher, I went into Huck’s bedroom the other day knowing his messy desk and nightstand wouldn’t let me down. His room always smells faintly of tea, candles, incense, Bath & Bodyworks, and there are always blinking fairy lights on timers to keep you company. Sometimes I glance at his white board and get some insight into his to-do list, jokes with friends, math equations, or favorite song lyrics like this:

Later he explained this is from a song he loves called “You’re Not Special, Babe” by Orla Gartland who he suspects I will like. He said the lyrics comfort him in a funny way, reminding him of things his best friends tell him when he’s stressed, that he’s doing fine, and “we all go from heartbreak to happy to heartbreak.” He’s not special, babe.

(Oh, but he is.)

Our spring break was part happy and part heartbreak, just like the song says. Time spent with dear friends in Austin, the death of our friend Matt here in Fayetteville, laughter with friends, crying with friends, a Saturday brunch, a Friday funeral, flower planting, Huck’s stomach bug, a Razorback win, a Razorback loss, many sunny dog walks, and the passing of a favorite family dog yesterday. Our spring break began and ended with loss, but there was a lot of happy in the middle.

As our friend and poet Matt once wrote: “There is no world until all our friends arrive there.”

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Somehow this is my first blog post of 2022 and the only year ever to skip Huck’s birthday. The other night I had a dream that I took a nap, woke up and discovered I’d lost my baby Mabel. I ran all around some strange house and neighborhood looking for her, shocked that I’d been so negligent. Back in the 1990s Jamie and Paul Buchman from “Mad About You” named their baby Mabel, and when she’s a teenager complaining about it, Jamie patiently explains that the name means “Mothers Always Bring Extra Love.”  I’m no dream expert, but whoa. I think I was dreaming about this poor, neglected blog.

So here’s a little recap.

Back in early February I walked through snow in my flip flops to our Adirondack chairs to read in the sunshine. It was like two different seasons in the same back yard and a perfect example of the February Twilight Zone that Troy and I had been living in. First there was the snow and ice that closed the town down and forced us to reschedule our annual Circus Play, then there was Troy’s Covid diagnosis, then there was my Covid diagnosis, then there were three straight negative tests in a row for Huck, who was deeply disappointed and slammed a door or two. No one wanted a break from school more than Huck, but he was going to have to depend on the weather for that and not the pandemic.

This year so far has been about snow days, canceled and rescheduled plans, touches of spring, The ACT, SAT and All-State Choir for Huck, a trip to Kansas for me, Troy’s children’s book, my Wizard of Oz production, planning college visits over the summer, and snow in tomorrow’s forecast.

But perhaps most important, Aunt Jeni came for her annual visit to celebrate Huck’s birthday this last weekend. At 17, Huck has a very part-time career editing videos, maintaining websites, and creating Power Point presentations. He’s a junior in high school with no social media. He’s an academic, a procrastinator, and a lover of manicures, rings, incense, tea, the French language, and Apple products. He wants to go to MIT and one day be a math or physics professor. His hair is the envy of every woman he meets, and he wears white Converse with tiny red lips all over them. He regularly burdens me with his stresses and then yells at me when I nag him. The best advice I get is to let him fail, to stop reminding him of all his deadlines, to let him grow up. But I can’t. I just have too much extra love.

When I told Huck about my dream, he suggested it was about him and the future. At 17, he’s also sensitive. Whatever its meaning, it had a happy ending when someone found Mabel and she was fine, thank goodness. Just like this trusty old blog. To make up for my long nap, here are pictures from the last 68 days. Happy New Year!


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On this last day of 2021, here’s Troy’s 30th Christmas card, inspired by the first one in 1992:

On to 2022!

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My mom and I write letters to each other regularly, and here’s how she ended a recent one: “I remember a sad Christmas. Mom and Dad (my grandparents) had just moved to Tulsa. Dad (my dad) took a picture of Lori and me eating at our card table. Then we realized we were a family and we put smiles on our faces.”

I know this photograph well; my dad often talks about it as proof of their humble beginnings on E. Beloit Street in my hometown of Salina, Kansas. My dad will say, “We had nothing, but we were so happy.” Within a few years they’d have two more children and my grandparents would settle back in Wichita for the remainder of their life together, a mere 75 miles away. Sometimes when we visit I ask my dad to drive by that little white duplex seemingly so far from my childhood home on Marc Street, if only to watch him become a sentimental sweetheart for a few minutes.

We three will be alone together this Christmas, sans card table (though Huck wishes we had one for puzzles) and grandparents. There will be souvenirs from my childhood Christmases like chips ‘n dip, Shirley Temples, Johnny Mathis, and delightful hours of very slow gift unwrapping on Christmas Eve night. We three quite like a quiet Christmas at home sometimes, allowing ourselves to rest and recover from the excitement of a busy fall semester. But I always become a sentimental sweetheart right about now.

Here are some photographs of our family from Thanksgiving, the kickoff to this wonderful season that now feels like months ago. My mom, dad and Lori will once again be together for another Christmas, this time at a nice big table surrounded by grandchildren, great-grandchildren, happy dogs, and some of the most amazing food and smells you can imagine. And smiles on all their faces.

(Heartbreaking update: My dad woke up sick and had to stay home today. My mom is with Lori and her family having a wonderful time being pampered.)

Home Sweet Home

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Last week, all but Sunny had one exciting performance after another in our family, causing late night wrap-ups of our day (that’s 9:45pm for us), a little sleep deprivation, fast dinners, achy bodies, and constant stimulation. There was sarcastic singing of “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” and to-do lists that were finally given up on. And when the culmination of my December hard work was in process on Thursday evening during the closing performance of “The Magical Forest,” I stood in the wings watching the Cowboy Dolls gallop off the stage and leave behind the sad remains of the sole of a boot with bits of gaffer tape and old hot glue, the morning’s attempt to repair this broken shoe. And with that, all the hard work, stress, chaos and exhaustion of the week were reduced to delightful silent laughter as I took joy in the little human beings making art and making mistakes for a packed audience of amazed and proud parents. I plan to keep this cowboy boot remnant forever and remember the child who kept on galloping without it.

Troy’s performances included a very sweet outdoor caroling event for the early childhood education population called Light Up the Night, as well as a couple of Mr. Troy Christmas concerts, one over Zoom and one at the Fayetteville Public Library. And of course he’s famous for greeting students and faculty in the lobby this time of year with rousing renditions of Jingle Bells and Rudolph, surrounded by young kids dancing and singing along. It’s really all Scrooge would have needed to change his mind.

But most importantly, Huck has spent the semester learning 16 songs for three Madrigal Feast performances. As a kid attending St. Paul’s Wednesday night services, he would watch the place get transformed every early December for the fancy high school choir event that included Renaissance-style costumes, lots of candles, and incredible singing. He had to audition for this special choir and rehearse outside of school hours; the first time he ever drove alone at night was home from one of these rehearsals. Not only did this mean extra time with his beloved choir directors, but his much missed junior high teachers are also involved in this endeavor. We attended the closing Madrigal Feast on Saturday night with dear John and Shana, and after helping take down decorations, load cars and transport everything back to the high school for next year, Huck joined his choir classmates and teachers for a late night celebration at Village Inn. Troy and I struggled to stay awake waiting for him and realized that between Huck not being a party animal and the pandemic restrictions of the last year and a half, we’ve never set a curfew for him. He came home just after midnight full of stories of the evening, and I tried my hardest to channel my inner Linda Hottman, mom extraordinaire who always waited up for me after high school play practices and performances to hear every last detail.

In between “Magical Forest” shows on Thursday afternoon, the yearbook staff and I sat outside working in the spring-like weather. First graders were out enjoying recess, and three of them came and sat sort of near us. I waved at my little friends, two snow fairies and a toy soldier, and said something about their beautiful mouths and noses that I’d never seen before. After a few polite moments one of them said, “Wait. Are you the one that directs the play?” They too had never me without a mask, and though we’d spent the last few weeks together every single day they didn’t recognize my face. We four giggled with delight and talked about our excitement for the evening show in a few short hours.

I plan to keep all these remnants forever.

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The day after a very nostalgic Halloween, Huck woke me up from an after-work snooze in front of the fire to tell me that A) I forgot to order his yearbook, B) He needs his fancy choir pants hemmed by Saturday, and C) He needs new dress shoes also by Saturday. And I need to order his All-Region t-shirt by tomorrow. And he needs a fancy baking pan for French Week, which is next week. Oh, and at some point we really need to try to fix his cracked phone that he keeps dropping, breaking, fixing, dropping, breaking and fixing.

As we went into a full-blown debate that rivaled Hamilton and Jefferson’s Cabinet Battle #2 with Troy playing a slightly biased Washington, a part of me began to sink back into my sweet memories of the day before when life was so much simpler. Back then I was finding old pictures of Huck as a baby scarecrow, Huck and Troy as the spider and Miss Muffet, all three of us as Pumpkin Heads who spent Halloween blind and deaf. I was thinking back to our many New York nights and then our limited Fayetteville nights of trick or treating with dear friends, none of whom I saw this year (but many of whom I sentimentally texted). I realized that Halloween is the most bittersweet holiday of all, but I’ll take it anyway.

Now it’s November 10th, the glorious peak of fall around these parts, and all those things from the first paragraph have come and gone, just like trick or treating, just like the tree’s leaves, just like my students’ plays last week, just like Huck’s all-region choir concert, just like daylight savings, just like my strep throat, just like Troy’s scarecrow.

But don’t worry; they always return.

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Ten years ago Troy, Huck and I went to the Maker’s Fair in Queens, New York at the Hall of Science Museum. We had agreed to put in some volunteer time with a wonderful organization in our Washington Heights neighborhood called Skraptacular, which promoted recycling and reusing. Within seconds of arriving, we were somehow wearing creative homemade signs around our necks that someone else made and pushing a giant recyling bin around the place shouting things like “Recycle! Reduce! Reuse!” while our six year old scientist followed us around obediently. At one point Troy secretly muttered through the corner of his mouth, “Oh, the situations we get ourselves into …”

This half-sentence has been on repeat for the last decade, and it always makes us cry-laugh. A variation of it came a couple weeks ago as we were frantically shoving Clif Bars down our throats while driving right back to The New School for a 5:30 volleyball game to see some of my yearbook students in action. I looked at my once young husband with his mouth full of organic rolled oats and unsweetened chocolate and said, “What has become of us?” He answered, “We made some choices in life, and here we are.”

The next evening after dinner Huck abandoned us as usual to worship the god of homework, and while Troy did the dishes and I swept the floor, both of us at the exact same time began quoting different lines from George Bailey’s existential crisis medley of “Why did we have to have all these kids?” and “Oh, our car’s not good enough for ya?” What happened next is what always happens next: more “It’s a Wonderful Life” quotes, more terrible Jimmy Stewart impressions, more cry-laughter.

Tonight we can be found in the crowd at the final high school volleyball game of the season, losing our voices as we cheer for students we’ve known since they were first graders, remembering that life’s wonderfulness comes in unexpected places sometimes.