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Desperate Housewives of Roland Park

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On February 1, 2009, my eight-year-old daughter Jane, my miniature dachshund Beau, and I pulled up behind the moving truck in front of our new home in Baltimore, a sage-green rowhouse on a tree-lined street. As the movers began to unload, I went in to make sure everything was clean and ready. It was, except the basement, where a crew of workers were still remodeling a rocky, inhospitable cave into a usable room. The contractor had explained that the job was bigger than he’d expected and they’d probably be around for several weeks after I moved in. No big deal, I said. I didn’t need the space until both boys came home to visit from college.

I stuck my head in the basement door to let the workers know I’d arrived. “Buenas dias!” I called.

Within the first few hours, one of my new neighbors had stopped by with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and her daughter Julianne, also a third-grader. When they left, they took Jane with them to their house. So I was alone in the kitchen, hanging pots on the rack over the stove, admiring a nice frying pan the previous owners had left behind, when an attractive, loose-limbed Latino man in a knit ski cap came upstairs to fill a bucket with water. The minute he set eyes on me, a look of interest crossed his face.

I stepped to the side to let him get to the sink and his paint-spattered plaid flannel shirt brushed my arm. Our eyes met. His were liquid black.

Gracias, senora,” he said when the bucket was full, and turned to go back downstairs.

Como te llamas?” I asked.

“Humberto,” he said, flashing me that smile again before he shut the basement door. He had a way of gazing at me as if I were Aphrodite.

By this time, it had been over a year since my husband moved out. The only man I’d been  with in that time was … my husband. But now that was over; it had been six months since I had last driven over to his house like a zombie and thrown myself onto his bed, the vortex of sexual energy still swirling between us. Half a year, but still I’d felt physically ill that morning when I realized there was a woman at his house. I had called at 8 a.m. with a frantic last-minute question about some stuff he’d left in the basement. When he didn’t answer the phone, very unlike him, I called again. I called his landline and his cellphone about three times each, then texted and emailed. When he finally picked up at 10:30 and shouted, “What the hell do you want?” I absolutely knew.

Honestly I’d known since 8:01.

Have I mentioned the man’s initials are tattooed on my shoulder?

 

My marriage to Crispin Gallagher Sartwell, Ph.D. had ended badly, brimming with blame and misery on both sides, and I’d been unhappy for years before we split. But I had yet to untangle myself emotionally, and I still had either nightmares or sex dreams about him every night. I might never get over it, it seemed.

Nonetheless, now that he was with someone else, that was that. I had to move on. But what to do? Go online? Hit the bars? Beg my friends to fix me up? Start cruising the Central Americans in the basement? Or somehow adjust to a life without love, sex or passion?

The way I saw it at the time, only one of these choices was totally out of the question.

The way I saw it at the time, those were the choices.

Jane started school the Monday after we moved in, so I was alone in the house with the construction crew. Sitting at my desk grading papers, I was surprised when I felt someone standing behind me.

Que haces?” asked Humberto.

Trabajo,” I replied. I speak very little Spanish, but I was able to explain that I am a writing teacher. And a writer. I gestured to my books, sitting on the shelf. Something about the way he looked at them suggested that it wasn’t just that he didn’t read English. It was that he didn’t read.

Tu no lees?

He shrugged. “No mucho.

I pulled down a book whose cover shows a picture of my first husband and me with our baby sons. He pointed to my name and tried to pronounce it. “Mah ree on … Weeneek. Es tu?

Es la historia de mi primera, um, mi primera… marriage. Mi esposo es muerte de SIDA.

His eyes widened. My first husband died of AIDS?

Hace mucho tiempo,” I said. “16 years.”

He shook his head sympathetically and touched my cheek.

Most of our interactions were no longer than that. A couple of times a day, he found a reason to venture upstairs. If I was at the desk, he’d come up behind me and touch my shoulders or stroke my hair. If I was in the kitchen, he would just stand there and look at me.

One day, I decided to use Dr. Sartwell’s Amazon Prime account so I could get free shipping on some books I needed. This turned out to be the very last time I ever used it, because I saw that he had sent a copy of the Kama Sutra to his new girlfriend, who lived in New Jersey. I nearly passed out, even though I realized it was my own fault I found this out, it was none of my business and it was no surprise. I told myself to stop thinking immediately about whether this meant she was an innocent who needed to be initiated in the ways of the world or a super-freak who would try things I never imagined.

But — did we ever even look at the Kama Sutra together? We did have a bunch of crazy electric dildos and stuff from when I did an article on sex-toy home parties for a women’s magazine. I was thinking of the thing that looked like a rubber tarantula and fighting tears when suddenly Humberto appeared behind me.

For the first time, I got up out of my chair and turned to face him. He put his arms around me and I leaned into his chest. He was muscular yet soft, much bigger than me where my husband was about my same size, and there was a sweet unselfconscious quality to the way he held his body, as if he’d never given much thought to his abs, his pecs or his quads, which makes sense when you come from a place where hunger is the biggest physical fitness issue.

Our hug lasted a minute or so, then we pulled apart. “Tu pelo,” I said, looking up at him, running my hand through his newly cropped hair.

No te gustas?

I smiled. “Me gusta mas largo.” If this meant I like long hair, it was only sheer luck.

It went on like this for weeks — hugs, looks, confusing conversations — until I began to worry. By now all the other guys knew what was going on. Did they talk about us? Did he talk to them about me? What if they told the boss?

In fact, the other men were unfailingly nice to me, extremely polite and always helpful when I needed something. Every day, they all trooped upstairs and asked me if it would be okay to microwave their lunches, and we usually exchanged a few sentences about how great the basement was turning out.  At some point, Humberto stopped going back down with them to eat. Instead, he sat at my kitchen counter and opened his plastic container of food and his bottle of orange soda.

Que es eso?” I wondered. It smelled so good. “Tu cocinas?

No, he didn’t cook it himself. He explained that the ladies on his street sold plate lunches to go for the working men. “Ven aqui,” he said, putting a forkful in my mouth.

Having lived 20 years in Texas, I loved this kind of food. In fact, this food could be the reason for the 20 years in Texas. I showed him my jars of pickled jalapenos and habaneros and bottled hot sauces and told him how I love to cook frijoles negros and frijoles pintos. He wrapped up a bite of beans for me in a homemade corn tortilla.

“Mmmmm,” I said as the masa melted in my mouth.

The next day, he brought me a foil package of fresh, hot tortillas.

When Jane got home from school, I rolled one up for her with butter and jam. “Humberto brought these for us,” I told her gaily. “Isn’t that so sweet?”

“Humberto?” she said, eyeing both me and the snack with suspicion in her big blue eyes. “Is he your boyfriend?”

“No, silly, of course not.”

“Then why are you always talking about him?” she said.

Well, Miss Third Grader, that was a good question.

At this point the crew was almost done in the basement and began alternating my project with other jobs. One day, Humberto pulled out his cellphone and asked me to put my number in it. I couldn’t think why since we could barely talk to each other, but I did it anyway. Sure enough, he called me often. He said Hola, I said Hola, then he would say something else which I had to ask to him to repeat 200 times until we gave up. Then he said Adios and I said Adios.

Though we never kissed, unfortunate progress was eventually made on other fronts. He would run his hands over my body, but had a way of pinching whatever he got hold of that I couldn’t stand. It wasn’t your usual two-fingered pinch, but a whole-hand squeeze, as if he were juicing a particularly resistant citrus fruit. Finally I used Google Translate to look up “pinch.”

No me pellizcas,” I told him.

Pellizcas?

Como eso.” I did to him what he was doing to me.

He chuckled and pushed my hand away, but also looked a little hurt. No matter, I hadn’t gotten anywhere because the next time we were together he started doing it again. Had no woman ever told him about this problem before? No one would like this technique, I was sure. Didn’t they complain?

The truth is, I liked it so little that I was beginning to cool towards him. Yes, he was cute but the pinching delivered a message to me that nothing else had.

Really, we weren’t right for each other.

But to put it in Pokemon terms, the ability of looking must be stronger than the ability of pinching, because looking beat pinching in this Poke-battle. When Humberto called a few days later to say he wanted to come over and see me, I didn’t ignore it or pretend I didn’t understand, as I had in the past. I made a plan. He would come on a Saturday, when Jane would be with her dad in Pennsylvania. I’d drive over to where he lived and pick him up around noon — except for the bus, he had no other way to get here.

It took about ten minutes for him to give me the directions since he was saying Fayette but I was hearing Fie-jet, so didn’t recognize the name of one of the biggest streets in town.

The day of our date, I was nervous. Why was I doing this, if I didn’t really want to? I guess it seemed like my best chance or even my only chance to have sex, which I obviously had to do as a phase in my recovery. I put on black yoga pants and a stretchy, V-necked black shirt, and I drove across town to the barrio, where he was waiting for me, standing in the rain without an umbrella.

He was dressed up, sort of heartbreakingly, in an ironed shirt, pants of shiny, thin material and black lace-up shoes. Though I liked him better in the hoodie and ski cap, I appreciated the sense of occasion. When we got to my house, I offered him something to eat. He didn’t want food, but drank plenty of champagne.

With my laptop open on the coffee table and Google Translate running harder than a shredder at Goldman Sachs, I was able to learn many more things about Humberto than I had before. Such as, he had three kids at home in El Salvador whom he hadn’t seen for four years. And their mother — his wife? he was vague on this — had left him. (Actually, it looked to me like he had left her.)

The kids? Didn’t he miss his kids?

Oh, yes, he did.

This is a sexy conversation, isn’t it?

He was tossing the ball for Beau, which only showed how uncomfortable he was, since he usually treated the dog as some kind of large rodent. Despite the champagne, neither of us was the least bit bubbly as we trooped grimly upstairs to the bedroom.

He took off his shoes and lay on top of the quilt.

I took my shirt off — somebody had to do something, right? — but when he started some half-hearted pinching through my black bra, I rolled away.

Then he said, “No tengo un condón. He olvidado.

He forgot his condoms? This seemed kind of hard to believe, so we confirmed the translation. Condón. Profilactico. Preservador. Perhaps I should try to tell him that my tubes were tied so we didn’t need the condón.

Su marido murió de SIDA, no?

Oh, okay. AIDS. Right. I could have attempted to explain that I didn’t have the HIV virus but really, I just wanted to put my shirt back on. Meanwhile, he looked about to cry. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

Estoy muy triste,” he told me. “Mi vida — es muy triste.

Porque? Que es la problema?

Es mi hermano,” he said, and the tears rolled. He told me that his brother was trying to come to the United States from Salvador and was stuck in Mexico. He needed money to pay the coyote or they would keep him there. It was very, very dangerous, like when Humberto himself came he almost died. So, maybe could I please give him some money? He looked at me with tortured hope, his dark eyes wet.

“How much money is it?” I wondered.

He told me.

At this point, my eyes also filled with tears and I leapt off the bed. I mean I felt bad about his brother and I knew I wasn’t Aphrodite but this was really pretty far to fall.

Before I took him home, we sat on my front porch with Google Translate and had as serious a conversation as we could manage. I tried to explain how I felt, and to reassure him that I knew how he must feel. I didn’t think he meant to hurt me, but he had, and I didn’t have three thousand dollars to spare.  Also, I told him, you should never ask a woman for money in her bedroom. It just isn’t done.

He may or may not have understood, he may or may not cared, but it was time for me to drive him back to Fie-jet, where I would give him two twenties toward the cause. Then, if I knew what was good for me, I would close Google Translate forever and sign up for Match.com, where I might not find love but I would at least find people in my age group who spoke English.

Our new columnist Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl. Please note: Some identifying details have been changed in the essay above.

Public v. private school: which has the advantage?

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Public school or private school? Do you think it matters? Do you think one or the other will help your child get into a better college?  Having conducted a very scientific study, I can report here which school system parents think is better, and better at getting their kids into top-notch colleges:  neither.  I interviewed eight families, four who have sent their children to public school from K-12, and four who have sent their children to private school from K-12.  I asked each family (in the person of my girlfriends) five questions, designed to elicit their opinions about the public/private distinction, or whether there is one, in terms of getting into college.  I expected families to embrace their own choices, and celebrate the value of the school system their child attends.  Here is what I learned:  

  1. If money were no object, would you send your child/ren to public or private school? Explain.

To generalize, the families with children in private schools said they would (as they do) send their kids to private school.  The reasons?  Smaller class sizes, greater individual attention, perception that teachers are better, and environment is more controlled.  One said their kids went to private school because her husband and she had gone to private schools.  It’s what they know.  There was an expectation that academics are more rigorous, and a sense that the course offerings are broader in range.  

Again, to generalize, the families with children in public schools said they would probably send their children to public school, even if money were no object, because “public elementary schools are better equipped to meet a vast range of needs.  Public schools can accommodate the range of students from gifted to challenged.”  Some of the public school parents said they might consider private schools for their children if money were no object, because they like the idea of the smaller class sizes, but one of the families expressed concern that exposure to high levels of privilege might warp their children’s assumptions about the world in general, and might impact their ability to adapt to a larger student body in college. 

A point of interest:  the two places where both sets of parents found common ground in preferring private school were in class size and guidance/college counseling. 

  1. Do you think sending your child to public/private school will affect his/her ability to get into college (any college)? Explain.

Private school families:  I got a mixed bag of yes’s and no’s – some thought private school will better prepare their children for standardized testing and resume building; some thought the academics would prepare their children better for the college application process.  But two families thought it would “not necessarily” make any difference. 

Thoughts from the public school families:  No difference – “I think a good student is a good student no matter where they go.”  Based on what these families have seen in their public schools, the competitive students are taking challenging courses and doing well. “Colleges seem to look at the GPA, class ranking, AP classes, and SAT/ACT scores pretty closely,” and if a student thrives at public school, it seems to these parents to put them in the same place as a good student in a private school.  

  1. Do you think sending your child to public/private school will affect the caliber of college your child will be accepted to?  Explain.

The answers to this question were more consistent between the two groups – both generally thought the public/private choice would not necessarily affect the caliber of college their child would be eligible for, except for the perception that “colleges are actively pursuing public school students.”  One parent mentioned that the quality of the public school system really matters, and one parent held strong that private school is better for preparing their child, so it might make a difference.  Again, one factor favoring private: “the opportunity for college counseling might help with the higher caliber schools,” and if you are looking at the Ivys, private school pedigree might help.  But, one public school parent, whose son is going to Princeton in the fall, said “I think your kid is going to do what your kid is going to do wherever he or she is.”

  1. Do you think your child has better opportunities in the school system you have chosen over the school system you did not choose? Explain.

Parents agreed that the opportunities varied between public and private, but both had strong positives in their own camp.  For the privates, that individual attention, and ability to create relationships with teachers, was special – the personal experience.  For the publics, athletics were a clear plus.  Privates have study abroad, but clubs, music and drama, were diverse and numerous at the publics. 

  1. Do you think your child is happier having gone through the school system you have chosen over the school system you did not choose?  Explain.

All the parents I spoke with, save one, said their children are happy where they are and would not change systems.  There were some particular reasons (e.g., more attention at private school, local public school is not good, more teams to try out for), but the reason that grabbed my attention was from a public school friend.  She said her kids are happy because they know when it comes time to choose colleges, they will have enough money to pay for any school they want.

So, ignoring flaws in methodology, it is still interesting to hear how parents feel at this pivotal time – at the end of the elementary/high school era, where the rubber hits the road in college admissions.  I am always happy when my friends celebrate their choices and for the families I spoke to there are no regrets.

Water, Water Everywhere

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HOT HOUSE: 622 Ponte Villas N. Baltimore, 21230

Luxury double townhouse, newly built, in brick and  pre-cast concrete, situated at the end of a pier in the Inner Harbor: $8,500,000

What:  Billed as “Baltimore’s most extraordinary property,” it must be said that this is  also Baltimore’s most expensive property. Whatever. This is truly an amazing home. Jutting out from a pier of high-end townhouses in the Inner Harbor, this double-sized home sits like an ocean liner at rest, surrounded on three sides by water. Light pours in from giant windows, boats sail by, and at night skyline and water reflections are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Built in 2007,  622 Ponte Villas really feels more like a large yacht than a house. 9.060 square feet, state of the art systems, smart house technology, home theater, sauna, five-stop elevator, deck upon deck, gorgeous view upon gorgeous view — all culminating in a 75 foot roof deck and spa with hot tub.  Six bedrooms, including a master suite like a Hollywood set.  Seven full baths, three half-baths, gourmet kitchen, the list goes on. The complex has a private marina, indoor and outdoor pools and countless other amenities. 

Where: Ponte Villas is part of a luxury development called Pier Homes at Harbor View. From the Key Highway, it is just past the Visionary Arts Museum, a stone’s throw from Federal Hill and the Inner Harbor.  

Why: Because you’re ready to change your life — and not in a shy way.

Why not:  No helipad.  Seriously, this development was conceived during the go go years of Baltimore real estate, but came to market just as the market started to sour. Take a close look at the asking price, and wonder. 

Would  Suit: Saudi sheik, recovering at Hopkins, sick of the desert. Retirees who haven’t lost their sense of adventure/their fortune…


Own Your Look!

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Welcome to Sartorial Baltimorial, our weekly street chronicle of a Baltimorean who expresses his or her personality in dress. We sent out fashion writer and stylist Mary Ellen Brown and Annapolis photographer Lee Kriel to cast their trained eyes and I.D. local personal style at its best. – The Eds.

 

Yoga instructor Elaine caught our eye with her natural beauty and incredible dreadlocks as she entered Whole Foods Market in Mt. Washington.

 

Tell me about your dreadlocks. Is that your real hair?

Yes. I haven’t brushed my hair in eleven years.

Eleven years. Wow! How do you wash it?

Like a mop! It’s wash, wash, wash (makes washing noise) and then squeeze, like a mop.

What did you dress for today?

I’m a yoga instructor so I have to wear something that won’t get in the way of my movement.

Of course you’re a yoga instructor! What do you usually wear?

Most days I wear a girly top and yoga pants.  I have to be able to move.

Thanks for talking to us.

You made my day! 


Roland Park Condo Combines elegance and convenience

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HOT HOUSE: 6 Upland Road, Apt. F-3, Baltimore, 21210

Luxury three bedroom condominium, completely renovated in 2007, in a landmark Beaux-Arts building in Roland Park with private courtyard and gardens: $448,500 

What: Nestled deep in the heart of Roland Park, among the big Victorians and summer cottages of old Baltimore, lie the Upland Road condominiums. Silence reigns, except for the hum of dragonflies over the courtyard reflecting pool. Both grounds and property look very well maintained. Apartment F-3 is generously proportioned, at  2,169 sq. ft., with the high ceilings and thick plaster walls of an earlier era. The recent renovation has created an open, modern space, with a 30’ living/dining room and beautiful kitchen/family room with lots of built-in storage and gas fireplace. The master bedroom (15’x16’) has a large walk-in closet with built-ins for storage, as well as a marble bath. Custom lighting, crown molding, hardwood floors, two additional large bedrooms and a second full bath.  The kitchen has a breakfast bar, also plenty of space for a table, and new appliances. Everything is fresh, so you could move in here tomorrow. Elevator access. Parking included in list price.   

Where:  Upland Road leads off of Roland Avenue, number six is at the intersection of Upland and Club Road, diagonally across from the Baltimore Country Club clubhouse. The nearby and picturesque Tudor style shops (“first shopping mall in the country” a plaque reads) on Roland Avenue include not only neighborhood favorite, French bistro Petit Louis, but a planned new ‘neighborhood’ restaurant from the Tony Foreman/Cindy Wolf restaurant group. 

Why:  A great walking neighborhood. Apartments have an unusually gracious and solid feel. Peaceful and safe, just lock the door and leave. 

NB:  No central air. Place has a grown-up feeling, probably not  ideal for raising kids.

Would Suit: Empty nesters, singles, or young couples who’ve outgrown the downtown scene. Also part-time Baltimoreans (six months in Roland Park, six months in the south of France…)


Que Sera, Sera. Test Results Will Be What they Will Be…

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When the PSAT scores came home earlier this year that envelope was opened as fast as any birthday present. I’m not sure, really, what the results actually mean. They say the scores are rough predictors of future SAT scores. So, for instance, if you earn a 200 on your combined PSAT, you can expect to earn about a 2000 on your combined SATs. 2400 is the Holy Grail.
There are, however, some variables, they say. Your student will be months older when he or she takes the actual SAT (for the first time). He or she will have had those additional months of substantive instruction. And, very importantly, he or she might have taken an SAT prep course. Omni Test, Horizons, Kaplan, Sylvan, you name it. We willingly pay the small fortune for these courses, in hopes of helping our children improve their SAT scores by 100, 200, some say even as much as 400 points. These can be life-changing numbers for a kid whose GPA alone won’t earn that letter of admission. Or so we believe.
Oddly, we heard no comparisons. There was no chat about who in the class had done well and who had not. Something good has happened with our children, and they have learned to respect each other’s privacy. Or, perhaps they have learned to protect themselves. If you are not asking, then you are also not telling. Maybe they have begun to mature or evolve to that place where we adults now stand, where your position relative to others in the professional world is not something you talk about with polite company—it is a subject reserved for you and your supervisor, or you and your spouse or partner or closest friend.
 
For most of us, our kids have also taken the SAT by now…  Scores are in, and I can tell you the numbers do not always go up from PSAT to SAT.  I think the truth is, “test day” may be as important as the number of prep classes your child has taken.  Our daughter took SATs on the Saturday following mid-term exams.  She was fried.  No matter she had learned all the tricks for easy elimination on the multiple choice format, no matter that she understands the quadratic equation.  She was tired, and a tired kid is not a good test taker.  They don’t really focus on these common sense pieces to test prep at the fee-for-service operations.  We know she will take the SAT again – most kids do.  But now we know it is not all about the prep course (although we remain hopeful that our investment is not a waste!).  Tests are tests are tests, and sometimes your teenager performs to ability, and sometimes not.  
So, congratulations, I say! Whatever that PSAT or SAT score was, I say “good job!” As we do for ourselves in real life, I will encourage our kids to try harder, do better if they can the next time, and learn something. But, as in real life, we must acknowledge where we stand right now. Not everyone will get that 2400 on the SAT, and not everyone can be the MVP at work. For all you overachievers out there, a disappointing score might spur you to action. But for the regular kids, I say love yourself. The world will meet you where you are.    

Can a Good Slap Shot Pave the Way to a Good College?

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I feel stupidly naïve.  I didn’t understand about the slap shot.  To explain…

We had our meeting last week with Emily’s college counselor at school.  It progressed as we expected… introductions, expectations, process. Emily is our oldest child, so some of this seems new.  Yes, my husband and I both attended college, and even law school after that, but we’ve never been PARENTS to someone applying to college.  Point of view is everything sometimes.  The same experience can feel so different depending on your role in the events.  So, we went to the meeting with an open mind, interested in the advice the college counselor might share.

Emily is a very strong student.  She attends an academically rigorous college preparatory high school, and her peers are very accomplished young women.  When looking at colleges, though, it is hard to know where she will get in, and where she will not be accepted.  One of the tools the college counseling office shares with the students, and their parents, is a software program called Naviance.  This program allows college juniors and seniors to compare their position, and likelihood for acceptance to any given college or university, to the position of graduates of their high school – an “apples to apples” comparison.  These earlier students have taken the same courses from the same teachers with the same standards for grading.  Just as this helps colleges and universities compare the girls, it also helps the girls predict where they will be successful in the application process.

Example:  In 2010, 13 girls from Emily’s school applied to Boston College, and three were admitted.  In 2009, eight girls applied to BC, and two were admitted.  In 2008, six applied and two were admitted.  And so on…  On Naviance, we can see what their SAT scores and GPAs were, and extrapolate what Emily’s chances for admission at that school might be.  

The information about these girls is delivered in a few different formats, and the one I like the best is a graph, called a “scattergram.”  The axes of the graph are GPAs and SAT scores, and the acceptances are charted with a green square, while rejections are marked with a red x.  Our daughter’s point on the graph is marked with a circle, showing where she falls based on her current GPA and first set of SAT scores.  In general, the scores don’t lie.  Kids don’t get into colleges where they can’t succeed.  

But, sometimes there are outliers – green squares representing students whose grades and scores are not in the heat of the commonly accepted students, falling below the averages for acceptance at the school in consideration.  Foolishly, I allowed myself to think that some outliers were getting green squares because of exceptional character, extra-curriculars, leadership qualities, and overall wonderfulness.  But I wasn’t thinking about the slap shot!

So, I asked the college counselor about my “outlier” theory.  Were those other girls from our school whose grades didn’t fit the profile also young leaders, like Emily?  Well-rounded, hard-working girls who would be an asset wherever they landed, even if their grades were not top 5%?  Did she have a chance at the schools where her numbers did not match the averages?  His response, delivered with an apologetic expression hanging on his face, was “No.  Those girls mostly have an amazing slap shot.”  I felt so foolish – I just hadn’t seen it coming.   

A Steal in Bolton Hill

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HOT HOUSE: 143 West Lanvale Street, Baltimore 21217

Large, Victorian-era townhouse with stone exterior, restored, in Bolton Hill: $524,900  

What: For anyone who loves upscale city living, this elegant, updated 1880’s townhouse is the answer to a dream. Bolton Hill is probably the most beautiful neighborhood in Baltimore, with a nice mix of residents and a true neighborhood feel. Quieter in the summer, when the nearby MICA students leave, it is an immanently walkable, visually-pleasing place to live. The house at 143 West Lanvale Street is spacious and comfortable, with wood floors and crown molding throughout.  Everything recently restored, including all systems. It features a gourmet cooks kitchen with granite breakfast bar and an extraordinary master bedroom suite which comprises the entire third floor and has French doors opening onto a pretty deck with south-facing views of the city.  Amenities include a steam shower, soaking tub, and covered back porch which overlooks a sweet urban garden. Zoned central air, and at least two wood-burning fireplaces, including one in the master suite. In Manhattan, this would be a $10 million house (just with better shopping). 

Where: West Llanvale Street is in the heart of Bolton Hill, with easy access to Penn Station and the MARC train. B bistro is where it’s at restaurant-wise, with a few sandwich and coffee shops within easy reach.  

Why: Because you can feel rich, without being rich.  Bolton Hill, and this house, were built on a grand scale for the wealthy occupants of Baltimore in its heyday. The period details and beautiful, solid construction will be there long after you’re gone–it’s your place in history.

Why Not: The olive-colored bathroom tile, may not be to everyone’s taste. Neighbor points out “leave anything valuable on your car seat, it will get stolen.”

Would Suit: City-oriented couple, old house enthusiasts, urban family who for $500 can join the neighborhood’s beloved Bolton Hill pool and tennis club 


It’s Not All About Resume Building

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A woman at the gym struck up conversation the other day. She recognized me from our girls’ high school, although her daughter is a few years older than ours. She asked, with real compassion, “So, how’s the college thing going?” There is this shared experience among parents, an empathy that transcends the chitchat, around this topic. Her daughter is already in college, a freshman at Penn, she told me with a suppressed smile of pride on her cheek. Our girls are in junior and sophomore years, so we are just beginning the journey.

This mother said to me, “I know you haven’t asked me for any advice, and maybe you don’t want it, but here is the most important thing anyone ever said to me about the college process, and I wish they had said it sooner. Colleges are looking at what your child IS, not what she ISN’T.”  She said, “We parents are so caught up in what they don’t have, what they haven’t done, that we really lose sight of how great our kids are! It’s such a shame.” We went our ways, and as I started up on the treadmill, I really was captured by what she had said. Of all the pieces of advice one parent can share with another about this process—make sure you start looking at schools in junior year; have her take the SAT at least three times; you should make sure she applies to at least two reaches and at least two safeties; try to pick a favorite and apply early decision—her advice seemed the best, so simple and honest.

In this race that our children are engaged in, it is easy to have the focus shift from what is there to what is not, from all the great things they have done and promise to do to gaps in the resume. We must work hard, for our children’s sake, to keep this from happening. For all the good they will gain at the great colleges they are sure to attend, we could really undermine the glory by not being their cheerleaders, their greatest fans. One huge element of success in this world is the confidence to do things you’ve never done before. They don’t teach that in high school, or college. We teach it at home. So, the next time someone asks you how the college thing is going, I hope your first thought is about what your child IS, not about what she is not.

Picturesque Monkton

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HOT HOUSE: 16835 Gerting Rd,  Monkton 20111 

Shaker-style low-country farmhouse, with Amish barn and guesthouse, designed and built by local architects.  10 acres of paddocks and 65+ acres of wooded land in My Lady’s Manor: $2,395,000

What: Built in 2000, and designed by Faith Nevins Hawks, this is a stunning home in its own right, currently listed in the New York Times Great Homes and Destinations.  The façade is at once impressive and disarming, with a second-story, screened ‘sleeping porch’ that offers panoramic vistas over rolling countryside. The rooms are airy and well proportioned, uniting traditional and modern in quintessential Shaker manner. Five bedrooms, three and a half baths, with a lovely master bedroom suite and that amazing porch upstairs offer comfort.  Nice kitchen/great room as well as cozy, more formal dining room on the ground floor make for great family hang out space.  Marble baths, cherry floors, built-ins, crunching pea-gravel entrance and paths, perfect gardens —everything to a very high standard. But it is largely about the horses here in My Lady’s Manor, and the Amish-built barn that houses the stables is  a cathedral to equine culture.  Pristine and serene, with sunlight weaving through the vaulted wooden beams, the workmanship competes only with the bucolic setting and the horses themselves for attention.  Inside: six stalls, post and beam construction and heated tack room.  When you’re not out in the barn or riding on the 65+ acres, you can work-out in the house gym, swim in the pool or visit the chickens in their custom coop. 

Where: Follow York Road all the way north to the tiny village of Monkton, about 10 miles north of Shawan Road. Nearest landmark is the bike crossing at the NCR trail. 

Why: ecause you love to breed, race or ride horses, or love someone who does. Also, because you appreciate the Shaker aesthetic,  “’tis a gift to be simple.” Here, it’s all about the luxury of fine design and materials, as opposed to giant columns and acres of granite.

Why Not: “Goodbye, city life!” For an urban or suburbanite, this location is pretty far out there.  Forget to pick up the milk, and you’ve got a good long haul ahead of you, unless the picturesque little store in tiny Monkton village happens to be open. Good new is, your only 10 miles from Dover Saddlery, and 4 miles to the Manor Tavern, the local watering hole. 

Would suit: Stylish but serious horseman.   


 

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