Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Two-Hour Delay

When I was a kid, you either had school or you did not. There was no in between. By the time I had children, the two-hour delay was well established.

In many ways it makes sense. Icy mornings often moderate, and two hours can make a big difference in the condition of roads and sidewalks. Having just driven to Metro on a day deemed too tricky for an on-time start, I can vouch that the county made the right call today.

But I can remember what a mess it was when the kids were young and school started at 11:05 rather than the (already late) 9:05. I could barely transcribe an interview before they were home again. And there's something about the moral relativity of a two-hour delay that disheartens me. It's mushy, especially when employed too often.

Perhaps that's why I slogged into the office today. It was hard ... but it was pure.

(We only got an inch of snow today; the photos is from 2010.) 

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Frozen Solid

Footfall thunderous, thudding. No give in the ground. Crunching through frozen mud and thin white ice that begs to be broken.

This is what I've been walking on this winter when I venture off road to stroll on trail or berm. It's a strange sensation, expecting give where you don't find it.

Not unlike returning to a scenic spot of once-great beauty to find it befouled with new houses and fences.

The ground I knew — soft, fragrant, pliable — has become another rough element, something that doesn't move with me but against me. It's ground that may as well be ... pavement.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Hooray for Analog!

Steven Spielberg's movie "The Post," which I saw yesterday, was a rousing paean to the press. But it was also a loving tribute to an analog world.

Reporters pounded out their stories on manual typewriters. Copyeditors used pencil on paper, making those marks that once seemed like a secret language to me — and are now a secret language to almost everyone. Typesetters set lines of type in hot metal, loaded slugs into plates. All the weighty, tangible things of a world left behind.

Now we live a digital life, ones and zeroes. We skitter on top of ice that we may at any time fall through. On Saturday, the people of Hawaii were on high alert for 38 minutes, thinking they were under imminent missile attack — a glitch made possible by one person making the wrong selection in a drop-down menu.

Are some things easier now? Yes, I type, my fingers tapping keys that don't have to be pounded, correcting errors with a click instead of a messy white  liquid. Is it just my imagination, though, or do the stakes seem higher in this unweighted, digital world?

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Howling

We're back to winter here, with a blast of Arctic air that's sending us down to 10 degrees wind chill tonight. Back to three layers, plus coat, hat, gloves and scarf.

Inside, it's warm and cozy — as long as I ignore the wind.

Why does the wind howl, anyway? It's a question I've been asking myself this winter.

When wind whips around a building or a tree, it splits up. The sound comes from the two currents rejoining on the other side, according to an article on the website Mental Floss.

Leafy trees absorb more of the vibration than bare ones do, so the howling is louder this time of year.

The explanation makes sense, but doesn't stop the goosebumps. A howling wind is still a scary sound — even with a scientific explanation.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

January Thaw

The birds believe it. They are out in force this morning, robins and cardinals and crows. They are flitting from bare branch to bare branch, hopping up to puddles. Suddenly, there is water, something they've not had enough of this dry, frigid winter.

They, unlike humans, have not heard the weather forecast. They don't know that this jig is up tonight when temperatures plummet from the 60s to the 30s (I think 30 degrees qualifies as a plummet ... it will certainly feel like one).

So for today, just for a few hours, I'll try to think like a bird, to pretend there is no future, no past, only a balmy wonder of a day with no breeze to speak of, just some light rain and not even much of that. In other words, a day — which is, in the end, all we're ever given.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

TC in the Suburbs

Late-day walk with Copper, who was begging, pleading with his big brown eyes, not letting me out of his sight. OK, little guy. And so ... we were on.

I knew we'd have a fun time of it when I saw a neighbor and her dog (with whom Copper has scrapped more than once) sauntering down to the bus stop. We'd inadvertently timed our stroll with the Folkstone rush hour: 15 minutes of nonstop bus and car traffic back from Crossfield School.

I hadn't even reached Fox Mill Road before the first text came. That required I remove my gloves and send a return text, followed by a return email. While I was doing this, a sweet-faced boy of 7 or 8 approached us. Copper lunged at him before I realized what was happening. "He bites," I said to the child, whose expression was suddenly frozen in horror. "I'm sorry, but you don't want to pet him."

We finally reached the halfway point, then turned toward home. On the way back, I received a call, a voice mail and another email.

Total elapsed time: 25 minutes.

This is what happens when walking in the suburbs meets telecommuting in the suburbs. Not exactly a walk in the park ... but better than the alternative.

(Copper in his autumn bandana. That's two Copper pix in one week. No more for a while!)

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Walk in Town

Yesterday after work I jumped off the bus at Rosslyn, as I always do, but instead of transferring to Metro, I walked up Clarendon Boulevard, past Court House Metro on to Fairfax Boulevard and all the way to Ballston.

It was getting dark, lights coming on, the Christmas decorations still up in some stores and windows. There were dogs and their owners, children and their parents, millennials and their yoga mats.

This is a new route for me, many uphill stretches and some unknown areas that had me a bit turned around last night. But it's a route I look forward to learning as the days lengthen. It's the new walk in town.

(Pictures of another sunset walk; the new walk in town is not yet photographed!)


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Instagram Takeover!

My knowledge of technology is not always tip-top, so when I heard that a story I wrote would "take over" the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Instagram page this week, I acknowledged the news with an "oh, yeah, that's great" mentality.

Turns out, this is actually a big deal. USAID's Instagram account has 87,400 followers. Make that 87,401. (I just joined Instagram so I could "love" the post.)

Here's the human story behind the numbers: I met this woman, interviewed her and her parents, walked the narrow, muddy path along the lake to her home. Her father hacked coconuts for us so we could drink the milk. The family brought out their plastic chairs so we could sit in style. The woman, who I call "Aditi" (but which is not her real name) fell prey to sex traffickers when she was 19. She was rescued before being taken to a brothel in India, but the experience nonetheless changed her life.

Trafficking victims are often shunned by family and friends. But the organization I work for has a project that comforts and counsels and trains trafficking survivors. Aditi is a star student. She has taken the help she's been given and run with it. Now she's the one who counsels survivors, the one who tells friends and neighbors how to avoid being trafficked. She's proof of the great good that can come from small investments. I was privileged to speak with her and her family, to be hosted so hospitably in their home.

I'm now adding an exclamation point to my headline for this post. Make that "Instagram Takeover!"

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Monday, January 8, 2018

World of Wonder

Yesterday, before the tree came down, I sat before it with the laptop as I have so many mornings these last few weeks, reading and writing in the quiet hours before dawn. The last holiday movie I saw this year was "Scrooge," one of my favorites. This is not the dark comedy version of A Christmas Carol  starring Bill Murray. It's the lovely if corny musical version of A Christmas Carol starring Albert Finney.

What makes the film is the music by Leslie Bricusse:
Sing a song of gladness and cheer
For the time of Christmas is here
Look around about you and see
What a world of wonder
This world can be. 

Like any self-respecting writer who finds herself down the Google rabbit hole when she should be focusing her attention on the page, I spent a few minutes Sunday morning looking up this composer, at first hesitantly because I very much wanted him to still be alive, then eagerly once I found out he was. Not only did he write the music for "Scrooge," the LP of which I once hunted down for years and finally found in  a moldy basement of a record shop in the West Village, but he also composed the score of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and teamed up with Henry Mancini on "Two for the Road" — two more favorite flicks.

There's a certain satisfaction in learning that some of your favorite scores are written by the same person. It makes you want to know that person a little better. So I found an interview with Bricusse, now 86. At the end of the interview was what I would call the "nut graph," the news value of the story — why there was an interview with Bricusse last November. It was because Scrooge, the musical, was just revived at the Curve Theater in London. In fact, its final performance was happening two hours from when I read the article. Not quite enough time to hop the pond and get there in time. But that's not to say I didn't think about it.

(Movie posters: Wikipedia)


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Poinsettias and Pagoda

In honor of the Epiphany/"Little Christmas"/Three Kings' Day, here are poinsettias in their natural habitat, which, in this case, was Burma! They put my potted version to shame.

These were growing wild on a walk I took last year in the town of Kalaw. I wasn't expecting them, didn't know they grew there. Which was even better than if I'd been looking for them.
They were tall, a bit gawky, but their deep crimsons and maroons stood out among the greenery. It was my only afternoon of leisure and I was able to walk into town, mosey around the market and find a path on the way home that led into the hills.
They were the natural part of that country's beauty. Here's another part: the Golden Pagoda seen on a balmy night last November.

Friday, January 5, 2018

War of Words

One of my favorite scenes in the movie "Darkest Hour" follows the rousing speech Winston Churchill delivered to Parliament on June 4, 1940. This is the speech where Churchill exhorts his countryman to stand firm against the Nazi threat, the speech in which he says, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets ... we shall never surrender."

This scene was constructed to give us chills ... and it does. It's by no means guaranteed that Churchill will be able to build momentum for his plan, which seems almost daft. A flotilla of pleasure boats to evacuate soldiers across the English Channel? Fighting Hitler's army to the death if need be?

The lines I loved most came right after Churchill's speech when a member of Parliament asked, "What just happened?" and Viscount Halifax responded, "He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

At a panel discussion about the film, Director Joe Wright said the movie is a "recognition of the power of the word and the power of political speech to move nations."

I tried to imagine that speech being given today, the sort of sacrifice it was asking for, the moral purpose it presupposes. It came from an era of words, not of pictures. Maybe that had something to do with it.

(Photo from "Darkest Hour":

Read more here:

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bomb Cyclone

Two blog posts in a row about weather. Hmmm... Must be winter!

This morning I've been reading about the Bomb Cyclone, a winter storm with super low pressures that has brought snow and ice to Florida, freezing rain to South Carolina and blizzard warnings to parts of my own state. Here it's a windy snowstorm with beastly cold to follow.

What I'm thinking about (snug in my warm house) is whether naming weather systems makes them more formidable. Used to be, it was just hurricanes. Now we name snow storms ("Snowmaggedon") and cold snaps ("Polar Vortex"), too. Every year we have Super Storms and Storms of the Century.

Whether this is due to the extreme weather patterns or Weather Channel proclivities it's difficult to say, but one thing I know for sure: Weather hype makes a difference. I'm much colder in a Polar Vortex than I am in an ordinary chill.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018


The weather is making me think back to the old winter days in Chicago. I never ventured out of the apartment without two pairs of socks, hat, scarf and mittens, and two or three layers under my coat.

Temperatures here are Chicago-winter-worthy, and wind chills respectable even by Windy City standards. Commuting as I do via public transportation, I have plenty of opportunities to feel that wind chill as I stand on a breezy street corner waiting for the bus.

It's best to wait actively rather than passively, I've found. The toes numb more slowly when they're in motion, so I pace back and forth or bounce up and down to keep myself warm.

Cold is a miserable business. You can say what you will about its bracing qualities, about its crispness and clarity. For me, it's just something to be endured.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018


The supermoon woke me at 3:37 a.m., poured its rays into the room, feigning daylight. No wonder my stay-asleep mechanism was overwhelmed. Nothing to do with the fact that this is my first day back in the office since December 21. 

I read a while, ignored the moonbeams and drifted back. All the while this meteorological marvel, what astronomers call the perigee syzygy, was beaming down on the frigid landscape. It was lighting up the salt crystals on the road and the little patches of snow still left from last week's dusting.

By the time I left for work, it was low in the sky, just above the treetops, and I quickly snapped the shot above.  (Quickly, because it was 7 degrees outside and I was anxious to put my gloves on.)

We're closer to the moon during a perigee syzygy than we are otherwise. And tomorrow is the perihelion, the point in earth's orbit when we're closest to the sun. Thanks to these heavenly bodies for lighting our way, and for making the dark, cold hours so much more bearable. 

This supermoon is from November 14, 2016. I saw it glinting on the Java Sea from the island of Sumba, Indonesia. Photo:  Wikipedia


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