Saturday, May 28, 2016

New Dawn

When it comes to life lessons, climbing roses have a few. Their growth pattern is out and up. They thrive on training. They are tender and delicate, but can take care of themselves. (Don't believe me? Just try getting a few of their thorns embedded in your thumb!)

They wait until spring is well underway before venturing out. And when they arrive, it's in splendid style.

I'm admiring them today, in full flower. I worry, of course, that the weekend heat and Monday's rain will do them in, shorten their already short lifespan. But even in that, they are illustrative.

Enjoy us now, they tell me. Don't worry about tomorrow.

See what I mean?

(The New Dawn climbing rose in all its glory.)


Friday, May 27, 2016

Three-Day Stay

The airport will be busy. I could spend the whole morning on the back side of the office, watching the planes take off and land. Or I could look right behind my building at the train tracks. They're mostly for freight lines but carry the odd passenger car or two. The rails will be humming today, too.

And don't even get me started on the roads. The big story on the all-news radio this week was that the worst day to drive out of the second worst traffic city in the United States before a long weekend isn't Friday but Thursday. I was driving west on a major highway last evening — and I would agree.

So as tempting as it might be to flee, I'm looking forward to staying in my own backyard — which I'm overlooking right now, sipping tea and listening to the crows call.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Finally May!

An early walk through a perfect morning: just enough chill to make my skin prickle. Birds calling from the deep woods. Almost no cars.

With the rain gone the air is perfumed with honeysuckle and spirea. Fences groan with flowered bushes. Banisters and deck rails double as plant props.

The hanging plant I bought is still alive! The red roses are blooming!

It's finally May!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Around the Block

Inside it was about 65; outside a good 20 degrees warmer. The air was filled with a collective exhale as office-workers enjoyed their lunch hours on the first warm day of the season. People wore shorts and running shoes. They were biking and strolling and just hanging around.

The outdoor seats at Cosi — the cafe where I sat and had a raspberry iced tea before my first interview here — were filled with al fresco patrons.

I walked past them though. No more sitting for me. I was in search of a block to walk around, but there aren't too many of those here.

The one I found consists mostly of a service road behind my multi-block office complex. It's not the grit and glamor of my old walks on Capitol Hill, but it was quiet and warm. I could stretch my legs and let my mind wander.

It was interesting, too, exploring the unseen underbelly of this glitzy space. The bleeping of backing trucks. The aroma of smokers on the periphery. It was around the block, Crystal City style.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lost and Founds

I looked out the window at the garden today and spied a pink balloon where the peonies are supposed to be (the peonies that have taken a hit with the cold and rain). The balloon is an interloper. A visitor. A stowaway on the west wind.

From what little girl's birthday party did it arrive? From what sticky little hand did it detach and float away?  Did it break free from a backyard boquet to fly over tree tops and land gently among the day lilies?

Wherever it came from it arrived intact, ribbon attached and almost fully inflated.

If the garden is to become a destination for wayward balloons might it also attract other lost items? Socks and keys and earrings?

A garden of lost and founds — now there's a thought.


Monday, May 23, 2016


I work on the fifth floor of a large building that overlooks a train track, a highway, a street and National Airport. Windows on the other side of the building have a perfect view of the control tower and take-off and landing. Given that I used to work on the ground floor, this is a welcome change.

There is a light, airy and aerie-like feel to being up this high, a sense of being the first to spot the weather when it changes. And...  about an hour ago I saw a bit of sun peak through the clouds.

I was intending to report this news immediately, of course, but work intervened. And now, alas, the sun has gone away. But it was there, I'm sure of it. And the weather forecasters assure us that that sun returns in earnest in a couple of days.

Meanwhile, I'm glancing out the window whenever I have a second. Right now the only light is see is what's reflected back at me. But I'm hanging on and hoping for more!

(OK, not up quite this high — and with a decidedly less pastoral view ...) 


Saturday, May 21, 2016

Rain Song

The rain began before I woke up. I knew it was coming, but I didn't think it would sing to me. A pitter-patter, yes. But not this other sound, this low ping. It's as if someone is tuning a cello or plucking a piano string.

And it has a steady and distinct pitch, too. I hum it, walk over to the piano. Could it be an A? Always a good first try; a million tuning orchestras can't be wrong.

But no, it's not an A, or a C or an F. Better try some black keys. And there it is — a B flat — or at least my out-of-tune piano's version of that pitch.

Were I of a more mechanical bent I would worry about what's making this sound. I would check for leaks or breaks. But instead, I listen. I let the rain sing its song.

(Waiting for Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden to arrive and tune in the large golden concert hall of Vienna's Musikverein)

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Escape Route

For a walk break yesterday I turned left, strolled south down Crystal Drive. The lunchtime bustle buoyed me; I was ready to explore.

It's a neighborhood of hotels, restaurants and fancy office buildings connected by glossy indoor passageways — not my style, but handy in the rain.

Beyond all of this, I'm convinced, lie real streets with real people picking up dry cleaning, dragging reluctant toddlers, walking the dog. But to find them I first need to discover the connector routes, the roads that will take me under the busy highways that honeycomb the area.

There aren't many of them. Crystal City is almost an island. But all I need is one escape route. The maps are open. The shoes are new.


Thursday, May 19, 2016


Woke up this morning after more sleep than usual and immediately started puttering. I emptied the garbage. I watered the plants. I made Celia a pot of coffee.

Then I went outside. I moved the begonias. I caught an errant strand of climbing rose, looped a green wire around it and attached it to a sister branch.

I was about ready to sweep the deck when I realized this wasn't a Saturday but a weekday, and while I wasn't planning to go in early today because of after-work plans, I at least had to get there by 9!

So I ran upstairs and started getting ready, but not without a wistful backward glance at all the little chores that can be slowly checked off during a morning of puttering.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Little Life

It's difficult to know just what to say about Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life. It's not a little book, to be sure, and not easy to finish within the three weeks allotted by Fairfax County Library.

At times it was only the fact that I was 400 pages into it that made me keep reading. Not because it wasn't beautifully written and a page turner in the character-reveal rather than plot-reveal sense of the word — but because the characters must endure the endurable. (And somehow, most of the time, they do.)

The book grapples with big questions, some of the biggest. Why are we here? How do we find meaning? What are the limits of love?

It doesn't answer any of them, of course, but it makes us ponder them, and it makes us care about the characters who are pondering them. And that, as good fiction always reminds me, is what it's all about.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Frost Free

I once heard — and never forgot — that May 15  is our frost-free date in northern Virginia. For that reason, I don't put annuals in the ground until Mother's Day or later. This year I was especially careful, given our cool rainy spring.

So it was only last weekend that I bought begonias and impatiens — and even then, I hesitated. I potted the begonias on Saturday, but Sunday night's temps were expected to drop into the 30s, so I waited till last evening to plant the impatiens. They are tender things, and need the best start in life.

The whole exercise got me thinking about risk and how our acceptance or rejection of it shapes so many choices in life. I'm more conservative as a gardener than I am in other ways. I changed jobs at an age when many others might have stayed put.  I was willing to accept in life what I can't in horticulture.

Whether this was foolish or wise, I'm not yet sure. But I do know this: In real life, there are no frost-free dates.

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Monday, May 16, 2016


As part of my new job I'm writing and editing stories about people who have nothing. About school children from South Sudan dressed in tidy uniforms who must sit on rocks or tin cans because their school has no desks.

I think about the white boards and the wired classrooms here — and then remember the school in Toura where Suzanne and Appolinaire taught: the cinderblock walls and wooden desks that you see here.

It's easy to romanticize learning, to say it happens wherever teachers are gifted and students inspired. But when children are cold or hot, when they cut their legs on the sharp rocks they've lugged to the school for seating, when they aren't even allowed to go to school because they must help their families in the fields — there is no magic there. There can't be until the basic physical needs are met.

I'm glad I have a chance to be reminded of this now, to write about people who have nothing. Because of the perspective they bring, of course, but most of all because their stories must be told.

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Sunshine, Finally

A friend who counsels people for a living said the last few weeks have been difficult for her patients. Depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia. People in the mid-Atlantic aren't used to weeks and weeks of gray, rainy days — especially not in May — and they've taken their toll.

They would usually bother me more, but I've been caught up in a new job, and not paying as much attention to weather as I usually do.

Still, for a walker in the suburbs who's been forced to row in the suburbs (on the erg in the basement, which means yet more — ouch! — sitting), it's cramping my style, to say the least.

So today's sunshine is more than welcome. It's gratifying, life-enhancing, healing.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

On Dad's 93rd

Today, on what would have been Dad's 93rd birthday, I'll attend a Mass that's being said for him in my parish church. I reserved this date not long after his passing, had to book it about 20 months in advance. Dad would get a kick out of this. "I guess they give priority to the Catholics," he'd say. (He was not one!)

Thinking of all the funny things Dad said to me growing up, the gentle religious humor. "Just tell 'em it's your father's feast day," he'd suggest, deadpan, when I didn't want to go to school.  We always got a holiday on the feast day of our pastor and principal, Father O'Neill.

It was the humor of an agnostic. Only Dad pulled a fast one. At the end of his life he reverted to the Methodism of his youth, went to church most Sundays. When I was in town, I would go with him, reveling in his rich baritone as he belted out the hymns he learned as a kid.

Was he hedging his bets by returning to church? Not Dad. It wasn't out of fear that he returned, I think, but out of love. He was a deeply grateful man. I imagine he was saying a lot of "thank-you's." Today I'll be doing the same.

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