Thursday, January 17, 2019


Yesterday I spoke with a colleague. We discussed the government shutdown and other matters. She wondered aloud why more people aren't up in arms about what's happening to our country. I posited an answer: binge watching.

Of the two 20-century dystopian novels most in vogue when I was growing up, Brave New World was most on the money. Not for a moment underestimating 1984's Big Brother or the surveillance under which we now live—I still think our peril lies in our pleasures, in our need for entertainment.

Enter binge-watching. In the last week, as my body has been trudging through January 2019, my mind and heart are lodged in Victorian England as I binge-watch the PBS series "Victoria."  It's a relatively innocent pleasure as pleasures go—and don't get me wrong: I love it! But  I've noticed it makes me care a little less about present-day reality.

Binge-watching a show is addictive. I'm absorbed in my show just as the denizens of Brave New World were absorbed by their walls. All I need now is a little soma.

(Photo: Courtesy PBS)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Morning Workout

An elliptical in the basement creates a delicious quandary. When I have 20 extra minutes in the morning, do I read, write .... or work out?

Some days the answer is driven purely by my need for tea. If it's severe, I settle in on the couch with my laptop and this blank screen in front of me. Tea and blog-writing go together beautifully.

But on days when the muscles feel limber enough to jump on the machine right away, well, then that is what I do. The blog-writing and tea drinking just have to wait.

Such was the situation this morning, which means I'm cranking out a post 10 minutes before a meeting—and there's no tea in sight.

Such are the perils of affluence.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Gimme Shelter

As the snow fell Sunday I glanced out the window to see a little bird fluttering in the azalea bush behind the house. I didn't see it clearly enough to note the type, but it was probably one of the many flooding the feeder these days, a chickadee or junco. (Look closely at the opening center left and you'll see its little head and eye.)

What a small, quivering thing it was, preening and rustling in the brush. Seeing it there made me remember fairy stories about animal homes in thickets or under ground and how as a child I could imagine nothing more exciting than exploring tucked-away places like that.

Now I consider the goal that all living things have, which is survival, and how difficult it can be this time of year. There I stood in the warmth of my house, with its insulation and forced air heat and hot water flowing from the tap.

Yes, a part of me wants to beat in the breast of that bird, to be part of the living landscape. But I know enough of cold and ice to appreciate the comforts I have, the comforts I share with other creatures, as a matter of fact, including ... two birds.

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Monday, January 14, 2019

Snow Day!

It snowed for more than 24 hours. It made lopsided lumps on the deck railings, slightly shorter where jays flicked their tails. The bamboo is hanging its head with the weight of all the white stuff, and the covered chairs have odd outlines on this first snow day of 2019.

Snow days have their own routine and rhythm. There is, first of all, the surprise of seeing a world transformed. Upstairs the shades are drawn, but downstairs the deck doors and windows bring the outside in. And it is a marvelously changed outside.

I was thinking this morning that even though I love summer best, no season transforms as winter does. Cars are covered, roads are covered (despite the plows and pre-treatment). No one is stirring. It is as if we're holding our collective breaths.

Later on, I'll tug on my boots and make my way to the street and newspaper. Later on, I'll do a little shoveling and a little work. But for now, I'm sipping tea and taking it all in.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Entropy, Part 1

I've been interested in entropy since I read David Christian's book Origin Story, though I realize that saying one is interested in entropy is like saying one is interested in gravity.  Let's just say I've been fascinated by the idea that the world will end not with a bang or a whimper but with a return to the disorder from which it sprang (though disorder will in fact be simplicity, which is part of the confusion I would like to explore).

My "readings" on entropy are purely amateur. The great physics text Wikipedia, for example, and a site I found called Ask an Astronomer. Is there a book yet called Entropy for Dummies? No, but there is one called Thermodynamics for Dummies.

Because entropy—the natural tendency of things to become more disordered over time (a phrase I'm borrowing from James Clear)—is actually the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

This is scary territory for an English major, someone to whom higher math is Algebra II and whose high school physics teacher was prone to saying, "Miss Cassidy, why are you in my class?"

But at this point in my life, I say why not try and learn a little about entropy. If I believe in the Second Law–and does one have a choice?—it isn't going to get any easier.


Friday, January 11, 2019

Dreams of Snow

Here in our nation's capital, government shut-down talk is being supplanted by possible snowstorm talk. It's not as if the area hasn't already been in an odd limbo for weeks. Now we have 40-mile-an-hour winds and an increasing chance of snow tomorrow and Sunday.

All of which makes for a topsy-turvy day. 

For those of us not in federal employment, a couple of days off would be divine. But I doubt that will happen.

Until then ... a girl's gotta dream. 

(Photos courtesy of Snowmageddon, 2010.)


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mean Clouds

Walking yesterday into the wind, fists stuffed into my sleeves, Emily Dickinson came to mind: "The sky is low, the clouds are mean." They popped into my head as snowflakes and sleet pellets flew through the air.

The precipitation was the perfect accompaniment to the howling wind and the rumbling jet engines (which is what happens on windy days in my neighborhood).

I felt like I was walking into a wall of winter, into a maelstrom of it. Nothing to do but push through—and remind myself that a warm house was waiting on the other side.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Walking on Air

I have a new walking companion, always willing to take a stroll or a hike. She lives in the basement—and I have no idea what she does in her hours off.

It's mind-altering to have her here. It means I can walk early in the morning or late at night. It means I can walk forward or (ouch!) backward. It means I can walk up hills or take the straightaway; can push hard or take a more leisurely approach.

She won't stand in the way of an outside amble, but she's ready to go in any weather.

Using my new elliptical—it's like walking on air!

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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

January Sky

It's a good time of year to look up. I snapped this shot just before getting on Metro yesterday. It was later than I would like to have been leaving, but it gave me the chance to see the sky on fire.

It was a quieter sky this morning, one mottled with clouds but striking in its own way.  I took this photograph while walking around the block at the Courthouse Metro Station, which it how I occupy myself when I've just missed the bus.

Two mornings, two cloudscapes, both ripe for the picking. All I needed to do was stop, point and shoot. But it can be hard even to take the time to do this.  How many other sky shots have I missed?

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Downton Time

The Christmas ornaments are packed away. The tree is awaiting pickup by the street. The last fir needle is (I think) vacuumed off the floor.

All of which means ... it's Downton time. Or at least it used to be.

The urge to watch "Downton Abbey" had been growing in me for days. The U.S. airing of that show on PBS's "Masterpiece Theater" was always perfectly timed, I thought. It would begin here the first full weekend after the holidays, and was a perfect respite to the post-Christmas letdown.

No need to mourn it, though, not in the age of streaming. Last night, I settled down in the beanbag chair to watch Downton all over again, courtesy of Amazon Prime.

What a sight it was was after two years away—and eight years since the first episode: the opulence and the intrigue, the dresses and the jewelry, the upstairs and the downstairs. Seeing it again means I savor the details with full knowledge of what comes afterward: Lord Grantham's generosity, Anna's kindness to Bates.

It wasn't until I glanced at the clock on the VCR player that it dawned on me what I'd done. It was 9 p.m. Without meaning to I was watching the show at exactly the same hour it always aired. As Downton often reminds us: Old habits die hard.


Sunday, January 6, 2019


In classical Greek it meant the manifestation of a deity to a worshipper. But now the word epiphany can mean other revelations, as well. Just as our society has become more secular, so too have our revelations. We can have epiphanies about our work, our families, our politics.

But to me, all epiphanies have a bit of the divine in them. And it is in part because of epiphanies, the aha moments that come from nowhere, that I believe in the divine.

Because one moment the world is pitiless plain—and the next it is lush mountains and valleys. What can explain the difference? No atoms or molecules, no assemblage of 1s and 0s.

It is wonder, plain and simple. It is waking inside the rainbow. It is the star, a light in the sky that leads us to the divine.

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Friday, January 4, 2019

The Shutdown Continues...

As the government shutdown closes in on the two-week mark, the D.C. area is feeling like both a ghost town and a seething caldron.

Last night on the radio I heard the story of a 71-year--old woman who's raising two of her grandchildren and is furloughed from her federal job. She needs every penny of every paycheck for her car note, mortgage, groceries and other expenses. She says she feels like a pawn.

We all do. It's the only shutdown to span two Congresses, which makes it doubly ridiculous.

With two government employees in the family, I'm following this story with great interest. Will it end this week? Unlikely. Next week? I hope.

Until then, it's a matter of staying calm—and keeping my own job, of course!

(A photo of the Capitol taken when the season was spring and the government was open.) 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Keeping it Real

Every year on New Year's Day, the Washington Post's Style section features an "In-Out" list. As the years pass, I understand fewer references. But I always get enough of them (Out: Meghan Markle; In: Megan Markle's baby) to glean a smile or two from the whole thing.

The item that made me laugh the most this year was number two in the hit parade:
Out: Keep Portland Weird.  In: Keep Crystal City Weird.

As I type these words I look out the window at Crystal City—its military precision, its empty buildings and plazas (even emptier now during the government shutdown), its anything-but-weirdness.

Yes, I feel a bit protective of this Arlington neighborhood, where I slog three or four mornings a week; where you're more likely to see a soldier in camouflage than an artist in grunge; where even the foliage is orderly (see above).

Avant-garde it ain't.

But it's my workplace now, and I've come to terms with its straight-arrow ways. So as HQ2 moves in, I'll be on the lookout for creeping signs of Left Coast-ness. Let's keep Crystal City ... uh, Crystal City.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Leaning Tower of Christmas

It was, from the start, the tree that couldn't stand straight. In part, it had no choice. With a curved trunk, it just saw the world a little differently, that's all. But even when cut and tamed and taken in by a loving family, the tree persisted in its wayward ways.

It took two straightening sessions, the first before it was strung with lights and the second when it was fully decked out with delicate ornaments—and still, it started leaning again.  The new stand may have been the culprit. Or it may just have been the tree itself.

Whatever the cause, I knew by the time I woke up yesterday that the tree was coming down soon, one way or another. I wanted it to be on our terms, not the tree's. So yesterday we did the sad duty: removed the ornaments, tucked them away in boxes; then the lights; and finally, the tree itself, drug unceremoniously out the back door where it was examined again carefully for castaway ornaments.

I used to put Sousa marches on the stereo, looking ahead to summer, when we did this. Yesterday, it was the jazz station WPFW that provided the accompaniment. I left the cards up, and the cloth wreath in the kitchen, and the little stars that hang from the light fixture and the stockings on the mantel, the nutcrackers on the piano and the little holiday lamp that I loved from the first minute I saw it at the Vale Crafts Fair almost 20 years ago.

Could it have been that long? Yes, it could. And in part for that reason, I don't get as sad anymore when the tree comes down. The years pass quickly. Next Christmas is right around the corner.


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