Sunday, June 30, 2013

First Cup

Other blog post ideas were bobbing through my brain until a few seconds ago when they all flew away. Now all that remains is this, the first cup. Always the best.

For many it's coffee; for me, it's tea.

I've pondered this for years, why the first cup of the tea in the morning is the most delicious and soul-affirming. Because it has been more than 20 hours since the last? Because the tea is at its hottest when the pot is full?

Or is it something more universal, not just first cups of tea but first anythings? In this case, however, the novelty is long gone. Instead it is part anticipation, part vivid reminder. Here is what warm liquid feels like on the tongue, the throat. Here is what caffeine does to the waking brain. Here is morning again, much more tolerable.

Today I'm drinking tea from the largest mug I have. So the first cup lasts twice as long.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Musical Chairs

The summer house is haphazard. Chairs moved from living room to deck depending upon weather and visitors. Beach towels draped over stools. Kitchen table cluttered because we're eating outside.

I'm reminded of a time (a time that is still happening in many parts of the world) when a room had many uses: eating, sleeping, working. And only the time of day or position of a table would declare that room's current purpose.

In this case, there was/is no parlor or den, no kitchen or dining room, no bedroom or sleeping porch. There was/is just one room. The living room — though it was not called that. People were too busy living in it to name it.

In summer, we're always moving our chairs (and tables, too).  It's delightfully disorienting. So the message, then, is this: Look carefully before you sit; make sure there's something there before you do.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Before and After

Time for a warm-weather hair cut. Everyone needs one.

The new Copper is about five pounds lighter. He frolics around like a young lamb. A young, shorn lamb, that is.

Now we know it's really summer.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Breathing Space

A pause is in order, longer than a post or even a day. But for now this will have to do. Feeling the breath rush out of my lungs and the sharp intake of new air. Remembering the tang of salt spray, the sound of surf and sea birds.

For now the pause comes from the picture and remembering how I felt when I took it. A beach day ahead of me, a sunrise, a walk, a bike ride and a quiet afternoon with a good book.

There, that's better.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Farewell, Kara!

I'm blessed with congenial and talented colleagues, people who are fun to be with and who take their work seriously. One of these colleagues is leaving today. This post is for her.

In the great divide between people who are real and people who are fake, Kara falls squarely into the "real" category. When confronted with the sort of antics that bedevil most large organizations, Kara puts them all into perspective with a single arched eyebrow.

Kara is a gifted listener. She remembers the names of everyone's kids and favorite teams. "You should have a sign on your desk that says 'The Doctor is In,'" I tell her, forgetting she's probably not old enough to remember the "Peanuts" cartoon. But Kara gets it anyway. She's one of those people who's as beloved by the 15-year-old intern as she is the 65-year-old messenger.

Because my parents lived in Pittsburgh for a year early in their marriage, I grew up hearing that the friendliest people in the world live there. Once I knew Kara's hometown, she became Exhibit A.

Next week Kara returns to Pittsburgh, depriving the Nation's Capital (never known for its friendliness) of one of its most gracious citizens. It's a good move for Kara, a big loss for us. But I promised myself I wouldn't be sad. So this is a happy post (trying hard to smile)!

Good Luck, Kara. Come back and see us soon!

(Photo: Peanuts Wiki)

Monday, June 24, 2013

One Year and Counting

Suzanne left for Africa a year ago today. She packed a large bag and a small bag and slipped out by rail to Philadelpia. ("That was a very emotional goodbye for a trip from Washington to Philadelphia," another passenger said as they were boarding the train.)

From Philly she went to New York, Belgium and Benin. For the last ten months she's made her home in a small village on the edge of the Sahel. She teaches school, and this summer is working in a girls' camp and at a health clinic. She is completely immersed in village life. She loves the people and they love her. She's the happiest person I know. 

The months that led up to her departure crept by in slow motion, like time does on a roller coaster inching up that first hill. Now we're on the downward slope. It hardly seems possible that Year One has passed. It now seems entirely possible to make it through Year Two.

Still, I seem to miss her more and more. Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays and, ten days ago, a graduation — all without her. The phone keeps us together, a family of the air, and that will have to do.  But now that she's almost halfway done, I'm allowing myself to dream of a time when we'll all be together again. Even being on the same continent will do.

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Saturday, June 22, 2013

Perigee Moon

I saw the moon rising as I rushed to the store on a last-minute errand. It was almost 9 and still light. I pulled the car to a stop at the corner and snapped this photo, which makes the moon look small and faraway instead of large and in-your-face, which is how it appeared outside the view finder.

This morning I learned from the weather guys that this is a perigee moon (closest to earth in its orbit), and the full perigee (also known as a super moon) appears 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than the apogee (farthest away in its orbit) moon.

I'm not a big statistics person but from the look of last night's show, I'd say that's about right.  And it was 40 percent more beautiful — at least.

But just to be sure I'll be gazing skyward tonight and tomorrow, when the full perigee will once again bridge the gap between heaven and earth.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Longest Day

Linger on paths, on beaches and on slopes. Soak in all sunlight, turn not a ray away. It's the day we have longed for since Christmas. The longest day.

I plan to spend mine on the deck. The work will be done, but al fresco.

Plus, in the current living room configuration, the couch overlooks the backyard. From my morning perch I see sun-dappled oaks, potted begonias and, in the distance, the trampoline and hammock. These are the counterweights, what pulls me through the hours.

There are a lot of hours this longest day. But I can tell they will pass quickly, like water in a rushing stream. All leading to those final golden ones, the ones we have reclaimed from the night.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013


Choose a word, a favorite word.

It was the first assignment of a writing class in college, and it didn't take long to come up with "rhapsody" — a highly emotional utterance, a highly emotional literary work, and a musical composition of irregular form. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Not everyone's favorite word but a fair representation of the romantic English major I was at the time.

The professor's favorite word was "deliquesce" — to become soft or liquid with age or maturity — a verb I've come to appreciate more of late. He not only liked it for its sound and spelling, he said, but also because it contained the word "deli."

Another student, the pet, picked "level." A palindrome of perfect symmetry, a word that walks its talk, the two "l"s bolstering the structure, the "e"s in between and the "v" equally open to each side.

Next to "level," "rhapsody" looked silly and sophomoric. But when I heard it on the radio this morning (Brahms Rhapsody in E Flat Minor), I have to admit that it still has a hold on me. And if I had to pick a favorite word again, I don't think I could find a better one.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Half a Meadow

To reach Franklin Farm I clamber over a fence and into a greensward bisected by a paved path. Most summers the flanking land is left to its own devices. Queen Anne's Lace, oatgrass, milk weed and timothy spring out of the clay-packed soil, and by midsummer these grasses sway waist-high in the breeze. I look forward to the meadow as I would an old friend.

But this year the mower is much in evidence. Though patches of land are still wild and free, most of it is tidy stubble. At first I thought it was just the first strafing of the season or that it was growing more slowly than before. But now, well into June, the truth is evident. What we have in Franklin Farm is half a meadow — and that's generous.

Is the neighborhood safer without swaths of tall grass through its heart. Maybe, though I doubt it. It is quieter without the buzz of insects and chirp of the red-winged blackbird. It is less arresting to the eye. And it is, sadly, less a place.

Still, half a meadow is better than none at all.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Last Day of School

Graduation is behind us, so why do I care?

Because it's a ritual, I guess. Because this is the last day the big yellow bus will come to our corner for two and a half months.

Because Fairfax County Public Schools close for the summer today and when they reopen in September it will be the first time since 1994 that one of my children isn't enrolled.

This is a good thing, of course, what is supposed to be. But today, just a brief backward look, not of longing or of regret, but of fullness, significance. A nod to time passing. A nod to change.

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Monday, June 17, 2013

In the Soup

A cool morning has given way to a hot, sticky afternoon. But until a few minutes ago I didn't notice. I've been doing what I do, sitting with a laptop, sending emails, editing an article, drafting a letter.

When I felt warm enough to check the temperature a few minutes ago, I read that we're "in the soup" —that would be the high-humidity soup.

But I took that a different way. I thought about frogs that don't notice they're being boiled alive because the water is comfortable in the beginning.

Maybe those frogs are an urban legend. But I feel like one of them today. I didn't know I was in the soup until I'd been in it for hours.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Dad, Dancing

I've learned through the years that dancing is one of the most embarrassing things you can do in front of your adolescent children.

But like so many delightful reversals of age, that all changes. At this point in my life, to see a parent dancing is encouraging and endearing.

Though my father would rather be jitterbugging to Glenn Miller, he recently took his cane out for a spin and bounced along to the Beatles.

So here's to fathers everywhere, especially fathers dancing.

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Friday, June 14, 2013

Graduation Day

All you really need is a camera and some tissues. At this point the graduate will take care of everything else. Processing in, taking a seat and, when her name is called, shaking hands and receiving her high school diploma. But to get to this point has been a group effort. It always is.

When I graduated from high school I didn't understand what the fuss was about. Celia is probably feeling the same way. Milestones don't mean as much when the years they mark are so few that they  get along fine without them.

But parents of graduates know better. They know that rituals take us from one place to another. They know there are few moments when you can say that one thing has clearly ended and another has clearly begun.

High school graduation is such a moment.

So, hats off to the graduates ... and (if I may say so) to their parents, too!

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jackets Off!

A sure sign of summer in D.C., more even than long lines at the Capitol Visitors' Center or Code Orange air alerts, is the suit jacket carried over a shoulder.

I noticed at least half a dozen examples of this on yesterday's walk around the Mall, but didn't snap any photos.

So for this one you'll have to imagine it 20 degrees warmer, air steamy rather than brisk. Feel the heat radiating up from the pavement, see the leaves not moving on the trees.

It's summer in the city. Jackets off!

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Places In Between

In the winter of 2002, Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan. He arrived six weeks after the Taliban fell, and he dodged landmines, snow storms and rogue tribal chiefs along the way.

Stewart's walk through Afghanistan was part of a larger trek that included 16 months of walking 20 to 25 miles a day across Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal.

All of which makes him an expert on walking. But don't take my word for it. Here's a passage from The Places In Between:
I thought about evolutionary historians who argued that walking was a central part of what it meant to be human. Our two-legged motion was what first differentiated us from the apes. It freed our hands for tools and carried us on the long marches out of Africa. As a species, we colonized the world on foot. Most of human history was created through contacts conducted a walking pace....
And Stewart thought these thoughts — of course — while walking!

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

First Bird

I often think (and have probably written) about the first bird of the morning. I heard it just seconds ago, a truncated chirp, perhaps a clearing of the throat more than anything else. A bird who, like me, woke up before his alarm.

A question: Do birds toss and turn? I doubt it. There are a couple of parakeets in the house and though they might flap and flutter during the day, their rest always seems restful. Heads tucked in wings, a picture of repose.

After a few quiet minutes, the first bird is at it again. It's still dark outside, as dark as 2 a.m., maybe darker. But the wild birds know that morning is here. 


Monday, June 10, 2013

Flash Flood

Flash flood warnings are up in the area. Little Difficult Run, which winds its way through the region, has been known to spill over its banks, sending streams of water across low-lying roads and driving us into convoluted detours to avoid its overspill.

Today I'm working at home, so the only puddles I'll dodge will be the ones in the driveway on the way to get the newspaper.

But if so inclined I could slip on a jacket, grab an umbrella and tramp through the woods to see if the creek is behaving itself this morning. Maybe I'll do that. Just to stay in fighting trim.

(A tributary of Little Difficult Run in an earlier, quieter mood.)


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Fort Lee Ballroom

The dance is over but the dance floor remains. Carpet rolled up in the garage, floor clean and swept, new stereo receiver waiting for a willing iPod and the playlists I fiddled with for weeks.

Now when it rains and the trampoline is water-logged, this is where I'm hanging out. I have to be alone, of course, or at least with others involved enough in other projects that they won't critique my style, which is eclectic to say the least. And at some point we may have to put at least one of the cars in the garage and move the table out.

But for now ... we have a ballroom!


Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Libraries

A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report tells us that the consumer e-book market will surpass the print book market by 2017.

An accompanying chart shows the two lines converging: a pale yellow (easily breached?) line for the print market, and a robust red line for the e-book market, rising at an impossibly audacious angle from 2008 to 2017.

The revolution from manuscript to printed book took centuries. From the looks of it, the digital revolution will not last as long. Could it happen in a generation?

If so, we who are living through it are left with spinning heads and two libraries: one that is real, one that is virtual.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

State House Dome

On Monday, a rainy afternoon gave way to a clear evening, and a walk along Annapolis's main street after dark gave us this view.

It's the Maryland State House dome. Completed in 1794, it's "the oldest and largest wooden dome of its kind in the United States," a fact sheet tells me.

But on that early summer night, as it shone between the other, darkened buildings, it was a thing of beauty most of all.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013


The condition of senioritis is well documented. Symptoms include poor attendance at school, lack of attention to homework and a marked increase in silliness of all types.

What is far less known or understood is parentitis. This condition afflicts the parents of high school seniors, especially parents of high school seniors who are also youngest children. Mothers and fathers in this predicament find themselves policing the home, chasing kids back to school and enjoying gallows humor of all types.

They would like to enjoy themselves like their high school seniors, but alas they cannot. They are too busy making sure that final projects are completed.

But though time seems to stand still, it actually does not. Graduation day will arrive, and they pray their child will be among those marching in to "Pomp and Circumstance." And when the tassels have been moved and the diplomas awarded, then their fun will really begin.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Picture Perfect

In honor of today's weather — blue skies, low humidity, green leaves, red roses (I could go on...) — a picture of outside.

A window frame, a window gone (this was during last summer's new siding, roof and window project) and another perfect early summer day.

Preserved then so we can celebrate now.

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Monday, June 3, 2013

Saturday Night Fever

On Saturday night we rolled up the carpet, cranked up the stereo and lured some aging boomers (and even younger folk) out on the dance floor.

Blaring from the new sound system were the Supremes, the Beatles and disco classics like "I Will Survive." At one point there were probably 20 people jumping and jiving.

The ersatz dance floor is so nice I'm letting it stay a while, meaning that the couch and wing chairs are  crammed into half of the living room with extra stuff piled in the garage. The open floor is  begging for an encore of "YMCA."

Saturday Night Fever? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe this should happen every night of the week.

It occurred to me Saturday (as it has often recently), that people would be much happier if only they could spend part of every day dancing.

 (Photo: Theatrical Release Poster from Wikipedia.)


Saturday, June 1, 2013


Yesterday on a shuttle bus back to a parking garage outside of Baltimore, I was fiddling with my phone looking for directions to my next destination. As usual, I was a little flummoxed by the gadget. So at some point I put it down and asked the man next to me, who was wearing a blue Hawaiian-print shirt that said "Aloha" on the back, if he knew the way.

"Sure do," he said, not skipping a beat. "You go to the corner and turn left, and when you hit the traffic circle you take Dulaney Valley Road."

It sounded simple enough. I took his directions and stuck with them — even though the cars were crawling and I kept wondering if I'd heard him correctly.

But eventually the traffic circle appeared and so did Dulaney Valley Road, and before long I was where I needed to be.

A little story about trusting people instead of machines? Yes, but more than that. Later that day at a luncheon almost an hour away, I saw the man from the bus again. He was sitting at the very next table. His back was to us, but I knew it was him. I could see the "Aloha" on his shirt.


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