Friday, May 31, 2013

Resolutions

I'll take any excuse to make them. New Year's, first day of school, birthday.

Sometimes they are formal, list-like affairs. Other times just fleeting inclinations: "Don't worry so much." "Take life as it comes."

Today's is like that. "Be grateful for what you have."

If a "foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" (Emerson), then what are resolutions? A refuge for the list-maker? A canard for the overly optimistic?

Or a way to stay fluid as the years conspire to harden us?

I'll go with that last one!


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Morning Run

Early to the city, sun still low in the sky. The Capitol there in the foreground, white, imposing, lit from the east. The air is still cool, but there's a promise of heat in the breeze.

I'm early enough that I slip into running shorts, t-shirt and tennis shoes, grab my iPod and head to the Mall. 

I didn't mean to jog the whole way to the Washington Monument, but "Flashdance" was pulsing in my ears and the whole world seemed to be running. The slow moving with bandaged knees and the speedsters with no shirts. Groups of colleagues pacing each other, the worn down and revved up. All of them alive, gloriously alive, this May morning.

Before I knew it I was turning left down 14th Street for the return trip. I felt like I was floating on air.






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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Bar of Light

Walked downstairs Saturday morning to see a bar of light across the wall, and, only a few feet away, another one across the carpet. Not just an ordinary spot of brightness but a dotted bar of louvered light cast by the shutters at the front windows.

Maybe it was just because I wasn't fully awake, but when I saw this I had to grab the camera and snap a shot. It seemed such a randomly beautiful way to start the day.

And today, when it's cloudy and there is no sunshine to pour through the little top window of the front door and the half-shuttered windows of the living room, it's randomly beautiful all over again.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day + 1

I didn't put the flag up yesterday. I thought of it at some point but as one errand led to another, I forgot entirely.

It's not the first time a holiday has become just another Saturday, with home chores and yard chores and no time to celebrate why we have the day off in the first place.

The short time we lived in Groton, Massachusetts, we took part in a Memorial Day observation that ended at the cemetery. Groton is a New England village with big white houses on a hill. The scale of the place, with its graveyard so integral a part of the town, made it difficult to do anything else.

Another argument for small towns. And another argument for flying flags, one small way I could have (but did not!) make Memorial Day matter.

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Monday, May 27, 2013

Finally Summer

It's finally warm enough for a morning on the deck, writing, reading the paper, watching Copper in his earnest but futile campaign to catch the sleek crows that wing their way across the yard.

In the distance the sound of a small engine in the sky.

Its putter takes me right to the beach, a hot noon and a low-flying plane with an "All-You-Can-Eat Buffet" or "Free Jazz on the Pier" banner streaming behind it. 

It's Memorial Day. It's warmer than 42 degrees. It's finally summer.

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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Forty-Two

It's cold this morning, but not as cold as in my dream. It was 10 degrees there, and I was running around telling people that there would be a 70-degree temperature differential the next day — from 10 to 80!

You know the weather is crazy when you start having dreams like that.

It's t-shirts one day and sweatshirts the next. Jeans in the morning, shorts at noon. The air conditioner, then the furnace.

Soon the needle will settle on summer and I'll be longing for a forty-degree start to the day. I'll just keep telling myself that!

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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Grand Gesture


This is what, long ago, made him fall in love with photography, the paying of attention, the capturing of time. He had forgotten exactly this. … Pay attention, he thinks. Not to the grand gesture, but to the passing breath.
 Lauren Groff, Arcadia                                   

 It's easy to pay attention to what is new. My flight yesterday was not new but newish. I hadn't flown into National Airport in years. I had forgotten the landmarks, the way the plane barrels along the Potomac as it pours in from the west. 

There was National Cathedral, the Kennedy Center, the Capitol, the Washington Monument covered in scaffolding. There was Gravelly Point Park, the small jet swooping in so close I could see the dotted yellow lines on the bicycle path. And then, we had landed, and I was back on earth.

From the smooth purity of air travel to the jingle-jangle of ground transportation.

What I experienced from the plane was the paying of attention. But it was paying attention to the grand gesture. What I saw from the ground was the passing breath.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Power of the Press

Yesterday I learned that Kentuckian Cassius Clay had a specially reinforced door and cannons mounted on the top of the building from which he printed his abolitionist newspaper. He was willing to step out and call for an end to slavery, but he was going to protect himself, too.

As it turned out, his office was ransacked — and his printing press sent packing to Cincinnati — while Clay was out of commission with typhoid fever.

Journalists who speak truth to power have never been safe. Neither now nor then. Sometimes the power of the press is best measured in the lengths people will take to silence it.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Air

Yesterday, a trip that usually takes eight and a half hours took an hour and a half. Instead of driving to Kentucky, I stepped on a plane, waited around a few minutes (OK, I'm not counting that, I was reading!) and in less time than it takes to watch a Disney movie (which is how we used to measure travel distances when the kids were young; one "Lion King," one "Beauty and the Beast," one "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and we're there!) I was looking at my hometown from the air.

Among the cognoscenti (of which I obviously am not one), Lexington, Kentucky, is said to have one of the most beautiful aerial approaches anywhere. The old grandstands of Keeneland Racetrack, the  red-topped barns of Calumet Farm and the white-fenced green fields of the Bluegrass are the last things you see before the plane touches down.

But it wasn't just the beauty that amazed me. It was being reminded of air travel's time-stapling speed and the essential order of the landscape. Truths that have been hidden to me recently but which I caught a glimpse of again yesterday.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Anything but Routine

Every spring I plant impatiens in the front garden and tomatoes and basil in pots on the deck. That's what I did yesterday.  The begonias will wait till the weekend. These annuals join the perennials, the day lilies and climbing rose and (right now) the slender irises and steadfast peony.

This is not a wide array of plants, but experience has proven what will grow in our shady yard — and what will not (forget a vegetable garden).

Is this what makes for routine? All the countless failed experiments — geraniums, petunias, speedwell, columbine?  The list of plants that won't grow in this shady, clay soil is much longer than the list of those that will. But all it takes is a few. And the knowledge of what those few are makes gardens grow a little faster, bloom a little brighter.

(The garden of my dreams, not my reality! It's anything but routine.)

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Monday, May 20, 2013

Pack of Two

The book I was reading as I fell asleep last night was Pack of Two by the late Caroline Knapp. In it she describes the unique bond between human and canine.

And coincidentally, the canine most in my mind and heart right now was sitting at the top of the stairs, where he knows he shouldn't be, when I woke up early this morning. I wanted to be angry at him, but I couldn't. It's because I had just read words like these:

Here I am with my dog. Me and my dog. The closeness feels like a private bridge, extending from human to animal ...  The causeway is constructed of ritual and repetition and simple moments, of behaviors discovered and then executed exclusively between human and dog, and there is something exceptionally restorative about crossing it day after day.
The bridge I cross most often with Copper consists of throwing the little guy a day-glo orange tennis ball. He runs, jumps, leaps, catches it on the fly or sometimes trots into the bushes to retrieve it, and lopes gratefully back to drop the ball at my feet so we can repeat the ritual over and over again. For some reason, he does this best (actually only!) with me.

It is our "causeway," our "private bridge." And I'm grateful for it.

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Mighty Wind

Sitting in church yesterday, thinking about Pentecost, not just the upper room and the "rushing mighty wind," but the many tongues and how the apostles heard each language as if it were their own, I decided, in a distinctly non-theological way, that this is a feast of clarity.

To hear the many but harken only to the one. To walk in confusion but know the way. Of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit I suppose it is the second, understanding.

But there is an aural quality to it. That from a cacophony of noise came one still voice. From a meaningless melange of sounds came one true melody.

It was the gift of discernment. The mighty wind blew everything else away. What remained was what is essential. That's what they received.

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Friday, May 17, 2013

Screen Door

The air is soft, the birds are singing, it's time for the screen door.

A screen door breaks down the barrier between outside and in. It lets the air move freely between the two worlds.

Out go the dim lights, hot soups and thick socks of winter. In come the bright sun, cool salads and bare feet of summer. 

This is not our screen door; it's the screen door of my brother- and sister-in-law in Portland.  We haven't used our screen door since we got an energetic dog. Copper also sees a screen as a way to break down the barrier between outside and in — but in a more direct and less metaphorical way.

So I keep the back door open (no screen at all) and remember a time when the slap of the screen door closing meant summer and all of its freedoms.




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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Zoobiquity

Authors Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, M.D., and Kathryn Bowers coined the word "zoobiquity" to describe their efforts to use animal behavior and the latest finds of veterinary science to solve some of the great puzzles of human medicine.

Take fainting, for instance. Turns out that animals faint, too, and can better elude predators when they do. It's not just "flight or fight," then, but "flight, fight or faint." A important lesson — that stillness is another way to fight stress.

Or take obesity. It's common in the animal world, and studies on dragonflies raise the possibility that the condition might be caused by a parasite, raising the more intriguing possibility that obesity might be infectious.

Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist and psychiatrist, has observed first-hand what fear can do to the human heart — and she honed her theories by learning about animal hearts, how restraint or fear of capture can kill an otherwise healthy bird or beast. She then applies this to what is known about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and a study that found a threefold greater risk of this among swaddled (i.e., restrained) babies put to sleep on their stomachs and exposed to a loud noise. The combination of noise and restraint triggers a slowdown of the heart in the young of many species, Natterson-Horowitz says, and calls for more collaboration among animal physiologists and pediatricians. "Powerful yet vulnerable, the heart-brain alliance usually saves lives," the authors write. "But every once in a while, it can also end one."

Zoobiquity is big-picture thinking at its best.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Piping for Police

Walked out of the office yesterday and right into a ... bagpipe rehearsal. This is one of the wonderful things about city life, the strange little surprises of it.

Since bagpipes in concert often sound like bagpipes in rehearsal, bagpipes in rehearsal sound like, well, you get the idea. Let's just say I didn't linger in the alley.

A few paces later it all came together — it was a parade for Police Week. All up and down E Street, uniformed officers were gathering. My walk to Metro Center takes me right past the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, where the names of fallen officers are inscribed.

Turns out that today, May 15, is Peace Officers Memorial Day. A bad day to jaywalk, but a good day to be grateful for police protection. Oh, and a good day for bagpipes, too.

(The view from my alley.)

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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cold May Day

As I write, the temperature hovers above freezing. 35 degrees on May 14!

Cold spring days are the smell of cut grass in nippy air. They are the crisp edge of morning when dawn is brisk as well as bright. They are lingering dogwood, preserved by the chill.

The seasons bump up against each other, one ready to begin and the other not ready to leave.

I know how this story ends.

The question is when.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

A Mother, Driving

A woman who can have breakfast with her mother and dinner with her children is lucky indeed. But for me to pull this off required a 525-mile drive.

It's not as odd as it seems to spend Mother's Day driving. In fact, I've done much of my mothering from behind the wheel. I've soothed tempers, given pep talks, supervised fights, hammered out college choices and discussed everything from God to boys to algebra (though not necessarily in that order).

Like talking and walking, talking and driving offers great freedom of conversation. You are both looking forward, not at each other (at least for the child riding shotgun), and that frees people to say what's really on their minds.

I was recalling some of those conversations yesterday — not just the ones where I was the mother, but the ones where I was the daughter, too. My mother and I have solved most of the world's problems on long drives. And in the recollection of all those words flying lies great peace and strength.

So on Mother's Day I celebrated not just the bonds between generations, the mother I have and the mother I hope I am, but I also honored that unsung vehicle of mothering, the vehicle itself.



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Saturday, May 11, 2013

One Thousand

If it was a year it would be medieval. If it was a jackpot it would be negligible. If it was a score it would be ... well, high. (Can't seem to find a sport where 1,000 is even possible, let alone perfection.)

This morning, one thousand (1,000 in the Associated Press style to which I am accustomed but which I don't always follow here) is the number of blog posts I've written since February 7, 2010. 

Not perfection, not even close, but a tidy sum — about 900 more than I thought I would write.  Because I seldom write on Sunday, it will be an even one thousand for two days running.

So today I'm savoring a number: One thousand, or even better, one thousand and counting.

(There are many more than one thousand grains of sand on this beach.)


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Friday, May 10, 2013

The Resort

I can make it in eight hours pedal-to-the-metal. Eight hours from my house to my parents' two states away. Eight hours from one role to another, eight hours from one set of duties to another. Eight hours of driving, thinking, listening to music, fiddling with the radio, eating pretzels, chewing gum and sipping tea (those last three to stay awake).

Yesterday I pulled off at one of my favorite rest stops, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and took a trail I'd never noticed before. It circled back behind the visitor's center, up a little rise, along a path of soft, springy pine needles. At the end of the trail there was a panoramic view of the Greenbrier Resort, one of those fabled old-time places known for discrete luxury.

I looked at the white building and manicured lawn and wondered what I would do if I was there. Read? Swim? Bike? Have a massage or manicure? Pamper myself? Eat too much rich food?

I'm sure it would be nice, but not high on my list. On the other hand, I was delighted to have found this trail, to stretch my legs and take this tiny hike. So I stood for a while and savored the view. The drive is my Greenbrier, I said to myself, my one-day respite. During the eight hours I'm neither mother, nor wife, nor daughter. I am just me, out for a spin, exploring the person I used to be.

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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Earlier Kind of Morning

As mornings dawn earlier and earlier, these last few cloudy days bring a brief pause, a few days that start as slowly as earlier, more wintry ones.

I love how summer mornings dawn bright and strong, with bird song and sunshine before 6. But I also appreciate the dim, still kind of morning.

The kind that gives you a chance to wake up slowly. The kind we have today.


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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tweaking the Commute

The general idea is to shorten the commute, find the cut-through, the shortcut, the (quicker) road not taken.

Lately, I've done the opposite, adding a longer walk in the afternoon and sometimes (today, for instance) in the morning, too; strolling to a Metro stop farther from my office, savoring the time I spend in the places in between.

En route I think of my great commutes in New York City, walking to and from midtown Manhattan from the Upper West Side and, later on, the Village.

The goal is to exercise, decompress, let the day begin (or end) on a vigorous, active, mind-toggling note. The reality is even better.


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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Steps of Revision

Yesterday I spent some time revising an essay. It's been a while since I've written one I wanted to revise, so I was a bit rusty.

It's a halting process, full of stops and starts. If it was a walk it would be an interrupted one. Halfway down the block, I stop to tie my shoe. At the corner, I run into a neighbor, admire her lettuce, chat about our kids. 

At the next stop sign, I change playlists on the iPod, turning my back on the sun so I can see the tiny screen. A block later it's the same thing. Another playlist, another pause. As I warm up I take off my jacket, tie it around my waist. Only 15 minutes in do I start to move freely, do I limber up enough to flow.

The steps of revision. I'd forgotten how painfully slow they can be.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

On the Line

It's retractable, and when you extend it as far as it will go and latch it to the closest sapling it barely holds a light kitchen towel. But it's there, our clothesline, something I've always wanted, albeit a crazy anachronistic desire.

Maybe it's harkening back to my childhood, to hanging sheets on the line, seeing them billow in the breeze, bringing them back in the house, inhaling their perfume of sunshine and fresh air.

Or maybe it goes even farther back in time, to some ancestral past, pounding clothes with a rock in the stream, drying them on grass or shrubbery.

Mostly it's just a foolish romantic notion. I appreciate modern conveniences as much as the next person. But on a hot July afternoon, when laundry dries more quickly outside than in, surely there is something to love about a clothesline.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Life and Death in the Forest


I look out the window and see the leaves flashing green and think of walks I’ve taken recently, how I march now through a tunnel of treetops bending. This is the settled Folkstone, this shining place, with a forest encroaching on the road and the road obliging. 

Step off the road, follow the path, and you will enter a place of gathering sunshine. As the road is greening, the woods are clearing. The big trees are falling, dying, living out their natural lives. They are tumbling down in fierce rains and big winds. They are falling there, even if they’re not heard, and we, the walkers, are the only ones who notice.

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Friday, May 3, 2013

A May Day

I'm two days late on this one, but the story still needs telling. What we have here is perfection.

The azaleas are out and the dogwood still in bloom. The clematis winds its way around the lamppost. Tulips nod valiantly by the door. Forget-me-nots spread a blue cloud in the garden.

The front door is open and light pours in. May is like that. Early in the month it's pure spring. But it opens the door to summer.

Not May Day. But a May day.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

How to Dress

These are days that try the wardrobe. Low 40s at 6 a.m.; mid 70s at 4 p.m. Does one dress for the morning ... or the afternoon?

Furthermore, is this a "glass half full or glass half empty" question? Does the optimist dress for the future and the pessimist for the present? Or does the decision have nothing to do with outlook, but only with body temperature? Do cold-natured folks dress for morning and warm-natured for afternoon?

These are questions without answers, so I decide to split the difference: A leather jacket yesterday (comfortable on the way to work, boiling on the way home) but only a suit jacket today (running to the office I was so cold).

As problems go, not a major one. Soon it will be cooler inside than out. And then there will be a different set of wardrobe decisions.



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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Technical Difficulties

I wonder if anyone has done a study of the time spent trying to learn, operate and repair the electronic items in our possession. I wonder this because in the time I've spent trying to download a book on my much-neglected Kindle, I could have driven to the store and bought the book. (If I could find a bookstore and if the bookstore carried this book.)

The culprit: a new wireless network in our house, which means Netflix streams intermittently now, if at all, and the e-reader that worked with the old network and password is balking at the new one.

At these moments I inevitably anthropomorphize the gizmo, tell myself that it's a creature of habit, doesn't like the vibes given off by the new network, is a bit set in its ways. (Speaking of set in its ways, has it ever considered what it took for me to come around to reading on it?)

But no, apparently it hasn't. And now the book I was planning to start for book group tonight is still up there in the ether and I'm reading something else entirely.

Everything is fast and easy these days. Until it isn't.

(Ready to read — if only I could download the novel!)

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