Saturday, November 29, 2014

Farewell to the Teenage Years

This is the second to last day of the month — but the absolute last day for me to be the parent of a teenager. It was an era that began innocuously enough in October of 2001 — but stepped up in intensity as years progressed and there were three teenage girls in the house.

Oh, the drama! Oh, the laughter! Oh, the driving lessons, the boyfriends, the required parental participation in track meets and band concerts and cookie dough sales. Oh, the anger and the misunderstandings and the hours spent waiting for texts and phone calls to be returned. Oh, the late nights and the early mornings and the long talks after which things finally seemed right again.

It's all part of growing up, I know, part of separating and achieving independence. Also nature's way of preparing parents to be empty-nesters.

Now that the waters are calmer (notice I said "calmer" not "calm"), now that I have three young adults who are kind, generous and funny — in other words, now that the teenage years are ending — it's possible to write a post about the teenage years. Before now, it hasn't been.

So here's to the next era, when all three girls are in their 20s. Can they be that old? Can I? Nah, it isn't possible!


Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksiving Table

The Thanksgiving table before the bird, before the whipped yams with candied pecans, before the oyster stuffing and the mashed potatoes and the broccoli with capers. Before the pumpkin praline pie.

Before the wine and the "cheers" and the conversation.

Before the Black Friday sales, which had not yet started when I snapped this shot, which I'm happy to say we did not attend.

Before the day we leave for home, which (sigh) we will do soon.

The Thanksgiving table is behind us; the gratitude remains.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Guestbooks of Thule

I've always been an adventurous traveler, preferring trips to places I've never been before. I'm seeing now what great good comes from returning over and over to the same place, a family place, in this case a cottage named Thule. 

Flipping through the old guestbooks here, seeing the girls' handwriting change through the years, reading entries from those no longer with us, I gain for a few minutes what I'm always craving but so seldom have — perspective.

I remember the party boats, campfires and paddles into secret coves, the skits and the late-night swims. I also recall how nervous I was when the children were young. Would they fall out of the canoe? Could they swim across the lake and back?

Reading the old journals, it all comes back to me — the time when Claire split her foot on a shell, the visit when Suzanne almost drove her grandmother's car off the road, the summer when Celia learned to kayak. All those visits are part of them, part of me — and part of this place. Reading the guestbooks brings them alive again.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Time for Sun

What a difference the sun makes. It's cold, slightly above freezing, a steady breeze blowing off the lake. But the day is friendly, not the alien weather of yesterday, which was inhospitable to humans.

I say this from experience, after first rambling along the shore and then trudging up to the ridge, where the combination of exertion and distance from the lake made the temperature almost bearable.

Today there are sounds of life, some hammering next door, an occasional car engine. It's time for me to go outside — if for no other reason than to know how good it feels to come back in! 

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Lake Monroe

I'm writing from a cottage in Indiana as the wind whips whitecaps in the lake and sends the wind chimes into overdrive.

I've come here for years but never in the winter, never when the water opened up before me on three sides, never with a sky so leaden and gray. 

It's a cozy place to hang out for a couple of days. And I've figured out how to create a "personal hotspot" to post these words.

Here, in a "frame," is Lake Monroe, snapped from inside, the only place to be today.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Imagining Grounds for Hope

First she made a joke about being shorter than the other people at the podium.  Then she told the audience that she was sharing her award —the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters — with fellow fantasy and science-fiction writers. Then Ursula LeGuin said this:

I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope.

We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable; so did the divine right of kings. … Power can be resisted and changed by human beings; resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I’ve had a long career and a good one, in good company, and here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. … The name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.
 Within an hour I was at the library checking out three books by Ursula Le Guin. Here's a writer whose voice I want to read.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Tysons from Below

Ever since the new Silver Line went in I've been zooming through Tysons on rails above the ground. Sometimes I look down at the traffic, strings of light in the looming darkness, and feel good I'm up above it all.

But yesterday and today I drove to Tysons, saw Metro from below, was bewildered at the new traffic patterns. I was flexible, I was free — until I was sitting at lights and in lines.

Sitting and sitting and sitting ...


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eating Crow

Yesterday, for the first time in several years, I took a yoga class. Yoga is one of those activities I am theoretically for — until it comes time to actually do it.

I knew I was in trouble when I couldn't do the first pose — sitting cross-legged on the floor. My knees don't like that anymore. I quickly adapted a faux cross-legged position, one that put my legs farther out in the floor than the other students gathered in a circle around the instructor, John. And it went rather steadily downhill from there. When it came time to learn the crow or Bakasana position —balancing on arms with bent knees — I had to laugh.

I had taken a class with John before and remember it as challenging but fun. This time it was only challenging. Which raises the question, who has changed — John or me?

Both, I'd say. This was a more advanced class and John was subbing for it. But I've been ossifying, too, hardening into position. One hour of yoga didn't do much to dispel muscle stiffness, but it did help me see how much I need to strengthen and stretch. And this morning — ouch! — it's an easy lesson to remember!

(Crow position courtesy

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The End of Sanctuary?

When I wrote of barbarism yesterday I didn't yet know about the slayings in Jerusalem. This time terrorism has reached much farther than Indiana. It has reached into the sanctuary itself.

It is difficult to measure grief and outrage, but this incident is striking in its brutality. The piousness of the victims, their vulnerability, the contested city in which these slayings took place — a city riven by religious violence.

I looked up how often murders occur in places of worship and found a Christian Science Monitor article reporting that as of last June there had been 780 deadly attacks in U.S. churches in the last 15 years, according to Carl Chinn, a church security expert who was himself a victim of church violence. Such violence was almost nonexistent before the bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963, Chinn said.

The numbers worldwide are much bigger and more horrifying, I'm sure.

Religious-based violence is nothing new. But the ironies are too great to ignore. That a force intended for good has been hijacked for evil. That a place built for sanctuary has become a killing ground.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Barbarism Comes to the Midwest

When I chose Hanover College as a shy, bookish 18-year-old, it was mostly because of its beautiful Georgian style buildings, its stunning views of the Ohio River, the long wooded drive to the bluff where the campus clusters. Only later would I come to appreciate the school's fine teachers and midwestern modesty.

But one thing that was true all the time — and still is, I hope — is that like many small liberal arts colleges, Hanover was set apart from the world. I remember once as a prank someone set up a sign at the beginning of that long, winding drive. It said: "You are leaving reality." And you were. Hanover was a bubble where your only job was to study, make friends and learn to live on your own.

Yesterday I received an email from Hanover College. I already knew what it would say:  Abdul-Raman Kassig, formerly known as Peter, and a former student at Hanover, was executed by ISIS two days ago. His father, Ed, was at Hanover the same time I was; he lived a few doors down the hall from Tom. Peter Kassig was working to help the people of Syria when he was captured last year. He converted to Islam only recently; his name means "servant of the most merciful."

Sheltered by tall trees and cornfields, sitting serenely above the Ohio River, Hanover College seemed the last place terrorism would reach. If it's here, then it must be everywhere.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Begonias: The Sequel

Were the begonias reading my blog? If so, not anymore. On Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after I wrote about their bravery and their continued existence, they finally succumbed to the low night temperatures.

I knew their time was up when I wrote about them, am surprised they lasted this long. It's the life of an annual, as brief as the autumn leaves that I notice are so much more a part of this photograph than they seemed to be when I snapped the shot.

We know what happens next. In a few days or weeks I'll rip out the old plants and let the soil rest until spring.

A few late roses are clinging to life, but for the most part the growing season is over. The begonias lasted from late May through mid-November —not a bad run.

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

Brave Begonias

Annuals don't expect immortality, so I don't give it to them. When the temperatures dip into the 20s and teens, I let them go gracefully, don't bring them inside for the winter. I've seen enough thin, leggy geraniums to realize when a flower is past its prime.

Which is not to say I don't care. This time of year I often look outside first thing to see if the begonias have made it another night.

And last night, for one more night, they did.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Long Way Home

The Building Museum on a warm, sunny day.
When the day is long, the air is cold, and the bag is heavy (last night's contents: piles of work, a newspaper, magazine, shoes and gym clothes) the Judiciary Square Metro stop is the natural choice. It's five minutes away from the office.

But last night I pushed on to Metro Center. It's a mile or so down the road: Down E Street to Ninth Street to F Street to Thirteenth and almost to G. I walk past the Building Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, through Chinatown and Penn Quarter, get almost as far as the White House before I head down to the train.

I catch snatches of conversation ("Well, there's that Italian place down the street..."),  spot the remnants of a farmer's market, see scores of tourists milling around the Spy Museum.

My bag is heavy, I think of the errands I have to run before I get home. But I'm glad I chose this route. I was tired when I started. But I'm not anymore.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Catch a Falling Star

Who knew a comet could be lassoed and landed? Who knew a comet could be stalked and studied, pursued and parsed, its every movement charted and filed, honed to such precision that its whereabouts could be predicted with certainty 300 million miles from earth?

A comet has always seemed a quicksilver thing to me. More light than substance, even though I know it has rock at its core.

Now this rock hurtling through space — the ultimate moving target — has become a laboratory. It may yield the secrets of our solar system, the scientists tell us. It is a "cosmological dream," the Washington Post says.

A dream not just for cosmologists, I'd say, but for us all.


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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Legacy Trail

In Lexington this weekend I was in mild trail withdrawal. For a couple of years I'd noticed what appeared to be a paved path running along Newtown Pike, my way out of town. And every time I'd notice it, too late to explore, I'd tell myself, next time.

This time was next time, so I did a little Googling, figured out approximately where it began, and stumbled upon the Northside YMCA trailhead by a happy accident. This is no cross-county trail. It's 12 miles, not 40, and it has a self-consciousness that the Fairfax County trail lacks.

But it did what all good trails do: It took me out of the here and now, plunked me down into some other realm where roads are crossed at odd angles and places I normally zoom by are viewed slowly and in great detail.

It was sunny when I started, but I walked so far that it was almost dark by the time I got back to my car. The lights of Lexington blinked in the distance. I was in my hometown but I was not. I was in some other place, on a trail.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

My Favorite Veteran

Until March 20, 2014, World War II was for me a living entity. A part of history, yes, of course. But because my father was a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber and flew 35 raids out of East Anglia, it was also a part of family lore. I grew up hearing tales of London during the war, meeting girls under the clock in Victoria station, coming back to base to find empty bunks and chairs after a raid.

Since Dad died, the personal part of the war is by and large over me for me. It's there only in a sepia-tinged way. Not my memories but someone else's.

On the other hand, Veteran's Day has taken on new meaning. Mom and I went to the cemetery on Sunday, left flowers by Dad's headstone. I looked for a small American flag to plant there, but small American flags are in short supply in November.

I stood for a minute in the wan autumn sun, looked out at the rolling hills, the grazing cattle in the distance. Dad would like this spot, would probably make a joke about it — hey, not bad for a grave.

The optimism and jauntiness that served him well in wartime kept him going throughout his long life. And it spilled over to others, too; it certainly did to me.

So Veteran's Day is no longer a musty, creaky holiday. It's about doing one's duty with a wink and a quip. It's about grace under pressure. It's about Dad.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Cold Weather Gait

Twice in the last few days I've dashed out for a stroll wearing one layer less than I should. I forget that it's not summer anymore. The wind whistles up my sleeves, makes my teeth chatter.

As the weather grows colder, my walks get faster. In fact, they turn into jogs. I run to warm up and  slow to a walk only when I stop shivering.

 I've never been much of a cold-weather person, will never be one.

But every fall I remember this: A bitter, blustery day is less formidable once it's been endured. Going out in all seasons is good for the soul.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Still Life with Leaves

Late afternoon, lowered light — the leaves await me. I start energetically, as usual, and before long have more piles than I have bags to hold them.

These aren't even my leaves — at home there are more than this — but I suddenly want to be out there in the yard, in the chill.

Soon there are four bags and still more leaves. Something for tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sunlight and Shadow

Each drive to and from Kentucky takes on a character of its own. Yesterday's began with wet roads and misty mountains — but it didn't stay that way.

One minute I was in sunlight and the next in shadow. One moment wearing sunglasses and the next not. A brisk breeze blew in from the west, sent leaves flying across the interstate asphalt. Flocks of birds wheeled in the wind, swirling and dipping and looking not unlike those spinning leaves.

I drove in and out of rain, in and out of radio contact, in and out of cruise control. I looked for a lesson in the changeability, and it wasn't hard to find.

This will pass, that will pass. Everything will pass. As I write these words, what started as a gray day has suddenly turned sunny.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Rituals of Democracy

I made it to the polls last night with 30 minutes to spare. It was dark and you could barely see the volunteers handing out sample ballots.

Three members of my family* had already voted. It gave me a warm feeling to know that others had been there before me. Also a warm feeling to know that this was my last errand of the day, that after this I could go home and collapse.

And this morning, poring over the paper for results and analysis, checking online for the races the Washington Post didn't cover. (Jim Gray, my father's good friend, handily re-elected mayor of Lexington, Kentucky!)

The rituals of democracy, which seems flawed these days, but which, after all, is the best hope we have.

(This does not include Copper, though he purloined my "I Voted" sticker.)

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Lost and Found

The Cross-County Trail is marked clearly in some stretches — but in others it takes detective skills and young, sharp eyes to see the distinctive CCT logo. Suzanne went hiking with me over the weekend and spotted such a small sign. The path was slender and led through an opening in some hedges. If she hadn't seen it I'd still be walking up and down Rolling Road.

But late yesterday afternoon, when I was hiking alone, I missed a marker and jogged far along the Fairfax County Parkway path before realizing that I'd zoomed right past the trail. It was leading me not down the Parkway but right across it. I've forded a lot of creeks on the trail but I refused to cross one of the busiest roads in the area at rush hour.

So I ran back to my car, got lost figuring out which way to drive on the Parkway (that would be north, not south) and finally, finally found the trail. It was worth the wait.

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Monday, November 3, 2014

Suburban Density

Each time I’ve visited Lake Accotink Dam (which is only twice but feels like more), I’ve spotted people exercising here, running up the stairs beside the spillway, and, most recently, a man rolling back and forth on the asphalt stretching his quads and hamstrings, totally oblivious to the others walking here. I practically had to step over him on the trail. 

I think about how, even though I'm not in a city but in the suburbs, there is still the trademark of city life: an obliviousness to the lives of those around us. A resolute self-centeredness (or is it self-preservation?) that is perhaps bred in the general irritation engendered by close proximity to neighbors. 

Which is why I’m not sure this urban density thing will work in the suburbs. Clump people together, save space for hiking and boating and picnicking.  A lovely concept, until you have to step over a grown man stretching.

To what extent do we need our suburban space? Haven't many of us moved here to have it?

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Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Reds

I could tell with eyes half open that it was November. It was morning but not bright. Changing leaves are the brightest thing in the landscape. We must enjoy them and shuffle through them now.

Already some trees are skeletons, pale gray and shimmery.

The reds, when you see them, stand out like beacons.


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