Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Just a Walk Around the Block

Had to mail a package yesterday at lunchtime, and though I didn't have long I thought I would stroll for a few minutes before returning to my desk.

I walked east toward the Capitol, all swathed in scaffolding (look closely; you can see a worker in a day-glo yellow jacket).

Then behind it past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, then in front of it where I snapped this shot before heading back down First Street to my office.

Not bad for a walk around the block!

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Monday, March 30, 2015


The Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum was a spur-of-the-moment decision, a way to fill the hour between Georgetown and Dulles Airport. I hadn't been there for years — since long before the ...

and the ...
arrived there. And I was totally unprepared to have my eyes well up. I'm getting emotional about airplanes? Come on!

But the Discovery was so battered and patched, and the Concorde was so sleek and lean.

And they and all the planes and space capsules and satellites there were so much the stuff that dreams are made of that I just couldn't help myself.

They were made for the sky, but they are earthbound now. No longer where they belong.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Wild Cat

It would have been easy to blame Copper, but he hadn't been outside yet yesterday morning when we noticed the cat up in the tree.  Not just any cat — a large, wild-looking one with a raccoon-striped tail.  And not just any tree — one of the tall oaks.

From what I could figure he was 30 or 40 feet up. The temperature was in the 20s, with a stiff breeze that moved the trunk from side to side. 

The cat had found a perch of sorts, and at times looked content, as if sunning itself. But the longer it remained, the more agitated it seemed, shifting position, making half-hearted attempts to claw its way down. 

Finally, there was real movement, a quick scamper, an impossible leap and — after a few heart-stopping seconds when it seemed as if the animal almost certainly hadn't survived the fall — a glimpse of that same striped tail moving side to side. 

Within seconds, the cat had scampered out of the brush, under the fence and into the woods. 

Destination unclear, motivation unknown. It may not have been a wildcat ... but it was a wild cat.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Red Buds

It's not just the red bud that blooms in red this time of year. Many trees are erupting in a frizz of scarlet. Red oak, maples, burning bush and others.

I snapped these tree buds out a window as they posed in front of a nice, neutral wall. But they're just the beginning.

I look up, see a blur of pale color where stark branches used to be.

Spring begins slightly out of focus, as if our eyes can't take too much at once.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gift of Perspective

We have family visiting from Portland, and they've brought with them the energy of the tourist. Up before dawn to wait in line for the Supreme Court. Out in the evening to sample a hot new restaurant.

Days crammed with sights and monuments — the Magna Carta and the Constitution; the Washington Monument and the Vietnam War Memorial; Ford's Theater and the Holocaust Museum.

What a gift they are to weary residents!  We who too often see tourists as annoying people who dally at street corners and stand on the left hand side of the escalators. Move it people. We're important. We must rush to the office where we'll — hmmm — let's see ...  What will we do at the office that's more important than ambling the streets of this stately city, letting its wonders unfold before us?

Travelers may think they're only lugging laptops and suitcases. But they also bring with them the gift of perspective. They help us see our place as a new place.

(The view outside my office, seen from a new perspective.)


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Tea Time

Driving to the office this morning gave me the chance to lug in something I would not usually lug in — a thermos. And I'm now enjoying a cup of hot tea that could only have come from my own teapot at home.

It's all courtesy of a thermos, this low-tech marvel, insulator extraordinaire. This one is large, built like a pitcher with a spout that makes it easy to pour from container to mug ... which ... I just did.

The steam is rising, the thermos is hissing. The page proofs on my desk can wait another few minutes. It's tea time.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Rethinking March

I've never been a big fan of March. True, there is basketball to watch, and the first daffodils to savor. January and February are behind us, always a good thing. But March has never been one of my favorite months.

As time continues to speed up on me, however, as March comes sooner and sooner every year, I realize I can no longer afford to dislike it. (Of course, you could make the opposite argument -- that the faster time goes, the quicker we will be done with March -- but I'm trying to be positive in this post!)

All this is to say that March and I are considering a truce. Take yesterday's walk, for instance. It was with Copper, which meant melancholy was impossible. Still, I was expending some mental effort trying to figure out what it is about the month that bothers me.

But as I pondered, my eyes kept straying to the gray/white sky, to the birds wheeling about trees still winter bare. A desultory woodpecker drilled loudly from the woods. A crow touched down with wind-swerved wing. The first brave yellows and purples stuck their heads above ground. And suddenly I was struck with the feel of the air and of the moment. There is much to behold in this raw month, much to appreciate in its wild, windswept beauty.


Monday, March 23, 2015

First Flower

I noticed the small bloom late last week, a buttercup yellow flower called winter aconite. Though I've spotted crocus and snowdrops in other yards, this was the first one in ours.

But by yesterday, it was gone.

The early flowers are shy, low to the ground, tender of stem.  They are also fleeting, as is all spring beauty.

They are like sculptures made of sand, sunsets made of shifting light and clouds. They remind us to look deeply at first glance.

(No pictures of winter aconite; these crocus will have to do.)


Friday, March 20, 2015

The Watch

After Dad died (a year ago today), I brought his watch home with me to Virginia. He had worn it almost to the end, said it drove him crazy not to know what time it was.

It's a plain watch with a metal case, easy to read, with a simple leather band bent at the second smallest hole. It sits on my dressing table — one of the last things I see before I go to bed at night and leave for work in the morning.

I brought it home because it's a small, humble thing that belonged to Dad for years. Now it reminds me not only of him but of all that's happened since he's been gone. The college graduations, college returns, graduate school and medical school acceptances, trips to Africa and Afghanistan and back. All the mornings without him at the table, sipping what he liked to call "Brazilian Novocain." All the trips home without him walking out to greet me, rubbing his hands together in that way that he did.

The watch reminds me, too, that time is the only currency we have. Dad spent his well. Which is why his wife, children and grandchildren, his coffee buddies, basketball buddies and friends old and new — why all of us smile through our tears on this day. How we miss him! But how lucky we were to have him for so long. 


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Feeling Sorry for the Circus

I started feeling sorry for the circus even before I heard about the elephants. I knew it was only a matter of time before the elephants disappeared. Now I can't help but think the whole enterprise may be on the way out.

The posters arrived a few weeks ago, pasted all over the Metro system. The circus is coming, the circus is coming! "Hmmm," say the children, barely lifting their heads from their iPads, phones and computers.

The circus may be losing the battle, but it's not going down without a fight. "Believe in the unbelievable," trumpet the posters. But what is unbelievable anymore? Surely anything can happen, anything does. Dancing dogs, contortionists, trapeze artists, a man shot from a cannon. But how can these compare to even one frame of a computer game, film or TV show?

Yes, the circus is real; humans and animals defy gravity, death, the possibility of humiliation. But what does it matter?

Will the circus be around 20 years from now? I hope so. I'd like to say yes. But then again I like to believe in the unbelievable.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tender Earth

I walk carefully through the meadow, choosing grass clumps and leaf piles and anything else that will keep the mud off my shoes. The snow and rain have saturated our soil; to walk on it now is to sink a little with each step.

Aren't we all a little tender this time of year? Coats cast aside, jackets unzipped, the feel of the sun on newly bared skin.  There's a freedom but also a sensitivity.

So it is with the earth. Clover and fescue just starting to take hold. Even the lightest of foot falls leaves an imprint.  I tiptoe to the trampoline to give the grass a chance. I watch with dismay as Copper scrambles after the ball, his every feint and skid leaving deep tracks in the mud. The yard is marked with our play.

But this tender time will pass, I tell myself. Even now new plants are anchoring themselves in the ground, their roots spreading. Soon they will weave a net, a home, a bulwark. Soon the land will be less impressionable. Until then, I'll tread lightly. 

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Visits to Ireland

"The people here look familiar," said Mom, a few hours after we'd landed at Dun Laoghaire off the ferry from Holyhead, Wales. At first I wasn't sure what she was talking about. But after a few days in Dublin I began to understand. The people looked like a lot of the Irish Catholics we knew back home, people like the Bryants, a family with 10 children who lived on Providence Avenue across the street from Christ the King School and Church. They had freckles and round faces and a pleasant way about them.

A week later, down a long lane in County Clare, Mom and I found her cousins, a pair of bachelor uncles who lived in a cottage without electricity. They served us tea in thin china cups that they produced with great ceremony, and they reminisced about meeting my mother's aunts when they were little boys.

A few days after that, in County Galway, we came across a man named Paddy Concannon, whose connection to us was unknown except that he was the spitting image of my grandfather, Martin Joseph Concannon.

I've visited Ireland only once. But I have to remind myself of that fact; it seems like I've been there at least a half a dozen times.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

March ... Well, You Know

I'm not a sports person, so am probably not the best individual to make this observation: But is it possible that "Selection Sunday," the art and science of brackets and the NCAA Basketball Tournament in general is a bigger deal than it used to be?

A special section of the Washington Post is dedicated to it today (there have been special sections for years) and a picture of nervous Maryland fans appears on the front page. I missed the televised hoopla but of course there's plenty of it. And it's been dominating social media as well.

There are many reasons for this trend, I'm sure, including the prodigious amounts of money wagered on the games. But this year I'm less interested in the why of March madness than I am in the fact that it means there are even more people pulling for Kentucky to lose.

If there ever was an "overdog" my team is it! Undefeated in the regular season. All school records broken. Just a bit of pressure! More than there used to be? Yes. More than they can handle? That remains to be seen.

(View from the University of Kentucky Library ... yes, they have a library.)


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Writing About the Kids Again

"What will your children think of this," she asked me, this jolly woman who pens lovely essays and is one of the writers who meets a few Monday evenings a year. We were sitting in a large corner booth at a down-on-its-heels pizza place where the waitress never forgets your name or your order.

"I haven't asked them," I said, the words sounding more clipped than I intended.

After sharing anecdotes about my children early and often — making a living from writing parenting magazine articles and a book — I stopped this practice cold turkey after the book came out. Not because I wouldn't share the stories but because I stopped writing the articles.

And then there were the years of teenage angst. Those stories may never be told.

But my youngest child is 20 now. I thought I was in the clear.  Am I really?

So I fretted and rearranged words — I even considered removing the stories entirely. But in the end I kept them in. And yesterday, just for the heck of it, I told my youngest what I was doing. "That's OK, Mom — just as long as you don't use my name."

I didn't. I won't. But I'm sending the piece out today. It's time.

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Friday, March 13, 2015

First Bounce

I arrived home in the afterglow. The sun had set but the western sky was still blazing.

Copper had been cooped up all day and was happy to see me. We went outside for our little ritual: First I throw day-glow orange tennis balls so he can fetch them — and then I bounce on the trampoline while he runs around the yard as if I'm still throwing the day-glow orange balls.

It was my first bounce of the season, my first bounce of 2015, for that matter. The tramp has been snow-covered for a month.

It felt good to be jumping; the world has that soft edge that it has when one is moving or bouncing through it. The house glowed yellow, a beacon in the dusk. We stayed out till the light left the sky. 

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Walking New Jersey

Wednesdays are good for lunch walks, and yesterday's stroll was prime. It started on New Jersey Avenue. There's a block there in front of the hotel, under a canopy of trees, the capitol up ahead, that never fails to buoy me.

I parse the feelings I have when pounding that stretch of pavement. There is the tree cover, which makes me feel protected, secure. There are the taxis and limousines pulling in and out of the hotel's circular drive, which suggest adventure, the hustle bustle of business being plied. There are people everywhere: tourists wandering guidebooks in hand; office workers scurrying away from the deli on the corner, taking lunch back to their desks.

Everywhere there is movement and energy. I'm walking faster, stretching my legs, opening my eyes after a long morning of close work and frayed nerves. A faint breeze stirs the tree tops. Life moves on. It has to.

(Almost, but not quite, the view from New Jersey Avenue.)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fog and Memory

Clouds have come to earth — or maybe they've risen from the earth, ground exhaling deeply now the snow is gone.

Driving to Metro this morning, I passed through great swaths of fog. It was like coming down from the mountain in the days we lived on top of one.

Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas is 1,000 feet above sea level, and the switchback road to get there moves you into and out of the clouds.

Sometimes the fog there is so dense that it keeps you in place. But other times, the playful wisps hang in the sky like the ribbons from some forgotten banner waving.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Battle Weary

Walking past piles of dirty snow yesterday, I felt like I was in a construction zone.

There were mechanical teeth marks in the snow, the signs of big-shovel scraping and the variegated curve that comes from a bulldozer shoving. There were salt crystals from the ice storm and sand grit from the snowstorm. There was gravel embedded in the snow mounds beside the road.

But right nearby was green grass showing, icy ponds melting, warm sun shining. 

A big battle has been waged. Winter is on the wane — and spring, we think, is winning.


Monday, March 9, 2015

One Hour

One hour is a pebble in the shoe, the insignificant that will not be silenced. Put in perspective it is nothing, this shift of time. With all the great world's spinning, how could it be important? It is only a matter of accounting, right? A shift from one column to another.

But so exquisitely tuned are we, so finely adapted to familiar segments of darkness and light, that one hour brings a yelp of pain or a cry of joy. Sandpaper-eyed mornings, loose-limbed evenings. A stark jump to the cold days of early spring.

The black ice on the driveway and the snow on the deck makes it hard to take this hour seriously. This hour will not catapult us to spring. It is the alarm set too early, tugging us to ragged wakefulness in the middle of the night.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Bird Noticer

I've always loved birds but have never wanted to be a bird watcher, someone in sensible shorts with binoculars around the neck. As I've learned more about Ira Gabrielson and the extensive bird lists he kept throughout his life, though, I've begun jotting down the birds I see at the winter feeder.

It's easy to spot the cardinals, bluebirds and jays, and the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds has helped me identify the others. The black-and-white-striped bird with a red-streaked head, the one that clings expertly to the deck pilaster, is a hairy woodpecker. But wait, there's another, smaller bird, quite similar but without the red streak. I consult the bible. Ah, I see, it's a female hairy woodpecker.

There was another bird that had me stumped until yesterday. A sweet little thing with a gray body and white breast that enjoys both the thistle and the other feed. At first I thought nuthatch, then a vireo. Yesterday, with the bible's help, I solved the mystery. It's a junco. Of course. I had identified juncos a couple years ago but had forgotten some key details.

I'm a long way from scientific. Will never spend hours in the muck waiting for a glimpse of a yellow-bellied sapsucker. But I am starting to pay closer attention to our feathered friends. Am I a bird watcher yet? I hope not. Just call me a bird noticer.

(Bluebird enjoying the suet block.)


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Of Birds and Words

The office is closed, magazine proofs stuffed in my bag. For now it's just me and the laptop and the words that won't come. It's so easy to sidle over to the kitchen for another cup of tea. Or watch the birds fight over suet. Just now a pair of young bluejays sparring in the air.

But the empty page won't go away, so I come back, pull the words from wherever it is they like to hide. They are fickle and stubborn. They won't be willed into existence.

The thing is, sometimes they hang out with the birds or the cup of tea. That's where they hide when they should be on the page.

Nothing to do but find them and bring them home.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Promise of Greening

Day before yesterday I stole an hour at lunchtime to walk the Cross-County Trail. I hadn't been on it in months. This was the stretch closest to my house, less than 10 minutes away. I wasn't sure it would be cleared of ice, and when it was, my feet flew!

The snow was piled high beside the path and rivulets of meltwater ran across the pavement. The sun was warm on my face and the Chieftains loud in my ears. From time to time a bird call or two broke through the music.

I wasn't the only one out. There were dog walkers and solo wanderers and a group of three that took up the whole path.

"Passing on the left," said a runner as he sped past by. "It's good to be out today, isn't it?" And it was. A hint of spring in the air and in our steps. The greening well hidden — but the promise of it all around us.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My Kingdom For ...

Downton Abby's fifth season ended Sunday night with a Christmas celebration at the Earl of Grantham's manor house. Lords and ladies, cooks and valets — everyone joined in the holiday spirit. And that's been the theme of this season — everyone joining in, boundaries dissolving.

The likely departure for America of Tom Branson, the chauffeur who married Lady Sybil and is raising their daughter after his wife died in childbirth, is being mourned by the family even though they once could hardly stand to have him at their table.

The cook's assistant Daisy is filled with book learning and Mr. Molesly the footman enjoys sharing his love of history with the girl. We continue to hope for a happily ever after for Anna and John Bates — if the couple can stay out of prison long enough to find it. And finally, Carson the butler has made his feelings known to Mrs. Hughes the housekeeper. And she said yes!

I know it's a soap opera, but it's a wonderfully done one. I turn off the set each Sunday night wishing I had a ladies maid to untangle my necklace and a footman to serve the sweets and savories that the cook, in some magical, other-side-of-the-rainbow kitchen, has lovingly prepared.

Eleven months till Season Six!

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Rise To Shine

Yesterday's freezing rain coated each twig and bough with a quarter inch of ice, and I awoke to a glittering world. It's too slippery to walk outside but I throw open the window and snap this scene.

Everything is covered — from the mailbox flag to the leftover leaves of last summer's climbing rose. Everything is covered — and everything is gleaming.

What this photo does not capture is the drip-drop-plop of all that ice melting. It sounds like rain, only it isn't. It is, instead, the sound of beauty fading.

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