Thursday, March 31, 2016

Picture Perfect

Yesterday I threw caution to the winds and took my usual route around the Capitol. I thought about what happened there two days before — but walked anyway. It is, of course, what we have to do, which is nothing. Not alter our course in the slightest.

The reward: a picture-perfect almost-April day. Trees just greening on the Mall. Tulips in the Botanic Garden. The sinuous curves of the Indian Museum outlined against blue sky. And in that sky, twin contrails.

Everywhere I looked, everything I saw, spoke of possibility and fresh starts. Winter is truly over; spring has just begun.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Walk West

For me, most days, the trip home begins with a walk west. Yesterday it was a walk into wind and sun. Both specialties of the season. One warms the ground; the other lifts seeds aloft and sets them down oh so tenderly a hundred feet away.

Overlooking for now that those seeds have swollen my sinuses, that the wind whipped my hair and the glare made it almost impossible to look where I was going. Still, with all those things, the walk into wind and sun was surprisingly satisfying.

Maybe it's the freedom. Maybe it's heading west, always the way to go. Or maybe it's the trudge factor: putting one foot in front of the other, staying the course, if you will.

And I will. That's for sure. I will.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

See Something; Say Something

Yesterday I didn't take my usual walk around the Capitol. And it's a good thing I didn't. A man brandished a gun at the Capitol Visitors Center and was shot by police. A bystander was reportedly hit as well, and the whole complex was put on lock down.

I wonder if I'll take that walk again. Will I vary the route? Go another direction entirely? 

A crazy world is a limited world. It's a world of fences and walls and bollards; of keeping things at a distance. It's a world of "see something, say something," a message I hear repeated on the Metro approximately once every four minutes.

Most of all, it's a world of suspicion and distrust and fear. It's not an especially pleasant world — but it's the only one we have right now.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

Early Rising

The story is the same, but each year has its revelation. This year's was something I've noticed before but not with as much intensity:

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark, 
and saw the stone removed from the stone.
 "Early in the morning." "While it was still dark." Of course!  She was up in the wee hours tending to those who needed her. It's how most women I know make everything work, by getting a head start on the day.

I no longer juggle a job with young children, but I'm always trying to balance competing duties, to find time not just for the work for which I'm paid but the work for which I'm not. Time for family and friends; for shopping, cooking and cleaning; for emails and phone calls; for connection and solitude.

The early morning hours are my ally in this quest. They are the great elastic clause. They are when I catch up with others — and with myself.  

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Lightness of Spring

Walked out of the office into a perfect early spring afternoon. Jackets slung over shoulders. Tourists everywhere. A long weekend beckoning.

I was exhausted at my desk but quickly readjusted outside. There was a destination, a goal: the Tidal Basin, the cherry blossoms.

It was crowded, as usual. Picnickers, strollers, photographers, all with separate purposes but one mission — to celebrate spring. I thought then as I often do how the walker can take heart from the people she passes — some just coming alive to the world, others happy just to be in it.

I had forgotten the lightness one could have — not just in the air but in the heart.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pipe and Drape

We are all aflutter because Vice President Joe Biden is speaking here in a few hours. Preparations have been underway since late last week, and after a sneak peak at the venue upstairs I can say ... what a transformation.

The primary agent of change is what is described in events planning lingo as "pipe and drape." Tall velvet panels — in a lovely, rich, presidential blue — hang all along the room and route. They both soften and ennoble the place.

Instead of being crammed with students sharing outlines, discussing torts, sipping coffee, the room is now filled with black chairs in neat rows. In the back, camera crews are setting up shop. Every department — events, facilities, audio visual, communications, public safety — is doing its part to make sure the speech goes off without a hitch.

We have become a stage set, an empty theater waiting for its star.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What to Wear

These are the crazy first days of spring, capricious and erratic. The thermometer appears to be broken, so profoundly do its readings vary from morning till night. All we can do is hang on.

That — and figure out what to wear. Should we dress for morning or for afternoon? Or more precisely, should we be comfortable at 6 a.m. and sticky at 4? Or the other way around?

For me, it's the former every time.  I'll wear a turtleneck even though it's going up to 70. But when I walk out the door and feel the first cold blast of 30-something-degree air, I'll pull the sweater up to my chin and luxuriate in its warmth.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Building Stuff

I work in a law school. Every day I use words to build articles, web stories, press releases and emails. The work I do is achieved with a click, a flick of the wrist.

Meanwhile, a block away, guys are roofing a major highway. For more than a year they've been moving utility lines and driving pillars into the ground. Now they're using a giant crane to hoist huge  steel beams. Eventually, they will entunnel this stretch of I-395 and build a small neighborhood on top of it.

And I — I will continue building towers of words, the sometime dwelling place of ideas but often just ephemeral constructs that vanish the moment they're sent.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Reading the World

For the last decade or so I've been writing down in the back pages of my journal the author and title of each book I read. This makes, if not for a perfect list (scattered as it is among a bunch of well-worn black books), at least a start at a disjointed one. A year or so ago I began to annotate the list, jot down a detail or two that would help me identify the book without googling the darn thing.

Which is all to say that reading is one of my pillars, one of the things I need to do in order to feel, well, right about the world. And the book I'm reading now offers an explanation for why reading is so important.

In The World Between Two Covers, author Ann Morgan writes of books' "transformative" effect, in particular the chemistry between reader and writer, how the reader completes and embellishes the words on the page.

"As co-architects of a book's imaginary universe," she writes, "we do not merely register the events of a story: we create and feel them too. They are ours even as they are the author's, and without us they would not exist exactly as they are."

What else could explain the thoughts exploding in my head when I read Middlemarch or  The Great Gatsby or another favorite? What else could explain the wonder and the addiction?

The World Between Two Covers describes Morgan's year of reading books from all 195 U.N. recognized countries. But the title also gets at the miracle of reading itself. From one minds, many; and from many minds, one.


Saturday, March 19, 2016

Empty Trail

Yesterday I walked on the Washington and Old Dominion trail, a long ribbon of asphalt that runs from the inner suburbs to the foothills of the Blue Ridge. It was a fine spring afternoon, trees bursting pink and white, birds flitting from branch to post.

Bikers zoomed by. "Passing on the left." So many of them that I moved to the narrow gravel shoulder. "Share the trail," the signs said. This felt less like sharing and more like abandoning. I walked quickly — and not just for exercise. It was scary out there.

Two weeks ago I moseyed along the same stretch of path. It was still winter and I had the trail to myself. Yesterday I longed to be back in that gray afternoon, warming myself up on an empty trail.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Way Back When

The message went out last night after 9, and by early this morning the replies were pouring in. Would we, the members of Henry Clay High School, class of 19__ (that's the only part of my graduating class year I'm revealing), like to meet at a classmate's farm some late September Saturday?

It's a five-year rather than a 10-year mark for us. But we've lost a couple of people since last time and, as the organizer said, "We're not getting any younger, folks. And there's something important about being with people we knew way back when."

There is. Surprisingly so.

What I mostly felt in high school was how much I wanted to get out of it. But the memories now are clearer than most: The way the light came in through the tall windows of Baldy Gelb's math classroom. (He was Coach Gelb — which may have accounted for the prime real estate.) Or the day Mrs. Ahrens' student teacher suggested we start keeping a journal. (I've never stopped.)

In other words, these were years that mattered. And people who matter still.

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Erin Go Bragh!

Our Irish name came from Dad, but our Irish identity came from Mom. She was proud to say she had as much Irish blood in her veins as someone from the old sod. And as a matter of fact, she did — she hailed from three generations of inbred Irish stock.

Long before everyone wore green to celebrate the day, Mom would pin a ittle velour shamrock on my school uniform (which was, conveniently, a green plaid). I was the only one of my friends who wore such a thing. (And this in a school of Bryants and Welches.)

But it got the point across: We were Irish — we were passionate people, impractical people, people with heart. We loved a good tune, though not so much a good pint. We loved the green hills and  fields of Ireland; we liked to think we embodied its soul.

Later on, I would learn that had we some of the less attractive traits of the island nation: a certain clannishness and suspicion. We would live through a punishing family feud.

But still, on St. Patrick's Day, and especially on this one — the first without Mom — I raise my glass to the spirit of the place we came from. Erin go Bragh!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Capitol View

Union Station is one of those grand front doors, a place that's meant to be exited. Walk beneath the arched portico and glimpse the Capitol before you.

While your peripheral vision takes in the comings and goings of a bustling depot — the cab queue, the travelers with wheeled bags, the buses and cars heading around the drive — what you see first is the Capitol dome.

I was remembering yesterday the first time I walked out the doors of Union Station. I'd arrived from Kentucky with a bunch of other eighth-graders. Some of us were staying in D.C. and others were taking a bus to New York City.

I was in the latter group — by choice, I might add. Even then, the Big Apple beckoned. But when I walked out of Union Station and saw the Capitol, I had to catch my breath. There was the city's icon visible within minutes of arrival. There was a place I'd seen pictures of in textbooks but never imagined seeing in real life.

Yesterday I walked by this spot again. I stopped and thought about the twists and turns and decisions that brought me here. What circuitous paths our lives take. Would we have it any other way?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Daylight Savings

I woke up an hour late this morning. No fault but my own. I turned off the alarm. But there is an explanation...

As I'm rushing around to make tea and write this post, I'm thinking about Daylight Savings Time. It is undoubtedly wonderful to have long evenings: to take a walk or putter around in the yard or even just to sit on the deck and read the paper with a glass of iced tea.

But the hour that was stolen had to be repaid. I couldn't have it Saturday night ... so I took it last night instead!


Monday, March 14, 2016

Time for Crocus

Some years the crocus barely stir. Spring comes too slowly for them — or too fast.

They are not the only flowers that have their moments, their seasons. The forsythia might flourish one spring, the azalea another. Doubtless it's a combination of air temperature, rainfall, soil warmth and wind that makes their colors just a little more vivid, their flowers more plentiful.

Or maybe it's simply a matter of taking turns. Each year is one plant's chance to shine. Who knows? If all of them shone at once the splendor might be too much for us, might blind us with spring beauty!

So this spring it is the crocus's turn. They are popping up out of cool soil in places I don't remember planting them. Slender stems, unassuming flowers, herald of all the blooming that lies ahead.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Metro from Below

Yesterday I found myself in a new-to-me part of town. It took a while to orient myself, but once I did I was striding toward the river and the Mount Vernon Trail, hard by National Airport.

My shoes were pinching and my bag was heavy, but I needed to be thinking — which meant I needed to be walking.

It was a cloudy, early-spring afternoon. Warm and almost humid. Bikers rule the trail in that part of town so I stayed diligently to the right.

But the foot fall worked its magic. I could think! I could start to see the world from a different perspective.

And, as if to underline that point, I looked up to see a Metro train glide by, so much more futuristic and Monorail-like when seen from afar. It caught the rays of the setting sun and glittered in the light.

I snapped a shot so I could remember: It's all about perspective.


Thursday, March 10, 2016


Today the red oak that shaded the sandbox, up which a large tiger-striped cat was once stuck for hours — that tree is coming down. It joins more of its compatriots than I'd care to count. Victims of age and drought; well loved and much mourned.

The old oak won't be the day's only casualty. A split tree at the back of the lot is losing its lesser half. A huge branch we call the Sword of Damocles will finally meet its match. And the Venus de Milo of the backyard, our limbless wonder, will also be axed.

All of this is sad to me, of course. I love the deep and deeply shaded back yard. I think of all it's seen, every baby and toddler it's entertained. All the cook-outs and birthday parties it's hosted. I think of the zip wire once strung across it, the swing set and trampoline. 

The backyard was one of the main things that sold us on the house. It's one of the lot's most attractive features. But the trees have died, as have many throughout the neighborhood. And though dead trees give owls a home and woodpeckers a job, they don't exactly enhance the landscape.

And so, down the trees come, down to be cut up and carted away. There's only one thing left to say: Timber!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Routine Morning

I'm thinking this morning of routines and the comfort they provide. Filling the pot with water, checking email while it boils, starting this blog as it steeps.

Reach up to open the cabinet above the stove, grab the two boxes (my tea is a blend of decaf choices), warm the pot, pour boiling water over the tea bags, cover the pot with a tea cozy, then wait for the first cup to be strong enough to drink.

Routine motions become muscle memory. They transcend fatigue and despair. They are not flights of fancy, not the spark to light the fire. They are the 99 percent perspiration to the 1 percent inspiration. They are the engines of progress.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016


Today's high temperature will hit 70, they say. Which made yesterday's walk a warm up for the warm up. Coat on but open, then finally off and carried. Scarf loosened. Gloves? No way! Cold weather? Fuggedaboutit!

This is what happens when warmth returns.  The memory of cold vanishes. Though just days ago we had snow and ice, they seem part of another era, sepia-toned. Gone even is my memory of cold, its sharpness and shivering.

This being March, though, the sharpness and shivering will no doubt return. But for now, it's gone. In its place are soft breezes and bird song.

It's springtime amnesia. It's what makes the world go round.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Empty Room

Suzanne and Appolinaire moved out over the weekend. They left a stuffed-full center-hall colonial for a small blue house on a steep hill in Arlington. Walk up their sidewalk a few yards, crane your neck, whip out your binoculars — and you can see the Washington Monument. It's that close to the city.

Meanwhile, in the outer 'burbs, there's an empty room. It's been empty before, of course, while Suzanne lived in Africa for three-and-a-half years. But now she's married, and — unless they're between houses, as they were these last three months — they won't be moving back.

It's all as it's supposed to be, and I'm delighted they're settling into their new place.

It's just that there's this empty room — its exposed ticking mattress cover; the blank spots on the wall where the Les Mis poster used to be; the gaps in the book shelf. Even the cello is gone.

I'll have to get used to it, that's all.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

Last Stand

Woke up to a white world. Each twig and limb covered with heavy, clinging snow. Deceptive in the gloaming, when shapes are not what they appear.

As the morning grew lighter I could make out black roads and driveway, grass tops bursting through the blanket. But the holly is still dolloped, and the first faint blooms of witch hazel, that thin yellow furze, are coated in frosting. Every few minutes the wind loosens a clump of snow, which retains its twig shape for an instant, then vanishes in a pouf of powder.

I looked ahead at the forecast; in a few days we'll have 60s and 70s. This morning's weather is a last stand of sorts. It is beauty at its most basic, which is fleeting. By noon tree limbs will be barren bark.

Meanwhile, I fill my eyes with the scene out the window. Today it's winter; next week it will be spring.

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Wind Walk

A quick stroll at the end of day. Copper and I walk against the traffic, as we always do.

A cold wind blows, not as hard as it did a few hours earlier, when it almost knocked me over on a downtown street corner. But hard enough.

Now the wind is more of a companion, a negative force, something that keeps you company by keeping you on your toes. It blows my hair off my face, ruffles Copper's fir ever so lightly. He's unfazed by its presence.

Soon we reach the turn-around point. Now the wind is behind us, blowing my hair into my face. Now the wind is behind us, pushing us home.


Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Polling Place

The polling place in morning light, shadowy figures with pamphlets and lost causes. The parking lot is almost empty.

I've made the pilgrimage to this place in all times and weathers, alone and with children in tow. Several times I've stood in line. Usually not. One off-year I voted in a trailer.

Yesterday I went with someone new to this country, someone who jokes that where he's from, the politicians pay the voters — rather than the other way around.

He helps me see us as the beacon that we are — helps me hope that we remain that way as long as we can.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Crows and March

There is no reason to associate crows with March, but for some reason I do. There is something in their caws that speaks of the mottled blue skies of this month, of the air that is still cold but smells of just turned earth.

Heard in a chorus, crows sound busily out of sorts, the avian equivalent of a coffee klatch. But heard in single caws, the bird sounds plaintive, his song a bleak and windswept tune.

Which is why, when I hear a crow on a cloudy March morning, I think of Thomas Hardy:

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
And so do I;
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
And thresh and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I.  


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