Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Many Are Called...

I've been interested in the reaction to Sunday night's Oscar snafu. Many have praised La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz for stepping up to the mic and saying there was a mistake, that "Moonlight, you guys won." Horowitz has been called a true gentleman and a truth teller.

Horowitz did what we all wish we would do in similar circumstances: he handled a disappointing and embarrassing moment with dignity, empathy and humor. He even joked about it the next day, saying he got to win an Oscar for Best Picture, thank his wife and kids and then present the same Oscar for Best Picture. "Not many people can say that."

In fact, no one else can say that. But what watching him makes me wish is that I could handle all the petty ups and downs of my life in such a generous, big-hearted way.

A worthy goal. Unattainable, but worthy.

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Monday, February 27, 2017


I figure since I won't be able to sleep for at least another 30 minutes, I'll write about the strangest thing I've seen in the years I've been watching Oscar presentations.

After actors Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty opened the envelope and read that La La Land won best picture, there was a flurry on the stage, a waving of red envelopes — and the astonishing announcement: Not La La Land but Moonlight was the winner.

The entire cast of La La Land had assembled on the stage, and they looked stricken. The Moonlight cast looked shocked.

Those who gave up on the Oscars and went to sleep early may reconsider next year. As a newscaster said, "It was a long broadcast but all anyone will remember is the last 30 seconds."

Amen to that. And goodnight!

Photo: Wikipedia


Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Russians

We're hearing a lot about Russians these days: What do they know? What are they doing? How much influence did they have over our recent election?

But the Russians I've been thinking about have nothing to do with Putin.

They're the Russians whose music has thrilled me since I was young. To listen to them after long absence is to think of Dad and his record collection, the albums of Khachaturian, Borodin and Rimsky Korsakov. Dad air conducting while their music blared on the stereo.

I came upon two Russian pieces on my iPod the other day: a Prokofiev piano concerto and Shostakovich's Festive Overture.  Big, fresh, urgent — these pieces have great hearts and big sounds. I felt Dad's spirit in them. I walked faster. And I smiled.

(a hill that seems vaguely steppe-like)


Friday, February 24, 2017

Paring Down?

As the weather warms, the mind turns to thoughts of freedom and lightness and paring down.

My friend Kara told me about her decluttering guru, a person who not only helps you sort through your stuff and get rid of it but who also helps you deal with the emotional pull of your keepsakes.

This is a problem of affluence, right, that we should be so buried in our stuff, so loathe to part with it, that we must hire someone to tell us to throw it away?

Here's the thing, though: I believe enough in this service, and in this person, that I'm afraid to seek her out. What if she actually does what she says? Am I ready to sift through the girls' schoolwork from 2002? Or the boxes of old letters and birthday and graduation cards?

Motivation is what matters here. I want the final product — the fine, unfettered feeling — but I'm not ready to do what it takes to get there. So until then, it's a full closet, full garage, full house.

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Snowdrops: A Beginning?

Last evening on the way home from work I realized that I had the time and the daylight to take a walk on a Reston trail. It's the path that I'll call CCC (Cross County Connector; see yesterday's post!) because the last part of it merges with my beloved Cross County Trail.

What a walk it was! The birds were singing, the sun was lowering and the flowers were blooming. Great clusters of snowdrops peeping up not from the snow (which has been scarce to nonexistent this year) but from the leaves and brown grass. 

These are wintry flowers, white and delicate, but they are further harbingers of the season. They are proof that this balminess, this lovely light, is not just a preview but maybe, just maybe, a beginning.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Name That Path

A recent walk through the Folkstone woods led me past a shady glade and creek curve where the girls used to play. They called it Brace Yourself. Maybe there was some feat of derring do they had to perform there, walking across the creek on a log or picking up a crawdad. I'm unclear why they gave it that name, but the point is that they did.

Brace Yourself got me thinking about the joy of naming places. I remember doing that when I was a kid. There was the Valley of Eternal Snows — a sheltered cove in the Ware Farm field behind our house, a place where I had once found some dirty snow late in the season.

And then there were the Block-up Boys — not exactly a place, I know. They were the bullies on the street who wouldn't let me ride my tricycle to the top of the hill. (So there was a place involved, sort of.)

When we name a place we make it our own.  We look at it with fresh eyes; we see it whole. Why do we stop doing this as we get older? Do mortgages and responsibilities drive it away, this penchant for staking imaginative claim to the places we love?

I made a tiny vow right there at Brace Yourself. I decided to start naming the bridges and paths, the springs and glades. Even if no one else ever hears or knows these names — I will.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Preview

The witch hazel is an early bird. I've seen it bloom when there's snow on the ground. No surprise that it's erupted in yellow blooms these winter-spring days.

Looking at the witch hazel, being outdoors over the weekend, with the plants stirring and the birds singing — it's enough to bring on a bad case of spring fever. Or at least to make us ask, Is this it? Is it really spring?

Of course we have some cold, gray days ahead, but in late February one can hope.

I guess the best way to think about this unseasonable warmth is is as a preview, a glimpse of what lies ahead.

Religious imagery is not always what comes to mind first with me, but for some reason I'm thinking about the Transfiguration of Jesus, when he appeared to his apostles all radiant and glowing from within. That, too, was a preview, a taste of the beyond.

Which is all to say that a preview asks us to see and appreciate, not grasp and pin down.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Staying on Track

Yesterday, a return to a favorite hike, the Cross County Trail between Colvin Run Mill and Georgetown Pike. The path was busy with mountain bikers, runners, families with grandparents and kids — including one grandpa who stepped off the fair-weather crossing into this stream.

He righted himself quickly and kept on walking. That's the spirit: staying on track!

I hope I do that when I'm a grandparent (which, with a married daughter and son-in-law, may not be too far in my future). The key with the hiking and the crossing is the keeping-on part.

Yesterday made it easy: a springlike day that made an unexpected step in the creek not the worst thing in the world.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Urban Trail

Ellen and I met for brunch in Bethesda yesterday — our favorite meeting place between Annapolis and Reston — and afterward I slipped on my tennis shoes, took off my scarf and jacket and walked four miles on the Capital Crescent Trail, one of my favorite urban walks.

It was 70 degrees, and the path was clogged with joggers and strollers and bikers and dogs. A carnival atmosphere — and everyone in amazement that we could wear shorts and t-shirts instead of parkas and gloves.

What to say about such an amble and such an afternoon? Only that it was filled with the life force, was virtually overflowing with it. And everyone I saw — whether zooming by on a bicycle or being pushed in a wheelchair — seemed to feel the same way.

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Friday, February 17, 2017

Winter Bounty

This morning as I was making tea (in the daylight, for a change), I happened to look out the window as the rising sun struck the top of the oaks and drenched them in pale light. It was a simple moment but a lovely one.

Winter helps me see more clearly. It strips away pretense, withers it and blows it away. It leaves behind only the most essential.

This is a thought I often have this time of year, but for some reason this morning it hit me how it's in thinning, in pruning — in loss — that we realize our bounty.

It's hard if not impossible to see the structure, the underlying architecture, when it's covered over and plumped up. But when all is laid bare and worn down — then we can see.

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pulling for Pansies

Every fall landscapers engage in the delightfully doomed act of planting pansies. False hope, I say to myself. These flowers will never make it.

And, for the last few years, I've been right. Cold temps and frigid winds nipped the plants, and come spring, there was nothing left but a few withered stems.

But this year the pansies are thriving. Look at these babies, resplendent in their midwinter glory.

I used to think I didn't "deserve" spring if I hadn't suffered through winter. Blame it on Catholicism — or on living in Chicago for a few years.

This year I consider any escape from winter a gift from the gods. I'm pulling for pansies.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Making Change

One of the things  I like about my job is talking with people on the other side of the world. It's an instant way to get perspective.

For one thing, they're just ending their days while we're just beginning ours. For another, they are dealing with problems we can barely imagine, problems like trying to keep food cold to prevent spoilage. (Pakistan loses almost 50 percent of its crops after harvest.)

I just heard a man who's on the leading edge of change in that country, someone who tries to convince people they don't have to do things the way they've always done them, describe walking into a cold storage facility filled with rats and mold. "I almost vomited," he said.

But he saw the potential and made the connection that created change. These are not huge shifts. They are pebbles tossed into streams.

Toss enough of them, though, and you change the flow.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Radical Love

Usually on Valentine's Day I write about personal love. And I'm certainly thinking of it today, feeling grateful for my family and friends, all those I hold dear. But these are extraordinary times, and they call for the most radical and extreme of actions.

They call for love.

"If we are stretching to live wiser and not just smarter," says Krista Tippett in her book Becoming Wise, "we will aspire to learn what love means, how it arises and deepens, how it withers and revives, what it looks like as a private good but also a common good."

Tippett, the host of NPR's "On Being," describes the love shown by 1960s civil rights workers, their belief in the "beloved community" that meant they were fighting for equality with courtesy and kindness.  "This was love as a way of being, not a feeling, which transcended grievance and painstakingly transformed violence," Tippett writes.

Though her book was published just last year, it already seems to hail from another era, a time when were not yet as deeply divided as we are now. Tippett doesn't address the division as much as she would had she been writing a year later, but reading her book makes me think about how much further we'd be if treated each other with courtesy and kindness.

Maybe love is what we need, love translated into forbearance and understanding, into biting our tongues and holding our applause. Divisiveness got us into this mess. Maybe love can get us out.

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Monday, February 13, 2017


I just finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, a big-hearted book that picks you up and carries you along with it. It took me to the Africa I visited two years ago, to the sights and smells and bribes and chaos of Nigeria, just one country east of Benin.

And it took me to an America where newly arrived immigrants braid hair in low-end salons,  hoping for a break, a toehold — anything to avoid being sent back.

And finally, it took me to the book's own beginnings.  In the Acknowledgments, Adichie thanks her family and friends, editor and agent. She thanks the latter in particular for "that ongoing feeling of safety." And then — she thanks a room — a "small office filled with light."

It's a twist on Virginia Woolf's "room of one's own," but singles out what for me is most important — the light. I type these words in a light-filled space of my own: windows beside and ahead, glass all around, reflections of reflections of reflections.

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Speaking of Sprinter

These days, seasons are separated not only by hours but also by miles. Yesterday's snow squalls left no trace in my work neighborhood, but by the time I reached home it was a wintry world: snowy lawns and decks.

It's a reminder to me of the slender margin between liquid and solid (just one degree, of course), darkness and light, goodness and evil.

Which makes me think how little separates the winner from the loser, the saint from the sinner. Though I'm not a black-and-white believer — I put my faith in those endless shades of gray — there are lines and there are divisions. And sometimes there is nothing in between.


Thursday, February 9, 2017


Not the kind that pushes off from a block and streaks down a track. The kind of sprinter I have in mind is a season strung between spring and winter, a new hybrid that moves from balmy to brisk in a matter of hours.

Yesterday on my way to work I saw yellow petals on the sidewalk. I imagined a van unloading plants for a catered event, or a landscaping truck with pale forsythias ready for bedding. Surely these petals had no local source. It was February 8, after all, and I work in a concrete jungle!

But something — hopefulness? — made me look up. And there, on top of a Crystal City wall (Crystal City is very good at walls) was a bright yellow jasmine vine spilling over the stone.

Today, a cold, raw wind is blowing, and it's spitting snow. The jasmine vine is shivering. But no need to worry — by Sunday it will be 70 again. After all, it's sprinter.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Perpetual Motion

A walk yesterday to Long Bridge Park, which is a bit of a misnomer since there's not really a bridge and barely a park. But who's counting when it's 70 degrees on February 7?

What Long Bridge is, though, is window on the perpetual motion of a busy American city.

The walk adjoins the train tracks, and yesterday, in just 10 minutes, I saw a freight train, Amtrak and the Virginia Railway Express commuter express all chugging along.

East of the train tracks is the George Washington Parkway, where I would later spend close to an hour inching my way home. But at 1 p.m. the traffic is moving, and the cars are like flies skimming the surface of a pond where stately swans (the trains) hold the eye.

Finally, there are the planes taking off and landing at National Airport, just across the way. The low jets fill the sky as they roar heavenward.

It's an invigorating stroll. I'm moving, the trains, planes and cars are moving. I try to catch all three in my gaze at the same time, to savor their motion and amplify my own.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Happy Blog Day

Seven years ago on this day there were several feet of snow on the ground in northern Virginia. I had been housebound for two days, had cleaned closets and made soup, caught up on work and phone calls. So I did something I'd wanted to do for years: I started this blog.

It was a leap of faith and of certainty. It was a grand adventure. Could I post daily? Well yes, I could. Could I post pictures as well? (This shows my lack of technical confidence!) Yes, I could do that, too. Has this become what writers are told they must have now — a platform? Of sorts, I suppose, although being a walker hardly sets me apart!

What the blog is most of all is a continuation of the almost daily writing I've done since I was 15. It's an outlet, one I protect and carve out time for, and it's a collection, now almost 2,100 posts. I feel motherly toward it. Like my book, the blog is a child to be loved and nurtured.

Sometimes I have nothing much to say here, sometimes I can't type fast enough. But I keep plugging away at it. And there's something to that, I guess.

Monday, February 6, 2017


The groundhog has spoken: We'll have six more weeks of winter. Which is why I'm doing a lot of shushing these days.

I walk out the front door and hear the birds, their songs sounding suspiciously springlike. I feel the warmth of the sun even as I shiver in my down coat, hat and gloves. I check around the big tree. Good! No signs of life.

Shhhh! I say to the still-dormant earth. Sleep some more, I whisper to the tender shoots-to-be. I feel about them as I did my children as babies, when I would tip-toe to the door to find them still napping.

Sleep tight, daffodil shoots and dogwood buds. The world is not ready for you — and you are not ready for the world.

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Friday, February 3, 2017


In a few minutes I'll bundle up and take to the streets. It will be my lunch break and I'll spend it walking in the suburbs. No surprise there. But what is news, at least to me, is how much scientific evidence there is to back up my hobby/exercise/obsession.

In 2010, a British environmental economist named George MacKerron created an app called Mappiness that allowed him to check in with 20,000 volunteers several times a day and ask them what they were doing and how they felt about it.  The data he collected showed that people are significantly happier when they're outdoors — even when other variables are accounted for.

Great news, right? Unfortunately, he also found that people are indoors or in vehicles 93 percent of the time. So even though we're happiest outside, we spend most of our time inside.

What to do? Another researcher, Timothy Beatley of the Biophilic Cities Project at the University of Virginia (which I've just been reading about and will definitely discuss some day in a separate blog post), says we need daily doses of nature: everything from New York City's High Line to the little park around the corner. We can't let the perfect (a hike in Yosemite) be the enemy of the good (a walk around the block).

It's always tough to parse the value of the walks I take, to figure out how much of their benefit comes from moving through space and how much from the space I'm moving through. All I know is that the woods and trails around my home and the parks I frequent in the city are far more than backdrops; they are mood-enhancing and soul-stirring. They are the stars of the show.

(Thanks to Ellen for sending me the Wall Street Journal article where I learned about this research.)

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Framing It

In today's Washington Post, a column by Margaret Sullivan called "Old Rules of Journalism Don't Apply" covers the firing of a Marketplace columnist, a transgender man who posted on Medium that journalists, especially minority journalists, must rethink objectivity in the Trump era.

I think the firing was legitimate because the post clearly violated one of Marketplace's written guidelines, but the columnist raises an important point. We have our jobs and we have our morals. What happens if the two are on a collision course?

This blog is hardly Marketplace or the Washington Post, and it's almost always apolitical. But I've been wrestling with how much to talk about What's Going On. These are unusual times, so political posts may creep in a little more than they used to.

But I hope not too much. Because as frightening and upending as things have become (at least in the politically super-charged air of the nation's capital), I still believe that perspective and empathy are our greatest weapons (along with family, friends, humor and chocolate). And perspective and empathy are what I'm after here.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

To the Dreamers

On a day that would have been Mom's 91st birthday, I wear her earrings and a pair of socks with Van Gogh's "Starry Night."

Mom loved that painting, and she loved the name Vincent, even gave it to her parakeet.  She was a creative person, Mom was. A lover of words and ideas. A dreamer. She would bet the house on a dream — and  did several times.

In that way she inoculated her children against risky ventures. None of us will ever start a magazine or a museum. And yet ... Mom left her mark. Which is why I found a scene from the new musical La La Land so touching. It was an audition scene, when the character Mia is asked to tell the casting director a story.

Mia sings about her aunt, who lived in Paris and once jumped barefoot into the Seine. "She captured a feeling, the sky with no ceiling, sunset inside a frame."
... So bring on the rebels, the ripples from pebbles
The painters and poets and plays.
And here's to the ones who dream ...
Here's to you, Mom.

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