Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Slower Soundtrack

Today's late post is my little birthday protest: because it cannot possibly be May 31, 2017. It was just May 31, 2016.

But it is that day, I know, and has been 365 days since the last one. So nothing to do but accept it graciously and gratefully. Which I do. Really. Besides, it's a most luscious May 31. No rain so far (fingers crossed) and full-on summer with air that knows its mind and the roar of motorized lawn implements in the background.

A couple hours ago I heard the Overture to William Tell on the radio. Is this my soundtrack, I wondered: a madcap frolic, a frenetic dash from point A to point B? It probably is. What I need this year is a slower soundtrack. Nothing too slow or mournful, but definitely something a little less rushed and crazy.

That's my birthday resolution, my new year's mantra. Find a slower soundtrack ... and find it fast.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Mountain Light

Days of rain and clouds broke up yesterday just as we were leaving the West Virginia mountains, and I got to see light from all angles and perspectives: the way it pooled on roads and hillsides. How it filtered through leaves.

Here it is in the woods and on the trees.

And high up in the canopy.

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Wild Blue Yonder

Turned on my iPod the day before yesterday and took pot luck. The song that was playing: "Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder," the Air Force song. I downloaded it for Dad's funeral and it lives on in my music files.

Hearing it by surprise didn't make me sad. It made me smile. It was as if Dad had suddenly inserted himself into the day and was walking with me along the West Virginia lane.  I set the iPod on repeat and listened to it four or five times. It's an upbeat song, and it quickened my step.

I've been hearing the melody in my head ever since. But the only words I can recall are the first and last lines. Here, in honor of Memorial Day, are the rest:

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun;
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder, 
At 'em boys, Give 'er the gun! (Give 'er the gun now!) 
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under,
Off with one helluva roar! 
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey! 
Nothing'll stop the U.S. Air Force!

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Mountain Walk

Less than two hours west is a different world, one bound by green and dripping boughs. Chalets on the hillside, mountain paths, water trickling over rocks. I won't glorify these trickles by calling them waterfalls. But the water sings as it flows over stones and through leaves, so these trickles have an aural presence.

Some of the lanes here are paved and some not. Foot paths cross them, heading up the mountain. I may tackle one of them today. But yesterday was a get-acquainted stroll. The end of a long week.

I marveled as I strolled at how much difference a walk can make. And a mountain walk makes even more.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

Almost Done

It's the 11th hour, an unusual one for me to write. The day is almost done instead of just beginning. But the house is as quiet as morning; the same clocks are ticking.

Tomorrow will be a weekend family getaway. I've loaded the car with groceries and will pack the perishables in the morning. Monopoly and Scrabble are going, and a deck of cards.  The dog and the thousand-piece puzzle are staying home.

You can't wait for the perfect time; you grab the time you have and make it work. That's how I'm feeling now, knowing that gratitude will well up soon, it always does.

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Thursday, May 25, 2017

Waltzing Along

A ho-hum evening after days of cloud and rain. A walk that's uninspired, plodding. The houses hold no surprises, and the clouds are uniform, without color or texture.

The music in my ears is plodding, too. Tunes heard too often. A switch to news makes little difference.

And then my ears hit the jackpot, a change of tempo. It's a waltz. Not an obvious one or a schmaltzy one,  but I'd recognize 3/4 time anywhere. I find myself counting 1,2, 3; 2,2,3; 3,2,3.  Almost hypnotic, that beat. And liberating, too.

It's like a transfusion. I pick up the pace, I loosen the shoulders. My arms swing more freely by my side. And soon I'm on the downhill slope, toward home and dinner.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017


My eyes are still half closed when I see it looming. It's not the longest escalator in D.C.'s Metro system. In fact, it's not even in the top 10. But it's long enough. And it's my morning challenge.

No standing on the right. I start on the left and move myself up those moving steps.  Some mornings at a plodding pace; others a bit more briskly. I'm usually winded when I reach the summit, and my legs are shaky. But I'm at the top. And sorta kinda on my own steam.

There could be worse ways to start a day. I could be walking up the Wheaton escalator, the longest in the Western Hemisphere. 

It's a Stairmaster, courtesy of Metro. 


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Honorary Degree

I didn't place much importance on the commencements of my youth. I completed the requirements, I graduated.  These were launching pads not retrospectives.

But watching these ceremonies as a mother, aunt and sister is altogether different.  Now I tear up at "Pomp and Circumstance," get goose bumps from an academic procession. It's clearer to me now that these are true endings and beginnings, the kind of clear line life seldom hands us.

It's also clear that for many, a degree is not a given. And for every smiling graduate there is someone who will not walk across a stage this year, someone who may never have worn a gown, hood or mortar board. Their reasons for not doing so are legion, and may have nothing to do with intelligence or drive. For like their robed compatriots, they too have completed difficult assignments.

So this post is for them, an honorary degree of sorts. Maybe there will be no diploma this year, but there was learning and effort and sacrifice. To the great, un-graduated multitudes, I offer my humble, heartfelt congratulations.

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Armful of Books

Some find the posture early they were meant to have. I was one of the lucky ones.

Every day one of my first acts on waking is to gather the books I read from the night before and walk downstairs with them in my arms. Today it struck me how long I've carried books in my arms. That is an activity and a posture I've had early and long.

The book titles have changed, the weight, the topic, the number of pictures therein. The arms, too. They have grown longer. And sometimes they have held other things along with the books. Babies, for instance, and file folders and, lately, a computer thin enough to slip into one of those folders.

But books, always and forever.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Flowery Bower

Early on in my almost three decades (gulp) in this house, I tried to plant an English cottage garden. I'd seen the photos in catalogs and they struck my fancy. I liked the informality, the abundance, the palette.

So with the ardor of a novice gardener I ordered peonies, daisies, astilbe and climbing roses. I hacked my way into the clay soil, added lime and peat moss and gave those plant babies a chance. I watered and mulched and fussed.

The peony produced one flower (with the requisite ants) but never thrived. The astilbes barely lasted a summer. I learned quickly that I needed coneflowers rather than daisies.

But the climbing roses were a different matter entirely. The climbing roses "took."

So now I have a flowery bower, courtesy of an English cottage rose.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Internal Dialogue

As national events heat up and the news changes by the minute, I'm tuning my headset to news stations as I hoof it.  It's not the calm strolls I usually crave, but it makes for some brisk walks and some fascinating internal dialogue.

"How could he?" "Will they really?" "Oh yeah?" "We'll see about that."

These conversations take place only in my head, but they are stimulating in their own way.

Walking and talking: It's the way it is now.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Dining with Roses

There could be worse company, I think to myself as I stand at the deck railing with leftover chicken and salad. The roses are budding and blooming. They are walling off the deck from the rest of the world, forming a flowery screen. And I'm alone with a modest meal, tired of sitting from a long day and even longer commute.

The roses are an antidote. They ask nothing of me other than my gaze. And so, I oblige. I lose myself in their mesmerizing centers, their pink whorls slightly darker than the outside petals. But the overall picture one of pastel loveliness.

Pastels and spring, after all, go together. The color of new life, of shades that have not yet been tested. Hues still wet behind the ears.

Today the temperature will soar and the roses will wilt. But last night, for one perfect al fresco dinner,  I had them all to myself.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

To Capture Rapture

Underlit can mean inadequately or poorly lit — or it can mean lit from beneath. As in these trees, glowing from within, it seems, though drawing their light from the setting sun.

They shine like this for only a few minutes each evening, and woe to the photographer who thinks she can bounce a few more minutes on the trampoline before snapping a shot. She will be disappointed. 

Because it only takes an instant for the light to drain away, for the trees to move from emerald to forest, to lose their glow, to become ordinary.

But this night, I stopped bouncing, climbed down off the contraption, ran inside and grabbed my phone. It's difficult to capture rapture. But that's what I was trying to do. 

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Monday, May 15, 2017

Pink and White

They were selling pink and white carnation corsages at church yesterday — pink if your mom is living, white if she is not. I bought neither, but even the choice made my eyes sting.

I can remember wearing corsages on long ago Easters and maybe I could even fish up a memory of wearing a corsage on Mother's Day. It wasn't reliving memories that made me sad. It was knowing that, if I had bought a flower yesterday, it would have been white.

Which is why I was even more grateful to come home, take a walk and spend the rest of Mother's Day on the deck with my daughters. There were some vague plans for a group hike, but we all agreed that just sitting and talking was best.

There was a fullness to the day that doesn't come often enough and is all the more precious when it does. There was laughing and talking and cooking and eating. And there was this thought, poignant and comforting : If my girls were wearing corsages, theirs would be pink.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Congratulations, Claire!

Claire never thought twice about what she'd major in. It would be psychology. And since high school she's been sure of what she wanted for a life's work: She would be a therapist. She would help people.

Which is exactly what's she's done: received her bachelor of science in psychology and, today, will receive her master of social work degree from Catholic University.

As I prepare for her commencement, I think of Claire as a baby, toddler, school kid, teenager, college student and, for the last several years, grad student working on the side.

A huge wash of feelings on this day. But one that rises above the rest: You did it, kiddo. Good for you!

Friday, May 12, 2017

For Dad

It's been four years now since Dad was alive to celebrate his birthday. I wonder what he would think of the world today. He would laugh about it, I'm sure. Probably shake his head, too.

Cleaning out some files health files last weekend I came across a newspaper clipping from the '90s, an article from the Louisville Courier Journal on how running affects women's knees. Written across the top, in Mom's distinctive hand: "From Dad."

What a wonderful and unexpected find! Mom's handwriting and Dad's idea. He was always after me to stop running. Bad for your knees, he said, all that pounding. Dad, who apart from yard work did no other exercise I can recall.

Dad lacked the earnestness of later, highly buff generations. But he lived to be 90 and he loved life. He took what came — and kept on going, always with a smile and a quip. Can't think of a much better way to do it.

(Dad posing in front of the house he grew up in on Father's Day 2011.)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

May Evening

After-work walk on a May evening. The air perfumed with spirea and honeysuckle, a trace of lilac. I pass through waves of warmth and coolness.

I'd been thinking of this amble as I sat in meetings and on Metro. Thought of it at home when I pulled on a t-shirt and tennis shoes and left the house in a hurry, before I found something else I had to do.

The real stroll was even better than the imagined one, as I lost myself in the cadence of the steps and the sounds of day's end: birds roosting, balls bouncing, radio rap from a passing car.

Self-propulsion is marvelous any time of year. But on a fine May evening it's utterly divine.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Missing Fob

It wasn't in the inside pocket of my too-small purse. And it wasn't in the roomier confines of my tote bag. It wasn't on the desk or in a drawer. Which meant one of two things: Either I had lost my fob, my entry ticket to this office suite, or it was in my pants pocket.

It's the latter, I just learned. And I'm filled with relief. Which makes me think about how closely we hew to the small landmarks of our routine. How the absence of one tiny item can unsettle and disrupt. Today I'll use the front door instead of the rear, and plan trips out to coincide with receptionist availability.

But maybe this is a good thing, something to keep in mind when routine ossifies. That we are only a loss or two away, not from inconvenience — but from liberation.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Anatomy of a Headache

I am, unfortunately, headache-prone. I've learned to live with the dull aches and the sharp pains, with the early awakenings and the late nights. I don't glorify these as migraines, but they can hang around for days. Sometimes they respond to ibuprofen and sometimes they don't.

It's a point of pride that I don't give in to these headaches — but today I was wondering what it would be like if I did. Would I be one of those neurasthenic Victorian ladies, perfumed handkerchief and rose water, dabbing at my temples and wrists? Would I lie in a darkened room while someone (a Downton-Abbey-style ladies maid) brought me a cup of tea?

Not my style. But that doesn't stop me from analyzing the headache, especially the one I have right now. Unlike the more typical vague throbbing, this one announced itself with a stab of pain between the eyes. I can pinpoint its arrival almost to the minute. It began sometime between 6:50 and 6:55 a.m., while turning right from Vale to Hunter Mill Road on my way to Metro and the office. One moment I didn't have a headache, and the next moment I did.

Now I'm imagining another scenario: that the headache skedaddle as quickly as it came. I can almost feel it now: the pressure will vanish, the tightness will disappear. Ah, yes, I'm feeling better already.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Poetry or Prose

I've been thinking about the line between poetry and prose, whether it's wiggly or straight, dotted or plain. And I've decided it is, if anything, the faintest outline of a path, a deer trail in the woods, a bend in the rushes.

The words make a difference, of course, and the care with which they're placed on the page. There are line starts and breaks, and the music of the cadence — these can separate the two.

But mostly there is one bucket of beauty we dip into and drink from.

Will it nourish us, frustrate us, lead us to lines wiggly or straight? That seems beyond the point when we're possessed. The point is to translate the beauty as best we can.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Rainy Day

Woke up to a rainy day, to puddles and pings, to the music of water on wood and stone. The house is quiet except for these sounds and the ticking of clocks — two of them now, the cuckoo in the kitchen and the mantel clock in the living room.

Outside, the roses are hanging their heads and the bamboo is shooting up, an inch an hour — or so it seems. New leaves are doused and soothed, not used to such drenching.

Nor am I. It's been mostly sunny most of the time, which I love and need. But every so often I need a rainy day, too. Time to gather thoughts and clean file cabinets and, oh, just stare out the window for a while, like Copper here.

Listening and looking: good occupations for the day.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Long Shadow

Driving home last night from book group I saw a strange light in the sky. Was it a low-flying plane or helicopter? A satellite? Or something else ... something strange and unexplained?

This sighting took me back to a time in my childhood when I was absolutely terrified of UFOs. I would see lights hovering above the ground in the field behind our house or skimming above the horizon on night drives home, and a crazy fear would seize me. It was only a matter of time before one of these vessels would catch and envelop me and take me back to the mother ship.

Mom and Dad would try to talk me out of these notions. They somehow avoided laughing in my face and calmly consoled me. But I didn't believe them. I knew the truth: There were alien creatures in the sky, and they were targeting Lexington, Kentucky.

I don't remember when I grew out of this worry, but I do remember the long shadow it cast, the terror that fills the world when we are just coming alive to it.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Walking Early

An early walk this morning as the day began. Quiet and dim when I started, flashlight bobbing, illuminating the pavement, but often off, too, so I could savor the darkness before the dawn.

Only one car about at such an hour, for newspaper delivery; otherwise, mechanical stillness to match the natural kind.

I heard crickets, inhaled the scent of newly cut wood and freshly mown grass. And then, finally, a chirp, the first bird.

By the time I got home, the sky was light, the lone bird was a chorus and night had turned to day.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Last Hurrah

The day is winding down, I've edited what feels like a bajillion documents. Done some writing too, though not enough, never enough.

I come to this blank page, a page that's been waiting for me since early this morning.

Must get an earlier start tomorrow. But still, there are a few minutes left of the business day, just long enough to find this photo, one I took walking around a farm park where I used to take the girls when they were young.

I was missing their young selves so intensely that day. So much so that I could almost hear them laughing and chattering from inside this barn.

But they are all grown up now, and other little voices fill this space.

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Monday, May 1, 2017

Continuity and Change

It was a weekend of reconnecting, revisiting and reminding myself why I do what I do.

There was the "World Room" with its stained glass window, the stairs that were always quicker than the tiny elevator, especially if you were racing to turn in a story by a 5 p.m. deadline.

There was Broadway, with its jumble of stores and restaurants and Cafe Milano where Mama Joys' used to be. There was the campus quad, with libraries on either end and a new coffee shop in the journalism building. In other words, there was both continuity and change, as there should be.

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