Friday, June 30, 2017


When I traveled to Kentucky regularly I'd hit the road early and be in Lexington by mid-afternoon. But now when Ellen and I drive together we leave late on a workday, drive partway and stay overnight. Traveling becomes less a duty and more a road trip.

Last night we pulled off in Fairmont, West Virginia, and are now cosseted in a roadside hostelry. How sumptuous these places have become! A gym to die for. Bowls of fruit and raspberry tea. Soft lighting. High-thread-count sheets. This is not your grandfather's no-tell motel!

A funny feeling takes over in these places. You are not quite here, not quite there. You are comfortable, You are just off the road or about to hit it. You are ... suspended.

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Place without People

It's been 14 months since I visited Lexington. I've never been away longer. To the other bewilderments of these days I add this one: that I've been gone so long from my hometown.

There's much to recommend the trip I'm making there this weekend: It's summertime and it's with my sister. But I approach it tentatively, much as a dental patient probes the tender spot where a tooth has been.

What's missing from Lexington now is why I ever was in Lexington in the first place — and why I returned so often through the years. What kind of place is Lexington without Mom and Dad?

When people are gone, place remains. But what is place without the people who created it?

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Porch Light

An early walk this crisp morning as the day took hold and porch lights still were burning. What a cozy beacon is a porch light, what ease and relief it promises. A welcome to the late arrival. A comfort to the sleeping suburbanite.

Yet it also says, this is our place, this cone of brightness our bulwark. Come closer if you dare, but only if you know us. And if you know us, show your face.

Otherwise, slap your newspaper on our driveway, stuff mail into the box. We do not reveal ourselves to everyone. Only to the those for whom the light burns.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

More for Less

Two days ago Metro raised its fares and its parking rates. I now shell out an extra 30 cents for the worst ride in town. Why pay more for less? Why not find another way to get to work?

Truth is, I have. I've shrunk the Metro portion of my trip as much as I can, catching a bus six stops earlier than I used to get off, trudging up an escalator and spending the last 10 minutes of my commute above ground.

I could give up Metro entirely, but that would mean either full-time telework (not likely!) or driving every day. And as much as I dread the "Orange Crush" (a fizzy moniker for what happens on the Orange Line from 5-6 p.m.) at least I can read or write when I have a seat.

In commuting, as in life, compromises are made. I like the passive voice there. It suits the situation.

(Besides, I would miss the architecture.)


Monday, June 26, 2017

Power of Love

A few weeks ago Celia finally convinced me to give the Harry Potter series a try. Last night I started Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third book. This morning I learned that the first book in the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, was published 20 years ago today.

By now we know the story, how Rowling, a single mother down on her luck, was sitting on a delayed train from Manchester to London when she imagined a young wizard with a scar on his forehead. The scar, he was told, was from a car accident, the same one that killed his parents.

By the end of Book One Harry has learned that the scar isn't from a car accident. It's from a encounter with Lord Voldemort, "he who must not be named," the darkest of dark wizards whose evil ways were no match for the one magic power all of us have at our disposal:
If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn't realize that love as powerful as your mother's for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign ... to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.
Three books in, here's what I take from the series so far: the power of imagination, the power of love.

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Friday, June 23, 2017


I'm a sucker for round numbers, so I'm writing today about the round number this blog just reached. Just a tad self-involved, wouldn't you say? Meta, at the very least. But I can't resist, now that I've gotten more adept with the screen shot tool.

In fact, I've gotten more adept with more technology than I ever thought I would. Not by choice but by necessity. And still I lag behind. I fumble for the headphones to take a Skype for Business call. I need help submitting my time sheet if my time sheet is the least bit complicated. I post stories all the time — as long as long as someone else can size the photos.

Yet somehow I keep muddling along. Because technology is a vehicle, not an end in itself. It's a means to an end. And if you keep at it (as I keep at this blog), it will reward you in ways you couldn't have imagined when you began.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Civilized Pace

Pre-dawn walks are becoming a habit. Made possible by early light, they remind me of early-morning runs when I lived in Manhattan. If I woke by 6:50 I could dash around the reservoir and be in the shower by 7:30 and on my way out the door at 8:00. By 9:00 or a little after I would be in my office sipping tea, nibbling a bagel and reading the Times.

No one arrived at McCall's before 9:00 or 9:15 and no one bothered you while you read the newspaper — we were "looking for trends," after all, so it was considered part of the workday. Ah, what a reasonable hour and civilized pace.

No one forces me to get in early now. It's just the way I roll. But I like to remember a time when commuting meant hoofing it through Central Park, down Fifth, across 47th and over to Park.  Now that's a walk!

(What I saw on the way to the office.)

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

High Latitude

Woke up with the day this morning, knowing from the start it was the longest, vowing to spend as much of it as I can outside. I thought, as I was walking, of the gift of light, the extra hours of it, six hours more than the winter solstice by my rough count. Six hours more sunning and walking; six hours more to see and do and be.

"Solstice" derives from two Latin words "sol" and "sistere," which roughly translate to "sun standing still." And that is my wish today. That the sun stand still. That time stand still until I catch up with it.

I just read a passage from my favorite Annie Dillard, and my heart caught again on these lines: "I am here now ... up here are this high latitude, out here at the farthest exploratory tip of this my present bewildering age."

Life bewilders, age bewilders, time bewilders. But some days give us time to absorb that which bewilders. May today be one of those days.

(Sunrise on Chincoteague, April 21, 2016)

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Summer Serenade

Thunderstorms cleared the air late yesterday and made way for ... a frog chorus.  The little guys chirped and sang and puffed their throats out in that way they do. They're looking for love, of course. Aren't we all?

But instead of hitting the clubs and trying some corny lines, these guys were serenading their ladies in style. Bright sounds in the big night. A crooning, haunting symphony of sound — the voice of summer, perfect accompaniment to the glimmer of fireflies. They were singing to their own, but their cries soothed the soul of this suburbanite.

Because when I heard them call from creeks and puddles and the undersides of leaves, I felt part of a much larger, elemental world. That these creatures — just tadpoles a few weeks ago, little more than eggs with legs — could now be filling the night with their song seemed more than a little miraculous. It was a perfect way to end the day — with a summer serenade.


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Monday, June 19, 2017

Young Inside

I remember a conversation I had with Dad in the hospital when he was recovering from one of his surgeries. He was getting better every day, so it was not a bad hospitalization that time, and we were having a good visit.

We talked, as we often did, about his time in England during World War II. He was 21 years old then, seeing the world for the first time. "You know something?" he said. "I still feel that age inside." Dad was lying in a hospital room with wires that measured his respiration and heart rate. He had an IV and catheter.  It was difficult to imagine how he felt young inside.

More than a decade later, I understand what he meant. In part it's the mind's way of dealing with dizzying change. In part, it's because we often keep the image we form of ourselves in young adulthood.

Last night, as the older girls left our Father's Day celebration in a car stuffed with a bike and a puppy and a boyfriend, I was reminded of Dad's comment. My kids are not only young inside; they're young outside, too. Their lives are ahead of them. But someday they will be telling their children how the young selves they wear so lightly now are still there inside of them.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Inside the Music

Brahms showed up in my classical queue this morning,. Not just any Brahms but the Symphony No. 1 — which happens to be the first orchestral piece I played as last-chair string bass in the Central Kentucky Youth Symphony Orchestra. I had only started learning string bass a few months earlier and didn't have the hands for it, but I did my best to keep up with the runs and shifts.

My stand partner, Greg, helpfully penciled in "a la fakando" on a few of the more difficult sections, and fake it is exactly what I did. Every so often, Mr. Ceo, our fiery conductor, would scream "basses" and stare, it seemed like, straight at me. But I kept my head down and for the most part escaped humiliation.

Besides, it was worth it to be even a small part of such music: the swelling strings, the triumphant brass. In the heroic final movement, during the most lyrical sections, the basses only played pizzicato, but I put my heart and soul into every pluck.

This morning, walking and listening, I was back there again, not just listening to the music — but inside of it.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Foot Feel

"Nor can foot feel, being shod." 

I was barefoot this morning when I ran out to retrieve the newspaper, and this Gerard Manley Hopkins line came to mind. My feet feel all too much because they are shod, and when they suddenly aren't, every speck of gravel is an ordeal.

But my feet have adapted to the world I live in, just as the rest of me has. If tiny pebbles affect my soles, then how much does the rest of it — the clatter, the commute, the deadlines — affect my soul?

More than I can imagine, I think. Which is why I write this blog.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Being Outside

Working on the deck this morning I have a ringside seat on the busy life of the backyard. The stars of the show are the hummingbirds (a male-female pair, from what I can tell) and a little chipmunk that scampered within three feet of me, then paused for what seemed like minutes (but was probably only seconds) perfectly still.

Given that Copper is now back here with me I doubt I'll see that little guy again, but the hummingbirds are making regular passes at the nectar. A pair of goldfinches are doing the same with their feeder. Farther out in the yard a cardinal soars from branch to branch, and the summer perennials are just starting to bloom.

Pausing even a minute lets me see the dramas that play out here: the battles for territory, the courting and sparring. It's a big wide world we live in — and, as always, it's easier to remember that when I'm outside.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Walking Hots

Yesterday's record-breaking heat brought the words "walking hot" to mind. And that made me think about walking hots.

I remember when my high school friend Susan had a summer job walking hots at Keeneland, Lexington's jewel of a racetrack. It was the first I'd heard of this practice, and I immediately liked the term. It was pithy, and it required insider knowledge to understand.

"Hots" were thoroughbreds who'd just had their morning work-outs, and hot walkers were the ones who lead them around the ring or shed area until they cooled down. Hot walkers hold the animals while they are sponged down, then walk them some more. Thoroughbreds get sick if they decelerate too quickly. Unlike humans, they're not allowed to go from 60 to 0 without proper attention.

Hot walkers are usually novices or interns, those on the lowest end of the thoroughbred-care team. It's their job to slow down high-strung animals who are bred to run — and it must be both boring and terrifying.

Much easier to walk hot than to walk hots.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

New Blue Shoes

Every year or so I buy myself some new tennis shoes. I usually reprise whatever make and model I'm currently wearing, as long as it fits and has held up to my daily battering. Which means that I don't choose by color, only by comfort.

Some years I end up with garish purples and greens. Others with white. But this year, I hit the jackpot: a pastel beauty that's mostly the color of sky, with just a hint of aquamarine.

The minute I saw these I thought they should be Celia's — my youngest daughter loves this color and looks great in it. It wasn't until yesterday that I realized there's also a connection with my middle daughter, Claire. One of her favorite books growing up was New Blue Shoes by Eve Rice.

The book is about a shoe-shopping expedition and a little girl who knows what she wants — new shoes, blue shoes, new blue shoes — and will have no other. A perfect favorite for Claire, who has always known what she wants, whether it's pink stiletto heels or a new puppy.

I like my new blue shoes, even though I didn't fight for them. Maybe I should have!

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Meadow Trail

Walking from a parking lot to the library this weekend I cut through an empty lot bursting with bloom. There were buttercups and daisies and plentiful purple self-heal. There was a shaggy, shrubby intensity to the overgrowth, a bursting-at-the-seams quality that is the soul of June and the soul of any meadow worth its salt.

A narrow path crossed the flowery expanse, just wide enough for foot fall, with tenacious roots that clawed their way across the dusty dirt. It was mid-afternoon of the hottest day yet this season, and the meadow lacked even a stick of shade.

I was in the epicenter of summer, a buzzing, blazing bounty of growth and color and aroma. I had places to go and errands to run — was expecting nothing more than a shortcut, a quick trot from A to B. I found instead a destination, a place of beauty and peace.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

Comey Walk

There is the quiet walk: no earphones, mind open to bird song and insect chirp.

There is the musical walk: with Brahms or Bach or Simon and Garfunkel.

And then there is the Comey walk. That's what I've been taking the last few days. It's a subset of the all-news walk, and it consists of the following: what will he say, what did he say, and now, what will happen because of what he said.

This is not the most restful soundtrack for an early-morning stroll. But it's an itch that must be scratched. As soon as I returned home this morning I picked up the newspaper. Now I'm reading about what Comey said. At least I'm consistent.

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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Wearing Purple

This morning on Metro I realized I was wearing a purple jacket, holding a phone with a purple cover and wearing glasses with a purple frame.

It's just a coincidence, I told myself. I'm not turning into one of those old women who wears purple. Not that there's anything wrong with the color. But I'd rather not wait till I'm old to wear it — and, more to the point, I'd rather not wait till I'm old to be a free spirit.

Yes, there's something to be said for how years lessen the esteem with which we hold the opinions of others. Maybe that's because we've seen more foolishness. But I hope it's because we're more tolerant of ourselves and others, that we've grown in compassion as well as nerve. If that's what frees us ... then bring it on.

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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Power of the Path

Diana Nyad has traded her swimmer's goggles for a pair of tennis shoes. The long-distance swimmer and her best friend and colleague Bonnie Stoll aim to get Americans off their posteriors and on their feet. To aid in this endeavor, they have created a movement called EverWalk.

Pointing out that "sitting is the new smoking" (a phrase coined by Dr. James Levine, who invented the treadmill desk), Nyad and Stoll implore Americans to sign a pledge to walk three times a day. Even if it's just a few steps down the block, they say, it's a beginning. More avid walkers can sign up for long-distance walks. There will be one from Boston to Cape Elizabeth, Maine, this September.

One of the things I like best about walking is the quiet alone time it gives me — but I'm certainly open to the social aspect of walking and the power of the group hike. I like to imagine a wall of walkers striding across the land. They are strong and they are true. And they are not sitting.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Inner Cowboy

I waffled about the title. Should I say "Inner Cowgirl"? Or perhaps the gender-neutral "Inner Cowherd"? No, I'll stick with the inaccurate and politically incorrect "Cowboy"— because it's the word to use when describing the TV series "Lonesome Dove," last weekend's escape fare.

I can't get the show or its theme song out of my head, even though I've watched it before and read the book it was based on. It's same effect every time — one of enlargement, and even (despite the tragedies that beset the cattle drive from Texas to Montana) of joy.  It's the characters and their quest.  It's the frontier, the heartbeat of a nation. And it's the sweeping views of rivers and plains and buttes and valleys.

As national myths go, it's not a bad one, though it has certainly gotten us into trouble: the rugged individualist wedded to guns and glory. But if offers to the suburban commuter some sense of elemental wholeness, of a time when life was harder but perhaps truer. I could be all wrong on this, though. It could just be my inner cowboy talking.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Decisions, Decisions

I keep meaning to put my wardrobe through the "does it spark joy?" test described in Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Until I do, I'm bound to have mornings like today, when I tried on one top after another, finally settling on the one I chose first.

Clothes confusion, choice aversion — finding no combination that quite works. It may be brought on by the relaxed nature of weekend shorts and t-shirt — followed by the jarring need to look halfway presentable in the office on Monday.

I wish I'd taken a picture of the discarded choices: white shirt, black sweater, red shell, black shrug. They were a kaleidoscope of colors, a collage of might-have-beens.

Decisions, decisions.

(Photo: Wikipedia. No time to photograph my own discarded outfits.)


Friday, June 2, 2017

Walk through the Gloaming

These are long days that know how to finish. Light lingers till 9, and tempts the walker to stroll at a time she would normally be getting ready for bed!

Last night was like that. Dinner out with Ellen, then, on the way back to the parking garage, a thought: Why not a quick walk on the W&OD Trail, a 45-mile ribbon of asphalt from the D.C. suburbs to the foot of the Blue Ridge. It's easy to reach from Reston Town Center, and, as it turned out, only a few steps from my car. 

It was 8:40 when I started, but the light that seemed abundant when I began drained quickly as I walked  first west then east. The W&OD closes at dusk, but that meant nothing to long-distance bikers with their powerful headlamps, or to the rest of us, either, who sauntered at a twilight pace.  It was good to walk through the gloaming.


Thursday, June 1, 2017

Culinary Roots

For this year's birthday dinner I asked for — and received — an old favorite: fried chicken. It was yummy! The older (!) I get the more I return to my culinary roots: friend chicken (southern style), mashed potatoes, sandwiches on white bread.

These are not gourmet delicacies. They're not something one even admits to eating these days. And to be fair, they are treats, not my steady diet (which runs more along vegetable lines).

But they are tasty and lacking in pretension. You know where you stand with them. The world is crazy these days. Bring on the comfort foods!


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