Thursday, November 30, 2017

Birthday Surprises

An email this morning told me a package had been delivered.  I got a kick out of this — the fact that I had come in through the garage last night and overlooked this large item on the front stoop, being informed of it through a bunch of 1s and 0s on my computer. It was a funny way to begin this last day of November, the birthday of two people I love — my daughter and my brother.

But that was just the first surprise.  The second happened when I was lugging in the first — and Copper trotted around the front of the house (where he is never, ever allowed to be because he will run away) and right through the front door. The backyard gate must have been left open.

Whatever the case, it was all meant to be — the package left out overnight so that I could be there when Copper escaped, could usher him back where he belongs. The rescue of a dog that means so much to the birthday girl.

Yes, it's often a random world — but sometimes it's not. Today is one of those times.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Fruit Bowl

I'm not sure why I did this, except that I felt energetic this morning, like I was coming out of a fog (post-Thanksgiving funk?). The fruit looked sleek and display-able, and the basket was on the kitchen table, holding napkins, and suddenly it seemed a crime to keep the fruit in its net bags and not in this pretty braided ceramic basket-bowl that Ellen gave me several Christmases ago.

So the napkins now sit in a pile on the table and the fruit poses on the counter. It's become a still life, an object not just of utility but of beauty.

Isn't the best kind of beauty the accidental kind? The graceful arching of tree limbs over a road. The glitter of icicles in the sun. And the gathering of fruit in a bowl.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sleeping Dogs

We all know what we're supposed to do with them. But in my house they are — or I should say he is — often riled up.

This is not my approach, though. I let sleeping dogs lie. Especially Copper, who has always been and who continues to be a lively pup.

When Copper sleeps beside me I sit quietly, enjoying his company, the presence of another living being. I don't usually cover him up (!), but I do take comfort in the gentle rhythm of his breathing and his little stretches — even when he kicks me in the ribs. I appreciate the fact that when he's still I don't have to let him in or out of the house.

On some days, the company of animals is the only company a writer needs.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Four Weeks

There will be this one, the last of November, and then three December ones. A countdown. Already I can see them fly, their days a blur of meetings and deadlines, of the buying and wrapping of gifts, the making and sending of cards. Envelopes, stamps, messages. Here we are at the beginning of it all and I can already see the end.

Back then the weeks were years, and to traverse them was pure joy. Santa came on TV at the end of the day, around the time mothers were cooking dinner. I found the container of nonpareils, the ones we sprinkled on sugar cookies, and poured them on a saucer, carefully, because they bounced. Round-and-round beads, I called them, and I lapped them up as I watched the show.

What would I ask for that year? A doll, a bicycle, an archaeology kit (which was an actual toy; I got one!). The gifts blur together. But not that saucer of round-and-round beads. It remains, along with all the giddy anticipation of the season, which I remember still and sometimes even feel.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Last Sunday

Tomorrow is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the feast of Christ the King. Christ the King was the name of my church and school growing up. A little pre-fab building where I made my First Communion and was confirmed and, when I was in eighth grade, was required to go to daily mass and sing at funerals.

I regret to say that we often whispered and giggled and otherwise acted as 13-year-olds do at some of those solemn occasions. It's something I've thought about through the years, the difference between then and now, when such a requirement might be considered too traumatizing. But mostly I've thought how traumatizing we might have been for the mourners. A flock of girls in green-and-gray plaid skirts with beanies on their heads and bow ties clipped onto their white blouses. Or maybe we were a hopeful sign, proof that life goes on.

In my last year of parochial school, the little church of Christ the King became the ornate Cathedral of Christ the King. It was a massive church with ornate lights and grillwork and the theme of kingship. One boring mass my friend Linda Welch counted every crown in the place. There were more than 100, if I recall.


Friday, November 24, 2017


As in a cushy chair or ample love seat.

Or a wicked stepsister's foot in a delicate glass slipper.

Or a bag of leaves crammed to bursting (as I look over a backyard full of leaves that need cramming).

Or a two bushel baskets of gourds in one bushel basket.

Overstuffed is how I felt last night after the turkey, dressing (two types), mashed potatoes (two types), green beans (two types), corn, cranberry sauce, roasted brussels sprouts and cauliflower, roasted root vegetables, autumn slaw and rolls.

And that was before the apple crumble, chocolate cookies and pumpkin praline pie.

Maybe no eating today?


Thursday, November 23, 2017


Gratitude is best when it's specific. So herewith, a list:

The volunteer red maple tree is the far corner of the yard.

The view out the conference room window at dawn.

Copper with a day-glo orange ball in his mouth.

The sound of Drew's voice on the phone.

Celia humming as she sautés onions.

The light on the carpet in the living room.

The Air Force band playing their song at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.

The stuffing in the oven and the coleslaw in the fridge.

The pumpkin praline pies in the car.

Family gathering from far and wide.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Groaning Board

Little chance of this groaning board giving way, but it is quite full as I lay out the ingredients for my contribution to the Thanksgiving feast. Pumpkin, spices, brown sugar and condensed milk for the pie. Onions, celery, bread crumbs, wild rice, pecans and butter for the stuffing. And — new this year — red cabbage, dates, cilantro and more pecans for "autumn coleslaw."

As I type the list, I take mental inventory. Do we have enough butter? Enough broth? I foresee another trip to the grocery store.

All to make this groaning board ... groan a little more.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

For Sale

In my block of Folkstone, houses seldom change owners. The neighbors across the street and on each side of us have been here for decades, and many others for years. It's the exact opposite of the transient neighborhood I thought I'd find outside D.C.  The government may change every four or eight years, but the suburbs where I live are pretty darn stable.

In the beginning, we were even more close-knit, with a pool party on the last day of school, caroling at Christmas, and birthday dinners throughout the year. That dwindled as the children grew up, but there are still occasional get-togethers and plenty of impromptu conversations at the corner or wherever dogs (and their owners) congregate. 

All of which is to say that when neighbors move away — the owners of this house are embarking today on their long-planned escape to Hawaii — a little bit of Folkstone leaves with them. 

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Bird Bath

It doesn't take long for nature to make its presence felt. Even a 10-minute escape from the office, enough time for a walk around the building, finds sun and breeze and sparrows splashing in a fountain.

These little guys look for handouts from lunching office workers. They roost in the hedges that line the street. They are urban birds, tough critters who've learned to fend for themselves.

Maybe these birds had the same idea I did — to escape their daily routine for a few minutes; to take a break from pecking for food, preening their feathers and building their nests  (though I doubt they're doing that this time of year).

I like that they took one thing (a public fountain) and made it their own. I hope their hearts, like mine, were gladdened to be awake and alive at that moment in time.

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Friday, November 17, 2017


November is National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, 30 days in which would-be novelists are encouraged to apply their bottoms to chairs and produce 50,000 words. A contrivance, true, and one I was originally tempted to disparage. A novel in a month? Really?

But when I thought about it, I realized I was probably more envious than anything else. Where is the NaNoWriMo for nonfiction writers? NoFiWriMo? Dont we also need to apply our behinds to chairs? Dont we also need writing places like Come Write In (a feature of NaNoWriMo, which I realize has now become an industry)? Arent our tortured souls also yearning to Finish Something?

Of course, nothing is stopping me from signing up for National Novel Writing Month and writing, say, a memoir. Nothing except the sheer terror of having to produce it, of course. And since its already November 17, I would have to crank out thousands of words a day to make the 50,000 word deadline.

No, thanks ...  I'll  just keep writing the old-fashioned way, word by word, page by page ... blog post by blog post. 


Thursday, November 16, 2017

Seeing Stars

It was warmer this morning than the last few days, high 40s. Reason to pull on tights, sweatshirt and reflective vest, grab the flashlight and take a pre-dawn walk.

The crescent moon was out, the one that lets you see a faint image of the rest of the orb, like an eyeball pulsing beneath an almost-closed lid.

But that's not what caught my attention. It was the stars.

I noticed them on the return, when I felt comfortable enough in the dark to look up. And there they were, so far away, so bright, so essential. I took a mental snapshot, have them with me now in the fluorescent-lit office, where I've found a quiet, unlit corner to write these words, to try and see stars again.

(Photo: Wikipedia)

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Green Chair

When the children were young and needed a time out, they were sent to an out-of-the-way place in a corner where they could cool down and ponder their misdeeds. We called it (in a fit of creativity!) ... the green chair.

Not a green chair, but the Green Chair, a place of banishment and shame. Cue the Dragnet theme, add the moans and excuses of  misbehaving children. "But Mommy, I didn't mean to  ..." And factor in the exhaustion of a parent trying to write magazine articles while her young children played underfoot.

It's been years since the green chair held a squabbling, out-of-control preschooler. Now it's for a different type of confinement. It's where I sit if I have a deadline or phone interview when I'm working at home; it's my go-to spot for complete concentration.

I almost never scream and cry there, but I do get something done. In fact, if there wasn't already a Green Chair ... I would have to invent one.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Autumn Snapshots

Fall moves quickly now. Leaves shiver on the branch or drift to the ground, lingering in the ivy, gathering  around the trunks of trees.

The exposed ones lie flat on the wet pavement. Maybe they're playing dead, thinking that if they don't move a muscle I won't see them, will pass them by.

No chance of that.


Monday, November 13, 2017

In from the Cold

The ferns came in 10 days ago,  the cactus mid-week, and one big pot of begonias a few nights ago. The plants that bloomed and thrived for almost six months on the deck are now huddled by the fireplace or hogging the light of the two small basement windows.

And it's good that they are, because over the weekend came a killing frost, a hard freeze that nipped the dogwood leaves left on the tree, shriveling them overnight. The begonias still standing on Saturday morning took a a graceful bow as the day progressed and by Sunday morning had folded and fallen.

If autumn is a gentle reminder of our own fragility, a hard freeze is mortality's slap in the face. So, even though I've been expecting it, even though it's overdue, this shift of seasons leaves me vaguely melancholy. No wonder we plan feasts for these dark hours, one day for gratitude, another to celebrate the light and our hope in its return.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

In Praise of Service

When Dad posed for this shot he was younger than my youngest child, a 21-year-old man with a skip in his step and (though you can't tell it from this picture) his heart in his throat. It was terrifying to be a tail-gunner in a B-17 bomber, to fly across Germany with the enemy shooting at you, to return to the base in Horham, England to see the empty bunks of those who didn't make it back from their own bombing missions.

So of course I'm thinking about Dad on this Veterans' Day. But I'm also thinking about Drew, my brother, a civilian in harm's way, using his skill and knowledge to protect our country.

How important it is on Veteran's Day to thank those who are not yet veterans, who are still in active service, or even those not in the military at all, but who nevertheless risk their lives to keep us safe and free.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

What Unites Us

"We're talking about the country, folks. What kind of country are we becoming?" Dan Rather, November 9, 2017.

Dan Rather turned 86 on Halloween and just published a new book called What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism (written with Elliot Kirschner). He spoke with columnist Jonathan Capehart last night at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, seeking to bring perspective to a world where fake news vies with the real thing.

Rather's 44-year real news career at CBS News came to an end not long after papers he used to report a story on former President George W. Bush's National Guard record were questioned as fraudulent. But that was more than a decade ago, and Rather has moved on. His News and Guts Facebook site has almost one and a half million followers. He's embraced by millennials.

"I'm just a lucky reporter," Rather said, not a philosopher. But he spoke about ideas and ideals, about the difference between patriotism, rooted in humility, and nationalism, rooted in arrogance. "Our nation suffers from a dearth of empathy," he said, and in answer to one young woman who asked what she could do every day to counter the nation's negative tone, said "help others."

Some of Rather's most pointed comments came when he talked about the state of journalism today. "A free press is the red beating heart of democracy," he said. And, "the news is what the public needs to know that some powerful person doesn't want them to know."

What moved me most was hearing Capehart and Rather read from What Unites Us, in particular a passage about the importance of books:

"Our nation was born in a spirit of fierce debate. Our Founding Fathers had sharp political differences, but they were almost all deep readers, writers, and thinkers. When they set about to create a modern republic, they went into their libraries and pulled out the works of philosophers such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. They consulted the Greeks, the Romans, the philosophers of Europe, and the Bible. They revered the power of the written word and how it enabled a nation free from the whims of a king. As John Adams wrote, a republic "is a government of laws, and not of men." A government of laws is a government of reason, and a government of books. That was true at our founding, and we must ensure that it remains a hallmark of our future."

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Are We There Yet?

A month ago was too early, though I'll admit I sneaked an aural peak and listened to the last two choruses. But a few nights ago, I started from the beginning. It was November. I'd waited long enough. It was time for The Messiah.

Let others drag out their Christmas decorations a week after Halloween, let retailers stock the shelves with tinsel and ornaments and candy canes. If I'm going to rush the season, it will be for only one reason: to hear Handel's great oratorio.

The piece is always just a playlist away on my little iPod. It's all I can do to keep myself from listening to it all year long. But civilization has its constraints, and so I hold myself back. One can't play a piece every single day and still love it (the scores of LaLa Land and Les Miserables being prime examples). I want more than that for The Messiah.

And so, I waited. I didn't listen in April, and I didn't listen in July. To my own persistent, "Are we there yet?" I said, "Not quite — but soon." But finally I could wait no more. And so, on November 6, almost a month before Advent, I pushed play.

And there were the familiar pulsing strings, the pause, and then ... the tenor: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people." I felt the weight of 11 months roll off my shoulders, the cares and troubles of other seasons. They're all behind me now. It's time for The Messiah.

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Just in Time

I knew I should have voted yesterday morning, but I went for a walk instead. And when there was a meet-and-greet at the end of the day, an important one featuring our board members, I went to that, too, knowing I couldn't stay long, but also knowing I have a way of letting time slip by.

Which is what happened. When I looked at my watch, it was 5:20'ish (I love my watch, but it's a small oblong tank-style timepiece that's never been easy to read), so I said a hasty good-bye, grabbed my things and dashed off into the cold rain. If I ran to the bus stop I could make the 5:30. I did, but I didn't. A long 10 minutes later the ART 43 pulled up. By then it was 5:40. The polls in Virginia close at 7 p.m. It would be close.

The Metro gods were with me, and I reached Vienna before Marketplace was over at 6:30. I didn't want to know the exact time because it would make me more nervous. So I turned down the radio and drove off into the night, which is when things went south. I caught every red light. On the winding, two-lane section of my route (which is much of it), I drove behind a car going 20 m.p.h. in a 35-m.p.h. zone. I was practicing all the deep-breathing, perspective-giving tricks I knew, but I was still in panic mode.

I knew that putting Democrat Ralph Northam over the top was not only my job, that other Virginians were taking this seriously, too. But embedded in my mind were the close votes of the past: Keane and Florio in New Jersey in the 1981. The 2000 presidential election. I'm a big believer in every vote making a difference — because every vote does — and mine was stuck behind a driver who must have cast his ballot in the morning.

When I pulled up to the polling place I still had no idea what time it was, but I knew there were only minutes, if not seconds. Someone yelled "you still have time" as I sprinted toward the school, but I still expected the door to be locked.

But ahhhh, it wasn't. And ahhhh, the nice people at the registration desk were still there, calmly asking my name, which I calmly gave. And then I took my precious paper ballot over to the table, carefully filled in the five circles, and slid the paper into the machine.

"Have a good evening," said the man at the door, as he handed me an "I voted" sticker. Only then could I glance at my phone for the exact time. It was 7:00 p.m. on the dot.


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Eerie Light

I was braced for near darkness when I stepped out of the office yesterday. What I got was far stranger. It was one of those cloudy late afternoons when the light has no discernible source, and it throws you off balance. The low rays are supposed to slant over buildings west of the bus stop — not seep from the north, south and east. Removing this vital cue confuses and unnerves. Is it almost morning or almost night?

Only one thing to do, and that is hurry. Book it to the bus stop, hop in, zoom away. Once to Rosslyn, though, the light was even stranger. Big banks of clouds were forming over the river and the light had a greenish cast. If this is Eastern Standard Time, you can have it. 

Luckily, it was totally dark by the time I arrived above ground at Vienna. No more eerie shimmer. Now just the glare of headlights heading toward me. 

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Fall Back

Ah, yes, "fall back" — the extra hour of sleep, the long morning. It was all fine until about 5 p.m. Then the early darkness (especially with yesterday's clouds and rain) and the news from Texas of the country's latest mass shooting made it all too clear that we're heading into the dark days of the year. 

How do we face the darkness? With light, of course. For me, quite literally. I dusted off the full-spectrum lamp and brought it upstairs.  That and clean, fresh laundry, the sweaters aired, a small but growing pile of things to give away — make me feel better equipped to deal with this pared-down season. 

It's the illusion of control, that which makes me feel I'm doing something about things that are completely beyond my puny power. Under the clock of one of my elementary school classrooms was this proverb/warning/joke:  "Time will pass. Will you?" Seems like a good season to remember it.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Round Number

Yesterday morning I hit a round number: 2,300. That's the number of posts I've published since starting this blog more than seven and a half years ago. That's a lotta posts!

What have I been blathering about with all these words, all these zeroes and ones? Walking and writing. Cities and suburbs. Work and leisure. Summer and fall. Observations and exhortations. Mostly, just noticing. There is some merit in that, I've decided.

And there's gratitude (that word again) that the challenge of putting these observations into words hasn't lost its luster over months and years.

Truth is, I love words. And when words add up to numbers, I like them, too.

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Two Kinds of Gratitude

I don't keep a gratitude journal — but I do keep a journal into which I occasionally pen thankful thoughts. And in the process of doing this I've noticed that there are at least two kinds of gratitude — forced and spontaneous.

Forced gratitude is what I summon when I'm walking to Metro on a cold, gray morning, wondering why I'm still slogging into an office, or on a leaden afternoon when the words aren't flowing and it's so late in the day that they never will. This is when I make the mental list: family, friends, health, income, productive work, words and music.

Spontaneous gratitude is what I feel when Copper is running at me with a Day-glo yellow ball in his mouth, all eagerness and joy. Or when I'm hanging out with the girls, individually or together, or even just talking with them on the phone. Spontaneous gratitude comes on walks or in quiet mornings like this one: clocks ticking (two of them), a cup of hot tea, an hour before I have to leave.

While it's tempting to praise the latter gratitude over the former, in truth we need both kinds. One is our steady companion, the other a funny visitor, an outlier relative who once rode a motorcycle across the West. While you hope he'll stop by often, you know he never will.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017


While each terrorism event evokes shock, horror and the sickening realization that it's happened again, each has its own particular stamp of sadness. Yesterday's was familiarity — I've walked that path often — and the pedestrianism of it all.

While terror has struck crowds of pedestrians before, they've never been at places I know so well. This happened on a late autumn afternoon, the perfect time to hop on a bike or stroll a walkway with a splendid view of the harbor and the Hudson. If last month's incident was an assault on the concert-goer (an all too familiar theme), yesterday's was an attack on walking itself, on the pedestrian.

Not just pedestrians but the pedestrian: "lacking inspiration or excitement, dull." And of course that's the point, isn't it? To make even the most quotidian of tasks an opportunity for mayhem. The retort is pedestrian, too. We will keep riding, keep walking, keep being ourselves.  It's pedestrian, but what else can we do?


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