Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Supermoon Bounce

I missed the lunar eclipse, which began here just as the sun was rising. But I did catch the bright rays of the almost-supermoon as it shone through the trees last night in the backyard.

It was bitter cold and blustery, wind chill in the teens, but I needed to move. So I bundled up and bounced on the trampoline for a few minutes.

I made it through two Gabrieli fanfares and a bit of Respighi before the cold and the sound of snapping branches drove me inside. But those few minutes with the supermoon were highly memorable. It was nature "without her diadem." Powerful, able to wound or kill, but beautiful just the same.

I was cheating, of course, because warmth and comfort were only a few steps away. But I was feeling the power of the universe — which always provides perspective — just the same.


Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A Walker in Afghanistan

If I lived in a war zone I would probably walk, crunch and use the elliptical. The stress relief would be worth the tedium, or even the danger.  So I get why people wear their fitbits when they're in harm's way, especially if they're gadget geeks who want to measure their workouts.

But I don't get why they share their data with a fitness sharing app called Strava, which then posted the whereabouts and movements of their customers in a heat map available for all to see. So by clicking on a route called Sniper Alley outside the American base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, you could find the names and hometowns of those who use it. Combine this with some basic Googling and you have a trove of information.

I first read about this oversight yesterday, how it was discovered almost by accident by a college student in Australia. Why didn't someone realize sooner that this technology could be used to reveal troop movements, the identifies of agents and so much more sensitive information?

Sharing data is a way to personalize technology, to humanize it.  But whatever is shared can be abused.

I hate to admit it, but in a world of smart cars, smart appliances and smart houses ... we're going to have to start reading, really reading, those privacy statements. And companies who collect sensitive data must do a better job of telling us how and when they use it.

Otherwise we may find ourselves walking in Afghanistan — with sniper guns trained on us.

(Photo: Washington Post)

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Monday, January 29, 2018

A Walker at Pemberley

Over the weekend I watched one of my mainstays, the Pride and Prejudice miniseries that debuted in 1995 and never grows old.

What struck me this time around is how much time Miss Elizabeth Bennett spends traipsing around the countryside. She walks in all weathers and all terrains. She walks in the cold and the rain. She dirties her petticoat and muddies her shoes. She walks around the estate at Pemberley, where she runs into its owner, Mr. Darcy, fresh out of the lake and dripping wet.  It's a scene to thrill every female English major's heart!

Later, in dry clothes, Darcy escorts Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle around the estate, along crushed stone paths, through copses of trees. This all could have been mine, Elizabeth said to herself on an earlier tour of the house, having second thoughts about spurning Darcy's proposal as she reevaluates his character — and his property!

But the quiet walk the couple shares bodes well for the future. And as the camera pans out, we see the placid beauty of the English countryside. I saved the last two episodes for another night. But I know this: One day Miss Elizabeth Bennett will be a walker at Pemberley.

(Lyme Park, Cheshire, where the lake scene was filmed.)

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Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Byline

In my full-time freelancing days my byline appeared frequently in national publications. My name in the big slick magazines, something I never dreamed could happen when I was growing up in Lexington, Kentucky.

But the byline lost its luster through the years. What mattered was the story — not the glory.

Still, I kept signing my name to pieces through my university publishing career: articles on hovercraft and soul craft and the Affordable Care Act.

Now, I work for an institution whose work I believe in and admire. I'm happy to put their story into words. They pay me well for those words, which are almost exclusively without byline.

Yesterday, for the first time in several years, "by Anne Cassidy" appeared on an article outside my institution. It might seem like a small thing — in many ways, it is. But when I saw it there at the end of the story (which makes it technically a tagline!), I realized how much I'd missed seeing it. Guess I'll have to do something about that.

(On assignment in Bangladesh last summer, notebook in hand.)

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Frosted Fields

Woke up this morning to whitened grass and blue birds flocking to the feeder, to the black-and-white-striped, red-headed downy woodpecker pecking at the suet block. It's not walking weather, not yet.

A few more hours so the temperature rises past 19, so my breath won't blind me. A few hours of mental exercise before the physical.

In the meantime I sit here in the dining alcove, as close to the backyard as I can be and not yet in it, itching to be outside.

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Thursday, January 25, 2018

Ursula Le Guin 1929-2018

Ever since I heard the news this morning of Ursula Le Guin's passing on January 22, I've been searching for a book of her essays. Having not yet found it, with the day ticking away, I'll do the best I can without the hard copy.

I came to Le Guin's work not through her science fiction but through her essays. One in particular sticks with me, "The Fisherwoman's Daughter," which is about women writing.

"Where does a woman write? What does she look like writing?" is the question Le Guin poses, after beginning with an image from Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room. Strangely enough, it was through a Google Doodle of Virginia Woolf (in honor of her 136th birthday), that I happened upon Le Guin's obituary.

Woolf, of course, famously said that a woman needs a room of her own to be a writer. But Le Guin, a mother of three, writes here of women who produce great works of art without so much as a broom closet to call their own. One of them was Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote her husband a letter saying, "If I am to write, I must have a room of my own," but who then went on to write most of Uncle Tom's Cabin from her kitchen table.

There is much more to say here, but I'm sitting at my kitchen table — and, though I no longer have young children clamoring for attention, have a paying job that does just the same.

To be continued ...

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Just My Line

You can have your lefts and rights, your ups and downs, your diameters and perimeters. Give me the diagonal every time.

There's nothing like a diagonal route for cutting corners, for shaving minutes off a stroll. Even these birds like it — though they hardly need it, seeing as they can get anywhere they want as the crow flies.

I was thinking of diagonals today as I walked to work, how I hold the destination in my mind and figure out ways to make it closer, as if I could leap there in a few steps instead of a hundred. 

It's an impatient line, the diagonal is. That's why it's perfect for me.


Tuesday, January 23, 2018

New Walk, Continued

The new walk is becoming a habit, the perfect way to unwind at the end of the day. I jump off the bus at one Metro stop, but walk two more stops up the road before boarding a train. The key word is "up."

It's about a mile from Rosslyn Metro to Clarendon Metro, but that doesn't include the elevation gain, a number I've yet to locate but which feels mighty big when you're hoofing it with a laptop at the end of a long workday.

One might be tempted to lag behind, like this little guy. But this little guy does not realize that Le Pain Quotidien is only a few blocks away — and that their crusty baguettes can be gone by 5:45. Nothing like a little French bread to put a skip in your step.

Though I fantasize about townhouses I pass along the way (so cute, so close in!), my walk leads not to a quaint bungalow — but a subway platform.  Not always as crowded as this one, I'm happy to say. But a subway platform just the same.

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Just a Spoonful

Last month, the Washington Post health section ran an article on sugar's addictive quality.  Convincing, but poorly timed. Who wants to read that right before the holidays? Still, it left an impression, and I thought about it again this morning as I shoveled far too much sugar into my tea.

For the most part, I'm a healthy eater. Lots of vegetables and fruit, not much meat, trying for more calcium these days. Where I fall apart, though, is in the sweets department. I know too much sugar is bad for me. But tea doesn't taste like tea unless it's milky and sweet.

I sometimes fantasize that I could cut down my usage one grain at a time. Would I never notice it that way? Or would there come a point, the proverbial straw, that would halt my experiment and send me screaming back to the heaping teaspoons?

At this point I'll never know ... because I'm not about to try it.  My tea is already decaffeinated; it can't be de-sweetened, too.


Friday, January 19, 2018

The Shutdown Walk

It's hard to live in our nation's capital without drinking our nation's Kool-Aid. And right now, the flavor is shutdown. The will-it-happen, won't-it-happen discussion has given way to talk of how it will happen. Shutting down the government is not unlike steering a huge ocean liner. One doesn't start or stop quickly.

Since there's one government employee and one dependent-on-government employee in this house — to say nothing of a government-employee daughter a few miles away — this matters in an immediate way.

During the last shutdown, in 2013, Congress authorized back pay for furloughed workers. We might not be as lucky this time. In addition to lapsed income, there's also the uncertainty of the situation, the disruption.

Time for some perspective, which for me means ... a stroll. I'm calling it the Shutdown Walk.

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Stop Time

Ah, January. I know there must be something good to say about it. Let's see ...

January is a plunge into icy waters, a dive off the high board. That's the bracing part of it, the embarking-on-a-new year part of it. 

January can be a brisk incentive, a long and relatively uncluttered month with time to get your teeth cleaned and update the will.

January provides plenty of inside hours for making soup and baking cookies. There's hot chocolate and reading in bed when the snow is falling. 

But there's one thing that January does better than any other month. It slows time. It's the one month that takes forever to finish, that doesn't seem like it's over before it's begun, that helps me catch my breath in this great, whirling craziness that is "midlife." January stops zenosyne cold in its tracks. 

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Two-Hour Delay

When I was a kid, you either had school or you did not. There was no in between. By the time I had children, the two-hour delay was well established.

In many ways it makes sense. Icy mornings often moderate, and two hours can make a big difference in the condition of roads and sidewalks. Having just driven to Metro on a day deemed too tricky for an on-time start, I can vouch that the county made the right call today.

But I can remember what a mess it was when the kids were young and school started at 11:05 rather than the (already late) 9:05. I could barely transcribe an interview before they were home again. And there's something about the moral relativity of a two-hour delay that disheartens me. It's mushy, especially when employed too often.

Perhaps that's why I slogged into the office today. It was hard ... but it was pure.

(We only got an inch of snow today; the photos is from 2010.) 

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Frozen Solid

Footfall thunderous, thudding. No give in the ground. Crunching through frozen mud and thin white ice that begs to be broken.

This is what I've been walking on this winter when I venture off road to stroll on trail or berm. It's a strange sensation, expecting give where you don't find it.

Not unlike returning to a scenic spot of once-great beauty to find it befouled with new houses and fences.

The ground I knew — soft, fragrant, pliable — has become another rough element, something that doesn't move with me but against me. It's ground that may as well be ... pavement.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Hooray for Analog!

Steven Spielberg's movie "The Post," which I saw yesterday, was a rousing paean to the press. But it was also a loving tribute to an analog world.

Reporters pounded out their stories on manual typewriters. Copyeditors used pencil on paper, making those marks that once seemed like a secret language to me — and are now a secret language to almost everyone. Typesetters set lines of type in hot metal, loaded slugs into plates. All the weighty, tangible things of a world left behind.

Now we live a digital life, ones and zeroes. We skitter on top of ice that we may at any time fall through. On Saturday, the people of Hawaii were on high alert for 38 minutes, thinking they were under imminent missile attack — a glitch made possible by one person making the wrong selection in a drop-down menu.

Are some things easier now? Yes, I type, my fingers tapping keys that don't have to be pounded, correcting errors with a click instead of a messy white  liquid. Is it just my imagination, though, or do the stakes seem higher in this unweighted, digital world?

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

The Howling

We're back to winter here, with a blast of Arctic air that's sending us down to 10 degrees wind chill tonight. Back to three layers, plus coat, hat, gloves and scarf.

Inside, it's warm and cozy — as long as I ignore the wind.

Why does the wind howl, anyway? It's a question I've been asking myself this winter.

When wind whips around a building or a tree, it splits up. The sound comes from the two currents rejoining on the other side, according to an article on the website Mental Floss.

Leafy trees absorb more of the vibration than bare ones do, so the howling is louder this time of year.

The explanation makes sense, but doesn't stop the goosebumps. A howling wind is still a scary sound — even with a scientific explanation.

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Friday, January 12, 2018

January Thaw

The birds believe it. They are out in force this morning, robins and cardinals and crows. They are flitting from bare branch to bare branch, hopping up to puddles. Suddenly, there is water, something they've not had enough of this dry, frigid winter.

They, unlike humans, have not heard the weather forecast. They don't know that this jig is up tonight when temperatures plummet from the 60s to the 30s (I think 30 degrees qualifies as a plummet ... it will certainly feel like one).

So for today, just for a few hours, I'll try to think like a bird, to pretend there is no future, no past, only a balmy wonder of a day with no breeze to speak of, just some light rain and not even much of that. In other words, a day — which is, in the end, all we're ever given.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

TC in the Suburbs

Late-day walk with Copper, who was begging, pleading with his big brown eyes, not letting me out of his sight. OK, little guy. And so ... we were on.

I knew we'd have a fun time of it when I saw a neighbor and her dog (with whom Copper has scrapped more than once) sauntering down to the bus stop. We'd inadvertently timed our stroll with the Folkstone rush hour: 15 minutes of nonstop bus and car traffic back from Crossfield School.

I hadn't even reached Fox Mill Road before the first text came. That required I remove my gloves and send a return text, followed by a return email. While I was doing this, a sweet-faced boy of 7 or 8 approached us. Copper lunged at him before I realized what was happening. "He bites," I said to the child, whose expression was suddenly frozen in horror. "I'm sorry, but you don't want to pet him."

We finally reached the halfway point, then turned toward home. On the way back, I received a call, a voice mail and another email.

Total elapsed time: 25 minutes.

This is what happens when walking in the suburbs meets telecommuting in the suburbs. Not exactly a walk in the park ... but better than the alternative.

(Copper in his autumn bandana. That's two Copper pix in one week. No more for a while!)

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

New Walk in Town

Yesterday after work I jumped off the bus at Rosslyn, as I always do, but instead of transferring to Metro, I walked up Clarendon Boulevard, past Court House Metro on to Fairfax Boulevard and all the way to Ballston.

It was getting dark, lights coming on, the Christmas decorations still up in some stores and windows. There were dogs and their owners, children and their parents, millennials and their yoga mats.

This is a new route for me, many uphill stretches and some unknown areas that had me a bit turned around last night. But it's a route I look forward to learning as the days lengthen. It's the new walk in town.

(Pictures of another sunset walk; the new walk in town is not yet photographed!)


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Instagram Takeover!

My knowledge of technology is not always tip-top, so when I heard that a story I wrote would "take over" the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) Instagram page this week, I acknowledged the news with an "oh, yeah, that's great" mentality.

Turns out, this is actually a big deal. USAID's Instagram account has 87,400 followers. Make that 87,401. (I just joined Instagram so I could "love" the post.)

Here's the human story behind the numbers: I met this woman, interviewed her and her parents, walked the narrow, muddy path along the lake to her home. Her father hacked coconuts for us so we could drink the milk. The family brought out their plastic chairs so we could sit in style. The woman, who I call "Aditi" (but which is not her real name) fell prey to sex traffickers when she was 19. She was rescued before being taken to a brothel in India, but the experience nonetheless changed her life.

Trafficking victims are often shunned by family and friends. But the organization I work for has a project that comforts and counsels and trains trafficking survivors. Aditi is a star student. She has taken the help she's been given and run with it. Now she's the one who counsels survivors, the one who tells friends and neighbors how to avoid being trafficked. She's proof of the great good that can come from small investments. I was privileged to speak with her and her family, to be hosted so hospitably in their home.

I'm now adding an exclamation point to my headline for this post. Make that "Instagram Takeover!"

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Monday, January 8, 2018

World of Wonder

Yesterday, before the tree came down, I sat before it with the laptop as I have so many mornings these last few weeks, reading and writing in the quiet hours before dawn. The last holiday movie I saw this year was "Scrooge," one of my favorites. This is not the dark comedy version of A Christmas Carol  starring Bill Murray. It's the lovely if corny musical version of A Christmas Carol starring Albert Finney.

What makes the film is the music by Leslie Bricusse:
Sing a song of gladness and cheer
For the time of Christmas is here
Look around about you and see
What a world of wonder
This world can be. 

Like any self-respecting writer who finds herself down the Google rabbit hole when she should be focusing her attention on the page, I spent a few minutes Sunday morning looking up this composer, at first hesitantly because I very much wanted him to still be alive, then eagerly once I found out he was. Not only did he write the music for "Scrooge," the LP of which I once hunted down for years and finally found in  a moldy basement of a record shop in the West Village, but he also composed the score of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and teamed up with Henry Mancini on "Two for the Road" — two more favorite flicks.

There's a certain satisfaction in learning that some of your favorite scores are written by the same person. It makes you want to know that person a little better. So I found an interview with Bricusse, now 86. At the end of the interview was what I would call the "nut graph," the news value of the story — why there was an interview with Bricusse last November. It was because Scrooge, the musical, was just revived at the Curve Theater in London. In fact, its final performance was happening two hours from when I read the article. Not quite enough time to hop the pond and get there in time. But that's not to say I didn't think about it.

(Movie posters: Wikipedia)


Saturday, January 6, 2018

Poinsettias and Pagoda

In honor of the Epiphany/"Little Christmas"/Three Kings' Day, here are poinsettias in their natural habitat, which, in this case, was Burma! They put my potted version to shame.

These were growing wild on a walk I took last year in the town of Kalaw. I wasn't expecting them, didn't know they grew there. Which was even better than if I'd been looking for them.
They were tall, a bit gawky, but their deep crimsons and maroons stood out among the greenery. It was my only afternoon of leisure and I was able to walk into town, mosey around the market and find a path on the way home that led into the hills.
They were the natural part of that country's beauty. Here's another part: the Golden Pagoda seen on a balmy night last November.

Friday, January 5, 2018

War of Words

One of my favorite scenes in the movie "Darkest Hour" follows the rousing speech Winston Churchill delivered to Parliament on June 4, 1940. This is the speech where Churchill exhorts his countryman to stand firm against the Nazi threat, the speech in which he says, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets ... we shall never surrender."

This scene was constructed to give us chills ... and it does. It's by no means guaranteed that Churchill will be able to build momentum for his plan, which seems almost daft. A flotilla of pleasure boats to evacuate soldiers across the English Channel? Fighting Hitler's army to the death if need be?

The lines I loved most came right after Churchill's speech when a member of Parliament asked, "What just happened?" and Viscount Halifax responded, "He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

At a panel discussion about the film, Director Joe Wright said the movie is a "recognition of the power of the word and the power of political speech to move nations."

I tried to imagine that speech being given today, the sort of sacrifice it was asking for, the moral purpose it presupposes. It came from an era of words, not of pictures. Maybe that had something to do with it.

(Photo from "Darkest Hour":

Read more here:

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Bomb Cyclone

Two blog posts in a row about weather. Hmmm... Must be winter!

This morning I've been reading about the Bomb Cyclone, a winter storm with super low pressures that has brought snow and ice to Florida, freezing rain to South Carolina and blizzard warnings to parts of my own state. Here it's a windy snowstorm with beastly cold to follow.

What I'm thinking about (snug in my warm house) is whether naming weather systems makes them more formidable. Used to be, it was just hurricanes. Now we name snow storms ("Snowmaggedon") and cold snaps ("Polar Vortex"), too. Every year we have Super Storms and Storms of the Century.

Whether this is due to the extreme weather patterns or Weather Channel proclivities it's difficult to say, but one thing I know for sure: Weather hype makes a difference. I'm much colder in a Polar Vortex than I am in an ordinary chill.


Wednesday, January 3, 2018


The weather is making me think back to the old winter days in Chicago. I never ventured out of the apartment without two pairs of socks, hat, scarf and mittens, and two or three layers under my coat.

Temperatures here are Chicago-winter-worthy, and wind chills respectable even by Windy City standards. Commuting as I do via public transportation, I have plenty of opportunities to feel that wind chill as I stand on a breezy street corner waiting for the bus.

It's best to wait actively rather than passively, I've found. The toes numb more slowly when they're in motion, so I pace back and forth or bounce up and down to keep myself warm.

Cold is a miserable business. You can say what you will about its bracing qualities, about its crispness and clarity. For me, it's just something to be endured.


Tuesday, January 2, 2018


The supermoon woke me at 3:37 a.m., poured its rays into the room, feigning daylight. No wonder my stay-asleep mechanism was overwhelmed. Nothing to do with the fact that this is my first day back in the office since December 21. 

I read a while, ignored the moonbeams and drifted back. All the while this meteorological marvel, what astronomers call the perigee syzygy, was beaming down on the frigid landscape. It was lighting up the salt crystals on the road and the little patches of snow still left from last week's dusting.

By the time I left for work, it was low in the sky, just above the treetops, and I quickly snapped the shot above.  (Quickly, because it was 7 degrees outside and I was anxious to put my gloves on.)

We're closer to the moon during a perigee syzygy than we are otherwise. And tomorrow is the perihelion, the point in earth's orbit when we're closest to the sun. Thanks to these heavenly bodies for lighting our way, and for making the dark, cold hours so much more bearable. 

This supermoon is from November 14, 2016. I saw it glinting on the Java Sea from the island of Sumba, Indonesia. Photo:  Wikipedia


Monday, January 1, 2018

Sweet Start

There was dancing last night to ring in the new year, and so many desserts that I was forced to take a bite of each one. Woke up this morning to a bright new year and a temperature of six (6)!

Weather like this requires a roaring fire, a bit of the bubbly ... and dancing, all of which were in ample supply at last night's gathering.

Add some sparkle and glitz ... and it's not a bad way to enter the new year.


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