Friday, February 23, 2024

Witness to Wonder

It happened at 6:50 p.m. the night before last. A burst of light in the sky, a fireball or meteor, a visitor from space, vanished before those who glimpsed it even knew what they were seeing. 

What was I doing at the time? Swapping out the old red plastic egg crate toy bins for new cloth ones? Or had I already come upstairs to fix dinner? One thing is certain: I was not outside looking up. 

I'm thinking of Bruegel's famous painting The Fall of Icarus, and Auden's poem about it, how human suffering can be obscured by the ordinariness of life. The same can be said of wonder.  How often we miss it. Our heads are down, focused on the page or the skillet, the task at hand. 

Most of the videos sent to the American Meteor Society are from home security cameras. There's no one around to see the meteorological marvel. But one of them shows a man taking out his garbage. You see the falling star with its long tail. You see him see it. He stops in his tracks, trash bag in hand. A witness to wonder. 

(Photo: Wikipedia)

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

A Model Life

In The Book of Charlie, journalist and author David Von Drehle tells the story of his Kansas City neighbor, who he first sees across the street in his swimming trunks, washing a car. The man was Charlie White. The car was his girlfriend's. Charlie was 102 at the time. 

Von Drehle would have seven years to get to know the man — and what a man he was. He was born before radio, commercial air travel and a worldwide pandemic (not Covid 19, the Spanish flu). Despite early adversity (he was eight when his father died in a freak accident), he put himself through college and became a doctor. Though his two first marriages ended (one in death, another in divorce), Charlie married again and became a father in middle age.

Throughout his long and amazing life, Charlie White changed with the times. When World War II came, he served in the medical corps and came out with an anesthesia specialty.  He lived with simple precepts: he took life as it came and always tried to "do the right thing." 

Charlie White: They don't make them like him anymore. They almost never have.

(Book jacket photo courtesy Simon & Schuster)


Wednesday, February 21, 2024

This Old Door

It's installation time: the long-awaited day when the new back door becomes a reality — and the old wooden one becomes history. That one is in such bad shape that I won't even include a photo of it in its entirety. But it's served us well and is worth a backward glance.

The old door wasn't professionally installed, but for decades it has shielded us from snow, cold, wind, rain and heat. It has kept pets and small children inside, or swung open to let them run across the desk and down the stairs. 

The door has been slammed by teenagers — and snuck through by teenagers too, although they preferred the basement window for their late-night escapes. 

It has been gouged and scuffed by pets, starting with our old cat, Basil, whose claws were much sharper than his sweet temper, followed by our dear departed doggie, Copper, who might scratch the door a dozen times a day to keep us apprised of his needs. 

In other words, the years have not been kind to the back door. The glass is mottled and wind whistles through a gap at the bottom. But it's our door, and in some strange way, I'll miss it when it's gone. 

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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Work of Childhood

For many years I wrote articles about children and families. That these were the same years our own children were growing up wasn't entirely an accident. I had, believe it or not, planned it the way. But the result was an intense combination of lived experience and professional pursuit. I wasn't always in agreement with the experts I interviewed, but on one point I concurred. Over and over again I heard that play is the work of childhood. And is it ever!

I thought of this yesterday when the kiddos were over for a visit. First they biked and ran down the street, the youngest chuckling in delight as she raced to keep up with the three-year-olds. Next they swarmed inside where they pulled out the toy bins and dug in. 

There were doll houses to decorate and jack-in-the-boxes to crank. There were toy trains to zoom across the floor. There were adults nearby, but we tried to fade into the background. Because the kids were losing themselves in the "work" of play — and our job was to leave them alone. 

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Bookmark Revolt

I noticed the telltale threads last night. There was one on the nightstand and another among the bedcovers. No doubt about it, my bookmark was shedding, losing its jaunty tassel. The store-bought item made of laminated pressed violets and violas — such a lovely way to mark my place in the latest journal I'm keeping — is going rogue. 

I'm not surprised at these shenanigans. The bookmark is plainly not pleased with an essay I just wrote, the essay in which I disparage store-bought bookmarks and mention how seldom I use them. In fact, I'm only using this one because my current journal does not have its own built-in bookmark. 

I could repair this marker. I could collect the slender threads and attempt to reattach them. But since I spent much of yesterday tied in knots (see below), I'm unlikely to do that today.

Does a bookmark know when it's been thrown under the bus? Apparently, it does.

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Sunday, February 18, 2024

Tied in Knots

I've just spend a considerable chunk of time watching crochet tutorials on Youtube. These are usually hosted by cheery British ladies with plump fingers and colorful yarns. They pronounce crochet with the accent on the first syllable. I bet they would make a good cup of tea.

But they did not ease the frustration that was building as I once again had trouble starting my project. I'm a quick crocheter once I get past the first few rows. But those first few rows give me fits every time. This go-around I decided to understand what I was doing rather than just bumble along. 

I stopped and started half a dozen times. I worked on my slip knot. But I was determined to keep doing it until I mastered this. I have no idea whether this back-to-basics approach will benefit the finished product. All I know is that I was tied in knots for a while... but I'm untangled now. 

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Friday, February 16, 2024

Friends on the Trail

Yesterday a long walk took me through Reston's Vernon Walker Nature Center, over a small bridge and up a trail to South Lakes Drive, then along to the cut-through where I caught the Lake Audubon Trail. 

The wind picked up a bit as I strolled around the lake, not enough to stir whitecaps but enough to make me stuff my hands up my sleeves. 

The last leg of yesterday's amble was on the Glade Trail. I was picking up speed, thinking of things yet to do at home, when I ran into a new acquaintance, someone from yoga class. She introduced me to her friends and we all chatted for a few minutes. 

It was small talk, really, but fun to find friends on the trail. It warmed the walk and changed my day.

(Reston's first naturalist, Vernon Walker. More on him and the Nature Center in future posts. Photo: Reston Museum)

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Paean to Portability

Let us pause for a moment to praise portability. Here I sit in my kitchen rocking chair, laptop on lap (actually, laptop on lap desk on lap), able to sway back and forth to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, now blaring from the radio, monitor soup simmering on the stove ... and also write this post.

This is nothing new. I've drug this trusty machine all over the world. But given that I came of age first on typewriters and later on desktop computers, the fact that I'm able to hop around the globe or the house, creating a workspace wherever I sit, is nothing short of amazing. 

What does portability provide? Ease and freedom. Today I'm appreciating them both.

(Sometimes the laptop is almost lost amidst the clutter that surrounds it.)

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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Happy VaLENTine's Day

When Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day collide, you have an interesting day indeed. Ashes or chocolates? Fasting or feasting? Eternal rest or eternal love?

As a three-year-old I know would say, "What the heck?" 

But there are answers to these questions, a solution to this dilemma. 

Lent is part of Valentine's. Not the other way around. 


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Happy Birthday, Rhapsody

Yesterday, after the errands were run and the groceries put away, I sat down at the piano, pulled out the ancient sheet music and played the opening run. For the next 30 minutes, I bungled my way through one of the most important and beautiful pieces of American music ever written, George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

A hundred years ago to the day, on a snowy February 12, 1924, Gershwin played the piece at Aeolian Hall in New York City in a concert billed as "An Experiment in Modern Music." Paul Whiteman had commissioned Gershwin to write the piece, and Gershwin had done it in just a few weeks, roughing out the original idea on a train trip from New York to Boston. "I heard it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America, of our vast melting pot, of our unduplicated national pep, of our metropolitan madness," Gershwin said.

He had created a masterpiece. Though no one knows exactly how the piece sounded that day (it wasn't recorded and Gershwin improvised parts of it), a recording made a few months later is thought to be a close replica. The piece was an immediate success, with multiple recordings, and Paul Whiteman made the Rhapsody the theme song for his radio show. Gershwin had created an anthem for the Jazz Age. 

Later versions of the Rhapsody give it a more lush orchestral sound, but the original performance brought out the jazzy brightness of the piece in all its syncopated glory. Even hopscotching through the music as I was last night, cherry-picking the easier sections, I felt its magic in my bones. 

(Thanks to Wikipedia and The Syncopated Times for info and art, and to Hot Jazz Saturday Night for the inspiration.) 

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Monday, February 12, 2024

Welcome Clouds

I never thought I'd say this but around here the occasional cloudy day comes as a gift: dark, sodden and lacking in expectations. 

I've never faulted the climate of northern Virginia. It's hot in the summer and mild in the winter. Almost too mild these days, turning what was once distinctly four seasons into three-and-a-half. Springs and falls are long and lovely. 

But the steady drumbeat of sunshine can be too much. And this from a sun worshipper. A sunny day comes with its own set of expectations: errands to run, writing to complete before afternoon rays stream through the office windows right into my eyes. 

When do we stay inside and clean the closet? When do we wander lonely as a cloud? Those are questions I ask myself often ... but not today. 


Saturday, February 10, 2024

Desk Envy

I really can't complain. I may not have the desk of my dreams, but it's not bad. An apple-green table of a desk, only slightly dented and worn (a lopsided heart carved into the middle, a few splotches of salmon-pink paint in one corner, souvenirs of the girls who once used it).

True, it does not overlook the Atlantic Ocean, or the Front Range of the Rockies, or the harbor in Oban, Scotland. But it does have a lovely view of the backyard, the main street of the neighborhood and a corner of the woods beyond. 

My perfectly-fine desk doesn't keep me from having desk envy, though. And last night I experienced a full dose of it while watching the movie "Something's Gotta Give." It wasn't my first viewing of this film, but it was the first time I had desk envy watching it. 

Instead of focusing on the budding romance of Erica the playwright, I zeroed in on her writing space. The broad expanse of the (mahogany?) desk, the perfectly placed lamp. The windows! Oh, my gosh, the windows! And the door, open to sea breezes.

I keep telling myself it's just a movie set. But still...

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Friday, February 9, 2024

Catching up on Taylor Swift

I've just spent more time than I meant to reading about Taylor Swift. I'm not exactly at the vanguard of popular culture, but the juggernaut that is Taylor + Travis, especially as we race toward Super Bowl Sunday, seemed like something I should know just a little bit about. 

This led me to watch a few music videos, do a little googling (there's a Taylor Swift class at Harvard and, of course, she was Time's Person of the Year for 2023) and feel just a little more a part of the cultural zeitgeist. 

I'm still mostly in the dark about the superstar and her super-athlete boyfriend, but I'm curious enough that I may tune in on Sunday, if not for the football then for the celebrity dish.

(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty)

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Up and Out

Like many people these days I don't need to leave my house to ply my trade. I can do it quite comfortably from my in-home office. The temptation, then, is to stay inside far too much, especially in the mornings, when I do most of my writing, and especially in winter, when it's cold. 

But lately, I've been trundling out to a 9 a.m. Wednesday yoga class, climbing into a frigid car, battling rush-hour traffic (that again?!) and reaching class barely in time for sun salutations.

I love my small class — and the people in it. And I've come to realize that I also love getting up and out "early" one day of the week. Early is relative, of course. I used to leave the house before 7 every day. 

(A photo from the old days of "up and out.")

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