Grief and Graduations

Recently, the grief and loss connected with two heart-felt deaths counter-weighted the joy in proud achievement as two grandchildren graduated. Two down, two up. It’s been an emotional roller-coaster time.

The only child of good friends died in an auto accident at 27; his parents were devastated. We went to Delaware to witness the celebration of Scott’s life. Family and friends met at their church, told stories about Scotty, wept with his parents.

Zack and folks (1)

Zack and proud Mom and Dad

Shortly after that funeral, my grandson Zachary graduated from high school. “Pomp and Circumstances” ushered in a teary-eyed proud day, celebrating an important milestone on the road to maturity and independence.Zack a new Grad

 

 

Two weeks later, Lou’s older brother Ed died of congestive heart failure. Amid protestations that he and Ed were never close, being nine years apart in age, Lou remembered so many stories and incidents involving his brother that even he was surprised. Talking with family and friends at the funeral and interment, we heard more stories. Ed was still living in many minds and hearts and would go on being so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Lou and Ed

“Ed stories” included the time he loaned a teenaged Lou and his friend Jeff his brand-new Chevy convertible for a double-date (incredible!). Even Ed’s thoughts about space travel resonated with a newspaper article about current NASA plans concerned with Mars. Lou’s first reaction was, “Ed used to tell our mother he firmly believed we would land someone on Mars in his, Ed’s, lifetime.” “When did he say that?” I asked. “I think when Ed was in ROTC in college and I was in middle school.” So maybe 60 years ago, Ed had faith that he’d live to see people traversing space. And now he’s died at 81. And we’re not near Mars yet and won’t get there in Lou’s lifetime, either. Another reason to mourn.

 

Annika and Grandma

Annika and proud Grandma

Three days after Ed’s funeral in Virginia, I flew to California to watch my granddaughter Annika graduate from UC-San Diego. That was another proud day, full of photo ops and friends. That afternoon, we went sailing, with Annika still in the lacy dress she’d worn under her black gown.

Annika steers

 

I’m grateful that our two graduations helped leaven the funerals’ grief and encouraged thinking of all four events as thresholds. For Zachary entering college and Annika entering graduate school, the promise of a new and enlarged life is easy to see. In death, it’s not so obvious, despite religion’s tenets. Many faiths see death as promotion, but I don’t believe in life after death. After death, we exist in the acts and attitudes we’ve left as memories in the minds of others. Like the Scotty stories his photos and friends and parents told. Like the Ed stories we’ve been telling.

There’s a promise inherent in endings that result in new beginnings—if not for the lost one, at least for those left behind.

Our Exotic Visitor

Image This morning we had an exotic guest on our patio. A beautiful peacock (who roamed the neighborhood last year) paid his first visit since our long cold winter. He was an eye-catching sight amid the spring greenery and blooming narcissus. ImageA barrel on our patio holds a bird feeder. The peacock stepped about the barrel, gleaning dropped seeds, trailing his long train behind him. Hunting for breakfast, he even investigated in the barrel itself. The little backyard birds fed at the feeder above him or flew past to other feeders. I wondered whether they felt any kinship with this super-sized intruder.ImageThe peacock had an aristocratic profile, with his large dark eye highlighted by a creamy stripe and a crescent-shaped patch of bare skin. His crest feathers had lost some of their tips but even so, they looked like a regal crown. The base of his glorious blue neck was bright green, the intricate designs of his wing coverts formed a black-and-white tapestry over his back, and when he stretched out his wing, we saw rich chestnut primary feathers.

Image Peacock Train (1)

The eye-spots on the feathers of his train surrounded each dark “pupil” with those colors and more. I wished for a peahen whose presence would cause him to truly strut his stuff on those large scaly feet, raising his train into a stiff and dazzling fan. But alas, his audience consisted only of two humans and three cats.

 

 

 

We were all crowded around the sliding glass door in the kitchen; the cats were half-scared and growling but as wholly fascinated as Lou and I.Image Lou stepped outside to scatter more seed. The peacock retreated through the patio garden to the lawn, but soon came back. By the time he finally wandered away, his crop was so full I wondered how he could turn his head.

Some mornings have a bit of magic about them….

Diana’s Gripes and Kudos: Victoria’s Secret

Cecily Nabors:

Diana’s gripes are always funny and have a good foundation (pun intended!)

Originally posted on DIANA BELCHASE:

Last time I griped about Burger King. Today Victoria’s Secret is up on the block.

Just going into Victoria’s Secret is difficult. Entering that world of underwear and lingerie is like setting foot on an alien planet. I tend to be a bit of a girly girl, but for some reason the vast array of underwear has me feeling cast adrift and on unsure footing. In the back of my head, I hear my grandmother’s voice telling me I don’t belong in that ultra-sexy, possibly sinful place.

Even when I get my prudish side in check, there are just too many choices, many of them seeming vaguely uncomfortable or designed solely for nonfunctional use.  Let’s face it, whoever came up with the idea of a thong had to be a serious misogynist.

That being said, Victoria’s Secret has absolutely evolved. When they redesigned my favorite bra — frankly the only…

View original 710 more words

“Loveliest of Trees”

Image

A local cherry tree in lovely full bloom.

Living as Lou and I do near Our Nation’s Capital, we’ve experienced first-hand one of the joys of spring: the famous cherry blossoms downtown. Many times I’ve walked along the Tidal Basin under the trees’ lacy canopy and marveled at the intensity of their beauty.

Cherry trees also grace many suburban neighborhoods, including ours. As we’re a little north of D.C. and higher in altitude, our local trees extend the flowering season.

What reader, turned on to poetry as a romantic teenager, can forget the beauty of A. E. Housman’s ode that celebrates the wild cherry? This picture shows my beloved boxed copy of Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, bought so many years ago. The second poem in the collection rejoices in spring’s blooming cherry trees.  Here’s the first stanza:

Image

My copy of Housman’s poetry.

   

    Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

    Is hung with bloom along the bough,

    And stands about the woodland ride

    Wearing white for Eastertide.

 

 

 

Housman was writing about wild cherries, like the little black cherry in our own woods and the trees along our local “woodland ride,” the Matthew Henson Trail. The beautiful downtown or neighborhood cultivars have many more flowers per bough, of course, but I love the wild ones that decorate our springtime woodlands. I’m happy to say with the poet,

Image

A blooming black cherry in our woods.

 

    About the woodlands I will go,

    To see the cherry hung with snow.

Book Report

My book about books and life that took me almost 25 years to write is about to take its first steps out the door. A quarter-century! How can anyone write that slowly? Well, okay, I wasn’t working on it the whole time. There was a 22-year lapse in the middle.

The working title: A Reader’s Journey – and What Happened Next. It’s about turning fifty (which I did in 1990) and using books as signposts to relive and even reinvent my life. And it’s about meddling with the manuscript more than twenty years later, in a two-person book club with my younger self.

Our books are organized because I like being able to find a particular book fast, either for my own pleasure or to lend to a person who deserves to read it. Children’s books plus books about writing are in my study, in orange bookcases that used to belong to my son.

Books about birds are in the foyer and the kitchen by the window, near the binoculars.
Books study
Fiction and natural history are also in my study, in these white bookcases. I bought them with money from an article I sold to The Washington Post, the one about the annual return of the buzzards to Hinckley, Ohio. Our Maryland friends snickered when we made that pilgrimage to Hinckley. However, the buzzards bought bookcases.

Mysteries are in our bedroom, travel and humor in the guest room, science fiction and philosophy in the family room. There’s even a stack of books in the hall bathroom. I feel vaguely guilty about the house resembling a used book store, but the good news is that there’s brilliant writing wherever I look.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve written a book about reading books….

You’ll find an overview, the book’s introduction, and part of Section 1 here on my website. Check it out!

The Pen-Name Game

Ever thought of using a pen name? I saw a suggestion that if a writer needed a nom de plume, she could take the name of the pet she had as a kid for a first name, and the name of the street she lived on as a last name. I’ve always published under my real name, but what if I wrote something so different I wanted to use another one? (Think J. K. Rowling and Robert Galbraith.) Maybe I should have another name ready, just in case.

The first pet I remember was a sweet gray cat named Mitzi. I don’t remember the street we lived on then, but when I was seven, we moved to 20 Hanover Road, in Mountain Lakes, N.J. Putting those together, my nom de plume could be Mitzi Hanover. I like it!

What sort of books would Mitzi Hanover write? I’m thinking superior romance novels, playful and sexy but with an undercurrent of serious plot. A sassy nurse-and-doctor romance in a teaching hospital, or a romantic suspense story of art-fraud or espionage.

Here’s another possibility. When I was a teenager, my parents briefly fostered a German shepherd that my young brother, going with the obvious like most little kids, named Shep. What would Shep Hanover write? Perhaps heart-warming animal stories, or he-man Westerns, with a main character who could be played by John Wayne or Gary Cooper.

Image

The inspiration for Max Wild.

I brought Lou into the pen-name game.  He grew up in the District on Patterson Street and his first pet was a kitten named Timmy. Timmy Patterson might be a friendly name for a children’s writer or a cartoonist. Much classier, though, would be a name borrowed from the tuxedo cat Lou brought home when he was older. He named the cat Osiris. Osiris Patterson — what about historical novels about Egypt, or startling stories of the occult? Cool!

Not all pet-name + street-name combinations work. Editing might be needed. When my sons were young, we had a dachshund named Max. That would be a fine manly first name for an author. Unfortunately, we lived on the somewhat pretentiously titled Wild Olive Drive. But the guys could blue-pencil it into a good pen-name: Max Wild. Perfect for articles on conservation or mountain-climbing, or thrillers about conspiracies, car-chases, and cops.

This is fun!  What would be your nom de plume?

DSCN0559

The Geometry of Space … and People

Cecily Nabors:

Diana always talks to interesting people. Take a look (and listen!)

Originally posted on DIANA BELCHASE:

DSCN0559

Vincent Pirruccio has worked for most of his life as an artist.  His sculptures are magnificent and important.  Books have been written about him, though I’d never seen any of his pieces up close.  I was lucky to be in Taormina where his exhibition, The Geometry of Space, took place last fall.

Pirruccio’s work juxtaposes the massive weight and size of his pieces, against a feeling of lightness and air.  He marks his space, in an overpowering masculine way, while framing it and inviting people in.  He dominates in what looks like solid iron, but creates transparent intimacy.  The heavy metal structures seem totally immovable, requiring cranes to set them in place.  Yet the small ball in each of the works wreaks havoc, sending each piece off balance, skittering into uncertainty.

IMG_6552

In Italy, I became acquainted, not only with his work, but with the sculptor himself.  He’s warm and…

View original 560 more words

My Book Bank

One of the few good things about winter is my birthday. Being here to celebrate another year is very good, and getting books as gifts makes it even better.

Christmas books + birthday books = Wow! I have a wonderful book bank from which to make withdrawals at will. Priceless.

book stack with cat

Zeno likes me to have lots of books because he gets to sit in my lap in our chair while I read.

Pandas and Cats at the Zoo

Image

Panda dad eats

Image

Panda mom naps.

 

Lou and I went down to the National Zoo yesterday, one of the great perks of living in this metropolitan D.C. area. I really wanted to see the baby Giant Panda, who’s now four months old and beginning to explore her world. Because I’m a Friend of the National Zoo, we got to go into the panda house early to try to see her. The bad news was that the baby panda, Bao Bao, slept all day in an un-visible location as far as cameras were concerned (except the “panda-cam”). I did go back twice to see her; in the interim, she’d moved into another almost un-visible position. On tiptoe, I could see a little bit of her fur.

Image

Panda cam headquarters.

 

The good news was that we got to see other animals along the Asia Trail we’d never been able to see before. Winter is an excellent time to go to the zoo.Image

 ImageWell, we had seen Red Pandas before, but today they were especially charming. We got to observe a lot of action.

They’re really beautiful animals, with their eager faces, pricked ears, and long thick stripy tImageails.

 

I’d forgotten that they eat bamboo just like their large black-and-white relatives. 

 

Image I loved the little fellow up in the crotch of a tree, sleeping on his pillowed tail.

Here’s a report on the Asian Small-clawed Otters. There are eleven of them in the enclosure, two parents and nine offspring. Many of them were clustered close to the far corner of their open area, which happened to be near where we were walking. They were all there for a potty break! One by one, they took turns coming to the edge of a very muddy area, turning their rear ends toward the center of the gooey mud, and peeing and pooping. Then each would stamp as if saying “That’s that,” and run off to their big cave. I was stunned, open-mouthed, amazed. Okay, that was evidently the latrine, but that they all went together and then took turns “using the facilities” blew me away. I did not of course take photos of them, as I would not want pictures of me in a similar situation.

 ImageThe beautiful Fishing Cat, an endangered wild cat, reminded me of my own dear Ellie-cat of blessed memory. The cat crouched in a cave that provided it a viewing station above a pool full of goldfish.The cat, looking a bit larger than a big domestic cat, hunkered and seemed to watch us and the bright fish with about the same level of indifference. Occasionally it even seemed to doze.

I was thrilled to see it because when we’ve been down the Asia Trail before, we never saw the cat. Winter is better.

 Luck is the best thing to have and today we had it. We stood before the enclosure of the Clouded Leopard and watched her gnawing at a big bone. Then she went on alert, ears pricked and eyes intent. She jumped onto a tree branch at the front of her enclosure, evidently watching for something. She’d recognized a keeper’s voice, and knew full well a food treat was approaching. The young keeper’s long lance speared a fish that he held out to her.Image

 

The cat leaped onto the chain link fence, he poked the fish toward her between the links, and she grabbed it and pulled it off the lance. Wow. We saw her be fed three fish, feeling very very lucky to have been there at just the right time.Image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So even if I got the merest glance at the top two inches of Bao Bao’s fur as she slept, I think we had a great day at the zoo!

A Winter-Hater’s November

For me, the year’s four seasons are Spring, Summer, Fall, and I-Hate-Winter. This winter-averse attitude poses a problem even now, in November, because November means winter is just around the corner.Autumn beeches To avoid depression, I resolved a few years ago to play a seasonal adjustment game by looking for good things about fall and winter.

 My favorite trees, the beeches, now look totally made of precious metal, with their golden leaves and silvery trunks. The young ones will keep their leaves during the winter, giving the wind some toast-colored playthings.

 Red mapleHere’s another good thing: the transient glory of our red maple. It is admittedly losing its chlorophyll and will soon be losing its leaves, but oh, it is beautiful now against the clear bright blue of the sky.

 Another good thing that lasts longer is the samaras, or winged seeds, of the box elders. These maple-family trees are somewhat ungainly; they sprout suckers everywhere, branch awkwardly, and have little dignity. Box elder samarasBut when the leaves are gone and the pale fruits hang in their duos, the trees have a ghostly presence that seems to glow.

 Many people would say the best part of November is Thanksgiving, We celebrate the goodness of our lives and the bounty of the harvest with a feast. It’s the one day a year, as Art Buchwald used to say, when all Americans eat as well as the French do every day. A major contributor to the feast is this guy and his kin. Meet Jethro, a handsome dude whose photo I took to accompany an article in Maryland Magazine many years ago.

Jethro Thanks for all the pleasure you give us, Jethro! You showed me how beautiful turkeys are.  I hope you are still strutting your stuff somewhere in Maryland.