A New Year’s Resolution

Yesterday, I retrieved a book from our shelves and found the corners of some pages lightly stained with red. Oops. I know what happened. It’s beef. When I make a batch of meatballs, I prop a book on a stand in front of me so I can read while my hands perform the tedious task of shaping the meat. I turn the pages with careful but meaty fingers. Red stains can result.cooking while reading

I do try. To delay the page‑turnings, I read slowly while my fingers squeeze and roll.

Digression: This enforced contemplative reading suggests a whole new literary category: Books to Shape Meatballs By. Essays and poetry would be the best. Slow reading gives their compressed thoughts time to expand in the mind.

I hope the author wouldn’t be insulted by my activities while reading. I wouldn’t. If a book I’d written so engrossed a reader that she had to keep on reading while she cooked dinner, I’d be flattered.

cooking and listeningDigression: Reading while eating is another way to get food spots on books, and worth the risk. It’s a delightful way to spend a solitary mealtime. What’s better on a day alone than the newspaper with breakfast, a mystery with lunch, and Dickens with dinner?

But as I cleaned those guilty pages, I thought, Okay, here’s a New Year’s Resolution: always and only to listen to recorded books while fixing dinner. IPods forever!  No more meat-stained books!

The Beechen Wood

FullSizeRenderYesterday I walked under the trees in what I call “my beechen wood” for the first time in about two years. My new, reliable, and mostly pain-free knee performed perfectly.  How truly good it felt to be once more amid the beech trees that cluster on the hill above Bel Pre Creek. These giant benign beings, so tall, so silver, always make me happy.

Beechnuts and empty shells littered the old bridge and the ground under the beeches. I picked one up and opened its spiky outer case to reveal the two nuts inside, triangular in their smooth crisp covers. I bit one, mentally apologizing to the squirrels and chipmunks who probably eat most of them. Or maybe it’s the grackles; a huge flock of grackles, more than a hundred birds, congregated under the beeches near the path, snacking and enlivening the woods with their gossip.

Cecily's WoodchuckThe apron of the big woodchuck den, still broad and sandy-pale, was plugged as if no longer in use. Above it on the hill, five more exits attested to a regular “woodchuck warren.” One of the smaller openings came out under a wide stone lintel; another one emerged between roots of a huge old black oak. How lucky I once was to see a young woodchuck peering out at me.

The beauty of the beeches at the crown of the hill refreshed my spirit. My energy revived, dull dailiness turning as bright as the water glinting in the creek below. From the schoolyard near the park, shrill voices of kids on outdoor recess reflected my pleasure in being active outside in fresh autumn air. And when a red-shouldered hawk flew across the creek, my morning in the mystic beauty of the beechen wood was complete.cropped-cecilys-beech-woods.jpg

Cold War With Russia — Again?

Diana gives us some interesting insights into the direction the world might be going and a tip about what might be very important part of our pending Presidential election.

Kiss and Thrill

Since moving to the D.C. area, I’ve become a wonk — yes that is an official term. While it can mean a studious or hardworking person — things I certainly hope I am, it mostly means a person who takes an excessive interest in minor details of political policy. It unofficially means the kind of person — often a female — who likes and remembers all the sticky details of a subject. Said female is often considered boring, overly studious, and generally not sexy in the least little bit.

In other words, a female wonk is the 21st century version of a bluestocking.

So when I was invited last week to Georgetown University to hear Ambassador Linton Brooks talk about the U.S. relationship with Russia, I immediately jumped at the chance.


Being on the Georgetown campus is amazing. I love surrounding myself with all these intent young people who are…

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Field Guides Forever!

Red-tail closeIt’s the longest day of the year, the first day of summer, and a great time to be outdoors. With books. As a curious naturalist, I have field guides in my kitchen, on my desk, in my car and on my phone. Books on birds, dragonflies, grasses, butterflies, birds, trees, mammals, spiders, birds, ferns, flowering plants, non-flowering plants, insects, reptiles, and did I say birds? I love my field guides for their history (I still have some books that belonged to my parents) and for their up-to-date info and detailed pictures and keys that give me a chance to figure out what the heck I’m looking at. Here’s a link to a lovely essay on the joy of field guides by Helen Macdonald, the author of H is for Hawk.


Black-crowned Night-Herons at the National Zoo

On a recent hot June day, Lou and I went to the National Zoo. Besides visiting the usual suspects, we had a good time watching the wild Black-crowned Night Heron colony that roosts in the trees near the Bird House.

Only a few big sloppy nests were still being tended. Many adult birds, handsome in their formal black tail coats and snowy shirt fronts, stood around in heat-induced indolence. 2015-06-11 11.15.17

In contrast, brown-striped juveniles took short flapping flights among the branches. Kids always have more energy!2015-06-11 11.24.15

The zoo even feeds these wild birds. Some of the adults were hanging around the sign that advertised the daily demonstration of this generosity.

2015-06-11 11.33.39 The Black-crowned Night-Herons come back year after year to nest at the National Zoo. Their return is as welcome as that of the buzzards to Hinckley or the swallows to Capistrano, though not as well well-known. May all their flights continue.2015-06-11 11.34.26

Patchwork Memories

Quilt big viewI’ve tried twice to throw it away. It’s my last single-bed patchwork quilt that my grandmother made. This time, I wrapped it around a display shelf I was donating to Purple Heart—doing a good deed and de-cluttering at the same time. The old quilt hasn’t been on a bed in years. It’s nearly my age and very worn: in places, the thin material is shredded. I can’t wash it because the fabric is too fragile. Might as well get it out of the closet.

Quilt big circle My thrifty grandmother cut her patches from colorful feed-sacks. This quilt has an interlocking ring pattern and scalloped edges. When I was a kid, this quilt alternated on my bed with a daisy-patterned one (long since gone). I decided that before sending it to Purple Heart, I’d spread it on our bed and take a photo as a keepsake. After all, I thought, I do still have my crib quilt with the kittens on it and my parents’ double-bed quilt. My grandmother made them all.Quilt Blue Ribbon

Grandmother won a blue ribbon at the 1941 Morgan County Fair for one of her quilts. Years ago I framed that blue ribbon and its envelope (mailed with a one-cent stamp). On the envelope was written “For the prettiest quilt.” Maybe my ring quilt was the one.

I think she would like the way her quilts were used and loved. For me and then for my sons, quilts were way more than bed-coverings. They led a rollicking life, turning chairs into rainy-day caves or making pallets for sleepover guests. Tented on a clothesline and weighted at the corners, they gave the backyard an air of Araby.

While I was pondering these memories, Zeno jumped onto the bed. He padded about as if testing the quilt for feline suitability. He couldn’t know that he is merely the last in a long line of family cats to “make up dough” on this quilt, or to pounce on the toes it covered. The quilt, I saw, still has an affinity for cats.Quilt and Zeno (1)

When he looked up at me with question-marks in his eyes, I made a decision. The shelf gets wrapped in something else. The quilt stays in honorable retirement, with me.

Mark Catesby: the Curious and Ingenious Naturalist

This looks like an interesting addition to our knowledge of one of the early naturalists and explorers who first described the American flora and fauna. Catesby’s artwork is a wonder for his time.


91fyceeC6xLDiana: Editors E. Charles Nelson and David J. Elliott have compiled a book about a man I’d never heard of: Mark Catesby. One of the earliest naturalists, as well as an author and illustrator, Catesby studied the fauna and flora of North America over a seven-year period. He influenced Audubon, Darwin, and the explorers Lewis and Clark. The book, The Curious Mister Catesby, is a treasure and I’m lucky today to have E. Charles Nelson do a guest post telling us more about this intriguing man.

E. Charles Nelson: The natural history of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama islands is undeniably a rare book, and a very remarkable one, too. Its author and illustrator, Mark Catesby produced the book himself beginning soon after he returned to England from South Carolina and the Bahamas sometime in 1726: “The whole was done within my house, and by my own hands …”. He learned…

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Mourning John Rehm

My dear Susan works for “The Diane Rehm Show” but I never knew all this about John Rehm till reading Diana’s tribute. Lovely.


Too many people don’t know who John Rehm was and that’s a great pity. Not that he ever sought the limelight — he was a humble, gracious man who preferred to stay in the shadows and support those who knew how to shine best. He was many things: a D.C. insider, an attorney, an author, a husband and father. He was genius bright with a razor wit and self-deprecating humor. Most of all he was a really good man.

I fell into a teeny sliver of his life, but that sliver will stay with me forever.

One day my husband called me from work. “The employees have been invited to go to the Freer Gallery at lunchtime, would you like to come?” I adore art, so my answer was an immediate yes. I wasn’t an employee, so I figured I’d hang back at the edge of the group and try to blend in. That…

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The Buzzards are Coming! The Buzzards are Coming!

Ready for Buzzard Day? Got your pile of varmint innards ready to welcome the return of the buzzards? Well, no, me neither. In our area, the “buzzards,” aka turkey vultures, stay year-round. However, they do leave Ohio’s colder winters and travel to warmer climes. Hinckley, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, celebrates the vultures’ return with an annual festival on the Sunday closest to March 15, the traditional return date.IMG_1630

In 1989, Lou and I drove to Hinckley and participated in the Buzzard Festival. Lou called it “the biggest bird-walk in the country.” We scanned the state park system’s sandstone ledges, favored by the vultures as breeding sites. We rejoiced to see a few vultures gliding in teetering dihedrals across the spring sky. We enjoyed the pancake breakfast at the local elementary school, bought buzzard memorabilia, and laughed at kids’ drawings of traveling birds (one buzzard had a little suitcase labeled “Hinckley or Bust”). A special treat was meeting Geek, a turkey vulture from the Cleveland Zoo. He stretched his big black wings and allowed us a close-up look at his wrinkled and featherless red head. I wrote a travel article, “Buzzard Daze,” that was published in The Washington Post.

After that article was published, Lou and I enjoyed a short period of being considered vulture experts. We were delighted, as we do appreciate what vultures, nature’s clean-up crew, do for all of us. Shortly after that, on my fiftieth birthday, our friend Mary gave me a stuffed buzzard as a sign I’d become an S.O.B. (Sweet Old Buzzard). I named him Geek in honor of the real Geek. My Geek, a replica of an African vulture, is a charmer who lives on one of our bookcases.

IMG_1631I sold quite a few travel articles to The Post, and often was able to resell a published piece to another newspaper. The “Buzzard Daze” piece was a hard sell, though. No one wanted to reprint it. The editor at the Chicago Tribune even sent me a hand-written rejection. It said, “The Washington Post?? You’re putting me on, surely. Oh well. I’m not one for bird stories whether in San Juan Capistrano or Hinckley, Ohio. When do the bats return to Dracula’s cave?”

Undaunted by snickers or sarcasm, the Hinckley Buzzard Festival continues. This year, it’s on Sunday, March 15. The Hinckley Chamber of Commerce features the festival on their website, http://www.hinckleyohchamber.com. If you decide to go check it out, give the buzzards a special welcome for Lou and me.

A Perfect Pearl

photo 3At the beach, sunrise rewards early risers with a glorious panorama of mother-of-pearl sky and water. Mother-of-pearl: the nacreous pastel shimmer in shells, replicated in gleaming water and glowing sky.

Every sunrise shows us that the sun is the father of us all, the giver of energy. Then isn’t the sun the father-of-pearl?photo 2(1)

But then what is the pearl? The round orb of Earth? No, that’s too simple for something as complex and interconnected as our planet is known to be. Animal, vegetable, and mineral—we are all of the above. If the pearl is our living earth, Gaia, then we are all part of that pearl.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe true pearl, hidden until sought for, is the gem of our consciousness. That consciousness, that intelligent understanding, is, as Carl Sagan said, “a way for the universe to know itself.” We know we evolved here on Earth and could have evolved only here, on this planet in this universe. However, like the tiny piece of grit at the heart of a pearl, the knowledge that we are also Earth’s users and abusers must prod our consciousness.

May we continue to expand our conscious efforts to love and respect the importance of every element of our planet and our part in the universe. When we focus on being Earth’s restorers and guardians, our consciousness will be a true gem. A perfect pearl.