May 25, 2014

Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer by Jane Kenyon

We turned into the drive,
and gravel flew up from the tires
like sparks from a fire.  So much
to be done- the unpacking, the mail
and papers…the grass needed mowing….
We climbed stiffly out of the car.
The shut-off engine ticked as it cooled.

And then we noticed the pear tree,
the limbs so heavy with fruit
they nearly touched the ground.
We went out to the meadow; our steps
made black holes in the grass;
and we each took a pear,
and ate, and were grateful.

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April 30, 2014

I’ve been thinking this week about people who watched me graduate from high school but are no longer here to see me graduate from college.  I treasure the lessons I’ve learned from these three:

KM—who taught me the importance of waking up early, of being true and honest, not just to others but to yourself. And who showed me that if you live each day to the best of your ability, there is no shame in indulging in exorbitant amounts of chocolate.

Jill—who encouraged me to be a better leader in and out of the pool by demonstrating the power of patience and encouragement. And, through the example she set for her sweet, smart, and, now, six year-old son, has continued to teach me the legacy we can leave by the way we love others.

Kris—who taught me all about history and American Studies, who pushed me to work hard when I was discouraged, both in high school and in college, but, above else, lived and died with a grace that I’m still trying to process. I will forever be impressed by his ability to use his mind both as a razor sharp tool of wit and analysis and as a well of wisdom that served to love and inspire others.

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March 16, 2014

Lurid Sky by Yves Tanguy, 1929

The best art exhibits produce two simultaneous reactions: a full appreciation of a network of museums with a focus on providing public access to art, and a distinct understanding of those who go through great lengths to orchestrate a heist simply to be able to observe a work of art in their own home, at their leisure.

“Joseph Cornell and Surrealism,” currently on display at UVA’s Fralin Art Museum is an exhibit that achieves the lofty goal of dueling reactions. The international loan exhibit is focused on the art of American surrealist Joseph Cornell and aims to place his work within the surrealist community by featuring works by Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, and Salvador Dali.

I just recently studied the surrealist movement within the context of modernity in America and it was exciting to have the opportunity to view the works of America’s pioneering surrealists over spring break.  Cornell’s found object pieces and shadow boxes are intricate and mesmerizing—at times dark, at times whimsical.  While I was at the museum, several young children admired Cornell’s celestial collages, some university art students discussed Cornell’s visual work compared to surrealist writers, and a pair of older women chatted about the various found objects in Cornell’s work.  As I stood in front of Yves Tanguy’s “Lurid Sky,” I was struck with gratitude for the partnership between the Fralin and the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, whose collaboration made the exhibit possible, and the location of a free art museum in my community.  And, at the same time, I wanted to take “Lurid Sky” home with me, hang it in my kitchen, and stare at it while I wash dishes.

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March 5, 2014

Been listening to this song over the past week.  And trying to follow the wise advice in the lyrics - to be still.

The world’s not forgiving
Of everyone’s fears.
The days turn into months, the months turn into years.
So just for the moment, let’s be still.


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February 16, 2014

Hanging On.

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February 5, 2014

February has always been my least favorite month, and not because of any particular event or holiday, but because it just seems to contain the dreariest 28 days of the year.  Perhaps it has to do with the weather, or maybe because it is a time when life slows down but it is still bitterly cold.  Maybe it has to do with the landscape—autumn is a time when trees and plants are actively dying in a process that is beautiful to watch, yet in February everything is static and dead.  But I think it goes beyond the weather or the stationary spindly trees, there is just a hazy bleak fog that hangs over February and seems to smother small daily joys.  Margaret Atwood called it the “month of despair” and Malcolm X even predicted his own assassination in February.  I think seasonally and have always organized my thoughts and goals with the Gregorian calendar and lunar cycles in mind.  This year, however, I have decided to approach February with the goal to “reclaim” it.  Margaret Atwood ends her “February” poem with the line, “Get rid of death.  Celebrate increase.  Make it be spring.”

N and I made our own spring on the first of February by pursuing the sun eastward on I-40, leaving the last snowy week of January in the rearview mirror.  We had the most refreshing weekend—enjoying the soft warmth of the beach, a yoga class with an alt-J and Iron and Wine soundtrack, lovely meals with her parents.  I returned ready to seize the rest of February, although my goals for the month are terrifyingly adult with only 26 days remaining to achieve them: finish writing my thesis, apply for jobs, find a place to live, eat protein at least once a day, make it be spring.

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January 28, 2014

Pete Seeger   May 3, 1919 - January 27, 2014


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January 20, 2014

it is fun to bake, and then eat, the same cupcakes as your sister—even if you are 200 miles apart

This weekend:
Mast Brothers chocolate cupcakes, NC edition
evening runs through this beautiful town
crock pot dinners
thesis writing
potted daffodils for our windowsill
pumpkin bread
light lilac fingernails

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January 13, 2014

Two folks in this family received the new Mast Brothers cookbook for Christmas.  No worries, though, because the recipients live in different states.  Plus, it is not possible to have too many cookbooks or chocolate recipes.  Miss F tried the chocolate cupcakes last night and we have no complaints about this recipe.  We’ve also heard rave reviews for the chocolate gingersnaps.  We might try those next.

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January 7, 2014

“When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, ‘What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?’
‘They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,’ Pa said. ‘Go to sleep, now.’

But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’

She was glad that the cozy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

A new year and with it so many moments to enjoy as “now.”  Striving for a 2014 spent in the warmth of the present.

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November 19, 2013

Saturday I attended my very first marathon.  It was held in Richmond and had a record number of runners with 19,629 folks registered (this number includes those who ran the half marathon and the 8K).  My oldest sometimes reminds me of Longfellow’s quote, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.”  And, I appreciate the reminders to look at others with fresh eyes and recognize that I do not know their stories.  In that sea of nearly 20,000 runners, I knew two people:  my husband and a neighbor (a very fast one!).  At the 26 mile mark I stood next to an older man wearing a cap stating that he was a veteran.  Beside me for nearly an hour in the chilly drizzling rain, he cheered for everyone who passed by.  He had something encouraging to say to all the runners whether they were sprinting the last half mile or limping.  He clapped just as loudly for the woman sporting the Wonder Woman costume as he did for the guy struggling with a cramp in his thigh.  I kept waiting for him to get more excited for the one person he had come to see and wondered if it would be his son or maybe his daughter.  Finally an older woman walked up and put her arm on his elbow and asked if he was ready to leave.  He nodded yes and they shuffled off.  Apparently he had come to watch and cheer for everyone! 

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November 7, 2013

Hooded tombstone figure at Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.

We got a tad bit lost while running an errand in Richmond on Tuesday.  It was a good thing too, because we finally found and got to visit Hollywood Cemetery.  The graveyard was dedicated in June 1849 and sits on a hill overlooking falls in the James River.  The two men who purchased the original 42 acre property hired an architect from Philadelphia to create a “natural” memorial park.  It really is a lovely and peaceful setting.  Oddly, the Richmond community at first fought the plan for the cemetery.  Neighbors thought it would lower their property values and others felt it was dangerous to situate it just above the city water works.  The organizers eventually ceded the property closest to the water works to the city and then were able to proceed.  Later, in 1858, when President James Monroe was buried at Hollywood, everybody stopped complaining.  In fact lot sales boomed once folks realized they could be buried with a President!  President John Tyler is also interred there.

In addition to two US presidents, Hollywood Cemetery is also the final resting place of Jefferson Davis, Jeb Stuart, Lewis Ginter (his tomb includes three stained glass windows designed by Tiffany) and John Randolph of Roanoke.

We were fascinated by all the ornate tombstones.  The detail art and carvings of the older stones and the wordings on the epitaphs are intriguing.  Some are over the top (in words and decorations) while others are so simple they do not even include a name or date.

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November 4, 2013

Happy happy birthday!

Thank you for teaching me to enjoy every moment, no matter how ordinary, and to share that joy with others.  Wishing you lots of hugs, precious panda cam moments, and chocolate today!  xoxo

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October 27, 2013

A wise and thoughtful relative recently wrote me that October is unique among other months in that it focuses him on the preciousness of each moment as it passes.  I have found this to be true this month and so it was no surprise to me that the best parts of my research trip to Birmingham were also the stillest, quietest moments.

I was extremely fortunate to travel to Alabama over fall break with two wonderful new friends, one of whom grew up in Birmingham.  I am very grateful to have shared four days of laughter, introspection, and the new The Head and the Heart album on repeat with them.

While visiting the popular Civil Rights Movement memorials was both a valuable and productive experience, visiting the street Virgil Ware grew up on was the most powerful moment of my research.  Two middle school aged boys played basketball in a gravel driveway and farther down the road, an older man stood on a ladder, cleaning sludge out of his gutters.  Virgil’s life is commemorated by a simple, bent sign surrounded by discarded McDonald’s cups and, unbelievably, several cacti.  The neighborhood was so serene that it was easy to imagine James Ware coasting down the gentle curve of the hill, Virgil perched on his handlebars as the two left home to deliver newspapers.  It was also heartbreakingly easy to imagine the community in a state of mourning, to picture the little church in the middle of the neighborhood holding a prayer vigil and organizing efforts to deliver casseroles and pies to the Ware family, as if filling one’s stomach with warm food was a cure to melting the cold knot that would have formed the second they got word that Virgil had been shot, that he had died in his teenaged brother’s arms. 

Molly, my friend from Birmingham who was the most amazing tour guide,  drove me one afternoon to a neighborhood that was perhaps the polar opposite of Virgil’s, full of metal gates and sophisticated security systems.  We didn’t see any children playing near the road, but she led me through a stranger’s backyard to a hill that overlooks the entire city (I apologize, citizen of Birmingham, for slipping through your gate, but the view was too grand to pass by). Birmingham is a city of contrasts, rooted in tragedy but growing in reconciliation, and from where we stood we could see physical contrasts of industrial development and green park space.  Virgil’s story is not one that is taught in public schools, but he was recently honored with a plaque in Birmingham’s City Hall and his neighborhood has dedicated his former street to his memory.  Homicide is the leading cause of death for young American black men and it is rare for the vast majority of them to be mentioned in a newspaper, let alone honored with a plaque or a street sign.  With the city of Birmingham spread out before me, my heart ached not just for Virgil, Emmett, Medgar, Martin, Trayvon, and their families, but also for all of those whose deaths have been marked only by the empty spaces they left behind, in school desks, places of employment, city buses, church pews, and quiet city streets.

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October 17, 2013

We had the pleasure of watching Patrick Dougherty create one of his “stickwork” sculptures here on the grounds of the University of Virginia.  He completed it yesterday.  It is made from tree saplings and should last for two years.  Mr. Dougherty graduated from UNC in 1967. 

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October 10, 2013

At 25 acres Liberty Mills is Virginia’s largest corn maze.

Saturday we completed the largest corn maze in the state.  This is a real feat as it was surprisingly over ninety degrees.  It was cloudy and rained half the day yesterday and today is overcast as well.  So, we are feeling thankful we went on Saturday and got to enjoy the sunshine.  A special thanks to the cheery and clever Liberty Mills employee who carried bottles of ice water into the maze.

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October 1, 2013

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Things I’m looking forward to in October:
1) the feeling of a warm mug of tea cupped in my palms
2) wool socks, new jeans, old sweaters, and clomping around in boots
3) squash soup
4) all the events on campus for Relationship Violence Awareness Month
5) picking apples
6) outdoor music festivals
7) watching the Blue Ridge Mountains turn red and orange
8) meals with new friends and bike rides with old friends
9) seeing Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt in concert
10) Miss F turning 12 years old (how did that happen??)

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October 1, 2013

Hello October!

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September 18, 2013

September light and the books we are reading now.

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September 15, 2013

Fifty years ago today, six children in Birmingham lost their lives to violent acts of hatred.

Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair were in Sunday School when they died due to an act of domestic terrorism.

Johnny Robinson was murdered by Birmingham police in an act of unjust brutality.

Thirteen year old Virgil Ware was on a bike ride with his brother when he was murdered in a drive-by shooting by a sixteen year old white boy who had just left a segregationist rally.

Each act is both heinous and tragic, yet Virgil Ware’s death has touched my heart especially in the past month.  Fifty years ago today, our country was a place that taught a child to murder another child based on his physical appearance.  His murderer was a kid, a kid who had just become an Eagle Scout and in doing so had sworn to “duty to God and country, duty to others, and duty to self,” a kid who was told to hate his neighbor and then handed a gun.

As the always sage Nanci Griffith sings, “It’s a hard life wherever you go/If we poison our children with hatred/then the hard life is all that they’ll know.”

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September 14, 2013

I spent part of this week culling through old newspapers from 1963, gathering research for my thesis.  One of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my research is observing the way bigotry and hatred infiltrated the media in the early 1960s.  Looking back fifty years later, historians are confident they have pieced together an accurate account of the events of the Civil Rights Movement, but newspapers and TV reports at the time rarely reported accurately, particularly in the South.  When there were reports about acts of violence and injustice against African-Americans, reporters often tried to justify the tragedies by fabricating acts of violence perpetrated by African-Americans.

I love the research I’m getting to do and am trying to find a way I can make a living essentially reading about the Civil Rights Movement.  When a friend of mine sent me an article earlier this week that said that special edition Beanie Babies were worth thousands of dollars, I got excited.  I owned only a few Beanie Babies in elementary school, but I remembered winning a special edition Princess Diana memorial Beanie Baby at an elementary school fundraising event.  The bear is purple, which is why it appealed to me in the first place.  My serious case of eldest child syndrome meant that I never removed the bear’s tags, which featured a short memorial poem, and I rarely played with the bear in a way that would dirty its fur or crumple its tags.  The article said that the Princes Diana Beanie Baby was selling for an exorbitant amount of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

My friend also owns several special edition Beanie Babies, and for a whole day, we were lost in the dream of selling our stuffed animals for massive amounts of cash.  Gone was the low hanging cloud of anxiety over post-grad plans.  I could pay for my siblings to go to college, I could take some time off after graduation just to listen to NPR pieces and read about civil rights efforts in the Camelot era. 

It wasn’t until the next day, when we had time to do a little non academic research ourselves, that we realized people were listing their collectibles on sites like eBay for large sums of money, but in fact the toys were selling for only about thirty dollars.  I wasn’t disappointed; I had thought that the article was too good to be true.  However, the Beanie Baby incident was a lesson in applying my thesis research to my own life and evaluating sources before jumping to conclusions.

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August 24, 2013

It is good to be back.


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August 18, 2013

Back to School

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July 30, 2013

Our fish had babies!  We had nine fish for several years and at the end of last summer we had a visit from a blue heron who ate all but two.  We weren’t sure if we were left with two males, two females or a pair that could mate.  We bought one more fish and added him or her to the pond to increase our chances that the population would grow.  We have at least six baby fish now.  There are three adults and three babies in this photo.  Do you see all of them?  One of the babies is completely black so he (or she) is hard to spot.

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July 22, 2013

detail of Siletz dress

It seems like months, rather than just weeks ago, that I took the Greyhound up to DC. My visit coincided with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, one of my favorite annual celebrations of culture.  I loved talking to a regalia maker from the Siletz tribe about the dress she made from items found along the US Pacific coast.  One of the focuses of the festival was on disappearing languages, including the Siletz Dee-Ni language, and it was a testament to the importance of oral history collections.  When languages die out, traditions, culinary practices, clothing styles, ceremonies, and other cultural components often disappear as well.

I could have spent an entire week at the festival but I only had a few days off from work and was fortunate enough to spend one of them in a precious house on the Chesapeake Bay with some dear friends of mine.  We spent the most idyllic of mornings alternating between the dock and a rowboat.  In the afternoon, we took a ferry to Oxford, Maryland where we ate rich ice cream, waded in the Bay, and admired the beach homes along the water.

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July 11, 2013

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July 7, 2013


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July 5, 2013

July 4th Fireworks

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”  -Anne of Green Gables

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June 25, 2013

The man in the gold shirt is my uncle KM.  He died on May 5th at just 69 years of age.  This picture is taken in my maternal grandmother’s front yard.  She lived in a small brick house surrounded by farmland.  KM and my aunt had their wedding reception in that house and were married for 44 years.  KM loved to meet people and visit with them, which I guess is what he is doing in this picture.  He loved to listen and talk and tease others.  He always had a twinkle in his eye and a jaunt to his step.  He was a skilled farmer, a successful salesman, a brilliant businessman, a devoted husband, father, son and brother as well as a doting grandfather.  He was also a fun uncle.  Always thinking and usually working, he used to say the day was half over by 9:00 am.  He remained direct and honest; choosing wisely and consistently considering others. He impressed everyone and kept us focused and entertained.  He was a true Virginia gentleman.  He and I shared a love of chocolate, reading and family.  We miss him.

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June 13, 2013

I would choose a close up shot of a pale blue fabric with metallic gold tigers embroidered on it for the cover of this book, if it were up to me.

Over twenty-five years ago while skimming a People magazine in a dentist office waiting room, I first read about Nanci Griffith.  If I had not purchased Lone Star State of Mind on the recommendation of a brief review in that magazine all those years ago, then I might have missed out on more than a few remarkable live concerts and hours of listening to Nanci in my home and on numerous road trips.  All this is to say that, yes, I admit I do occasionally read celebrity magazines and even follow the recommendations in them.  Last month while waiting for my two oldest offspring to donate blood I flipped through Oprah magazine for the first time and read a review of Tigers in Red Weather.  I promptly checked the book out on my next visit to Gordon Avenue Library.  Liza Klaussmann’s first book is a saga set after the war in the mid forties and continues to the late sixties.  Told from the viewpoint of five different characters the story deals with family, romance, loss of innocence, trust and secrets.  I love the descriptions of the life at the shore (both in Florida and New England) during that time period.  One of the best parts about the book is Klaussmann’s ability to construct a suspenseful plot, with some disturbing and unsettling twists, so no more details in an effort not to spoil the experience for others.

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