Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poem for Sunday and National Postal Museum

The Blizzard of 2010
By Linda Pastan

After the power was out
for four days
the temperature indoors
continued to fall,
though so gradually
they hardly noticed at first--
like the frog in the kettle
of previously cold water
who doesn't realize
he's being boiled alive.
After the last log
had collapsed
in a pyrotechnic display
of embers fading to ash,
and the glossy leaves
of the orchids, the lemon
had started to wilt
on their faithless stems,
they lay down together
unable to move, pinned
by the weight of their blankets
and afghans and quilts,
the pile of their winter
coats. And though
they were too cold
to sleep, they dreamed
about those unassuming days
when their garden-- now
a mausoleum of snow and ice--
warmed them in ecstatic
flames of blossom.


"The snow that buried the Washington area this February was only 'quiet' in the literal sense. Without heat, light, water, phone or stove, I felt like a character in "Castaway" or like a mountain climber stranded on the slopes," writes Pastan in Poet's Choice, who adds that she often writes poems in her head to distract herself during difficult events. "So 'The Blizzard of 2010' was largely written in my head as I lay beneath all those blankets and coats, waiting...for a snow plow to come and rescue me. I am still waiting for the temperature to rise enough to rescue the garden." Pastan's new book Traveling Light will be released in 2011; her 2008 book is Queen of a Rainy Country.

We have not seen my husband's parents for weeks despite having had plans with them due to the aforementioned snow that covered both DC and Hanover. So they came down today when it was time for lunch, which Paul provided -- buckwheat pancakes, veggie sausages, eggs -- then we headed downtown to the National Postal Museum, which is right near Union Station and part of the Smithsonian, housed in the same building as the National Capitol Post Office. My father-in-law collects stamps, so we figured it was a good belated birthday outing. The museum is bigger than I was expecting and really interesting, with exhibits on American history and the role of the mail, the role of the post office in fighting crime, postage art from around the world, and assorted delivery vehicles from sleds to carriages to airplanes.

A mail plane in the large central exhibit of the National Postal Museum, which also has mail trucks through the decades.

My kids and in-laws with the model horses that pull a historic mail coach behind them.

Stamps from Franklin Roosevelt's private collection. He had been interested in stamp collecting as a child and when he was president he had WPA workers design many stamps featuring national parks and national history.

Misprinted stamps, which in some cases are worth far more than the correct versions.

There is a postal train car in the central exhibit beneath the planes.

A caricature of a Mulready envelope, the much-reviled, elaborately ornamented two-penny mailer sold in the UK in the 1840s.

Most of the exhibits feature primarily US postal stamps, but there is a room with an old vault door displaying hundreds of international stamps.

After the museum, my father-in-law got his birthday cake.

When we left the museum, we came back to our house, where Paul made veggie cassoulet and served lactose-free German chocolate cake for dessert, since his father can't have milk products. My mother-in-law has been spending a lot of time researching her genealogy, so we showed them a bit of the Faces of America episode in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr. traces Meryl Streep's and Stephen Colbert's early Pennsylvania roots, since she has Quaker and Lutheran relatives from roughly the same areas. We'll see them again in a few weeks when Paul's brother Jon is in town for business and I promised to record the rest of the episodes for them. After they left, we watched the Olympics hoping for skating exhibition but getting mostly bobsledding -- I'm glad the U.S. won another gold, but I feel ripped off that we didn't get to see any of the pairs skating and the focus was so much on Americans and Canadians. Davis and White totally get props for skating to Chris Cornell's version of "Billie Jean" though!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Poem for Saturday and Snowy Washington

The Last Songbird
By Brian Barker

We heard you once, here on earth,
                        singing from the icy turrets at dawn
            as the tarry wind whipped skyward & you swooped

from steeple to balcony to wire, over the hospital
                        where a pink glow pulsed in one window
            like the gummy heart of a mole

that burrows from the center of darkness,
                        from the center of stone & clay
            where your song went to perish, how in the end

it already sounded so distant, like the whispers
                        of a dying poet trapped inside a glass jar,
            or the sharp gasp of a ghost

bleeding through the radio in an apartment
                        where the ceiling kept coughing up
            a fine, stinging snow of asbestos

& we opened the door & heard an explosion
                        & we opened the door & the day
            was rubbing its forehead raw in the scalded parking lot

while someone’s mother wept, looking for her lost keys,
                        oh bird, what secrets we could confess
            if only you would hold still, but you keep punishing us

by darting into the gaping mouth of oblivion,
                        you keep punishing us, shy thing,
            by turning into a brittle leaf, or by leaping from the edge

of our sight into the cauldron of smoke roiling
                        beneath the bridge, punishing us in our dreams
            where you drift & pirouette in the makeshift air,

where you fly in reverse & sing so sweetly
                        that the batik of blood creeping
            over the sidewalk effervesces & recedes, flowing

backwards, & we wake remembering
                        our dead & the bright caf├ęs
            & how we used to whistle a little crooked tune

over the sounds of the morning traffic, calling you
                        down to lift us off the ground a bit
            & bludgeon us with your song.


Barker's The Animal Gospels won the Tupelo Press Editors' Prize.

My kids had a half-day of school, but Adam broke a bracket on his braces last night after dinner, so as soon as he got home I had to rush him out to the orthodontist to get it repaired. I had already had an aggravating morning, having been hassled by someone I had considered an online friend about failing to support her game-playing sufficiently (sometimes I have this odd thing, an offline life, that does not permit me to devote myself fully to Facebook games), and then having the orthodontist's receptionist gripe and snap at me about how she really couldn't fit us in, even though she had also told me that Adam HAD to come in and have the bracket repaired RIGHT AWAY or it might affect the date for the removal of his braces. So it was actually a relief to come home and work on a review of "A Fistful of Datas".

The Friday Five: Reading
1. What's your favorite magazine?
I should say Smithsonian or National Geographic, but in truth it's probably British Heritage.
2. What book are you currently reading? The Book of Love by Kathleen McGowan.
3. What's the worst book you ever read? I'm sure it was something I didn't finish. Of books I did finish, I was enormously disappointed with Milan Kundera's Immortality, which got rave reviews but I thought was sexist garbage.
4. What makes a book perfect for you? It uses language beautifully and doesn't go on too long or show off.
5. If you could buy any book right now, which one would it be? The Swan Thieves.

Fannish5: 5 jobs you could see a character have besides the one they already have. Oh, I'll do Severus Snape.
1. Chef. This one has always seemed so obvious to me that when I used it in a story, I was afraid I would be told it had already been done ten million times, but in fact I was told that all Snape-as-cook stories were obvious ripoffs of a story in which Snape works in fast food.
2. Chemist. This one seems even more obvious -- he'd have to pass as a Muggle, but he could teach if he wanted or work strictly in pharmaceuticals if he wanted (legal or illegal).
3. International Spy. I don't actually think he enjoys this sort of work but he clearly has skill at it.
4. Carnival Psychic. He's a Leglimens -- he'd only need to stare into your eyes and he could do a fine job telling you what's on your mind.
5. Criminal Mastermind. "Everyone knows it's the Dark Arts he fancies."

We had dinner with my parents -- Cumberland Chicken has been one of my favorite things, and tonight I had Cumberland Non-chicken, which was excellent -- then watched Smallville, which I enjoyed mostly for the hotness between Chloe and Oliver, Lois kicking ass briefly before she was inevitably knocked out, and Zod finally gaining the capacity to be a super-villain, though I really disliked the horror-movie setup and the hardcore ick factor. I enjoyed all the speed skating in tonight's Olympics coverage, was very happy for Reutter, thought Ohno's disqualification in the 500m was fair though was glad the US men's relay team pulled out the bronze medal. Heartfelt condolences to the Koenig family -- I can't imagine there are many things worse than losing a child the way they lost Andrew. Here are some more photos from downtown last weekend:

The National Mall was covered in snow, making the white monuments and Capitol look very dramatic.

Even so, it was warm enough for the National Museum of the American Indian to have its fountains running.

It was strangely quiet, though, with nobody throwing a Frisbee or football or flying a kite. I wonder whether skiing on the Mall was banned because we didn't see anyone trying it, or even tracks.

The mallard ducks are year-round residents and appeared to have found some grass and a pond...

...while the starlings were creating bird baths wherever they found appropriate puddles.

The fact that the water must have been very cold did not appear to bother them.

Though there were also plenty of birds picking up dropped popcorn around the popcorn truck outside the National Museum of Natural History. (I wonder who banded some of the birds?)

A photo taken out the window of my car as we got onto I-395 of the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument in snow.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Poem for Friday and Sculpture Garden

Rural Spring Poem
By Nicky Beer

A thrasher in the linden
cobbles an aubade from thrushes, jays,
doorslams, donkeycall, thunderclap.

The azaleas hold fistfuls of bee-sodden paper.
Out here, gunshots sound whimsical, or bored.

The new colt, still creased and kinked as an unfolded shirt,
has four comically outsized knees,
shotputs weighting him to the earth, a cool dream
above which he'd spent months
trussed and dangling.

I want to shrug out of the year,
hang it on a branch like a truant,
and float out into the deepest part of this hour,
forgetful as a fish.

I would like to wear the warm mask the sun hands me,
let my face recede into my skin like old, unstable ink.

But the sleek eggs yield blind razors
and the dogwood cannot stop
its terrible pink thoughts.


Beer's 2010 book is The Diminishing House.

I'm watching the women's skating long program as I'm typing this so I'll keep it short. Nothing very exciting happened today, anyway -- I organized the shelves under my desk in anticipation of getting a new desktop computer, which I know sounds like something that should have taken twenty minutes, but actually took hours and I still have a box of Lady Pendragon and Promethea comics that have to be put somewhere else. I watched the Trek episode I need to review tomorrow ("A Fistful of Datas," heh). Plus Superpoke released a Star Trek habitat, an Avatar habitat, a comics store habitat, and a fairy castle habitat, so I spent a bit of time clearing out older habitats to make room for my penguin's new items.

Quickly re: skating -- I am thrilled for Joannie Rochette, I can't even imagine what her week has been like. I thought Kim Yu-Na skated beautifully, though I don't know if I'd go as far as NBC did and declare it the greatest performance by a woman skater ever. I wish Mao Asada would have smiled -- she landed her jumps, her footwork was excellent, she was simply up against a flawless performance. And I must admit that I found Mirai Nagasu's performance to be the most exciting of the evening by a long stretch, even if she isn't quite at their level yet.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Poem for Thursday and Hothouse Flowers

Nature Rarer Uses Yellow
By Emily Dickinson

Nature rarer uses yellow
Than another hue;
Saves she all of that for sunsets--
Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman,
Yellow she affords
Only scantly and selectly,
Like a lover's words.


The big news around here is that 1) apparently we will not be having another snowpocalypse, since the weather forecast has changed to a half inch of snow overnight on our side of the state, and 2) Adam is getting his braces off in six weeks -- he had an orthodontist appointment in the afternoon, although it was a verrrry long appointment because they had to take x-rays (we were there for an hour and a half, during which I went to visit the Hallmark store and hair care store -- any recommendations for shampoo/conditioner for very curly but fragile increasingly middle-aged hair?). Adam will have to wear a retainer for the foreseeable future, but as he pointed out, a retainer can be removed for popcorn, gummi bears, etc. He was very responsible about using the case the last time he had a retainer, so this ought to be a nice change for him.

We watched Faces of America after dinner -- homemade pad thai and coconut curry -- which was yet again terrific. Gates explored Eva Longoria's family history, which is amazing, a third great-grandfather who was a citizen of five countries (Spain, Mexico, Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States) without ever leaving his Rio Grande town, on land he inherited from an ancestor who received a land grant from the King of Spain. He also tracked down a volume recording dozens of generations of Yo Yo Ma's family in China, reprinted in traditional style after the original was repaired. And he traced Meryl Streep's and Stephen Colbert's families to early Pennsylvania Dutch families, from which my mother-in-law is also descended on her mother's side. Daniel would be jazzed to learn that he was related to Colbert.

As for the Olympics, I loved watching the women's bobsled with the Canadian and US women going 1-2-3, and I felt really badly for Julia Mancuso -- I don't understand why they didn't give her more time before making her start over after Vonn's fall got her flagged off the course. And I am horrified by what happened at Sea World, though sadly not all that surprised; Adam didn't even want to see Shamu when we were there because orcas eat penguins, but Daniel insisted. If they're going to train killer whales, why do they not keep tranquilizer guns within easy reach of trainers during shows? More orchids from the US Botanic Garden:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Poem for Wednesday and Brookside Gardens

Preachers Warn
By Charles Simic

This peaceful world of ours is ready for destruction—
And still the sun shines, the sparrows come
Each morning to the bakery for crumbs.
Next door, two men deliver a bed for a pair of newlyweds
And stop to admire a bicycle chained to a parking meter.
Its owner is making lunch for his ailing grandmother.
He heats the soup and serves it to her in a bowl.

The windows are open, there's a warm breeze.
The young trees on our street are delirious to have leaves.
Italian opera is on the radio, the volume too high.
Brevi e tristi giorni visse, a baritone sings.
Everyone up and down our block can hear him.
Something about the days that remain for us to enjoy
Being few and sad. Not today, Maestro Verdi!

At the hairdresser's a girl leaps out of a chair,
Her blond hair bouncing off her bare shoulders
As she runs out the door in her high heels.
"I must be off," says the handsome boy to his grandmother.
His bicycle is where he left it.
He rides it casually through the heavy traffic
His white shirttails fluttering behind him
Long after everyone else has come to a sudden stop.


My morning and afternoon were pretty uneventful -- folded four loads of laundry, answered a bunch of mail I'd let slip while distracted by the Olympics -- I know I'm way behind on answering comments, sorry! Had leftover Mount Vernon peanut soup for lunch, argued about the absolutely infuriating Utah law that could get a woman imprisoned for years if she goes horseback riding while pregnant and has a miscarriage deemed to be a direct result. Had dinner with Gblvr, again at Tara Thai since it's always good and it's convenient, and it also leaves us near Target so we can go look at stuff, which tonight was spring clothing, St. Patrick's Day socks, and food (I had to get milk and butter before Snowpocalypse III, which is supposed to hit Thursday and make me scream).

It's going to be a flower week -- here are some from Brookside Gardens' conservatory over the weekend:

I wanted to get home in time for the women's short program, which, as it turns out, NBC didn't bother with till around 10 p.m., so I needn't have hurried. I was really, really glad Joannie Rochette skated so well and also glad that she didn't end up in first place -- she doesn't need two days of pressure feeling like she has everything to lose, I would think it would be much better for her to have two days of really working to prepare to kick ass in the long program. Rachel Flatt looked very energetic but not as sophisticated as Miki Asada or Kim Yu-Na -- I was so happy to see Brian Orser there with her! Ando didn't look as good, but I thought the standings were fair enough. Now I just hope we're not buried under snow again when we watch the long program.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Poem for Tuesday and Orchids

Dream IV
By Gerald Stern

I am so laden I grieve at 3 A.M.
over two parking spaces I could have claimed
or am fully frightened in a basement room choosing
a Nobel laureate among the nine Israelis
upstairs, especially when their phone call says
you don't have anything to be frightened of; nor would
I choose a Jubu, nor would I choose someone
with a ring in her tongue for it says in Numbers that
tin coated with silver is against the law
of mixing metals, such as we can't cook peppers
in a steel pot for steel is what we put
in a horse's mouth and what we make swords of
by dipping iron in oxide in the first place,
though it was no accident deliberately tipping wood
or fusing, as they did, Jewish and German
genius and German and Jewish chemicals
underground, and in the desert, I say fuck you
to fusion and I say let them fight with iron,
better with bronze, or better yet with wood,
or air, oh let them fight with air, drop air
from B100s, consider it, Kissinger.


From this week's New Yorker.

I had a fairly unexciting Monday -- went to the Container Store to get boxes with drawers and spent a lot of the afternoon reorganizing in my bedroom -- jewelry in the drawers, boxes on top of the bookcases, Star Trek books that had been there in bags to be given away to various people. Now my bedroom looks marginally less cluttered -- meaning it only looks cluttered, as opposed to my basement which looks terrifying. For dinner Paul decided that in honor of George Washington's birthday, we should eat what George would have eaten, so for dinner he made peanut soup, spoon bread with honey, and mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, which were served together at a feast at Mount Vernon where the menu was documented; we skipped the Virginia ham with oyster sauce. Happy Birthday George! Here are some orchids from the US Botanic Garden, from whose front door one can see the Washington Monument downtown:

I was all set to root for Davis/White to win the ice dancing gold medal, particularly when they came out skating to Phantom -- I first heard Michael Crawford sing because of ice dance, when he was doing Barnum in London (I'd had the Jim Dale recording from New York) and Torvill and Dean skated to that music -- but Virtue/Moir were absolutely gorgeous, graceful and passionate, so it's fine with me that they got the gold. I was hoping that Belbin/Agosto would manage to get the bronze, but I must admit the Russians skated beautifully (I know he was injured for a lot of the season), and Belbin could not have been more gracious in defeat; certain other Russians could take a lesson from her. The most moving moment of the evening, though, might have been Kevin Pearce's mother and brother talking about his snowboarding injury and how living in a family with a child with Down's Syndrome has taught them to count small blessings.

And in case anyone needs to know, tomorrow is free pancake day at IHOP!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Poem for Monday and Maple Sugar Festival

By Maxine Chernoff

     "A crack in everything God has made."

The sweet
               the bitter
               the lamb
the boar
                climate and soil
morose ruffian
                with pretty sons
horse/running man
fish/swimming man
         infractions of love
and equity
              as memory
holds    a life
          by force
of will


The ship date for the robotics regional competition is Tuesday, so Daniel had another long day working on the robot. After the play day on Saturday, it sounds like they're more confident about how theirs compares to other local teams, though schools from parts of the US not crippled by snow may be far ahead of everyone on the east coast this season. Meanwhile, we took Adam to Brookside Nature Center's Maple Sugar Festival, which I think he's pretty much outgrown but he didn't complain about seeing the animals inside the nature center and we figured the free pancakes and syrup might placate him anyway. There are always plenty of adults who are there just for the food, not to see the historic cabin where the pancakes are cooked over a hearth fire or to learn about the taps on the trees. We walked a bit on the trails and visited the conservatory and visitor center, where there were lots of colorful flowers -- in the latter because they were preparing for an afternoon wedding.

The Maple Sugar Festival takes place every year in and around the log cabin in the woods behind Brookside Nature Center.

This year the taps on the trees had to be placed above the snow line.

Volunteers explained how the sap is collected from the trees...

...and how it is boiled down to produce syrup.

Visitors could sample maple sap...

...and maple syrup on silver dollar pancakes, both the homemade kind produced in the park and the commercial kind from Maine.

Local birds who have had to contend with snow-covered ground for weeks appeared very appreciative of the bird feeders.

Paul took this photo of me and Adam in Brookside's conservatory.

I have no strong feelings about Bode Miller and -- sacrilege, I know -- I haven't really been watching hockey, so while I am pleased to hear that the U.S. team seems to be doing nicely, I have no idea how well they've played. My interest tonight naturally was in the original dance, though I must confess that not a single program really grabbed me (except for "Hava Nagila" on ice, which just delighted me, though the Israelis' skating wasn't up to the level of the top pairs). I was pretty underwhelmed by Samuelson and Bates doing lots of grinning and arm-waving instead of interpreting the Dixie Chicks, but then Delobel and Schoenfelder were so out of sync that I was pissed off they finished higher. Even if one doesn't loathe their costumes and dance, Domnina and Shabalin were not skating their best, whereas both Davis/White and Virtue/Moir looked very good but left me sort of meh, and Belbin/Agosto didn't have quite the precision but I enjoyed their energy. I still haven't caught up on all the rules changes, clearly: it's all right to use props now in the original dance, I guess, hats and castanets and handkerchiefs?