Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Poem for Wednesday and Ellicott City B&O

A Spring View
By Tu Fu
Translated by Witter Bynner

Though a country be sundered, hills and rivers endure;
And spring comes green again to trees and grasses
Where petals have been shed like tears
And lonely birds have sung their grief.
...After the war-fires of three months,
One message from home is worth a ton of gold.
...I stroke my white hair. It has grown too thin
To hold the hairpins any more.


Had it not been for my eyeglasses, I would have had a perfectly nice day. I did laundry in the morning while my father played tennis with Adam, then he took both my kids out to lunch and I got some other chores done. In the afternoon while Daniel went over college material since we're going to visit some schools in and near Philadelphia this weekend, I took Adam out to get a new inner tube for his bike tire and new Rollerblades, since the plastic back on one of his old ones had cracked. Unfortunately, I went first to Lenscrafters to drop off my old glasses to have the finally-arrived, presumably-correct lenses put in, and after I picked them up on the way home and we had frozen yogurt in the mall -- I told Adam that we'd run into my mom there, and I was right -- I put them on at home to see how well I could read with them and discovered that I was just as blind as I had been wearing progressives.

Went back to Lenscrafters for the third time that day; they showed me reading glasses that didn't have my astigmatism prescription but had the right magnification, and I couldn't use them either. They want me to talk to my doctor because based on how I read with no glasses at all, with my distance glasses, and with my old glasses (which it turns out were the same prescription as my distance glasses -- neither the doctor nor the Lenscrafters techs noticed this), they think the new prescription is much, much more powerful than I actually need and is obviously doing more harm than good. The only good to come out of this is that I have my $500+ back -- both for the reading glasses which have never enabled me to read, and for the distance glasses which I now know I didn't need because the pair I've had for the past two years has the identical lenses. Arrrgh.

Evening: meatless sloppy joes for dinner, a bite of chocolate cheesecake for dessert (nope, not keeping Passover all week -- that much matzah and I start praying to destroyer goddesses to end the world), then A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on cable because Zero Mostel plus ridiculously young Michael Crawford make many things better even if the plot rivals Gigi in sexism. Hopefully my blood pressure is now low enough to sleep! I got some resolution, at least, on a misunderstanding with an old friend that distracted me for much of the weekend, so that's good news.

Buildings high over the rocks of Ellicott City.

The Tiber running under the Tea on the Tiber tearoom's rear balcony.

My kids next to The Pioneer, built in 1830 as one of the B&O Railroad's earliest passenger cars. It was pulled by horses.

The home within the station of the manager of the freight.

One of the restored offices/lounges in the passenger area of the station.

A miniature railroad model of the Thomas Viaduct, the first curved multi-span masonry railroad bridge in the U.S., the world's largest bridge of its kind.

Adam at the rear of the caboose...

...from which there are terrific views uphill of the town.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poem for Tuesday and Passover

By Matthew Dickman

Oh, fire—you burn me! Ed is singing
behind the smoke and coals, his wife near him, the rest of us
below the stars
swimming above Washington state,
burning through themselves, he's like an Appalachian Prince
Henry with his banjo
and whiskey. The court surrounding him and the deer
off in the dark hills like the French, terrified
but in love and hungry.
I'm burning all the time. My pockets full of matches
and lighters, the blue smoke
crawling out like a skinny ghost from between my lips.
My lungs on fire, the wings
of them falling from the open sky. The tops of Michelle's long hands
looked like the beautiful coats
leopards have, covered in dark spots. All the cigarettes she would light
and then smash out, her eyes
the color of hair spray, cloudy and stingy
and gone, but beautiful! She carried her hands around
like two terrible letters of introduction. I never understood
who could have opened them, read them aloud,
and still thrown her onto a bed, still walked into the street she was, still
lit what little fuse she had left. Oh, fire—
you burn me. My sister and I and Southern Comfort
making us singe and spark, the family
ash all around us, the way she is beautiful to me in her singular blaze,
my brain lighting up, my tongue
like a monk in wartime, awash in orange silk and flames.
The first time I ever crushed a handful of codeine into its universe
of powdered pink, the last time
I felt the tangy aspirin drip of ecstasy down my throat,
the car losing control, the sound of momentum, this earth is not standing
still, oh, falling elevator—
you keep me, oh, graveyard—
you have been so patient, ticking away, smoldering—
you grenade. Oh, fire,
the first time I ever took a drink I was doused with gasoline,
that little ember perking up inside me, flashing, beginning to glow and climb.


From this week's New Yorker.

The day before Passover started, we knew we were going to pick up Paul's younger brother Jon in the late afternoon for the seder, so the kids and I had a fairly quiet morning at home -- particularly quiet since older son slept till nearly noon -- before leaving after lunch and going to National Harbor, which we had seen only from the car the day before. We parked in one of the big garages and walked down to the water, stopping at the standing stones that have been put up around the community (which includes hotels, condos, restaurants, and a lot of retail space, much of which is still empty. It's gorgeous, though -- right on the Potomac River, looking out at the reconstructed Wilson Bridge and the Alexandria skyline with the Masonic memorial to George Washington.

We walked down to see the sculpture moved from Hains Point, The Awakening, and discovered that the first Peeps Store in the U.S. had opened on the waterfront, selling chocolate-covered peeps, glass peeps, stuffed peeps, and a "candy bar" with various flavors of Mike & Ike's as well as many colors of traditional marshmallow peeps and bunnies. Then we went to Ben & Jerry's (which was having a three-scoops-for-$3 happy hour special) and ate it while walking to the Gaylord National Hotel, where we went to see the beautiful 18-story glass atrium full of gardens, fountains, and little shops in Alexandria-style houses. Then we found Jon and headed to the seder at my parents' where we were met by Paul and Jon's parents plus friends of the family. I ate an unholy amount -- salad, matzoh balls in veggie soup, non-chicken piccata, carrot souffle, a potato pancake, applesauce, macaroons, chocolate roll -- and everything was delicious, plus we had lots of interesting conversations when we could hear one another over my kids!

The head and hands of The Awakening on the shore of the Potomac River at National Harbor.

Beneath menacing National Harbor eagles, the Peeps Store...

...where Paul was surrounded by total cuteness.

This is the stone circle near the entrance drive to National Harbor. There are also megaliths scattered throughout the buildings in grassy areas.

The Gaylord National Hotel has cherry blossoms blooming outside its enormous greenhouse atrium...

...with an indoor stream flowing through it, winding up in this waterfall...

...which can be switched to erupt in geysers instead.

My family and guests at the seder, after dessert, before the afikoman.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Poem for Passover and Ellicott City

Gabriel, Age Two, Opens the Door for Elijah
By Sanford Pinsker

My grandson gazes at the seder plate from his position
far down the table, waves his little hands in my direction,
And says, on cue and as he had practiced, "Ma zot?"
Hebrew for "What is all this?" Next year he might know
the Four Questions but for now, Ma zot is sufficient,
and we set about answering him.
True, we took a few liberties with the seder's order,
Gabriel opened the door for Elijah before the meal
In case he got cranky and his mother had to put him down.
For the record, Elijah didn't come this year,
Nor did he drink from the glass near Gabriel's plate.
But I swear I felt the prophet's presence
in the angelic face of my grandson. Both are harbingers
of that better world all of us so desperately need.


From the April 2008 edition of Jewish Magazine.

We spent Sunday in Ellicott City with Paul's parents and youngest brother, Jon, who is in town for a conference for work. We walked across the bridge over the Tiber and met them at The Rumor Mill, a fusion restaurant with lots of tapas and small plates including plenty of vegetarian choices -- I had pear & ginger salad and tofu tempura with plum sauce, both of which were absolutely delicious. From there we walked to Ellicott City's branch of the B&O Railroad Museum, which resides primarily in the former freight house and station, plus the freight shed and what's left of the old roundhouse. The museum is a history of the town of Ellicott's Mills and how the railroad grew up with it and vice versa; at present it also has an exhibit on the election of 1860, including the chance to cast a sample ballot, though more of our group could not vote (on account of being female or underage) than could.

After going to see the historic caboose and the model train layout of the city leading to Baltimore in the old freight shed -- there were workers on the freight tracks outside, but no trains were running due to a derailment last week -- we walked to The Forget-Me-Not Factory, a fabulous emporium of fantasy art, fairies, pirates, holiday villages, and lots of bubble-blowing devices (including a man dressed as the White Rabbit blowing bubbles out front). They have Josephine Wall and Nemesis Now items -- two designers I love but whose decorations are much more expensive here than the U.K. -- and lots and lots of wizard and Renfaire garb. After that, we walked a bit around the town, which is famous for its antique stores and art galleries, though we spent more time in the wonderful chocolate shop Sweet Cascades, which has such awesome items as crab chocolates (milk chocolate with Old Bay seasoning) and chocolate-covered jalapenos (which Adam ate).

Clair and Cinda had brought birthday cake for Paul since they weren't here for his actual birthday, so we ate that in the back of their truck which was parked near the train museum. Then we took Jon to the Gaylord National Hotel at National Harbor, where his business meetings take place -- we'll pick him up Monday before the seder -- and drove home through a section of I-95 in Virginia where every mile of the road is under construction. Tonight we've been watching Biblical Mysteries Explained on the Science Channel -- first "Lost Gospels" (one of my favorite subjects, how a diverse and wildly varying set of documents were codified into early Catholicism) and now "Exodus" (which has theories on how the Ten Plagues could have happened naturally -- we haven't gotten to the Red Sea parting yet).

Paul and his family on the first floor of the train museum in Ellicott City.

Clair at the ticket office with a museum staffer in period costume.

Adam sitting in the 1927 caboose.

The Rumor Mill Restaurant, where we had lunch...

...and Sweet Cascades, where we had chocolate (though I only had a bite of chocolate-covered brownie, not jalapeno).

Paul modeling mystical glasses in the Forget-Me-Not Factory...

...which is quite possibly my favorite store in the U.S., perhaps tied with Next Millennium in Omaha.

Everyone gathered around the back of the truck for birthday cake.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Poem for Sunday and Port Discovery

Passover Matzah
By Marge Piercy

Flat you are as a door mat
and as homely.
No crust, no glaze, you lack
a cosmetic glow.
You break with a snap.
You are dry as a twig
split from an oak
in midwinter.
You are bumpy as a mud basin
in a drought.
Square as a slab of pavement,
you have no inside
to hide raisins or seeds.
You are pale as the full moon
pocked with craters.

What we see is what we get
honest, plain, dry
shining with nostalgia
as if baked with light
instead of heat.
The bread of flight and haste
In the mouth you
promise, home.


From Piercy's The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme.

For this month, since the Maryland Zoo was unable to open on time due to damage from the snow, we were able to get into Port Discovery children's museum in Baltimore, and even though our kids outgrew it more than five years ago, three of the four of us wanted to return for nostalgia's sake (Thing One went grudgingly and walked around looking agonizingly bored the entire time). It's one of many places where I never really took photos because I'd only just discovered digital photography and I always assumed we'd go back eventually...there are lots of things I used to do with my kids that I'd have spent more time enjoying, the last time, had I had any way of knowing that it would be the last time while it was happening.

Thing Two climbed on the big Kidworks structure in the middle, though he's too tall to fit through a lot of the tubes and tunnels now. He said it's not as much fun as the St. Louis City Museum, upon which it is evidently modeled, but he enjoyed it anyway, as well as Miss Perception's Mystery House where the rooms are all out of proportion -- he compared it to being in a Tim Burton movie. We also went to the Adventure Expedition to ancient Egypt, which starts with a manufactured bazaar, then goes into a manufactured tomb. My kids were amused at the kids who were scared of both the tomb and the dark tunnel under the "kitchen sink" in the Mystery House.

We couldn't decide whether to go visit the historic ships in the Inner Harbor -- we're members of the museum -- or go to Harborplace first to get ice cream for older son, who appeared to be greatly beleaguered by being dragged around. On the way to Harborplace, which won out, we spotted Michael Rosman -- the Squire of the Wire from the Maryland Renaissance Festival -- setting up to perform in the amphitheater, and since we all love his Renfaire routine, we sat down to watch. It was his first show of the season and he confessed that he had forgotten his bowling ball so he couldn't do his most spectacular juggling stunt, but he juggled on a rocking surface and on a unicycle, plus did Cirque du Soleil parodies and jokes at the expense of audience members (falling off unicycle into women's laps, getting men to help him fix his wedgie, etc.) We came home for Masala tofu and dal makhani, plus Gigi on TCM (spectacular sets and costumes, enjoyable songs that I've known since childhood, appalling storyline that lacks Colette's biting irony).

Adam visits the Egyptian tomb in Port Discovery...

...and makes a rubbing of a hieroglyphic bird.

The massive central climbing structure of the museum...

...even has its own Mount Rushmore.

Here is Adam at the very top of the Kidworks construction.

The very popular Curious George was visiting the museum in conjunction with an exhibit on being curious about science...

...but I only got a photo with the cardboard version on the rocket.

Michael Rosman rides a unicycle with the USS Constellation behind him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Poem for Saturday and Little Lambs

The Lambs of Grasmere, 1860
By Christina Rossetti

The upland flocks grew starved and thinned;
Their shepherds scarce could feed the lambs
Whose milkless mothers butted them,
Or who were orphaned of their dams.
The lambs athirst for mother's milk
Filled all the place with piteous sounds:
Their mothers' bones made white for miles
The pastureless wet pasture grounds.

Day after day, night after night,
From lamb to lamb the shepherds went,
With teapots for the bleating mouths
Instead of nature's nourishment.
The little shivering gaping things
Soon knew the step that brought them aid,
And fondled the protecting hand,
And rubbed it with a woolly head.

Then, as the days waxed on to weeks,
It was a pretty sight to see
These lambs with frisky heads and tails
Skipping and leaping on the lea,
Bleating in tender, trustful tones,
Resting on rocky crag or mound.
And following the beloved feet
That once had sought for them and found.

These very shepherds of their flocks,
These loving lambs so meek to please,
Are worthy of recording words
And honour in their due degrees:
So I might live a hundred years,
And roam from strand to foreign strand,
Yet not forget this flooded spring
And scarce-saved lambs of Westmoreland.


I got up very early Friday to take Adam to the orthodontist, where he got his upper braces removed and there was much rejoicing, though there will be even more next week when the lower ones are removed as well. We were there for a long time, with a hysterical little boy sobbing in the waiting area and then the dentist's chair for nearly an hour. After I took son to school and stopped to get him the mouthwash the orthodontist recommended, I had lunch and spent the afternoon working on a review of Next Gen's "Ship in a Bottle", which I don't think is as good a review as the one I wrote of its prequel, "Elementary, Dear Data," but I think it does get across why I think the episode is so fantastic.

The Friday Five: Just Stuff
1. Which of your country's leaders (past or present) would you like to have a chance to sit down and talk to?
Thomas Jefferson.
2. What job would you never want to have to do? Apart from the obvious (cleaning public school toilets), I don't think I could work for the ACLU and defend the rights of neo-Nazis, the Klan, people who publish images of animals being tortured, etc.
3. How many kids do you have and what are their ages? If you don't have kids, do you think you want any down the road? If so, how many? I have two teenage boys.
4. Do you have a "blankie" or a favorite stuffed animal? What is it/what does it look like? I have had a rabbit called Big Bunny that's actually only about a foot tall or so, that lives at my parents' house these days.
5. What is your favorite flower? Roses -- unlike orchids, I'm not allergic to any of them.

Fannish5: Name the five most loving fictional moms.
I feel like I'm supposed to include Lily Evans Potter since she OMG DIED for her child, but I think sometimes it's braver to live for your child -- or, as in the case of Ellen Ripley, for a child who's not even yours.
1. Sarah Connor, Terminator II
2. Niki Sanders, Heroes
3. Jackie Tyler, Doctor Who
4. Morticia Addams, The Addams Family
5. Marge Simpson, The Simpsons

We had dinner with my parents -- the carnivores had chicken parmesan while Adam and I had excellent vegan Moroccan chicken, plus we all had some of the cheesecake that Daniel was selling as a chorus fundraiser. We've spent much of the evening watching Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans on TCM, and although the former is older, I think the latter is even more cheesy -- the effects are marginally better but the costumes and acting are beyond hilarious. Here are a few more photos of the lambs at Mount Vernon, since they are adorable:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Poem for Friday and Orchids

Sandy Hook
By Meghan O'Rourke

The fire burned my cousin here.
First in his bed in the bungalow garage.
Then at the lock, scratching in fear.
Quick, quick. The trundle bed
burned. The violin, unpracticed, burned.
The keys of the body, burned. Yellow, red,
the turning leaves. The burning
thing, ablaze, a living shroud: smoke, air, bone,
a licking; then the carbonite no one looks at twice.
The instrument, delinquent with disuse.
Outside, the hooks of the waves twist
and desist, twist and insist,
like coats hung out beneath
the snailing clouds to dry.


Hufflepants and I met for Greenberry frozen yogurt at the mall, browsed a bit in Hot Topic (too much Justin Bieber), Brighton (no new mini-spacers), and Bath & Body Works (I have plenty at home), then we came back to my house so I could give her some of my extra body spritzes and ended up watching The Princess and the Frog since she hadn't seen it and it's in my Disney Top Five. Then I took younger son to tennis, took a walk since it was gorgeous and flowers are in bloom in the neighborhood, and finished cleaning out my closet -- today it was t-shirts, of which I simply own too many (anyone want any XL Voyager cast, "I Wish I Knew How To Quit You," or well-used kids' size Harry Potter shirts with logos and stuff that you could probably cut off and repurpose for crafts, let me know).

We had leftover stir-fry and penne with ricotta and zucchini for dinner (still yummy), then watched FlashForward, which I liked better than last week despite the lack of Olivia -- I love Janis, I've been predicting since I think the second episode that Demetri would father her baby and I stand by that -- Zoey, who is really pissing me off (if she were a man and he were a woman and there was this little paternalistic respect for the other's wishes in evidence, I'd find it outrageous, and it's no better with the roles reversed) may get to cry with his parents at the memorial service, but I think Janis will be having his baby and that's one reason she's so emotional at the sonogram, and I can't help rooting for Lloyd in the competition for Olivia because I haven't seen a lot of evidence that Mark cares about anyone more than Mark, though I think it would be awesome if it turned out they all misinterpreted their visions and it's actually Mark and Lloyd who end up together, or better yet all three of them.

Then we watched Next Gen's "Ship in a Bottle" which I need to review on Friday, and both kids paid attention, just as they did watching "Chain of Command" two weeks ago; often when we put things on the TV I feel like they're only barely watching, but they were actually talking about the episode in their Gmail statuses and blogs, so they must have really liked it. Yay! Here are some orchids from Brookside's orchid sale last weekend and from the greenhouses a few weeks earlier:

Bye-bye Syracuse! And farewell Robert Culp.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Poem for Thursday and Brookside Color

Violets, Time, and Motherhood
By Aaron Belz

One night I lay musing, among violets.
Suddenly it struck me that I was asleep.
In this sleep I saw a number of shapes.
The first of these was a woman weeping.
It might have been a woman sleeping,
or maybe it was a mother praying.
Suddenly it struck me that I was awake,
and I was standing in a room full of doors,
and they were the doors of perception,
and they were not only closed but locked.
I, wakefully, tried to twist each knob.
It struck me that the violets had been
a dream, and that I was probably dead.
So I sat in a chair and hung my head,
not for sorrow, or slumber, but to pray.
And I noticed my children gathered there,
my fruit, my issue, standing together,
and the doors swung open one by one.
One night I lay awake in a music of voices.
It all came to me suddenly, and so I ran
far from the madness, and into a field.
Thorns tore my legs, I panted for air.
I slumped in exhaustion, fell asleep there.
And in my sleeping, began to dream,
and all around me were those violets.


Wednesday was Paul's birthday, but he had a phone conference scheduled straight through lunchtime, so we agreed we'd do with his birthday lunch over spring break what we did with mine over winter break and take the kids with us out for Indian buffet, which they love. I had plans to get things done outside the house, but I spent the entire morning fighting with Google Docs, which has decided that I am not allowed to upload any more documents even though I don't have anywhere near 5000 in the account. Then I went to sort the clothes I had put away at the back of younger son's closet -- I thought there were just a few pairs of jeans that haven't fit me in a few years -- and I discovered that I still had maternity clothes which I thought I'd given away years ago, the dresses I wore to my sister's rehearsal dinner and cousin's wedding, High Holy Days services before I had children, and lots of jackets from the '80s -- I could tell at once from the size of the shoulder pads.

Sorting the clothes themselves would not have been a problem, but I didn't realize that they were all that was holding up my husband's massive comic book collection and keeping it from avalanching all over the closet. So guess what happened when I tugged out the hideous poofy size six skirt that fortunately will never again fit me in this lifetime? After several hours of stuffing clothing into bags for VVA and restacking comics, magazines, graphic novels, and the occasional Doctor Who magazine from the '80s -- assisted by Paul when he got home -- the closet is much more organized and I have large bags of clothing covering every size I have worn since I was 18. (If anyone is looking for anything I might have, let me know, it's all in good shape and some of the dressier things have only been worn once or twice!)

"Goldilocks" by Seth Goldstein and Paula Stone, made from vines of Oriental bittersweet, a non-native invasive plant.

Wheaton Regional Park's labyrinth.

While I walked the labyrinth, Adam sat among the cypress knobs.

The gardens are already colorful, though spring has been slow arriving.

There are spring peepers in the ponds...

...and resident ducks as well as Canada geese...

...and, as I may have mentioned, lots and lots of turtles.

I am so happy that spring is finally here!

We had pizza for dinner (Paul's choice) and watched the Ian McKellen-Judi Dench Macbeth on ancient videotape -- it was filmed in the late 1970s -- and it was terrific, a very spare production with minimal costuming, almost no props and no sets at all to speak of. McKellen is terrific; Dench is very good but I wish the production made Lady Macbeth's motivations a bit more clear (I've seen versions where she's purely, nastily ambitious, which makes her later breakdown a bit odd unless it's triggered by her fears about her husband instead of her morals; I've seen versions where the throne is a substitute for the babies she had who didn't live; I've seen productions where she thinks her husband wants to be king and is just trying to do what she thinks he needs from her; I'm not entirely clear what's going on in this Lady Macbeth's head). Still, the witches are very strong and I loved seeing young Roger Rees as Malcolm.