Sunday, October 31, 2010

Poem for Halloween and Autumn Parks

All Souls' Night, 1917
By Hortense King Flexner

You heap the logs and try to fill
The little room with words and cheer,
But silent feet are on the hill,
Across the window veiled eyes peer.
The hosts of lovers, young in death,
Go seeking down the world to-night,
Remembering faces, warmth and breath—
And they shall seek till it is light.
Then let the white-flaked logs burn low,
Lest those who drift before the storm
See gladness on our hearth and know
There is no flame can make them warm.


We went to bed last night not sure whether we were getting up early and going to the Rally For Sanity and/or Fear -- the kids were ambivalent about being out dawn till dusk, Paul was ambivalent about the crowds, and I wasn't feeling very well (the only disadvantage I've experienced from ten months of vegetarianism is cyclical anemia, and I was feeling really draggy on Friday, even worse on Saturday). So we ended up watching it from home while eating eggnog waffles and scrambled eggs with peppers...while part of me was sorry not to be there when Ozzy came marching on stage, another part of me was just as happy not to be worrying about how to get back through the throng from the port-a-potties midway through the rally. Things I loved: the musical "Train Wreck" with Yusuf Islam, Ozzy Osbourne, and the O'Jays; Stewart and Colbert's interpretation of Star Trek's "The Corbomite Maneuver" (hahaha they are bigger nerds than some of my friends); John Oliver's interpretation of Peter Pan; the Reasonableness Awards; Stewart's speech. And I discovered that John Legend is a graduate of my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, which of course makes me happy. Otherwise I was ambivalent about the musical guests and don't feel like I missed much not getting to do The Wave, so I'm not deeply sorry I wasn't there in person. I am much sorrier that I never managed to connect with two friends who are in the area for the rally, though from talking to a couple of people downtown, I'm not sure how easily we'd have found each other even if I'd been in the city.

Instead, in the afternoon, we went to Brookside Gardens at Wheaton Regional Park, which was having a chrysanthemum show in the conservatory and had its own fall color on display outdoors. There are still many roses in bloom at this time of year, and though the geese seem to have wandered off -- I'm not sure any of the Canada geese in this area actually migrate -- there were still turtles and koi enjoying the afternoon sun. We also stopped at Meadowside Nature Center, where we hiked by Rock Creek and visited the raptors (younger son and I are a bit concerned because the eagle seemed very agitated and was very vocal, and when we looked at our photos afterward, it looked like there was a bleeding wound on his wing; the nature center itself was already closed when we left and will be closed tomorrow, so I hope whoever feeds the eagle can take care of this). It was dinnertime when we headed home and Paul mentioned that we weren't far from Cici's Pizza, so I rolled my eyes, checked to see whether Bagel City next door was still open, and went and got a cinnamon raisin bagel with walnut spread while the rest of the family had pizza buffet. The Maryland Terrapins had a huge win over Wake Forest, but we didn't see any of it; instead we got to see Duke beat Navy while at dinner, bah!

Brookside Gardens had gorgeous color outdoors, where the trees are in full autumn glory...

...and indoors at the chrysanthemum show.

Part of the gardens were roped off for a wedding.

Despite the cool weather, this turtle was sunning itself on a rock in the pond.

Here I am by the bird of paradise plant in the conservatory.

Though the nature center was closed, we visited the raptors at Meadowside Nature Center, all of which live in large outdoor cages since they have disabilities that prevent them from living in the wild.

Here is a photo of the sky over Rockville Pike at dinnertime, just because it's spectacular...

...and here, in honor of the rally, are our jack-o-lanterns, carved from patterns Paul found on the internet.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Poem for Saturday, 'Thine Own Self,' More Zoo

By Donna Hilbert

I never wore white shoes
before memorial Day
or suede in summer.
I crossed my legs
primly at my ankle,
wore a panty girdle
and a full-length slip,
no shadow of body
apparent through my dress.
I knew better than
to crackle gum,
or walk down the street
cigarette dangling
from my mouth,
knew better than
to pierce my ears,
like some common girl.
Still, his mother
rooted out the tell-tale
signs, traces of a family
line who worked for wages
in "mediocre" jobs.
The day after
we'd spent the night together
and got caught,
he came to my apartment
with a deck of cards
that he spread across
the kitchen table,
saying Mother says
I have to teach you bridge
so we'll have something in common.
He arranged the cards
in suits to demonstrate
their ranking,
clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades,
saying spades are the boss
trump, outrank everything,


From Hilbert's 1999 book Transforming Matter.

I slept later than I meant to because the temperature dropped overnight and I wound up with one cat pinning down my left leg, another cat pinning down my right arm, and everyone too warm to want to move. (See Robin Wood's Theory of Cat Gravity if you do not have a cat and don't understand the phenomenon.) Eventually I hauled myself downstairs, wrote a review of "Thine Own Self", did some research on the relative merits of the Kindle and Nook (opinions welcome -- my Facebook friends are heavily in favor of the Kindle), and took care of various chores.

Adam started his job as a dog-walker and Daniel was glum because his girlfriend broke her foot. Daniel also had the whole family in hysterics by announcing, "I don't think I inherited any intelligence" when disgusted with us at dinnertime -- far be it from us to argue (Adam labeled this an elephantine failure, which I believe is even worse than an epic failure). I didn't walk as much as I did on Thursday, though I did manage a couple of miles before we went to my parents' for dinner.

We had Asian food -- I had relatively low sodium tofu pad thai -- then came home for Smallville, which I loved until (spoilers) Clark's decision to let Lois cast him as a god instead of trying to break the crazy cult of its warped belief in the supernatural; if they hadn't all been arrested (and are they going to charge every single person in the town?) they'd just reform the cult around a new god, and those kids will be screwed up forever. That ruined an episode that made me really happy in every other way -- the creepy "Lottery" town, Lex's ongoing obsession with Clark "he promised we'd always be friends and our friendship would be the stuff of legend"), and Lois on top when she and Clark finally go to bed together! Sanctuary, too, was really enjoyable this week, since you all know I like it when Kate kicks ass and I really had no idea where the creature was...I was sure it was the old lady, then the guy who got shot, and then when we knew there was a villain I expected it to be the guy who worked in the bank.

These photos are all from July at the Maryland Zoo. Here, an Addra gazelle seems determined to carry a log much longer than it is.

The rhinoceroses try to stay in the shade out of the heat.

The lion has a similar plan.

And you can see how warm the ostriches look, though the zebras don't seem to mind the sun as much.

The chimpanzees have both indoor and outdoor enclosures so they can move between them.

The zoo has baby warthogs that are kept off display part of the day for observation and quiet time. One of the parents looked unhappy to be kept outside.

The East African crowned cranes keep near the water when it is very hot out.

This is not an African animal, but the zoo has no Central American region yet is involved in breeding Panamanian golden frogs since they are critically endangered. They live in rainforests, so the zoo keeps them in the Chimpanzee Forest exhibit.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Poem for Friday and Maryland Zoo's Africa

Memorials of a Tour in Scotland, 1803
XIV: Fly, Some Kind Harbinger, To Grasmere-Dale!
By William Wordsworth

Fly, some kind Harbinger, to Grasmere-dale!
Say that we come, and come by this day's light;
Fly upon swiftest wing round field and height,
But chiefly let one Cottage hear the tale;
There let a mystery of joy prevail,
The kitten frolic, like a gamesome sprite,
And Rover whine, as at a second sight
Of near-approaching good that shall not fail:
And from that Infant's face let joy appear;
Yea, let our Mary's one companion child--
That hath her six weeks' solitude beguiled
With intimations manifold and dear,
While we have wandered over wood and wild--
Smile on his Mother now with bolder cheer.


Thursday was probably the last ridiculously warm gorgeous October day -- we're supposed to drop 20 degrees tomorrow -- so I didn't get a lot done but I did take two long walks in a neighborhood whose sidewalks are increasingly covered by yellow tulip poplar and brown oak leaves with some red maple mixed in. One of my neighbors stopped by to offer Adam a job walking her two big dogs after school every day -- he'll soon be making more money a week than I am and be able to buy himself some of the camera equipment and software he wants -- so we chatted for a while, and I visited with another neighbor later in the day while she was out working on her Halloween decorations. (Ours are going to be very simple -- jack-o-lanterns, giant fake spiderweb, candles!)

I actually enjoyed $#*! My Dad Says this week -- far fewer gratuitous gay jokes, just Henry being hot for the male real estate guy, and I snickered at the main plot because my father always jokingly warned me not to write a Neil Simon-style play about him which is essentially what Henry does (well, a $1000 article, which is awfully cheap to sell out one's relatives). I enjoyed Nikita far more, though -- it makes me so happy that so many of the stories are focused on women and their experiences, and thus far they haven't bumped any off gratuitously the way I feared might happen this week. I'd bet anything that Nikita's murdered lover isn't really dead at all -- he's probably secretly running Section -- and now that the show has a full season order, I want to meet him.

A stork in the Africa region at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore.

A sleepy leopard enjoys the sun.

There are many other birds, including guineafowl who share the meadow with various antelope.

This is a photo of the okapi at the zoo in July. One of them died later in the summer and now there is just one left.

The sitatunga apparently prefer to eat the vines that grow near the walkway than the food set out in in their enclosure.

I am always pleased to see wild animals living in a zoo. Near the penguins, there's a pond with many frogs like this one.

This chipmunk had snuck into the warthog enclosure...

...and this snake was just outside the giraffe house.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Poem for Thursday and Mountain Autumn

To a Butterfly
By James Merrill

Already in midsummer
I miss your feet and fur.
Poor simple creature that you were,
What have you become!

Your slender person curled
About an apple twig
Rebounding to the winds' clear jig
Gave up the world

In favor of obscene
Gray matter, rode that ark
Until (as at the chance remark
Of Father Sheen)

Shining awake to slough
Your old life. And soon four
Dapper stained glass windows bore
You up--Enough.

Goodness, how tired one grows
Just looking through a prism:
Allegory, symbolism.
I've tried, Lord knows,

To keep from seeing double,
Blushed for whenever I did,
Prayed like a boy my cheek be hid
By manly stubble.

I caught you in a net
And first pierced your disguise
How many years ago? Time flies,
I am not yet

Proof against rigmarole.
Those frail wings, those antennae!
The day you hover without any
Tincture of soul,

Red monarch, swallowtail,
Will be the day my own
Wiles gather dust. Each will have flown
The other's jail.


Gblvr and I met for lunch and bead shopping on yet another unseasonably warm October afternoon. It rained on and off all morning and we were under a tornado watch for most of the day, though my county didn't get the heavy storms and wind damage that hit north and east of us, so I just had to contend with some rain while driving and walking around Kentlands, which I didn't mind all that much because it wasn't the least bit chilly and it made the leaves look even more colorful and shiny. We ate at Moby Dick House of Kabob, which I had thought was Caspian House of Kabob but no big deal, then went to Bead Attitudes and Kentlands Candles & Gifts -- the former is a serious beading store with classes and lots of high-end beads, the latter carrying pretty much no candles these days but thousands of inexpensive, wonderful craft beads where for under $10 I got eight Pandora knock-offs, a pair of lampwork glass turtles, some cloisonne owls, and a few other beads. We also went to Michael's (I figured I should get some tools and earring wires to see if I can make my own) and stopped in the vintage store Lipstick Lounge.

The view north from the summit of South Mountain at Washington Monument State Park.

It was a rather hazy afternoon but we could see the circling biplane very clearly.

The trees were more orange atop High Knob in Gambrill State Park.

I have photos of my kids climbing on these rocks at Gambrill each year since they were very young. I can't believe the older one will be at college this time next year!

These trees are at an overlook above the city of Frederick that served as a Civil War lookout.

Wildflowers were still blooming there and we saw lots of grasshoppers, crickets, butterflies, and moths.

The sun was already starting to set when we got to the ruins at Gathland.

And here is a photo of the sow and one of her piglets at South Mountain Creamery, because OMG CUTE PIGGY.

Paul had discovered that it was Navy Day, so he made navy bean soup for dinner, which we had with some of the cheese we bought at South Mountain Creamery over the weekend. Older son was working on college applications and younger son was working on his blog but we all watched Undercovers together...I keep seeing predictions that NBC will axe it soon because the ratings aren't great, which makes me very sad, but I'm also frustrated because while I love the cast and the premise of the show, the spy plots are really dumb and predictable (can someone please explain to me why for instance the CIA can't make up a credible threat other than the actual, undisclosable crisis -- "There's an Al Qaeda bomb in the fireplace!" -- so they have legal access to an art director's office instead of having to sneak around?). In better news I did learn today that Nikita has been picked up for the full season, yay! We watched enough of the World Series to know that the Giants were blowing out the Rangers in an embarrassing manner, and now we are watching Obama on The Daily Show sounding more defensive than I wish he would; there's a time for making speeches and a time for reaching out, even Huckabee knows that when he's talking to Jon Stewart.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poem for Wednesday, 'Secret Garden' & Prairie Dogs

Great Sleeps I Have Known
By Robin Becker

Once in a cradle in Norway folded
like Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir
as a ship in full sail transported the dead to Valhalla

Once on a mountain in Taos after making love
in my thirties the decade of turquoise and silver

After your brother walked into the Atlantic
to scatter your mothers ashes his khakis soaked
to the knees his shirtsleeves blowing

At the top of the cottage in a thunderstorm
once or twice each summer covetous of my solitude

Immediately following lunch
against circadian rhythms, once
in a bunk bed in a dormitory in the White Mountains

Once in a hollow tree in Wyoming
A snow squall blew in the guide said tie up your horses

The last night in the Katmandu guest house
where I saw a bird fly from a monk's mouth
a consolidated sleep of East and West

Once on a horsehair mattress two feet thick
I woke up singing
as in the apocryphal story of my birth
at Temple University Hospital

On the mesa with the burrowing owls
on the mesa with the prairie dogs

Willing to be lucky
I ran the perimeter road in my sleep
entrained to the cycles of light and dark
Sometimes my dead sister visited my dreams

Once on the beach in New Jersey
after the turtles deposited their eggs
before my parents grew old, nocturnal


It was very warm and humid for late October on Tuesday so I spent as much of the day outside as possible -- though rain had been forecast, it never fell beyond a drizzle, so by the time I took Adam to tennis in the afternoon, the woods smelled like damp leaves without actually being wet or the ground slippery and it was glorious to be out walking among the falling leaves. There's less red than previous years because of the lack of late summer rainfall but the tulip trees are turning yellow quite late in the season; I like it when the fall color lasts past Halloween!

Otherwise, I did some writing and some editing, and my major chore was folding laundry which ended up being pure delight since I put on Agnieszka Holland's The Secret Garden, having realized that I'd never managed to see it before. What a beautiful movie, both in terms of adapting the story (I haven't read it in probably three decades -- I know some changes were made -- I will confess that I always identified more with Sara Crewe of A Little Princess) and the production values of the film (Fountains Abbey! Maggie Smith!). I need to watch it again with Adam since there are animals in nearly every scene of the second half of the film -- robins, fawns, lambs, goslings, bunnies!

We all watched "The Rocky Horror Glee Show," though I think parts of it were lost on the kids since we've never shown them The Rocky Horror Picture Show, less out of concern that it's not appropriate for high school students than out of fear of being ridiculed as epic failures which often happens when we show the kids things we think are hilarious...Adam didn't even laugh at "I'm Tired" from Blazing Saddles, and Daniel was more interested tonight in Dean of Invention, the new show about Dean Kamen, who started the FIRST Robotics competition. Have some photos of prairie dogs from the Maryland Zoo on Saturday:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poem for Tuesday, Johns Hopkins, SW Holiday Special

Under a Certain Little Star
By Wislawa Szymborska
Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
My apologies to necessity in case I'm mistaken.
Don't be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
May the dead forgive me that their memory's but a flicker.
My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
My apologies to large questions for small answers.
Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
Soul, don't blame me that I've got you so seldom.
My apologies to everything that I can't be everywhere.
My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
since I am my own obstacle.
Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
and then labor to make them light.


This will be quick because Jon Stewart (in my city for a week of Indecision 2010 coverage before the rally next weekend) is making me laugh too hard to type, which Dementordelta did earlier while she was here with the Star Wars holiday special earlier. First, though, we went Halloween shopping -- at A.C. Moore, World Market, and the temporary Halloween store in between them, followed by a fabulous lunch at La Madeleine which is in the same shopping center (I had tomato soup, pasta salad, and the best spinach quiche ever), then at Claire's, Hot Topic, Torrid, Bath & Body Works, and the temporary Halloween store at the mall (where I was very virtuous mostly because I had coupons for so many freebies at B&BW that I didn't actually have to spend money).

Then we came back to my house, where we had gotten in the mood to watch A Knight's Tale from a conversation in the car about how people make clothing out of curtains more often in fake historical movies than actual historical stories, and it was wonderful as always. But the highlight of the afternoon for me was watching the aforementioned Star Wars Holiday Special, which I had only seen once before...when it originally aired in 1978. This is a rare instance when something was actually as completely awful as I had remembered, possibly the worst two hours of television in history! My kids watched with us, since the show is legendary for how terrible it is, and we all laughed a great deal, though not at the "comedy" attempted in the show. It's worth looking at the TV Tropes page for some descriptions of the nightmare.

Here are a few more photos from our visit to Johns Hopkins University on Saturday.

As I'm sure I mentioned, it was a gorgeous day to visit the campus...

...with students and squirrels alike enjoying the fall weather.

Though the school is in downtown Baltimore, the campus is quite pretty, with a garden in the center and Baltimore's art museum on one side.

There are several sculptures of animals in the garden...

...and a sculpture of a tree stump by the administration buildings.

This robotic car was built by engineering students for a robotics competition.

And this is the entrance to the main campus library, with the flags of the four current classes on display.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Poem for Monday and Maryland State Parks

Barbara Frietchie
By John Greenleaf Whittier

Up from the meadows rich with corn,
Clear in the cool September morn,

The clustered spires of Frederick stand
Green-walled by the hills of Maryland.

Round about them orchards sweep,
Apple and peach tree fruited deep,

Fair as a garden of the Lord
To the eyes of the famished rebel horde,

On that pleasant morn of the early fall
When Lee marched over the mountain wall,—

Over the mountains winding down,
Horse and foot, into Frederick town.

Forty flags with their silver stars,
Forty flags with their crimson bars,

Flapped in the morning wind: the sun
Of noon looked down, and saw not one.

Up rose old Barbara Frietchie then,
Bowed with her fourscore years and ten;

Bravest of all in Frederick town,
She took up the flag the men hauled down;

In her attic-window the staff she set,
To show that one heart was loyal yet.

Up the street came the rebel tread,
Stonewall Jackson riding ahead.

Under his slouched hat left and right
He glanced: the old flag met his sight.

"Halt!"—the dust-brown ranks stood fast,
"Fire!"—out blazed the rifle-blast.

It shivered the window, pane and sash;
It rent the banner with seam and gash.

Quick, as it fell, from the broken staff
Dame Barbara snatched the silken scarf;

She leaned far out on the window-sill,
And shook it forth with a royal will.

"Shoot, if you must, this old gray head,
But spare your country's flag," she said.

A shade of sadness, a blush of shame,
Over the face of the leader came;

The nobler nature within him stirred
To life at that woman's deed and word:

"Who touches a hair of yon gray head
Dies like a dog! March on!" he said.

All day long through Frederick street
Sounded the tread of marching feet:

All day long that free flag tost
Over the heads of the rebel host.

Ever its torn folds rose and fell
On the loyal winds that loved it well;

And through the hill-gaps sunset light
Shone over it with a warm good-night.

Barbara Frietchie's work is o'er,
And the Rebel rides on his raids no more.

Honor to her! and let a tear
Fall, for her sake, on Stonewall's bier.

Over Barbara Frietchie's grave,
Flag of Freedom and Union, wave!

Peace and order and beauty draw
Round thy symbol of light and law;

And ever the stars above look down
On thy stars below in Frederick town!


We spent Sunday afternoon at parks and farms surrounding South Mountain in Frederick and Washington Counties. We had been debating either going to the science expo downtown on the National Mall or going to Mount Vernon's harvest festival, but we were at Mount Vernon a few weeks ago and will be on the National Mall next weekend for Stewart and Colbert's rally, so we figured this was our best chance to see the fall color in the Paul's parents said they'd meet us at Gambrill State Park to picnic, and we haven't seen them in several weeks. We walked around the summit of High Knob at Gambrill, where we saw many, many stinkbugs, particularly on the sunny side facing Middletown. Then we went to Washington Monument State Park, where the summit of South Mountain and the monument were absolutely covered with the freakin' bugs! We were amused when we stopped in Middletown -- there's a pretty craft store there called the Snallygaster, named for a local legendary monster -- to discover that one of the scarecrows on display on the town's street corners was designed as Munch's The Scream covered in stinkbugs.

Paul's parents had never been to South Mountain Creamery and we figured they might enjoy it, so we stopped there and everyone was pleased to discover that they now have eggnog available in their shop. We got ice cream and went to visit the calf barn, which still has a visiting sheep and a sow with piglets -- this time the piglets were awake and tried to eat Adam's shoes. One of the girls whose family works on the farm was in the barn and she let us see some of the chicks and pet one of the piglets. By then we knew that both the Redskins and Ravens had come from behind to beat the Bears and Bills respectively, in both cases because the opposing quarterbacks decided to throw the ball to the wrong team (the Redskins' DeAngelo Hall picked off Jay Cutler four times including a 90+ yard run for a touchdown), so we didn't feel compelled to rush home for sports, though my in-laws left to get back for the end of the New England game. The rest of us went to Gathland State Park as the sun was beginning to set, so the sky was beautiful and there were lots of colorful leaves visible through the arch and around the ruins of the barn.

The city of Frederick from the overlook on the approach from I-270; it's hard to see the spires with the trees and grass in the way, but it's the reason for the poem above.

Our visit to the tea house at the top of High Knob in Gambrill State Park was interrupted... several thousand of these. Our first choice of a picnic table, the one with the great views of the valley, was absolutely covered by stinkbugs.

Quite a bit of fall color is brightening the hills around Middletown and Boonesboro, though the drought at the end of the summer has made it more brown than some years.

This is how the city of Middletown feels about the stinkbugs.

We also visited Washington Monument State Park, where the inside of the monument was playing host to untold thousands of bugs. Ladybugs migrate here as well, and there were hundreds of them on the outside.

This calf at South Mountain Creamery was born on Sunday morning, mere hours before we arrived.

And here is the War Correspondents' Arch at Gathland, built by George Alfred Townsend to honor his fellow Civil War reporters.

We had grilled cheese for dinner made from the cheddar, swiss, and colby we got at South Mountain Creamery, then watched the Green Bay-Minnesota game around Boardwalk Empire, which was too violent for my taste but I like how nonjudgmental it is of the choices women were often forced to make (I never expected the leading Temperance Union lady to pass on information about birth control to a woman living in circumstances other people are all too happy to use as an excuse to call her degrading names). I need someone to explain to me why it's fine for animal butcher Michael Vick to play for the Eagles but Brett Favre is in huge trouble for a bit of consensual dirty electronic interaction. With accused murderers in the NFL, I'm supposed to be upset about Favre's sex life? Give me a break!