Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Placeholder for Tuesday

Another quickie because I got home late, having spent all day with my family and Cheryl in the Brandywine Valley at Winterthur's Yuletide and Longwood Gardens' A Longwood Christmas. There are some pics on Instagram and a few more below -- more tomorrow!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Placeholder for Monday

Cheryl is here! Though our plans originally included going to Mount Vernon's holiday festivities, it rained so hard for so much of the day that we decided to put that off. Instead our day included seeing The Desolation of Smaug, watching Death Comes To Pemberley, visiting Brookside's Garden of Lights, and seeing the Mormon Temple's Festival of Lights, plus eating pizza and way too much holiday candy while attempting to avoid the Ravens score. Here are a couple of photos, more soon!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Poem for Sunday, Trains and Stamps, The Butler

A House Divided
By Kyle Dargan

On a railroad car in your America,
I made the acquaintance of a man
who sang a life-song with these lyrics:
"Do whatever you can/ to avoid
becoming a roofing man."
I think maybe you'd deem his tenor
elitist, or you'd hear him as falling
off working-class key. He sang
not from his heart but his pulsing
imagination, where every roof is
sloped like a spire and Sequoia tall.
Who would wish for themselves, another,
such a treacherous climb? In your America,
a clay-colored colt stomps, its hooves
cursing the barn's chronic lean.
In your America, blood pulses
within the fields, slow-poaching a mill saw's
buried flesh. In my America, my father
awakens again thankful that my face
is not the face returning his glare
from above eleven o'clock news
murder headlines. In his imagination,
the odds are just as convincing
that I would be posted on a corner
pushing powder instead of poems—
no reflection of him as a father nor me
as a son. We were merely born
in a city where the rues beyond our doors
were the streets that shanghaied souls.
To you, my America appears
distant, if even real at all. While you are
barely visible to me. Yet we continue
stealing glances at each other
from across the tattered hallways
of this overgrown house we call
a nation—every minute
a new wall erected, a bedroom added
beneath its leaking canopy of dreams.
We hear the dripping, we feel drafts
wrap cold fingers about our necks,
but neither you or I trust each other
to hold the ladder or to ascend.


We spent Saturday downtown with Paul's parents visiting two things his father always enjoys: trains and postage stamps. We parked at Union Station, which in addition to having passenger trains arriving all the time has its winter model train display in the atrium, though construction on the building means that the ceiling and some of the magnificent architecture are blocked in places by nets and screens. There are also several holiday displays still up, including a huge Christmas tree given annually by the Norwegian Embassy that's decorated this year not only with Norwegian and U.S. flags but with miniature reproductions of "The Scream" to celebrate Edvard Munch's 150th birthday.

Then we walked to the National Postal Museum, which is on the lower level of the old City Post Office and still has lots of mailboxes and vaults inside. There is currently an exhibit on the Hindenburg and Titanic disasters -- I had no idea that the former was primarily a flying post office providing the first regular airmail between Europe and North America, but apparently that was how it made the bulk of its money, not flying passengers. (RMS Titanic had its status as a Royal Mail Ship designated in its prefix.) Thousands of pieces of mail were lost in both catastrophes. We also visited the permanent exhibits on US mail delivery and got a few stamps in the "start a collection" area -- I found three George VIs.

We went to eat early at BGR since I had a birthday coupon that was about to expire and BGR has burgers that fit everyone's dietary requirements. After my in-laws went home, we saw The Butler, which we loved -- the screenplay's bland and predictable in places, but the performances are excellent, more so the major characters than the cameos of presidents and first ladies which threaten to become gimmicky (Schreiber's fantastic as Johnson, Fonda's pretty good as Nancy Reagan and Rickman's not bad as Ronnie, but who thought Cusack as Nixon was a good idea?). I thought Oprah gave a great performance, not at all showy and not upstaging Whitaker, who was phenomenal as always, as were Oyelowo and Howard.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Poem for Saturday, Canal Locks, Reign of Fire

My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
By Michael Ryan

Who are you
long legged
woman in my dream
kissing me open mouthed
pressing me for ice
we fetch together naked
from the freezer
with bright aluminum tumblers
red deep blue purple
icy water
so cold it hurts
lips and teeth and membrane
lacy lattices of ice
shattering on our tongues
who are you
how could I have forgotten
my bright aluminum tumblers
I had to hold with both hands
they couldn't be broken
even if I dropped them
that's how little I was


"Aluminum tumblers--neon-bright, slippery, colder than the liquid inside them--were my first drinking glasses after sippy cups," Ryan told Poets.org. "Why did they surface fifty-something years later in this erotic dream? The poem doesn't know, and neither do I."

It was warmer on Friday and extremely sunny. We had a relatively quiet morning that involved a Reddit vs Tumblr debate and may have involved eating chocolate-covered toffee. Then we drove down River Road first to Riley's Lock, then to Violette's Lock, where in both places we walked under the trees along the somewhat muddy canal towpath and saw the sun gleaming on the Potomac. It must have been too cold for turtles, but we also saw herons, ducks, and lots of other birds at both parks:

A great blue heron at Violette's Lock.

One of the gates that let the canal be filled from the Potomac River is here.

We saw ducks in the canal...

...and white oaks growing alongside it.

We saw a heron at Riley's Lock too, though across the muddy canal basin...

...and these diving birds which may or may not be grebes in the river.

There were a whole bunch of mallards in the canal, too.

And the sunlight on the Potomac was dazzling.

After a stop at a food store, we came home, watched Maryland lose the Military Bowl, and went to dinner at my parents' where my mother made chocolate roll for dessert. We were going to watch the Nikita series finale but realized we really needed to catch up on last week's episode first, so we watched Reign of Fire, which holds up pretty well, even the special effects -- the cast is much better than the script, but Bale, Butler, McConaughey, and Scorupco give their all, and it's fun to see Siddig, Krige, and Gleeson.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Poem for Friday, Winter Lights, Desolation of Smaug

They Were Not Kidding in the Fourteenth Century
By Maureen McLane

They were not kidding
when they said they were blinded
by a vision of love.

It was not just a manner
of speaking or feeling
though it's hard to say

how the dead
really felt harder
even than knowing the living.

You are so opaque
to me your brief moments
of apparent transparency

seem fraudulent windows
in a Brutalist structure
everyone admires.

The effort your life
requires exhausts me.
I am not kidding.


I did very little boxing on Boxing Day, though it's not like we had holiday decorations to take down. Instead we spent the morning getting organized from traveling, then went to see The Desolation of Smaug. I don't have any deep and profound thoughts on it -- it's been too long since I reread The Hobbit, which I never liked as much as The Lord of the Rings, and anyway the movies are so different that they're more like fan fiction than definitive adaptations. Does it make me a bad fan if my overriding feeling is relief that it's so much more engaging than An Unexpected Journey? I loved Tauriel completely and most of my favorite parts of the movie involved her, though I nearly fell asleep during Gandalf's private quest, and while I loved the waterfall chase, it went on too long and some of the visuals did not look up to par, though Lake-town and Erebor were nicely done. Considering that the movie is supposed to be about the hobbit, I feel like Thorin gets more screen time.

We went to the movies in Germantown at a theater we very rarely visit -- I think the last time was Elizabeth: The Golden Age, for the same reason -- it's not far from Seneca Creek State Park, where Gaithersburg's drive-through winter lights show is still going on. There are always a bunch of new displays or old displays in new configurations (this year one was a bunch of beavers gnawing down a Christmas tree, heh). It's not quite as scenic with no snow on the ground but there's also less glare through the windows. We got home pretty late for dinner and Adam went to work on a couple of college essays (Wisconsin invited him to apply directly to the business school, Indiana invited him to apply for more scholarships than the one they offered, and Syracuse requires extra essays for their marketing-communications program). The rest of us watched A Beautiful Mind at Cheryl's suggestion and Daniel tried to explain the math to me, unsuccessfully!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Poem for Thursday and Christmas Pictures

Prologue of the Earthly Paradise
By William Morris

Of Heaven or Hell I have no power to sing,
I cannot ease the burden of your fears,
Or make quick-coming death a little thing,
Or bring again the pleasure of past years,
Nor for my words shall ye forget your tears,
Or hope again for aught that I can say,
The idle singer of an empty day.

But rather, when aweary of your mirth,
From full hearts still unsatisfied ye sigh,
And, feeling kindly unto all the earth,
Grudge every minute as it passes by,
Made the more mindful that the sweet days die—
—Remember me a little then I pray,
The idle singer of an empty day.

The heavy trouble, the bewildering care
That weighs us down who live and earn our bread,
These idle verses have no power to bear;
So let me sing of names remembered,
Because they, living not, can ne’er be dead,
Or long time take their memory quite away
From us poor singers of an empty day.

Dreamer of dreams, born out of my due time,
Why should I strive to set the crooked straight?
Let it suffice me that my murmuring rhyme
Beats with light wing against the ivory gate,
Telling a tale not too importunate
To those who in the sleepy region stay,
Lulled by the singer of an empty day.

Folk say, a wizard to a northern king
At Christmas-tide such wondrous things did show,
That through one window men beheld the spring,
And through another saw the summer glow,
And through a third the fruited vines a-row,
While still, unheard, but in its wonted way,
Piped the drear wind of that December day.

So with this Earthly Paradise it is,
If ye will read aright, and pardon me,
Who strive to build a shadowy isle of bliss
Midmost the beating of the steely sea,
Where tossed about all hearts of men must be;
Whose ravening monsters mighty men shall slay,
Not the poor singer of an empty day.


We spent Christmas with Paul's parents in Hanover, where we had stollen and bagels for breakfast, then played Uno (I think I came in last every game) before my parents arrived for Christmas dinner. The rest of the afternoon is sort of a blur of eating too much (cheese, crackers, nuts, fruit, meatless Swedish meatballs, potatoes, bread, lingonberries, carrot souffle, cookies) and exchanging presents (calendars, photos, more food).

We drove home beneath a spectacular sunset and twilight sky in time for the Matt Smith special and "The Time of The Doctor" which I enjoyed but did not leave me in tears or anything like that; I've been blah on Eleven, though I mostly blame Moffat's writing and not Smith's performance, and I found the Christmas episode slow and rather anticlimactic after the 50th anniversary episode, which perhaps is as it should be.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Poem for Christmas

Christmas Greeting
By Lewis Carroll

Lady, dear, if Fairies may
For a moment lay aside
Cunning tricks and elfish play,
'Tis at happy Christmas-tide.

We have heard the children say -
Gentle children, whom we love -
Long ago on Christmas Day,
Came a message from above,

Still, as Christmas-tide comes round,
They remember it again -
Echo still the joyful sound
"Peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Yet the hearts must childlike be
Where such heavenly guests abide;
Unto children, in their glee,
All the year is Christmas-tide!

Thus, forgetting tricks and play
For a moment, Lady dear,
We would wish you, if we may,
Merry Christmas, Glad New Year!


Merry Christmas from Pennsylvania, where we arrived in the afternoon after a quiet morning of finishing chores that had to be done before we left. We drove up in flurries, though none of the snow stuck -- it's very cold now but it wasn't while we were driving -- and saw a gorgeous sunset before going out for Chinese buffet (even with my Lutheran in-laws, I celebrate Jewish Christmas). Now we are watching old Doctor Who Christmas specials while my in-laws are at church. Happy Christmas if you're celebrating; here are some photos from our neighborhood and Hanover!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Poem for Tuesday and Kiparoo Farm

Like Him
By Aaron Smith

I'm almost forty and just understanding my father
doesn't like me. At thirteen I quit basketball, the next year
refused to hunt, I knew he was disappointed, but never
thought he didn't have to like me
to love me. No girls. Never learned
to drive a stick. Chose the kitchen and mom
while he went to the woods with friends who had sons
like he wanted. He tried fishing -- a rod and reel
under the tree one Christmas. Years I tried
talking deeper, acting tougher
when we were together. Last summer
I went with him to buy a tractor.
In case he needs help, Mom said. He didn't look at me
as he and the sales guy tied the wheels to the trailer, perfect
boy-scout knots. Why do I sometimes wish I could be a man
who cares about cars and football, who carries a pocketknife
and needs it? It was January when he screamed: I'm not
a student, don't talk down to me! I yelled: You're not smart enough
to be one! I learned to fight like his father, like him, like men:
the meanest guy wins, don't ever apologize.


We had a pretty quiet Monday. Paul had to work in the morning and Adam had his last driving lesson in the afternoon, so I did chores and finally got most of the holiday cards in the mail. Daniel got some good news about his grades; he was worried about a couple of finals but didn't get less than an A-, and he's getting an A+ in one class.

It rained all day, so I didn't get a lot of exercise, though I did goof off with Adam playing with Legos (ever since Deborah got me that Lego mug, I've been hunting for appropriate Lego figures, many of which were buried in a big bin from which son made me a spaceship while I was looking for little swords and hair). I even put together a Snape.

We all watched Snake Eyes, which the kids hadn't seen and which still has an awesome opening tracking shot; it's one of Nic Cage's better performances and Sinise and Gugino are good as always. Here are a few pics from Kiparoo Farm in the snow the weekend before last, both the wool and woolens and the sheep that make them possible: