Monday, March 31, 2008

Tipper Gore -- Where Are You?!

Last July I attended my 40th high school reunion. Funny -- I don't feel that old, but yeah, it's been that many years. Anyway, a classmate recorded hours-worth of songs from our era and I've been listening to them ever since. Many bring back lovely memories of necking [that's what we called sucking-face back then] on the four hour train ride between home and my college. Others, however reveal messages I never noticed while dancing to them. I think most of us focused more on the rhythm and tune rather than the lyrics. Let's face it, we couldn't often understand them on tinny transistor radios and scratchy vinyl records. Maybe that was a good thing. . ..?! Songs that seemed to be about innocent crushes and puppy love actually contain lyrics about controlling girls and of course getting girls to give. "Go out and get her" and "marry her so she won't roam." The guys probably caught the drift of these songs, but I wonder how many of us girls did. Yeah, right, like the Beatles actually wanted to hold your hand when they screamed those words to frenzied teen audiences.
What would now be categorized as the crime was encouraged as a way for a boy to get a girlfriend.
There is someone walking behind you.
Turn around and look at me.
There is someone watching your footsteps; turn around and look at me.
There is someone who really needs you; here's my heart; here's my hand. . . .
Seemed so innocent to our teen minds, but when it actually happened to me in my late 20s, fear struck. Thankfully the man who followed me for months turned out to be harmless. On the other hand, another who never revealed himself other than through phonecalls to my office and a rambling, twisted letter scared me enough that I avoided being alone in public for a very long time.
Free Love didn't become a catch-phrase until later in the 60s and early 70s. Then the women's movement turned everything upside down for both men and women. It may have also discouraged more songs about getting and controlling females. We were no longer girls, but Women with a capital W. We became militant in expressing our outrage at the way men had been exerting control and taking unfair advantage of us.
Suggestive lyrics have become truly ugly; denigrating and subjugating women. And music videos. . .!!! Why can't we move beyond that? Must we start a new movement to regain respect for human dignity?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

For everything there is a season. . .

These tiny flowers, about the size of a thumbnail, show-up early and last a long time, surviving drought, floods and hundreds of footsteps. They create swaths of delicate blue against the rich green of their leaves.

Friday, March 28, 2008

In the Year 2301 A.D.

If humans suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth and scientists from another planet were sent here to learn about us, what conclusions do you think they would draw just from viewing today's print and electronic communications? Would they think thin people were the underclass without enough to eat? It might be puzzling to see pictures of paper-thin models wearing expensive clothing and jewelry and starving refugees not. Might they think models were enslaved and forced to wear these things? They seldom smile anymore and some look downright famished so that might be a logical conclusion. What will these scientists make of the fact that superficiality has become a desirable quality? That confidence, once measured by poise and strength of character, is now based on having a flat stomach, large breasts, perfectly carved nose or a six-pack? Maybe our species died-off when standards of beauty changed from thin to fat and everyone who wanted to be somebody gorged themselves to death. There was a time when a curvaceous body symbolized wealth and sensuality. But, then moderation in all things was virtuous. People were judged by their characters, not so much by their appearances. Will it appear that we replaced living mindful lives in favor of pursuing exterior perfection? And WHAT will they think when they see illustrations of liposuction, rhinoplasty and other, torturous-looking procedures done in the quest for beauty?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Welcome to Washington, D.C., Boys and Girls!

As a longtime resident of Washington, D.C., I would like to welcome all of you who have come from far and near to visit your Nation's Capital. I hope you enjoy your stay here and, remember: don't pick the flowers. Betcha didn't know that half a million people actually live in Washington, D.C.. That's right! We live in houses and apartments as many of you do, only we're in a special city. As you tour, you may encounter our famous traffic jams. This is due to the fact that there are too many cars on our region's roads. You're wise, though you came in tour buses -- that park and idle day and night, spewing big, black, smelly clouds of exhaust beneath our windows. Oh, but I digress! Another reason for pesky traffic troubles is caused by your president, himself. Yes, indeedy! Whenever he decides to go for a bike ride, or out to, well, wherever he goes, he never goes alone and traffic stops just for him! Here's how his entourage breaks down: Two Metropolitan Police Department helicopters circle very low for a while to check rooftops for danger and to frighten our pets and shake the pictures on our walls. Then come: - 8 MPD motorcycle cops, - 4 MPD squad cars, - two armored limos (he's in one of them!), - three or four black Secret Service vans, usually with guys in suits hanging out the windows, - two D.C. ambulances, - another MPD squad car or two or three. Even more police officers close every intersection through which your president's procession will pass well before he comes through. All these city employees may be taken away from their usual duties like saving lives and preventing crime, but the Secret Service insists on their participation to make sure that your president safely gets to his bike trail. You may be wondering why I refer to him as your president. Well, it's because he doesn't believe citizens living in our fair city deserve the same rights as citizens everywhere else in this country. Can you imagine that?! Just like your parents do, we pay our taxes each year. Unlike your parents, we have no say in how the government spends them. Doesn't that seem odd? It does to us, too and we have tried and tried to change it. Your president, however believes that giving District of Columbia residents a voting representative in Congress would be unconstitutional. Yup, but don't ask me why. Well, boys and girls, enjoy your visit. Remember to keep your hands visible when you are near a procession as described above and no one will get hurt. Toodle-oo for now, kids.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Gratuitous Cuteness VII

Sailing was one of Dad's passions. Even as a little guy, Zach always welcomed opportunities to go out on the boat.

I took this picture on Father's Day, 1997. The weather was good for sailing and Dad was just itching to get out on the bay. Zach, his mother and I decided to go out with him, but Mom stayed home with a dreadful migraine. We grown-ups thought a quiet house might help Mom recover sooner.

Zach's official job, an important one, was to watch for and warn Dad of crab pot buoys. We all watched out for these treacherous traps because their cables could catch the screw, get hopelessly tangled and kill the engine.

When we were away from the harbor Dad turned off the engine and unfurled the mainsail. Zach was unusually quiet, though still vigilant for buoys.

The silence of sailing is always a joy, but this silence was different. Zach finally told his mom that he wanted to go back to shore because he was worried about Gwammy. As disappointed as we all were, we knew what we had to do. Dad went out a little farther, then turned around and headed back.

As we entered the harbor, we waived to surprised fellow sailors. Zach was intent on getting back into the slip and back to his beloved Gwammy. When we walked into the house he was greeted with hugs and kisses and his relief was genuine.

Friday, March 21, 2008


It's a simple word, yet packed with meaning and innuendo. This came to me as I was doing my monthly self-exam. Breasts are a burden and cancer carriers to me. I hate having to corral them into a bra and, being large, they constantly get in my way -- playing the piano or working on something that requires close proximity. And forget about eating out and not coming home with spots on my blouse or dress. It's like trying to eat with the Alps attached to my chest! Over-the-shoulder-boulder-holders are what guys used to -- and maybe still do -- call bras. Sounds about right judging from the pain in my shoulders and back. I haven't always felt this way about brassiers. At the age of perhaps 12 my mother took me to buy my first bra. This was a HUGE DEAL because I'd no longer have to roll-up my t-shirt to hold the rolled-up socks to see how I'd look with boobs. As we walked into our small, local department store and headed toward the lingerie department, I started feeling embarrassed. I wanted a bra, but I didn't want boys to know I was wearing one. No more white blouses from there on in!! If a boy saw a bra, he'd grab the back of it and snap it. It HURT and was humiliating! The lady who worked in the lingerie department was kind, well-endowed and unusually perky. I'd guess she was about 40. She selected several training bras from big, clear, plastic drawers and offered to help me try them on. Yeah, right!! Like I was gonna let some stranger see me half-naked!! Unlike bras today, these had absolutely no shape to them and the color choices were white or white. As the sales lady rang up our purchase, she told me to get plenty of exercise and I'd develop a nice bust line. Sounded good to me, so when I got home, I went straight for the vacuum cleaner and vigorously vacuumed the entire house. I could just see a nice bust line developing -- whatever that was. It wasn't the vacuuming nor the girls' gym class unofficial exercise -- We must, we must, we must increase the bust. The bigger the better the tighter the sweater, we must, we must. . . Genetics stuck me with big mammary glands. Going bra-less in the 70s to protest for equal rights was the reason for their crash. Gravity is a cruel thing and sooner or later all breasts fall prey to it. I'm old enough now that I'm not trying to attract attention -- wanted or unwanted -- as was the case in my youth. The first place males' eyes went to was my chest. I can't count the number of times I was told loudly, by total strangers, often construction workers, that I had a nice rack. I don't think much has changed. Men still love big breasts and always will. It's that evolution thing again. Many men just aren't very evolved! But, then again, they are good for opening the sticky lid on the olive jar.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Alarming Insight

It's a rainy day and my thoughts went, once again, to trying to draw something recognizable. I was inspired by my niece to try doing a self-portrait. This soon proved to be a dreadful idea. I even cheated taking a photo of myself and tweaking it with a photo editing program to make it easier (oh, sure!) to copy by hand.

The insight came after I gave up on the portrait and started to doodle. Automatically, I started drawing 3 dimensional shapes -- deja vu all over again!! I used to sit in boring classes in college or meetings during my working life doodling the same things. I'm sure they symbolized being trapped in a box with no way out.

Then, I spotted a recent artistic endeavor and realized I'm still stuck inside walls with no openings! Here's what I mean:
I actually enjoy doing this home-made paint by numbers sort of things. Does this indicate something I should worry about? I'll have to cogitate on that a bit more.

Outside insight is welcome and will be appreciated!

Monday, March 17, 2008

If only I'd known!

Nah, it wouldn't have made any difference.

At a very young age, I discovered the keys of my mother's inherited, baby grand piano. At the time, it took up most of the living room in the tiny house my parents, older brother and I shared. It's massive, dark presence was comforting to this extremely shy little girl. When people came to visit there was more than enough room under it to hide.

When no one was around, or at least in sight, I'd pull myself onto the matching bench and work the keys. Being an acoustic piano, making a sound took some strength. [My electronic keyboard takes a light touch.] Patterns started to emerge the more I played and I decided I was composing. Constant repetition embedded the tunes in my brain and probably drove my mother up a wall. She could really play the piano!

A fascinating thing about Mom's playing was what the pedals did to the sound. I'd sit under the sounding board and watch her foot quickly and rhythmically pump the right pedal. Pushing the pedal sustained and broadened the sound. She could play with both hands and chords, too! Very impressive. And when she sang along I got goose bumps!!

Around the age of 8, Mom decided I needed some training if I was going to continue to slam on her beloved piano. We had little money in those days, but being that Mom was a professional singer, she was able to get a discount on my lessons with, allegedly, the best teacher in town.
Margaret Farr Wilson -- that name still sends a chill up my spine. For eight years, every Saturday morning I walked to her house of horrors for lessons.

Hers was a nice little house whose living room contained two grand pianos. In her dining room was a bay window in which she nurtured dozens of African Violets. Those two rooms will linger in memory the rest of my life. They were where I waited for my lesson to begin and the site of terrifying recitals as well as glorious two piano duets with my teacher.

Recital punch (lime sherbet and ginger ale) served from her massive, dark dining table, revived my parched mouth and throat. Some of her students were truly gifted. Parents sitting on folding chairs always provided polite (or maybe it was sympathetic) applause at the end of each recital number. I wasn't looking for applause. I just wanted to get through with my prescribed piece before I fainted from nerves.

The same was true of practice pieces and because of that I hate metronomes. They became my nemesis. As with my handwriting, my piano playing always speeds-up and gets messier as I go along. That insistent/consistent ticking of the metronome made me crazy. If that wasn't enough, I was tortured by Hannon!!

Hannon exercises were designed by the devil himself!! They were repetitive, difficult to finger, especially when working on the ring and little fingers. I find myself gritting my teeth even today just thinking about the hours I had to spend on Hannon. Not only that, but Margaret Farr Wilson had me play on the top of the keyboard lid to make sure every finger was working like a little hammer. And God help you if a finger nail was just a little too long and made a click!!! Forcing my hands to work each finger like a little hammer and with a hollow in the palms, was unnatural and nails were never short enough. To be fair, and I must be, Margaret Farr Wilson was worth the torment and money. In hindsight, I realize she was an excellent teacher.

To my surprise, I recently discovered that she also taught a Pulitzer Prize winning composer, John La Montaine who played at Carnegie Hall and accompanied some of the biggest singers of our time. Just the thought of him sitting on that hard piano bench in her living room, playing on the piano lid brings a wry smile to my lips.

I never would have become a world-renowned pianist, much less a composer. However, having shared a piano teacher with one makes me feel a little better about my early attempts at composition. My grandfather called one of them A Rooster Jumping Over a Fence Backwards -- and it fit!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brains Caught in His Fly

Evolution is a tricky business. Philandering seems to be hard-wired into some men. Those who come into power seem particularly vulnerable to this trait. It's fun, easy and available, so why not? Caution and intelligence are thrown to the wind and basic instincts overcome any resistance. The women who partake in the philandering must feel an immense sense of power and maybe validation. Scoring an important man is huge among those who practice the world's oldest profession. Animal instincts are what keep the human species going. They are also what break down social norms and decorum. Balance is crucial to maintaining integrity, respect and true love.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Oh, no!!

Now I know, without a doubt, that I'm officially over the hill . . . While applying mascara this morning, I noticed what appeared to be a "bald spot" amongst the lashes on my left eye. I've had a 50/50 gray head hair thing going on for a while, but I never thought about my eyelashes turning gray. Magnifying mirrors don't lie. There were three and a half stark white eyelashes staring back at me! Eyebrows are no problem and I've managed to keep up with the stray grays. On the other hand, sties are ugly and hurt, so no eyelash plucking. Being the eternal optimist, there may be an upside to this new development. I never have enjoyed long, lush, up-curved lashes. The gray hairs on my head have a bit of a curl to them (OK, they're wiry), so maybe . . . nah, couldn't be that lucky! Has anyone come up with a mascara for eyebrows? I'd like to avoid becoming one of those ladies with pencilled-on eyebrows. Whoopie Goldberg's eyebrow-less look works for her, but I can't see it on me.

Engineering vs. Parenting

Out of necessity, structural engineers take their professional obligations very seriously. When I found the following, I couldn't help but appreciate its application to parenting as well. James Arnhein says that engineering is:
"the art and science of molding materials we do not fully understand; into shapes we cannot precisely analyze; to resist forces we cannot accurately predict; all in such a way that the society at large is given no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance."
Quoted by Kenneth L. Carper in Forensic Engineering, 1989

Monday, March 10, 2008


>> News Flash <<
Even after treatment, our drinking water contains chemicals that treat everything from heart disease, epilepsy, hormone imbalances, hypertension, depression, infections and everything else we use to cure what ails us. In addition, we're still consuming residues from pesticides, herbicides and manufacturing of every sort. For all those believers in bottled water: sorry, it's in that, too. Months ago I posted about this very issue (Nature vs. Pharmaceutical Manufacturers) and I'm thrilled to see that it is getting some serious attention from those who might actually try to do something about it. I can't hold out too much hope, though. Authorities have known for decades about amphibians developing genetic anomalies like extra legs or androgyny. Still, with enough pressure from the public, maybe progress can be made to curtail the amounts of these unprescribed medications in our water. I'm no scientist, but an advanced degree is not required to make the connection between unintentional consumption of stray chemicals and the increased prevalence of disease.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Who knew?!

Like thousands of others, I've sped past a tall, white blob in the circle at Independence Avenue and Ohio Drive, just south of the Lincoln Memorial. It's in the traffic circle that leads from the avenue and Rock Creek Parkway onto Ohio Drive. Finally, I took an opportunity to check it out.

With a taxi honking for me to move, I quickly snapped this picture of a rather morose or deep in thought man sitting on what looks like the steps to a taller statue. I did catch his name -- John Ericsson -- before I had to speed off. I'd never heard the name before but figured he must have been important to merit a memorial in such a prominent spot.

A little research revealed that John Ericsson was born in Sweden at the dawn of the 19th century and, from a young age, demonstrated a gift for invention and engineering. In an effort to make a living by selling some of his ideas, at the tender age of 17 he went to London. Eventually, he wound up in the United States where he stayed for the rest of his life.

Most of his inventions and innovations had to do with powering ships. His most famous design was the iron-clad U.S.S. Monitor submarine of U.S. Civil War fame. In his later years, he proved, once again, that he was ahead of his time. At the time of his death in 1889, he was working on ways to collect and use solar energy and how to take advantage of the power of tides.

That blob of marble has taken on a whole new meaning now. Imagine how our lives might be different had he succeeded in harnessing solar energy and the tides 100 years ago . . .

Thursday, March 6, 2008

It is the addition of strangeness to beauty that constitutes the romantic character of art.

- Walter Pater -

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today was a mental health day. . .

. . . and our 25th wedding anniversary; not that the two things have anything in common, mind you. Spouse and I are just not into celebrating as others might. We don't buy into the smarmy must be romantic and by her/him gifts out the wazzoo bit. We just count ourselves lucky for lasting this long together without maiming or killing each other!

Anyway, back to the mental health part of the day. Wednesday used to be the day my buddy Thelma and I got together, so I decided a new routine or no routine was necessary now that she's gone.
Spontaneity is a trait I treasure and enjoy springing on unsuspecting friends/spouse. I lost some of it when I got married and had to consider the feelings and wishes of someone in addition to myself. Still, my spontaneity gene sometimes will not be ignored as it let me know today.

I keep a kite tucked in the trunk of our car. After picking up some things we needed from the drugstore, I took off for Hains Point. I hardly had time to install the cross brace when up she went. String kept unwinding and unwinding til I thought I might run out! It's glorious to see and feel the power of the wind in my hands. Troops of serious bikers, runners and joggers of every description circled the Point and, maybe, enjoyed a happy memory from childhood.

As luck would have it, I had my camera with me. Hope you enjoy a few ephemeral reminders of nature.
Even George Mason seemed to be reveling in this glorious, early Spring day.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Shot down again!

The U.S. Treasury/Mint was finally convinced or coerced into striking a District of Columbia quarter, such as those for each state. Now I do not believe that D.C. should become a full-fledged state. I do, however believe that we deserve voting representation in Congress as do Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. It's a simple matter of justice: whoever pays taxes to the U.S. Federal Government deserves a say in how they are spent. As for the District of Columbia quarter, I'm peeved that our "Taxation Without Representation" suggestion was turned down as too controversial. Hah! The Treasury Department wants the new quarters to represent each state's history in some fashion so that children, etc. can learn from them. Perhaps the D.C. quarter should be struck with a hole in the middle of it! That would speak volumes.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hey Ralph! Get over yourself!!

Ralph Nader has announced his intention to run for President again. I have decided that his huge ego has been out of the limelight for too long and he needs a fix. Why else would he run again? He has no chance of winning the presidential race. Some are calling him a spoiler. While that may be valid, I view him as more of an unfortunate anachronism. He might have had a slim chance when he was a bold crusader for consumer safety during the 60s and 70s. Then he became an advocate for conservation and preservation, all good moves. He fulfilled his goals of making the public aware of these issues and can take credit in swaying Congress to adopt legislation to protect health and safety and to preserve natural resources. However, big business is no longer afraid of Ralph Nader. Federal agencies and the general public got his message and are taking over where he left off. Nader's time to lead and influence is over. His announcement is about self-aggrandizement, not fresh policies or ideas. His engraved-in-stone attitudes and methods would not make him a good president. It takes the cooperation of the three branches of government to get things done. He is one of many candidates, past and present, who choose to ignore this fact. Having said that, the current administration seems to believe that it can act alone and with impunity. That will end once Congress gets it's act together enough to enact legislation to prevent future free-wheeling. To Mr. Nader I say: Please don't run again. You will not be elected and your entry into the competition may do more harm than good. Don't ruin your sterling legacy as a dedicated advocate for good government. You are more effective on the outside than you would be on the inside.