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The Colors of Summer – Part One

August 31, 2014

file under red, (as in red, white and blue, of course)

Labor Day Weekend, wedged as it is between the end of August and the start of what we know as “the school year,” begs for reflection on the preceding weeks. Teachers ask for “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays, and photos that we were too busy taking to post while traveling creep slowly back onto social media platforms — or if you’re old-school, into photo albums.

With that in mind, and before anxiously checking out September like the last of the yellow jackets, let’s flip the calendar back a page or two and remember mid-summer again:

July’s reds were best captured for me in the wineberries, or wild raspberries, I picked from friends’ property west of town, a lush green, pine and oak covered place where just outside the margins of their grassy lawn, shoulder-high green and prickly red canes reach upward and fall back to the ground in sweeping arches.  Rubus phoenicolasius, an Asian version of the raspberry, was introduced onto the North American continent in the late 19th century. Now considered invasive in Virginia and several neighboring states, these bright berry bushes thrive under the shade of tall leafy trees; the proliferation of canes here allows Camille to pick apron- and bucket-full loads of the tangy berries to cook into pies and more.

For the past few years I have begged to be let in on the action when the seeded, almost crunchy fruits are ready. When John and Jenny let me know mid-July that the berries were in but that “bears had gotten most of them” already, I hurried out to see for myself.

“Most of them” must only apply when you’re used to picking millions.

I found plenty remaining to satisfy my palate and easily filled a Ziploc gallon bag, more than enough for me to mark the season.

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Jeanne Goes to the Big City

July 6, 2014
National Archives

file under blues, since that rhymes with news, as in the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

By the first week of July, summer is well underway: travel plans have been sketched out, tickets reserved, and new suitcases purchased–some folks have already packed and unpacked.

Me, too. A couple times.

A nephew’s high school graduation on a Wednesday morning in mid-June, in downtown D.C., followed in short order by a cousin’s daughter’s wedding in central Pennsylvania, seemed to call for a week away from the office. I prefer a relaxing pace for travel, as well as a chance to mow the grass before leaving for five days.

My personal reward was a solo trip into D.C. on a day in between celebrations.

Things in big cities don’t always have to be on a larger scale than in the “small town” I live in, but they often are.

Consider the 40-foot, bronze front doors at the National Archives. New York architect John Russell Pope designed the giant Corinthian columns and the main entrance to speak to the immense importance of the documents stored within. Pope created his building design in 1930; Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Typewriter Eraser X, in the nearby National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden was constructed in 1999. I have no idea if erasers were needed for the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, but typewriters didn’t come along for almost another 100 years.

I did know, however, from my first glimpse of the the star-studded carpet at DAR Constitution Hall and Metro escalators that I was out of town. Big time. If I hadn’t, the suspended screen I saw in the lobby of the Newseum the next day would have confirmed it.

Charlottesville’s latest census stats peg us at 44,000-plus, but no one is quite sure if that’s when the 23,464 UVA students are in town, or out of town. Albemarle County’s urban ring adds another 103,000 de facto Cville residents, but all of that pales next to the DC/NOVA/Maryland metropolitan area with more than nine million heads counted as of the 2012 Census estimate.

Patrick’s senior class at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County included 418 of them.

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A Waste of Time and Energy?

May 5, 2014
compost 001

file under deep, dark rich shades of brown

I heard that someone recently queried their Facebook friends on a Saturday afternoon: “Did you do something fun today, or do you own a house?”

The implication, of course, is that if you own a house, the first warm weekends of spring are inevitably spent transitioning your abode from one season to the next.

I try to strike a balance most weekends, but ’tis true that with two consecutive exceptionally fine sunny weekends in Charlottesville, I have taken my House & Garden to-do lists most seriously.

One of my proudest accomplishments would have to be digging out the bottom fifteen inches or so of the compost bin, and returning all those apple peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, cantaloupe rinds, and celery ends to three small garden beds of shovel-turned dirt that I hope will soon be producing beets, pole beans, cucumbers and peppers.

Not waste any more. And hardly a wasted weekend.

Hope you enjoyed yours, too!

P.S. Who can spot the earthworm?!

Living, loving and leaving

April 27, 2014
leaves 002

file under…? Three guesses, and the first two don’t count!

I have been having a love affair with leaves this month.

I watch intently for those first little bitty tinges of red, the blush before trees reveal their intentions so completely, so publicly. My anticipation mounts upon seeing at a distance the hint in the tree lines of that squeaky new green that intoxicates, teases, and promises even more excitement. And finally, finally, after months of stick grey verticals, I revel in their unfolding, happily, by the thousands and millions.

In full force, the maples spread a fluttery pattern against the sky. Dandelion leaves emerge overnight from nowhere and everywhere, reaching for the sun; falling short, they create their own. Oaks unfurl slowly, infant ear curls of pink and red.

The painted blue metal fingers of my rake uncover moist brown dirt as I scrape under azalea bushes. Leftovers of an earlier generation lie quietly in flattened, blackened layers after the commotion of autumn. Momentarily I am sober, reminded of the temporary nature of leaves and loves, of our own seasonal existences. And then, looking up, I cannot help but smile and begin to flirt again.

I giggle as seedpods do their helicopter twirl to the deck and driveway. I swoon during commutes on highways draped once more in green. And I relax at the end of the day, grateful for the return of shade and tree shadow.

Welcome back, leaves. Your absence certainly made my heart grow fonder.


April 13, 2014
Panda Plush

File under BLACK and WHITE, of course

My weekends lately have had a tinge of pandemonium about them.

Not in the Miltonian origins of the term but simply a Webster-like sense of “lots of commotion” or “a wild uproar.”

Charlottesville’s downtown block party—part of a contemporary celebration of Thomas Jefferson’s April 13 birthday called the Tom Tom Founders Festival—drew not only crowds, but large numbers of fire dancers, food trucks, entrepreneurs and musicians this past weekend.

Our fair city’s Saturday morning farmer’s market is in full swing again, drawing shoulder-to-shoulder throngs. This early in the season they come in search of bedding plants, pies, earrings, orchids, olive oil soap, coffee, tacos and friends. (Truth be told, all summer long our market is as much about friends as it is farmers.)


bannerTTFFNight lights


lettuce oliveoil




Next weekend, my daughter and I will be renting a commercial version of a monster truck to drive it over the river and through the woods to her grandmother’s house before said house goes on the market after 51 years in the family. Furniture and memorabilia distribution has a kind of pandemonium about it, too.

living room stuff

All these events offer productivity and social rewards despite their associated tumult. But I have decided my preferred pace involves what I’m calling the pandamonium that occurred when I took a trip through Giant Panda land last weekend at the National Zoo.

I missed most of the local, national and international excitement when little Bao Bao, (meaning “precious”) was born late in August. She made her public debut with zoo visitors in January.

But because Bao Bao only this month began to make her first forays into the outdoor portions of the Giant Panda habitat at her Washington D.C. home, crowds form quickly behind the friendly and well-informed guides on the Asia Trail. All are eager to see the 20-plus-pound toddler and her parents. If you go visiting anytime soon, however, don’t be disappointed if you don’t see Bao Bao. Like a lot of babies, she sleeps a lot, something like 20 hours a day.

Visitors of all ages and stripes are captivated by these furry, big-headed bumbling black and white bears who have become the internationally recognized symbol of endangered species and conservation efforts.

Through the Looking Glass

Mei Xiang: Through the Looking Glass

(Coca-Cola tries hard to make animated polar bears look equally loveable, but somehow in real life the arctic bears present as fearsome creatures, while the live, lumbering pandas still look like something to snuggle.)

The folks at our National Zoological Park (NZP) take panda preservation seriously though—they are among the rarest of our land animals— with as few as 1,600 giant pandas left living in the mountain forests of their native China, and only 300 some living in zoos worldwide.

This gives poignant meaning, in my mind, to the promise of Papa Bear Tian Tian, whose name means “more and more.” A zoologist’s wishful thinking times two. Tian Tian’s and his designated mate’s bi-annual procreational abilities have been likened to birth watches among royalty or celebrity types for the media attention they generate.

(Bao Bao’s mother is called Mei Xiang, a name that supposedly translates as “beautiful fragrance” but given that pandas are, after all, bears, I’m guessing not so much.)

Through educational videos, prolific signage, panda cams, web pages, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, the NZP capitalizes on the craze for all things panda. With the outpouring of public support, the zoo aims to improve poor panda demographics. Bao Bao will be returned to her native China at age four under agreements signed in 2011 as part of the Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement between the Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association.

The David M. Rubenstein Family Giant Panda Habitat has been enlarged recently, according to the NZP web pages, with an indoor portion that now contains “four exhibit rooms, four dens, increased visitor viewing space, new informational exhibits, additional space for keepers, and a humidified storage building for fresh bamboo, complete with windows for visitors to see just how much bamboo the pandas consume in a day.”

Long lines and crowds being what they are, I was able to see how much bamboo an adult female can consume in something less than 10 minutes.

Other panda stats and facts suggest their “bold coloring provides effective camouflage into their shade-dappled snowy and rocky surroundings” and that their heads are extra large in part to allow for the “large molar teeth and strong jaw muscles” they need for crushing tough bamboo, which makes up 99 percent of their diet in the wild.

“In zoos, giant pandas eat bamboo, sugar cane, rice gruel, a special high-fiber biscuit, carrots, apples, and sweet potatoes,” according to the NZP.

Probably not Panda Popcorn, though.

I didn’t try it either.

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No more foolin’

April 1, 2014

file under WHITE for snow storms and the bright dresses of Bahian women 

April 1 and only today did it feel safe to put away the snow shovel.

December 17 I was still wearing the flip-flops and short skirts from my Semester in Summertime. Winter has been a long time ending this year. Seeing good friends and neighbors, though, softened my abrupt transition from ship to shore, from summer to winter, each visit a bright holiday ornament for the Christmas tree I didn’t put up.

Plus a steady selection of familiar faces from the ship—my constant companions for nigh on four months—appeared in living rooms, restaurants and all over the Internetworks in the weeks after the M.V. Explorer docked in Ft. Lauderdale.

New Year’s to St. Patrick’s Day was also interspersed with an abundance of family interludes: a mother-daughter trip to Ohio to see a mother-Grandmother; a rainy ride to Pennsylvania with a sister-in-law for a bridal shower of a cousin’s daughter. Nephews, brothers, daughters and more cousins all received hugs and overdue telephone calls.

I threw a Solstice party and a potluck dinner at my house. Trekked out in the country for a Saturday morning hike and later a Mardi Gras party. I bought tickets to a book festival and a new temporary membership to a gym. (With a salt-water pool! Ha!) I’ve been to lunches and dinners and brunches and movies with friends. Even an outdoor winter wedding where the groomsmen all wore kilts.

The need to stay in motion is real after four months at sea. A counterbalance to the Monday-through-Friday, nine-to-five, sit-at-a-desk routines that wear poorly on most of us, much less a traveler. Still, through it all—December, January, February, March—I couldn’t write.

Since leaving Buenos Aires in late November I haven’t written much of anything. Perhaps because by then I was cup-overfloweth-memory-cards full with new sights, new ports, new thoughts and new currencies. I didn’t stop taking pictures, or stop trying to absorb where I was, I just couldn’t write about it anymore. Besides, Natalie joined my journey in Argentina, and my blog-style sharing seemed less critical when I had a member of the family nearby to swap stories with each evening.

I still marveled at the Carnival costume constructions in progress that we saw in Rio and took silly, maybe even sacrilegious selfies in front of Christ the Redeemer. I delighted in the colored ribbons and brilliantly white dresses worn for dia da consciência negra, the Bahia Brazilian holiday commemorating the region’s African heritage on November 20. I relished my day-before-Thanksgiving swim at the beaches near Salvador. But with a final port and winter temperatures looming, I was beginning to enter a state of mental dormancy.

But Cuba? Why did I get writer’s block in Cuba of all places?

This week, after two consecutive days in the 70s and April dates on the calendar, I am more than just home again. The weekly snowstorms have subsided. Colors are returning to the black-and-white and grey-and-brown Virginia landscapes. I have seen purple crocus, yellow daffodils and red maple buds. I threw a brightly flowered cover over the picnic table out back.

It’s time to emerge again. Words and all.

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Living a Posh Life — on the Starboard Side

November 30, 2013

file under whatever color for you means NOT true

The following etymological story was making the rounds of our shipboard community last week, which entranced many of us, living in one of the rare phases of life when there is someone to make your bed for you every morning. (Thanks, Sotero!)

Here’s the version as it appears online:

The origin of the English word POSH is interesting. Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was the thing to do for Englishmen (and women) to go to India for holiday (vacation). They went by steamship. In those days, having a tan was not meant for the upper class, because it meant that one was a manual laborer or field worker.

 The route to India meant that the ship went out with the afternoon sun (the hottest and most likely to tan one) on the right or starboard side. And returning from India the afternoon sun was on the left or port side. To avoid the tanning sun (and paying for the more expensive side) a wealthy person would ask for a ticket “portside out starboard home”. The ticket person would stamp P.O.S.H. on the ticket. Eventually, one had only to ask for POSH. Thus, the word became part of the language to mean better accommodations… for a price.

But, of course, all good stories deserve a check-in with before sharing too widely, and sadly, this one doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny.


But if it had been true, I would have to say I’m traveling S.O.S.H. as my starboard cabin on Deck 4 is mine for the entire voyage. (Which currently means the sun is in a perfect position to force its equatorial brightness between the slit in my blackout curtains—e.g. sunrise came at 4:57 this morning as we travel north toward the mouth of the Amazon River; not a typical November morning for this native of the Northern Hemisphere. But then little has been normal about the past four months.)

Still, SOSH or POSH, here’s a chance for me to publicly salute the daily efforts and constant smiles of my cabin stewards: Julius (who departed in Cape Town, South Africa, for a much deserved break and visit with his family in the Phillipines after his eight-month contract was up) and his replacement, Sotero, who joined our 182-member crew to begin a new eight-month contract on the MV Explorer.


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