Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dog Bed

     The dogs have never been allowed to sleep in my bed at night. Bow knows this. Pete thinks it's negotiable. I guess he's right.
     Since the cold weather crept into the house this winter, I've started saying yes to Pete when he anticipates bedtime and steals into my room. He waits while I get ready, trying to be as good and quiet and unobtrusive as he can be in order to ensure a spot in bed.    
     This is unusual Pete behavior. Pete is a loud, insistent, asshole kind of dog. He cares about getting his needs met first and lets you know (repeatedly). Food! Walk! Cuddle! Fetch! Attention! But waiting to be lifted into bed, Pete acts like the meekest, mildest dog. I think he knows that if he blends in I will haul him off the floor automatically--another habit of bedtime, like turning off the lights.
     A few years ago Pete ruptured two discs in his spine. His back half became useless. He had a hemilaminectomy, which, after several months of recovery, mostly fixed the problem. He can walk and run and gimp his way over downed trees now. He still has trouble knowing when he needs to pee or poop. He counts on me to keep track of that for him, which I'm not always good at. That's part of the reason he hasn't been allowed to sleep in bed and usually sleeps in a crate. 
     As soon as Pete starts moving on top of the covers, around 6AM, I figure I only have seconds to rush him outside. A drill sergeant voice yells in my head, "Get up!" I do. I run Pete to the front door, hoping that I can get it open before the poop, sometimes dangling from his ass, hits the floor or my arm or we step in it. It mostly works out, but there are nights when I give Pete one too many pizza crusts and forget that this will throw off his whole poop schedule. This happened last night. I woke up at 3AM, felt Pete's body contract, and then smelled shit in my bed. Pete woke up too and looked at me like, what happened? Did I do that? Guilty. It's not his fault. It's mine. And stupid pizza's.
     So why do I let Pete sleep with me when there is the potential for this mess? It's cold outside and Pete wants to be in that bed more than anything. He'll even be sweet just to get the chance. I'm glad that I can do this for him. It gives him dog happiness, which makes me happy. But I like having a warm body next to me, too, one that absolutely wants to be there, right next to me and nowhere else. When I lie down and turn out the lights, Pete makes these contended comfort sounds and falls asleep instantly. Those sounds slow my restless brain and help me fall asleep. Thanks, Pete.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Winter scenery

     Several winter storms came through our area last week, resulting in the first snow day of the season.

Snowy trail.
Cloud covered sky. 
Buried grasses.
Hilltop view.
Directional snow. 
Emerging sun.
Cast shadows.
Snow blind.
Deer tracks.

Fallen snow prints.
More sun.
The sun.
Cloud dispersal.
Melting, falling snow.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Birthday miss (a fiction)

      My dad doesn't know my birthday.

     When I was eighteen I moved out of my parents' house. On each successive birthday my mom would call, usually after dinner, and we would chat about my day and my plans for the night. She would eventually hand the phone to my dad, who would say, "Happy birthday, darling!" We would go one additional round before hanging up.
     I didn't think twice about that order of operations, it was the birthday routine. That changed when my parents separated and then divorced.
    The first year after the divorce, Dad forgot my birthday. I thought, oh, he's really torn up and in pain. I'll give him a call. I did. Our conversation was focused on him, his new girlfriend, new living arrangements, and new life. At the end of the call he thanked me for checking in with him. It made me feel good. It only occurred to me later that he still hadn't remembered my birthday. I asked my siblings, "Did Dad remember your birthday this year?" They all said, "Yes!" like it was a sacrilege to have asked.
      Huh. Okay.
     Over the next eight years, Dad either forgot my birthday or assigned it a new date. He would call a month before, "Happy birthday, darling," or three months after, "Happy birthday, darling." It was as if my birthday were attached to his winter sense memory and rounding it up to the season was normal. Now everyone in the family noticed. I talked with him about it. My siblings talked with him about it. Dad made excuses. He said, maybe it was because I was the youngest, or because my birthday is so close to Christmas and other dates, or because he was just getting old. In the end he said he would do better. 
      I asked my mom if Dad used to know when I was born. "Was he even there?" I asked.
     "Oh, he was there," she said as though she wished he had not been. She huffed into the phone. "I can't explain your father's oddities, honey. What I can tell you is he hasn't remembered your birthday for a long time. It was that way well before the divorce." She offered no further explanation.
     Huh. Okay.

     The next year I married a thoughtful man named David, whose birthday is in October. Dad started sending David on-time birthday cards with a check for $100. And then he started including a second check in the card for $50 which read: For Sylvie's birthday.
     I called Dad the second year it happened and asked him, "What the fuck?"
     He laughed and said, "Oh geez. I'm sorry, honey. I must not have been paying attention to the amount. I'll get it right one of these times."
     I said, "It's not about the money, Dad! You've been forgetting my birthday for years and now you're lumping it in with David's? Is it ignorance or a deliberate slight? I'm starting to hate my birthday because of you." He was silent in a way that let me know he was hurt and pouting. I softened and said, "Why can't you just put it on the calendar?"
     "You're right. I'll put it on the calendar. And I'll ask your brother to call and remind me."
     "Dad, why do you only forget my birthday?" I felt defeated asking this question.
     "Oh, I don't know, darling. We've been over this. It's so close to other important dates..."
     I still think that was the worst answer possible.
    Dad and I have not talked about his inability to remember my birthday since that conversation, but he still doesn't remember. My uncle's close birthday has been his excuse for the last three years.

    My birthday is next week. So it was no surprise when Dad called today to wish me a happy birthday.
     He said, "Happy birthday, darling!"
     I said, "Hi, Dad. My birthday is next week."
    "Oh, geez. Today must be your uncle's birthday. I always think of his birthday. You know, he was so important to me."
     "Yeah, Dad. I know."
    "Ha ha ha. You know what I mean. I guess I need to change your birthday in my calendar app."
     "Yeah. I think you said that last year."
    "You're probably right. I'll do it right after I get off the phone with you." He laughed again. It sounds embarrassed and uneasy to me. The laugh petered out and he said, "Well, it's really cold up here and the wind is blowing. It's probably good for the skiers because ... " I stopped listening. After the weather report he asked me about my birthday plans.
     I said, "I don't know what we're doing yet, Dad. It's next week. Thanks for the call, but I gotta go."

    I'm not angry that he doesn't know my birthday. I'm not even curious to know why anymore. My feelings are at a distance, just out of reach. That's what I think about when I think of my birthday.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Led to this blog post

On my drive home from work today I heard a portion of Fresh Air! with musical guest Mark Mulcahy, which led me to read this article, which reminded me that there was a television show, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, that was always on in dorm rooms when I was a freshman in college, which reminded me of Veronica Mars for some reason, which led me to a do a cast between two titles search on which turned up Geoff Pierson (how could I have forgotten?), which alerted me to the fact that I have not watched the last season of Dexter and probably never will. The cast search also revealed that Patricia Hearst was an actor on both shows, which made me think of Drunk History, and I remembered that Jason Ritter was in at least one episode, and you know, he is always good, so I watched the Atlanta episode of Drunk History while eating dinner ... and wrote this.
Read, play, listen, watch, enjoy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


     I am standing in the makeup aisle at the drug store, blinking beneath the bright lights, staring blankly at the choices. I pace, lean down, and squint at the labels. There are too many plastic tubes, too many colors for lips and eyelids and eyelashes. This is a foreign place. I don’t read this language. I don’t know these words. I have been persuaded by some motherly, grandmotherly, societal advice to be here and “look my best”. I am susceptible to these voices—I drift toward them and away from myself.
     I pick out a shade of lipstick and lip-gloss. I start shaking and rush to grab a silver tube of mascara before I lose my nerve. I buy all three—hiding my eyes from the cashier—and hurry out of the store and into my car.
     At home I place the makeup on the bathroom counter, change my clothes, and go for a run.

     My husband touched my bare face every day, little caresses against my cheek, ear, chin, and temple. My body knows his hands: the breadth of each finger pad, the coarse texture of each finger tip, the smooth, fleshy skin of his palm, the weight of his whole hand against my cheek, the pressure each finger exerts on my face, and the thin trail of moisture each finger tip leaves behind on my skin.
     A few hours after the EMTs and police left our house, I took a nap. I woke up to the weight of my husband’s hand on my right cheek. I opened my eyes and his disembodied, ghostly hand was there, hovering in front of my right eye. His fingers drew back as if to say, “Sorry I woke you.” I tried to keep his hand there, on the right side of my face. Don’t blink, I told myself. Stay, I told his hand. Don’t leave yet. Come back and rest on my cheek. His hand did not stay.

     Before the memorial I make a hundred sane decisions each day—what to eat, what to wear, where to get the programs printed—but every time I enter the bathroom, I see the makeup, three little tubes, and I am filled with anxiety. I am momentarily paralyzed. Should I put the makeup on now? Should I practice putting it on? I don’t. I turn and exit the bathroom.
     It’s the day of the memorial service. I feel out of synch with time. Time is moving past me, I’m moving past it. Sometimes this happens. I observe my surroundings and wait for the feeling to pass. The makeup is sitting on the counter. I stand. I dress. I brush my hair. I look in the mirror. Synch. There I am. It’s me. My movements match time again. I place my right hand on my bare right cheek. Time to go.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

DC bike lane video

Watching an Evan Wilder DC bike lane video is an extremely satisfying and somewhat soothing experience. Thanks, Evan!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Dog priorities

Pete and Bow sniff bear crap,
and dig.

They accomplish all of their goals.

Friday, October 25, 2013


    Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is a documentary about orcas in captivity and specifically about Tilikum, an orca currently working at SeaWorld, who has been involved in the deaths of three people. The film has one essential, riveting sequence that encapsulates the problem of captive, working orcas: an attack on a SeaWorld trainer, Ken Peters, by another orca, Kasatka, in 2006.
     The attack was widely reported on in 2006 and was brought to light again by David Kirby's 2012 book, Death at SeaWorld, and Blackfish, which was released in theaters this summer and on CNN this week.
     The Kasatka, Peters sequence is gripping for two reasons. The footage of the attack is professional  a taped SeaWorld, San Diego show. It's filmed on mounted, focused cameras that provide overhead, high angle, eye level, and underwater views of the swim tank. As a result, we can clearly see almost every aspect of the attack as it happens. In the first few minutes we see: Kasatka in the large concrete tank, having just executed some elements of the show; Peters diving into the tank to perform the final maneuver with Kasatka called a "rocket hop."; and then Kasatka abandoning that plan, rolling Peters, grabbing his foot, and dragging him down to the bottom of the tank while shaking him, something she does several times.
      The footage alone is visceral and powerful, but Cowperthwaite  additionally informs her audience by cutting back and forth between the footage and Dr. Dave Duffus (yes, that is his name), a marine mammal expert and professor at the University of Victoria, who discusses the attack. Dr. Duffus gives the audience a better sense of why Kasatka is distressed (she hears her young calf calling from another pool), what she is doing (taking her panic and frustration out on her trainer) and what Peters is doing in response (remaining calm, breathing, and communicating with Kasatka and poolside handlers). When Kasatka surfaces for the first time after dragging Peters around near the bottom of the pool for about a minute, Peters is not screaming or trying to swim away. Dr. Duffus draws our attention to Peters' control and his expertise as a swimmer, diver, and orca handler. Dr. Duffus points to Peters' attempts to soothe Kasatka by stroking her back, while practicing controlled breathing, preparing to be dragged under again, which he is.
     Dr. Duffus puts every action and reaction into perspective for the audience. We trust Dr. Duffus' expertise and we hear his  deep respect for both Kasatka and Peters, which is what allows the sequence to be that much more relatable and chilling.
      You can read a full explanation of the attack here.
      The fifteen minute video is availble below.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Big Sur

   A friend and I recently, accidentally, visited the California Condor research and education center located in Andrew Molera State Park, in the Big Sur area of California.
    We were camping, looking for firewood, finding none, and thought we would try our luck at a horse ranch up the road. Walking toward it we saw an outbuilding that turned out to be the Condor center. A guy named David, who told us he couldn't help us with firewood, welcomed us in and asked if we'd like hear about Condors.
     Hell yes!
    David took us on a short tour of the facility and, in about five minutes, explained as much as he could about Condors, the cause of their decline, and the efforts that have been undertaken to rescue and recover the species. He had more pressing matters to attend to. There was a sick Condor in the back of his truck that needed to be taken to L.A. for chelation. (Yes, David was kind enough to show us the magnificent bird). He told us that lead poisoning from hunters' bullets is the number one cause of death in Condors and was the reason the Condor in his truck was sick. But, he said, this is good news because removing lead from the environment can be done.
    David explained that a piece of legislation banning the use of lead bullets for hunting, AB 711, had been passed by California's legislature and was awaiting thgovernor's signature. He went on to show us effective pictures of soaring Condors and a deer's body cavity coated in a "storm" of lead dust after a bullet had exploded there. We looked at a graph of the Condor population before and after captive breeding and reintroduction in the wild. My friend asked all the right questions. I mostly stood there and smiled.
      Two days after our visit, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 711 into law.
     Last night I dreamt that I was teaching again. My students and I were on a field trip, standing in the middle of the California Condor center, listening to David. The kids kept interrupting him, and each other, to ask good questions. I remember the sensation of smiling at them in the dream. I think that woke me up. I was still smiling. I wondered, for the first time since I quite teaching three years ago, if I could go back to it.
     Who knows? Right now I just feel lucky to be part of this random world.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Canadians and more

     Alice Munro, your writing is bright and inspiring, and really kicks ass. Congratulations on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature!

Friday, September 27, 2013

100 year flood

     I attended a Baltimore County meeting this week regarding Roland Run Creek and its floodplain. It turns out my neighborhood,  but not my house, is in the creek's one hundred year floodplain. According to a study done this year and contracted out by Baltimore County, if it rains 7.1 inches in a twenty-four hour period in our region, our neighborhood will be evacuated, and many homes will be flooded. Upon hearing this, many of my neighbors seemed resigned to the  news--they've lived in the neighborhood for decades and saw this coming. There is a levee along the creek, but we were told it was never up to FEMA standards, and never will be (it would require money that nobody has and a change to road and bridge elevations that are impractical). That was news to me, and, it seemed, to many others.
    In this meeting we were also given information about the recently passed Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act. The Act will remove federal subsidies for flood insurance, among other things. Baltimore county's flood insurance is currently being subsidized by 38%. Flood insurance will cost more for my neighbors who have not already purchased it and now must.
    When hurricane Sandy hit, it rained at least 7.1 inches in twenty-four hours in our area, but we all seemed to manage. I'm hoping that we can come up with creative ways to manage in the future.
     Part of the reason I went to this meeting was to voice concern about the invasive plant species growing unchecked along Roland Run Creek. I was surprised to hear that invasives are of concern to the County even though they don't know what to do about them. I think they're best option at this point is to kill these plants using chemicals. After that, a stream restoration project seems like a viable next step to mitigating additional invasive damage and possibly flood damage as well.
    Learning more in the near future.

    Roland Run Creek on a sunny day.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Washington D.C. habitat

     The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden, a peaceful, secluded, walkway lined with native flowering plants, is located between the Natural History Museum and 9th Street in downtown D.C. It feels like a space apart from the Mall's high impact, tourist bustle. I visited last weekend to check out the garden's honeybee activity (at least one hive is on site at Natural History).
     Below you can see the gals feeding on and pollinating a variety of asters, which bloom in late summer and fall.

Thursday, September 12, 2013


     When you hike up into a cloud, as my friend and I did last weekend in the Catskills, it's misty—rainy even. Dry rocks become treacherous Slip 'N Slides beneath your feet. The fog is at once eerie and comforting. The woods become quiet and contemplative. Birds don't make a sound.

     Having watched too many civil war movies as a child, I could not help imagining smokey muskets and men rising from the ground around every corner (something I regularly visualize in the woods). My friend and I encountered not one musket or clandestine man, not even a bear. But there was a precipice and a dangling bear bag, a nice looking bed of pine needles that I contemplated lying on, good conversation, and the promise to return and next time climb even higher into the clouds.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Recently viewed films, compiled, with grades

Below is a list of films, mostly dramas, mostly crime dramas, that I watched this summer, but haven't had time to review. They are worth your time, which is why we're here. 
Each film is labeled by genre and graded. If the grade is at least a B, you should watch it. If the grade is an A, you should watch it multiple times and study it carefully.

The Right Stuff (1983). Drama. A+

Rust and Bone (2012). Drama/Foreign. B

20 Feet from Stardom (2013). Documentary. A-

The Spectacular Now (2013).  Comedy/Drama. B+

Memories of Murder (2003). Crime drama/Foreign. A-

L.A. Confidential (1997). Crime drama. A

Kick-Ass (2010). Action. B-

Zodiac (2007). Crime drama. B

Blackfish (2013). Documentary. C

Elysium (2013). Action/Science Fiction. D+

Oldboy (2003). Crime drama/Foreign/Thriller. B-

If you want to talk about any and/or all of these films in detail, I'm game, but you're buying the beer.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer 2013 garden wrap up

     The seven foot tall joe pye weed and cutleaf coneflower plants are dominating the garden as we near the end of summer. 
Joe pye weed's pink flower clusters can be seen leaning to the left in this picture. The yellow cutleaf coneflowers are in the center. A small pink phlox grows in front.
Blue/purple mistflower mixed with brown-eyed susan (cutleaf coneflower leaning in).
Bow watches the bees pollinate the flowers. He attacks them if they fly too close to him/the ground.
Pete smells the butterfly milkweed. He follows me around while I weed.

Close ups. Cutleaf coneflower.

Cutleaf coneflower and blue/purple mistflower.
Cutleaf coneflower and white boneset. 
Brown-eyed susan.
Butterfly milkweed.

Young Fowler's toad. The toads began to populate the rock garden portion of the backyard at some point this summer. 
We hear them sing some nights.   

     There have been no monarchs in the garden this year. We did not come across any brood II 17-year cicadas in our area either. Pete happily snacked on annual cicadas instead.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Plant invaders

     Our suburban neighborhood has a green space that runs adjacent to a creek, Roland Run creek. The green space includes a baseball diamond, fields, a small woods, and the creek's levee, one portion of which doubles as a trail. Many sections of this green space, along with all of the riparian area along the creek, are overrun with invasive plants. According to the Maryland Invasive Species Council (MISC) almost all of the plant species I catalogued are considered species of concern. (I've included a few photos and species names below to give you an idea.) 
Porcelain-berry covering trees and shrubs along the creek.

Multiflora rose growing at the field's edge.

A tree-of-heaven stand taking root on the levee.

    Invasive plants are more likely to take over habitats made vulnerable by rising temperatures, disease, and fragmentation, which basically describes our suburban area. At this point chemical application would probably be necessary to remove the invasive plants along the creek. Still, I contacted MISC to learn more and see what else could be done. Many people, from "weed warriors" to DNR officials, responded. Apparently, most of this area is in the jurisdiction of the Highway Dept. under the Baltimore County Dept. of Public Works.
     In Maryland, a stormwater runoff bill has been passed, which may provide money to help combat invasive species problems like this in the future.  We'll see.
    In the mean time, if you're interested in learning more, getting involved, or registering a complaint, contact Baltimore County's Dept. of Public Works, local representatives, and/or attend this public meeting regarding the Roland Run floodplain.