I am missing home today - having not been there at all this month (see hospital experiences blog posts). Nothing is ‘normal’ or ‘planned’ right now. It is hard to focus on more than getting through the next day or two.

My husband sent me a picture of the fog at Centennial Lake yesterday. The almost masked trees across the lake - their reflection in the water - the stones of the boat launch….I know the place well. The image evokes a bubble of calm for me. I’ll find myself looking at it frequently over the next few days when I need to fortify my emotional reserves.

Around our (Maryland) Yard in December 2012

Maryland in December is the time for the trees to take on their winter starkness. All the leaves are gone from the trees in the forest and the sycamore in our garden.

The dried hydrangea flowers have lost their pink color.

More of the onion seeds have been rattled out of their pods.



The shelf fungus on the oak stump looks a little battered

And the forsythia at the edge of the forest is a bit confused - blooming in the fall rather than its usual spring cycle.

Hospital Experiences - Part II

This is the second post in a series with thoughts about my recent experience having an elderly family member in the hospital - focusing on how life continues on with that disruption.


Modern medicine is full of specialists and it is not always clear which - if any - are caring for the whole patient. There is a “who’s on first” confusion that occurs for the patient and the family as each specialist comes by to assess the patient. Our family eventually started keeping a log to track it all so that we could ask questions rather than simply accept everything that was going on. The family was thus able to point out to the doctors that one medication intended to be calming - was causing heightened anxiety and agitation instead.

The food in this particular hospital is upscale - presented more like a hotel room service than institutional fare: a menu from which to order via phone (the kitchen knows the dietary restrictions as soon as they are told the patient’s name, black trays and plate covers….delivered by people in black uniforms. It is quite an upgrade from the stereotypical hospital food.

On the ‘life goes on’ front - we have finally finished decorating the Christmas tree. Enjoy the photographic show below.

I’ll write about the experience of our family member moving from ICU to a regular room….a move in the right direction.

Bradford Pear Trees

The Bradford pear trees are in full fall colors right now around Dallas, Texas. Many of the trees are quite large. The tree was very popular for medians and yards 20 years ago. More of them have survived in this area than in Maryland where there have been enough instances of high winds to take most of them down….and they are replaced by other types of trees.


Today I am enjoying the beauty of the trees in fall - remembering them full of flowers in the spring - but glad that I no longer have one in my yard.

Christmas Decorations as Heritage

As I got out Christmas decorations this year, thoughts of how and when they became part of the collection contributed to the joy of unpacking the bins and boxes.

The oldest ornaments were acquired when I was in elementary school in Wichita Falls, Texas. The caroling girls candle holder (minus a candle) was a gift from a friend. The gold and red tree was part of a set purchased by my mother and then passed along to me about 20 years later; I remember the drug store as a place we got a special treat for me: ‘cherry limeade with plain water.’

The felt birds were among the first ornaments for our tree as we moved into our first house almost 35 years ago. It was a red and white themed tree for years - birds and apples and lights.

The dough ornament is part of a set made by my sister almost 25 years ago - before either of us had children.

The ‘old woman’ ornament was purchased by my mother-in-law over 20 years ago; there is an ‘old man’ too. They were just a small part of her contribution to the one Christmas she lived with us. She really enjoyed decorating for Christmas!

The ‘tomato’ is part of a set of vegetable ornaments that we got by saving labels from cans - my daughter enjoyed them as a baby and now - 23 years later - our cats sometimes take them off the tree.

I am celebrating the memories of the many Christmases these decorations remind me of today.

November Sunrise

sunrise 3.jpg

Sunrise in November….possible to photograph from my front doorstep now that the leaves have fallen from the trees. It happens about 7 AM so no need to get up any earlier than usual. It does tend to be cold. This morning - when I took these pictures - it was below freezing; there was frost on the lawn.

The early part of the sunrise has the most red - it’s my favorite and means that my favorite photographs are always 15-20 minutes before the actual sunrise.

Sunrise is always the hopeful beginning of the day but some are interesting than others. Patchy clouds near the horizon reflect the colorful light. The ones this morning were moving too. The silhouettes of trees give us scale and stabilize the context of the image.

Of course the color of the light itself enhances other images. I captured the frozen day lilies - my confused plant that bloomed in the spring and then again in the late fall. 

Enjoy the Monday after Thanksgiving!

Unpacking Christmas

Rather than shopping on Black Friday, my family unpacks Christmas. We have plastic bins and aging boxes of decorations. Last year I did some cleaning out so this year my strategy was to get out everything - enjoy it or donate/trash it. The unpacking is taking several days. The traditional arrangements from years past are not adequate to display everything in the boxes! Here are some examples of items from the boxes used in new ways this year:

The collection of small boxes from jewelry purchases and gifts (I always save them thinking I will need them for something) and small pieces of wrapping paper became a ‘decoration’ - as they filled baskets and a sleigh used in the past for a floral arrangement (and still containing pine cones and chili pepper lights). 



A collection of Christmas cookie cutters used 20 years ago for play dough was hung on the tree.


Several extra strands of lights were bundled up and put in large bowl to light up a coffee table.



Packages of glittery blue and green pipe cleaners purchased years ago at a $1 store were transformed into spirals to hang on the tree by wrapping them around a wooden spoon handle.




And the mantle is loaded up with garlands of 20 year old tinsel that has not been out of the boxes in 10 years. It fills in all the gaps between the snow globe, ceramic figures, and clown music box. I'll have to put the Christmas cards that arrive in the mail somewhere else this year.

Unpacking Christmas has been uite a creative experience this year!

Gleanings of the Week Ending November 24, 2012

The items below were ‘the cream’ of the articles I read this past week. Click on the light green text to look at the article:

Studying Granite At Yosemite National Park - a video from Steven Bumgardener about the dominant rock in Yosemite

Willow the White Whale - video of a white humpback whale

The Big Apple's Mayor Makes a Very Scary Video - Bloomberg’s video to help us understand the magnitude of our Carbon Dioxide emissions

harvest pumpkin scones - a recipe from King Arthur Flour

There’s More To Space Than Freeze-Dried Ice Cream - a panel discussion of why space exploration is important

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week #29 - my favorite images in this group are the malachite kingfishers and the robin (reminded me the arrival of flocks of robins that always signal spring in our area).

Four Family Cultures of America Identified - From a 3 year study by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture: the Faithful, the Engaged Progressives, the Detached, and the American Dreamers. A key finding: American parents from all four family cultures want their children to become loving, honest and responsible adults of high moral character (i.e. no ‘death of character’ trend).

Can You Move It And Work It On A Treadmill Desk? - It may not work for a whole day - but what about for part of the day?

Pumpkin Cheesecake - sounds yummy

Women in IT: How deep is the bench? - Not as much as you would think. In 2011 women made up 57% of the US professional workforce but held just 2% of the jobs in professional computing occupations. Women graduates feeding the pipeline for computing professions peaked in 1985 at 37%; in 2010, it was down to 18%.

Thanksgiving Day Past and Present

Food and family are the essential elements of Thanksgiving for me. That does not mean that they are the same every year - far from it. Some years it has 10-20 people in my parents’ house. Other years only 2 or 3 were together and myriad telephone calls were part of the day.

From a food perspective, there have been some changes over the past 40 years as well.



Turkey or roast


Mashed potatoes

Baked potato

Candied sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top

Baked butternut squash

Cranberry sauce or jelly

Fresh cranberry orange relish

Orange jello salad with carrot and apple slivers


Yeast rolls, plain or with raisin filling

Spice muffins

Green bean/mushroom soup/fried onions casserole

Caesar salad

Iced tea

Iced tea

Mincemeat or pecan pie

Apple chunks baked with mincemeat

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin custard

Kolache and cinnamon rolls



Enjoy your Thanksgiving Day!

Ten Days of Little Celebrations - November 2012

Back in mid-August I posted about finding things to celebrate each day. It’s an easy thing for me to do and getting into the habit of writing it down each day reminds me to be grateful for these and a myriad of other things in my life. Here are some ‘little celebrations’ I’ve noted this month:

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starting. I had my outline and spreadsheet of character notes ready to go; it was a relief to finally start writing on November 1. I celebrated at the end of the day because I had successfully reached my goal of 3000 words.


Hot chocolate on a cold day. I celebrated that there were packets of hot chocolate mix in the pantry left from last winter. It is a nice contrast to hot tea.


Raking finished in the back yard. I celebrated even though I knew that it was only ‘finished’ for the day. There were still too many leaves on the trees.


Forest near at hand. Even though I live in an area that is full of houses and businesses, there are forested areas too - along the rivers and creeks, around catchment basins, in the medians and along the sides of roads. The forest has the effect of hiding the population density - a cloak of beauty over whatever flaws our ‘civilization’ has made.


The election. However fractured we are politically - the US held an election that told us more about ourselves than the polls had been screaming for months in advance. That is something worth celebrating.


Brookside Gardens could be on my celebration list every month of the year. There is always something new to see. The ‘river of leaves’ under the gingko tree was one of my favorite images this month.


Perfect score on a weekly quiz. I took a Coursera course on Obesity Economics and finally - managed to get familiar enough with the jargon to do well on the 3rd of 4 weekly quizzes.


50,000 words mark on my NaNoWriMo novel. The NaNoWriMo goals if 50,000 words and I managed to write them in the first 12 days of the month - and discovered I still had a lot of my outline to go. It took me another 7 days and over 20,000 words to finish the outline. I have had mini-celebrations all along the way; there are so many personal firsts.


A family medical emergency that ended well. I had a family member than was rushed to the hospital - had surgery the next day - and went home two days after the surgery. It was an emotional roller coaster for a few days….but turned into a series of little celebrations.


Gift wrapping. I volunteered to gift wrap packages at a local Nature Center shop to advertise the Friends group for the Center. It’s a great way to start off the holiday season - and I learned how to make a pretty bows with paper ribbon.

Previous ‘little celebrations’ posts can be found here.


Scissors are a popular tool. One of my grandmothers always used to emphasize using the right tool for the job - and somehow scissors are often the most appropriate tool.

I have accumulated many pairs of scissors over the years - rarely lose them - and am surprised at how frequently I use them. There are the black handled office scissors that I use for opening packages and envelopes as well as trimming labels and stickers to the perfect size. The red handled sewing scissors left over from long ago when I made quite a few of my clothes. Now I use them infrequently and mostly for just cutting thread and patches rather than yards of fabric. Cuticle scissors have done double duty to tighten the tiny screws in eyeglasses. The sturdy kitchen scissors I use most frequently of all - cutting up herbs, pizza or pieces of chicken; they are the scissors that tend to wear out from use and myriad passes through the high heat of the dishwasher. And lastly - the steel scissors I inherited from my mother-in-law. I don’t know their whole history but they are still quite sharp and I think of her every time I pick them up to cut wrapping paper or curl ribbon or open a package.

Birds from my Office Window

My office looks out over the roof of a covered deck and then trees - a maple on one side of the yard, pines on the other, and a tulip poplar at the fore of the forest that lies beyond. One morning this past week was cloudy and the color from the leaves had already faded. Suddenly there seemed to be a lot of birds. I managed to photograph some through the window. The window glass and the amount of magnification required makes them look like they were taken on a foggy day but it was simply cloudy. I saw

Doves in the maple,

red bellied woodpecker.jpg

A woodpecker on a neighbor’s roof,

A flicker looking around the base of a pine,

And blue jays - there seemed to be a flock of them - in the leaves.

I saw a cardinal and a chickadee - but they were too fast for me to catch with the camera.

The birds had distracted me from what I should have been doing - but I celebrated seeing them for the rest of the day. 

Celebrating a Sycamore

Sycamores are often awkward looking trees. When they are young their trunks are skinny and their leaves look too big. The young trunks often redeem themselves with their flexibility. The one that came up on my back flowerbed - which I have been cultivating the past few years - survived both the derecho that came through our area last July and Hurricane Sandy more recently.

The leaves keep growing for the whole season and are quite tough. They don’t decompose as easily as many other leaves. When I cleaned out my garden at the beginning of the summer there were some brown leathery sycamore leaves that appeared as intact as the day they fell from the tree.

But this particular tree has made up for is awkwardness by holding onto its leaves a little longer than many of the other trees this year. Their fading of green to yellow to brown - the combination of points and curves - fluttering…they are the holdout of the season right now. It is the last hurrah of summer.

The tree in my garden is not old enough to have the white bark that would make it so easily identifiable in winter. It takes years for a sycamore to become a ghost tree.....perhaps more than I will live in this house. 

Around our (Maryland) Yard in November 2012

Maryland in November is the time the raking of the leaves peaks. The leaves on our sycamore have stayed on longer than I thought it would since we already had a few of them falling in early October.


The hydrangea blossoms have deepened their color as they’ve dried. I am considering bringing some inside for a dried flower arrangement. 



The seeds for next year’s crop of onions are ready to fall in the garden.

And it’s definitely time to rake the leaves into mounds to they won’t kill the grass. The maples and tulip poplars are the most prevalent in our yard.

Peacock Feathers

I have a vase of peacock feathers in my office behind my monitor. They are about 30 years old; my grandmother raised peacocks and picked up the feathers as they were shed. I got a small box of them for Christmas one year. It’s probably old fashioned to have a vase of them; decorating with them was more popular in the Victorian era. I like them because of the memories they evoke and their beauty. They draw me in because they have an exotic aspect:


  • They have ‘eyes’
  • Their color changes depending on the light (because the color is structural - like many butterfly wings)
  • They are very long


So - today I am celebrating peacock feathers.

Celebrating November 2012

How do you celebrate in November? Here are some ideas:

Going off Daylight Savings Time. Maybe this isn’t something everyone celebrates. I do because it means that the time difference between where my daughter is (in Arizona) and where I am (in Maryland) does from 3 hours to 2 hours….and communication gets a little easier.

Veterans Day. Celebrating everyone that has served in the military; more and more of us know someone that has served or is serving. Celebrating from a different perspective - it may be a three day weekend; surely one of them will be a sunny fall day to celebrate outdoors before winter weather comes.

Thanksgiving. A day full of family and food and football. That’s the tradition in my family. The food does not have to be the traditional turkey and cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. I tend to make something a little different every year although my family always wants at least one batch of pumpkin custard (nobody seems to miss the crust!)

Gift buying. There are lots of sales in November that work well for those of us that are planning ahead for December. I tend to avoid the Friday after Thanksgiving and do my shopping earlier in the month. When I find the perfect gift for someone....I celebrate….knowing that I’ll celebrate again with them when they open it during the December holidays.

Decorating for the holidays. Rather than shopping the day after Thanksgiving, I decorate my house. It’s an all day celebration of family history as we unload boxes of decorations accumulated over 40 years. 

Hurricane Sandy in Central Maryland

When I came into my office this morning (Wednesday) - the moon was shining through the window. That was a very good sign since we’ve been under heavy cloud cover since Sunday. Even though it was just a break in the clouds, it was more sky that we’d seen this week and it started my morning out on a positive track.

The next positive to the day is that we regained electrical service yesterday so I could turn on lights and fire up my computer this morning. Our power was out for 19 hours. Kudos to the people at the utility company; they prepared well for this one and then got to work as soon as the winds died down! We had planned for a longer outage after our experience with a 5 day outage last summer when a derecho came through our area so getting power back quickly was a very pleasant surprise.

Aside from length, this outage was different in other ways. First - the time of year meant that we were in darkness more. Even during the day the clouds were so thick that there was barely enough light to read. I was glad my Kindle was fully charged when the power went out. Second - it was cool rather than hot like it was in July. Our house got down to about 60 degrees - not bad with layers of clothes but not pleasant for showering. Third - we slept in the basement on Monday - not like in July because it was cooler - because the wind was howling outside and we figured if a tree blew over into the house, we would be safest in the basement.

When we got up Tuesday morning, more leaves had fallen and the dahlias had been blown over. The turtle sandbox that I have mint and parsley growing in had been scooted across the deck - stopped by the railing. Our oak tree had a few small limbs around it. We had lived through Hurricane Sandy! I cut the dahlias to brighten our indoor celebration while a light rain continued for the rest of the day.

Ten Days of Little Celebrations - October 2012

Back in mid-August I posted about finding things to celebrate each day. It’s an easy thing for me to do and getting into the habit of writing it down each day reminds me to be grateful for these and a myriad of other things in my life. Here are some ‘little celebrations’ I’ve noted this month:

Sleeping late. The night had gotten cold and we didn’t have the heat coming on yet. It was so wonderful to stay under the warm blankets just a little longer than usual.

A rainy day. I like to work when it is raining. There is no temptation to get outdoors and the little bit of noise from the rain on the roof provides the white noise to keep my focus on whatever I am doing. It’s a day to where concentration comes easily.

Pink mushrooms in the grass. Mushrooms seem to come up very quickly after a rain. These were almost hidden in the grass. At first I thought they were scraps of fall leaves. But from the side or underneath ---- they were this wonder color.

Watkins Glen. A beautiful place any time but I enjoyed it in the fall.

Corning Museum of Glass.  I like glass in just about all its forms. Every time I go to this museum I find some other beautiful piece that I’d failed to notice before.

Home again. I always celebrate the first day back home even if I was only gone a relatively short time.

Writing 3,000 words to start a short story. I’ve signed up to participate in the National Novel Writing Month in November. So - I am busily practicing writing something every day and preparing a chapter by chapter outline to be ready to get 50,000 words written in November. Writing a 3,000 word chunk of a short story in a day was one of my practices that was successful! Hurray!

Sweet potato harvest. The weather dictated that it was time. It’s a lot like unwrapping a present although, in this case, you know there will be sweet potatoes. The surprise is how many there might be and how big are they.

Magnificent maple seen on the drive to the grocery store. Sometimes a path we take frequently has something of temporarily extraordinary beauty: in this case - a tree that has a glorious week every year in the fall….and somehow I always notice it.

Bean soup. Humble fare that was exactly what I wanted on a cool fall day.

Favorite Smells of Fall

What are your favorite smells of fall?

The smells I most strongly associate with fall are:

Leaf tea. The smell of wet leaves and pine needles on walks through the neighborhood or hikes through a forest are earthy and often very much like black tea and herbal teas. They remind me of how much I like hot tea as the weather turns colder.

Harvested herbs like basil and mint. I let them dry on a tray in the kitchen before storing them away for use all during the winter.

Pumpkin pie baking. The wafts of cinnamon, cloves, and ginger are so appealing whether they are the real thing or in candle form.

Roses. Roses tend to burst into bloom when the summer heat wanes. They have a wonderful last hurray in fall before the frost takes them.

What are your favorite smells of fall?