“Boss” Shepherd


Today is the birthday of Alexander Robey Shepherd (1835–1902). Do you know who that is? Well, if not, now you will. My daughter and I are finishing up a lesson block on Local History and Geography, which has ranged from visiting and mapping our little neighborhood creeks (to follow how they connect to the Potomac River and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic) to learning about the prehistory and history of the bit of land upon which we now perch, grow strawberries, and walk the dog.

Among the colorful characters we have studied is the above-named Shepherd, nicknamed “Boss” Shepherd, who served on the Bureau of Public Works, and as governor, in the days when Washington, DC had governors. Shepherd was a powerful and controversial fellow who didn’t sit around waiting for something to be approved by some old committee or the U.S. Congress, and he took it upon himself to make huge improvements in the city’s infrastructure. He was also progressive for his day, promoting universal suffrage and school integration. Shepherd was eventually removed from office, and his statue was put in storage as an embarrassing reminder of the political corruption from which our fair city has henceforth been free… Anyway. Shepherd’s reputation has recently been rehabilitated and his statue is back in front of DC’s Wilson Building, where you can stand today and eat a cupcake in his honor.

It’s an Oldenburg




Today is the birthday of Claes Oldenburg (born 1929 in Stockholm, Sweden), whose sculptures depicting soft versions of normally solid objects (like bathtubs and violins) and gigantic versions of small household objects (like lipstick and ice cream cones) have been critically successful as well as extremely popular and are installed in public spaces around the world. Some, like his giant clothespin and typewriter eraser, have also with the passage of time become mementos of a dimly remembered disappearing technology. His works elevate the pedestrian to the extraordinary and are lots of fun besides. Here’s wishing him a great big slice of birthday cake.


Move Yer Hurdies


Today is the birthday of Robert Burns (1759-1796), national poet of Scotland, who wrote over 900 poems and songs and collected and made available hundreds of traditional Scottish songs as well. This is all the more astounding when you consider his impoverished background, spotty education, delayed launch into literary life, and, sadly, his premature death at age 37. All over the English-speaking world today, Burns’ birthday is celebrated with recitation of his poetry; the festive presentation, and even the consumption, of haggis; toasts, speeches and songs; and a concluding round of Auld Lang Syne.

Although Burns is probably best known for his beautiful and poignant love poems, generally written in honor of one of the numerous ladies Burns admired, my offering today is a seasonal verse appropriate for a Monday morning in January.

Move your buttocks, you lazy fool. It’s breakfast-time!
Stop talking nonsense, you unmannerly blockhead.

Knitting/Nature Table


In the dining room we have a “nature table” that displays whatever the current season brings our way—violets, dandelions, seashells, squash. It’s where we set up the Christmas crèche, the family photos for Día de los Muertos, the pot of winter rye grass grown for Easter. And it’s been a handy destination for the acorn caps, seed pods, and interesting rocks that come home in everyone’s pockets.

The other day my daughter left her knitting project on the nature table. I was struck by the colors and fortuitous arrangement so I asked her not to move it until I’d drawn it in my sketchbook. She was patient, but happy to retrieve it.



Jurors’ Lounge Part 2

Being called for jury duty is never convenient, but there are two benefits. One is that whenever I have been empaneled and have served, I am each time impressed by the conscientiousness of my fellow jurors, the seriousness with which we all perform our job, and the fact that we live within a democratic system that calls upon ordinary citizens for this task. The other is that I get to pack a bag with work, lesson plans, and a sketchbook, and spend hours with them in a quiet room. And on my lunch hour I go to the National Gallery of Art around the corner.

This turned out to be a slow day, though, and a lot of us were dismissed mid-afternoon.


Jurors’ Lounge Part 1


One January a couple of years ago I was called for jury duty. (Hmmm… I ought to be hearing from them again soon.) As usual there was some sort of movie playing on the monitors overhead, but the woman assembling the juries was more entertaining.