Dogwood Season


The cherry blossoms are succeeded now by the dogwood—not a very poetic name for so lovely and graceful a tree. Around here we see a lot of the native Cornus Florida, the state tree of Virginia. (This sketch is from our apparently never-ending homeschooling Botany block. And a marvelous excuse it is for going outside on a spring day to draw instead of practicing decimal fractions…)

For guidance in planting native trees, plus the encouraging possibility of coupons and rebates, don’t forget to check out Casey Trees and, if you are a Maryland resident, the Leaves for Neighborhoods program.

Today is also the anniversary of Maryland’s ratification of the Constitution. For a mini-history with sketches, please see Maryland, My Maryland.


This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.

Easter in Japan


In Japan the school year begins in April—with emerging blossoms rather than falling leaves—and so, despite continuing difficulties, this past week children began their new classes, some of them amid vast stretches of earthquake and tsunami rubble.

A few years ago we spent this season with friends in Japan. With kindness, good nature, and interest, they found, and accompanied us to, an exceedingly long Easter church service. Afterward we transplanted to their home our family’s Easter basket treasure hunt, a tradition begun by my mother that I have continued with my own children. This time, though, the clues were bilingual, the English ones first written by me and then rewritten in Japanese by my son. (Later we copied the clues here into my travel sketchbook.)

Today is also the anniversary of the founding of the Library of Congress. For sketches and a saga, please see Library of Congress.

Life on Earth


At this time of year my husband and I are usually in western Massachusetts (hiking, sketching, and—if deadlines have required hauling along a laptop—working) while our daughter’s homeschool coop spends the week working on a Hudson River Valley farm. This year the coop has a different plan, so here in DC we remain. Nevertheless, in honor of Earth Day, I post a sketch from one of our hikes through Mass Audubon’s Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary, where we have spent many happy hours quietly watching beavers. (The beavers are less happy to see us.)

For another sketch, and a history of Earth Day, please see Earth Day.





The dates of Passover (Pesach) and Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), are both related to the arrival of spring and the phases of the moon, connecting their celebrants with humanity’s remote ancestors, to whom knowledge of the seasons and the heavenly bodies was not merely interesting but vital for survival. Passover begins on the 14th day of the Hebrew calendar month Nisan, which is also the date of the full moon following the vernal equinox; Holy Thursday falls on the Thursday before Easter, which is the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. (Whew!) It sometimes works out that they fall, very satisfactorily (to me, anyway), on the same day; Holy Thursday is, after all, the celebration of a Passover meal.

For a painting and a poem about Holy Thursday, please see Holy Thursday.

The gift of reading


Today is the anniversary of the unexpected passing of my mother in 2006. I try to deflect the grey curtain that descends on my spirits each spring by recalling the many blessings she bestowed.

One of them was a love of reading. I grew up accustomed to the sight of walls and walls of books in living room, family room, bedrooms; books stacked on every table; books strewn about the car and gracing the bathroom. They were of nearly every genre: reference books and classics, of course, but also art, poetry, history, geography, science, humor, cartoon collections, and up-to-the-moment modern fiction. My parents also subscribed to about twenty different publications, from Life and Look (I’m dating myself here) to the New Yorker and Punch. Oh, the trees that were sacrificed at the altar of literacy. (When did my mother manage to cook and clean?) And, for good or ill, none of it was off-limits to us children, whether it dealt with the Gulag, the Holocaust, or bed-hopping suburban New Yorkers.

Here is my mother reading P.G. Wodehouse. Especially as she grew older, she really preferred humor to anything else. And that’s another of her blessings.



Art Appreciation

Today is the anniversary of the founding in 1870 of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, created, according to its charter, “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining in said city a Museum and library of art, of encouraging and developing the study of the fine arts, and the application of arts to manufacture and practical life, of advancing the general knowledge of kindred subjects, and, to that end, of furnishing popular instruction.”

With its program of exhibitions, tours, lectures, and concerts, activities for teachers, families, and children of all ages, and collections that include “more than two million works of art spanning five thousand years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe,” it can be regarded as fulfilling its mission.


On every visit to the MMA as far back as I can remember, somewhere I always encounter this guard, whose striking appearance merits depiction in one of the painting or sculpture galleries. I don’t think he’s been there since the founding. But it’s been a while. I hope he is writing his memoirs.

Today is also the anniversary of  the enactment of the Edict of Nantes, a 16th century attempt at freedom of worship. For a sketch and a mini-history, please see One small step pour l’homme.

Neighborhood in Bloom


To give the dog his four daily walks is no fun for anybody, including the dog, when it’s under the blazing August sun or an icy November rain. But what a pleasure it is in spring, when each walk brings a surprise, and the buds of a morning walk have unfolded into pale pink blossom by afternoon.

This is a sketch of a neighborhood tree from our homeschooling Botany block.

If you want to plant a tree in your DC garden this spring, Casey Trees, which was founded in 2002 to protect the city’s tree canopy, is offering a rebate of up to $50 per tree (three trees maximum). Now is the time to ensure the cool, leafy green shade of summer.

Today is the birthday of Washington, DC carpenter and builder Harry Wardman (1872-1938), who is responsible for many of our neighborhood’s houses (although once he achieved success he no longer wielded the hammer personally). For a picture and bio, please see Wild About Harry.


Dancing with the Daffodils

I post this ever-so-timely poem, along with a sketch of a neighbor’s garden, in honor of William Wordsworth (1770-1850), whose birthday it is today.


I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

—William Wordsworth

For another Wordworth poem, a bio, and a painting, please see My Heart Leaps Up.

About the Basin I Will Go


Despite the cold, my daughter and I bundled up and betook ourselves and the dog to the Tidal Basin just after sunrise for our annual cherry blossom breakfast. The blossoms seem unusually beautiful this year—extraordinarily cloudlike, illusory, celestial—worth every shiver. Gazing upward as we nibble our scones, it’s easy to forget the day of work and school that lies ahead of us. A serious photographer and three mallard ducks are our only companions, until the tour buses arrive.

For another cherry blossom picture, and a beautiful springtime verse from Song of Solomon, please see Cherry Blossom Breakfast.