One small step for … wait a minute.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon / NASA Photo

Did you believe it when you heard the news that man—two men, actually—had walked on the moon?

On Sunday, July 20, 1969, 45 years ago Sunday, we watched the flickering TV images of the moon landing. CBS was providing live audio coverage, with simulated pictures of the historic moon landing. You remember, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of the lander and declared:

“That’s one small step for a* man, one       giant leap for mankind.”

I was a reporter living in Evansville, Indiana, then. The moon landing was exciting news, the dawn of a new space frontier and the fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s promise that we would put a “man” on the moon. It would quash the green cheese myth forever and redeem my lackluster submission to seventh-grade science.

Yet when I returned to my room at the YWCA, brimming with wonder and pride, the reaction of my fellow housemates, girls up from Kentucky to find work, was flat.

“It didn’t happen. That was all a simulation. They never put a man on the moon,” one girl said plainly as she made supper in the common kitchen. The others agreed.
The parking garage attendant across the street wasn’t impressed either, though he didn’t exactly doubt the miracle.

“I’d say if God wanted a man to go to the moon, he’d have put him there,” he drawled matter-of-factly.

The US went to the moon five more times and after 1972 stopped going. That was probably enough for a non-believer. But those were days full of promise for those of us who saw and believed, and felt that if it were really possible to land on the moon, anything was possible. “If we can put a man on the moon, we can____________.”

You fill in the blanks.

*Historical reports often drop the “a” but Armstrong said he said it, and many researchers of Ohio-ese support him.


20140718-123254-45174598.jpgBottle trees are often found growing in backyard gardens in this area. Their colorful leaves, while rigid in structure, pick up the sunlight at various times of the day, sending sparkles of color through the atmosphere.

The species originated in ancient times after the invention of glass bottles. People heard eerie sounds rising from the bottle’s opening whenever the wind blew across it. These sounds were identified as evil spirits who became trapped in the bottle. Today, bottle trees help protect homes by trapping the spirits inside their colorful glass and keeping them from entering the home.

Bottle trees grow in almost any soil and are hardy in any climate. They need little if any water. And they are lovely.

We watch as fledglings leave the nest

IMG_4212We had been watching the nest for weeks, ever since I nearly chopped it from its moorings at the end of our privet hedge. I cut the power to my trimmer and parted the branches of a little maple that had invaded the old hedge. There, four feet above the ground, was a robin’s nest, stitched with brown mud, twigs and string and inside, a fuzzy head with its beak wide open begging for food. Papa Robin flapped in circles overhead warning, “Get away! Get away!”
I retreated and watched as the robin flew into the bushes to his baby. There may have been even two nestlings in that rough shell.

We’d have to be vigilant now. There’s a bird-stalking cat in the neighborhood. More than once, we’d seen the black-and-white meanie with moist feathers hanging out of his mouth.

IMG_4227 Bird on window sillWe watched the birds in the days ahead, taking a minute here and there to check on them. We saw the mother bird sitting on the nest. We’d see the red-orange breasted dad reeling in wiggly worms from the front yard. We peered in the nest and saw little feathers sprouting among the fuzz. Both parents kept watch and provided food, dive-bombing potential predators as needed.

On Saturday, July 5, the nest was empty. But a mini flurry of activity sounded in the
back yard. The fledgling, in his junior feathers, was hopping about, testing ground-level rain gutters, window wells and railroad ties for launching pads. He wobbled and teetered as he tried to fly, now and then catching air a few inches from earth. Papa robin was constantly nearby, circling overhead or perched on a post, chirruping encouragement, nature’s original “helicopter parent.”

A little robin will be able to sustain flight about two weeks IMG_4228 - Version 2after he has fledged–acquired the kind of feathers that will allow him to fly. He’ll have to watch out for cats, hawks, cars and lawn mowers on his own and forage for his own worms and berries.

Oh no! Now the little guy was hopping into the street, faster now, with dad right overhead. He made it across, hop-flying into the neighbor’s bushes and from there they both disappeared.

The robins still sing constantly in our yard midsummer but our little family is not among them, for all I know. The nest is empty. More robins will build new nests and settle them with pale blue eggs, beginning the cycle all over again.

A small boy’s world as seen from pillow hill

My Dear Abraham,

I am so happy you are feeling better. You will soon be four and so big! I know that you have had to spend a lot of time lately on the sofa, at home in bed or even on your back in your room at the kid’s hospital. That was important because you needed to rest and to take your medicine.

But you had to think of ways to have fun while you couldn’t run around! You had lots of good ideas. There were interesting books to read, movies to watch, silly games to play with aunts and uncles, even a puppy named Jig. And of course, toy cars and trucks of every size and color! Monster trucks like Grave Digger and little cars like Mini Cooper raced over mountains of pillows and blankets while you made up the stories for their adventures.

I was thinking of you when I read this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, a famous writer who also wrote the book, “Treasure Island,” which I hope you will read someday. He was very sick when he was a little boy and made up stories while he lay in bed. And he didn’t have a TV or iPads to keep him busy — they hadn’t been invented yet!

You’ll need to know that a “counterpane” is another word for bedspread or a cover for your bed.

I hope you enjoy this poem, too, and think of how far your imagination can take you, no matter where you are.   Love, Gramma


The Land of Counterpane

When I was sick and lay a-bed,
I had two pillows at my head,
And all my toys beside me lay,
To keep me happy all the day.

And sometimes for an hour or so
I watched my leaden soldiers go,
With different uniforms and drills,
Among the bed-clothes, through the hills;

And sometimes sent my ships in fleets
All up and down among the sheets;
Or brought my trees and houses out,
And planted cities all about.

I was the giant great and still
That sits upon the pillow-hill,
And sees before him, dale and plain,
The pleasant land of counterpane.

– Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894

Sounds of the city pounding in my brain


East Chicago Avenue at Michigan Avenue

Chicago, with 2.7 million people, pulses with activity every minute of the day. It breathes noise in and out — car and truck engines, horns, whistles, sirens, the mass undercurrent of outdoor cafe conversations, street corner musicians and herds of shoppers. Somewhere in the chaos, controlled by a grid of stops and starts, there’s a rhythm to the motion of people, autos and bikes you can’t quite identify.

Sitting in my car, at the light on Chicago Avenue crossing Michigan Avenue south of the Water Tower, men and women, mostly younger, a few with children in strollers, clutch their knapsacks and colorful shopping bags chatting non-stop as they flow across the intersection. Neiman-Marcus, Pottery Barn, Ralph Lauren, American Girl, the names stream by. My impatient vehicle partners rumble in their lanes, waiting for the light to change. At the curb, a man steadies the reins of his horse while riders wait for a ride in a red carriage.

With my radio on, I notice that all that is going on around me really does have a cadence, a tempo that makes sense. And it changes with a touch. Click. Sirius Pops. Verdi’s “Spring” from The Four Seasons wraps a calm and beauty over the crowds. The cars are calmly waiting their assigned movement, and the crowds are cohesive, deliberate and moving toward a goal. I feel at peace. Click. Beach Boys. “I Get Around” reminds me this is summer and it’s a young world where cars are king and meant to go fast on city streets. The people are moving eagerly now, with a shove in their steps. Even the horse is skittish. I want to get going. Click to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” There’s a pounding going on, on the pavement, in the air, in shouted voices, and on my steering wheel. What a wild and crazy town. The sounds of the city pounding in my brain.

Jeff says there’s a vibe in the city he can feel. He’s right. It can be loud, rough and raw. Or soulful and human. Gentle. Majestic. Personal. Like music. And it’s coming from your radio, or your iPod.

Word of Caution: Very tired with a long drive ahead of you? STOP. Turn off the Spa station and go to Hair Nation for a safer, more invigorating ride. 



Who's looking back at you?

This morning’s interlude staring out my kitchen window in a fit of distraction I saw a huge, rugged face staring back at me. So many years I looked at that tree, yet I had never seen it. Nature’s personality — it’s out there. Say Hi!

The first Earth Day had its asterisks


Every April 22 reminds me of that very first Earth Day celebrated in 1970. It started as a nationwide Environmental Teach-In, championed by Wisconsin’s own US senator, Gaylord Nelson. The Teach-In echoed the “ins” of that generation, like the Love-In and the Be-In, and many of its advocates wore bell-bottom pants and their hair as nature intended, long or “fro.” A newsletter reported “Earth Day observers in Milwaukee nominated the toad, the praying mantis and the ladybug as substitutes for DDT.”

I was part of a big group of students who gathered in Milwaukee that day on the banks of the polluted Milwaukee River near the performing arts center to hear speeches, a rock band and street performers with a common message: that we need to keep the Earth, our home, free of pollution, litter and other things harmful to children and animals. Music pulsed through the the air while a banner fluttered over a bridge proclaiming “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”

It was an exciting day, full of hope, the camaraderie of fellow college students and the heady belief that we were part of something important, something smart leaders were willing to lead. We believed we ourselves could make changes happen by not polluting our fragile environment in any way.

So, fired up and hungry after the rally, I was happy when my boyfriend John suggested we go down to the lakefront to grab some burgers from a stand. We sat in the car talking and eating and just before John started up the engine he did something shocking. He took the paper sack from the burgers, crumbled it up in his fist, and tossed it out the open window in the parking lot.

“What did you just do!” I gasped.

For G—d’s sake, it was Earth Day! (And this was my future husband!) One simply does not litter on Earth Day.

So my memory of Earth Day always had this little asterisk after it. The next day, on the news, we learned that the National Mall was filled with litter after its first Earth Day rally. We all had a lot to learn, and still do.