The lighter side of Mother’s Day

I’ve spent several hours reading Mother’s Day coverage in the major newspapers. There was an article of a woman clearing out her deceased mom’s belongings.  How a grieving Orca reminds a mother of the death of her child. One advises that what mothers really want this year is some time off, I would suppose, from their children.

So I decided to go for something lighter. I have two small stories, a decade apart, that may give readers a laugh or a nod of recognition. The sort of stories that come when you notice what is happening around you.

About twelve years ago, I was at a garden center choosing blossoms for the garden. Since my mother had passed years before, I didn’t connect that the holiday was coming up the next weekend.

As I headed back to my car, I saw a young father with two young boys, maybe 6 and 7, in front of me.

In each of Dad’s hands was a hanging basket of flowering plants which he was carefully holding well above the children’s heads as they flanked him. One of the boys kept asking, “Dad, Dad, do you think she’ll like them?” After two minutes of badgering, Dad said, in a very tired, harassed voice, “I don’t know! I don’t know!” They carefully placed the flowers in the back of the SUV, clambered and were strapped into the car, and he drove away to face the ultimate judge on Mother’s Day. 

Just two days ago, I passed a father who had one boy in a pram, one around 6 beside him, and behind him his maybe 7 year old daughter, the oldest of the trio of kids. Dad looked overwhelmed and tired, obviously not used to the circus.

What I noticed the wary, but determined gaze, of his daughter. Tightly held In her arms, was a water-filled pressed glass vase and a bunch of flowers – daffodils, purple Iris, and tulips, obviously carefully chose by the family from the display at Whole Foods. That daughter wasn’t going to let anything happen to the bouquet for Mom. 

I smiled under my mask because I thought no matter how harassed Dad might be feeling right then, his daughter had his back, and Mom had a beautiful surprise coming. 

I’m sure both mothers loved their flowers. 

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Back… well, maybe soon.

Wild Azaleas in full bloom

In February 2020, I wrote a long post about an exhibit at the National Museum of Asian Art about a wonderful Syrian/Iraq exhibit involving ISIS destruction.

Then came the pandemic, COVID-19, the coronavirus, staying at home, the election, the endless elections, etc. The hunt for toilet paper and Lysol spray. Then other real life problems intervened.

I wonder if the 2020s will be like 1920s when the people moved quickly on, passed all those deaths from the Flu. The world now is considerably more wired now in that we know of deaths in India as we do in Oregon as we do in Italy. Will we block it out because it’s too much to acknowledge all the time?

My outdoor visits were mostly to help take care of adoptions of cats at my local Petsmart, food shop, and to take occasion long walks. I did help write a book. More on that later.

At the end of this brief, I will keep that Iraq post handy since the museum will some day reopen and I can post it. In the meantime? Enjoy the spring/fall depending on where you are. Mother Earth seemed to have enjoyed cooping up humanity because in my area, the plants are bursting out all over.

See you soon!

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The Lunar New Year celebration arrives

I’ve always been affectionate towards Asian culture since I grew up surrounded by it. Many of my blog postings are about the Orient/Far East/Asia (depending on what you called it and what generation you are.)

(Updating my original posting at bottom) I did get to the Kennedy Center for their Winter Lanterns Lunar New Year exhibit. A hundred children, assorted adults of varying ages and lots of cell phones were there to greet me. It was a chill evening as well.

That said — It was a wonderful night for taking pictures, and listening to onlookers, and to watch children react to the lanterns. Welcome to the Year of the Rat!

There were two sets of LED-lit lanterns – the upper set included the four cardinal animals – Tiger, Dragon, Firebird and Turtle, and the Chinese Zodiac.

The lower set had mushrooms in various non-authentic colors, drooping pink lilies, a sea reef complete with a turtle.

Then, D.C.’s obsession — pandas. Two large pandas decorated for the New Year, had  small pandas cavorting around it.

There were food trucks and a small lit dancing area in The Reach which is the Kennedy Center’s newly built addition.

On Sunday I went down to the newly-named Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art for their Lunar New Year entertainment. They had artisans making small characters, and then holding out molding clay for the children to create their own.

A Chinese finger painter, Hao Da Wei, painted characters on red paper and autographed, with his chop, his small painting. Of particular fascination to the children, and accompanying adults, was the candy blower, who created sugar rats, handing them out on sticks.

It was a great way to spend the weekend.

Original Posting:

Tomorrow I head down to the National Museum of Asian Art (the renamed Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery) for their New Year celebration. I will revisit the Hokusai: Mad About Painting exhibit which is worth multiple visits.

The Kennedy Center in Washington DC with an outdoor exhibit of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. I’m looking forward to photographing it, and posting my pictures.

So, this is a place holder — I’ll update it tomorrow night. In the meantime, may your Daruma wishes come true. The Daruma doll has many meanings but at New Year’s it symbolizes persistence and good luck. You make a wish, paint one eye, and maybe with hard work and good luck the wish will come true.

You see one of mine did and both eyes are painted. The others? Wishes in progress of course.

Stay tuned.

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2019 – the end, 2020 – a beginning

Even for a person who has spent the last 40+ years in genre fandom such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, X-Men, Avengers, 2019 was a memorable year for endings. 

I’ve been a Star Wars fan from 1976 when I first picked up the book. In 1977, the movie came out, and I dived in the deep end. I went many times with my equally obsessed friends. So The Rise of Skywalker, an official ending to the Star Wars  saga is a moment to be marked in my life. 

Years later, I was lucky enough to cover Star Wars for years as a journalist. In December, I came out as a dedicated fan lit writer in the documentary Looking for Leia, now available and YouTube. If you have daughters who like Star Wars but feel intimidated, watch the 7 segments of LFL which are between 10 and 15 minutes each.

They will realize there are world of women and girls in Star Wars fandom to welcome them. My segment was on the women fans from the very start of fandom of Star Wars fandom, but whose very existence had been forgotten.  

However, anyone who thinks that The Rise of Skywalker is the end of the Star Wars universe have missed the phenomena called The Mandalorian, on Disney’s new streaming service, Disney+. The series is the closest in feel to the original Star Wars that I’ve experienced. 

When I first brushed into Doctor Who, I was a child staring at a small black-and-white television, and got sucked into the fantasy of the old man, his daughter and a blue police box who had adventures in time and space. 

Now The Doctor is a woman, played by Jodie Whittaker, returning January 2020 after a year’s hiatus. New stories, new worlds, and a new take on a 50 year old character and television series. Times change. 

In my mid-teens, I collected comic books. This was the time of Dark PhoenixAvengers, and Xmas. A couple of years later, I ended up going to art school in NYC, and gasp! worked at Marvel Comics as a lowly clean-up artist on the pages of the comics I’d devoured only a few years before. 

I even worked on the comic Star Wars adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back, combining two of my interests. 

So what now? 

In the fannish communities of the 1970s and onward, there were many women writing fan lit involving Star WarsBeauty and the Beast, Robin of Sherwood, and many others. Coming out of the dust of the past like ghosts becoming solid again, these women are telling their stories. Writer Jenni Hennig is planning on a collection of memoirs for Geek Elders Speak planned for the fall. There is some urgency here. We’re dying off. 

Finally, I may take up the pencil again. After school, I basically gave up on producing at since in the early 1980s, there were no jobs, especially for women. I went on to get a masters, went into journalism, and closed the sketch book. Is it time to open up again? Stay tuned. 

Thanks for reading! 

Sketch done of Yoda in the 1980s by Tish Wells.


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Hokusai the master

In the time between Christmas and New Year’s,  there is usually chaos in Washington D.C.. Gift returns, shopping for yourself, watching streaming television… it’s exhausting. So take some time out for peace and beauty.

Go see Hokusai, Mad About Painting.

The Smithsonian’s National Museums of Asian Art, (formerly the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery), has reached into its huge archives to bring out books, fans, and screens, to bring to life the masterful Japanese artist, Katsushika Hokusai.

His work is known to much of the western world from one woodblock print: the Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa. The towering wave with snow-topped Mt. Fuji in the background is so so well-known that it will be on Japan’s currency 1000 yen note in 2024.

Hokusai himself was an “obsessive,” said Frank Feltens, the Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art. The artist started sketching at six. Hokusai “had an insatiable  urge to paint.” As he grew older, he published under several names, but in his fifties, hit by lightning, he “became a changed man,” Feltens said.  

It’s worth stopping and reading the panels  at the start of the exhibit about Hokusai’s life. In his youth, he sold prints of the ukiyo-e woodblocks of beautiful kimono-clad courtesans  graduating to painted screens and manga  books of his doodles. It was after he was sixty that he did the famous series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji and other major works.

Out of the Freer archives comes a very rare piece. The scroll “Pounding Rice for Mochi” shows two men and two women at work. What makes this so special? The cloth on the top and bottom are original dating back to circa 1822, showing very different designs.  Most scrolls have been re-mounted on newer silks as the original fabric deteriorates. 

Hokusai wanted to live until one hundred and ten when he felt he might have reached the artistic level he wanted. On display is his last scroll painting, Thunder God, with a demon of immense power. 

He died at ninety. 

This exhibit will be on display until November 2020. The current scrolls will be rotated with others for preservation reasons. 

Posted in 2019, art, Asian art, Freer Gallery of Art, Japan, Uncategorized, Washington DC | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Summer reading is mostly memoirs

I read a lot but too much of it is on my computer. So I choose carefully when I decide to pick a up a book, and am likely to put one down if I am not taken with it.

This year I’ve read two outstanding books: Working by Robert Caro, and The Pigeon Tunnel by John Le Carre (a pen name for David Cornwall.)

Many might know Caro from his Pulitzer Prize winning biographies of Lyndon Johnson and Robert Moses, the architect of much of the landscape around New York City.

He started as a reporter in New Jersey. That is key to his brilliance. He was your classic reporter, fascinated by the story he was reporting, and a fast worker. He grew fascinated with political power as told through the toll on the victims as well as the cost to the powerful.

Working is a series of essays on how he works, on who he’s met and what it takes to do the kind of work he does. It’s beautiful. It rings every bell of my 30 years in journalism. It’s the kind of writing that the very best reporters do if they had thousands of pages to tell their stories. I just can’t wait for the more.

In 2016, John Le Carre wrote a memoir called The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life. Le Carre, famous for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honorable Schoolboy. The memoir is a series of essays of how he researched and wrote his spy novels for the last nearly 60 years.

Le Carre  had been part of British Intelligence in Berlin during the 1950s before leaving to write fiction in 1963. It is obvious from so many of the stories in The Pigeon Tunnel that his readers, from foreign governments to desperate refugees, continued to think he had connections in the intelligence community. He denies it all.

Like Caro, he believes in doing his own research. His friends in the journalism world took him into danger when he asked so he could get the background he needed for his novels.  Over the decades, Le Carre was occasionally told he’d told too much about the British Secret Service but it’s very clear from the memoir that he kept so much back.

What do both of these writers show through their memoirs? Empathy for all the humans involved. Caro puts you into the world of 1930s Texas Hill Country that molded Lyndon Johnson. Le Carre puts you into the world of the Cold War and spies, and the deaadly consequences of careless actions. He also has wonderful stories about real espionage traitors such as Kim Philby.

Both books are worth a summer read, and may stay with you long into the Fall.

(One of my resolutions for 2019 was to blog every month, so consider this July. We’re only halfway through August, so prepare for another posting before Labor Day. Hopefully)

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DC Pride in rainbow colors

Flags, fans, ribbons at DC Pride

Okay, I’m way late on this. But the Washington DC’s Pride parade was so fun, then scary, that I let weeks slide by. Spoiler: one pix has naked male buns. You are warned.

If you watched the poor television coverage of the Parade on June 8th (I’m a former journalist so I can bitch about them), you’d think the fear spread by the semi-accurate rumor about a gun was all that happened. I can tell you, that’s not true. Whether you were gay or straight as I am, the march was joyful.

It was a parade full of friendly folks, armed with ear-splitting whistles (honestly, who thought that was a good idea?), glitter, and wings. The participants were big on throwing beads, a la Mardi Gras and stickers The corporate participants handed out ice water (thank you, Giant Food).

Marriott float at DC Pride

Churches came with their floats. The Gay Mens Chorus of D.C. marched by.

I did what I usually do – wander through the set-up areas, then try to find a place along the route. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong side of the long linked fencing, so I ended up with the photo journalists, staying out of their way while taking pictures.

The Parade started with military flags. Local politicians went by. Then international: Costa Rica, the EU, the South Asian community, Ireland, Nordic countries. The UK had a stunning float. They also had military officers leading their group.

UK military march at DC Pride parade

Good will abounded. I caught the eye of one of the Aussie contingent who bounded over and gave me a big hug.

Float after float went by. A magnificent ‘woman’ with rainbow hair. The Caribbean man, full of joy. The watchers held out their hands for beads. The story is more in the pictures so I’ll let the images tell it.

From the Caribbean with Pride

Magnificent rainbow of Pride

Mid-Atlantic Leather at Pride

I ran out of power in two camera batteries, so I headed for the Metro to go home. All was fine. I was exhausted, dehydrated, sore back, sore feet. I took the escalator down to the platform.

Then came the gun scare. I held on to the handrail with a death grip because a flash flood of panicked Pride watchers tore past us at a fast run down the stairs.  I thought the escalator might break and stop. I knew that if I let go and was swept along, I’d end up hurt. It was not as if you could be prepared for this. You could smell the fear. Longest ride to the platform that I’ve ever taken.

Got home safely, drank lots of water and watched the repetitive coverage of the parade which was all about the panic, and nothing about the joy.

What a pity.

Balloons and confetti at DC Pride




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The Long Arc of Tony Stark and me

Iron Man costumes at the Marvel Universe of Super Heroes exhibit 

In the last few weeks, endless rivers of words have been written about the Avengers and Iron Man who is really Tony Stark, in particular. What can I add now?

Longevity. I’ve been involved with Stark for decades.

When living abroad in the early 1970s, I spent my time outside of school reading about the Revolutionary War, constructing WWI airplane models, and spending my small allowance on comic books.

One of the series I always bought was The Invincible Iron Man.

I fell hard for Iron Man‘s billionaire eccentric Tony Stark as only a teenage girl could, skipping over his numerous personal flaws, and wishing that the comic books had less about fighting bad guys in an iron suit, and more about the man.

Little did I know that 30+ years later, I’d get my wish.

The flamboyant intelligent playboy who’d captured my interest was brought to life by Robert Downey Jr, an actor with his own complicated past. While there was a lot of jetting around in a suit, the story centered around the fictional man.

Over the 22 movies of the Marvel Comics Universe (MCU) that stretched from 2008 to 2019, Stark evolved into a much more interesting man than in the comics. Starting as a practical, but narcissistic man who is summed up in a classified Avengers file as “volatile,” “self-obsessed” and “doesn’t play well with others,” he ages into a man whose brilliance is intent on protecting his family and friends even if his plans are very risky.

In the beginning in 2008, Stark thought he was an Iron Man, invulnerable and arrogant.

The creators of the movie Stark used so many of the distinctive touches from the comics. The handsome, rich playboy was also an alcoholic in one of the most powerful series, Demon in the Bottle, which came out in 1979 when I was a page clean-up girl at Marvel. His drinking problem was part of Iron Man 2.

By the end in 2019, he was a man who just desperately wanted to keep what little he’d managed to salvage after an universal war.

In 2008, our newswire sent reporters and photographers to cover the Afghanistan war. Iron Man‘s opening scene is an attack on a U.S. patrol over there. As I ate popcorn and watched the backdrop and dangers seemed familiar.

While covering the upcoming Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls for our newswire, Iron Man infiltrated my interviews. Talking to the head of the University of Chicago’s Asian Institute about Jones, we ended up talking about the then-upcoming Iron Man movie. He complemented me on seeing my hero come to life. I laughed.

Reflections of him kept popping up in my life. Who hasn’t worked with someone like Stark in their office? Handsome, self-absorbed, arrogant… I can say from personal experience that it’s exciting to be around someone like that but he’s extremely high maintenance. After the first decade or so, he’s irritating rather than attractive.

In Avengers: Infinity War, Stark goes to fight the evil Thanos on Titan… and fails. His protege, Peter Parker/Spider-Man is turned to dust as are 50% of life forms in the universe when Thanos snaps his gloved hand. Stark is devastated. He failed to protect anyone, and is stranded on an alien planet.

After being returned to Earth by Captain Marvel in Avengers: Endgame, he retires, hiding until the remaining Avengers ask for his help. Despite turning them down initially, he ends up finding the solution and joins in the quest for the Infinity Stones that will reverse the snap.

The Stark of the first movie would have done it for the ultimate challenge, or because he wanted to prove that he was the most powerful of the Avengers. 22 movies later, the practical engineer has nothing to prove to anyone. All he wants to do is try to keep his family alive… and save the universe.

That’s what he does with a snap of his fingers encased in a gauntlet embedded with the Infinity Stones. Stark saves them all. The dead of the first snap return, Thanos and his minions are turned to dust. A happy ending.

But, as the incredible power of the Stones chars his body, Tony Stark dies.

That teenager reader of The Invincible Iron Man in me was confused – he lost again? The woman I am now saw it as a bittersweet, but appropriate end for a flawed hero.

Stark’s memorial brings together all the people and heroes he touched. His original mechanical heart is set adrift on a funeral wreath on the lake outside his retreat. Avengers: Endgame winds up the stories of the original Avengers and show the way for the younger ones. (Hello, Spider-Man: Far From Home.

The survivors mourn their dead and move on with life.

Stark’s death nagged at me though. Even an adult, I was confused at my lingering sadness. It was just a comic book character from long ago who I’d enjoyed reading along with X-Men and Spider-Man. Why should it matter?

It mattered because the MCU and Downey brought to life a far more complicated character than the inked drawings on now-brittle yellow paper. The films concentrated on the human elements that I looked for all those decades ago. It was right to mourn someone that had I’d spent a long time with even if he was only a piece of fiction that ensnared a teenager’s imagination, and later brought to life by a talented actor on the movie screen.

So, I toast you with a non-alcoholic glass of Seltzer water and strawberry shrub.

“Goodbye, Tony. Rest in peace. It’s been a good run for us both.”

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Memories of Easter include chainmail & lilies

Lilies at the National Gallery of Art

Easter Lilies at the National Gallery of Art

Easter is what you make of it.

Over a lifetime you collect memories of Easter, many of them with friends and family. They may or may not included costumes, swords, pirates and/or stringing cables for masquerades.

As a child abroad, there were special moments such as the giant, to a seven-year-old, solid chocolate rabbit that my mother got from a White Russian woman who sold them in Hong Kong. Another year I discovered the truth about the Easter Bunny when its helpers overslept, and the basket was empty.

I remember hunting colored eggs with my friends. One of them later was murdered during hitchhiking in the 1970s. I still have a picture of her at the hunt though, so she lives forever.

As a teenager, my high school friends started the science fiction group, and were also theater people. Instead of going to church, we went to the local SF convention, Balticon, which coincided with Easter.

Listening to Celtic music at Balticon in the 1970s

At those early conventions in the 1970s, things were simple. You could toss a cape over your arm, pretend you were King Arthur, and be generally accepted. You could also learn to sew, figure out how to make a gown, and pretend you were out of a Tolkien book or Roger Zelezny’s “Amber” series or whoever you were reading. Everyone spoke the universal language of SF and/or fantasy literature.

One memory from the 1980s is of seeing the young girls in their frocks and flowers dancing down the hallway of the Hunt Valley Inn while on the other side chain mail clad barbarians carrying axes and looking totally exhausted went by. Both sides were happy.

This was decades before “Game of Thrones” made fur cloaks and swords popular in the mainstream.

Conventions was often the only time I saw so many friends who enriched my life to this day. The convention moved Balticon to Memorial Day and another hotel, and I stopped going.

It took another twenty years and a career in journalism to manage to spark another Easter memory. In 2014, the McClatchy newswire allowed me to do an article and a video on the Easter lilies of the National Gallery of Art. During the winter the NGA has an inside garden. After Easter, the fountain with mercury is barren until fall. Here’s the Changing of the Lilies.



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Coming this April strong women abound on SF and Fantasy screens

Shuri, the brilliant sister of the Black Panther

Captain Marvel. Wonder Woman. Princess Leia.  Shuri. Natasha Romanoff the Black Widow. Mon Mothma. Okoye. Arya Stark, Elsa, Maz Kanata.  In the last decade, there has been an explosion of strong women in movie and television’s science fiction/fantasy genre.

(I started this piece in 2017 when it was announced that Jodie Whittaker would take over the mantle of the BBC’s Doctor Who. I never published it because it wasn’t quite ready. Now it is.)

Wonder Woman made 821 million in 2017. In 2016, Mad Max: Fury Road ended up with Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in charge. It was nominated, but lost, for Best Movie at the Academy Awards. Numerous women in HBO’s Game of Thrones have come into their own. Disney gave us the young princess Moana and the regal Elsa in Frozen. We’ve come a long way.

In the early 200os, I was part of an online Star Wars group that bemoaned the absence of women in the universe. I finally asked them what they wanted if they could talk to the marketers. They had no answer. They couldn’t imagine what they’d want for themselves; they only wanted tee shirts for their daughters. Skip fifteen years, and the moms have a number of sources of merchandise for themselves as well as their girls.

The animated series,  the 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, gave young girls a role model in Ahsoka Tano, the apprentice to Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader. When Disney bought Star Wars, and rebooted the movies with a female protagonist, Rey, in The Force Awakens, (2015) they opened that world to women (beyond Princess Leia). Star Wars: Rebels (2014) gave us Hera Syndulla the pilot and leader of the spaceship Ghost who supports the Rebellion.

Rey’s costume from Awesome Con, 2018

The Force Awakens gave us Rey, the strong athletic young woman whose story would lead us forward in the Saga. The stand alone film, Star Wars: Rogue One, has Jyn Orso, daughter of the Death Star’s creator, who leads a team  to find the plans for the Death Star to get them to Princess Leia and the Rebellion. Unfortunately, she dies.

Since 1963, Doctor Who has been a man for his last 12 regenerations, (an opportunity to switch the lead actor.) Changes came to the series when in 2014, his eternal enemy, The Master, showed up in a female incarnation, Missy. Now the Doctor is Jodie Whittaker.

Now for a dose of realism. Why the “sudden interest” in women? It’s not just only the protests of younger generations for equality. It’s that marketers see women as those who will buy, not only for their children, but for themselves. The actress who voiced Tano in The Clone Wars, Ashley Eckstein, started her own clothing and jewelry company, Her Universe, to provide women with fannish clothing, something that men had had for decades.

What does this mean for the future? Hopefully more strong women. I define “strong” in that she leads by example, whether or not she’s the lead character. Her actions leads new generations to admire and seek to emulate her.

We will always have Princess Leia, Imperator Furiosa, Dana Scully, Elsa, Carol Danvers. The future looks bright. So many others yet to be revealed.

Carry on!

A Rey cosplayer looks up at Princess Leia at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s celebration of Star Wars

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