hoping, expecting, waiting

I sometimes say that I can tell that I’m an optimist because I’m so often disappointed.

Back in mid March, our governor announced that all schools in Massachusetts would be closed for three weeks. Our district had already announced a closure for two weeks, and the additional week seemed prudent. Massachusetts was just starting to see a steep rise in Covid cases. A couple of weeks later, the governor announced that the statewide school closures were being extended to May 4th. Again, this seemed wise.

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As the weeks went by, statewide cases and deaths continued to rise alarmingly. It was clear that Massachusetts was being hit hard, climbing up to number 3 for confirmed cases in the US, and third also in terms of cases by population density. It seemed unlikely that schools would be reopening in May. With many states already having announced school closures for the rest of the year, I didn’t really expect that our schools would reopen. My head knew that things looked bad. The writing was on the wall, and my head could read it just fine.

And yet it turned out that there was, apparently, still a teeny, tiny barely perceptible fiber of hope embedded in my heart, as it were. Some part of me thought that maybe, just maybe, the kids could return to school by June for the last few weeks. Maybe they could have a brief reunion with friends and teachers. Maybe my eighth grade daughter could have at least some modified fragment of the send off from middle school before leaving for high school.

I really only realized that this hope had been there when it was announced, two weeks ago, that schools would not be reopening this school year.

I expected it. I really did. I just hoped for something different.

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It got me thinking, as I’ve done before, about the distinction between hope and expect. In Portuguese, the same verb, esperar, can mean either to hope or to expect. The two concepts share a root, grounded in thoughts of the future. And yet one branches out to mean what our head believes will happen, and the other what our heart wants to happen.

Interestingly, esperar also means to wait. And now the days pass into weeks into months, and we must wait to know what to expect. We wait for testing to become more widely available. We wait for a vaccine to be discovered.  We wait, expectantly, hopefully, for signs that we have turned the corner.

Espero. I hope. Espero. I expect. Espero. I wait.

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I’m including photos of early spring leaf buds from my recent walks. I find buds to be so hopeful, with their potential bundled up and gradually unfurling. 

bittersweet revelations

Bittersweet is an adjective, meaning “both pleasant and painful or regretful“.

Bittersweet is also the name of a woody vine that is recognizable for its brightly colored berries. In the summer, they ripen to bright yellow. In the fall, however, the yellow berry husks open up to reveal a bright red berry.

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These cheerful red and yellow berries really catch the eye in the largely bleak gray post-foliage late fall landscape. These are some bittersweet berries I’ve passed on my morning walks.

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While there is a species of bittersweet that is native to North America (where I live), the variety I tend to see originates in Asia. It is not only non-native, but is considered to be highly invasive. And sadly, as was revealed when the foliage fell, the vines of this plant can strangle trees.

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Seeing the way the vines appear to dig deeply into the tree bark, it looks as if this slow strangulation has been going on for quite some time. Many seasons, and perhaps even many years.

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So while I can appreciate the beautiful looks of the berries, I can’t help but feel rather sad about the fate of the trees these vines choose as hosts.

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Bittersweet, indeed.

spider, bird, party

You might be wondering about that seemingly random list of words: spider, bird, party. In my head, they aren’t random, though. They have a sort of roundabout connection.

For a start, our house is still decorated for Halloween. We kind of went all out this year, as the kids hosted a bit of a party for some friends a couple of weeks ago. And one of our major Halloween decor themes is spiders and their webs. Here’s a sample.

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Giant spider and web.

We also tend to have a lot of bird-related things. For Halloween, we have some various crow, raven and black bird items, such as the wreath below.

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A wreath of black birds.

But aside from that, the connection between the words for me is a bit more of a tangle. Yesterday’s photo of a bird statue with a spider web reminded me that the words for bird (ptak) and spider (pająk) in Polish are two that I have gotten mixed up before. In case you are wondering why I have had the occasion to mix them up at all, I’ve been casually studying Polish using DuoLingo. (I had a conference in Poland last year, and I started the study as a bit of preparation for the trip. And I’ve just been continuing, with no concrete goals aside from learning some of a new language.)

But thinking about the various ptak and pająk items we had up for our party also reminds me of the most surprising word I’ve learned so far in Polish. The word impreza means party. It just so happens that I have been driving an Impreza (a Subaru Impreza) for the last 14 years, and had no idea it was a party.

Below is a photo I happened to have in my phone of the impreza.

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Impreza: a party?

(I sometimes take a photo of my car in parking garages to remind myself of where I’ve parked. Usually I delete it afterwards, but I happily I still had this one. Because what’s a party if you don’t have photos to show for it?)

So there you go.

fashioning a fascinator

I’m rather fascinated by the term fascinator. It’s a much more fanciful expression than “funny little fancy hat.” In any case, I fashioned myself a fascinator from a fluffy little friend. Well, really, I just took one of our many spider decorations, and fastened it atop my head. I felt it worked just fine.

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I don’t often post photos of myself on this blog, but when I do, there tends to be some sort of creature on top of my head.

a disappointing diversion

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I’m not feeling organized enough to post anything substantive, so I thought I should offer some sort of diversion. Flipping through my photos for something fun or moderately entertaining resulted in an inspiration deficit. Happily, I found this diversion. This sign was one I saw in Dublin in 2014.

However, it was clear that the sign did not offer as much diversion as one might hope. It simply indicated that the path was closed, and that pedestrians would need to go around the fenced area. In other words (or in one other word), what Americans like me would call a “detour.”

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Of course, I find the prospect of marking prospective diversions to be in itself somewhat diverting. I would like to see more signs directing people to unspecified fun.

the pullet surprise


I certainly won’t ever win the Pulitzer Prize, but I think I have a winner with this photo I took a few years ago.

Have you ever come across the term eggcorn? It’s a kind of misheard phrase, much like a mondegreen but not necessarily from a misheard poem or song lyric. A while back, I saw a comment thread on Facebook where a friend of a friend mentioned someone mishearing the Pulitzer Prize as the Pullet Surprise. Naturally, this photo came to mind. And then it makes me want to see if I can find photographic illustrations of some other such misheard phrases. Do you have any favorite misheard phrases?

a pair of pears


A pair of unpared pears on my kitchen table one morning.

A few years ago, my research group did an experiment that involved eliciting productions of phrases with specific intonational patterns. We were interested in examining the differences in realization of a pair of contours that are superficially similar, but convey different nuances of meaning. To answer our research questions, we elicited and recorded a set of phrases two different times with each subject, one for each of the contours. The recordings were then looked over carefully, and a number of preparations were made for the analyses, including cutting up and labeling the longer soundfiles into phrase-sized chunks, which were then labelled according the intonational contour elicited. Each phrase produced by a given speaker with one contour was then paired up with the same phrase produced by that speaker with the other contour. If for some reason we did not have both successful productions to pair up, such as if one was produced with another intonational contour altogether or contained a disfluency in the region of interest, we would pare out both the unsuccessful production and its would-be pair from that subject’s data. This process of pairing and paring the soundfiles henceforth became known among us as “pearing.”

Can’t see the thicket for the trees.

This week’s friday foto finder theme is “thicket.” While I have some idea of the meaning of the word, I can’t say it’s one that is frequent use for me. I was a bit stumped about what to post. I even went so far as to look up the definition of the word on Dictionary. com: “a thick or dense growth of shrubs, bushes, or small trees.” Living in the woods as I do, I can’t say I particularly would tend to notice the dense growth of small trees, largely because the landscape is so dominated by tall trees. And most of the shrubs and bushes I see around here are either undergrowth, or used in somewhat sparingly in landscaping. I’m sure there are thickets to be found in Massachusetts, but I don’t seem to have photographed them…

This photo was taken a couple of summers ago at our town park. At least I think it was at the park. It could have been any number of places in the area that are dominated by tall trees.

On the other hand, I did find a couple of photos from the Irish countryside with clumps of shrubs and small trees that are more suggestive of thickets.

I think the rows and clumps of tall bushes and small trees could reasonably be called thickets. What do you think?

To see what are thickets are to be found, pay a visit to the fff blog.

a scurry of squirrels

Following up on yesterday’s joy in learning a few new terms for collective nouns in English, I found myself wondering whether there were any interesting names for a group of squirrels. Indeed, squirrels did not disappoint: one say “a scurry of squirrels.” I find this especially pleasing, given that squirrels do tend to scurry.


This member of a scurry appears not to be in a hurry.


A furry member of a scurry, showing off the fluff of its tail in the sunlight.


A blurry flurry of a departing scurry.

In fact, at least 2 of these photos are of the same squirrel, so perhaps this is an insufficient quantity of squirrels to form a scurry. (Does anyone know the requisite number of squirrels for a scurry?)