Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Word About Rest Stops

On our trip to the burning region of New York state, T and I stopped at a rest stop in Pennsylvania.  It was a vending machine wonderland and outside the bathrooms at least one man was seated on the lawn drinking a beer before he got back on the road.


The bathroom was a pink tile affair with a half dozen stalls and a long line. It smelled like a rest stop, which is to say, it wasn’t all that fresh.  When our transaction had been completed, I was eager to leave while T stopped to wash her hands.

I commend her commitment to hygiene but in all honesty, washing hands in that place was just a no.  I’m a woman with the immune system of an experienced teacher and can therefore afford to be around germs but I drew the line at that reststop and exited with haste.  When T and her wet hands emerged I suggested that the hand washing in that place was worse than just going without.  She wiped her damp hands on my shirt and agreed with me.

Thanks, honey.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Garden Update

Each year I spend June getting my garden mulched and ready for the long hot summer.  This year, June was filled with graduation, family visits, and celebrations.  By the time I stopped to take a breathe, July had arrived.  JT went off to Miami with A and her family and my plan was to work in the garden and mulch while he was away.  Then a heatwave arrived and my a/c offered its resignation.

I am not a heat tolerant person in the best of circumstances and while I usually permit my willpower to overcome my good sense, on this occasion I yielded to reality.  Rather than head outside to mulch the garden in the heat, I weeded and watered it and decided that this would be the year I wouldn’t put in the long hot hours needed to mulch.  Between my weeding and watering, the garden is holding its own.  Tomato plants have blooms and green tomatoes.  Zinnia flowers have bloomed; more are on their way.

The pear tree has pears.

Some of the peaches haven’t been eaten by squirrels.

July has been sunny and hot.  We could use some rainstorms but I run the sprinkler as needed. There is plenty of green in the yard; enough to encourage each evening’s display of fireflies.

That’s happy!

Monday, July 09, 2018

Ahhhhh, Refrigeration

As locations with 4 seasons go, New Jersey has a reasonably mild climate.  Though we are prone to heat (and humidity) in the summer, it’s not omnipresent.  Many people don’t have central air. and survive quite nicely  My first home in New Jersey was cooled with window units and, for the most part, that was fine.  My current house was built in 1931 and central air conditioning was added in the early 2000s by the previous owner.  It’s easier and nicer than window units and I’ll be the first to admit that entering a refrigerated home on a hot summer day is one of life’s nicer pleasures.

Until it fails.

Last Friday, a heatwave moved on to the East Coast and my air conditioner couldn’t keep up.  I installed a new air filter in the air exchange unit and crossed my fingers.  We are not a heat tolerant people and nothing reveals that like failing a/c.  On Saturday, JT gratefully decamped to cooler climes, on a trip with A and her family.  By Monday, as the heatwave expanded, it was clear that something was very wrong in Sassafras House.  The temperature inside the house approached 90 and the a/c gasped its last breath.

A repairman came and declared my system DOA. Repairs could be attempted but with 17 years on the ticker of a freon-dependent system that had been working at capacity for the last few years, that’s a tricky business.  The system was, among other ailments, leaking freon, a problem easily discovered but not easily solved.  Pouring in pricey freon is costly (not to mention environmentally unsound).  Repairs on freon-based systems are pricey because the  systems are out of date.   So repair seemed risky, like burning piles of money and hoping for an elusive lottery win.  

I consulted with my dad and several a/c contractors and we decided that it was time for a new unit.  I have radiator heat, so the air conditioner here is a two piece system: a compressor and fan outside and an enormous air handler installed in the attic, to move the cold air through the house.  Replacement was an all-day, 3-man-crew-process.  God bless the folks who work on Saturday.  

By then, the inside of my home was a smoldering 87 degrees.  While I waited through the heatwave, I stayed with T, camped at my own house, and used a borrowed window unit for my bedroom, which I chilled to the temperature of a meat locker.  After a lovely weekend with low humidity and mild temperatures, this afternoon promises a return of the heat. I am gratefully back in business with the chill and quiet whir of central air and incredibly grateful for the help that made it happen.  

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Real Life Conversations with T: Pothole Repair edition

The Backstory: Potholes in New Jersey are a perpetual and serious problem.  In the last two years, both T and I have made expensive car repairs thanks to damage wrought by potholes.  There are streets in this state that cannot be driven because the potholes are so bad; some are in my town.  Given the fact that we have state, county, and town governments, the lack of pothole repair is one of the things that most annoys me about New Jersey.  So the Domino’s ad where they advertised that they will repair potholes so you can safely drive your pizza home really struck a chord with me.

Me: Really?  We’ve gotten to the point where pizza delivery is also handling pothole repair?

T: I don’t know why you’re bitching instead of calling and ordering a pizza.  It’s the only hope we’ve got.

She has a point.

Saturday, July 07, 2018


It’s installation day and I’m pretty excited about the return of central air to Sassafras House.  The old unit was removed by 8:30 this morning and the new units are being installed.

Naturally, the heatwave has eased.  But I’ll be ready when the next one rolls in.  That’s happy!

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Like Camping, but with a Sofa and Fridge

My air conditioner offered its resignation as the year’s biggest heatwave rolled in to town.  After some back and forth, a replacement is slated to be installed on Saturday.  I have a window unit in my bedroom so that I can sleep comfortably, and I could certainly hang out with friends.  But I’m off work for the rest of this week and I like to be home.

Originally, I had plans to be one part productive and one part leisurely for this time off.  I planned to garden, read for hours, touch up some trim paint, clean a closet or two, and catch up on the home improvement shows on my DVR.  But even with the windows open and fans blowing, the house is steamy and unpleasant, so I’ve basically converted to camping-at-home mode.  I’ve spent hours on the shaded front porch or back deck with books and electronic devices that can easily be charged by stepping inside.   The walk to get a drink of water or use the bathroom is easy, if sweaty.  My heat-loving cats are happy and sleepy, per their usual habit.

I’ve mostly made salads or cooked on the grill outside, which is the summer mode around here anyway. I’d like to make jam to can for winter gifts but there is no way I will get the kitchen that hot without a/c, so jam-making will wait.  There is plenty of time for jam and outside relaxation is lovely.  It’s nice to have a coffee maker and a fridge to keep the half & half cold.  When the heat is too much I retreat to my meat-locker of a bedroom and cool off.  In the meantime, I enjoy the chirping birds, cicadas, unexpected breezes, and counting my blessings.  

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Independence Day

Because I study and teach American history, I’ve never had an unvarnished view of our nation.  I know the words of the Declaration of Independence and understand the history behind them.  I know the power of the promise that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  My heart still swells when I hear those words.  I find them so meaningful that I named my son after the man who wrote them.  

Those facts noted, my mind never forgets that from the moment those powerful words were first written down, we’ve fallen short of the promise.  

I am aware that the promise, however incomplete, has served as an inspiration for countless people, for those born here and those who came here to become Americans.  From Frederick Douglas to Harriet Tubman; from Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King and John Lewis; from Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Susan B. Anthony, from Cesar Chavez to Barack Obama, the inspiration has been the same.  Our history is filled with brave people who sought (and seek) for a nation that could live up to the promise of the words in the Declaration.

Today is the 4th of July, a day when we celebrate our nation.  These days, it’s hard to celebrate our government.  Mr. Trump and the Republican party who run the government are on a path of which I do not approve.  Their venal and ugly racism and sexism is a threat to our shared liberty.  Right now, I am not proud to be an American.

But I am still moved by the words of the Declaration; I believe in them and still see promise in them.  And I am with the millions of Americans who want to work toward our better angels.  We are loud and we aren’t giving up.  To paraphrase Dr. King, I know that the arc of history is long and I know that it bends toward justice.  Today, as with everyday, I’m with justice. 

Monday, July 02, 2018

Front Porch in July

My front porch is patriotic and decked out in red, white, and blue for the month of July.  It's starts with a wreath a friend of mine made.

I’ve been so frustrated and disappointed in my government of late that I considered taking a pass on a patriotic display.  But this is my nation, too.  And I am a patriot.  I’m a patriotic who believes that a nation of immigrants should have open doors for other immigrants and their families.  I’m a patriot who believes that equal justice for all means just that, all of us.  I believe that looking after the vulnerable makes us stronger and better.   I believe that liberty is more than a word, it’s pledge and promise we must maintain for everyone, not just those who are born here.  So I will celebrate the best of my nation with red, white, and blue on my front porch.  

I will relax here and enjoy the tranquility with my book, cold drinks, and iced tea.  And I won’t cede a bit of space to those who won’t bring tolerance and kindness to the celebration of our independence.  

Sunday, July 01, 2018

July 1: Garden Hostas

May brought the rain and June brought the sunlight.  Thanks to both, July’s hostas are looking quite lovely, with stalks and flower blooms to celebrate the summer.  

Most of the hostas are doing well, unmolested by the deer and rabbits.

I especially love this lushness, which is thriving in the heat thus far.  If today’s furnace-like temperatures are any indication, we’ll need some rain to keep pace in July and avoid sunburned edges on these plants.  

But for now everything is lush and lovely.  Summer, I’m charmed.  

Saturday, June 30, 2018

June Book Report: South Riding

I love all things English; add in the English countryside in the interwar period and I’m sold.  This book, written in the early 1930s and published in 1936, fits the bill and then some.  The author, Winfred Holtby, a friend of Vera Brittain and a writer who travelled in the edges of the Bloomsbury circle of writers, was a prolific writer who died just before she turned 40, soon after the novel was completed.  In my version of the story, there’s an afterward from the original publication written by Brittain.

Most of Holtby’s works were in the realm of traditional journalism, where her work was well-received.  Holtby grew up in Yorkshire and clearly loved her home.  The novel, set in an imaginary Yorkshire town in the midst of the Depression, has a strong and affectionate sense of place.  At the center of the story is Sarah Burton, a 40-ish career woman who has returned home to Yorkshire to head a local girls school.  Burton is a daughter of the working class made good, with politics that tend toward the socialist side of progressivism.

Though the story is centered on Burton, it’s full of the other figures in South Riding, especially the local town council aldermen (and one impressive alderwoman, likely modeled on Holtby’s mother), some of whom seek to do good works and others of whom seek to line their pockets.  England of the 1930s is in transition and it’s not yet clear where this will take the nation.

The novel weaves a leisurely story of the poverty and prospects of the 1930s.  It’s splendidly written, with powerful descriptions and an easy sympathy for the varied characters who make up the South Riding world.  Much of the reflections of the narrator lend themselves to remembrances of WWI and the modern reader can’t help but think of a second war soon to come.  Holtby references the political struggles in Europe but as fascism and Nazism have yet to play themselves out, that part of the story is incomplete, as it was in 1935 when the novel was finished.

There’s something haunting about a story set before a cataclysmic war that the reader knows is coming.  The descriptions of 1930s economic class and social change echo in 2018 America in a way that felt timeless and, at times, less hopeful than I would have liked.  Contemporary politics in this nation has me living with a sense of dread. But Holtby, a social reformer, saw shades of hope in the Yorkshire and England of her novel.  

These days, I need that hope, however faint. I enjoyed this second reading of South Riding and when I set it back on my bookshelf it was with the sense that I would read it again in a few years.  When that time comes, I know that Holtby's South Riding and Yorkshire will be the same. I’m hopeful that the United States will be in an all-together better place.