Sunday, November 29, 2009


Last month, my ears never perked up to the sounds of the sort of amusing student commentary that I collect for my entertainment and amusement. But November has delivered the funny and thus I present this month's overheard commentary.

"Where did you come up with this drug?" (Lest this place my school in a poor light, I hasten to note it was said in reference to a snack item obtained from the vending machines)

"Stop licking my computer."

And a conversation:
Student X: "If we save the environment, we cannot profit from it."

Student Y: "You suck, man."

And finally, me when speaking to student Z, who violated my no smelly food in the classroom policy:
"Dude, that chalupa smells."
This line got a lot of unexpected laughter from the students.  I think that they were surprised I knew Student Z was eating a chalupa.  But I did and he was.

Also of note: My new No Taco Bell in the classroom policy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Report From the Front

Each year, come the fall, JT's copy of the year's Playmobil catalog gets a bit shopworn, as he contemplates which of the toys will make his Christmas list.  He does this in preparation for the December arrival of the Man in Red.

Serving as an agent of the Man, I make sure to know just which items the boy is most desirous of.  Then, on Black Friday, when he heads off to what's her bucket's for her "parenting time," I gin up and head off to the mall.

I face the mall on Black Friday because the Playmobil store offers a 25% off sale, thus permitting the Man in Red to stay on-budget for the holiday season.  It's worth it.  Really.  I swear.

There was a time in my life when I enjoyed shopping.  But these days, I'm the commando guerrilla of shopping.  I go with a mission; I get in and then I get out with the goods. The goal is speed and efficiency in acquisition.

So it was with today's mission to Playmobil.  I was in and out of the store in less than 30 minutes.  I did pause as I walked through Sears on my way to Playmobil when I heard a voice announce that free stainless steel knives would be available at Level II next to the Christmas tree by the per customer.

Is it advisable to hand out free knives at the mall on Black Friday?  We live in New Jersey, for heaven's sake.  I cannot be the only person who thinks free knives in this situation is a very bad idea. 

Needless to say, I moved right along.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We had a small Thanksgiving feast at our house this year.  That has its advantages in that the holiday normally features a turkey....and with all respect to the bird, I prefer my turkeys alive.  I just can't get behind roasted turkey.  I will say that when called upon, I do make a kiss-ass bird.  But, in all truth....blah.  Just not my favorite.  JT could care less, of course.  So this year, we skipped the bird.

On the Thanksgiving fixins front, however, I excel.  So we enjoyed an all-veggies-all-the-time holiday.  By which I actually mean that I enjoyed the veggies (and I'm already looking forward to the leftovers).  JT maintains his no-veggies-any-of-the-time policy.  Sigh.

On the table:
- cheese & apple tray: Camembert, gorgonzola dip (somebody likes that with his potato chips...and no holiday would be worth celebrating without chips), and sharp cheddar.  Lest you suggest these were inauthentic choices, let me be clear: it's a little known fact the the Pilgrims enjoyed Camembert and potato chips at the first Thanksgiving feast.  You can trust me on this because I am an American History teacher.

- olives, of course (though JT was unswayed by my request that he put them on his finger tips, like I did when I was a kid)

- roasted brussels sprouts

- roasted carrots

- potato souffle (OMG, this is the best recipe ever)

- creamed spinach (my new go-to food)

- cornbread dressing (SO MUCH BETTER than the dreaded stuffing)

- rosemary rolls (note: JT did eat his weight in these...he worried that the nine rolls I made for the two of us would not be sufficient)

- cranberry sauce (homemade, with fresh New Jersey cranberries.....recipe to follow)

Pumpkin pie is slated for the dessert table.  For reasons inexplicable to me, the boy loves pumpkin pie.  He asked for it tentatively, as if such a pie was so delicious that it must require hours of kitchen labor.  It is homemade, OF COURSE.  But it didn't exactly sap my lifeblood to stir it up. 

The best part of the meal is that moment when we pause to say a blessing for that which makes us thankful.  I have too many blessings to count but at the table today we were thankful for our warm and happy home, for our cats and for each other.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Irony edition

The backstory: Each week, JT takes a spelling test at school.  His Sassafras genes aren't much help in this regard, as I am a dreadful speller.  So we practice the words and hope for the best.  This week, the spelling test was on Monday.  That meant an extra weekend to study...though in his case we were in Washington D.C. with the Model Congress team and we were not entirely responsible in our study habits. 

JT:  I got my spelling test back today.

Mama:  Oh yeah?  How'd you do?

JT:  I made a 90; I got 2 words wrong.

Mama:  That's pretty good.  What words did you miss?

JT:  Resources and literacy.

That figures.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Well Traveled

I drive a mama car.  I've got some clever stickers and it's a nice shiny silver color but at heart I must admit the truth: it's a mama car.  At any given moment, it's filled with the sorts of stuff a mama might need.  In the spring, I'm carrying baseballs and a bat.  In the summer, I've got sticks and extra bottles of water.  In the fall, you'll find a soccer ball.  And when the weather might be good enough to be outdoors, I've got my two folding chairs.

I bought the chairs in 2002 to take to a trip to visit a lake in South Dakota.  And since then, I've carried these chairs all over the place.  They've been to numerous beaches in New Jersey.  They've been camping at Cape Cod.  They sit out by the local pool in the summer.  And they have accompanied me to countless sports events.  If I've got a chair and a book, I'll happily go just about anywhere.

The soccer season ended a few weeks ago; it's still too soon for baseball practice.  And so I've placed the faithful chairs in the garage, to hibernate for the winter and rest up for the next season.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


The other day, my friend E announced that she was eating more fruits and vegetables.  She blamed me and, for now, I'll accept responsibility for this dubious decision of hers.  But only because she bought a bunch of apple pears and has since decided that they are not to her taste.  So I have been the recipient of the rejected fruit.

I like it.

My extensive research (I asked some students also eating free-fruit from E) confirms that this fruit is most often known as an Asian Pear.   That's one of those 1970s-ish names ----- an attempt to be exotic that  now sounds sketchy.  The apple-pear has the firm feel and look of an apple but the gritty (and sometimes soft) texture of a pear.  It's an appleish pear with thicker skin.  Or a pearish apple?  Anyway, it was sweet,  juicy, and tasty.  I think that this fruit should get a more exotic name, up the price, and try to lure Whole Foods onto the gravy train of fruit sales.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Household Happiness: JT's Bedroom

Though I'm often surprised to realize it was that long ago, ten years ago this fall I was getting a room ready for a baby.   I chose art that was a bit unusual for a nursery.  Rather than go for babyish things, I wanted a room that could grow up with the baby.  I started by framing some photos I'd bought from an artist at a craft fair, probably in Nashville, though I can't be sure.  I do recall that I'd had the pictures long before my baby was expected and when I knew that I was pregnant, I planned the room around them.  One of the pictures is of a small red chair at a table. 

The other is of a blue-spotted bowl.

For the better part of the pregnancy, the gender of my babine was unknown.  But in late November an ultrasound revealed all.   Soon after, I bought and framed a poster illustrated by the same artist who drew the covers for the Harry Potter books sold in the United States.  The poster, a picture of a boy astride his bike, riding through the sky with a backpack filled with books on his back, was just what I imagined when I thought of my boy.  I spent a lot of that pregnancy idly wondering what kind of person my baby would be.  But about one thing, I was confident: I would teach him to love stories.

When I brought home my barely 8 pound baby and showed him the pictures in his room I could hardly imagine that I would some day have such a big boy.  But the evidence suggests that's exactly what I've got these days.  The poster and the pictures still hang in the room where JT sleeps.  It's not a nursery anymore, of course.  The blue walls and the wide, white-trimmed windows are the room of a busy, imaginative boy.

At night, just before I go to bed, I check on the boy sleeping in this room. Most nights, I can see a shadow of the baby he once was in the soft curve of his cheek.  And big boy that he is, he'll always be my baby.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Reality Check edition

The backstory: The other day, JT came home from school with a sculpture he had made in art class. He was quite pleased with his project and eager to show it off.

JT:   I call it the Roller Coaster of Doom.  How do you like it?

Mama:  It's cool.  Why is it called the Roller Coaster of Doom?

JT: Well look at it.  Would you like to ride on it?

Clearly my powers of observation are not what they could be.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Food Friday: White Cheese

Since he was a very little boy, JT has loved white cheese on a cracker.  What he calls white cheese is actually boursin, a creamy soft cheese, usually flavored with garlic and spices.  At the grocery store a cup of it will run you $4 or $5.  I don't know about y'all, but that's a bit too costly for me to pick up on a regular basis.  My version is easy to make and inexpensive.  On top of that, it tastes terrific.  Try it and I promise that you will never buy the the store version again.

When I make it, I serve it with crackers or crusty french bread.  It's a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

The Recipe
1 brick of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon each dried oregano and dried basil
1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon half and half

Place all the ingredients in a bowl.

Now get out your hand mixer.  Set the mixer on high and whip the cheese for 3 minutes.  This will whip in a lot of air, making the cheese light and creamy.

Using a spatula, place the creamy cheese in a smaller bowl to serve. 

Leftovers (if you have any) should be refrigerated.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Short Pants

When JT was little, he used to call shorts "short pants."  He loved wearing them and the arrival of cooler weather (and long pants) was an unwelcome development.   But he would generally put on whatever clothes I set out and the transition from short to long pants was thus accomplished.

These days, he's still mostly willing to wear whatever clothes I set out for him.  But he does have one fashion rule: all shorts, all the time.  I am convinced that he would wear shorts in the dead of winter if I would let him.  You'd recognize him everywhere as the child with a heavy coat, hat, gloves, and shorts.  The problem with this arrangement is the troubled looks I receive from other parents and teachers when my child cruises to school in long sleeves, a jacket, and shorts.

Yesterday, I announced that it was cold enough to wear pants.  He grudgingly pulled them on and then spent the rest of the morning fanning himself from the excess heat my sartorial ruling brought on.

It's pants again today (the forecast high is 53 degrees).  I imagine that JT will need a glass of ice water to cope with the heat exhaustion this decision will bring on.

Update: My friend Mollie reports that her brother uses the word pants as a substitute derogatory, as in "That is so pants" when something is no good.  Sounds like new vocab for the Sassafras House.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


JT has memorized just one phone number and it's a certain number in California.  He calls often, filling in his grandparents on the big and small events of our life in New Jersey.  They figure large in his life and I'm glad of it. 

Last night, as I was tucking JT into bed, he told me his stomach hurt.  After nearly two weeks in town we were saying good bye to his grandparents the next morning and it was easy to diagnose his problem; I too had an unsettled feeling.

It's hard to say goodbye.

I've been away from home for more than 20 years now and I don't get homesick anymore.  Home is here in New Jersey, with the seasons and the woods and our lovely old home.  But my parents are getting older, a fact more evident when you only see them twice a year.  And since I became a single parent, I've felt incredibly vulnerable.  Time with my family eases those fears.  For the days that we are together my world feels fuller; less at risk.

Add to that the fact that for the last few weeks I've come home to a fresh-made supper (Grandpa made some incredible chicken enchiladas last night) and laundry baskets filled with clean clothes (my mother washed everything....I ran short of hangers!), and they will be very much missed.

We played cards last night (Grandma should take her lucky streak to Vegas) and laughed a lot.  This morning, my Dad and I debated health care reform one more time.  We are in agreement that the GOP needs to shut their yap.

They'll be back in the spring to watch a certain young man play baseball.  In the meantime, we'll talk and exchange pictures and resume our long-distance relationship.  But they will be missed.

Safe travels, Grandma and Grandpa.  See you soon.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Exotic World of Normal

I can't remember where I first learned of the Miss Read books, though I do remember that it was the spring of 2006 and I bought a few of the novels as a birthday gift for my ex.  Miss Read writes about two cozy villages in rural England and I knew the books would please her so I picked out a few, thinking they would be something we would enjoy together.  She hit the road before she read the books, and in packing up her things she didn't take them.  By default, the books became mine.

For the first few months, their mere presence in my home was a painful reminder of how my world had suddenly exploded into misery.  So I tucked the books away.  But I didn't forget about them, because the premise of the stories appealed to me.  Over the course of nearly 40 years of writing, Miss Read (in actuality a retired English school mistress by the name of Dora Saint), wrote countless stories.  Totaling more than 40 novels, most of them taking place in the imaginary world of Thrush Green, a town in the Cotswolds, and Fairacre, a town on the edge of the downs, they are stories of daily life.  The narrator offers plenty of commentary; occasionally those comments are a tad biting, but in a mannered English style that reminds me of Jane Austen.

I picked up the first book, Thrush Green, on one of my many sleepless nights in the summer of 2006.  And, as I read the story, for the first time in more than two miserable months,  I was distracted from my own overwhelming unhappiness.  I felt a bit like Alice, falling into my own private warren, this one an ordinary place populated by ordinary people.  But oh, the charm of that ordinary .....every time I opened one of her books, Miss Read succeeded in taking me to a place outside my own sadness.

The towns are populated by a cast of quirky and engaging characters, figures so well-illustrated that I've come to feel that they are utterly real.  I admire Miss Clare and I'm amused by the Lovelock sisters.  I know my share of Mrs. Pringle-types, and can laugh at them a bit more easily now.  I'd like to enjoy a cup of tea with Miss Read (we'd grab one in Caxley, after we did some shopping) and I dearly wish that Mr. Willet would come and give me some advice about my garden.  I admire  Charles Henstock's good-humored grace and kindness, I'd like to replicate some of Nelly Piggot's cakes from The Fuschia Bush.

In short, I love these books and their happily ordinary population.  There are so many Miss Read books that I made plans to stretch out the satisfaction.  This fall, I'm reading the last of the collection for the first time.  But as I know from previous re-reads of many of her books, the comfort of her world is just as happy on the second reading.

We're heading into some cold weather and that's the perfect time pick up one of these cozy books. Here's the link to the many Miss Read titles available on-line at Borders.   I recommend them all.  Seriously; every one is lovely.  Grab your favorite warm cardigan and make yourself a pot of tea.  And settle in for a most happy read.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


A few weeks ago, JT and I took a nice long walk in the woods that run along the D & R Canal.  This path runs along the eastern edge of the campus at our school and JT knows it well.  When he was in preschool, a creative gym teacher used to take the 3 and 4 year olds along the trail so they could admire nature.  Together, he and I have walked this trail more times than I can count.  JT knows which trees will prove most beautiful and he knows where along the trail we should pause to look for turtles sunning themselves.

As JT nears the age of 10, a number that sounds so old, I am increasingly aware of time passing.  One of the best things about raising a child is the chance to again experience the wonder and joy of childhood, this time watching life unfold before your child's eyes.  When he was very small, if something impressed JT, you'd hear the sound of a little whoosh coming from his mouth as he expressed awe at what he saw.  It happened pretty often; the world often offers new experiences when you are small.  That whoosh is more rare as he gets older.  One of the benefits of age is wisdom, of course.  But there is also less wonder; less awe.

Mother Nature still provides those whoosh moments I cherish.  Ducks gliding across the water; a group of still deer in the meadow; the brilliant leaves on the trail...they all make my boy stop and admire the beauty of it all.  And then I hear that whoosh.

In that moment, all is right in my world.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Indecisions, Indecisions: An Endorsement of Sorts

It's gubernatorial election day in New Jersey; we are one of just two states holding statewide elections this year (Virginia is the other one) and it's a race that has attracted national interest.  The only reason that I can spell gubernatorial is because it was a spelling word for the 4th grade.  And 4th graders needed to know how to spell that word because they have been studying the election.  So it was that my son has come home this fall regularly expressing his opinions and asking questions.  God save me if I hadn't known about the public question or our representatives to the state legislature.  I was proud of my boy's interest in the race and I took his questions and ideas seriously.  And though I say it myself, I was impressed by his level of engagement in the races.

At school the 4th graders organized an election for the whole of the Lower School.  In that election, JT cast his ballot for governor.  He voted for Jon Corzine, the Democratic candidate.  This morning, it was my turn.  Four years ago, I voted for Corzine's first bid to be governor of the state.  This year, he's seeking another term and facing off against Republican Chris Christie and Independent Chris Daggett.  JT and I watched the debates and we've talked about the issues.

There are a host of problems in New Jersey, but it all boils down to one problem:  local control.  Towns and municipalities abound in New Jersey and they all seek their pound of flesh.  We need to break the back of local control, a task the established parties have failed to accomplish.  So, good Democrat though I am, I was interested in casting a ballot for the Independent.  That's always a risky strategy, of course, because in our two-party system I could be voting for a spoiler.  And I am concerned about that as I have neither faith in nor enthusiasm for the Republican candidate.  I wanted Daggett but I could live with another term for Corzine, who had one hell of a task before him when he first took office, a reality nicely illustrated by this New York Times article by Matt Bai.

This morning, before we set off to vote, JT and I took a final look at the polls.  Christie has a slight lead.  Daggett is a distant third.  Jon Corzine will need a last minute surge of support if he is to win today. So  JT and I talked it through and then we made our decision: at the ballot box this morning, we voted for Jon Corzine.

Monday, November 02, 2009

All Halloween, All the Time

This year, the calendar kindly served up a Halloween that was a two-day affair.  On Friday, we celebrated at school and on Saturday, the actual Halloween day, we got to work at home.  There was a block party in the afternoon.

And then JT's buddy D arrived for the trick-or-treat extravaganza.  The front porch was made festive.

JT donned his man-skirt; D seemed to have experienced a rather significant accident.  This happens to him every year at Halloween.  Perhaps the authorities should be notified?

The tricky twosome trolled town for candy acquisition.

They met with great success and returned home to count and catalog their loot.  Some serious candy trading ensued.

There is enough candy in my house to carry us through the coming dark and cold season. 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

November 1: Hostas

It seems a little mean-spirited to post a photo of the hostas at this point in the garden season.  They've yet to attain the spare elegance and quiet of winter and are instead working through their last gasp from the summer.  They look dry and tired.  They seem to be saying "just leave us alone."

Fair enough.  How about we admre the elm and dogwood in the backyard? 

They were looking pretty glorious this week.