Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dogwood Tree, Week 3

Chances are good that one morning this next week I'll wake up, look out the window on my way downstairs, and discover that the dogwood tree has lost all of its leaves.  Of course, that its beauty is fleeting is what makes fall such a pleasure.  

Saturday, October 30, 2010


For Halloween this year, JT decided to be the Kung Fu Pandaval.  Who's that?  He's a hitter for the San Francisco Giants, Pablo Sandoval, whom the fans nicknamed the Kung Fu Panda, sometimes just shortened to be Pandaval.
 We rolled with that, primarily because this costume combined face paint and baseball, two of JT's favorite things.
He wore the costume to the middle school dance last night (and reports are that he danced!) and will wear it again on Sunday in order to score some candy. 
Halloween never loses its charm for us; it's one of the best nights of the year as far as we're concerned.  We hand out the best candy and if we know you well, there is a special treat for your Halloween bag.
 Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Food Friday: Ranger Cookies

In light of the World Series, and our loyalties, JT feels that we should call these cookies Giants cookies.  Call them what you will, they are yummy.  This is yet another old-fashioned cookie recipe scored from my grandmother. 

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups rolled oats

2 cups cornflakes

1 cup shredded coconut

Cream butter with granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in eggs, 1 at a time.

 Sift flour with baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Stir into butter mixture.  Add vanilla extract, oats, cornflakes and coconut.  Stir until blended.

  Drop a generous teaspoon onto ungreased baking sheet. 
Bake smaller cookies at 375 degrees F for 8 to 10 minutes.

Yield 4-5 dozen cookies, providing you don’t eat volumes of the cookie dough.  Not that I would do that or anything. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


We've been having a lovely fall around here, day after day with chilly mornings followed by warm days and clear skies.  We received enough rain in September to green up the grass and the trees have suited up for their usual glorious display.
On Monday, we had a professional development day.  JT and I loaded up the car, plugged in JoJo, and headed north to George Washington's winter encampment at Morristown, a place called Jockey Hollow.  Though I've been to most of the local Washington sites in New Jersey, I hadn't been here before.  I'm teaching about the Revolutionary War right now and the timing was perfect.
Washington and his troops wintered here for several seasons.  The location, on the spine of the Watchung Mountains  and just 30 miles from the British winter camp in NYC, was chosen because it was secure, with plenty of space, and mountains high enough to offer Washington a vantage point from which he could watch British movement in the city.  Having learned the lessons of Valley Forge, the camp at Jockey Hollow was a great deal better in terms of hygiene.  Cabins were built on the crest of hills, to avoid flooding and swamps.  The encampment was large ----- when occupied it was the 7th largest city in the colonies ----- but it was hardly luxurious.
 Soldiers stayed in bunks built to contain twelve men.  Cozy, if not spacious.

Line officers stayed in a slightly roomier space.
Washington and his fellow commanding officers stayed in surrounding houses, taking over whatever housing space they could find (and eating the proceeds from their summer gardens).

The soldiers suffered from hunger and cold.  The worst winter ever in the history of New Jersey happened during one of the winters that the troops stayed at Jockey Hollow.  That year, 1780, they endured more than 20 snow storms.  For weeks in January and February the temperature never rose above freezing.  And yet they stayed, treating the cold and hunger as the price of liberty.  A price they were willing to pay.  We're fond of talking about the ideas and the sacrifices of our Founding Fathers and no one doubts the skills of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.  But the hundreds of nameless men and boys who struggled through the winter of 1780 at Jockey Hollow also deserve our praise and our gratitude.  Their names may not be known but their sacrifices earned our liberty just as surely as their more famous leaders.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gift Giving

At my school this year, I am a Senior class advisor.  Part of my job is to help the Seniors plan their class gift to the school.  At the moment we're raising funds for the gift.  The funds we raise will determine just how much we have for the gift.  At the moment, we're a bit short of cash.

The class treasurer suggested we just go to the Dollar Store to buy the gift.  This led me to have visions of piles and piles of cheap crap wrapped haphazardly and presented to the school.  To restore order, Student H suggested Smencils.  And then I was off an running.  Our Senior class gift will be Smencils scented like the school.  Those scents include:

 - rancid lunch, left a little too long in the lockers

- post Taco Bell haze, from the Seniors and their-out-to-lunch privileges

- locker room funk ('nuf said)

- downstairs bathroom at the end of the day (I trust I needn't say more?)

- Cafeteria French Fries, a smell that can linger for days

- Overheated lounge, a smell made more pungent when adults yammer on and morning meeting lasts too long

Other options will certainly be considered.  We plan to make our mark with this gift and I'm looking forward to seeing the look on the Headmaster's face when we make our Smencil gift announcement.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dogwood, week 2

 The dogwood tree in my backyard is going strong, celebrating fall in a way that makes me smile each morning when I catch a glimpse of the red-orange leaves.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

JoJo is Our Co-pilot

This week I finally broke down and acquired a GPS.  Living in New Jersey, the item will come in incredibly handy.  Roads out here are laid in a plan best understood by 17th century colonists, which I am not.  I usually figure out where I need to go, but it isn't always pretty.

So I finally caved in and  JT and I have joined the 21st century.  We've named our GPS JoJo and she's a helpful assistant as we wander the roads of the state.  The only problem that I detect is that the two of us really like to jack with JoJo, following a route different from the one she recommends.  She's quite patient when we travel off the grid.  But I can see that her lot will be a difficult one with the two of us behind the wheel.

Sorry, JoJo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Rupert Murdoch: Bite Me

JT and I live among the unlucky 3 million folks affected by the current News Corp - Cablevision dispute.  So, while Rupert Murdoch and the jackasses at Fox try and shake down the cable company (who's not totally guiltless, either), we suffer from a lack of Fox programming.  Though we don't watch a lot of TV, we do watch sports.  Specifically, we were all sorts of excited to watch the National League Division series.  But it airs on Fox and we haven't had Fox since last Saturday.


Our substitute plan is to watch the game via ESPN game cast.  Not bad, mind you, but nothing near as good as actually watching Cody Ross and Buster Posey at work (game cast provides details….lots of them, but no images).  And as the actual World Series approaches, JT has assumed a panicked attitude: what if Fox and Cablevision don't work things out before then?


And yet.

Yesterday, I discovered an easy, cheap solution to our troubles.  It seems that Major League Baseball will send you a satellite feed of all playoff games, including the World Series, for the bargain post-season price of $9.95.  You get the Fox or TBS broadcasters (depends on the game you are watching) and you choose the camera angles.  The images lag behind the audio, but by just a second.  We can still get the stats and counts details from ESPN and there's no adverts.  As solutions to our baseball viewing troubles go, it's a pretty good one.

Now we just need the Giants to win!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Real Life Conversations at School: Dress Code edition

The backstory:  My school has a dress code.  Both the students and the adults are expected to abide by it.  Among other rules is a prohibition on jeans.  For some years, the prohibition only applied to blue jeans; black jeans were permitted.  Over the last few years, the students took advantage of the loophole, coming to school wearing grey jeans, white jeans, purple jeans…..pretty much any kind of jean which could be painted on.  This year, no jeans of any kind are permitted.  So it was that I had this conversation in the hallway.

Ms. Sassafras:  S, those look like jeans.

Student S:  They may be.

Ms. Sassafras:
  No jeans at school, S.

The comeback was quick.

Student S:  Okay, Ms. S.  But no sweatshirts either.  (Note: she's correct….no sweatshirts may be worn in school)

I was wearing a shirt made of knit fabric, with a hood and a zipper.  Suspiciously like a sweatshirt.  Touche, S.  Touche.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Doing the Right Thing

JT bought lunch at school today.  I sent him to the cafeteria with a $20 bill and instructions to bring the change home.  It helps that he's just the sort of kid who can keep track of his things and so I wasn't worried about the change disappearing,  And my confidence was well-placed.  He came home with the proper change.

And a story.

Mr. H, the man who works the register in the cafeteria, accidentally gave JT two ten dollar bills instead of one.  And when JT got back to his seat and realized that a mistake had been made, he returned to the register, explained what happened to Mr. H, and returned the extra $10.

Between that story and the B grade he earned on today's grammar quiz (hereafter known as the predicate miracle), I'm a proud mama tonight.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Upon his return from the school farm trip, JT presented my with a sack full of laundry.  As I sorted through the pile, I was struck again by the condition of his socks.

We go through a lot of socks around here and JT's can nearly always be found in a most deplorable condition.  They start off their term of service in our house as a snowy white bundle.  But in short order they look as if they've been worn for days by a cola miner digging through a tunnel of mud.

I do my best to bleach them into submission but after awhile I am forced to admit defeat.  The socks are still serviceable, of course, but they look dreadful, as if they are the possession of a street urchin with only one pair of socks to his name.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My Dogwood

Five years ago, when I was house-hunting, a dogwood tree was on the unofficial list of things I was looking for in a house and garden.  I first came to admire dogwood trees twenty years ago when I lived in the South.  The occasional dogwood tree could be seen when I lived in the Midwest but the wind and cold were generally prohibitive; dogwoods prefer a milder climate.  In New Jersey, dogwoods do quite nicely.  And at Sassafras House, I have one in the backyard.  With a wagon underneath, it stands guard by the fence in a corner of the yard, keeping watch over the air conditioner, a bed of hostas, and the hydrangeas.  I admire it from the pantry window each morning.  This fall, it's as lovely as ever.  And so I've decided to make a picture of it each Sunday morning to watch as the leaves change colors and then fall from the tree.
 Autumn is so lovely.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


These days, JT is a laptop owner and he is suddenly much more involved with the on-line world than ever before.  We've long had rules about which websites JT can visit and I've always reminded him not to communicate with strangers on-line.  Those rules served to cover all of the bases for the first few years.  But his 5th grade computing habits have suddenly changed.  He's discovered that he can join game and quiz websites, communicate with his friends on-line, and he's a fan.  Suddenly, I need more principles to guide his on-line life.

1.  Consider the recipient   

While e-mailing and IMing your friends should always be kind-hearted, it needn't be grammatically correct.  However, when making contact with teachers, take care that your words reflect your abilities.  If you aren't sure, ask.

2.  And speaking of your teachers……   
When working on the computer at school or using a school-related program, act in the ways you would act in class.  Behave yourself; watch your mouth; and take care in how you present yourself. 

3.  Be yourself
While the computer may offer options for anonymity, don't use that anonymity to be cruel or unkind.  Don't gossip about friends on-line.  Don't assume that your comments will be kept private.  Double-check your address list, so that you don't make a mistake when sending an e-mail.  Do assume that on-line, as in life, you should treat others as you would wish to be treated.

4.  Be mindful

In this case, I mean awareness of his long-term on-line life.  JT has an e-mail account now and it's one that he can use for years.  It will take him through college apps and job apps….translation, his e-mail address is NOT pimpdaddy

5.  Be cautious
The rule in our house is that JT may not join a website or create a profile without my approval.  I act quickly when he asks and I explain my rationale. I've told him that he shouldn't communicate with strangers without checking in with me.  And I've let him know that I can (and will) check to see the websites he visits.  I've also  made clear that these decisions require a dialogue between he and I and will always be a work in progress.

These new rules seem to have us on sound footing for the on-line life we have ahead of us.  I'm equally sure that this is an evolving project, and I plan to be thinking ahead. 

Friday, October 15, 2010


In the past two years, JT has taken to calling his grandparents fairly often.  And when he calls, Grandpa better sit down because it will be a long visit.  He runs every possible baseball scenario on the planet past Grandpa and he's come to rely on Grandpa's vast trivia knowledge so that he too can be in possession of a vast array of baseball facts.

With the arrival of his very own laptop, the boy has taken to e-mailing Grandpa as well.  And when my folks were in town earlier this year, they sat side-by-side at their laptops and IMed one another.

Honestly, it was pretty cute.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Betwixt and Between

While I can't say I never received any warning that this day would come, I'm still forced to admit that I am completely unprepared to be the mama of a tween.  But my 5th grader is indeed a tween, and he has the cranky demeanor to prove it.

The problem here isn't just that JT is growing up (that I expected).  It isn't even that I miss having a little boy around the house (though I surely do).  The challenge for me is the patches of moody adolescence that have suddenly turned up at Sassafras House. 

More than once in the past few weeks, I've walked out of the room and let JT struggle, rather than try to help a kid who is so clearly itching for a fight.  I've made clear - repeatedly - that certain tones of voice may not be used toward me.  For the first time in years, I've sent him to his room to cool off.

I know that if I give it time, and lengthen my rope of patience, we'll find common footing in this new territory.  I know that a constant wave of correction from me, however warranted it may be,  won't have the desired result.  I have long maintained the 5 for 1 rule, whereby I say at least 1 good thing for every 5 corrections.  But some days that's a hard ratio to reach.

Since I became a single mama, when the going gets rough I have repeated one refrain to myself so often that it's become a mantra: Just do your best.  So far, that's always done the trick.  But I'm not going to lie: in the past few weeks as I've repeated that to myself I've begun to fear that my best isn't good enough.

But it's the only tool I've got. And I'm not the sort to give up.  So my best will have to do.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Unclear on the Concept

My box of Glad Handle-Tie trash bags has instructions for use of the bags printed on the back.  It could be me, and I'm certainly open to alternate explanations, but doesn't the phrase "handle-tie" pretty well sum up exactly what needs to happen here?
My friends, I worry about our nation.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Real Life Conversations with KO: I Wanna Be Sedated edition

The backstory: My little sister does not enjoy flying.  Despite this, she's proposed flying east to celebrate my birthday in a few weeks.  She'll be on her own, flying red eye.  I was thrilled with the idea, though aware that she doesn't enjoy flying.  Thus the following conversation:

KO:  So I"m flying out there for your birthday.  You should think of some fun things we can do. 

Me:  Flying, huh?  You should get some Vitamin X (that's what I call Xanax) from Mom (our Mom also hates flying).

KO:  I don't need hers, I've got some of my own.

Me:  Damn.  Bring that.  Now our weekend plans are set.

Reality check:  We're neither of us big drinkers or users of narcotics, legal or otherwise.  So we'll be finding something else to do.  And I'm way, way excited at the prospect of KO in town to help count my gray hairs.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Modern Living

I have a stock lesson for my U.S. History classes in which we explore the value of modern sanitation to life in industrial America, circa the late 19th century.  The lesson features a variety of horrifying stories about uses of the same river for drinking water and waste disposal plus a hefty dose of the smelly terror of chunky sludge running through the center of city streets. 

I can't say for sure that the students love this day in class, though I am confident that they never forget it.  I mention this because I think of myself as a girl who doesn't take modern sanitation and water systems for granted.  Thus there is some irony involved in the fact that my town is currently undergoing a project to renovate the water mains.

I actually have no idea what the gangs of workers are doing.  I do know that for the duration of the project, water on my street is being provided by this temporary hose:
Hard as it might be to believe, this high-tech system is prone to breakdowns.  With some regularity, the shiny metal clasps holding the hoses together pops loose and we come home to find our own personal geyser on the corner of Sassafras Street.  As if the blast of water wasn't trouble enough, it also means that there is no running water for the houses on our street.  This has happened at least half a dozen times that I know of; my neighbors report more.

So it is that we sometimes come home from school, use the bathroom, and flush the toilet only to hear an unsettling thunking sound as the house's pipes empty of water and are unable to re-fill.  A call to the water company typically reveals confusion and the announcement that they have no idea what could have happened (they've sub-contracted the job to someone else and have since seemingly washed their hands of the matter).  We've learned to call the police, who will then send out an officer in a cruiser who will slowly drive by, solemnly nod at the cluster of neighbors now standing by the gushing hose, and then drive on.  Within an hour, a truck pulls up and a friendly Jamaican guy hops out, armed with a bucket of tools he puts to use on the hose.  Within 20 minutes, we're back in business.

My neighbors and I trade stories about the inconvenience of the sudden discovery that we lack water.  One of my neighbors reports that it's happened twice while he's in the shower, once when he was still covered in soap.  I am haunted by the thought that this might happen to me and so now when I hop into my amazing new shower, I stand under the water and triage my options in case running water should suddenly prove elusive: should I wash my hair first and then apply soap to my body?  Maybe shave my legs first?  Try to do all three at once?  It is not a restful process, showering at my house.

The Universe and I have a long history of water issues.  And while I can't answer for my behavior in past lives, I think we can conclude from my experiences in this life that I still have a lot to answer for.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Few Catty Observations From the Gym

I've been enjoying workouts at my new gym for a little over a month.  I remain enamored with the gym-quality ellipticals and the excellent range of workouts they offer.  Though I mostly read and listen to my ipod while I run, I have had the chance to make observations of my fellow gym rats.  And so I offer these thoughts…….

I am forever surprised to look up and find men --- burly, manly, men of all ages --- watching USA network re-run chick movies while working out. What is that about?

Is there anyone on the planet who likes to use a Stairmaster?   God knows that the Stairmaster girls at my gym have impressive backsides; you can't argue with the effects of these machines. But hanging on, hunched over in seeming pain and misery just doesn't seem like an enjoyable workout, effective though it may be.  I hereby declare the Stairmaster a 21st century form of self-abuse.

Finally, what is the deal with the sweat towels people bring to the gym?  More than once, I've seen men wipe their sweaty brow with a flowered dishtowel.  One wonders what the misses will think when she discovers that towel in the family laundry.  I use inexpensive white towels that can be easily bleached and made fresh.  And I am a distinct minority.

No doubt there is a fellow gym member wondering about the weird woman wearing the odd t-shirts and reading the NYT magazine while she runs.  To which I each her own?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Food Friday: Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce

I make a lot of the recipes over at Pioneer Woman.  For one thing, she likes to use cream and I love cream.  For another, I find her recipes very amenable to my own experimentation.  Perhaps most important, she makes some amazing pasta dishes, a very nice way for me to put new pasta dishes on my supper table.  Earlier this week,  I made PW's pasta with tomato cream sauce.  The original PW recipe is here.  And my version is pictured below.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Aspirational Living

In the 5th grade, the students are learning how to write checks and balance a checkbook.  They've got a replica checkbook to do the work.  In his imaginary bank account as assigned by his math teacher, JT has $5,000.

This, of course, makes me want to enroll in the 5th grade.  Because God knows I've never had $5,000 in my checking account.  I guess that I should have gone to prep school.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Halloween Decorations

Last year, when my next door neighbor gave me a table with a cast iron base, I immediately began to plan for its seasonal use on my porch.  After more than a year of setting out flowers and plants, I've come to the conclusion that the porch's best month is October.
I scored the tablecloth for less than $10 from an Etsy shop with a stock of used tablecloths.  The black metal cat hiding in the mums is also an Etsy find.  In the summer, I use these baskets to hold veggies and flowers picked from my garden.  Come October, my harvest dwindles and the baskets have been pressed into use for mums and pumpkins.  The ivy in the galvanized pail will soon come inside for the winter but the weather is plenty warm enough for it to spend October on the table with a ghost tucked in-between the leaves.
I've hung out my fall flag and put the ghost sign in the yard.  I'm ready for cool weather, goblins, ghosts, and a little Halloween candy.  Okay, a lot of candy.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Final Bouquet?

I can't be sure, but I rather suspect that these may be the last bouquets of zinnias from the summer 2010 growing season.  It was a tough season for plants.  Even the zinnias, which did comparatively well, weren't as lush as I had hoped.  I've already been thinking about my seed options for next year.  But for now, while I still have a few zinnias to pick, I'll enjoy the flowers in my bouquet.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Baseball Affliction

There is a fall baseball season around here and JT is playing in the league.  His joy in playing baseball seems to know almost no boundaries.  We get to weekly practice early in hopes that he can have some extra time playing catch with someone. And if there's no one there and he's grown tired of playing catch with me, he practices pop flies in the infield, throwing his ball high in the air and catching it himself.
In his imagination, these catches are securing the post-season for his team.  I love watching him at play and I am charmed by his love of the game.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Real Life Conversations with JT: Walking Wounded edition

The backstory:  This past week was a rough one for my boy.  On Tuesday, he had a little emergency tooth extraction.  On Wednesday, he took a spill in the driveway and scraped his elbow something fierce.  The bandaids we had on hand (High School Musical and Disney Princesses) were not sufficient for the cause.  So after supper we headed to the local drug store.

Mama: I think we'd better get the 10-pack.

JT:  Yeah, we'd better.  Who knows what other crazy things I might do this week?

I couldn't have said it any better myself.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Apple Update

After the summer's heat and drought, the month of September ended on a very wet note.  Yesterday, there were nearly three inches of rain in my neighborhood.  More is forecast for today.  The backyard lawn is growing like it's spring.  And my fruit trees are still dark green.
I know that the swampy warmth and rain won't last forever.  In fact, a close look reveals the start of fall color on the fruit trees.  Soon enough the cold mornings will linger and the trees will shed their leaves.  But for as long as it lasts, I'll enjoy the lush green of my backyard.