Saturday, December 31, 2011

In Praise of Uncertainty

A few days ago, I pulled together a collection of my favorite photos from 2011; pictures that marked the year that was.  I set it to a soundtrack of my favorite song of all time and then I watched it over and over again.  And I'm me, so I cried as I watched the pictures.  JT came across me, sitting on the sofa with tears coursing down my cheeks.  This is not an unfamiliar sight to my boy; but he still stopped in his tracks, "Are you okay?" he asked.

I'm just fine.  In fact, I'm better than ever.

Six years ago, when my life went to hell in one day, I kept insisting that I could cope better with the adversity if I could just read ahead to the final chapters in the book of my life.  That's not how it works, of course, and I spent a lot of time over those years making peace with uncertainty.  I'm me, of course, so I made my way toward peace reluctantly, sometimes merely dragging my feet and sometimes kicking and screaming.

I started 2011 on the most even footing I've ever been on and that feeling of standing on a solid surface gave me the courage to once again venture into the world of uncertainty.  And then uncertainty brought me love and contentment the likes of which I could have never imagined.  For me, that is the happy story of 2011.  I'd still like to read ahead to see a glimpse of how my story will end, but the foreshadowing of this year has me convinced that there are some happy chapters in the future.  I'll take it.  

Happy 2012, everyone.  May you know blessings and good cheer.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Food Friday: Herb Oil

Usually, food Friday recipe postings are recipes I developed (or recipes I've inherited from family).  But today's food Friday is a recipe that I found in the New York Times Magazine's weekly food column in late November.  This olive herb oil has quickly become a staple in my fridge, handy for all sorts of uses.  It can be doubled (or halved) as needed.  I store mine in a mason jar, which makes it as attractive as it is useful.
That's happy. 

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Doing Kafka Proud

My house was built in 1930 and, like many houses of that era, has a gas meter in the basement.  The meter itself is new, having been replaced a few years back, but its basement location means that the meter can only be read by the utility company when someone is home to let them in.  In the months when no one is home, they estimate my gas consumption.  When they finally get in to read the meter, they correct the bill for any estimation errors.  In the nearly seven years that I have lived here, every time the estimate is corrected, it shows that PSE&G owes me, not the reverse.  In other words, PSE&G never has to wait for my money.

Every once in a while, the company calls me or includes a notice on my bill warning me that they must read the meter.  Or else.  When that happens, I call PSE&G and schedule a meter reading and on the appointed day, I stay home to let the meter reader into the basement.  This happened most recently in September and the next month my folks were here when the meter reader arrived on October 18.  My dad let him in to the basement; seconds later the meter reader left.  I figured that I was all set. 

So I was somewhat surprised this afternoon when I received a letter from the utility company complaining that they hadn't read my meter in 12 months.  The letter noted that PSE&G had sent me two warnings on my monthly bills and then delivered the big threat: unless they read the meter, they might "disconnect my service for non-access."  I was instructed to call PSE&G at once.
Before calling the utility, I got out my most recent bill (it came in yesterday's mail), the one that supposedly warned me that PSE&G needs to read the meter.  Please note that not only is the alleged notice not present…
 …but the bill also shows that PSE&G read the meter in the month of December (in fact, I was informed by the nice men who replaced my gas line that they had read the meter when they were here earlier this month). 
Nonetheless, I'm not one to ignore the threat of utility cut-off, and so I called PSE&G to check in.  I wended my way through the computerized voice service and was finally connected with Dave, who was quite friendly.  My man Dave confirmed that the meter reader had been here on October 18, though there is no evidence that he actually read the meter.  When I explained that I had recently received a bill which indicated that the meter had been read in December, Dave was at a loss.  When I asked whom I could speak to about the letter threatening to cut off my service, Dave said it was a computer-generated letter and there was no one to whom I could speak.  Then he asked if I would like to schedule a meter reading.

At a loss, I agreed to schedule a reading and then asked the utility to install a device to permit remote readings.  "I'm home tomorrow," I hopefully noted.  Dave consulted the calendar and proposed February 1st.  That day, PSE&G will read my meter and install a device to permit remote readings.  Still a little nervous about the threat to cut-off my service, I asked Dave again about the letter, noting again that I pay my bill every month.

"I've never heard of us cutting off service for meter reading," he advised. 

"Then why the threatening letter?" I asked. 

Trapped in the ninth ring of bureaucratic hell as he apparently is, Dave did Kafka proud: he had no answer.   And with that, our unsatisfying conversation was at an end.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pretty Packages

I love wrapping packages at all times of the year, though Christmas is my favorite, largely because of the assortment of ribbons and papers I've collected over the years.  I've put the holiday wrappings away for the season, but I've still got the pictures I made of a few of this year's pretty packages.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Born to Ride

As I wheeled JT's Christmas bike through the store, a number of people smiled at me and two shoppers actually stopped me to point out how happy it made them to see a bike being purchased for Christmas.  "That's a real Christmas surprise!" one of them exclaimed.  JT happily agrees and was most eager to set out for a Christmas morning ride.
To modernize his old-fashioned biking fun, he added his new iPod (thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!).  On Christmas day as he rode up and down the block, T caught sight of his head happily bobbing to the music.  He couldn't ride his bike today because it's raining, but he's got big plans for the days and months ahead.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas 2011

We enjoyed a very merry Christmas, filled with happy traditions that we had the pleasure of sharing with T, laughter, and some much-needed relaxation.  The tree was lovely.
Christmas Eve snacks were tasty.
This year, the luminaries didn't explode in a fire.
Santa treated us very well.
And the man in red was was nicely rewarded for his efforts.
Christmas supper with the R-K family was a happy success.
And we all enjoyed some rest.
We hope that your Christmas was also a happy celebration.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Pretty Treats

For holiday gifts, T and I packed up mason jars with cookie mix and then gave them to friends.  We had great fun organizing the project and, though I say it myself, I think that the results were a great success.

'Tis the Season

Behold the party fridge.
Ready for all of your brussels sprout, cold soda, and chilled adult beverage needs.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Solstice

Only JT would spend his Winter Solstice playing in shorts. 
 Yes, he's outside.
Full disclosure:  temperatures are nice and mild.  And what better way to enjoy the day's 9.5 hour allotment of daylight?  In any case, it's not entirely his fault.   He's saddled with a bad roll model.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Return of Family

Of the many hard adjustments to life as a single mama was the loss of family Saturday nights.  In its place were two Saturday nights each month with JT and I as a family of two and then two Saturday nights on my own.  I settled into a happy-enough routine with this pattern but it often felt like I was stuck driving down a narrow lane, prone to veering off into dark territory with memories of other, happier ways to spend my weekends.

T's entrance into our lives made everything brighter and offered the happy prospect of the return of family weekends.  As much as I wanted satisfying Saturdays to simply materialize overnight, that sort of comfort can't be forced.  I was wise enough to realize that we three must find our own way to be a family and I was willing to embrace the uncertainty in pursuit of the goal.

So we've been patiently navigating our togetherness.  T has been instrumental to our success, patiently giving JT the space to be 11 (or, more accurately 11-teen) and handling his moods and sass with grace.  We're getting there and it's brought me such contentment.  With T by my side, it's like I found a missing piece of my life; one that belongs to a different puzzle, the construction of which has brought me a greater happiness than I could have ever imagined.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

GOP Crazy Town

Over at Nate Silver's blog is a handy chart of up-to-date polling data on the upcoming GOP contests.  You can find it here.  Spoiler alert: the Iowa caucus and early Republican primaries are still a cluster of crazy.......though there are some faint signs that Republican voters are beginning to realize that candidate Newt Gingrich is off-the-charts nuts.

I must note that I'm slightly relieved: the mere whisper of the words President Gingrich scares the hell out of me.  Which is not to say that I find the notion of a President Romney comforting........just that my "worst case scenario" plans are slightly different were he to be elected (e.g., more time to get to Canada).

I still maintain that President Obama will do just fine against either of these chuckleheads, especially if the House Republicans keep handing him such obvious opportunities to point out that they can't won't govern.  Still, I expect an anxious 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Real Life Conversations with T: Know Thyself edition

The backstory:  I'm not particularly effective at sitting still, a fact that I sometimes forget but that is painfully obvious to anyone who spends time with me, as last night's end-of-the-day conversation with T revealed.

T:  How was your first day of winter break?

S:  Busy, surprisingly busy.

T:  Oh, honey.  Have you met yourself?

Enough said.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Teacher's Life

Plenty of critics look at a school teacher's schedule and conclude that they too would love to have a two week winter break and summers off.  Well, fair enough.  But until you've spent your days in a classroom and seen how the time plays out, I just don't want to hear from you.  A good teacher; an effective teacher, is ON from the moment she steps out of her car onto the campus.   Her entire day is devoted to the needs of others and these others are kids, so they don't always recognize a boundary to their demands.  A successful teacher gently moves her students to a place where they understand that the world doesn't revolve around them.  In the process, the teacher is always aware that for all their bluster and seeming confidence, they are still kids, sometimes far more sensitive than anyone realizes. 

And, yes, it's an often-uttered platitude that kids are our future…..but it's also true.  They must be encouraged to be creative and confident problem-solvers for life.  For that to happen, they must enjoy learning.  They must see the complexity of the world as well as the inter-connectedness.  No amount of any subject matter will ever be enough, so we must expose them to everything and teach them to be lifelong learners who continue to thirst for knowledge.  Our children need art and algebra; gym and science; some music and foreign languages to go with their english and history class.   They need it all.

Then we must take a break and allow our children and their teachers to enjoy some lazy days of quiet and rest.  In our house today, we'll be availing ourselves of some well-earned relaxation.  I highly recommend it.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winter Break

To the uninitiated, a day back in high school is a rather energetic affair.  Teenagers are loud, with little volume control, and a whole lot of enthusiasm.  That is true most any day of the year but on the day before a well-deserved Winter Break, the enthusiasm comes close to shattering the brick walls.  This year's day-before-break didn't disappoint.

I should have known I was in for it when one of my best students, a quiet, conscientious young woman who is unfailingly prepared for class, raised her hand Thursday and asked, "are we going to do something fun tomorrow?"  My usual response to this question is a blank look followed by the announcement that we always do something fun……..but this time I knew that answer wasn't going to fly.

We did spend a good deal of time yesterday playing school (I got to be the teacher…..and here's where my sister has some very unpleasant flashbacks to her youth and the weekends she was forced to play school with me).  We also had some fun.  And at the end of the day, I walked out of the building both tired and glad; glad of the blessings of a job I love.  And gladder still of the two weeks vacation that lie ahead.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Oh, New Jersey

The other day T and I pulled into a local diner for some breakfast.  It was busy and most of the parking spaces were filled, thus explaining the choice of this driver.
It may be that all of the nation now conducts themselves as if they have a Constitutional right to a parking spot close to the door, though I suspect otherwise.  I think this is just a New Jersey condition.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Conquistador of Cookies

Assured that I really meant it when I announced that I would be baking 30 dozen cookies for my students, T dubbed me the Conquistador of Cookies.   I like it and shall henceforth demand that everyone call me by that name.

Baking cookies for my classes has been an annual holiday tradition for me.  This year, with 85 students in my orbit, it's a rather complicated culinary affair.  The rule of thumb is that I provide 3 cookies for each student.  I like to make a variety of treats to satisfy all palates.

Each class's cookie platter featured:
    - rocky road fudge
    - peanut butter cookies
    - snickerdoodles
    - peppermint chocolate chip cookies
    - tollhouse bars
    - Molasses spice cookies
    - iced sugar cookies
    - sugar cookies
    - thumbprint cookies

Cookie day is now a two-day event in my classroom; three classes got their treats today.  The remaining classes and my homeroom will be feasting tomorrow.  It makes me happy how pleased they are with this simple, homemade pleasure.  It's yet one more reason to love what I do.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pretty Packages

It's Secret Santa time again and, as usual, I've enjoyed the process of wrapping packages to leave someone a little surprise each day.
 That's happy!  What else?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Iron Kibble Bowl

The other day it came time to open a new bag of kitty kibble.  This is an exciting development in the hard life of Tiger and Lucy; one that requires close supervision as my competency is in question.
Once I filled their bowl (and let me assure you that despite the anxious cats you see, the bowl was never empty), they ate with a a vigor that implied they'd never eat again.  Lucy tossed kibble on the floor, which is her favorite way to torture me.
It's a rough life for a pet in Sassafras House.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Christmas Tree 2011

There is something extraordinarily magical about a Christmas tree.  Each year's tree manages to be the most beautiful tree ever, a yuletide sleight of hand that reflects the joy of the simple treats of the season.
Or maybe its just the pretty packages underneath?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The Nominees

On Sunday, with temps just north of 60 degrees, we headed to a local farm to select our Christmas tree.  There were many candidates.
Several trees received a cursory review of their application for the job.
This tree earned an interview.
As did this one.
I was determined to avoid the 2010 error: selecting a tree that was larger than our house.  So this otherwise lovely tree was rejected.
The winner was finally selected and then cut down by the handy T, who wielded a saw without cutting off her hand, a task I was unlikely to manage. 
Then we all took a ride on the back of the tractor.

The tree was trussed up and tied to the car for a trip to Sassafras House. 
We decorated it on Sunday night.  Tiger and Lucy continue to be most thrilled with the new inmate.  Pictures of the final product will be posted in the next few days.  Spoiler alert: it's lovely!

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Harry Potter and the Big Stack of Books

Just before Thanksgiving, JT finally agreed to read the first book in the Harry Potter series.  I'd been urging this idea on him for years and he resisted, explaining to me, "I've already seen the movies."  But once he got started on the series, he was like a junkie, eagerly turning page after page, recapping the most exciting elements of the books, announcing that the movies weren't nearly as good, and negotiating for a just a few more minutes of reading at every bedtime.  He was a pretty good reader before, but this development has been remarkable for the passion and excitement it's engendered.  I know that I'm hardly the first parent to remark on the power of the Harry Potter books but, wow, I really had no idea.  It's truly remarkable.  He's reading book five right now and expects to finish before the night is over.  Book six is at the ready on his nightstand, prepared to absorb him with the magic of it all.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Modern Conveniences

Last Thursday night, we arrived home to find a bright orange notice on the doorknob.  It would seem that PSE&G, my local gas and electric utility, needed my attention.
I called the number at once and was told that my gas line needed to be replaced.  I'd need to be home for the job, they reported.  So I took a look at my calendar and said "I'll be home on winter break the week of December 19.  How about then?"  There was a pause and then B, the friendly utility worker on the line asked, "how about tomorrow?"

I responded by asking, "why the rush?"  B's answer, "There's a gas leak in front of your house."  Assured that we wouldn't blow to Kingdom Come in the next few minutes, I said I'd take a day early next week.  B hung up to check the utility's calendar then called me back and asked, "how about Saturday?"

Internet, when the public utility volunteers that they want to replace your gas line on the weekend, you don't say no.  So much for my exciting Saturday morning plans (lying around in my own filth, going to the gym, scoring a Christmas tree, and re-stocking the fridge).  I stayed home to get a new gas line.

At 8:30 am on Saturday, as I was still working through my third cup of coffee, a giant truck equipped with a front-loader and a jack hammer pulled up in front of my house and 5 guys piled out.  The day had begun.

I will confess that I derived a certain satisfaction at the noise created by all this equipment.  Some of my neighbors are of the leaf-blower-in-the-morning dawn variety and I spend far too many early weekend hours awakened by the hum of their leaf-blowing efficiency.  Revenge came in the form of a loud jack hammer and front loader.  It was richly deserved.
For a few hours, while a new gas line was placed underground,  we didn't have any gas service.

Then, with the new line complete, the holes were filled, grass seed was thrown around, the pilot lights on all the gas appliances in the house were re-lit and bingo! we're once again cooking with gas.  That we didn't explode in the process is just gravy.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


I drive a standard transmission car.  I prefer a stick shift for lots of reasons (snow, rain, gas mileage, control of the vehicle among crazy NJ drivers) but in heavy traffic, it can be a nuisance because I am a girl protective of her clutch.  In my lifetime, I've only replaced one clutch, and that at 90,000 miles.  I've driven more than one car to 140,00 miles and still been on the original clutch.  So it would be fair to say that I am very careful of the clutch.

In traffic, this makes me that annoying driver who won't inch up when traffic is at a standstill and there is space between me and the next car.  I won't inch up as that would require depressing the clutch.  And I want that clutch to last, so I engage it as little as possible.  Yesterday, stuck in traffic, I had some time to consider this practice and realized that my entire driving philosophy is summed up by whether or not I consider an action clutch-worthy.  Yesterday, the driver behind me in his giant hulk of SUV could see that I wasn't moved up within a breath of the bumper ahead of me and it caused him great angst.  I took my foot off the brake and let the car roll s-l-o-w-l-y forward down the slight incline - my compromise policy - and it like to kill him.  But I didn't care, having deemed those extra inches not to be clutch-worthy.

Oh, my God, Internet: I'm a jerk.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Glittery Goodness

Pictured below are my toes wearing my newest toenail polish: glitter purple.
I love it and think it's quite charming.  But let's be honest: it's entirely possible that it just gives me a creepy wicked witch of the west with glitter vibe. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The (Ironic) Happy Homemaker

When I first became a single parent, I quickly realized that saving all the household chores for the weekend was not going to be a successful strategy.  So I divided up my weekly chores and planned to get a little done every day.  Most days, I come home from work, start a load of clothes, hit the gym, make supper, complete some chore, and then get some school work done.  But Wednesday is different in that I take a break from the gym and have a little more afternoon time on my hands.  So most Wednesday afternoons find me washing a load of clothes (see: mother of a boy), collecting the trash (so that the boy can carry it outside for the Thursday morning pick up) and cleaning the bathrooms.   I follow up this festival of cleanliness by making supper.  Though I fear it makes me sound like some sort of throwback to the 1950s, I really do find the entire routine of cleaning followed by cooking to be satisfying.  I listen to NPR and let my thoughts drift.  I enjoy the combination of starting and completing a task in one afternoon.

It could also be that I'm peculiar. 

In any case, this afternoon's cleaning festival featured the smell of carrot soup simmering on my stove as I got things spic-and-span.  The recipe was from Pioneer Woman and it's worth your time.
I served it with homemade biscuits.
After supper I sat down to draft a lesson on women's liberation for a class I'll be teaching soon.  Sometimes life's little ironies are just a little unbelievable, huh?