Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Miracle Machine

Sixteen years ago this spring I bought my first lawn mower.  I don't remember a lot about the transaction itself, I just remember that my dad told me to get a mower with a Briggs and Stratton engine.  I did that and started mowing.  The mower came with me from Nebraska to New Jersey, cheerfully mowing row after row of grass.  We are close companions, this mower and I, having logged some serious miles together.

I fill it with gas and, on occasion, I've added oil.  I once had the blade sharpened.  Other than that, the mower doesn't get a lot of TLC.  For the last few years, each spring I roll the mower out of the garage and assume that this year it won't start.  I've looked at replacements, of course, but I don't want to replace a functioning mower.  And so I cross my fingers and pull the cord.  And every spring, for sixteen years, the mower starts.  Last year, it took nearly 20 pulls and I was starting to despair.  This year, it started on pull 7.  No one was more surprised than me.  It isn't pretty, my mower.  The rust has started to spread and the paint is dulled and chipping.  But on Saturday it fired up for another season of cutting the grass and who I am to deny it the pleasure?
I'm thinking about adding some oil this year but I'd hate to mess with a good thing, you know?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Dogwoods, Tulips, and the Glory of Spring: Week 7

This week's dogwood and tulip postings will once-again be condensed into one posting of Spring beauty. And things are shaping up to be quite lovely around here.
Growing up in California, the oft-uttered phrase, "April showers bring May flowers" didn't really make much sense to me.  Our spring was in March and by April things were in full bloom.  May brought heat and pool-weather, not the first bloom of flowers.

This year, our New Jersey spring has been a slow, cold affair.  It's also been dry, further slowing the progression of blooms.  Even so, blooms and blossoms have begun to take hold in my corner of the state.  The dogwood is in on the action with the crisp white flowers that make the tree so splendid in the Spring.
My collections of tulip patches have grown.  The yellow flowers in the front yard are fully open and feature a showy streak of red.
In the backyard are some tall, elegant dark pink tulips.  
There is some rain in today's forecast and if today's April showers are followed  by warmth then Spring's glory will be everywhere come May.   That's happy!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Deep Inside

My sweet baby boy is now 13 and that is a difficult thing.  13 years olds can be thoughtful and kind.  In fact, there are moments when his ability to understand the world around him impresses me mightily.  But there are more moments when I am at wit's end dealing with the logic of 13, which occasionally defies all common sense.  And it's a bold, 5 foot 6 inches, strong, opinionated 13 that lives with me.

All of which makes it that much more surprising when 13 reveals itself to still have a little boy at the core of it all.  Last night, at the end of the exhausting, long, hard week that forced us to say good bye to our beloved Miss Amy, JT mentioned the music he used to listen to as he drifted off to sleep at night.

I did, remember, of course.  For many years, I tucked JT into bed and then softly played classical music for him to listen to as he waited for sleep.  Last night, he asked me why I played that music.  I told him the truth: he found it hard to wind down and the music helped him to slow down his brain and body; to realize that it was time to rest.

Oh, he said,  "I remember that.  After Mommy left, I remember listening to the music and asking you  every night to reassure me that you would be here when I woke up in the morning. I was afraid you would leave to."

I remembered those months as well, of course, but I hadn't realized how vividly they still existed for JT.  Last night I told him again what I told him seven years ago: I am not going anywhere.  I reminded him that he was loved; much loved.  I fell asleep thinking of my boy that he may be 13, but he's still my baby.  And distant though they seem today, some hurts may last a lifetime.  

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Patriarchy Fights Back

I often joke that giving birth to a son was my strike against patriarchy.  Boys raised by feminists are the best revenge.  But, twice a year without fail, patriarchy has the last laugh in the form of a neck tie that must be tied around JT's neck.

The occasion for ties is the twice-a-year school choir concert and though I've planned ahead enough to have a tie, I'm always taken unawares at 6:30 pm, when it's time to go, and a tie must be tied.  Typically, I select that moment to lose my cool and aggressively suggest to JT that this problem is his to solve.  

A cooler head eventually prevails, brought about by the soothing voice of the nice man at Tie-a-Tie.net, who patiently talks me through a four-in-hand knot.  Thus clad, we make our way to the concert, and patriarchy enjoys a well-deserved chuckle at my expense.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Late Breaking Spring: Dogwood and Tulips, Week 6

Much like the Spring warmth, for which we continue to wait, I am behind with this week's dogwood post.  Understandably, as we have given over some days to just being and remembering a good friend.   Spring seems to have made a pause of its own in the last few days as the weather has been cool yet again.  Despite the lingering chill in the air, the dogwood went ahead and bloomed.  I was so grateful to see these cheerful flowers.
In the front yard, there are stately yellow daffodils now turning their blooms to the sun.
More blooms and blossoms will yet come, as we march ever-so-slowly toward lush green trees and warm days.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Peaceful and Pain Free

Last December, my friend Amy called to let me know that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.  I'm the sort of optimistic fool who hears such news and immediately assumes that this is just a bump in the road.  Surely, science can cure breast cancer.  A few hours later, having checked the statistics, I tumbled into bed confident that our beloved Miss Amy would have a few bumpy months ahead.  But, I assured myself, she will be okay.

From that moment, the descent into a hole of anxiety and fear began.   Amy's original tumor had spread into her lymph nodes and surrounding tissue.  It was in her liver and lungs.  Likely her bones and now in her brain.  It was Stage 4. I went from wishing for some kind surprising good news to simply praying for news that wasn't terrifying.  

In February, still under-going treatment and hopeful of some years yet to live, she texted me that she was grateful for a few days in which she felt peaceful and pain free.  Never once, as she made the transition from a seeming health scare into the horrible conclusion that this would not end well, did Amy give up hope in the power of living and loving the life she had.   But that life ended on Friday.   It still seems unbelievable to write such a sentence.

On countless occasions big and small, Amy was this family's red-headed fairy godmother, with laughter, confidence in happy endings, and an adventurous spirit to match.   That's the Miss Amy that we will remember, fiercely miss, and always love with all of our hearts.
Amy & JT at Harry Potter World, Florida, March 2012

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tulip Wednesday: Week 5

The smell of Spring is in the air.  I've slept with windows open for the last few nights and awakened to chirping birds.  Everywhere I go, there are daffodils in bloom.  My own daffodils are partially bloomed and the tulips aren't far behind.  The collection next to the house is in a lot of shade for most of the day but the flower stems grow taller each day.
I planted another circle of tulips in a strip of sunny grass in the front yard and those are also thinking about blooming.
I check out my flower bulbs every day, breathing in the smell and hope of Spring, reminding myself to embrace the people I love because life, like the tulip season, is awfully short.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Dogwood Monday: Week 5

This morning my local NPR station, in preparation for a story about continuing Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, noted that the opening of the Jersey Shore on Memorial Day is just 6 weeks away.  I was in the kitchen and immediately walked over to my calendar when I heard this announcement, which seemed patently unbelievable in this year of a very late Spring.  It would seem that my dogwood tree is attending more carefully to the calendar.   The recent rains and warmth have worked their magic, and the blooms are about ready to burst open.
Joining the dogwood in the backyard are some other blooms.  The fruit trees are greening up.
There are sunny daffodils lined up in front of the hosta bed.
In the garden patch is a lone daffodil bloom, a spot of brightness in my otherwise messy plot.  I didn't plant the bulb there and I suspect this is the work of my friend Pesky.
In the front yard, more daffodils are ready to open.  The tulips will shortly follow.  And the calendar does in fact promise that it's just six weeks until Memorial Day.  Given the degree to which these last weeks of class are an exhausting experience, that's a very good thing.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Daffodil Abundance

On the hill that slopes down to the Delaware & Raritan Canal at the east edge of our school campus, the Lower School students have planted volumes of daffodil bulbs.  This week, the blossoms smiled upon us.
I could see the yellow blooms from my classroom and one day I took a walk to enjoy them, sniff the Spring air,  and make some pictures.
While I wait for flowers to bloom in my front yard, it's nice to see Spring busily making my world beautiful elsewhere.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Behind the Curve

In the immediate aftermath of Spring Break, I inherited a new class to teach.  More accurately, they were a class new to me, having been organized since September and coming into my care because of some unfortunate events.  So, days from the 4th and final quarter of the year, a group of 10th graders woke up one morning to discover that Ms. Sassafras was their new World History teacher.

I'm not sure who was more horrified.

I've not taught 10th graders at this school but I do regularly teach 11th graders, and I know what sorts of skills they need to succeed in Junior-year U.S. History.  So I started at that assumption and made it my challenge to get my Sophomores fluent in the construction of sound analytical arguments.   I also wanted them to adjust to the idea that expectations are the foundation of a successful education, in History and every other subject.

The group is coming along nicely and I enjoy having them in my classroom, which is a good thing.  But a new-to-me-class with material I've not taught for more than ten years is a challenge.  I spent part of my Spring Break getting a plan for the class together.  I like to be two weeks ahead when preparing a new course, but for now that's an impossible goal.  After all, I still have four other classes to teach (not to mention a 120-student study hall to wrangle).  I have had to accept the fact that I can only prepare lessons and assignments for a week in advance.  

There are some good things about the group…I am reminded how much I love to think through a new class, how much students love structure and the sense of accomplishment from mastering ideas, and how far good will and genuine enthusiasm for the subject can take a teacher.  So there is an upside to this change in my school year, even if I sometimes feel I am just barely holding my head above water, counting the days until summer break.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tulip Wednesday, Week 4

The last few days around here have been mild ---- warm, even by the standards of spring.  After supper last night, I sat out on the front porch to watch the night sky and write down some thoughts.  It was a chance to bask in the overdue warmth.  Like me, the tulips are drinking it in.
At some point on Monday evening, I awakened to the sound and smell of a spring rain.  It's welcome, that wetness.  The plants here need another drink and then the blooms and blossoms will unfurl with abandon.
Bit by tantalizing bit, our spring is unfolding.  It's lovely.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Dogwood Monday: April 8

Last weekend was warm and sunny with mostly clear skies; the sort of spring weekend that I dream about on icy winter days.  At this point in our cold spring, we're short not just warmth but also some rain, which is further holding up the progression of blooms.  The dogwood and its relations in the backyard are still at work, of course, but progress is slow.
In my neighborhood, I've seen a tulip tree beginning to bloom.  The daffodils are under way. This morning's brilliant pink and orange sunrise comes with a forecast  of unusual warmth for the week.  If we could just add some warm rain to the mix, we'd be in business.  And so we wait.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

99 Problems, But Music Ain't One of 'Em

For some time now, JT has enjoyed music.  I'd make playlists for us to listen to in the car and he'd share some of my favorite songs.  He'd makes playlists of his own from my music and listen to those on his iPod.  We'd talk about the songs we both liked and I have many memories of songs he has loved to sing with me.

All of this came to an abrupt halt about two months ago when he discovered rap.  Other than the occasional Jay-Z or Eminem song, I'm not a fan of rap.  So my boy remained blissfully unaware of the genre.  Then something happened (that something is called turning 13) and he began to request rap songs.  I made my preference clear:  we shall never speak of those songs and those words and the insults to women shall not ever be repeated by JT without dire consequences.  Then, like the fan of the freedom and the first amendment that I am, I allowed JT to spend his own money on rap music.

Once Lil'Wayne got hold of him, our mutual music listening time seemed lost.  I figured this was temporary, but I still missed being able to share music with JT.  Then, the weekend that T got her new car, JT got hold of her iPod and discovered the joys of Heavy Metal: AC/DC, Guns & Roses, Def Leppard and more are now in his world of inexcusable music.

It is not lost on me that when I was in the 7th grade I too had a now inexplicable fondness for AC/DC.  The other day I made a playlist of this nonsense, mostly so that we could listen to music together every once in a while.  So if you see a middle-aged woman behind the wheel of a blue station wagon rolling down the interstate, know that it's me and my kid .  There's no speed limit and yes, thank you very much, we are on the highway to Hell.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

My Glamorous Life

Baseball season is upon us and I know this because when I open the hatch of my station wagon, I see this, stowed on the side of the trunk.
We are awash in baseball equipment but I don't find the bats, gloves, or catcher's equipment lying about.  Those are kept safe in a sports bag large enough to hold a body.  What I find lying about in the oddest of places are the athletic cups that keep the family jewels safe.  Don't be jealous, Internet.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Among the Uptight

Ken Cucinelli, a Virginia Tea Party Republican, the state's current Attorney General, and a candidate to be the state's next Governor, last week filed a petition to ask the 4th Circuit federal court to uphold the state's ban on consensual oral and anal sex.

That's right, Mr. Cucinelli is opposed to blow jobs.  There are a lot of jokes I can make about such a man.  All of them are tasteless and would surely offend the apparently prudish and sexually repressed Mr. Cucinelli.  So in the interests of good taste, I shall merely confine myself to saying this: WTF, Ken?

Pro-tip, Republican party: opposing the healthy sex lives of consensual adults is unlikely to be a winning political strategy. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Tulip Wednesday: Week 3

Five months ago, I put dozens of flower bulbs in the ground.  Ideally, each of them would bloom into a spring flower.  Reality is a bit less abundant: a certain amount of bulbs must be sacrificed to squirrels.  I planted so many bulbs in the ground last fall I can't remember where they were all planted.  At some point last week, walking across the yard I caught sight of a stick in the soil and idly wondered why it was there.  A few days later, a realization struck: that stick was stuck there by me to mark some bulbs.  These bulbs seem to have escaped the squirrel rampage and have started to emerge.
Tulips aplenty dot my flowerbeds.  I check their progress daily.
One of the reasons that I like to garden is that it reminds me to be patient and to acknowledge the things I cannot control.  Flower bulbs are a case in point:  I plant and fertilize them in the fall and then, several months later, beautiful flowers emerge from the soil to award my waiting heart.  Not all of life can be that neat and tidy, but my garden brings that gift every year.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Programming Delay: Dogwood Monday, Week 3

Yesterday found me busily admiring my front yard flowerbed, as per first of the month tradition.  Lest you fear the dogwood is being ignored, may I present the dogwood, which still isn't all that much to see.
Until you get up close where Spring progress can be noted in the form of buds growing larger by the day.
There is a cold, windy sunshine today and temperatures at night are still well below freezing.  But there is a hint of Spring in the air I smell each morning and I hear that patience is a virtue.

Monday, April 01, 2013

April 1: Front Yard Flowerbed

This morning, I came awake to the sounds of birds singing.  The cheerful songs made the darkness fade.  Just before 6 am, I took some trash outside and I could see half of the moon glowing in the southwest sky.  More birds had joined the morning chorus.  There had been rain overnight but the air feels milder.

Though most of our month of March was of the "in like a lion" variety, the month ended on a "lamb" note with sunlight and warmth for part of our weekend.  At one point on Saturday, T and I turned our faces to the sun and reminded ourselves that there really is more of this to come.  In the front yard, my flower bulbs are coming along quite nicely.
Some of the deep purple crocus bulbs survived the squirrels and those flowers began to bloom a few weeks ago, a herald for the colors yet to come.  Two flowers remain to celebrate the arrival of April.
The rest of the flower bed is making its way to the lush blossoms and green colors of spring.  In the next month, things will explode in the yard.  And I'll be out on the front porch every day, a fool for April who is eager to admire every change.