Friday, May 31, 2013

Purple Peony

Every May since I moved to Sassafras house 8 years ago, I have  enjoyed the heady smell of lilac when the lilac tree in my front yard blooms.  Last Spring, the lilac was notably lackluster, but I attributed that to our unusual weather (a mild Winter and early Spring warmth followed by some unexpected April cold).  

Last Fall, in preparation for the house painting, T helped me trim the shrubs around the house.  When I went behind the lilac, I noticed more dead wood than expected on the tree.  Come this Spring, there were some buds on the branches (lilacs set each year after their Spring bloom) but they never materialized into leaves or blossoms.  As everything around the lilac unfurled with blooms and blossoms, the lilac looked lifeless.   When I scraped below the bark on one of the branches the plant was dead.  I gave it time , but as everything greened up, the lilac was a stark display of dead branches.  

This past weekend, we cut the rest of the branches out and set JT to work digging a hole for a new plant in that corner of the front yard: a purple peony that T gave me for Mother's Day.
I first began to admire peonies when I lived in Nashville and they bloomed abundant flowers all over the place.  I've tried before to plant one from bulbs and never met with much success.  But this one is plenty healthy and will be a very welcome addition to my collection of plants.
I've not given up on a lilac, which I will eventually add back to my garden.  But after so many years spent admiring peonies in other gardens, I'm very happy to have a peony in my own garden.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Africa Hot

My people are not a heat-tolerant people.  In the heat, even when I am functioning just fine, my face turns beet red and I look like I will stroke out at any minute.  JT has inherited this family trait.  I don't mean to suggest that we're not durable, because we can work like a government mule in the heat, it's merely that we don't ever manage to be the sort of people who look cool and collected despite the inferno outdoors.   Instead, sweat rolls down our face and we look like we've been licking the inferno.

The fact that I did most of my growing up in the Central Valley of California, a place known for summer temps in excess of the 100 degree mark for weeks on end, is therefore somewhat baffling.  None of my family really enjoys the heat and I'm not the only one who tolerates it badly.  A few years ago, my sister, who makes her home in the Central Valley today, announced that her temperate zone of satisfaction was 68 degrees.  I can relate, as anyone who has ever been in my house on a winter day can attest.  I set the furnace at 65 during the day and lower it to 58 overnight.  Come the summer, the central air is my best friend.  If I could, I'd set it at 70.  I settle for 75, which is clearly indulgent.

After a cold weekend (so cold, I was forced to turn on the furnace because temps dropped into the 40s over night and T feared frostbite), a heat wave has roared in to my corner of New Jersey this week.  And it's not just heat, there is also humidity; the sort that fogs your glasses when you step outside in the early morning.  JT and I, never heat-resistant in the first place, have had virtually no time to build up our tolerance and yesterday we like to melt in the heat.  We sat in the shade for a lacrosse game and felt wilted for our efforts.  After we got home, I came upstairs to find an overheated  JT lying in his underwear in his dark bedroom with only an iPad to light a trail.  "Don't judge," he ordered me.

As I was just about to lie in the air-conditioned darkness myself, I didn't judge a bit.  The heat is expected to carry-over into the weekend.  I will console myself with cold iced tea and central air-conditioning.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Last Christmas my parents gave me two square-shaped white outdoor flower boxes.  I had wanted just such a set and I've spent the last two weeks thinking through my options with these lovely boxes.  For Mother's Day, T and JT gave me some flowers.  I chose begonias and Gerbera daisies and I decided to fill the flower boxes with them.  
I lined the bottom of the boxes with coir mats before filling them with potting soil.
Then T helped me to fill them with soil and flowers.  The bright orange Gerbera daisies are sitting next to the rhododendron by the front steps.
The second box, filled with coral double begonias, sits in a corner by the freshly painted porch.
With just two more weeks before the start of summer vacation, these flowers are a reminder of happy, lazy summer days ahead.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Brownie the Backyard Bunny

A very sweet brown bunny lives in my yard.  I named him Brownie.  He seems to spend most of time in the backyard, where there is plenty of green growth to keep him fat and sassy.  The bunny has grown used to sharing the yard with us and lets both JT and I get very close to him.
I plant extra seeds in the garden, aware that this little guy needs a snack every once in a while.  He is most welcome to a share of the greens.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


I went to the garden shop last weekend and in the growing season that's a risky move.  In an effort to show restraint, I had a list, of course.  I selected the necessary herbs and tomato plants.  I had loads of zinnia seeds to plant in the ground but it's hard to wait until July for fresh flowers.  So I strolled the flower aisles, like some kind of recovering addict hoping that the sight of flowers would be just as good a fix.  Hah.

I came home with two hanging baskets of geraniums.  They are bright and welcoming on the front porch and are in my favorite shade of bright coral.  

One of the blooms came loose in the transport home and it joined me in the kitchen window sill to bring cheer to my mornings as I wrap up the last days of school morning wake-ups.
That's happy.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Funky Town

In the Spring baseball season, the trunk of my car becomes game day storage space.  There are umbrellas, portable chairs, water bottles, sports equipment (he's a catcher, so that's body bag full of stuff) and, quite frankly, whatever detritus JT can contrive to leave in the car, much of it trapped under the baseball bag so I can't see what he's left behind without upending the whole mess.

The boy is a bit of a pig and he uses the car as a locker for his stuff.  Case in point: this little pocket in the side of the front passenger door, where he stows any number of things he doesn't want to deal with anymore.
Last week, I issued a warning about his mess and it went something like this: "clean your crap out of the car."  JT looked hurt, as if he couldn't imagine why I would say such a thing.  On Thursday night, we went directly from a school lacrosse game to one of his baseball games.  Both games were played in the rain and at some point, JT pulled off a pair of wet, sweaty socks.  I saw him do it but, ever the optimist, I assumed he would remember to bring the dirty socks out of the car.  

On Friday morning, we got in the car to go to school and there was an overwhelming stench in the air.  "What is that?" I asked.  JT claimed that he had no idea.  We rode to school with the windows down and I made clear that the car was being cleaned out at the end of the day. 

At mid-day I ran an errand and was reminded anew of the stench, which actually seemed worse than before.  I grabbed a plastic grocery sack JT had abandoned in the trunk and started removing JT's mess when I found these two socks under his seat.
Problem identified.  And the best most horrifying part of this entire story is that for our drive to school on Friday, he sat in the seat just above the dreadful socks he had left in the car with nary a clue about the source of the foul smell.  

That boy (shakes fist).

Friday, May 24, 2013

And Then There Were Two

During the school year, I iron clothes for the coming week on Sunday night.  I hang the ironed clothes on my closet door, refer to it as the bullpen, and then watch all week as the supply of freshly ironed clothes dwindles.  When it's gone, that means the weekend has arrived.

I don't love ironing so getting it done in advance means that it only troubles me once a week.  This system of organization also ensures that I don't have to stand in front of my closet on weekday mornings and organize a plan.  All I need to do in the morning is get dressed.  

Come the end of the school year, as I see the number of weeks before the start of summer vacation dwindle, my motivation to iron fades accordingly.  On Sundays, I find myself looking for clothes that don't need ironing or longing for a dress-down day because dress down clothes are casual and shouldn't  be ironed.  I can begin to count the number of days I must iron.  Last Sunday as I set out to iron I realized there were only 9 days of clothes required to get me through the school year.  But my ironing obligation is really only 8, as tradition requires we dress up for the last day of school.  That dress is already pressed and ready to go.   From there, it was a steady decline as I invented excuses for slightly rumpled clothes to be worn to work.

I emptied the bullpen this morning, in preparation for a three day weekend.  Next week now features a dress down day as well as a dress up day.  Only two skirts must be ironed.

Summer, I've got my eye on you.  You'll recognize me because I'll be the pony-tailed girl in the rumpled skirt.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Among the Natives

My daily travels in New Jersey take me on a well-worn path from home to school and baseball games.  I am mostly able to avoid traffic and long drives and it's easy for me to forget how densely populated this state actually is.  And then I go to the grocery store on the weekend and I am reminded all over again.

Last weekend, my weekly shopping had to wait until early on Sunday afternoon.  From the moment I arrived in the parking lot it was clear that everyone else in New Jersey had also waited to shop on Sunday.  It was raining and as I pulled up my hood to walk through the parking lot, I heard a couple bicker over who should hold their umbrella.  The trip went down hill from there.

In the produce aisle, my first stop, I came across two women who looked enough alike that I took them for sisters.  The tall sister was pushing the cart.  The shorter one was complaining.  Broadly.  About everyone in her family and every thing they'd ever done.  I took my leave of this unhappy duo and headed over to the deli counter.

At the deli counter, I drew number 25.  They were serving number 8.  I tucked my cart into corner and went for bread and JT's favorite breakfast muffin before returning to find an entire area so cluttered with carts that no one could get through.  Why it is that we (and by we, I mean the shoppers of this state) park our cart in the middle of the aisle while perusing the selves?  This is not a shopping strategy suited to the fact that the stores are busy and the world does not revolve around us.  But never mind, one elderly lady was determined to cut through the crowd.  While another shopper and I watched on with increasing horror, the little old lady used her cart like a battering ram, slowly pushing everyone's cart out of her way and into other people so that she could get through the aisle.   A few seconds later, her fellow shoppers turned back to the aisle to find their carts relocated.  The chaos had been made worse.  Thanks, Grandma!

This, of course, is my biggest grievance about going to Wegmans (or any grocery store) on the weekend.  Of course it's busy, but we could certainly be kind toward one another.  Politeness and decency are free, after all.  Alas…..

I headed over to the dairy section, where calm heads rarely prevail.  The cranky duo came back into my hearing.  Shorty's complaining showed no sign of easing.  I would hear these two on two more occasions, the final one in the pasta aisle.  At this point, the complainer was louder than ever, announcing to everyone within her path that "they can eat the dinner I make for them or they can cook their own dinner."  As she practically shouted this pronouncement, I made eye contact with another shopper, a middle aged man pushing a cart like the rest of us.  He raised his eyebrows as the complainer loudly proclaimed her unhappiness and I smiled a rueful smile.  Then we exchanged a few comforting words with one another, agreeing that dinner at her house sounded as distinctly unpleasant as she was.

I got $5 that the dude isn't from around here.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Garden 2013

This year's summer garden is now in the soil.  I had the seeds on hand and got tomato and herb plants on Saturday, with plans to plant on Sunday.  The forecast for Sunday called for early morning rain and then clouds the rest of the day.  It's an old gardeners' tale that you should plant on a cloudy day and so I was satisfied that conditions were nearly perfect.  I awoke on Sunday to rain and cool temperatures.  I figured that I'd wait until late morning for the rain to stop.  At 10 am, even as the Weather Channel assured me there was zero chance of continued precipitation, a light rain kept falling.  I wanted to plant anyway and threw caution to the wind, planting as the Spring rain fell around me.  Now the job is done and I couldn't be happier.
One of the reasons I garden is that it reminds me to be patient; to understand that some things take time and are well-worth the wait.  A summer garden is the perfect example of that lesson and I enjoy the process of getting one in the ground. 
 Every January the seed catalogs arrive and I start thinking about what I will plant.  This year, I knew that I would have some extra space in my garden; the result of a new fence and the removal of loads of ivy.  That meant that I could plant even more vegetables and flowers.  There are some things that I always plant: tomatoes, herbs, zinnias, onions, and carrots are usually somewhere in my garden.  They are present this year, of course.  I always try a few new things (or things I haven't planted in a while).  This year, that includes spaghetti squash, which I've never planted.  I also planted two types of cucumbers and both green peas and sugar snap peas.  All of them have been part of my garden in previous seasons and are getting another trial this year.
I'll be watching closely over the next 10 days as the seeds begin to germinate.  Next comes the weeding and the mulching.  A garden in process is a daily reminder of the virtue of patience.  I'm looking forward to this summer's lessons.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sleeping Weather

One of the reasons I enjoy Spring and Fall is because of the milder overnight temperatures that arrive with seasonal change.  When the nights are cool, but not cold, I can sleep with the windows open.  I hear the sounds of the night as I pull up the covers and drift off to sleep.  I call this sleeping weather and it always finds me longing for a sleeping porch.  I make do with the large windows in my bedroom, opening them wide to bring the night inside.

Come Spring, I enjoy awakening to the sounds of birds chirping their morning greetings.  On school days there isn't much time to linger and listen.  That's an activity for weekends.  On weekends, I almost always awaken at the time I get out of bed during the weekdays but then get to I roll over and fall back asleep to the birds' songs.  This weekend we've enjoyed near-perfect sleeping weather.  On Sunday morning there was even a light rain to keep me and the birds company.  

I live in a small town in a heavily populated state and though I wouldn't say it's loud, there is often the sound of traffic or mowers; of lives being lived.  Quiet mornings with only the sounds of nature are always a welcome blessing.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Toilet Whisperer

Sassafras House is more than 80 years old.  I've lived here for eight years and over that time I've come to recognize the sounds of impending plumbing troubles.  As a consequence of some of those troubles, there is new plumbing in some parts of the house.  Both toilets are relatively new, but even so, toilets around here get clogged with what I would characterize as an alarming frequency.  It's not every month or anything like that, but it's often enough that I always know where the toilet plunger is located.

Earlier this week, the downstairs toilet made some noises that caused me anxiety.  I couldn't identity a specific problem, it was just that the sound of the water flushing wasn't quite right.  So I was on alert.

Yesterday morning, the alert rang loud and clear when I tried to flush the toilet.  Instead of the sound of water swishing away, the toilet made an unpleasant gurgle.  I got the water shut off just as the toilet filled to the brim.  A clog.  And if there is anything better than a clogged toilet, it's a clogged toilet at 6:20 in the morning.  I followed my plumber's advice from previous clogs and headed to the basement for a listen to the soil pipe.  I could hear just a bit of water trickling downward; enough to conclude that the clog was close at hand.  I headed back upstairs with my plunger and some towels in hand.

Less than five minutes later, the clog was cleared and we were back in business.  I was reminded yet again to honor my instincts and watch that toilet like a hawk when it's making the wrong sounds, lest I find myself with a toilet crisis flowing onto the floor.  Internet, I've become a toilet whisperer.

Friday, May 17, 2013


Come hell or high water, the garden is being planted this weekend.  There will be tomato and herb plants.  I'm of a mixed mind when it comes to peppers, since I never meet with much luck when I do plant them.  But cucumbers, spring onions, and spaghetti squash are a go.  There will be beans and peas and trellis supports to enable them to flourish.  And there will be zinnias; armfuls of zinnias.
That's so very happy.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lush and Green

Though we had overnight temperatures that dipped into the low 30s earlier this week, it's clear that Spring is finally here to stay.  My grass has reached the stage where I really need need to mow the lawn more than once a week.  My obligations, of course, have not reached the stage when I can mow more than once a week.  The grass is thick and full when I get out the lawn mower each week but my elderly mower has risen to the challenge.

At this time of the year, the early evening light in the May sky is often heartbreakingly beautiful, clear and glowing as the sun sets into the horizon.  Heat and humidity have yet to settle in and there is often just enough warmth left in the late day to warrant some time spent outside.   From the back deck, I can see my backyard bunny as he moves from the hedges into the bank of hostas that grow along the garage.  There is plenty of foliage for him to enjoy.  When I sit on the front porch I can practically watch the grass grow.  Aside the front steps, my rhododendron plants have begun to bloom.  
There are enough buds to ensure that new purple flower is ready to greet me every day, a harbinger of the Summer that waits just around the corner.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A List of 12

For the past year, T and I have been idly maintaining a list of the states we might move to when our time in New Jersey is through.  I like New Jersey well enough, of course, but it is expensive to live here and neither of us is native to this heavily over-populated region.  We'd both like to live in the quiet woods some day and we need some woods that are affordable.  Some of this is idle-daydreaming, of course, but that's a lovely thing to do and so we indulge.

When this activity first began, loads of states were in the list.  Some were clearly places I favored thanks to my fondness for sweet tea, thick accents, and magnolia blossoms  (looking at you, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina).  Some were places that are known to be friendly to gays.  That would not be Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina, but did include places like Washington and Vermont.

In the last year, as support for same-sex marriage rights have exploded, it's become increasingly clear that the only sensible choice is to consider states where we can enjoy a full complement of legal rights.  That's a happily ever-expanding list these days.  More to the point, the realization that some states really get it while others emphatically don't has meant that even including states where discrimination is still legal is a ridiculous notion.

See ya, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina.  Welcome aboard, Maryland, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Minnesota.  It's a heady time for those of us interested in equality.  It's thrilling to see such progress, not only for the rights of my family and loved ones, but also for the hopeful sign it gives young people just coming to terms with who they are.  

The list of states looking out for equality includes plenty of places I would happily consider living.  Though it once seemed like a remarkable prospect, I now take such a circumstance for granted.  Twelve states, representing the homes of nearly one-fifth of the nation, actively protect the rights of all of us.  That's an impressive number and that it's likely to grow even larger is empowering.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lucky Number 13

I tell everyone who will listen that on his first Mother's Day, JT outdid himself for a lifetime of Mothers' Days by laughing for the first time.  If I could have any gift on this day, it would be to relive that moment when my nearly 3 month old baby belly-laughed for the first time.

More laughter would be quite welcome these days.  My 13th year of motherhood has been rather a rough go, with adolescence in full-swing.  Long ago I learned to roll with the punches of a changing child but knowing that this too will pass isn't always comfort enough.  I always joke that I have two lists of worries:  the things I know I should worry about and the things it doesn't occur to me to worry about, but that I should also worry about.  7th grade has been proof of that theory.  

In the end, I think that is the real challenge of motherhood: understanding that uncertainty is the only certainty.  From infancy to toddlerhood and then adolescence, each year is a different parenting challenge.  This last one, with its roller coaster emotions, has been a reminder to me that even as a child seeks independence, the unwavering love of a mama is more-needed than ever.

So every day I take a moment to remind my boy that I love him with all of my heart and that I feel unbelievably lucky to have him in my world.  No matter how difficult the day has been, those facts are always true.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Real Life Conversations at School: Carnal Knowledge edition

The backstory:  While reviewing the 1st amendment and standards for obscenity in my American Government class today, it became clear that today's 17 year olds aren't exactly sure what the phrase carnal knowledge means.   I offer an explanation, invoking the relevant Supreme Court case (Miller v. California).  These kids are just days from their AP test and they are 4 school days away from being done with classes for the year.   A conversation about carnal knowledge at this juncture seems tricky.  I am wary.

Me:  Carnal knowledge means sex; sexual knowledge of another person.

Student A: Doesn't the C-K in f-u-c-k stand for carnal knowledge?

Me:  I don't know… about we move on to the next question?

Student A and all of his classmates:  No!  Let's look it up.

And out come the phones and computers so that they can ask Google about carnal knowledge.  This can't possible end badly.  

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Tulip Wednesday: Final Report?

Green leaves are everywhere I look these days and Spring seems poised to enter the next phase, with fuller leaves and the transition to summer's abundance.  In my backyard, the dogwood's flowers can still be seen, but green is slowly replacing the sweet white blooms.
Some of my tulips are nearly past their prime.
Others are at work to finish the job of blooming.
There are a few more tulips yet-to-bloom and so one more tulip Wednesday might just happen next week.  In the meantime, I am turning my attention to flowerpots for the porches and to the planting of my summer garden.  This weekend, I will treat myself to a leisurely review of the zinnia seed packets available for my planting pleasure.   Then I will turn my attention to creating bouquets of flowers. That's happy!

Monday, May 06, 2013

Counting the Days

After Spring Break, I took on a new class of Sophomores, teaching them World History.  The good news is that World History is a rather broad topic and, in theory at least, I could teach whatever I damn well pleased.  In practice, I wanted to provide the students with some practical material that would serve them well in U.S. History next year, provide some non-western history, and get them some practice in analytical writing.  That was a bit of a tall order in terms of reading and prep work, but I like a challenge.

Or so I told myself.

A new prep is always enjoyable for me.  Once I get a plan for the year, I typically prep to be 4-6 weeks ahead of the class, with plenty of space for adjustment and last-minute obligations.  A new prep taken on in the middle of the school year, without the summer months to contemplate and plan, is considerably less enjoyable.  It has instead been a persistent unsettled feeling.  

Since I took over this class with practically no lead time, I have been as much as a week ahead and as little as a day ahead.  The last few weeks, filled with obligations both expected and unexpected, have been stressful.  T has batted clean-up many a weekend and that has kept my head above water.  The instructional school year has only four more weeks to go, and that's promising.  Even more promising is the fact that Seniors end classes on May 14, freeing up some prep time during the school day.

Of course, that's only time in theory.  Unexpected obligations seem to arise around here every time I turn around (just this morning, three otherwise free periods filled up on my calendar for next week).  And so I count the days and remind myself that summer and endless glasses of iced tea on the back deck are just around the corner.

Friday, May 03, 2013

May Apples

Last year, T and I spent a day at the Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve and saw dozens of wildflowers.  None charmed me quite as much as the May apples.  They emerge from the soil in clumps grown from an underground root system.
All of these stems and leaves are actually from the same plant.
They are a lush green and, once the leaves unfurl, they grow very quickly.  They have a rather Dr. Seussical look, I think.
They grow in the shady woods and come Fall there is an apple-looking fruit sheltered under the leaves.  The "apple" is edible at that time, though around here the deer will have eaten them long before we humans get a chance.
I made these pictures of May apples in the woods by T's house.  They are cheerful sign of Spring and a reminder of all the surprises Mother Nature has in store for us.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Front Yard Flowerbed: May 1st

Spring is now in full flower around here, even in the shadiest flowerbeds in my yard.  There aren't many tulips in this corner of the yard, though there were plenty of daffodils and several flowers remain.
The corner by the porch also has a lilac bush that will  bloom within the next month.  When it does, the air will fill with its scent.  My bedroom window lies directly above the lilac and if the breeze blows just right I will awaken to the scent of lilac blooms in the morning.  The smell of fresh lilac is one of my favorite things about May.  It's the smell of spring and the prospect of summer all rolled into one elusive sweet scent.
The rhododendron next to the steps will follow the lilac in bloom just a few weeks later.  Mine has vivid purple blooms that are almost garish in their abundance.
This flowerbed will look different in a month, more lush and more green. And in one month, Ill be within a hair's distance of summer vacation and all that it entails: the promise of warm weather, garden produce, sleeping in, and a treasure of unscheduled days.  As the days warm, summer beckons and I can see it everywhere that I look.