Wednesday, July 31, 2013

First Bouquet

Late July brought zinnia blooms and gladioli and that means that the fresh bouquet season has begun.
That's happy!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Garden Update

For the fourth year in a row, New Jersey has had the hottest July on record.  Setting aside what this says about global climate change (seriously, I grow weary of the climate change denial crowd), that's a challenge for gardeners like me.  Luckily, this version of hell-hot July was also accompanied with pretty steady rainfall.  Factor in the sprinkler and things are coming along quite nicely in my garden.
These pictures were made after my return from Cape Cod, when I enjoyed some cherry tomatoes while I await the ripe slicing tomatoes.
There is also a steady supply of fresh cucumbers.
And zinnia bouquets are on their way.  Heat not withstanding, it's been a glorious green summer to celebrate.

Monday, July 29, 2013


Since the day he was born, each month I have made a picture of JT on (or around) the 17th.  The monthly pictures have made their way into small photo books which are a handy portrait of my growing boy.  From baby to toddler to pre-schooler to boy and now teenager, I can turn the pages of the books and have a reminder of much he has changed over the years.

One of the most arresting developments in my life of late is the fact that I no longer live with a little boy.  I'd grown accustomed to that mama-of-a-boy existence.  My boy was getting taller, but the changes were less obvious. For some years, anyway, that was the pattern.  I lived with a chubby-cheeked, sweet-voiced kid.  But lately, it's been much more than that.  The last year has brought JT 6 inches of height, a deeper voice, and impressive strength.   Turning through the pages of my monthly book of pictures I can see how fast he changed in the last year.  It's a strange thing to look at your baby and see a young man.  And yet, that is my life these days.

Saturday, July 27, 2013


On Monday morning around 2 am, JT woke up and announced that a bird was flapping around his room.  As it turned out, it was no bird.

Our first line of defense was to shut the bedroom door and open the windows, in hopes that the bat would leave of his own accord.  It seemed that was the case (i.e., it was no longer on the wall after a couple of hours) and we returned to bed to finish out the night.

Fast forward to Monday evening and bad news in the bat cave: the bat was back.    This time, we removed it via a plastic box, using this method.  And by we, I mean JT, whose catcher's skills mean he has far quicker reflexes than me.  We placed the bat outside and so far it hasn't returned.

I like to say that guests are always welcome, but it would seem I need to specify what types of guests.  So, those of you who fly around our heads in the night should find other accommodations.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Back in Black

While my VW Jetta wagon, Little Blue, is in the shop getting repaired (a $5000 and 3 week job), I get a loaner rental car.  My insurance stipulates that the rental be a vehicle similar to my own and someone at the rental company has a sense of humor because this is my loaner car.
It's a Nissan Pathfinder and it is large and in charge.  It has earned various names in its time with us: the Behemouth, the Canyonero, and Black Beauty.  When we roll out for long journeys, JT queues up "Back in Black" to accompany our movement.  It seems fitting.

The car has truckloads of room and, despite its size, is surprisingly agile to drive.  The gas mileage isn't great (about 20 mpg on the highway) but we ride in comfort everywhere we go, looking down upon the commoners.  After years of disparaging automatic transmissions, it's worth noting that I find this one impressive and it was quite handy in the three hour traffic jam that accompanied our departure from the Cape on Saturday (seriously, three hours…..Saturday departures will happen no more).

And did I mention that the car is spacious?  It has two rows of seats and both can be collapsed to create a vast trunk.  At camp, JT loaded up his air mattress to demonstrate the comfort available in the back of this beast.
My only complaint about the car is that it feels patently ridiculous for just two people to be exiting from the vehicle.  If I were to acquire one of these for my permanent use, I'd need several more children, enough to form my own baseball  infield team.  I'd certainly have the space.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Camp Traditions

One of the boys' favorite camp activities is playing on the beach and swimming in the ocean.
This is even more fun if the elusive Cape Cod shark gives chase, an event that invariably happens after some well-placed taunts from the boys.
And God bless that shark, because these boys are bigger than ever and chasing them off her beach is no small challenge.  But chase them she does.
Thanks, Miss S.  You took one for the mama team.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Camp Home

Last week, we made our annual trip to Cape Cod.  We've been joining the R-K family at camp for eight years now and the trip is a combination of new adventures and familiar routines.  For most of the time we've been making the trip, we've camped in the same set of camp sites.  Our tent bedroom affords views of the piney forest.
The dining room room is (mostly) bug-free.
The living room provides shady comfort with great views.
This year, DRK made a lovely, mossy art project.
Once little boys are now far larger than their shovels, though they still enjoy the planning that goes into digging a big hole on the beach.
Camping is a reminder of the simple beauty of nature and the pleasures of the outdoors.  The return home is a reminder of the many comforts of our first-world existence.  And the trip is one of the best parts of our summer.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Polka Dot Packages

I love wrapping paper and ribbons and especially like graphics and designs that feature bold colors and clean lines.  So it should come as no surprise that I like tidy patterns and especially love polka dots.
These packages have treats for T, who knows a thing or two about my love of polka dots.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Just as the Religious Right Warned

Look here, Taco Bell, the Supreme Court has some standards.  Stand down, mild sauce.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Summertime Garden: 2013

This year's garden was planted in mid-May, a little later than I would have liked, but in plenty of time to ensure some abundant crops.  Things are coming along nicely and the freshly mulched patch is a daily pleasure for me to behold.
I had a few early cherry tomatoes a few weeks back and I expect that within a week or two week, we'll be in the summer BLT business.
There is basil, thyme, and oregano for our supper plates and cucumbers, peas, and spaghetti squash will be joining us soon enough.

Zinnia bouquets are also in my immediate future.
Each morning, I take a cup of coffee outside to check out the garden.  These daily walks bring joy to my days, a reminder of the many simple pleasures and blessings in my life.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Mowing in Style

After 16 years, my mower gave up the ghost.  It had mowed miles and miles in its life and certainly earned the right to roll on in to the great rewards of the mower graveyard.  But my lawn grows at light speed and I couldn't wait too long for a new mower to join the family.  I had a few must-haves on my list: a Briggs and Stratton engine, a mulcher, and large rear wheels (to make it easier to push and steer).  Enter this shiny red number.

When the old mower died, my dad and I had some conversations about what I needed in a replacement mower.  Among other things, he suggested that I might want something that JT could use.  My response was an emphatic, "no."  Internet,  it's time for a confession: I love mowing.  I love the smell of the cut grass, the neat rows the mower makes, the time to reflect that the job entails, and the look of the yard when the work is complete.  I'm not ready to turn that chore over quite yet.  It turns out that my Dad also loves cutting the grass, a fact I hadn't known.  I expect that this mower and I will spend some quality time together over the coming decade and as I cut the grass I will be reminded of all the ways that love of gardening is among the things I got from my Dad.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Road Trip

When I was a kid growing up in California, we made frequent trips up and down Highway 99 to visit grandparents and assorted relatives.   I have distinct memories of the songs and baseball games we listened to on the radio as we made those road trips. 

For 8 years running, JT and I have made an annual July road trip to Cape Cod.  We have lots of traditions for this trip, including lunch at Cracker Barrel in Rhode Island and listening to music that I select for the six hour drive.  Those songs become the soundtrack to our annual trip and evoke memories of the journey long after our yearly camping trip is complete.  

When the annual trip first began, JT sat in his booster in the back seat of the car and the music we played came from playlists I burned on to CDs.    Over the years, the boy grew.  His booster seat was retired and eventually he moved up to the front seat.  My silver SUV was replaced by a blue station wagon.  My co-pilot came to have specific music preferences and he's no longer the seven year old who rocked out to Lenny Kravitz as we sped through Connecticut, though the memory of that trip is forever in my mind.

This year, he's made a playlist to join my collections.  We have some podcasts of This American Life, Radiolab, and the Moth Radio Hour to help keep us company.   We've got a loaner car while my VW is in the shop getting repaired and we're rolling north in a spacious Nissan Pathfinder that we've already named the Behemoth.

But the boy remains my co-pilot companion, getting tall so quickly that I can now envision the time when he will share the driving obligations.  This morning, we'll make the familiar drive north singing and laughing and listening to songs that will become our soundtrack for the summer of 2013.  Certain songs will come to evoke this year's Cape Cod trip and we'll have some more memories to share.  Let the journey begin!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Real Life Conversations with JT: Succession edition

The backstory: Sassafras House was built in the 1930s so there is only 1 bathroom upstairs; we must share that room.  Some mornings this creates a high demand situation.  Last week, while JT was attending a baseball camp that began at 9 am, we had one of those mornings.  I was in the bathroom when he awakened and the following conversation ensued.

SM:  Do you need the toilet?

JT:  Yes, I am the heir to the throne.

Because I needed confirmation that the kid is mine.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

JT and the Giant Chip

James had his peach but JT doesn't like fruit nearly as much as he enjoys potato chips.  So when this chip emerged from his bag of chips, he was most delighted.
Then he ate it.  Because, as is well-known, you can't just eat one Lay's potato chip.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Food Friday: Blueberry Syrup

Last week, I made up a batch of blueberry jam and had some blueberries left over.  A normal woman would make some more jam or maybe bake a pie.  Instead, I opted to explore some recipes to make make and can blueberry syrup.  I love fruit syrup and thought that blueberries would be a good place to start.  Successful canning requires organization and precision.  Getting everything measured and ready to go makes the job a while lot easier and is essential.

6 cups of fresh blueberries, washed and stemmed
5 cups of white sugar
juice & zest of half a lemon
1/2 cup of water

Rinse the blueberries, stir in the water and then crush the berries.  I considered using a potato masher and doing this by hand before opting for getting out my stick blender and going to work.  The stick mixer made quick work of the job.

Mix the crushed berries with the lemon juice and the zest and heat over high heat.  Once the berries reach a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. 
At this point, if you have larger chunks of berries, you should press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, to get smoother liquid.  My berries were plenty squished by my blender stick and I like a little texture in my fruit syrup, so I skipped this step.  

Either way, the next step is to add the sugar and bring the berry mixture to a boil again.  The mixture will begin to thicken.  Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring often.  Then turn off the heat and allow the syrup to cool for a bit.
Pour into sterilized jars, filling to within 1/4 inch of the top.  
Secure lids and bands and process for 10 minutes, following the usual canning rules.  In my case, that's 10 minutes in the boiling water bath.
There are canning experts in the world and you look there for instructions.  Try Simple Bites Canning 101 or the Ball Canning website if you want high quality canning play-by-play guidance.

I used 12 ounce jars to store my syrup and this recipe filled three jars (it reduces a lot!).  The leftover syrup also went into a jar for the fridge and was served on pancakes shortly thereafter.  The remaining jars were set aside for a yummy breakfast sometime soon.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In the Flood Zone

In the aftermath of Sandy, FEMA issued new flood maps for the coastal areas in my part of the world.  The objective of these flood maps is to map out areas where flooding is likely so that homeowners can make plans (some folks need to raise their homes) or pay flood insurance rates that reflect their actual potential for serious damage.  Both prospects are expensive, of course, but they are also what is required to live by the water in the world of climate change.  

Or so you would think.  As it turns out, the news that more homes are in the high-risk flood regions, information that is hardly surprising news for people who flooded last fall, has caused endless complaining and hand-wringing in New Jersey.  There has been enough complaining for FEMA to issue new maps.  The new maps show less risk, thus ensuring that these folks can get less-expensive flood insurance and will undertake less flood prevention measures.

That would be just fine with me if the homeowners were really on their own.  But in point of fact, when flooding happens, and it will happen, homeowners along the shore will want help from the rest of us.  They will want that help despite the obvious risks they undertook.  I find this terribly frustrating.  Folks who want to live by the water are undertaking a risk and I am all for allowing that risk as a personal choice.  However, let's generate cautious flood maps, ones that take account of the serious risks of living near the water, and force those who wish to do so to pay the real costs of that choice.

Let's also undertake to plan wisely for the climate change that is obviously already at our doorstep.  That's a project for citizens and their government and it won't be easy.  But it is a a lot easier than cleaning up the aftermath of disastrous storms.  And it is our responsibility to one another.  New York City's Mayor Bloomberg has a plan for discussion.  It's not perfect and it is controversial but it at least starts a conversation.  New Jersey should take a page from the Bloomburg playbook and start a serious conversation.  The current strategy of hiding our head in the sand is not going to help.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Going Postal

Whenever it comes up in the news, I defend the U.S. Postal Service.  This defense is based on my notion that they provide a valuable service to the nation.  I like and respect my friendly and capable local mail carrier.  But nearly every time I go to to an actual post office, I walk away pretty confident that critics have a point.  There is this story of securing JT's passport

I've long ago given up visits to my town's post office because of the Kafka-esque nature of communicating with the postal workers there.  But, in need of stamps a few weeks ago, I rolled into another post office to secure some stamps.  As I waited in line, I spotted a poster with pictures of the stamp books available, including this set of stamps that feature old-fashioned seed packets.  That's right up my alley and when my turn at the desk came, I asked for a set of the seed packet-illustrated stamps.  The clerk's response?  "What?"  And so I repeated my request.  Again with the "what?"  I directed the clerk's attention to the poster and asked a third time for the seed package stamps.  This time, she slid another stamp package across the counter at me and announced, "I don't know what you are talking about."

Neither confrontation nor explanation seemed likely to succeed.  And so I left with my stamps and a deep appreciation for those who wish to eliminate the postal service.

Sunday, July 07, 2013


For as long as I have been gardening on my own, I have planted zinnia seeds.  
I plant a mix of tall and bush zinnia seeds plants and always a row or two of the cut-and-come-again variety.  
In seed catalogs and at the garden store seed pack rack, I pour over the zinnia options in search of the year's planting seeds. I've fallen for dwarf zinnias and seed packs that show variegated flowers.  Sometimes I choose large pin cushion flowers and other years an assortment of small cheerful blooms.  I love them all.   I consume information about zinnia growing and eagerly await my first bouquet of the year.  This year, I came across some heirloom zinnia seeds, with packets illustrated with flowers so lovely that I couldn't resist adding them to my rows of zinnias.
I planted them a bit late, but like the other plants they are coming up nicely.
I'm excited to walk outside and cut bouquets later this summer; I'll surely make dozens of pictures of those bouquets.  But for now, I wait and admire the zinnias pictured on the seed packets, confident that the real thing is just around the corner.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Food Friday: Apricot Pineapple Jam

Last summer's fiesta of canning found me making a small batch of apricot jam.  On a lark, I bought two pounds of apricots, which turned out to be enough for just 4 pints of jam.   It was amazing tasting jam and I went looking for more apricots only to find that the apricot season was over and the fruits were already gone from my store.

I mentioned the apricot jam experiment to my mom and she said that she adds pineapple to apricots to stretch out the amount of jam.  I was taken with the idea and resolved I would make apricot pineapple jam this season.  That is exactly what I did last week.

Neither my canning books or the Ball website that is my canning bible had a recipe for apricot pineapple jam, so I devised one of my own, which is pretty easy because most jams are just fruit and sugar.

4 pound of apricots
1 can of shredded pineapple, drained
7 tablespoons of pectin
8 cups of sugar, measured in advance.

The apricots should be scored with an X on the underside and then placed in a pot of poling water for about 3 minutes.  Remove the apricots, cool them in a bowl of ice water and then peel off the skin and pit the apricot.  Boiling will help to loosen the skin to make it easier to peel.  It's a messy job, but it comes along quickly.
Chop the peeled apricots and then mix them with the shredded pineapple.  Stir in the pectin and bring to a hard boil on high heat.  Add the sugar and stir, stir, stir until sugar is dissolved and jam is in a second boil.  Boil for 1 minute, stirring all the while.  When the jam is sheeting off the spoon, it's ready to be placed in the jar.
Hot jam should be ladled into sterilized jars and then processed.
I follow processing directions on the Ball canning website.  
I made 9 jars this time and it takes like summer on my morning toast.  That's happy!