Monday, September 30, 2013

Holding On

Though I am enjoying the mild days and cooler nights, I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to long days of sunlight.  Most of my summer flowerpots are finished with their blooms and last weekend I moved them to the back deck to finish out the season.  But this pot of cheerful impatiens is still going strong.  So it stays on the front porch to keep me company when I find a few minutes to sit in the rocking chair and soak up the light.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fall Finery

Last weekend, I cleared off the front porch and then scrubbed it clean.  Then I hung up a fall wreath on the front door.
I took most of my flower pots to the back deck, where they can still get some sun during the day.  Out front, I set out a fall tablecloth with plants that can still be outdoors.
This weekend, I will get some mums and pumpkins for the front porch.  The days are growing markedly shorter and nights have been cool, in the 40s and 50s.  Fall looks to arrive early this year.  But there is still enough light to enjoy sitting outside when I get home in the late afternoon and the front porch is a welcoming place for drinking in the last of the warm days.  That's happy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

What's the Back Story Here?

T and I are fans of the Restore Store and there is a huge one north of us in Morris County.  We went noodling about there a few weeks ago, just looking around when we come upon this giant bed.
Surely this garish display came to Restore with one hell of a story.   T and I agreed that it ended up at Restore after some kind of explosive divorce, perhaps one featuring a crime of passion.  We can't rule out a stabbing in a bed like this.  For that reason, among many others, we didn't purchase the monstrosity.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

This week, there was a mess of flowers to sort into bouquets.
I found this red flower particularly charming.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pardon My Proud Mama Moment

It's no secret that I love my son.  I suspect many parents feel that way about their kids.  I'm not exactly a Mama Blogger but I am a Mama and this is my blog and so I do write about my boy with some regularity.

I try not to proclaim him awesome all the time because that is tiresome.  But I am about to indulge myself in a spot of bragging and those of you who don't enjoy this sort of thing are hereby advised to stop reading.  

Why are you still here?

JT's Middle School has a cross country team and last year he ran for the team.  To his surprise, he enjoyed the running far more than he expected.  In preparation for this fall's team, over the summer he made some half-assed efforts to prepare.  He especially likes to run short-distance sprints and although cross country is not at all about sprinting, that preparation is what he enjoyed.  He also rode his bike all over the place, often sprinting on the bike.  Knowing that one way or another, he'd have to make it through a two-mile run, I let him do what he wanted to do.  We're not exactly training for the Olympics here; the goal is to have fun.

The first race was last week and he lined up for the contest and last-minute instructions from the sainted Coach L with a somewhat nervous demeanor.  Before the race, he told me he would consider it a victory if he didn't hurl when the race was complete.  That is the sort of goal-oriented thinking that can be adapted to many a life experience.
The run was about 2 miles and there were more than 50 kids making the journey.  At the halfway point, JT was toward the front of the pack, looking like he would finish in the top 20.  As to the question of hurling…….the jury was still out on that matter.  The final 100 yards of the race feature an uphill run, which I would characterize as adding insult to injury.  JT approached that hill at full tilt.  He's the third kid back in this photo.
He passed both of the boys in front of him coming up that hill.  Cross country fans are the best kind of fans; they cheer for all the runners (even for the kid who walked the whole way.).  My boy was impressive coming up that hill and the crowd of fans knew it.  He placed 10th overall and was the third finisher on his team.  I was clapping and yelling so loudly that there was no time for a picture as he came up the hill and crossed the line, but here he is with his friends in a post-race confab, as they cheered on other finishers.
The best part of the race is that JT was so proud of himself and excited by his finish.  As for me, I just wanted to shout to the world, "that's MY boy!"

Monday, September 23, 2013

On Grade 6

In addition to the administrative duties involved in my job as Assistant Principal, I am teaching 6th grade history.  All of our administrators teach and I love being in the classroom.  So when I first took the position, I wasn't the least bit fazed at this part of the job.   In fact, I would be hard-pressed to give up classroom time with  students, so it was essential to the switch.

In the spring, working with the other Middle School history teachers, I selected a textbook for the class.  Over the summer, I read the textbook and I thought about the topics I would teach and the skills the students need to develop.  I felt confident about the venture.  Come August, I sat down to make actual  daily lessons.  And then I panicked.  One day, as I sat in my newly-arranged office I actually thought "well, I'll just ask to go back to my usual teaching responsibilities with 11th and 12th  graders."  As if that was something that could just immediately occur at T minus one month until school began.

Instead, I took a deep breath and thought about approaching my planning on a day-by-day basis.  Lectures, discussions, and assignments of the sort you have with 16 and 17 year olds were out.  But I had a few ideas for daily lessons in mind; the book and my fellow middle school teachers had others.  I began to pull together day-by-day activities.  By the time school started, I had a plan for my first unit on the Romans……seven weeks of instruction in the bag.  A plan at least, but one bathed in uncertainty: would this work?

Within the first few days of class, it was clear that my plans were good.  What I hadn't expected was the enormous enthusiasm 10 and 11 year olds bring to the table.  In high school, you have to work pretty hard in the first few weeks to establish a rapport and get the students to take the risks to discuss big ideas.  The social context has to be overcome first; they have to trust the teacher and their classmates to really explore complicated ideas, some of which are completely new to them (looking at you, federalism).  There are periods when discussion is just a painful trudge.  Eventually, the class takes on a personality and then the learning really gets going.  Hanging over it all is the reality of material that must be covered to have the students ready for the SAT, the ACT, AP tests, and college beyond.  These are ever-looming events and the students must be prepared for them.  

But in the 6th grade, it's all out in the open.  Ask a question and every hand comes up.  They can hardly wait to share their ideas and to be heard (even on the occasionally off-topic idea).  And some of their ideas are just spot-on wise.  I hadn't quite expected such brilliance from the mouths of kids whose pencil is perpetually lost and whose binder is to large for them to get their arms around.  But it is thrilling.  It can be breath-taking to watch them think and wrestle with new ideas.  Time is immaterial; we can take as long as it takes to really understand something.  It feels luxurious, this kind of time.

Classes pass in the blink of an eye.  They laugh.  I laugh.  My mind whirls with other things we can do together.  We explore some fascinating notions and we move forward at a pace that suits all the learners in the room.  It's freedom.  And it is fun, so much fun.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Welcome Fall

A storm blew through around midnight last night, bringing rain and cooler temperatures.  In honor of the arrival of fall, I said goodbye to my cheerful summer flag.
And set out the busy fall squirrel.
That's happy!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Last Call

For me, Labor Day is the traditional signal that summer is ending.  School starts afterward and leisurely mornings are traded in for the routines of bedtimes, alarm clock mornings, and homework.  Of course, the calendar has another notion and the first weeks of school often feature lingering weeks of warmth and sunshine.  Those lovely days can make it awfully hard to stay inside, as has largely been the case this year.  

My calendar reports that summer's real last day is today and glorious as it has been, it deserves a proper send off.  So I grilled some hot dogs, made some potato salad, and sliced some tomatoes from my garden.
Fall starts tomorrow.  Around here, we've already had some cool evenings.  Mother Nature seems ready to load up some beautiful fall leaves.  Cardigan sweaters and scarves are making their appearance.  These things will be embraced in due time.  But today, I held on to the summer.

Friday, September 20, 2013


During the work week, I awaken early, right around 5:30.  I enjoy the quiet stillness of early morning and the early hours ensures me some extra time to get started on my day's to do list.  My coffee maker has a setting that allows me to program the coffee pot to automatically start each day and that feature is a big motivating factor in my mornings.  I hear the coffee pot click on as I step in the shower and by the time I come downstairs, the pot has finished brewing and the house smells like coffee.  When I set up the coffee pot in the evening, I always set out a mug and a creamer from my collection to use the next morning.
It's a small thing, this habit, but it brings me happiness and even on the busiest mornings reminds me to stop and appreciate the many blessings in my world, not the least of which is my morning cup of joe.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

The weather has taken a turn for the cool this week and we've had a few nighttime lows in the 40s.  All over town, the leaves are beginning to turn.  That means that the clock is ticking on my weekly zinnia bouquets.  But there were still plenty of fresh flowers this week and that's happy.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Real Life Conversations at School: Digital Age edition

The backstory:  Last year, I began to teach my classes using an iPad and Apple TV.  I learned how to manage the equipment in my classroom and even with the steep learning curve, the process went well.  This year, I teach in three different classrooms, rather upping the ante for use of my high tech devices.  And this year it's 6th graders who watch as I remember how to trouble-shoot the tech issues.  A little more patience and problem solving are the order of the day as I adjust, as it was one morning this past week.

Me (to the class):  While your write your answer to the Do Now exercise, I will try to solve this with the Apple TV problem.  Let's all be patient.

Student X:  What if it doesn't work?

Me:  Well, I think it I can solve the problem, so let's not worry about that quite yet.

Student Y, speaking with the wisdom of youth:  If it doesn't work, you can write on the board.  That won't let us down.

Internet, the digital generation knows a few things.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jersey Strong

One of the things that T and I have in common is the fact that we aren't New Jersey natives.  In addition to that, we've both lived in the South and the Midwest and so when we see or experience things that are uniquely New Jersey (and that is a long list of nonsense), we can laugh about it together.

Today, T marks the start of her 13th year as a Jersey resident.  To celebrate, we are planning some uniquely New Jersey activities.....

We'll start our day with a breakfast sandwich served on a roll instead of a bun and featuring egg, cheese, and pork roll (Taylor ham is also acceptable).

We'll identify the place we live by the exit it is off of the New Jersey Turnpike or Garden State Parkway.  

We'll drive on said Turnpike and Parkway and we'll use our EZ Pass to do it.

We will honk at the drivers ahead of us as soon as the traffic light turns green.

For that matter, we will pass on the right while driving and talking on our cell phone.

We'll flip off a fellow-driver for no apparent reason.

We'll not pump our own gas.

We'll turn left via a jug handle and then drive through a few traffic circles.

We'll stop at every Dunkin' Donuts we see.

We'll talk about "the shore" (known to the rest of the nation as the beach).

We will end all conversations by saying, "take care" or "yeah, right."

For supper, we'll go to a diner.  I'm having the happy waitress but T has to eat something with scrapple.

Bonus round: we'll try to figure out what the fuck "Jersey Strong" on all those bumper stickers refers to. 

It's a full day.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


The experienced teacher knows the golden rule of the first week of classes: don't wear new shoes.  All year long a good teacher is on her feet and moving around her classroom.  But in the first week of school, after a summer spent in relaxation (and, in my case, flip flops), there is a steep reminder curve in the form of sore feet.  

This year, in my new capacity,  I'm both in a classroom and all over campus to see my middle schoolers in class, in the hallways, at the curb for drop off, in the music building, at gym, in the dining commons, and out on the fields.  I knew that I would be logging in some extra miles this week.  So I took care to wear shoes that were broken-in.  I even took advantage of the Middle School dress code's endorsement of sneakers.  Even so, by Friday afternoon I had a blister on my big toe.

On Saturday morning, having slept 10 hours in my soft warm bed, I was standing in the kitchen with my first morning cup of coffee, nursing my sore toe.  On the radio, came a story about wounded veterans climbing Half Dome in Yosemite.   My frequent childhood visits to Yosemite ensures that I've frequently seen climbers on Half Dome.  I've not tried it myself, but I have a good sense of what the climb entails.  As I stood in the kitchen feeling bummed about my sore toe, I heard the story of men with disabled limbs and prosthesis legs and arms climbing Half Dome.  There was even a blind climber.  They climb to remind themselves of the abilities they retain and to mark the anniversary of September 11.  I am in awe of the challenge of climbing Half Dome under the best of circumstances.  But these veterans?  Their story was flat-out amazing and inspiring.  

Perspective, for the win.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

It's been a busy first week of school and the zinnias I grew and arranged into bouquets are my calming grace.
That's happy!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This One is for Grandpa Bud

Over Labor Day weekend, T and I went to a local car show.  We both like old cars and there were rows and rows of refurbished cars for us to admire.  I made dozens of pictures, especially of logos on the cars.  If you ask me, these old-school logos are designed with some style to spare.
I found the Ford logos particularly charming because they remind me of my mechanic Grandfather, a man called Bud.  He taught me how to drive a stick shift and loved cars.
Until the awesome gas milage and mechanic ease of Hondas Civics lured him away, Grandpa Bud was a Ford man.
I believe that the last Ford he owned was a Gran Torino, a car best described as a steel beast.  I didn't see any of those were at the car show, but there were plenty of other Fords to admire.
I wouldn't mind driving an old Mustang with a logo like like this (and, as I recall, my mother did so when I was a kid).
Just the thought of it makes me want to throw a fast car in gear and take it for a ride.  Grandpa Bud would understand.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

First Day of School

Yesterday, JT started the 8th grade.  For the 11th year in a row, I made some pictures of him on the front porch.  It's a tradition and the boy even smiled as he indulged me.
7th grade was rather a rough ride at my house and as I made these photos yesterday morning, I found myself reflecting on the last school year.  We've been at work on some things to make the 8th grade better.  And so I live in hope, as one must when dealing with a kid.  For one thing, he is 13 and he's a child (no matter how large and how loud) and children are by their very definition works in progress.  For another, living in hope is the only strategy I know.  And so I embrace the uncertainty and live in hope.

Monday, September 09, 2013

The Back to School Season

Our last long weekend before the start of school was the sort of glorious weather that makes everything better.   There were blue skies with gentle breezes and perfect temperatures.   I spent the days alternating between some of my usual back-to-school chores and soaking up the last bits of unscheduled time.  
Late Friday afternoon, I sat out on the back deck under old man tree for more than two hours, finishing one terrific book and then starting another while I enjoyed an adult beverage.  The light was perfect and the time was a reminder of all the things I love best about summer.  
No doubt I'll miss these relaxed days when school starts in full force later today.  But summer wouldn't taste so sweet if it happened all the time.   The energy and excitement of kids in the hallways gives cadence to my days and motivates me.   And so I face the day - and the school year - with a feeling of promise.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

No Good Choices

I have followed the civil war in Syria since it began.  Disheartening as it is, the news that Bashir al-Assad authorized the use of sarin nerve gas on his people (likely for a second time) was no particular surprise to me.  While I understand the reasoning behind the Obama Administration's condemnation of the attack and the reluctant decision to consider a military response, I remain undecided as to a proper response to Assad's actions.  Syria is a mess with good guys in short supply.  The fact is that while there are plenty of policy options on the table (invade, bomb a lot, bomb a little, do nothing), none of them are very good choices.   

Those bad choices are made worse by the reluctance of traditional American allies to support us.  This has less to do with the fact that there are no good options or even international criticism of Obama foreign policy than it does with the very painful reality that our Bush-era post 9/11 foreign policy choices were so grossly abusive of our allies. The ways we handled Afghanistan in the years after our invasion have not inspired the world's confidence, let alone our allies.  There, an attack that might very well have had a legitimate purpose, rapidly evolved into a morass of poor planning made worse by the arrogance of American leaders.  But it was our ill-advised invasion of Iraq, driven by the assertions lies that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that really tipped the balance against the U.S. as an honest broker of foreign policy information.  

Between Afghanistan and Iraq, thousands of people have died as a result of American hubris.  There is a continuing price to be paid for it, as the Obama Administration is learning right now.  In dealing with Syria in 2013, we are reaping the consequences of America's failures in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The world no longer sees the U.S. as a reliable voice of the moral high ground.  Our motives are suspect and our judgment is no longer guaranteed to be trustworthy.

None of this is to excuse the Obama Administration from some errors in the handling of the complex problem that is Syria.  But there was never an obvious or easy policy road in Syria and that reality, combined with our own actions after 9/11, has landed us squarely in this moment.   Given the U.S. domestic political climate right now, I think that President Obama was right to ask for Congressional authorization before he takes military action.  It speaks volumes about our own dysfunctional politics that those conversations have been less about what is needed in Syria than it is has been yet another opportunity for the GOP to throw mud in the President's direction.   These days our own behavior is a cautionary tale about democracy.

In the meantime, the U.N. estimates that more than 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced.  There are thousands of Syrian refugees pouring into camps in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.  Innocents suffer and die while different factions in Syria maneuver for power.  The Syrian government is a threat to its own citizens.  Just as there seem to be no good choices for the Syrians, there are no good choices for American foreign policy toward Syria.  Worse yet is the reality that in the United States we have lost sight about the source of our foreign policy leadership failure, seemingly anxious to prove decisively that we are no longer fit to lead the world.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Real Life Conversations with JT: Politics edition

The backstory: It was Wednesday morning;  the first day of school for new students and my first day meeting students and parents as the Middle School Assistant Principal.  It's 7 am and I'm dressed like a grown up for the first time since mid-June.  My feet already miss their customary flip flops.  JT and I are driving to school and NPR is airing a story about the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on President Obama's request for congressional authorization to bomb Syria.  I am listening to a conversation between Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) and Secretary of State John Kerry.  While I am undecided on the wisdom of bombing Syria, I am not undecided on the wisdom of Rand Paul: he's an idiot.  

Rand Paul:  Blah, blah, blah….(unrelentingly critical of the Obama Administration with nary a clue as to what is actually happening in Syria, asserting wildly ridiculous notions with no trace of an interest in the facts).

Me:  Seriously?  You are an asshole.  And you're stupid.

JT (in the reasoned voice one uses to calm the insane):  Is this how it's gonna go today, Mama?

The day went quite nicely, thank you.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

This week's weekly bouquet is actually in the form of bouquets.  I have a happy abundance of flowers, so I made a bouquet for my table and another for the windowsill in my kitchen.
Then I made some posies of roses and zinnias that I placed in some fruit jars that T recycled my way.  
The posies came to school with me.  One made its home on my desk and the other was handed to the Middle School secretary, whose heroic efforts have been a terrific help as I adjust to my new job.
Fresh flowers make everything lovely and add a nice bit of happy to my day.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

In the Stillness and the Hope

New students arrive at school today and I thought of them as I took in the morning's stillness.  I am an early riser once school starts, awakening just after 5:30 am.  The sun is rising later and later these days and so there was just a faint line of light at the horizon as a I drank my coffee, breathed in the quiet chirp of the birds, and embraced the peace.

Then I heard a neighbor's alarm clock ring.  Second later, a roaring plane flew overhead.  The spell was broken.  I stepped back inside and poured a second cup of coffee to hear news of Congress squabbling and Syrian refugees pouring into the Jordanian desert.  In just a few hours, I will meet nervous new Middle Schoolers and their anxious parents.  The real world seems to offer the persistent risk that the brief quiet peace of my morning will be quickly lost in the shuffle.

My plan for this school year is to embrace at least a few moments of the morning's quiet promise every day.  I will breathe in the air as the light comes to the horizon and hold on to the stillness as I face the day's turbulent adolescent challenge.  I will be grateful for my multiple blessings and walk back into the world prepared to live in hope.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Happy Labor Day, Y'all!

It's Labor Day and y'all should sit back and relax.  That's what T and JT are about today. 

Sunday, September 01, 2013

September 1st: Front Yard Flowerbed

I confess that I find it terribly hard to believe that September 1st is already upon us.  This summer has passed more quickly than I expected and I find myself faced with the reality that leisurely, telexed hours are over.  From a foliage point of view, the backyard dogwood issued a warning a few weeks back, in the form of leaves beginning to turn for the fall.
In the front yard, things are still looking rather lush.

But a quick walk around town reveals other signs of leaves already beginning to change.  In the past month, we've had a few evenings with temperatures in the 50s; more are certainly on the way.  I've hopes that my dahlia will bloom before that happens.
In the meantime, the black-eyed-susans are still prepared to do their part to celebrate the last few weeks of summer.
We've had so much rain this summer that I am still cutting the grass every week.  That I enjoy this garden chore is therefore a very good thing, because I'm nearly always overdue when I get to it (as is the case today).
School will start within the week and the garden will necessarily command less of my time.  But  these plants and garden planning never command less of my interest.  That makes the seasonal change a welcome development, as I turn my attention to preparing the garden for fall.