Saturday, November 30, 2013

Out with the Old

Yesterday, T set to work securing some loose boards on the front porch.  While she was under the porch I took care of some fall clean-up chores, some of which had been delayed earlier this month as I dealt with my beak.  Most of the leaves in my yard get spread over the garden to take advantage of some cheap natural mulch; others get left on the grass because they are good for the lawn.  The extras get bagged up and placed at the curb for the township to carry away to their own giant mulch pile.
The pumpkins were mulched and fall-themed decorations on the front porch were put away, in an out-with-the-old tradition.
I began to organize the outdoor holiday decorations.  Some are familiar favorites, like the holly-trimmed wreaths that hang from the flower pot hooks.  Others are brand new, like this snowman that my folks gave me for my birthday.   
Next week, I'll put the boy to work hanging some lights on the porch.  I love the sight of twinkling holiday lights and greenery, especially in the cold twilight of the short days in December.  It brings cheer to the evenings and is a welcome tradition at Sassafras House.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving Journal

When I first learned to cook, I was impressed by people who could get all the food on the table ready to serve (hot things hot; cold things cold) at the same time.   At first, I would make a plan for myself to get the timing right.  As I got more experienced in the kitchen, the timing of the process came easier to me.  But for an affair such as Thanksgiving, I revert to my planning mode.  The night before Thanksgiving, I sketch out a plan.  This year, as the Thanksgiving cooking unfolded, I kept track and made pictures so that I would have a digital record of the process.

The Thanksgiving menu was a very traditional traditional feast:
- roast turkey
- mashed potatoes and gravy
- cranberry sauce
- cornbread dressing
- roasted brussels sprouts
- sweet potato casserole
- cheese & crackers
- rosemary rolls
- pumpkin pie with whipped cream

The days before Thanksgiving, I made the pumpkin pie and the corn bread for corn bread dressing.  Thanksgiving morning, I was up early to get things started.  The goal was a 1 pm Thanksgiving feast.

7 am - set rolls out to rise
 8 am - get turkey out of the fridge to bring to room temperature (it was already defrosted)
- prepare cornbread dressing
- prepare cranberry sauce

9 am - prepare turkey to roast; set oven to 400 degrees
- prepare sweet potatoes to roast
9:30 - turkey in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes
- sweet potatoes roast for 30 minutes

10 am - hit a snag with the sweet potatoes, which I hoped to remove roasted from the oven; they need to roast longer

- stir together streusel topping for the sweet potato casserole while the potatoes roast some more
- add broth to cornbread dressing
- place room temp cranberry sauce in the fridge to cool
- reduce oven temperature to 350; continue to roast turkey

11:45 am - assign T to peel potatoes while I trim brussels sprouts for roasting
- brush rolls with melted butter & sprinkle with fresh rosemary
noon - set potatoes to boil
12:15 - remove turkey from oven to rest
- increase oven temp to 425; roast sprouts & start sweet potato casserole, cornbread dressing

12:30 - remove roasted sprouts
- lower oven to 350; continue cooking sweet potato casserole & cornbread dressing
- T carves the turkey.....whose picture I failed to make when I fetched it from the oven....oops!

12:45 - place rolls in the oven; make gravy
- start to set food on the table

1:15 Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


On Tuesday, as the pre-holiday fervor hit a crescendo in the Middle School, my 6th graders and I took time to share our favorite Thanksgiving foods.  I heard a lot about mashed potatoes and roasted turkey.  Deserts were also mentioned.  The kids laughed and exchanged nods as shared favorites were identified.  I thought about those conversations as I was doing some pre-holiday cooking this morning, making a few items ahead of time.  First up was pumpkin pie.
I also made the corn bread for cornbread dressing that I will stir together tomorrow.
Both of these dishes are at the top of the list of favorite foods at my house.  I love holiday cooking and find the organization and planning just as enjoyable as the meal itself.  Later today, I'll set out my antique dishes, getting ready for the feast.  Tomorrow we'll roast turkey and brussells sprouts.  Mashed potatoes, fresh cranberry sauce, rosemary rolls, and sweet potato casserole will also set on the table with my favorite cornbread dressing and T and JT's favorite, pumpkin pie.  It will be a feast with leftovers to spare.  We'll count our blessings and enjoy the day, thankful for all the things that make us smile.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Real Life Conversations with JT: That Blows edition

The backstory:  For years, JT could not blow his nose.  No matter how hard I tried, the skill escaped him.  By the time he was 10, he figured it out but not before multiple episodes of heartache and frustration.  I learned how to blow my nose a long time ago but my recent nose surgery left me unable to blow my nose.  I found it annoying.

Mama:  Oh my God, I wish I cold just blow my damned nose.

JT (calm and disinterested):  Why?  I couldn't blow mine for years and I survived quite nicely.

Obviously, this is a first-world problem and I should just suck it up.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Worst Selfies Ever

My go-round with the Mohs Procedure on my nose left a nasty scab and, worst than that, the prospect of a significant scar and a nostril so deformed that it might eventually collapse.  That seemed like a bad idea so I consulted a plastic surgeon.  Last Friday, I had a little plastic surgery.

And by a little, I mean that there are 12 stitches and it looks horrid.  This was as promised by the plastic surgeon, who told me before we began, "It's going to look a whole lot worse before it looks better.  But it will look better."

Sounds like fun!  I started with a divot on my nose scabbed over and unpleasant looking.  In this picture, you can see that my nostrils are no longer an even match, so I was confident that the surgery was warranted.
The surgical process required a sedative and then a lot of numbing.  It lasted for about 90 minutes and I don't remember much, though I do remember the pre-surgery pregnancy test.  When T and I sought to re-assure the nurse that I couldn't possibly be pregnant, she explained to us that they run a pregnancy test for all women who are eligible to be pregnant, "12 year olds, lesbians, widows… doesn't matter.  There was at least one immaculate conception!"

As if the world doesn't have enough problems, there is a prospect that a profane 46 year old lesbian would be the mama to the second coming?  Frightening.  I passed the pregnancy test and then T and I repeated the nurse's line all weekend long.   

The first day after surgery featured plenty of swelling and some oozing along the line of stitches, seen here coated in Bacitracin, per the doctor's requirement.
On the morning of day 4, it's looking and feeling better, though I am hardly a glamour girl.
It looks far worse than it feels; the discomfort is controlled with ibuprofen.  So I am taking this nose with me to work this morning.  No doubt the middle schoolers will have some rich comments.  Stitches come out on Wednesday and I expect that soon enough I will forget these few weeks.  Though I think we can safely conclude that my commitment to sunscreen will be on-going.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Beak

Later on this morning I have the plastic surgery that will fix my nose.  Despite the many jokes that I am seeking a Michael Jackson-like appearance, I just want to return to normal.  I would also like to reach an eventual goal of not having a bandage on my nose all the dang time.

In the meantime, I'm up early so that I can get in some extra worry time.  I can't eat or drink and that means I am without my customary cup of coffee  So in addition to fretting about the IV (I dislike that process immensely, especially the medical tape to hold down the line…..yes, I'm weird) I have some time to regret the fact that there is no coffee in my life this morning.  Oh, the headache I shall have.

All of these troubles are very first world, so the indulgence will end shortly.  Before and after photos will be available next week.  Here we go….

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Man Child

Though I sometimes wish I could re-play a day in the company of a pre-schooled aged JT, he's no longer a lap-sized bundle of silly little boy.  I know that.  The problem is that in my mind, I am the mother of this boy.
Or this one.
Reality these days is somewhat larger than these boys.  While he isn't yet fully grown, he is running headlong into manhood.  Sometimes I feel my little boy slipping away and I just want to stop and embrace the moment.  These days he is big and strong and all sorts of teenaged madness, thankfully with a sense of humor and the confident knowledge that his mama thinks he hung the moon.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Soup Weather

Last week was cold and blustery, a reminder that winter is on its way.  In my mind, days like this demand a warm bowl of soup for supper.  This was last Thursday's chicken noodle soup supper.
A bit of warmth returned for the weekend but the week's forecast promises more cold days. The leaves have mostly fallen and the wind feels more blustery then refreshing.  Winter is knocking at the door but that's okay.  I've got some soup to keep me warm.

Friday, November 15, 2013

In Which My Dignity Takes a Hit

Tuesday's surgical proceeding has left me with an unpleasant scrap of gauze and tape on my nose.  I'm under orders to leave the wound covered until a plastic surgeon sees it and develops a plan.  This is rather a challenge to my personal dignity.  Basically, I'm a Middle School Assistant Principal making it incredibly easy for every kid in the school to make fun of me.

The day of the procedure I was in the doctor's office awaiting the pathology results of the second surgical scrape, with a bloody bandaid on my nose.  A small child looked at me and said, "what happened to your nose?"  So I pretty much knew how my next day at school would play out.  

I took the challenge head on and wrote a quiz question on the board for each of my classes:

Ms. Sassafras has a bandage on her nose because:
a.  she picked it too much.
b.  she got in a fight.
c.  she should have used sunscreen when she was a kid.

We had a nice conversation about sunscreen and the importance of using it.  Then we agreed* that we would all pretend that I didn't have a scrap of gauze and medical tape on my nose, though I will look this way for several more days, perhaps more. 


*Note: by "agreed" I mean I insisted.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I grew up in California and my sister and I spent days in the pool, never with any sunscreen because we were the brown-as-a-berry type girls.  Also, it was the 1970s.  In my adulthood, I have reaped the rewards of this lifestyle in the form of the occasional spot of skin cancer.  It's the basal cell type; inconvenient and unattractive but not really dangerous.

This summer, I had a spot scraped off my nose.  The resulting pathology showed that the margins were still funky.  This spot would require a Mohs procedure, which is as much fun as it sounds.  I underwent that procedure on Tuesday of this week.  An 8 mm chunk on the surface of my nose is gone (as is the skin cancer).

Having casually assumed that everything would be just fine (the first scrape healed beautifully), I was rather horrified at this development.  A plastic surgeon is in order.  Conveniently, I live in New Jersey, and we are awash in cosmetic surgery opportunities.  And so I'm seeing a guy next week and now I've become a New Jersey stereotype: a woman of a certain age with a plastic surgeon's number on her phone.  I'll let you know when it goes to speed dial.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Front Porch for Fall

Nearly every house I lived in while I was growing up had an entrance from the garage into the house.  That was the door we most often used to enter the house.  Our houses had front doors, of course, but we rarely used them.  And none of my California homes had an old-fashioned front porch.   Front porches of that variety were the material of books that I read.  To me, they seemed exotic and a bit imaginary. 

When I moved into Sassafras House, one of its greatest charms was the front porch.  That it would be my daily entry into the house was particularly appealing. This year, I have been at work to ensure that my front porch feels like another room in the house.  I want it to be charming and welcoming while maintaining its practicality.  I like it to be seasonal without being overwhelming.  So while some features change each month, the tables, the rocker, and the planters remain the same.  Over the years, I've scoured sale-racks and antique stores for inexpensive tablecloths and I have a pretty good collection for the seasons.  This one is nice for the fall.
October's pumpkins and mums have become November's pumpkins and mums.
My squirrel flag is perfect for the season.
That's happy!

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Elusive Christmas Pumpkin

As of last weekend, my local Wegmans is set up for Christmas but still wishes to sell its Halloween largesse.  Thus, this display.
It's the elusive Christmas pumpkin.

Friday, November 08, 2013

On Grade 6

One of my regrets when I moved from teaching teenagers to teaching 6th graders was the fact that teens on the cusp of adulthood often have the self-awareness to say thank you for the ways in which a teacher has helped to make their world more manageable.  Whether it's a thank you for introducing a new idea, for writing a college recommendation letter, or for being sympathetic on a hard day, that part of the job was always quite rewarding for me.

Middle Schoolers, on the other hand, are self-absorbed.  Embracing this fact of their very existence is essential to work with them successfully and I knew that going in.  To navigate the transitions of adolescence and their growing desire to manage an independent identity, middle schoolers need patient, sympathetic adults who are not their parents.  I knew that I was up to that challenge.  Even so, I figured I would miss the less selfish elements of working with teenagers.  Sometimes, I do miss that.  More often, I am completely and utterly enamored by the 6th graders I get to teach.

They laugh easily, and often with their whole soul on display.  They expect learning to be fun and assume that new ideas are worth embracing and exploring.  They are sweetly honest.  They are incredibly eager to please adults and therefore can be re-directed with greater ease.  They are bright, poised as they are on the cusp of adolescence and teenage awareness of the world around them.  But they are still kids and will play tag or run around the playground with a joy and abandon that quite literally takes my breath away.

These have been the unexpected joys of 6th grade.  As I plan lessons for our days together, I imagine how much fun they will find a task and I get excited to share that lesson or activity with them.  It would seem that I am rather charmed by 6th graders.  And I couldn't be more thrilled to be spending my days in their company.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Polka Dot

The last time I went to Orlando, I spotted these giant tea cup garden pots at Epcot Center and I was charmed.  
My garden isn't quite the place for such an item, so I put out the word that I would like a smaller tea cup garden pot.  T found one and last year for Mother's Day, she and JT filled it with plants it for me.
This past summer, Mother Nature fired up a big wind that cleared all the plants on my porch right off the table.  My tea cup was broken beyond repair.  For my birthday, I mentioned that I would like a polka dot planter.  I also mentioned that I hadn't seen such a thing.  T outdid herself and found a polka dot tea cup planter.  
I am spoiled.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Election Day

New Jersey's gubernatorial races are off-year affairs.  In 2009, we New Jersey elected Chris Christie to the governor's mansion.  Today, he will likely be re-elected.  He's likely making a bid for the presidency in 2016, to which I say good riddance.  Chris Christie is a loud-mothered bully and I am not a fan.

Since he became governor, neither my property taxes nor my income taxes have gone down, though he promised they would.  The state's unemployment rate is north of 8% and higher than when he took office in the midst of the recession.  We still don't have enough street lights and the potholes are large enough to swallow a car.   We've used federal money for Sandy relief that has mostly left the middle class to struggle on their own.  We spent more than $10 million on a special election held just three weeks ago so that the bully didn't have to appear on the same ballot as Cory Booker.  Having failed to set up our own healthcare exchange, we are instead part of the federal health insurance exchange.  While neighboring New Yorkers are signing up for insurance, people in this state are struggling to get informed and get health care.

We do have legal same-sex marriage but that's despite the fact that the Governor vetoed the bill to legalize it.  If Chris Christie is the best moderate that the GOP can drum up for 2016, then the Republicans are in big, big trouble.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Real Life Conversations with JT: Terrifying edition

The backstory:  It would seem that I have told JT a few too many stories under the heading "stupid things college students attempt."

JT, eying my bottle of beer: I've always wanted to pee in a bottle.

Me: We can make the happen.

JT:  No, I wanna wait until I am in college.

I laughed out loud.  Because, seriously, that boy is funny.  And frightening.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The 13 Year Old Male Shopper

On occasion, I am particularly struck with how different a life experience it is to be a 13 year old boy versus a 13 year old girl.  Case in point: clothes for school.  In every free minute of his life, JT's clothing of choice is a combination of athletic shorts and a t-shirt of one of his favorite sports teams.  Come back-to-school, this is a wardrobe option that won't pass the dress code.  So he reverts to khakis and polo shirts, the least restrictive of the dress code requirements at our school.

Around this time of year, I catch sight of him strolling the halls at school and realize that it's time for new pants.  As opposed to me at 13, the idea of buying clothes, let alone trying them on at an actual store, is JT's idea of misery.  He prefers for new clothes to be selected by someone else and then made to magically appear in his closet, ready to be worn to school.  Having been through the hell that is shopping with JT, I am inclined to support his preference that new clothes just appear.

Alas, I must know what size he wears in order to facilitate this process.  Typically, I take a guess at his next size up and leave some new pants on his bed with instructions to try them on.  If that size will work, I buy more.  If not, I exchange them for a different size.  This year, I realized that an assortment of pants sizes and brands were in his closet.  I needed JT to try some of the old ones on in order to make an accurate guess as to his next size.  So I set out a few of his old pants and asked him to try them on so I could gauge the necessary size.  He did just that and then brought me a pile of pants that no longer fit.  He's had these pants for over a year, and some for even longer.  Like all pants that he has owned for more than two weeks, they are worn in spots, stained at the knee, and generally just this side of complete disrepair.  But my boy brought them to me and cheerfully announced, "none of these new pants will fit, Mama."

That my friends, is what it's like to be a boy.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

 The cool, frosty evenings have brought an end to my weekly zinnia bouquets and this week's showing is the final batch for the season.
 It won't be long before I am reading  seed packet descriptions and planning for next summer's zinnia's harvest.  I like to garden for many reasons, foremost among them is the reminder of the virtues of hard work and patience, skills that a happy gardener must cultivate and tend.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Front Yard Flowerbed: November 1st

Halloween evening was mild and breezy and more than 200 trick-or-treaters blew through my neighborhood.  The warmth belied the reality that in every way, fall has taken hold around here.  Days are growing shorter and mornings are dark.  Leaves are all manner of reds, oranges, and yellows; they are falling down and starting to pile up.
Once-lush green plants are bedraggled and worn, thanks to a few frosty nights.
November is a month of fall garden chores.  I'll dig up the dahlia bulbs to winter-over in the basement.  I'll plant some more tulips and daffodils to enjoy in the spring.  Then I will pause, secure in the knowledge that one season follows another, all four of them with something new and different to admire and enjoy.