Thursday, October 31, 2013


One of the things I like best about the fall is setting out my Halloween decorations.  The porch is looking welcoming for all the little goblins in my town.
Mine is the friendly Halloween house, the one that won't scare trick-or-treaters.
The pumpkins on the table may get carved this afternoon, though I've grown rather fond of their happy orange presence.
Last year's Halloween was cancelled thanks to Sandy.  I missed the celebration and air of excitement in the air so I've laid in a big supply of treats for this year's ghoulish visitors.  Here's to a happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Old Man Tree

To look at my backyard, you'd think that the fall leaves are about finished with their work.
But old man tree is so huge that he's nowhere near done with his seasonal responsibilities.
The smaller backyard dogwood has yet to really get in on the action.
Good thing I have a big stack of leaf bags at the ready.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Hurricane Journal: Sandy at One Year

As the one-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy has approached, my local public radio station has  been asking listeners "how is your life different since the storm?"  My first response to the question was to consider that nothing had really fundamentally changed.  My home wasn't damaged beyond repair, my life and my town were not completely upended.  Within a few weeks of the storm, I no longer startled when the electricity flashed.  I quickly resumed a normal life.

Upon reflection, though, I realize that it's rather a new normal.  In my daily life, I still see evidence of the storm.  Everywhere I go are trees and branches now down for good; wides swaths of the woods now different.  On virtually every street I drive each day are power lines that have been re-hung since the storm.  On my street and many streets all around me are homes in the midst of repair.  I am more aware than ever that my share of the storm damage was both limited and small.  I am incredibly grateful for that blessing.  In the bigger picture, when I hear stories of weather apocalypse elsewhere, I am immediately on alert and sympathetic to the meaning of such events in people's daily lives.  I never see a power crew, whether in-state or out-of-state, without waving a friendly greeting.  I check the weather forecast and pay careful attention to forecasts that may deviate from normal.  My emergency supplies are up-to-date.  So life is back to normal but it is a new normal.

I'm also aware that neither my state nor my local government has done enough to prepare for the next super-storm.   There is half-hearted recognition of climate change around here, though no conversations or specific plans to adjust our lives to it or, heaven-forbid, change our lives to protect the planet.  Billions of dollars have been spent on Sandy repairs but a lot of practical preparation for the larger community is yet un-done.  On the Jersey shore, people are still demanding to live in flood-prone areas (and they want government-subsidized and cheap flood insurance to do so).  In the meantime, plenty of middle-class folks are still struggling to effect repairs to their flood-damaged homes and businesses.  Our state has only recently developed a plan for getting back-up electricity to gas stations or towns in the event of widespread power losses.  Few details of that plan have been shared with the public.  There has been no state-wide conversation about household disaster readiness.  

What has changed for me since Sandy is that I know we must do all of these things.  We must adjust our lives to the reality of climate change.  I remember how tenuous civilization feels in the face of disaster.  I see that we have a great deal of work to complete.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Unwise Marketing

Dunkin' Donuts has signs all over town advertising their new pumpkin pie donut.  T and I decided that the picture is hardly appetizing and may just lend itself to inappropriate comments about what this donut is doing.
In the world of donut technology, even a bad donut is usually pretty good.  That cannot be said of the pumpkin pie donut.  In person, it tasted as good as it looked, which is to say: yuck.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013


For years, I have given dahlia bulbs a try.  I have almost never met with success in this venture and yet I have never given up hope.  This year's dahlia attempt came via some late-in-the-season on-sale bulbs.
They came up nicely and then were involved in a race against time in order to bloom before the first frost.  They made the cut just in time and I got some lovely orange flowers for my troubles.  That's happy!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

It could just be my starry-eyed view of flowers, but something about this mess of end-of-the-season blooms seems especially bright and lovely.
 I organized them by color before I trimmed them for bouquets.
Then I placed them in my fanciest vases.
That's happy!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Two weeks ago, fall was in full display when we were in Cooperstown.  Around here, we're about to catch up.  In the meantime, I made some lovely pictures in upstate New York.  

Here is my boy, demonstrating his charms.
There were lovely pumpkins.
Even more pumpkins, this time with mums.
I think that mums are the patron saint of autumn.
At the cider mill, there were bins of apples.  We bought a bag to enjoy.
This giant flowerpot made me terribly envious.
Cooperstown itself was really most charming.
We're having a snap of cold this week, just in time for the bulk of the leaves to take on their colors.  Sweaters and fleeces are at hand.  I put on some tights today and set the furnace to come on to ease the morning chill.  It feels nice to tuck under a warm quilt and embrace the next season.

Monday, October 21, 2013

And Now There are 14

I was just drafting up a post about why Governor Christie should simply drop his appeal of the New Jersey lower court's ruling to permit same-sex marriage when the governor's office announced that's exactly what he will do.  The New York Times reports here that the governor will enforce the law and permit same-sex couples to legally marry in the state of New Jersey.

We are state number 14.  Well done, New Jersey.  Well done.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dear Major League Baseball,

No matter who is playing, the arrival of the baseball playoff season is an event in my home.  We will watch these games and enjoy the splendor of the sport.  But when one of my son's favorite teams is playing, it's more than an event.  It's a religious experience.  My 13 year old son, JT, is a fan of the Cardinals and the Giants.  His enthusiasm is a family inheritance, a love shared with his grandfather.  The last few years have been very good to us.

There are some challenges in my household when JT's teams are playing.  Team shirts must be washed and ready for the game.  Since his entire non-school wardrobe consists of baseball t-shirts, this is pretty easy to accomplish.  Hot dogs must be served for at least one game.  Again, that's manageable.  What's killing me is the time of the games:  8 pm eastern time.  By the time these games are completed, usually just after 11 pm, I am exhausted.  I awaken the next morning at 5:30 knowing that another 11 pm bedtime is on the horizon.   And then there is the matter of my son staying up that late and then attending school the next day, each day more tired then the previous.

Sure, we could skip a game.  We could go to sleep early and miss the end of the games.  But this is the playoffs and the Cardinals are contenders.  We aren't the sorts of fans who take our duties lightly.  If our team is in the field, we will cheer them on.  My son's world is baseball and I am the sort of mama who wishes to cultivate her child's joy and excite.  So we happily watch.

The World Series starts next Wednesday.  The games are all scheduled to begin at 8 pm, EST.  We will be there in front of our television.  But I wonder how many other kids want to watch games and are saddled with mothers more sensible than I, mothers who make their children get enough rest to be functional in school?  I wonder if you couldn't think about a few games that start at 7 pm EST.  I wonder if you realize that a generation of fans misses out on the some splendid playoff baseball and may never develop a passion for the sport when you show the games after their bedtime?


(Exhausted) Sassafras Mama

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

Though we are closing in on colder nights and a frost that will bring an end to the flowers, the zinnias are holding fast.  This week's bouquet was made in the waning light and the flash-based picture isn't perfect.
But the zinnias are still lovely and that's happy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Real Life Conversations in 6th grade: Nuances edition

The backstory:  In a Middle School creative writing class, 6th graders were being reminded that their stories may feature lots of imaginary elements but no violence and no death.  Characters may be creatively removed, but it ain't gonna happen by force.  

Student J:  Ms. B, can my story have someone being chased by a chainsaw?  He won't die.

Ms. B:  No.  No chainsaw.

Student J:  Okay.  No chainsaw.  

Then he paused and tilted his head before he spoke…..

Student J:  Crowbar?

We all erupted with laughter.  Because, crowbar?  Turns out no crowbars are allowed either.

Dang it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Government We Deserve

I have always taught my students that the trick of understanding representative democracy is to understand that in system governed by the choices of citizens, we typically get the government we deserve, if not the government we want.  That's a fundamental truth of self-government: citizens must abide by the choices they make.

The prospect of not teaching American Government for the first time in more than 20 years gave me some anxiety this summer.  Sure, there were times when explaining certain concepts (looking at you, Electoral College) to teenagers was daunting, but mostly I loved studying politics and government with my students.

But as October 1st arrived, the federal government was shut down for lack of a budget deal.   The Tea Party cheerfully rode the waves of their rigid ideological ignorance right toward the prospect of American debt default.  These days,  it's gotten a whole lot easier to not be teaching about government and politics.  Certain things about Congress that are hard to understand (committees in Congress, the power of rural states in the Senate, the advantages of incumbency, the nature of House districts) seem easy in comparison to today's party-driven failure to compromise on matters of grave importance to the nation and the world.

I see in the Tea Party Republicans a fundamental ignorance about the system of government we have and an irresponsible refusal to embrace our founding mandate to compromise.  The comparatively less ideological Republicans will speak about the damage being done to their party and the Congress (thanks, Senator Lindsay Graham for at least saying it), but there is little evidence of a responsible leader who will demand that the Republican party rise above the fray it has created.  Democratic hands are hardly clean as the party reaps the results of their years of refusal to defend the positive good that government in this nation has been able to accomplish.  In my fellow citizens I see a mounting frustration with our government, as if none of this is our fault.  

Mostly I see a nation and a system of self-government that is profoundly disappointing.  We are better than this, I have always thought.  But these days, as we approach a level of irresponsibility that seems unthinkable, I've even begun to doubt that.  We may very well be getting the government we deserve.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I have a sarcastic sense of humor but underneath that sarcasm is a sentimental heart.  This combination allows my loved ones to occasionally take advantage of me, as JT and T did when we were at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.  The place is chockfull of baseball memorabilia, some of it quite sentimental.  When JT and T explained to me that the wood floors in the museum were made from bats used by minor league players, I was utterly charmed by such attention to detail and love of the game.

Then they laughed at me because, of course, they'd made up that fact.  Assholes.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Low Man on the iPod Totem Pole

Like everyone else in America, I am attached to my iPod.  My first one was a Shuffle, circa 2004, of the original white plastic Shuffle vintage.  I used it during workouts and quite literally ran it into the ground.

My next iPod was inherited from JT, who himself inherited two iPods, one from his grandfather and the other from my sister.  Both Grandpa and Auntie KO were in possession of these iPods thanks to financial dealings with my nephews, who sold off their old iPods at a decent return and used the proceeds to buy shiny new iPods.  The inherited iPods were more sophisticated than my sad old Shuffle.  JT had one; I had the other and all was right in our musical world.

Two years ago,  JT received a Nano iPod from his grandparents for Christmas, at which point I got both of the old iPods.   One went to the car and the other lived in my gym bag.   This week the car iPod, which always had some quirks, died, seemingly for good.  I am now down to one iPod that I move from the car to the gym as needed.

But JT, never one to miss out on the prospect of a financial deal that might be to his benefit, has taken a page from his cousins.  He is now looking to sell me his used Nano at an inflated price.  The profits will be combined with his cash and immediately turned over to the Apple Corporation in exchange for a new iPod.  I've yet to fall for the deal, but I am living with the pushiest salesman ever, one who seems deeply concerned about the inconvenience I incur when I must unplug the iPod from the car and bring it into the gym.  He's worried that I might suffer a deadly repetitive motion injury when I complete this iPod heavy lifting.  He only wants to best for me.  I deserve a new-to-me iPod.

Thus far, I have resisted the pressure.  But it's an open question as to how long I can withstand the onslaught.  That little blue Nano iPod is cute.  And I've been known to fall for the boy's nonsense on previous occasions.

Friday, October 11, 2013

On Baseball and a Boy

At night before he tucks into bed, JT loads up an app on his iPad to check the sports scores for all the games being played.  Checking the scores is his very first act in the morning.  During breakfast, he watches Sportscenter.  In short, he loves all sorts of sports and stays informed about all the games.  But it is baseball that most captures his interest.  He can talk batting order and ERA about every team in the major league.  His knowledge of the last five years of baseball is encyclopedic and he is systematically learning the history of the game.  He can hold his own with any adult in a conversation about the game and spends at least an hour every week on the phone with his grandfather, hashing out details of the national pastime.

This sort of obsession love deserves to be nourished.  Last weekend, T and I delivered the boy to his personal mecca, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  The boy is already a virtual baseball encyclopedia, with strongly held opinions and the facts to back them up.    In Cooperstown, he would have the chance to appreciate the national pastime accompanied by his fellow enthusiasts.
I am complicit in his interest in the game, having encouraged it.  From his grandfather, a man who texted me over the weekend to remind us to pause before the Stan Musial display for a moment of silence, JT has inherited a love of the St. Louis Cardinals.  His only wardrobe for the weekend was Cardinals t-shirts.  When we began the trip, he owned four.  Now he owns five.  
Over the course of our day in the museum, he took over 200 pictures of the things that thrilled him most.  Not surprisingly, many featured a certain favorite team.
He explored the display of baseball records, absorbing all the details for future conversations and baseball debates.
On Friday evening, when we rolled into downtown and sighted the Hall of Fame and a half dozen sports card and sports collectible stores ,JT sighed and announced, "I'm in baseball heaven."  In heaven, he learned even more about the greats in his favorite game.
And I was reminded that there is nothing as powerful as love of a subject when it comes to engaging a boy's mind and imagination.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

This week's flower cutting found me with a mess of bright flowers to make into bouquets.
I organized them by color.
And then I made two large bouquets to enjoy.
I admire these bouquets each day, fully aware that the garden clock is quickly counting down and that fall leaves will soon replace my home-grown flowers.  

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Real Life Conversation with the Sixth Grade: Ambitions edition

The backstory:  My 6th graders offer a whole new world view, as was the case in this conversation I had with student V about time management in class.

Me:  Why aren't you working on the worksheet, V?

Student V:  I'd rather do it at home.

Me:  But then you aren't doing anything in class.  You should use class time to complete class work.  Then you can review it at home.

V:  Why?

Me:  Because that's how you learn to manage your time and work effectively and because that's when I am her to help you.  One day, when you go to work, you'll need to use your work time efficiently and do your work during the work day, not at home.  We should practice now.

While V thought over this gem of wisdom, Student H chimed in with a tone of great confidence:  I don't need to worry about this because I am going to be a pop star when I grow up.

In which case, all these lessons about Roman civilization might not be all that useful.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Real Life Text with KO: Supportive edition

The backstory:  Last week, I was headed to a cross country meet in the middle of East Nowhere and so I opted to follow the bus in order to keep from getting lost.  I watched the kids file into the bus and then caught sight of JT sitting with his friends in the very back of the bus.  I texted my sister about the most obvious concern generated by this situation.

Me:  Following the bus to cross country.  JT is in the back and I am praying he doesn't flip me off.

KO:  I kind of hope he does, lol.

Me:  Right back at ya', sis.

He didn't flip me off, but reported later that was only because his friend V advised against it, asserting, "your mom is a nice lady."  I'll take it.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Your Weekly Bouquet

On Sundays, I head out to the garden to pick zinnias to make a fresh bouquet (or two) to face the week.  Once the flowers are trimmed and placed in vases (in my case, that's usually a Mason jar or a glass milk jug), I make a few pictures of the fresh bouquet.  
I usually make the bouquets toward late afternoon, as a talisman against the dreariness of a Sunday evening.  I pick my flowers at the same time each week and each Sunday afternoon I'm growing more and more aware that the daylight is decreasing at a pretty quick clip.  
I feared that this week's bouquet might be close to my last, but there was lingering warmth in the days this week, so I'll be picking a few more bouquets.   That's happy!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Frontyard Flowerbed: October 1st

Early yesterday morning,  I stepped outside to to admire the pink rim of the sunrise and was greeted by a slender edge of the moon, still glowing bright in the southeast sky.  It was a cool morning, the sort we've been enjoying for a few weeks now.  I love to be outside in the dark cool and as I stood outside yesterday I was reminded that cool will soon be replaced by cold and a different sort of morning all together.

In the last few weeks, our days have been mild, mostly in the 70s.  Things have been dry, especially compared to our summer.  I have begun to worry that my  dahlias, planted late this spring, might not bloom thanks to these cool fall days.  The buds are there, but now it's a race against time.
But this week's forecast calls for days in the 80s and so my dahlias have a chance to open into bright orange flowers.  The rest of the front yard flowerbed is looking end-of-season raggedy and the front lawn could use a mowing.
But the dahlias might just make it before a frost ends all the blooms.  Around here, I'm crossing my fingers.