Friday, January 31, 2014

Daydreams of Spring

I am what I would call a seasonal optimist; a woman who always looks forward to the seasons ahead.  Sometimes, I think that I enjoy the anticipation of a season more than I enjoy the season.  But in writing that sentence, I think of Spring and all the things I love about Spring and now I am prepared to take back that thought.  

The truth is that I love all the seasons, for very different reasons of course, but in rather equal measure when it’s all said and done.  And when one season is wearing thin, thoughts of the season to come are a balm on that tension.  This Winter, which has featured temperature ups and downs that feel extreme, is certainly a time to appreciate the cold.  And trust me….one appreciates the cold when it is not even 10 degrees, the wind is blowing, and there is 6 inches of snow awaiting removal.  To ease the cold, I stack up my garden catalogs and carry them around the house like a talisman against the chill.

I think about the seeds I will plant and the harvests that they will bring.  When the Winter wind is blowing, I sigh a bit, fearful that Spring is far, far away.  And then, as confirmation that the cold can’t last forever, seed racks begin to appear in the stores and I know for sure that Winter will end in the glory that is Spring.  That's happy!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Amaryllis, Week 5

Since I detected the beginnings of a shoot headed upward last week, I’ve been careful to check in on my bulb each day.  As we experience day after day of unusually cold temperatures, the amaryllis is truly the only thing growing around here.  The prospect of a floral bloom is really rather thrilling, trapped indoors as I am feeling.  The first shoot I saw is doing quite well.

But the really exciting development is that another shoot has joined in on the action.

Last week’s snow remains firmly in place and but for one day in the last two weeks, we haven’t had a high temperature above freezing (and that day was 40, not exactly a heatwave)  This morning when I got up at 5:30, the temperature outside was -4 degrees.  The amaryllis holds court on a warm radiator in a southern window, reminding me that spring will eventually arrive.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Sky

Monday morning started with an icy rain and temps in the 20s.  Eventually, the sunlight broke through and the day warmed to the low 40s.  It was a short-lasted respite and our polar friend returned with a sharp breeze to accompany the chill.  But the days are steadily getting longer and in the light that was still in Monday’s sky after sunset, the Winter sky was starkly beautiful, with dark tree limbs in front of ribbons of pink light on the horizon.
It’s still cold and Winter is wearing thin.  But the sky and the light in it are lovely.  That’s happy.

Monday, January 27, 2014


For me, teaching 6th graders has been an epiphany in so many ways.  As much as I hope that my students are learning their way around new ideas, I am convinced that being with them each day is teaching me even more.  On a daily basis, they remind me that school and learning is more successful when it’s fun.  Their enthusiasm spills over into virtually every element of their day and I admire that a great deal.

Case in point is their excitement about reading books.  They read their schoolbooks, of course, but many of them also come to class with a pleasure book in hand.  They crack it open when they finish a quiz early; they sneak a peak at a few lines when assignments are collected.  When asked about the stories they are reading, they bubble over with details about the tales.  They swap tips with one another, recommending books that have brought them pleasure.  I am reminded of my own book obsession at the age of 11 (to speak nothing of my continued joy in books at the age of 46).  I love the way that the 6th graders hope for quiet moments in which they can immerse themselves in a good book.

In every way, these readers offer evidence that the good old-fashioned pleasure of reading thrives as much as ever.  That’s a very happy thing.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


The very first word JT uttered was toothbrush.  That fact amuses me because his toothbrushing habits haven’t always been what I might hope.  When he had braces, I hounded him to brush and he mostly did so.  The removal of his braces and the addition of a retainer has also made brushing more desirable from his point of view.  That’s progress.  Naturally, he at once demanded a new toothbrush.

Santa obliged and put a pink toothbrush in his Christmas stocking.  Santa wasn’t being mean; JT’s manhood is not threatened by pink.  But I also have a pinkish toothbrush (it has the name of my dentist and looks different if one is paying attention…ahem).  And now you know where this story is headed.

One morning last week I realized that JT’s toothbrush was bone dry.  So I told him to brush.  “I already did,” he said.

“Then why is your toothbrush dry?” I asked.

He rolled into the bathroom, genuinely concerned, and I began to think that he had brushed.  He checked out the toothbrushes, realized he had used mine, and offered a thought, “Who is the super genius who got us toothbrushes that are the same color?”

As he attempted to spit out the rest of my germs into the sink, I reminded him of the manner in which he entered the world.  This wasn’t quite the comfort I had hoped it would be.  So later that week I scored a multipack of new toothbrushes in colors unlikely to be confusing.
The silver lining of this story is the fact that the boy is brushing before I nag him to do so.  Successful parenting, y’all!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Beak Report: Nine Week Update

The other day, one of my classes of 6th graders asked me what a nose job was and I reminded them that I had in fact had a nose job in the fall.  They had forgotten that fact and promptly gathered round to check out my snagglesnout.  “It looks good,” C solemnly announced.  I think that he is correct.  Nine weeks out, things are looking pretty good.
 There is just a bit of swelling remaining and in profile you can see the line of the repair.
This is a much better outcome than a collapsed nostril and I am grateful that it all worked out.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Amaryllis, Week 4

I was starting to fret that the adage about a watched pot never boiling would apply to my amaryllis, which seemed to be lingering in winter’s torpor.  But earlier this week, I saw the very beginning of the bulb sending a shoot upward.  And that stem keeps growing.
Progress!  And a much-needed reminder that patience is a virtue worth cultivation.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Snow Day!

The most recent Northeast snowstorm landed us two days off from school, freezing cold, and nearly a foot of snow.  This last development is more of a challenge than usual because my snow blower is in the shop.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that my snow shoveler is not in the shop.
When the storm was completely done and the sun deceptively shining, JT and I bundled up and hit the sidewalks.  
Luckily for us, my snow blowing neighbors had done the hard work of blowing out the driveway, leaving us to finish the porch, the front walk, and car clean up.
The bright sunshine that shines in the aftermath of a snowstorm is often spectacular, even if the cold is extreme.  And it is extreme, as this look at our 7 day forecast demonstrates.   Happily, JT and I are a fairly cold-hearty workforce.  We made relatively quick work of the snow and came back inside for hot cocoa, warm afghans, and good books.  That’s happy!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


JT and V have been friends since they were 4 years old.  Even the two years that V spent at school overseas in the 4th and 5th grade could not dim their friendship.  V’s about to make another relocation with his family and he will attend high school in Florida.   Last weekend, when a bunch of 8th graders attended a performance of Richard III in NYC (they had read it in English class this year), V came to the city with me and JT.  They took a look around Times Square and were largely unimpressed.
 We were early to the theater so we got some lunch and then rolled into the giant Toys R Us on Times Square.  And teenagers that they are, the boys quickly got into the spirit of things.
Even Thomas the Tank Engine had one last tour of duty.
I love the fact that these boys have been friends for so long that they aren’t afraid to goof around and be kids with another.  Even better is their shared assumption that Florida isn’t that far away when one is armed with instant messaging and air travel.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Home Improvement: Stairway Handrail

When my sister and I were little girls on house hunting adventures with our parents, two-story homes were a rarity.  We grew up in California, in a place with abundant space and excessive heat ——— no one needed a second floor around there.  The two of us always admired two-story homes.  I came to see two-story houses and stairways as exotic; the kind of thing you saw on television and read about in books.  Such things were the domain of the fancy people who lived elsewhere.  Fast forward to 2014 and I live in a two-story house with a stairway of my very own.
 I love the stairs in my house and still think of them as faintly exotic.  They are also an early indicator of the boy moving about because these stairs creak, as one would expect in a home that is more than 80 years old.
As it turns out, not only do the stairs creak but the stair handrail, attached to the wall, after the landing had come loose.  This house has plaster and lathe walls and they can be tricky to work with.  The loosened rail had caused plaster damage on its way out of the wall.  T and I realized a solution must be found and so we set to work.  I forgot to take a before photo with the handrail attached but I can show you this picture made once the hand rail came down.
Up close, you can see how bad the situation had gotten.
Once plaster starts to disintegrate, it can go pretty quickly.  Inside the wall in the section with the problem, the plaster and lathe is to the right.  To the left is the metal post that forms the center of the stairway.  This is a load bearing wall in the center of the house on the only path to get upstairs.  The problem was significant, though still small enough that it wasn’t necessary or practical to take the wall down to the studs and replace the plaster with modern drywall.  But how to fix it?

After some thinking and talking through of the problem, T hit upon a terrific solution.  She carved two neat holes in the wall where the handrail attached.  Then, she cleaned and patched the edges and fit in wood squares about an inch deep into the wall.  Those were secured with deep screws into the study plaster and lathe that remained.  Once in the wall, they looked like this.

The wood had been primed and after some discussion, we decided to paint them to match the wall.  
T then re-attached the railing onto the durable wood squares, using the original railing hardware.  The finished attached railing at the bottom, where the damage was, looks like this up close.
Up top looks very similar.
When you look at the handrail as a whole, the repair is barely detectible.
It looks like a small project but it took a good deal of time and care to get it right and T was a patient and clever carpenter.  Plus, a functioning hand rail is a really nice thing to have.  Though JT has been repeatedly reminded not use the handrail as a gymnastic bar, I think that if he did it would hold up quite nicely.  That's happy!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

On Aging

I am notorious for ignoring my aches and pains (even when I shouldn’t).  I power through discomfort because I usually can and because that’s what needs to be done.  For years this habit served me quite well.  But I am a middle aged woman these days and I am starting to realize that very fact.

Last winter I developed a sore hip but it was sore in a weird way.  At first it ached only when I was sitting or laying down.  The hip was fine when I was standing or walking.  At the time, I felt like this was just my kind of pain and I cheerfully sped off to the gym where I worked up my usual sweat on the elliptical.    The aching continued and so did my daily gym trips.  Then, about a week into this arrangement, I could barely get out of bed, let alone walk downstairs.  Walking, sitting, and lying down became unpleasant.  I was in pain and actually frightened by this development.  So I headed off to the doctor who diagnosed bursitis, prescribed me some serious anti-inflammatory meds, pointed out that I am aging, ordered me to stay away from the gym for two weeks and reminded me that I may need to start taking it easy on occasion.  This was unwelcome news.

However, the pain was sufficiently frightening that I did actually take the ordered break from the gym.  Since that incident, I have been forced to recognize that I am human and that sometimes powering through is just not a good idea.  

If this is the wisdom that comes with age, I’m not always convinced that it’s worth the exchange.  I am fine acknowledging my age, letting my hair go gray, and living with my wrinkles.  I’ve been a fan of sensible shoes for years.  But it is the idea that my physical durability is finite that scares the hell out of me.  Since I’m prone to over-doing it, it may be that dialing things back and simply working out and living within an appropriate range for my age and moody joints is an adjustment that will solve this problem.  In fact, I suspect that this is exactly what I can and should do.  I’m realizing that anew because I’ve had a wonky knee for the past two weeks.  I know that taking it easy is the right approach.  But it is an adjustment that I find exceedingly difficult.

Friday, January 17, 2014

January on the Porch

Evergreens are among the more vibrant outdoor color to be found in the winter and they are the theme for my porch in January.  While the Christmas lights are gone, the snowman flag remains because snow is still fun in January.  We’re not likely to sit out here this month and so the rest of the decorations are simple, in keeping with winter’s austerity.
On the table is an Etsy-find tablecloth with some baskets of pine cones and evergreens.
By the table next to the rocker, the place where I keep my iced tea and book in the warm weather season,  is another basket of evergreens.   It’s feels like a place marker for the outdoor-sitting months that will surely arrive.
The snow shovels, broom, and salt bin are less decorations and more practical items for the season’s snow and ice removal chores.  They stick around because so far we’ve needed them a lot this winter.  The front door is cheerful with a red berry wreath, calling us inside to the the warmth.  
That’s happy!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Amaryllis, week 3

We’re still in a holding pattern here in amaryllis land.  I’m not yet prepared to fret, but given our dreary weather, a little floral action feels long overdue.
I hear that patience is a virtue.  I’m working on it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Front Porch

A few years ago, I made it a goal to have a front porch worthy of the cover of Country Living magazine.  Though the magazine's photographer doesn't seem headed to my neighborhood any time soon, I think that my porch is a pleasantly welcoming entrance to Sassafras House and that's exactly what I had in mind, so the project is feeling like a success.  Each month, I change up some details of the porch because that sort of thing makes me happy.  This year, I have decided that I will post photos of the month's porch.  Today, you see the porch in a (mostly) bare form.  These pictures were made on January 2nd, in the bitter cold (it was 25 degrees with a breeze) and just in advance of a major snowstorm.  I wanted to leave the holiday lights up for the snow because twinkling lights and falling snow are an awesome combination.  Also, my labor force for light removal has a mouth and a Twitter account and might very well expose my labor practices if I ordered him out in such conditions.  But the lights are seasonal for Christmas and aren't always present.  The porch measures about 15x8 at its widest.  Below is the view to the right from the front steps.
The flag pole to the left is used most months of the year, sporting a different seasonal flag.
One side of the porch has a cast iron pedestal table that I inherited from a neighbor who was moving to Florida and didn't want to carry away her heavy front porch table.   The top of the table is lino (I have no idea who did that), but the bottom is lovely.  I cover it with round tablecloths that I find on sale racks and at Etsy shops.  I have quite a collection and, depending on the season, I add additional items to the table.
Near the table is a weatherproof box that I use for storing outdoor shoes and assorted porch detritus.  I used to use an open basket but for Christmas my parents gave me this tidy box and it’s a welcome addition to the porch.  This view also give you a sense of the expanse of the space.
Just by the front door is a built in cabinet for milk deliveries.  We don’t get milk at the front door anymore, so I use it for garden detritus.
The other side of the porch has a weathered rocker and a little table.  When the weather is nice, I sit out here to enjoy the outdoors.  For the winter, this corner of the porch also has my front yard flower boxes.  I have planted them with pink tulip bulbs and later this year they will be a first happy sign of spring.
We enter our home through an old-fashioned paned glass door that charmed me from the moment I first saw this house.   It's painted a smoky blue (Benjamin Moore's Alfresco) to match the shutters and trim on the house.  I hang a seasonal wreath on the door, but here is the blank canvas with the mailbox by its side.
The bare bones of the space now established, later this week I will post pictures of the porch decked out for January.  Then, each month, I'll post pictures of the month's porch updates.  Before we know it, outdoor sitting weather will have arrived.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Amaryllis Weekly: Report # 2

By now, the entire world is weary of the complaints of first world Americans subjected to the cold that is the polar vortex.   So I shall let that matter be and speak only on behalf of the amaryllis, now in its second week and not really enjoying the polar chill.
It’s secured a new location, on top of the pantry’s radiator and absorbing the morning sunlight.  The blooms, they will begin.  But not this week.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Real Life Texts with T: Cagney & Lacey edition

The backstory: Hulu put 144 episodes of the old Cagney & Lacey TV show in T’s queue, thus leading us to suspect that Hulu  know some things about her lifestyle, if you know what I mean.  Over the weekend, she watched one of the episodes.

T:  It’s very dated and they smoke a lot. They also don’t wear seat belts in the car and maybe it’s so old there aren’t any yet…we seem uptight and uncool in the future.

Me: At least we have given in to our lesbian impulses.  They had to smoke and take risks because they were in denial.

Monday, January 06, 2014

A Return to our Regularly Scheduled Program

Last night, for the first time in more than two weeks, I set my alarm.  I woke up this morning at 5:30, before the alarm went off.  That’s a good sign because it means I am heading back to school well-rested and ready for the challenges.  

My winter break, time off that I desperately needed, left me feeling re-charged and refreshed.  Though my to-do list remains incomplete (doesn't it always?), I completed some projects and enjoyed some relaxation.  I spent some quality time with a cat on my lap and books and garden catalogs at my side.  I reminded myself that there is power in slowing down and taking it easy.

I dreamt about school last night, so I know that I am ready to return to the energy and excitement that is Middle School.  I’ve got some 6th graders to catch up with and some interesting projects for them to complete.  I’m ready for their questions, curiosity, and enthusiasm for the world.  Bring it on!

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Squirrel Antics

I like squirrels because they are cute and industrious, but I am not sure that I would call them clever.  Case in point: 
My backyard squirrel, Pesky, found this corn in the neighbor’s yard and brought it home to my yard for his New Year’s Day feast.  This happened before the snow storm but even so, he couldn’t bury it because the ground is frozen hard.  So he stored his corn in my flower pot, where no other squirrels will be able to see it.  This probably won’t end well.

He’s also hard at work on a nest:
Here again, his real estate choice seems somewhat suspect and fairly unsafe.  But he’s the squirrel in this relationship, so I will yield to his judgment.  In the snow, his corn and his nest was covered, so the end of this story remains a mystery.  Take care, Pesky.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

This is Becoming a Thing

For the last two years, I’ve taken the ornaments and lights off the Christmas tree and then set it on the back deck just in advance of a snowstorm.  
The piney boughs fill with snow and look quite lovely.  There is just something magical about snow on evergreens.
Even when I have to shovel and otherwise deal with it (and this time, the extreme cold), I find snow beautiful and charming.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Food Friday: Texas Caviar

It is a Southern tradition that a heaping serving of black eyed peas on New Year’s day will help to secure good luck in the new year.  Though I live in yankee territory these days, I love this tradition and always serve some black eyed peas to start the year.  This year’s black eyed peas are a recipe I first learned about when I lived in Tennessee: Texas Caviar.  Over the years, I’ve adapted my version to include black beans, corn, and tomatoes.  You’ll need a big bowl to mix it up some good luck for yourself.
1 can of black-eyed peas
1 can of black beans
1 can of corn
1 can of petite diced tomatoes (I use spicy, if they are available)
1 can of diced Ortega green chiles
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 medium red onion, finely diced 
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
juice from half a lime
1 teaspoon Chili Powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
dash (or 2!) of cayenne
¼ cup chopped cilantro

Drain and rinse the black-eyed peas, black beans, and corn.  Drain the tomatoes.  Then get a big ole’ bowl and mix all ingredients together. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with tortilla chips or Fritos Scoops.  It could also be served with quesadillas or in a lettuce wrap.  No matter how you choose to serve it, Texas Caviar is a delicious way to secure your good luck for 2014.  Y’all get to work and make yourself some today!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Amaryllis: Week 1

Each day, I turn the bulb a one-fourth turn and look eagerly for a sign that the bulb has come to life.  So far, my amaryllis is still at slumber.
But I know that the first lesson of gardening is that good gardeners are patient gardeners   So I will wait and embrace those lessons once more.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

January 1, 2014: Dogwood Tree

 I am the sort of woman who has a bucket list of the trees I'd like to grow someday.  It's a long list and I will need acres of land to eventually fulfill this goal.  Until then, I enjoy all the trees in my care.  There's the enormous oak in my back yard, known to us as old man tree.  It’s the king of the backyard, because of its sheer size and majesty.
There are my dwarf fruit trees: two apples, a pear tree.
Last year, I added tiny peach tree to my collection.
There is a maple hidden in the darkest corner of the yard.
And there is my dogwood tree.
I see this dogwood every morning as it is directly outside the windows in both the kitchen pantry and the downstairs powder room.  The very first winter I lived in this house I made a picture of the dogwood in the winter snow; it remains one of my favorites pictures.
The tree has grown much taller over the years.  Because I see it every morning and I am the sort of woman to stop and admire her trees, the dogwood is my marker for the changing seasons.  From the dogwood, I will get my first evidence of spring and then fall, two seasons that I always eagerly anticipate.   Right now, on a cold January 1st, the dogwood is at rest for the winter.  I admire its graceful limbs and it's steady presence in the yard and I look forward to its changes in the seasons ahead, which I will share on the first of the month for 2014.