Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween!

This week, I'm loving photos of pumpkins.  These are the last of the patch from Jockey Hollow's colonial garden.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Favorite Places

Over the weekend, T and I made a trip to Jockey Hollow, the place where we had our first date.  Things are lovely there this time of year.

We took a walk in the colonial garden planted at the farm and T reminded me that the first time we visited this garden, I sampled a gooseberry.  I’d never eaten one before and all those years of reading about gooseberries in English cozy novels tempted me to try.  Let’s just say that I now know why gooseberries need a lot of sugar.  Let’s further note that T requested a second date after she knew I was the sort of woman to eat strange items growing in someone else’s garden.  

This time around, the gooseberries are well past season, but we saw plants that thrive in the cooler weather.  There was mint, still abundant in the cooler fall weather.

And parsley.

The pumpkins had mostly been picked.

There was charming broom corn, which I’ve never seen before.  

Then we made the walk to the apple orchard.  This time, I got a kiss under one of those trees.

That’s happy!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Your Weekly Dogwood: October 29

As predicted, it took just one windy storm to clear most of the red leaves off of the dogwood tree.  Now the morning view of my dogwood from the back window doesn’t offer much color.  Outside, it’s clear that just a few more leaves remain.

Old man tree has also gotten in on the fall action in a big way.

The forecast calls for a cold snap this weekend but the rest of the week promises a few more days of the pleasant fall we have been enjoying for the last few weeks.  I love these days of blue sky and the light in the sunrises and sunsets.  I'm embracing them before the cold arrives to stay.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


This past weekend, T and I made trip to one of our favorite places in New Jersey.  On the way home, we stopped by the madness that is a New Jersey apple and pumpkin farm on the weekend before Halloween.  Amongst the chaos, the pile of pumpkins charmed me.

That’s happy!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Tricks and Treats

Halloween decorations at Sassafras House made their appearance soon after the lights went up on the porch.  It’s not really scary,  though visitors are warned.

There is ghost by the front steps.

And another by the front door.

On the table are pumpkins and mums with a ghost and a Halloween cat.  I may carve the pumpkins before the trick-or-treaters arrive on Friday evening or I might just set out lights.  Either way, we've laid in a supply of candy and little ghosts and goblins are welcome at our door.

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Finding Hope

The other night as I was moving laundry from the washer to the dryer, I had the idol thought that the third laundry basket I bought a few weeks ago makes this process easier.  After I carried the laundry upstairs, I went to my journal and made note of that basket.  That seems like a small thing and I guess it is, but it reflects a very big deal for me.

Eight years ago my world blew up and I started life as a single mama.  Happiness seemed like it was in painfully short supply.  In the midst of the sadness and the heartache that followed I decided that I had better be on the look out for the small blessings in my life.  My plan was simple: each day I would find one blessing and honor it.  Some days, that blessing seemed damned hard to find.  But find it I did.  One of things that grew out of my search for blessings was the monthly “About Me” notation to the right on this blog.  Regular readers may know that “About Me” changes at the start of every month.  The things that I note that “I love” are a list of some of the blessings that make up my life and my world in the last month.  They aren’t the only blessings in my life; some are small while others are big.  Some are shared, others are mine alone.

What they have in common is the fact that they are things that help me to find and embrace happiness.  There are no rules for these blessings; they simply are.  While I try not to list the same blessings each month, there are some repeats.  Some are silly and some are serious.  All of them help remind me to look for hope in my world.  And when hope seems hard to locate, I have a look at my list and feel just a bit better.

In my mind, happiness is a journey, not a destination.  Like other valuable things in this world, it must be cultivated and sustained.  There are certainly times in life when happiness feels like it is in short supply.  When that happens, I have my little list of blessings.  They bring me hope and remind me to take hold of it and keep trying.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Leaf Collection Curve

The past few weeks have brought a lot of leaves down in my yard and though plenty remain, I started collection operations last weekend.

Raking leaves is not a native sport to me, having grown up in California.  There, my dealings with leaves were fairly rare and included one time in the 5th grade when a reporter from the local weekly newspaper came to our school and made a picture of girls throwing leaves at the camera.   I thought of that this past weekend and had a good laugh because we actually struggled to get that many leaves together to make the picture.  In New Jersey, we’d have no trouble finding leaves.

I enjoy the seasons here in New Jersey and they exact their price in the form of leaf-raking in the fall and snow-shoveling in the winter.  I am not that neighbor with a powerful leaf-blower and the willingness to remove every leaf from the lawn.  But practicality and the desire not to shovel snow and leaves when winter arrives mean that some leaf removal is necessary.

This weekend’s shoveling started in the driveway, basically an effort to clear a path for the snowblower when that day comes.  This is the after-picture and clearly I’m not done.  But it’s a start.

The backyard leaves will be raked into the garden when I put it to bed for the season.   When I do set out to rake, I organize a goal (this weekend was 6 bigs) so I don’t grow to dislike the task.  Last weekend, I even rewarded my raking efforts by planting some tulip bulbs when I was done.  I’ll probably fill another two dozen bags before it’s over, but at least I made a dent in the task.  And really, given the fact that the first 21 years of my life were spent with no leaf-raking responsibility at all, I’m still well ahead of the leaf-collection curve.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your Weekly Dogwood: October 22

We had a frost warning on Sunday evening and the mornings this week have been cool.  There are plenty of leaves to be raked in the backyard and given all the green that remains, plenty more will still come down.

The dogwood has begun to drop its leaves.  Those that remain are most lovely.

This part of fall, before the very early nights set in and while there is still some warmth in the days, they feel like a lucky break and I am determined to enjoy them before winter takes its hold of us.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Last Call

Last night’s weather forecast included a frost alert.  I turned on the furnace, poured myself a drink, and then took a walk outside to cut all the flowers that remained.  The result was a riot of colors on my countertop.

Vases were readied and this week the dining room table will feature a rather garish display as we say a final goodbye to the summer of 2014.

Naturally, I'm already thinking about what I will plant next spring.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Food Friday: Caramel Pie

Back in my misspent youth, I lived in Nashville where there was a chain of restaurants known as O’Charley’s.  Among other things, they made something called caramel pie.  It was delicious and this week I tried my hand at making it myself.  It’s easy enough to do but it takes time, so this is a plan-ahead sort of treat to be made the day before you intend to serve it.

2 cans of sweetened condensed milk, wrappers removed
1 graham crack pie crust (you could make your own or just get the Keebler elves to hook you up)
whip cream
chocolate chips
chopped pecans

Fill a large pot of water and drop in both cans of sweetened condensed milk —— unopened —— bring the water to a boil and boil the cans for 3 hours.  You will need to check regularly and add water.  After three hours, let the cans cool off completely before you open them.  This will take 2-3 additional hours (and now you know what I mean by plan-ahead).

Once the caramel is done, the pie comes together easily.  Open the cans and pour the thick caramel into the graham cracker crust.  Though it looks like a small can, it is quite densely packed with caramel goodness.

Spread the caramel around the graham crust so that the crust is filled.  Then refrigerate, preferably overnight.  The day you plan to serve the pie, whip the cream.  My whip cream formula is to add 2 tablespoons of sugar to each cup of whipped cream I intend to make.  I whip the cream for about 2 minutes on high…..but keep a close watch, as this process can go awry.

Cut the pie into slices and plate them.  Sprinkle some pecans and chocolate chips on top of each slice.  Place a generous dollop of whip cream on the slice of pie.  


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Heart of the Matter

I’ve been teaching American history and American politics for more than 20 years and I’ve grown to be experienced at explaining the very complicated story of slavery and race.  I say explaining as if I can help students to make sense of America’s tangled racial history; that’s rather an overstatement.  But I can help them to wrap their minds around the ways in which race has played out in our story.  I can help them to be aware of these questions as they move into the world.  

Nowhere has this task been as difficult as it is at my school.  It has nothing to do with the minds of the students I teach.  These children are bright and capable.  However, the diversity of the school and the racial tolerance the children routinely demonstrate toward one another and expect from the world is a complication.  Many of them truly can’t imagine that the color of another person’s skin would cause you to treat them differently.  It seems so obvious that such a view is sheer ignorance that they struggle to understand a world that is intolerant.

If something like slavery in the Americas were as simple to understand as a demand for labor solved by the short-term use of slaves, it might be easier to teach.  But of course, that’s not at all how it played out.  Enslaved people arrived in the American colonies as early as the 1600s and the institution didn’t formally end until 1864.  We’ve been living with the legacy of slavery and the racial prejudice that drove it since then.  More than 400 years of racial prejudice and animus can’t be easily explained away to students who see such views as outdated and ignorant.

So I take time to set the stage for this topic that will run as a significant thread through the American story.  In my diverse classrooms we pause to process the feelings that slavery and its legacy generate.  Though I wouldn’t say that I enter into these conversations easily, I do take for granted my ability to manage them.

Last week, we were at the start of the journey to think about slavery and its legacy in the United States.  It’s our first go-round with this topic in the 7th grade.  They aren’t too young to handle it, but the topic is potentially alienating so I had spent some time thinking about where we would start our discussions.  We had earlier explored the demand for labor in Jamestown and now it was time to think about the Middle Passage transportation of newly enslaved Africans.  We discussed the journey and the horror of the experience.  There were thoughtful questions as 12 and 13 year olds began to get their mind around what happened.  Things were going well and then one question caught me off-guard.  It came from a 12 year old of mixed race parents; a bright, organized, and sensitive student who likes her world in literal and exacting terms.  A raised her hand and when it was her turn to speak she looked right at me and with her heart on her sleeve asked, “Didn’t anyone understand how wrong it is to treat people this way?”

I paused at this heartfelt question.  Then my eyes filled with tears.  Because, honestly, isn’t this really the heart of the matter?  Was there not one passionate leader who could speak to people and lead them to reject the madness that is slavery?

In the pause, the class sprang into action.  M handed me a box of tissues.  J asked if I need a hug.  I wiped my eyes, explained what a good and powerful question it is, and told them how much their hearts and minds give me hope for the world.  Then 16 7th graders and I got back to work, wrapping our minds around the cruelty and injustice of slavery, all of us just a little more aware that these children make the world a better place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Your Weekly Dogwood: October 15

Fall is upon us in all of its splendor.  Despite the fact that this week has brought warmer days, the cool nights seem here to stay.  In my yard, there are leaves everywhere underfoot.

The dogwood is afire with red leaves and bright berries.

Some morning soon, I will wake up and find that the dogwood has lost all of its leaves.  The day is not yet upon us.  For now I plan to enjoy all that the fall has to offer.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Pumpkin Season

Almost as soon as I swapped out the summer flowers on the front porch, the weather grew cool enough for me to get some pumpkins and gourds to set out.  So I did just that last weekend.

They join the mums and make for a lovely porch to greet us when we come home each afternoon. The older I get, the more I find that embracing the season at hand helps remind me to enjoy the moment I am in right now.  That's happy!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bright Idea

Early next month, we’ll turn back the clocks.  I’ll enjoy the extra hour of sleep that weekend but will not enjoy the early darkness that will come the next afternoon.  For the next two months, the daylight will get shorter and the sun will be set by 5 pm.  That means we’ll be coming home in the dark.  

As I get older, the less I enjoy shorter days of late fall and early winter.  Last December, coming home to twinkling Christmas lights on the porch made the dark cold nights more cheerful.  I put those lights up with a timer and that timer can be used year round so this past weekend, T helped me hang some cafe lights on the porch.

Equipped with a timer, they will come on in the late twilight and shut off at dawn.

I could leave the porch light on, of course, but it’s not on a timer and it seems lonely to leave the light on all day.  The cafe lights won’t come on until they are needed and will add some cheer to our evenings when the sunlight is shorter than our days.

It feels good to take command of this; as if I needn't mourn the loss of the longer days and have instead embraced a new way to manage to chilly darkness.  That's happy!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Your Weekly Dogwood: October 8

JT is running cross country this fall.  Our school competes in a rather large athletic conference so each week this fall I have driven to a new place in the state to watch the boy run.  Though most people’s impressions of New Jersey feature a picture of noxious fumes spilling from chimney stacks in factories along the 8-lane New Jersey Turnpike, in fact this is a state packed with dense woods.  So most journeys to a cross country match feature a drive through the woods.  It’s a perfect opportunity to take a deep breath and admire the changing season.  We aren’t quite at peak fall viewing, but as the dogwood in my yard shows, we are well on our way.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Dressed for Success

The Upper School has a dress code which requires that boys wear either a school polo or a shirt and tie with their trousers.  Having endured years of complaints about any occasion that required him to wear a tie, I went ahead and acquired several of the necessary polo shirts.

Then JT realized that he could wear a St. Louis Cardinals tie to school and not be in violation of the rules.  Said tie was duly acquired.  He wore it to class today, convinced that he got one over on the rules.

When the St. Louis front office calls, he’ll be ready for the interview.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Early Fall Porch

The arrival of cooler mornings motivated me to get some mums and make some changes on the front porch, the sort that spell fall.  The fall tablecloth,  squirrel flag, and the mums I set out last weekend invite in the next season.  That’s happy!

Friday, October 03, 2014

Real Life Conversations with JT: Jersey Pride edition

The backstory:  Like every place, New Jersey has its own particular culture.  It is a running joke in my family that you can’t go to a public place in New Jersey without hearing the music of either Bruce Springsteen or Bon Jovi on the radio.  In the great Springsteen vs. Bon Jovi debate, we’re Bon Jovi people.  The other day, JT and I were at a diner (another New Jersey tradition) when the matter of Jersey tunes came up.

JT:  Really?  We’re leaving the diner and now Bon Jovi comes on?  

Me:  Our timing is poor, son.

This wouldn’t have happened if we were natives; the kind of people who ate pork roll or Taylor ham at the diner.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Your Weekly Dogwood: October 2

The dogwood handed over its Wednesday spot to the front yard flowerbed this week.  But even one day late, the tree is well on its way to fall splendor.  

The dogwood grows under the protective canopy of old man tree, whose leaves are slower to embrace fall.

So the dogwood leads the way into the colder season, looking more lovely each week.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Front Yard Flowerbed: October 1

We are having a rather lovely fall around here and though we are a bit behind on rain, we are way ahead on cool nights and sunny days.  The morning chill now requires me to grab a sweater when I take my dawn tour of the garden.  The last of the green tomatoes are fighting a mighty battle to ripen before the first frost.  The flowers and plants in my flowerbeds look a bit ragged, as if they are ready for a well-earned rest in the months ahead.

But there is splendor of its own in the colors of these days and I am ready to trade in impatiens, geraniums and begonias for mums and pumpkins.  The busy squirrels amuse me when I take the time to sit and watch the backyard.  I am reminded again that the four seasons provide well-timed reminders to appreciate all that Mother Nature has to offer.