Thursday, February 27, 2014

Amaryllis Week 9

I somehow had myself persuaded that the arrival of March would mean that Winter would begin to release its frozen hold on our lives.  Alas, the forecast for our next week calls for bone-chilling cold and snow in what the National Weather Service calls a “protracted and impacting Winter Weather event.”  I can only speak for myself, but I wish I didn’t have tickets to this upcoming event.  The unpleasant forecast seems to make it safe for me to assume that the only bloom I will see in a while is my amaryllis. 
It is tantalizingly close to blooming.  
That’s happy!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Weary of Winter

Come January, I’ve a habit of noting the sunrise and sunset times on my calendar each week.  I do this so that every time I glance at the calendar I am reminded that the days are getting longer.  I know from habit that by the first of February there is usually some lingering twilight to enjoy as supper is set on the table.  The days grow longer from there at a heartening pace.

This Winter, which has featured both unusual cold and a tremendous amount of snow, I’ve started checking the average monthly temperatures for February and March.  Though we have been decidedly below average on that front, I keep taking heart that the average monthly high in February is 42 degrees

Today’s high will be below that, a consistent theme for this snowy month.  As the cold and snow have lingered, I’ve also got my eye on March, when the average temperature usually goes above 50, an idea that makes me practically giddy.

Winter has just under a month remaining, but I take heart that February is a short month.  Though Spring won’t officially begin until March 20, something about the first of March makes me feel warmer.  I’ve got my eye on the Spring jackets and sweaters in my closet and will confidently wash and store my Winter tights when the temperatures more surely achieve 50 degrees.  

As for today, it’s 18 degrees this morning with a  forecast high of 33.  I’ve still got tights, warm scarves, gloves, and heavy jackets on hand.  There are large patches and piles of snow on the ground; a bit more will likely fall today.  Patches of ice remain on the sidewalk and driveway.  But time is on my side and I’ve got my eye set on Spring.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Amaryllis Week 8

When I lived in Nebraska, folks used to joke that the season that follows Winter was Mud, not Spring.  This week, which featured snow on Tuesday, is coming to an end quite a bit warmer than it began. Today there was sunshine and temperatures over freezing and we were all a bit giddy as we looked at the sky.  Of course, all that melting snow means mud that re-freezes into slick ice for each morning.  Meanwhile, my amaryllis grows and grows, every day closer and closer to a bloom that will celebrate Spring.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Midwestern Arts

T likes to joke that she is skilled in the Midwestern arts, meaning that she can wield a hammer and a screwdriver (indeed, she owns these tools and many others).  When your home is more than 80 years old, it’s rather useful to have fallen in love with a woman handy enough to build and hang porch lattice, re-hang wonky doors and invent solutions for loosened bannisters….to name just a few of her recent projects at Sassafras House.  There’s no doubt about it: handy around the house is rather sexy.
For Valentine’s Day, however, she earned an advanced degree in the Midwestern arts by sending me a beautiful bouquet of red tulips and purple irises, two of my most favorite flowers.  The bouquet sits on my table, a daily reminder that Spring will eventually arrive and that a happy heart is the best Valentine treat of all.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

6 Dozen Cupcakes

JT started preschool at our school the year he was 3.  Yesterday, he turned 14.  That’s a lot of time at one school and some of his classmates have been his friends for nearly all of his life.  Among the traditions at our school is the option to bring in a treat to share with your classmates on your birthday.  Over the years, I’ve baked dozens of cookies, cupcakes, and brownies as birthday treats.  Typically, I made enough to give a treat to all of his classmates and to share with the teachers.  We’re a small school with small classes and 3 dozen cookies usually did the trick for the whole grade when he was in the Lower School.

When he got to the 5th grade and Middle School, the number of treats he needed to bring increased.  The treats are shared at morning meeting (a daily event for the whole of the Middle School) and if you choose to celebrate, you must bring enough to share with your whole grade.  That year, I baked 4 dozen cookies.  The class got larger each year and these days JT has sixty-one 8th grade Class of 2018 classmates.

That is a lot of cupcakes.
Because I am in the Middle School this year, I have seen the happiness that accompanies the sharing of birthday treats.  The birthday celebrant hands out to everyone and a few of his or her friends stand up and announce that there is a birthday in the house.  Everyone says happy birthday and the kids take a great deal of pleasure in these distinctly old-fashioned celebrations.  It’s the kind of tradition that builds community and it’s fun to be a part of it.

Last year, I grumbled a bit about the number of treats we needed to bring, though I complied with the request.  This year, with my window into the world of Middle School birthday celebrations, I was happy to help out.  Though it’s not easy to bake 6 dozen homemade cupcakes, that’s what the boy wanted to share and so I obliged.  As we loaded them into the car yesterday morning, I paused to think about the many years we have brought treats to school.  This year’s collection, the 11th we have brought, will also be the last.  Birthday treats are not a tradition in the Upper School.

I made chocolate cupcakes with ganache icing.  They were delicious, as JT would say, but yesterday they also tasted a little bittersweet.

Monday, February 17, 2014

14 Years

JT turns 14 today.  As usual, when he tucked into bed last night, he reviewed the fact that when he wakes up he will  be 14.  Much like young children enjoy marking half birthdays, he likes this precision.  Come the morning, he will already be 14.

13 was a sometimes rough year.  At some point, I called my parents and offered a blanket apology for everything I had done and said in the 7th grade.  I meant it.  A friend who has three children, all of whom survived the 7th grade (as did she), assured me that it was the low point.  I needed to believe that and clung to the claim when things were hard.  This too shall pass became my parenting mantra.

Things have evened out considerably now.   We worked at it and talked and he learned a lot about himself.  He’s a much happier boy on this birthday.  Really, I should say he’s a much happier young man because in the last 6 months I’ve increasingly seen glimmers of the man he will become.  He’s passionate about sports and liberal politics.  He angers at a world that does not seem just.  He laughs easily and has a quick sense of humor.  He helps out around the house without complaint.   He’s gotten good about managing his schoolwork.  He’s strong.  At moments, he’s terribly sweet and self-aware.
Of course, there is still something of a boy in him.  He likes to wear shorts all year long.  He loves to play outside in any weather, games that are still of his imagination and will consume him for hours.  He thinks there’s no reason a 5 foot 9 teenage boy with a ratty mustache looks threatening in sweats and a hoody, despite the fact that the world has told him otherwise.  

At night when he’s tucked into his bed and I can hear his familiar breathing, I think of the baby he once was.  I picture the chubby cheeks and I remember the smell of his freshly washed neck.  I think of those days when he was small enough to rest easily on my hip and I could hardly imagine that he would one day tower over me.  I  marvel at how far we’ve come and I love him with the same fierceness I did the moment I saw him 14 years ago.

Happy Birthday, sweet boy.  Your mama loves you.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The February Front Porch

My first action when planning the front porch in February was to remove the snowman flag, which cheerfully invited Winter to bring on the snow.  By the time January was done freezing us out, I was no longer feeling prepared to welcome the snow.  So the flag was folded up for next Winter.  That turned out not to matter as we’ve had plenty more snow in February.  Most of these pictures were made at the very start of the month, in a lull when most of the snow had melted.  It didn't last and most of the month has looked like this. 
I have a heart wreath for Valentine’s Day, but opted for a less traditionally colored bow on the wreath. 
I used a fallen branch from the dogwood tree to make myself a Valentine tree for the table, which has a blue tablecloth scored from Plow and Hearth.  JT and T both think it looks a bit like a Charlie Brown tree.  I like it and prefer to think that it reflects the starkness of Winter.
The rest of the porch is rather plain.  The snow removal equipment is still needed, practically daily at this point, so it’s tucked in to the corner with the sleeping tulip bulbs in the white flower pots and the remnants of melting snow.

As for me, I am dreaming of Spring.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

This Winter's ample snow days inspired me to get to work on some homemade Valentines.  They were fun to make and send, a reminder that blessings shared are blessings multiplied.  Happy Valentine's Day, y'all!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Amaryllis Week 7

Years ago, I had a lovely amaryllis that I planted just after Christmas.  I placed it in a southern facing window in my house in Nebraska and waited for it to bloom, sure in the knowledge that when it did bloom, I would have a baby in my arms.   To be exact, it was 14 years ago and the baby in question arrived right on time for the bloom.  I’ve been thinking of that as I watch this amaryllis, which is coming along quite nicely, as you can see.
I will not have a baby when the amaryllis blooms, though I will have a 14 year old, a fact that is somewhat unbelievable and incredibly handy when a foot of snow has fallen.

Snowday #6

A nor’easter blew in over night and when I got up this morning, 5 inches of new snow had fallen.   It’s been coming down at an inch an hour since and we are practically buried in snow.    This is a photo made when I got out of bed just before 8 am.  Look for the leaf to the bottom left in the picture and the clear ruler in the middle of the snow piled on the table.
This picture was made just a few minutes ago, at 9:15 am.
The leaf to the left in the first picture is now completely buried.  Snow is falling at more than 1 inch per hour.  The National Weather Service forecasts more than a foot for us before this is done.  On my street, there is nowhere to put all this snow.
It’s beautiful and quiet outside and given the wind chill it’s incredibly cold.  For now, I intend to pour a mug of hot tea, grab a cat for my lap, and read a good book.  Winter is in charge.
11:30 am updated photos.......and the snow is still falling.

3 pm update....round 1 of the snow has stopped and JT and I set to work on clearing a path out of our snow cave.  The mountain of snow at the end of our driveway is impressive, as is the snow beast at work leveling it out.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Icebergs of New Jersey: A Photo Essay

As a child, my primary impression of snow came from books about children who lived in snowy climates.  In those books, children bundled up and went outside to laugh and play in the snow.  Winter meant colorful mittens, warm mugs of cocoa, and cozy afternoons watching the snow fall followed by walks in the white and glittering outdoors.  In my rich fantasies, I thought snow would be lovely and peaceful.  A lot like this.
the woods & creek at Stickley Farms

My first real experience living with snow came when I moved to Nashville in my 20s.  Tennessee doesn’t have lots of snow and ice, but it has some.  I was enchanted and why wouldn’t I be?  Falling snow is always beautiful to see.  In Nashville, life halted when there was snow and we all stayed home for a day or two until the snow melted and regular life could resume.  

Fine.  Even pleasant.

In Nebraska, I saw snow’s dirty underbelly for the first time.  There, the cold meant that snow could linger and prove an inconvenience.  Towns owned snowplows and salt, often plenty of both, but in my experience both were used sparingly.  In rural Nebraska, when snow came, people got their beater cars out of the barn and drove around town on ridiculously slippery roads.  And we all acted like this was perfectly normal, reasonable behavior.

Not always as charming as one would hope.

In New Jersey, we deal with the snow and deal fast.  Thanks to Nor’easter storms, we can get a lot of snow, more than Nebraska.  But we are equipped for this prospect.  I remember my very first Nor’easter storm in December 2002.  Driving home the night before the storm arrived I saw fleets of Department of Transportation trucks spreading salt and deicers on the roads before the first snowflake had fallen.  That is still the New Jersey pattern and when snow falls, the state roads are quickly cleaned and most towns follow suit (not you, Franklin Township, you are below average).  New Jersey owns the snow and it gets pushed and piled out of the way.

When Winter is cold, as this Winter has been, piles of snow don't melt and instead get mounded into hills and mountains, pushed out of the way to make room for the cars and the next snowfall.  These piles become increasingly dirty and icy mountains of Winter.  Woe betide the tiny tree in the way of plowed snow.
These ugly icebergs are everywhere, though they are handy for those of you who need to abandon your carts, a Jersey habit I find tiresome.
No parking lot is safe from the iceberg heap at every corner.
Look!  More snow has been shoved into a pile.
Bonus points to this iceberg for the growing pot hole by its side
This bench is now reserved for snowmen.
Another Nor’easter is slated to roll in tonight.  Perhaps someone failed to tell Mother Nature that we have no place else to store the snow? Mother Nature, if you are reading, we are tapped out.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Sweet Baby What?

At our local Wegmans on Superbowl Sunday, T advised that I buy some Sweet Baby Jesus beer.  I assumed that she was messing around and then she directed my attention to the large display of Sweet Baby Jesus chocolate peanut butter porter.  
It sounds like a dreadful kind of apostasy to me, but the people of Jersey are a different flavor.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Amaryllis Week 6

This has been a week of snow, ice, and a whole lot of shoveling.  We had two days off from school, the result of two separate storms.  The air has remained cold and we’ve a heavy layer of icy snow covering the ground, more snow in the forecast for the next week, and cold days and nights as far as the eye can see.   But in the midst of all this Winter, I wake each morning to this amazing flower, my own personal reminder that Spring will get here one day.
That’s happy!

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ice, Ice Baby

We are home from school today, enjoying our 5th snow day of the year, this one courtesy of an ice and snow storm, Winter’s duo of pain.  I am watching the frozen power lines with a combination of anxiety and dread, mentally urging the temperature to creep above freezing.
Meanwhile, in California my sister is laid up with a post-surgery ankle wrapped in an impressive array of bandages covering the staples.   She’s hoping for a scar impressive enough to warrant a story about a shark bite.
The sleepless KO and I have been e-mailing back and forth and when I expressed concern about our icy power lines, she offered up a solution: “I think you have a ladder, an extension cord and a blow drier, no? Seems to me you can just go clear your power lines yourself! Homespun version of a snow blower, but for ice. Why has no one thought of this?”

Setting aside the fact that her ankle was damaged in a fall from a desk being used as a ladder and her pain meds-induced fog, she may be on to something here.  I’ll set JT to work as soon as he gets up.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Real Life Conversations with JT: Affection edition

The backstory:  Last week felt longer than usual and I had an evening event at school on Thursday, making me good and tired come Friday morning.  I assigned JT DJ duties in the car and he hooked me up with loud music from my own Middle School years.  As we rolled into the last turn before our arrival at school, he turned up AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”  We sat at the traffic light and soaked in the bad ass aura.  Then JT turned to me and offered a comment.

JT:  A mom who appreciates AC/DC and knows how a 3-2 zone works.  Not bad.

I laughed.  Internet, this is how your 8th grader says he loves you.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Dogwood in the Snow

After a weekend with sun and temperatures in the 40s, days that found JT outside in shorts and the rest of us feeling like Spring is truly just around the corner, this morning Winter reminded us who is still the boss.   Dawn brought snow.  The flakes are small but it’s falling fast.  The National Weather Service is calling for 8 inches by the end of the day.  We have the day off from school.  Just a few minutes ago, I took the opportunity to step out on the back deck and make some pictures of the dogwood with snow on its slender branches.
The white snow against the dark branches looks like delicate lace.  Cold and shoveling chores not withstanding, it really is lovely outside.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Monthly Dogwood: February 1

This morning, the first day of February, brought a faded sunlight and the warmest day in the last few weeks.  Despite the cold, there has been sun all week.  The last snowfall has melted in the sun, though some remains.
The thin branches of the dogwood catch snow as it falls, though the sunlight quickly melts that snow.  This morning, the branches were lovely in their starkness.
Up close they are Winter itself.
It’s February and that’s a fitting circumstance.  There will likely be more snow and cold before the month ends.  Winter will have its due and the dogwood will watch over it all.