Monday, March 30, 2015

Real Life Texts with T: Whining edition

The backstory:  I long for Spring and my switch to warm-weather clothing has made that longing a more frigid affair.  Figuring that T should share my pain, I complained to her.

Me:  Why won’t Spring hang out with me?  I ask nicely.

T:  Spring is having a rough patch of PMS….check back next week.

I have high hopes for April.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Real Life Conversations with the 7th Grade: Swarm edition

The backstory: Typically, our Middle School students wait outside the classroom if their teacher isn’t in the room.  Since 12 and 13 year olds are notoriously loud and self-absorbed, if a teacher isn’t careful, that means a swarm of kids jammed at the door, blocking the hallway.  Most teachers encourage the kids to line up instead and by universal agreement, Mr. S, who teaches math, is the best at managing this process.  Earlier this week, my 7th graders were waiting for me,  loudly blocking the entire hallway, as they are wont to do.  I greeted them and sought order.

Me:  Line up, folks, I want to be just like Mr. S.

(assorted students scramble into a sadly disorganized line).

Me:  Seriously, why can’t my lines be like Mr. S’s lines?  I want to be like S!

JZ (quiet student at the front of the line):  So, more math homework?

I laughed out loud as the class filed in.  There’s worse ways to spend my days.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 2

When January rolls around, it’s Winter’s first full month and I expect cold and snow.  After all, it’s Winter and that’s how it goes.  The January days are slowly getting longer and the cold seems bearable just one month in.  February pops its head and seems rather cute with just 28 days to greet with mittens that still seem fun to wear.

February usually takes its toll but by then Spring seems close.  Our February was colder than average by 15 degrees and that took its toll this year.  I had great hopes for March, but that month has been very uncooperative.  Our March turned out to be the snowiest month this Winter.  It came in like a lion and has only a few more days to go out like a lamb.  

Happily, there are signs of continuing progress in my flowerbeds.

I wouldn't say there's been a lot of progress since last week, but at least the bulbs that have emerged are holding the line.  I'll take it!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Back to It

For the last two weeks, school has been on Spring Break.  For the first week, JT went to Florida with the baseball team.  I went to school on the days he was gone and worked from home  for the second week, with ample time off to get lots of Spring chores completed.  I cleaned the windows, dusted the baseboards, took after my bathroom grout with a bleach pen, cleaned closets and generally got myself ready for the juggernaut that is the last segment of the school year.

Part of getting myself ready involved some relaxation.  I slept in; read some good books; went for walks outside; cooked some new recipes; and relished the extra daylight.

I also swapped out my closet and brought Spring clothes to the forefront.  Gone are the tights, wool skirts and heavy sweaters.  In their place, I’ve got cotton sweaters, t-shirts, lightweight skirts, and warm-weather shoes.  Winter coats, hats, mittens, and scarves were washed and put away.  Spring jackets and scarves have replaced them on the coat rack.

Naturally, today is forecast to be a sunny 41 degrees.  4-1.  I am wearing a linen skirt, a pink cardigan sweater, loafers, and a scarf.  It is as if I am involved in some sort of fake-it-’til-you-make-it Spring experiment.  My pride (and the office area-heater) will have to keep me warm.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Snow

I made some pictures of my backyard the morning after the March 20 snowstorm.  The snow was heavy and wet and it outlined every branch and surface in the yard in a precise and beautiful, if infuriating, way.

It was just a little more lovely because it’s the end of March and Spring has officially begun.  As I looked out in the yard yesterday morning, I was convinced that this heavy snow and the cold that it ushered it in can’t possibly last.

In fact, by the end of the day, the yard looked altogether different.

We are still in a patch of unseasonable cold, with temperatures more than 10 degrees below normal.  It will be a few more weeks before the trees begin to show their Spring colors.  But Spring is more glorious when it has been well-earned and I can be a patient woman.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Jesus Christ

I have a hard time believing that the folks who pop into CVS to buy workout and travel magazines are also looking for their Jesus fix, but the Mormon missionaries who were entering the pharmacy as I was leaving it may know better than me.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Day of Spring

First day of Spring or not, we’re having one last snowstorm today.  It’s a pretty, steady, wet snow that covers the grass but hasn’t begun to stick to the roads.  We’re safely tucked in for the last day of Spring Break with a load of basketball to keep us warm so we can afford to be rather sanguine about more snow.

A review of my blog and my Twitter comments for the last three months indicates that the primary topic of my thoughts is the weather.   It’s as if I am an elderly lady with nothing else to talk about.  Nothing could be further from the truth, though I find that as I age, the natural world has more and more importance in my life and claims on my thoughts.

Some of my strongest, earliest memories center around the outdoors.  I can vividly smell and feel the carrots my dad let me pick from his backyard garden when we lived in Martinez, California and I was 4 years old.  I can smell the majesty of the pine forests of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, a place we visited so often in my childhood that I’ve surely lost track of the number of times we drove those roads.  I can still feel the cold of Billie Creek on my feet and the warmth of the sun on the high rock overlooking the creek where my sister and I sat and tried to dry the sneakers we had been ordered to keep out of the water.

Today, more than 25 years since I left California, a foggy day reminds me of my hometown in the winter and instead of feeling desolate, the fog feels like home.  Where ever I have lived, my mood has been shaped by the climate and time spent outdoors in it.  From hazy sunsets over the green hills in Tennessee to amazing sunrises over the expanse of prairie in Nebraska, these scenes form my strongest memories of places.  Long ago I realized that my favorite season is always the one we are just about the enter.  So it is that Spring’s promise of sunny warmth, blooms and abundant green feels like a happy prospect today, even if Mother Nature isn’t quite ready to leave Winter's charms behind.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 1

Since the new year began, I’ve posted pictures of my changing amaryllis bulb every Thursday.  Last Thursday, at week ten, the blooms were complete.   It’s time for a new bloom-related weekly posting and the tulip and daffodil bulbs in the front yard flowerbeds are just the ticket.  Things are looking promising.

Much as the amaryllis sustains my spirits in Winter’s dark cold, the bulbs in the front yard provide me happiness in the Spring.  Checking them each week is a reminder to stop and admire the flowers; to live in the moment even when the days and weeks are busy.  Spring is a season of hope and that makes the here and now even more pleasing.

I have always said that one of the reasons I garden is to remember the rewards of patience.  Spring blooms from bulbs planted in the Fall is an object lesson in just that.  That it is a beautiful one is simply icing on the cake.

Even tomorrow’s forecast of snow on the first day of Spring can’t dampen my enthusiasm.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Spring Cleaning

When I was a teenager, I discovered that when my sister and I were away from home, my mother would clean in our absence.  For years, I thought this was some sort of strange psychological condition driven by the fact that my mother loves a clean house.  Then I had a child and the same impulse seized me.  I clean while JT is away and then sit back to reap the rewards of my tidy home, which stays tidy because of the child’s absence.

When Spring Break first began, I ordered JT to clean his room before he left for Florida or I would do it for him and bill him for my time.  He didn't tidy up before he left (rather the reverse, actually) so I undertook the threatened task.  I found a box of unopened granola bars, a plastic bag with two aged tangerines and a rotten banana skin, assorted sports jugs with fetid water inside them, and a vast collection of previously read Sports Illustrated and ESPN magazines.  They have been removed and the floors cleaned.  Now visitors to his room (i.e., me, dropping off his clean laundry) may enter without fear of infestation.  A side effect of the cleaning frenzy is that I can now open both of his closet doors.

JT returns today and will likely be annoyed that I cleaned his room.  I will respond with two words: “rotten food.”  He’ll forgive or he won’t but I‘m over it already.  No doubt his crap will shortly be all over the house.  But until then, the print-free windows and glass, tidy bathrooms, and organized closets are lovely to behold.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

At Last!

We had snow cover for most of late January, all of February, and the start of March.  Our final second-to-last snow storm of the season was on March 5 and it brought nearly 10 inches of snow.  By then the piles of snow had grown rather large and it seemed as if there was no end to Winter in sight.

One week later, things were looking much more promising.

As February’s snow drifted into March, I began to speculate that when the snow finally melted, we’d have the start of Spring’s bulbs peeking out of the ground.  Turns out I was right.

I spotted these green shoots last Thursday when the snow in the eastern-facing flower bed in front of my house finally began to melt in earnest.  Spring is often a season of fits and starts and I expect we still have some wet, cold days to muddle through.  But the start of flowers has been sighted in my yard and that promise brings plenty of warmth to my days.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Real Life Conversations with JT: Poor Decision-Making edition

The backstory: The arrival of baseball season invariably finds baseball items left all over the house.  Among those items are protective cups that I keep finding in places I would prefer they would not be, as was the case on Monday.

Me:  Dare I ask if the cup here on my kitchen counter has been used?

JT:  I didn’t know where to put it.

Me:  Really?  Really?

I took the offending item upstairs and placed it in the closet that T and I renovated specifically for the storage of sporting goods.  If it is any consolation to those of you who eat meals made in my home, it was a fresh-out-of-the package item.  Of course, that may not be the case the next time I find it on the counter.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Post 2500!

When this blog first began in 2006, I thought of it as a place for me to store some of my musings, especially those of a political nature.  That first post was about politics and it’s notable that today I feel the same way about immigration as I did in 2006.  As my life changed in an unexpected way that year, the blog served additional purposes.  It became a sounding board for the experiences and feelings I had as my world was re-organized.   I have always been a journal writer but the blog was more than a series of journal entries.  After all, the Internet is a public forum and though I have engaged in my share of over-sharing, there actually is a boundary to the things I write here.  Over the years, a readership of sorts developed.  I say of sorts, because most of my first readers were friends and family.  Thanks to the glories of Google data mining, I know that my audience has  expanded.  Postings here are sometimes written with an eye toward that larger unknown readership, though at its heart Sassafras Mama is my blog and I write it to please myself.

Over the years, I’ve thought of this blog as a place to file away my view of the world and my place in it.  It’s a place to store my pictures and ideas.  It’s provided incentives to take on projects large and small and is a record of those projects.  I write about things both serious and everyday.  It’s a record of my son growing up and the life we built together when his other mother left.  It’s the story of the plants and gardens in my care.  It’s the story of my life changing in other ways, as well.  From falling in love with T to professional changes and my experience of aging and parenting, the blog is a repository of so much of my life in the past 9 years.

I mention all of this because today I’ve reached a milestone worth marking.  This is posting number 2500.  I like the fact that my writings and thoughts are stored at this place; a library of my thoughts.  I still write for myself with a hope that others might enjoy what I have to say.  I’ve never monetized because I like the collection of my thoughts and ideas to be pleasing to the viewer’s eye and I don’t want my musings to be re-shaped by the demands of the material world.

There will be a number 2501 posting soon enough, so I’m not announcing any huge changes for Sassafras Mama.  But I am pausing to think about the many blog postings that have filled my last 9 years and to say thank you to readers who stop in and spend time with me.  Your presence and participation here has made my life richer and I am grateful for that happiness.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Your Weekly Amaryllis: Week Ten

Just in time for Spring Break’s sunny, snow-melting days with temperatures in the 40s and 50s, my amaryllis is showing all 4 splendid flowers.

That’s happy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Season 3

JT started the 9th grade by joining the cross-country team.  He’d run on the Middle School team for the previous two years but when practice began in mid-August, it rather kicked his backside.  Still, he kept running and made every practice and every meet, earning himself an Ironman Award from the coach for his efforts.  I drove him to pre-season practice, stayed at school for late practices, and attended cross country meets all around central New Jersey.  I started the season in flip-flops and ended it in sneakers and a sweatshirt, there as he crossed every finish line.  His coach was a terrific combination of enthusiasm and rigor.  Thanks to her, the boy gave up soda and took up the eating of fruits and vegetables with the spirit of a convert.  The season ended at the start of November and we had three weeks off before he joined the wrestling team.

Wrestling has not been a sport I historically enjoyed, largely because of the macho culture I associate with it.  I’ve changed my mind this season, a tribute to the tone set by the head coach of our school’s team, one of the most gentle and kind men I know.  Within a week of the start of the practice season, JT was sold on the sport.  I’ve joked that wrestling is part team and part cult and I still think that’s true.  There seems to be a different kind of intensity when you prepare to grapple with a stranger in a cavernous gym.  Practices were long and demanding and we drove home in the dark most nights this Winter.  But JT loved it and ended his season wrestling Varsity as a freshman, an honor that meant he got pinned in most of his matches.  He takes solace in the fact that one of this year’s team captains lost every one of his frosh matches.  The boy has drunk the wrestling koolaid and he’s already planning for next year’s season of sweating intensity.

The third season of our year is the nation’s pastime and our family’s favorite obsession: baseball.  Practice officially started last week, barely a week since wrestling practice ended.  Yesterday, he flew to Florida with his team to spend a week at a high school spring training camp.  The game is his first true sporting love, an affection inherited from his grandfather.  The coach of this team was JT’s first PE teacher. Back then, at the age of 3, PE was the best part of his day.  That’s still the case, which perhaps explains his eagerness to play on a team for every athletic season available to him.  JT ginned up for the baseball season by fitting in pre-season weight-lifting and heading off to 7 am Sunday practices with nary a peep of complaint.  His love of the game is palpable, an intensity that I found endearing.   That’s a good thing, because this is the most equipment-intensive sport in our repertoire, with bags for gloves, bats, cleats, and the range of catcher’s equipment he uses.  Soon enough protective cups will be left all over the house with an abandon that will cause me to shout unkind comments.  

All of these teams have in common coaches who go more than the extra mile every day, serving as good-humored mentors and role models to my boy.  They demonstrate a combination of work ethic, intensity tempered with kindness, and competitive spirit that serves JT and his teammates well during the season.  But it is the way these coaches and teams teach lessons about life beyond sport that makes the teams an experience that will last long beyond the season at hand.  My son’s life has been richly blessed by these experiences and I am very grateful for that.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Real Life Conversations with T: Cuisine Awareness edition

The backstory: Living in New Jersey means great sub sandwiches, good Italian food, and plenty of Indian food.  These things are nice but I would trade any of them for quality Mexican food.  Alas,  the Mexican choices around here are sadly limited.  The recent trend of fast casual Mexican food has been welcome.  But there is a challenge: under-cooked pinto beans, as a recent trip to Moe’s revealed.

Me:  Under-cooked pinto beans are unpleasant.

TLE:  Baby, these college-boy gringos are no good.

This comment was tossed off after she announced in the middle of minute 10 of "Stairway to Heaven" that we should check the bathroom for suicide victims.  She’s the girl for me.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Springing Forward

I am up early this morning so that I can get JT to his morning baseball practice.  We have so much snow on the ground that the icy white reflects the faint morning light enough to brighten the day before the sun even rises.  This morning, I can hear birds chirping outside.  Yesterday, the temperature rose above 40 degrees and every time I went outside I was surprised by the warmth.  We’d long ago reached that point in the Winter when I brace myself in expectation of cold before going outside and it was strange not to have that feeling.

Strange, but not unwelcome.  I’ve rather had enough of cold, snowy days like our most recent storm.

My car dings a warning when the outdoor temperature gauge registers 39 degrees, a warning that temperatures are now suitable for winter driving conditions.  If the temperature is already below 39 when I start the car, the ding doesn’t sound, which has largely been the case for the last two months.  When I heard it the ding yesterday, I was at first startled.  Then I laughed.  In December, that sound os a necessary warning.  But now that sound is good thing, a signal that the days are getting warmer.

The local weather reports that we had 170% of our usual snowfall this year.  That’s not hard to believe.  

Though plenty of snow still lingers, I’m starting to believe that the major snowstorms are behind us. When we dropped off JT at practice yesterday, T and I saw the very edge of daffodils peeking out of the soil against the school’s gym yesterday.  They are the first I’ve seen this Spring and they are a welcome arrival.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Book Lovers

With memory of how important books were to me when I was a Fifth and Sixth grader, this school year I started a monthly book club at school.  My plan was to read some classics (both old and new) and introduce the students to books they might not otherwise find on their library travels.  Inspiration came from an NPR list I’ve kept around for years.  In September, I consulted my list, acquired the books and then announced the formation of an after school book club that would meet once a month.

 A few regulars began to attend each month and we’ve worked our way through a lovely assortment of stories.  A fellow teacher joined me in this odyssey and together we’ve been amused by the students and their responses to the books.  They will read anything, with no sense that time to read is precious.  I’m rather jealous of that sentiment and like to bask in the glow of their confidence that there is always time for another chapter.  Despite my concerns, the boys are happy to read about the adventures of girls.  They loved Laura Ingalls as much as I did when I was their age.  We’ve more boys in the club than girls, a bit surprising considering all that I know about reading.  It’s not unwelcome, of course, but rather a reminder of how different today’s adolescence is from my own.  

Each month we meet after school to discuss what we’ve read.  Like every adult book club I’ve every joined, a good two-thirds of our time together is spent discussing things other than the book.  They are all eager to be heard (though good listening is an art they are still learning).  They can’t wait for the next book and seem to be a bit anxious that there may not be another good book.  I can remember that feeling when I was a kid; the fear that the library was a finite reserve of stories.  But each month, I offer a new book and they embrace it at once, relieved and excited to have another story in hand.  I love the way that these 11 and 12 year olds embrace a book, finding companions and life lessons in the pages of a story.  To be a part of that discovery is an honor.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Your Weekly Amaryllis: Week Nine

Last night, in preparation for a forecast of 6-8 inches of heavy, wet snow expected overnight and throughout the day today, my school declared a snow day, our fourth this school year.  JT was practically euphoric because it means a math test scheduled for today converts to a take-home exam.  I was grateful for the chance to sleep in.  

When we tucked into our bed,  there was a cold rainstorm outdoors; temperatures remained above freezing.   I woke up briefly at 5:00 am and there was barely a dusting of snow when I peered out the window; temperatures had sunk to freezing.  I went back to sleep and got up three  hours later to heavy snow falling.  From the looks of it this morning, a good two fresh inches have already fallen.

I’ve been awake for two hours now and the snow hasn’t stopped.  The forecast assures me that plenty more is on the way.  We be shoveling late this afternoon but for now we’ll cuddle up with a book and enjoy what we hope is the last major snowstorm of our Winter.  That hope isn’t just my ridiculous optimism, it’s the facts on the ground around here.  For starters, my perfectly-timed amaryllis has begun to bloom.

The red flower is a bold show in a snowy window, a cheery raspberry in the face of Winter.  

Spring Break starts after school tomorrow and the two weeks off from regular classes will find me swapping out my closet and abandoning my Winter tights for Spring sweaters and scarves.  JT’s baseball teams begins daily practice tomorrow afternoon.  Saturday night, our clocks spring forward. Those are too many hopeful signs to ignore.  Tick, tock Winter.  Tick, tock.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Icy Grip

It’s the first week of March but Winter seems to understand that its time is coming to a close.  It’s not going to leave gently, however and the snowy hold continues.  With the exception of a brilliantly sunny Monday, we’ve had snow or ice (or both!) every day since March began.  Yesterday and today were icy and slushy; tonight’s forecast promises 4-8 inches of heavy wet snow of top of the snow and ice already on the ground.  The weather forecasters are warning of the coming storm, of course.  But they seem to understand how weary of winter we’ve become and so while they warn us of the approaching storm, they are promising this is it and a normal weather pattern will soon arrive.  It’s the carrot that follows the weather stick.

I know that this can’t last forever; soon enough I’ll be back in flip flops.  Until then I might as well admire the beauty in Winter.

Monday, March 02, 2015


The year JT was born, late Winter found me making the trip 35 miles west each week to take my baby to be weighed by the pediatrician’s office.  After that visit, we’d stop by the grocery store for our weekly shopping before we’d head back to our small hometown.  At the grocery store that March, they had bouquets of fresh daffodils for $2.  Each week, I chose a bouquet to bring home with me, enjoying those flowers as my baby steadily grew.  This week, my Wegmans market had daffodil bouquets.  I picked one up as I shopped in advance of yesterday’s snowstorm.  It will cheer up our snowy March and remind me of the Winter not that long ago when I had a baby by my side.

That’s happy!

Sunday, March 01, 2015

March 1: Peach Tree

Last week was cold but the days were sunny.  Winter is making a return today and the week’s forecast promises more snow and ice.  But I am treating the arrival of March like a treasured event.  It signals a lot of things worth celebrating: JT has started baseball practice; Spring Break starts on March 6; next weekend we move our clocks forward and enjoy more evening light; in 21 days, Spring officially arrives.  Spring.  In my world, those are some heady and most-welcome developments.  Even so, for now the backyard remains still.

The peach tree’s corner has snow.  More is on the way, confirming March’s reputation as the month that comes in like a Lion.  But we’ve turned our calendars nonetheless and that means the season of cold stillness is coming to a close.