Thursday, April 30, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 7

If there were an alternate title for this post, it would be Peak Tulip.  

Two weeks ago, on a warm, sunny Saturday, I declared that New jersey had achieved Peak Daffodil.  Everywhere I went that weekend, there were beautiful clumps of daffodils swaying in the sunlight.  It was lovely.  Today, I am prepared to report that we are closing in on Peak Tulip.  

In my neighborhood and yard, bulbs have begun; there are more to arrive in the next week.  Other plants are also on the move.  My peony has doubled its size in the last week alone.

The fruit trees in my back yard have lovely delicate flowers and there is a haze of green on the trees in the woods around me.  Last night I slept with my windows wide open.  Spring is here, with mild days, shoots of green, the smell of blooms, and chirping songbirds.   

That’s a beautiful, glorious thing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Real Life Conversations with T: Mother’s Day Justice edition

The backstory:  Mother’s Day when you are a single mama isn’t much of a holiday.  But for the last few years T has kindly stepped in to organize a celebration.  As the day she approaches, she has asked what I would like for Mother’s Day.  I’ve said breakfast out and floral baskets for the porch but she has urged me to name a few more items.  I’ve deferred, but yesterday she had a new idea, one inspired by the fact that my trash bin had a hard winter and no longer has a functioning lid.

Me:  This morning, that broken lid bit me.  At 7 am, on my way to the infuriating 7:30 am meeting, I found that my trash bin had been tipped over, the bag of trash torn open, and bits of food were strewn in the driveway.

T: Bummer.  We should get you a new trash bin for Mother’s Day.


Me:  No jury in the world would convict me for the violence that would follow such a gift.  I’ll be on the witness stand, “Yeah, I shot ‘em in the foot.  THEY GAVE ME A TRASH BIN FOR MOTHER’S DAY.”  The judge will be all, “gotcha, shoot ‘em in the hand now.”

T:  We’d have to pay the court fines.

It’s all moot in any case.  I hit a big box store yesterday and secured a bin with an attached lid.  Possum snack hour is over at Sassafras House.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Real Life Conversations at School: Cyber Security edition

The backstory:  I’ve a colleague who is a dad-on-his own with two kids: G, a clever 1st grader, and P, a handful of a three year old, also known in our hallways as Baby Hot Sauce, a name that nicely conveys the whirlwind that is P.  I see them often, storming the halls of the Middle School on their way to their Lower School classrooms and generally wreaking havoc as 3 and 7 year olds are wont to do.  I find them charming.  Yesterday, they were in their car seats and ready to roll out for the evening when their dad realized he needed a ruler for G’s homework.  He ran back inside to fetch the ruler and I kept watch of P and her brother.  I leaned into the car and we talked.

Me:  How was your day?

G:  Good (involved with some toy and not all that interested in me).

P:  Good (playing with an outdated cell phone and plenty willing to chat).

Me:  Who do you talk to on your phone, P?

P:  My dad.  My mom.  You.  (Note that P and I don’t talk on the phone with one another).

Me:  Oh yeah?  What do you talk about?

P (looks at me intently):  What’s your password?

The NSA has some competition from Baby Hot Sauce.  And the safe money is on Agent BHS.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The View from Here

When I first began to consider a professional move to the Middle School, one of my immediate concerns was my daily view.  At the time, my second floor classroom had an expansive view of the center of campus and I could see the river and watch the trees as they made their seasonal changes.  It was an important part of my world and I was reluctant to give it up.

In the end, I made the change to the Middle School with assurance that I would have a window in my office.  The view would be different, but there would still be trees in my daily sight.  As it turns out, there are trees behind me.

And the open door to my office also affords a view down the hallways, this one to the trees and river that sit to the immediate east of the school.

I’m not at the desk all that often during the school day, but when I’m there the view is lovely.  In the early mornings before school and the afternoons, I’ve an expanse to admire.  In so many other ways, this job is a whole new view of school and the children in my care, who now number every middle schooler in the halls.  When I first took the job, the principal told me that Middle School is different every day.  Kids this age are an adventure on a whole new magnitude; a new view of how school plays out in the lives of children.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 6

The post should more appropriately be titled “Stop and Admire the Flowers” because lately my days have been crazy busy.  The few minutes when I make my daily walk of the flowerbeds in my garden is increasingly welcome because it is sometimes the only quiet moment in my day.   A brief pause to step out of my frantic brain to admire nature is a welcome reminder of what really matters.  

Things are coming along nicely, as these dogwood blooms illustrate.

In the backyard, the daffodils are fading but the hostas are exploding alongside pink tulips, tall sentinels of growing things to come.

My little peach tree has begun to bloom.

In the front yard, more tulips are on their way.

My peony has shot up a few shoots and has begun to seek warmth and light.

Things are more lovely each day and that’s a happy way to face a very busy time of year.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Expectant Season

Spring is an expectant season, with warming days that feel exhilarating after Winter’s cold, but also plenty of lingering chill to accompany the slow march toward blooms and leafy green trees.  It’s the only season that feels this way to me.

Summer is a season of lazy abundance.  There are hours of warmth and sunlight and days that feel happily endless, with enough unscheduled and unregulated time for me to feel that I may do as I please.  On the heels of the abundant warmth, Fall arrives with the calendar of school days .  As I settle into the routine of school, there are crisp, cool mornings that are a welcome development after summer’s heat.  Fall sometimes lingers but it never feels full of expectant promise.  This season of transition to Winter is about preparation:  coats, gloves, scarves, and hats are made ready.  Heavier quilts and blankets are set out.  Lost slippers are located.  Winter’s days are bracing and sunlight is on rations.  The icy cold and snowy days occupy my mind.  Winter demands attention; I don’t go outside without preparing for the cold.  

But Spring is the expectant season, sometimes warm enough to warrant a walk to the curb in flip flops, toes wriggling in the freedom.  Though I ardently wish for warmth and blooms to begin as soon as the calendar is marked “Spring” the transition is slow, with green and warmth doled out in small segments, a daffodil bloom here;  a crocus there.  

The transition from Winter’s stillness to a world of explosive blooms creeps along, not quite tentative as much as slow, deliberately taking hold of the plants and trees in my care and preparing for Summer.

Soon enough, the blooming and blossoming will explode and cover every surface.  But until we make that splendid transition, I look carefully for the evidence of progress, anticipating the glory that will soon consume the outdoor world in blooms and growth.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 5

Slowly but surely, the blooms of our Spring are arriving in my corner of New Jersey.  Lawns are beginning to turn brighter and trees are at work ginning up some lovely blooms and leaves.  I see plenty of cheerful daffodils in my daily travels and there are some in my backyard, in a space that gets lots of sunlight.

My front yard faces north and flowers in those flowerbeds are slow to bloom.  The first progress comes in the flowerbed that gets some western sun.  There are two brave daffodils leading the way in the west-facing flowerbed.

In the eastern-facing front yard flowerbed, a patch of crocuses came first. 

The rest of the tulips and daffodils are taking their own sweet time.  

But time is on my side and these beauties are worth the wait.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Big Pine

For as long as I have lived in Sassafras House — and we’re coming up on 10 years here — my neighbors have had a large pine tree in their front yard.  

It’s always been sturdy and lovely though its size and proximity to both our houses as well as the power lines that extend to my home have made me nervous when big storms roll in and the large branches sway.

The pine needles and occasional drops of sap on cars in my driveway has also been a source of annoyance.  Last week, my neighbors decided it was time for the tree to come down.  I made pictures of big pine that morning and in the afternoon we returned home to a whole different view.

All that remains is the strong smell of pine from the remains of the ground stump.  I’m getting used to the changed landscape and view; I won’t miss the pine needles or the twinges of anxiety when Nor’easters blow in.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Audacity of Grade 7

7th grade history at my school is the first half of American history.  As befits a school with as much diversity as ours, it’s the first step-by-step introduction of American history a student whose been in the school since kindergarten will experience.   In 7th grade, we start with colonial settlement and go all the way to the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War.  8th grade starts up with the Gettysburg Address and goes through the majority of the 20th century.

Because they are 7th graders, it’s also an appropriate time for us to explore some hard truths about our national story.  I love my nation and consider myself a patriot but I’m not blind and I am aware that the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights —— freedom, independence, and political equality ——— haven’t been extended to everyone in the same measure.  In the gradual journey that is the American story, those principles are in the process of being extended to all of us.  But it’s a slow process and a cursory look at the nation today certainly reveals the inequalities with which we continue to struggle.

My students are universally from a privileged economic class and they know this.  Half are students of color, many of them multi-racial children who don’t fit neatly into a single category.  They look at their immediate world and see a range of faces and experiences that they value equally, even if their nation does not.  The formative president in their imagination is Barack Obama and they are about to watch a presidential race that will feature a front-runner candidate who is a woman.

In this atmosphere, they are sometimes casual about race and gender in a way that surprises me.  But this is their world and their own comfort with diversity is reflected in their friendships and ambitions for one another.  In the past few weeks, as we’ve explored the nuances of inequality in antebellum America, the injustice of it infuriates them.  That I can’t promise a clean and perfect happy ending to the story frustrates me.

But that is the lesson of history: the arc of history leans toward justice, but the journey is sometimes slow.  Often, it’s more than a lifetime.  I’d be more frustrated about this if I wasn’t daily in the company of some extraordinary 12 and 13 year olds who won’t permit injustice to continue on their watch.  They give me hope of a kind that is extraordinary.  Audacious, even.  And that is a most happy thing.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 4

I keep reminding myself that Spring is a bit of a fickle season and this week has been no exception. We’ve had rather a two-steps-forward, one-step-back sort of week.  It started off rather nice on Monday and then took a step back and delivered two raw, cold days today and yesterday.  The trees and bushes are slowly inching toward some blooms, but still have their stark Winter appearance.  Even so, we’ve reached the stage where the early Spring bulbs are growing a bit each day.  Tulips are in the air.

Each morning, I check out the progress.  And even when it's cold, the birds chirp a greeting as I make my way to the car.

I can hear them singing, “soon, dear, soon.”

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Washington Crossing

Last week, my cousin A and his wife S came to visit.  They live in California and came East to see what life with abundant water looks like.  I had a few days off and we toured the state checking out all the places where George Washington spent some time.  I love these sorts of historical tours and especially enjoy the stories of Washington in New Jersey.  In this state, the ragtag colonial Patriot army secured some of the biggest victories of the Revolutionary war and they did it by being wily and creative.  

Every time I look at the spot where Washington crossed the Delaware I revisit the perilous story of that cold December crossing.  To consider the journey those Patriots made is to be reminded that this nation was founded by unthinkably brave people; folks willing to take some serious risks in pursuit of a freedom that they could hardly conceive of.

That they prevailed is a tribute to the power of will and leadership; to the appeal of the idea of freedom, and a reminder that real patriotism doesn’t come from a press conference to announce presidential aspirations.  It comes from actions taken when times are hard, leadership that isn’t afraid to sacrifice to accomplish good; and a sense that our nation is better when we all pitch in to do our part.  

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Not Quite Finished with Childhood

At our school, 9th graders take Health class and learn about all sorts of things, including male and female bodies and birth control.  It’s not JT’s first go-round with health class but this time around things have gone to another level.  Students in the class are required to go to a drugstore, buy a condom, and bring it to school to prove that they’ve mastered that task.

To my surprise, JT was largely unembarrassed by the assignment.  We went to Target and I directed him to the birth control section and then T and I left him to complete his homework while we did our shopping.  

When we were done, he met us at the door with his shopping bag.  He was glad to see us because he’d been patiently waiting to get inside that shopping bag.  It seems he’d budgeted his $10 and the bag contained both a box of condoms and a pack of 2015 Fleer baseball cards.    With the season opener for baseball just around the corner, he wanted to be ready.  

The condoms met the requirements of a school assignment but the baseball cards, well, they were an item on a whole other order of importance.  Baseball; the season opener; joy in the game of his past, his now, and his future.  Something tells me that those condoms won’t be used any time soon.  With a batting average on the upswing, he’s got more important concerns.

I’ll take it.  

Monday, April 06, 2015

Stepping Up

My unfortunate affection for puns ensured that an abundance of titles optioned for this posting:  Step in Time; Stepping Out; In Step; Step and Fetch-It….

I settled on “Stepping Up” because of the significant improvement the repaired steps bring to our daily life.  Winter’s cold and the truckload of salt required to keep the front steps and walk from being a daily ice hazard took their toll on the front steps at my house.  I noticed a loose brick in January and during Spring Break I sought to use some mortar to fix things.  As soon as I swept the loose step clean, it became clear that an easy repair was not an option.

This may not look all that bad but underneath was a greater problem.

I needed a mason.  Not only did I find one, I found a good one with the willingness to tackle this job in a timely fashion.  Score!  In short order, we were back in business.

This isn’t just a surface repair; the underbelly of the steps is now on very solid footing.

Just in time for Spring, the steps are looking spruced up.

It’s a step up for Sassafras House.  Pun intended.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Your Weekly Spring Bulbs: Week 3

Spring is taking its own sweet time to deliver the beauty.  Unseasonably cold temperatures have lingered longer than I would like.  But temperatures are well-above freezing during the day and there has been sunlight and enough warmth to encourage the  bulbs in my flowerbeds to reach toward the light.

The patches of green flower stems are slowly growing taller.  This week, they look a bit more sturdy.

There’s talk of sunlight and temperatures approaching 60 degrees today.  With such prospects I know that an explosion of blooms is tantalizingly close.  

You can do it, Spring!

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April Fool: Checking in with the Peach Tree

This year, I’ve been posting a picture of my backyard peach tree on the first of each month.  The arrival of March and the official start of Spring gave me a good deal of hope.  But the continuing cold (not to mention the spurts of snow last night) haven’t delivered much in terms of blooms.  The peach tree is holding its own.

Up close, there are small signs of progress.

The peach tree’s neighboring bulbs are pushing forward, a form of garden peer pressure.

Surely this month will bring some warmth and a resulting explosion of blooms and green.  I live in hope.