Friday, July 31, 2015

Call for You

At Harper’s Ferry National Park in West Virginia, the 1980s are waiting for your call.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Patient Peach

In the Spring of 2008, my dad sent me three dwarf fruit trees for my backyard.  I planted the two apple trees on either side of the pear tree.  Then I began to dream of the fruit I would one day harvest.  It takes two years for new trees to set on fruit and I knew that patience was the order of the day.

The first fruit set on on 2010 and I followed my dad’s directions and culled the fruit so that none of the branches would be overloaded.  Then, just when I was confident that I would be picking my first harvest, a backyard predator cleared out my crop.  

It would be like this for the next four years.  The fruit would set on and I’d get excited only to wake up one morning and discover that all of my fruit was gone.  I came to expect that my harvest would end up being one lone apple lying under the tree with a bite taken from it.  It was disheartening.  This summer, I expected the same outcome.  As usual, an abundant amount of fruit set on to the apples and pear trees and things looked great.

Even the peach tree, in just its second year in the backyard, looked quite promising.

I didn’t get my hopes up because every year my early crop prospects have ended with some kind of critter disaster.   But this year, as the growing season unfolded, things looked promising.  Each morning, I held my breath and checked to see that my fruit crops were still on the branches.  I held quietly to my hope for an actual harvest.  

The peaches were ready first.  As I stood at the tree I could smell their musky ripening.   After seven years of cultivating the fruit trees, I had my first tree fruit crop!  This past Sunday, I picked my crop of peaches.  They smelled amazing and tasted delicious.

I feel like my patience has been rewarded.  There is plenty of fruit on the apple and pear trees steadily moving toward ripeness.  I’m hopeful that actual apples and pears will follow.  Time will tell that story; for now I wait.  Good thing that I've had all those lessons in patience.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: July 27

All year long, I wait for the privilege of eating tomatoes still warm from the garden.  I keep track of the blossoms on my tomato plants, I visit the first tomatoes that set on, and I watch them each day for signs that they have ripened.  When the first few tomatoes come of the vines, it’s a glorious thing.  The crop comes on slowly and I’ve not yet reached the stage of tomato abundance.  But the signs are all there.

My zinnia seedlings seem to be tasty to the bunnies and other creatures who live in the backyard and I’ve started to despair of having bouquets to pick.  

Gardening is like that: filled with prospect and hope only to suffer the folly of fate in the form of weather, animals, or some other misfortune.

So I practice patience and resolve and I remember to take time to appreciate the crops that do come my way.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Dunker Church

One of the more well-known sites of the Battle of Antietam is the Dunker Church.  The Dunkers were a German pacifist sect whose place of worship was a simple structure, in keeping with their beliefs.

During the battle, this modest church saw action as Union troops attacked Confederates in the woods behind the building.  Eventually, the building was pressed into service as a battlefield hospital.

Now it stands quiet on a small hill, witness to imaginable horror.  It’s loveliness is deceptive but no less real; a testament to the horror that mankind seems determined to enact against one another.

Friday, July 24, 2015

On Backyards and Little Boys

For several years now, the lawn in my backyard has had a rather large bald spot.   It is the outcome of JT’s daily games outside.  When he was younger, the bald spot would sometimes annoy me in my quest for a perfect lawn.   In the past few years, the size of the spot has shrunk, at first a pleasing development.  But I realize that the fading bald spot is directly correlated to the growing up of my boy.  Suddenly, I’ve developed a fondness for the scruffy part of the lawn.

Backyard gallivanting won’t last forever.  Each time that JT heads out the backdoor to explore the yard, I wonder if it will be his last backyard adventure.  I’d just as soon he hold on to the abandon and wonder of childhood.  If that means running through the backyard, checking out the bunny warren, and wearing out the bald spot just a little more,  then so be it.

One day, a day far sooner than I will welcome, the boy who runs through this backyard will pack his bags and walk out the front door, headed off to college.  That day, what’s left of the bald spot will be a reminder of years that flew by more quickly then I ever could have imagined.   So you’ll pardon my fondness for the imperfect backyard lawn.  It’s evidence of a boyhood of adventure that is passing by far too quickly for my tastes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

An Uncivil War

Last summer, T and I pulled up stakes and spent a few days visiting Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of a three-day battle that changed the course of the Civil War.  Gettysburg occurred in July 1863 and the Union victory turned the tide of the conflict; Rebel forces would never again invade North.  But the war wasn’t over after Gettysburg.  Nearly two more years of brutal destruction followed.  

Gettysburg today is a beautiful place with acres of the battlefields preserved.  There are monuments to the soldiers who fought here and the sheer volume of them gives one pause.  There were 50,000 casualties in the three day battle; nearly a third of the soldiers who fought on those days.   That the war would last nearly two more years after those three days of miserable carnage tells us how divided the nation had become.  

This past week, T and I stepped back in time again, this time visiting Antietam, in Maryland.  This battle happened in September 1862 and is most often remembered as the Union victory that enabled President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed enslaved men and women in the rebellious states.   Beyond emancipation, Antietam was a battle that taught both the Union and the Confederacy of the need to engage in a more ordered brutality.  In the aftermath of the immediate fighting, the fields around Antietam Creek were littered with the corpses of the dead and dying, as both sides struggled to organize a plan to remove the injured and bury their dead.  This fact is sometimes hard to remember when one stands in the fields that saw fighting in 1862.  It seems so peaceful now.

Though the battle is considered a Union victory, it was just barely that.  More accurately, the battle should be described as a failed Confederate invasion of the North.  When the smoke had cleared, the Union still held the land around Antietam Creek.  The Confederate Army slipped back over the Potomac into Rebel-held territory in Virginia and lived to fight another day.  In the aftermath, both sides developed plans for organized field hospitals, evacuation of the injured, and burial of the dead.  Nearly 23,000 casualties in one day is sobering in that fashion.  

In both of these places, the beauty and peacefulness of the fields belies the brutality that divided this land more than 150 years ago.  I’m accustomed to teaching the Civil War as a bloody, hand-to-hand fight between brothers, and that’s certainly true.  Horrifying as that idea is, seen up close it’s even more shocking.

I’m struck by the notion that our ability to understand the complexity of race and inequality today is really rooted in the same animosity that drove us to the Civil War in the first place.  In the years of those battles, over and over again we destroyed our homes and neighbors in pursuit of a conclusion to the question of slavery and preservation of our union.  That is took such cold brutality to bring the nation to settlement of the questions is unsettling.  For all the brilliant promise that exists in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution which followed, we’ve had a mighty hard time fulfilling those ideals.  Today, we regret that violence and mourn the dead.  But for all that we record the history of the Civil War, I wonder if we really understand who we are and what we did to one another.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: July 20

Last week, the first tomatoes that set on my plants began to fully ripen.  This occurred just as several more tomato buds began to set on with fruit.    At this point in the growing season, things change daily.  The hot, sunny weather of the last few days will bring on rapid growth, especially when supplemented by the sprinkler as was the case this morning.

Each day I spend time in my garden listening to the birds chirp and watching my crops come to fruition.  I planted a bit late, on May 25, but still in plenty of good time for a season’s worth of growing to pay off.  The tomatoes have already begun to ripen and there are some tomato sandwiches in my immediate future.  

That’s happy!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Wash Day

I’m the sort of woman who thinks highly of modern laundry technology but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded that housekeeping has come a long, long way.

This picture was made at the National Canal Museum, which was a treasure of a place that T and I made a visit to on our most recent adventure.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Wisteria Gates

I am always charmed by arbors and trellises with trained plants, even those that are a bit overgrown.  These wisteria gates were at the Thomas Edison estate in West Orange.

The surrounding beds had peonies that had already bloomed.  It was lovely in July and I expect was quite beautiful in May when the peony flowers popped open.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

On Adventure & Absence

Later this afternoon, JT heads out with his other mother on a vacation trip to Iceland.  That’s far away, involving planes and driving in a foreign country, in a land where he doesn’t speak the language.  My head knows this kind of adventure is a good and happy thing for him.  My heart is all, “planes and driving in a foreign country, in a land where he doesn’t speak the language….” and then a kind of panic sets in and I repeat the mantra that “it will all be okay.”

Long ago, I made my peace with JT being away every-other-weekend.  But the whole “away for 10 days” deal twists my heart each year.  Tomorrow, he flies to Iceland for his adventure.  He doesn’t come back to me until the following Sunday.  I’ll miss him something fierce.

I’ve got plans, of course.  I’ll make a trip with T, go to work, do some house projects, play in my garden, read some books, and otherwise live my life.  I’ll laugh and have a good time.  But at the end of the day, when Lucy the cat gives me a plaintive look that says, “bring my boy home,” I’ll know just how she feels.  That boy and his smile are the center of our world, even if he is loud, hungry, and sometimes smelly.

Travel safe, sweet boy.  Your mama misses you already.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


I love to read for pleasure and throughout the year I find time to read every day.  When the school year is in full swing, sometimes my daily reading is as little as two pages read late-at-night before I fall hard asleep.  But come the Summer, there is time for reading.  A stack of books to read is one of the greatest pleasures in the world and in the Summer there is time enough for me to finish a book every 4 or 5 days.  That’s my definition of glorious.

This Summer, I’ve already read mysteries set in England and North Carolina.  I’ve read some thoughtful story that explored race in the United States.  I’ve taken a tour of imperialist Nigeria.  I’ve gone back to the comfortable world of Miss Read’s Fairacre.  I’ve been to the Cornish coast of the 1800s and I’ve joined some hard-working Depression-era crew teams on the water.  I’m headed to pre-Revolutionary New England at the moment and after that I’m thinking of spending a bit of time in the French Revolution.

I’ve nearly 8 more weeks of Summer to go and at least a dozen more books in my to-be-read stack.  Books are a comfort; familiar friends who add so much to my world.  That’s happy!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: July 13

Since I set up my backyard shady glen, I’ve spent time in the backyard garden most every day.  The comfy seat, the company of chirping birds, companionship of shy bunnies, and the view of my growing garden make it a lovely part of my day.

It seems like a treat to bring a glass of iced tea and a good book out here to relax and enjoy the garden.

Things change a bit each day and week-by-week I am closer to the abundant produce and flowers that make Summer so welcome in my world.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Colonial Park Flower Garden

There is a lovely public rose garden near my house and I visited it earlier this month.  The roses were mostly gearing up for their second growing season, though a few rosebuds remained.

I’ll come back to see the roses again later this summer.  In the meantime, there were plenty of other flowers to enjoy.  The hydrangeas are lovely.

The bench in the shade of the trellised wisteria is peaceful.  I’d love to have space enough for a display like this some day.

A lot of effort goes into a garden like this and I always a welcome a visit to this tidy garden.

My zinnias aren’t yet at this level, but they’ll get there soon enough.  

Summer, you continue to charm me.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Pop, Pop, Pop

I made apricot-pineapple jam last week —— 10 pots worth of delicious jam.

Making jam is one of the most pleasing elements of summer.  The smell of hot jam on the stove is heavenly.

When the pots of jam come out of the water bath to cool on the counter, the sound of the seals as they pop is one of the happiest sounds of summer.

These jars will be stored on the shelves in the basement, at the ready for warm slices of freshly-toasted bread, fresh scones, and Winter gift-giving.  That’s happy!

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Farmer McSassafras

Peter Rabbit spent rather a lot of energy looking to avoid the wrath of Farmer McGregor, while seeking to cadge the occasional produce from the farmer’s garden.  There are rabbits in my backyard and garden and they seem to know that they have nothing to fear.  They nibble my hostas.

They feed on the clover in my grass.

They probably score the occasional produce from my garden.  Perhaps they take comfort in the fact that we’ve named them……you see in these pictures the Mama Bunny and her baby twins, Francesca and Fleur.  The fourth bunny in the grass is a newcomer to the yard and nameless but this bunny is just as welcome as the others.  There’s no Farmer McGregor at this house, just the sort of softies who delight in sightings of the backyard bunnies.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Poor Life Decisions

As the parent of a strong-willed 15 year old, I’ve had more than one opportunity to recognize my own stubborn self in my son.  I know from experience that the words of a parent will be heard but not always embraced.  So I do my best to set some firm boundaries and let JT learn his way through the rest of life’s choices.  On occasion, this strategy works out.  Case in point: JT’ summer schedule.

Within a week of the start of Summer Break, JT had slipped seamlessly into a daily schedule which featured hours of reading about and watching sports and  playing iPad games with his friends late into the night.  Throw in some music and a little Netflix action and his life was complete.  He’d crawl into bed by 3 am, awaken at 11, rinse and repeat.

I was not amused and said as much.  Naturally, my concerns were dismissed for the unreasonable nonsense they clearly were.  Salvation of sorts came in the form of summer athletic practices, some of which occurred in the morning  Though it must be noted that the transition to a more reasonable schedule was a pretty unpleasant journey for a certain 15 year old.

Nearly two weeks ago, on the Monday after his usual weekend debauchery, JT rose at 7:30 am to join the cross country team in a weightlifting and sprinting endurance workout.  The night before he’d gone to bed at 3:30 am.  It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see this wouldn’t end well.

He came from the practice just after 10:30 am, awash in sweat with jittery legs and a pale face.   He looked like death on a cracker.  He lay on the floor in my office for about 10 minutes and then asked for a ride home.  We made the 15 minute drive in silence and when we got home he stepped out of the car and seconds later was on his hands and knees in the front yard, vomiting up the contents of his practically empty stomach.  Like most people, he doesn’t enjoy throwing up.  However, unlike most of us, he has done so exactly four times in his life.  This was the fourth and it was a gangbuster, featuring loud wretches and dry heaves.  The neighbor’s little girls, dressed in tutus and headed to dance class, watched in horror.  I stood quietly by his side, suggesting only that he rinse his mouth and not gulp water.  When he was done, we went inside.

I recommended a shower and he complied.  Then I gave him some Sprite to sip and tucked him into bed with instructions that he have a nap but set an alarm so that he would awaken by noon.  I returned to work and received a text just after noon, “I’m awake,” he reported.  I instructed him to leave his dark cave of a bedroom and head downstairs to the light of the living room.  When I got home just after 2 pm, he looked much better.  I made him some noodle soup and gently suggested that the morning’s events were the result of taking his body for granted and not looking out for his health.  I pointed out that he had to live in his body for the next 70 years and that if he treated his body well it would reward him for his efforts.  He bore the lecture silently and I left for the gym, hoping that my words and actions would be heard and embraced.


That night, he stayed up until nearly 3 am, when I woke up and ordered him to bed.  We were mutually annoyed with one another.  The next day, we had another discussion about striking a balance and making good life decisions —— I provided some more examples.  I suggested that staying up late could be 1 am instead of 3 am.  He could get out of bed around 10 instead of noon.  He could get some physical activity every day and eat some healthy food that would fuel workouts.  JT treated these suggestions as interesting though not necessarily useful for him.  I was disheartened and felt that I wasn’t making much progress.

That afternoon I was sitting on the front porch when a small dog wandered across the street.  He was clearly well cared for and just as clearly loose without an owner.  I called JT outside to help me.  We checked mystery dog’s collar but there was no tag and we were mystified until a neighbor informed us that the dog belonged to a house down the street.  JT and I headed that way with the dog and I knocked on the door.  We could hear the TV blaring but no one answered the door.  We waited a minute and then walked to the backyard, not exactly sure what our next action should be.

When we got to the backyard, we discovered an open gate and the mystery dog seemed interested in going to the yard.  As we returned the dog, the back door opened and out stepped a young man, likely in his early 20s and looking rather worse for the wear as he smoked a cigarette.  He confirmed that the dog was his and said, “I had no idea she was gone.  How did she get out?”

JT and I exchanged a look and then I explained that the gate had been open.  The young man thanked us and we left.  JT was silent as we walked back up the driveway and out to the sidewalk.  A moment later he offered a thought, “That dude was a mess.  He didn’t even know his dog was gone.”  I had just one response: “That’s what poor life decisions look like.”  We walked home in mutual silence.

A few hours later, JT came downstairs, laced up his running shoes, and went for a run.  At supper that night, he asked for and ate a salad.  His sleeping schedule has gotten a little more reasonable.  I know enough to take these small victories to heart in silence, aware that parenting requires a level of diplomacy that the 15 year old me never even contemplated.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: July 6

While I was taking a holiday from school last week, I finished out the mulch project for the rest of the garden.  

Along the fence, I’ve planted some perennials (hostas and gladioli bulbs, though I fear the squirrels have feasted on the bulbs).  

Weeded and tidy, it carries with it the hope that I can keep the ivy and Virginia creeper at bay.  Under normal conditions, I like both of these vines but in the absence of restraint, they will overwhelm the garden and the newish fence.  I planted a rose bush behind the chairs.  I love roses and cannot resist rose bush clearance prices at the garden store.  The rest of the plants are coming along nicely.  The week ahead looks to bring heat.  I’ll provide water.  Soon enough we’ll have tomatoes for our supper.