Monday, August 31, 2015

Garden Update: August 31

Though we are by no means as dry as California, we’ve not had much rain in August and gardens are a bit peaked.  Though I don’t water the lawn, my garden gets a good long drink every 4 days, as it did this morning.

There are plenty of tomatoes and basil still to come and I’d like to see a few more dahlia flowers before the first frost, which isn’t due for many weeks.

When the weather is humid, as this week promises to be, it’s essential that the water have time to soak in, so I turn on the sprinkler in the early morning.  In the damp heat of the day, the garden has a chance to grow.  This kind of weather is good for tomatoes and basil, so there is hope of more to harvest as September unfolds.  I'll take it!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Dogwood Signal

The backyard dogwood tree is among the first things I see each morning.  Its weekly changes keep me in touch with the seasons.  It’s surprising that something I see every day can seem to have suddenly changed, as is the case with this first blush of fall color on the leaves.

August ends tomorrow and September is on its way.  Some mornings I can feel autumn in the air.  The dogwood feels the same way.  While I regret the end of summer, the natural world reminds me that time must pass; the next season brings new things to admire and enjoy.  Relax, the dogwood is telling me.  Mother Nature is in charge.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Summer's End

Next week, the faculty return for meetings and the full-time busy activities of school get started.  During the days, there’s meetings and classrooms to be set up.  JT has cross country practice each afternoon.  In the evenings, there’s a bbq for new students and later in the week a supper for international students.  The week will culminate in a new student day.  Then we’ll pause for a three-day weekend and come Tuesday the 8th, it’s all-school, all-the-time.  When that happens, my relatively lazy workdays will transition to 7:30 am - 6 pm days, with work coming home in my bag for the evenings and the weekends.

So my summer is coming to end.  Sigh.

Each morning in the summer, I take my cup of coffee and a good book and I sit outside on the porch to enjoy the sunlight.  

In the last two days, the mornings have been cool.  Not cold, mind you, but a break in the heat that feels like seasonal change is on its way.  I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to flip flops worn to work, relaxed days, and lazy mornings and afternoons, so I’m soaking up all that I can.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

On Peter Rabbit and Laughter

Last week, my friend E and her twins joined us for supper.  Aware that M liked red peppers, I sliced some up for her enjoyment.  She does like red peppers but she also had her way with the radishes.  When I expressed surprise, her mother explained that Peter Rabbit eats radishes.

That’s a girl after my own heart.

Her brother C was less interested in the veggies, though soon after this picture was made he discovered the spray bottle of water I use to keep the cats off the table.  He went to work on the task of squirting water with great concentration.

The twins are nearly three and their enjoyment and delight in the world is evident.  I love this age, a time when new discoveries are everywhere and laughter is frequent.  Toddlers don’t control the market on discoveries and laughter, but they yield to both far more often than stodgy grown ups manage.  We could learn a lesson or two from them.  

Monday, August 24, 2015

Garden Update: August 24

Just like that, the end of August is at hand.  At this point in the garden season, the dahlias are looking great.

There are tomatoes and basil on a weekly basis and when we eat them it tastes like summer.

My shady glen is still lovely to enjoy in the afternoon and the sight of my garden after a fresh watering still makes my heart happy.

Summer, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


At the Nike outlet, I tried to purchase this shirt for JT.  However, as it was obvious that he would never achieve such an outrageous goal, the purchase was rejected.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Real Life Conversations with JT: Personal Grooming edition

The backstory:  Long ago we got over the "why should I bathe every day and use deodorant?" hump of adolescence.  But shaving has been a less easy transition.  By the end of the 8th grade, JT had reached a point where he needed to shave.  He didn’t have a full beard and once a week seemed to do the trick.  I’m not going to say he embraced this responsibility, as it was a reluctant transition.  The passage of time has increased his need to shave and these days, he probably should shave every other day.  Instead, he shaves every other week and in between his cheeks and upper lip are unevenly grizzled.  My suggestion that he looks sketchy and should shave more often has been rejected.  But baseball’s Coach Davey seems to have more influence.

JT:  Coach Davey asked me if I was trying to grow a beard.  I said no and he said, “Oh.”  I think I need to shave more often.

Me:  I believe I have made a similar suggestion.

JT:  I’m gonna shave now.

Me:  Tell Coach Davey the check’s in the mail.

JT (laughing): Okay.

I think we call this progress.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Today, JT starts practice for cross country season.  In a few more weeks, he’ll take a refashioned PSAT to practice for the revised SAT coming his way in less than two years.  A few days after that, he’ll start the Tenth Grade.


Five years ago, JT completed the Fourth Grade and prepared to head to Middle School.  On that day, I remember idly thinking that in eight years he would be leaving home for college.  Back then, eight years seemed like a lot of time.  Of course, the boy in my house in 2010 looked like this.

On that day, I could believe that there was loads of time to watch him grow up.  Now I live with this boy, who is my man-child, and increasingly seems more man than child.

Our days fly by and months are completed.  Then years are done and I find myself frantically holding on to a childhood that has been more fleeting than I could have ever imagined.  At my school, we tell children that high school is four years to learn about yourself and get ready for college.  There is time to get it right, we say.  My head embraces that idea and urges my son forward to try new things, expand his mind, and embrace his future.  I know that he must grow up and find his way in this world.

But my heart wishes to stop time from passing.  I wonder why I ever thought that eighteen years wouldn’t pass by in the blink of an eye.  I often tell new parents that the nights are long but the days and years are fast.  These days, I’m realizing just how fast the time passes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Longball Game

JT played three athletic seasons for his freshman year of high school —— cross country in the Fall, wrestling in the Winter, and baseball in the Spring.  The final season came to end in the last week in May, in a game that seemed to summarize the year’s baseball season.  The team lost by one point thanks to one careless error and two runners left on base.  JT was a 9th grader on this team; he played in a few Varsity games but was mostly the bullpen catcher while the older boys played.  It was a job he enjoyed very much and he was happy to be part of the team.

Years ago, I encouraged JT to play sports for a couple of reasons.  For starters, he needed hours of physical activity each day and sports would help to fill that gap.  I also believed that being on a team would be a good thing for an only child.  It would show him camaraderie and the value of cooperation; it would help to teach him to be generous toward others and would remind him to share.

My son is a fairly athletic kid and he has nearly boundless energy.    But his real talent in the world of sport is being a terrific member of the team.  For a singleton who enjoys (and frankly needs) hours of time on his own, the team concept could have been a challenge.  But he is a loyal team member who marks the season’s accomplishments by things separate from his own achievements.  Two of his most thrilling athletic moments this year occurred independent of a play or win on his own part.  He came into the stands to report to me that when his friend L won his first wrestling match and L’s grandfather was there to see it, “I got chills Mama.  It was great.”  He was impressed by the commitment of baseball teammate C, a Senior who played JV for most of the season, hitting his first home run in a JV game and then, one week later, getting the chance to play in the last Varsity home game and hitting another home run.  As pleased as C was (and wow, that smile still hasn’t faded), JT was just as excited and proud.

Those are the sorts of lessons in life that will last long after the season is complete.  I am glad that JT is able to embrace them.  In an era when virtually every parent on the field is alert for the Division I scholarship that is surely coming their child’s way, I am happy that my son sees sport as a series of lessons in the long ball that is life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: August 17

By this time in the gardening season, I should have rows and rows of zinnia flowers.  I do have the zinnias but they have been stunted and the blooms haven’t materialized.  I suspect that’s because zinnias are a tasty snack for small bunnies and heaven knows I’ve an abundance of backyard bunnies.  So this week, I am officially admitting to myself that there will be no zinnia bouquets.  That’s the unhappy news.

Happily, it’s looking good for a dahlia or two.  

Some of the gladioli that I planted rather late might materialize.  But bulbs are a delicious snack for all sorts of creatures and it seems as if most of the glads and this hosta are gone; almost as if they never existed.  

I’m a bit annoyed but then I think of the hours I’ve spent watching the bunnies and their babies hop about so I make my peace with the garden carnage the bunnies have wrought.  After all, the basil looks terrific.

And there are tomatoes yet to come.

Every gardening season is filled with the unexpected.  This one is no exception.

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Last Saturday night, I set to work making my grandmother’s recipe for homemade mac and cheese.  I make it all the time, of course, but was making this time for my grandmother’s son, her grand-daughters, and her great-grandsons.  As I reached into the oven to pull out the sizzling pans, it occurred to me that if I am very lucky someday I will make this recipe for my own grandchildren.  It’s an easy thing, a recipe like this: noodles, cheese, milk, and butter.   But the love and the history that goes into into, well that’s the complicated part, isn’t it?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Real Life Texts with KO: Bacon edition

The backstory:  I was at Dallas Fort Worth Airport, on my way home to New Jersey after a visit with my California family.  My sister texts with an update on her status.

KO:  There is a website called bacon  Oh the things you learn from The Price is Right.

Me:  Pleased to hear that you are using your time wisely.

KO:  I bet JT thinks my time was well spent.  I mean, bacon.

Me:  He is proud; we all are.

KO:  That’s more like it.

Convenient for me that KO, one of the funniest people I know, is my sister.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

In Driest California

The alternative title to this post should be drought-shaming because that’s what I am about to do.  Folks in  my hometown are under orders to cut their water consumption by 1/3 of the level used in 2011.  Trees and shrubs may be watered twice a week according to a set schedule but lawns are to be left to their own devices.  You can see the stress of conditions every where you look.

Penalties for round one of non-compliance is a $25 fee in a household’s two month bill.  A second round of non-compliance raises the fee to $50.  There are water police who patrol for runoff and they also issue fines.  In short, community measures are in place to conserve water.

My family is doing their best to conserve water , though it’s awfully difficult to cut back that much if you’ve always been careful of consumption, which we generally have.    Around town, you can see evidence of folks who are doing their best to avoid watering their yards.  Some folks have even undertaken drought-friendly landscaping, as seen here.

And here, where artificial turf fills in limited space and provides the illusion of lush grass.

But some folks have clearly ignored the instructions all together.  They embrace the fee and water at their leisure.

And so you have folks who’ve followed instructions, taken care, and have yards struggling in the heat.

And in the same neighborhood are people who are clearly not worried about fines, let alone taking up their share of responsible water management.  Sometimes, the guilty parties live right next door to those who are following the rules.  You’d think that would make for awkward neighborhood block parties.

There are plenty of folks who have planted grass that is far too water-demanding for the arid and hot climate that prevails in the San Joaquin Valley.

This the part of drought-stricken California that you hear about the most; the area where agricultural fields lie fallow and some communities have no water left.  It would seem some of the folks who live here aren’t worried about the changing climate’s water shortages.  More troubling than that is my sense that the burden of this drought isn’t being borne by a community in solidarity.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Weekly Garden Update: In Dryer Climes edition

I’m in California so this week there is no weekly picture of my New Jersey garden.  Instead, I stepped into the backyard at my parent’s place and checked out my dad’s garden.  He’s the person who taught me to love gardening and so I always enjoy seeing his patch of garden. The squash is looking terrific.

The drought has taken its toll in this part of California but my dad conserves water carefully so that he can nourish his plants.  He’s uses a drip irrigation system to maximize water efficiency.  

Round one of tomato harvest is complete (the growing season around here is easily double what I enjoy in New Jersey) and a second crop of tomatoes will be set out shortly.  

In the meantime, the lime trees are ready to harvest.  I plan to bring some of these home with me.

The basil looks terrific.

The owl warns away critters in search of a juicy snack.

It's always nice to see my dad's garden.  He taught me how to grow things and his garden is a reminder of all the things I love about cultivating plants.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Book Champion

I recently finished a rather weighty book —— Hillary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety.  The book was more than 700 pages; by any account a long read.  Using history as its background, the novel constructs the story behind the friendship of French Revolution leaders Robespierre, Desmoulins, and Danton.  Since the end is well-known (anyone for the guillotine?) it’s remarkable the degree to which Mantel maintains the reader’s hope for a better ending.

I am a relentless reader at all times of the year, but especially in the summer when I have so much more time to have my nose in a book.  I’m bemused at how proud I am for having read such a long book.  I felt the same way when I read Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy.  It’s like I’m involved in some sort reading contest and those 749 pages are going to give me the edge to claim the Summer Reading Book Prize.

There is no contest and I didn’t write the many pages; I simply read them.  Alas, old notions of achievement die hard.  And a good book is a lovely thing.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

"It's Time to Start Drinking, Grandma": Live Blogging the GOP Debate

The Backstory: I'm visiting family, the people responsible for making me a Democrat, and of course we're watching the Republican debate.  In this case, I mean the FOX news contest between the top
10, not the kiddie table 7.  My mom is going to take a drink of wine every time one of the candidates says something stupid and JT has suggested that she start the drinking now.

Debate is nearly over but, more to the point, I'm done with these jackals.  Kasich, Rubio are the winners.  Trump was Trump, which is to say mean and stupid.  Walker, Paul, and Bush rambled. Christie, Huckabee, and Cruz were also-rans.  Carson was the least adept. This debate damaged him. And none of them are ready for prime time and Hillary Clinton.

Huckabee says the military is not a social experiment and so forget transgendered soldiers.  I guess he forgot about desegregation of the armed services.

Scott Walker is gonna fight in Syria and Ukraine. So that's great.

Carson distinctly unimpressive. Wouldn't vote for him and probably wouldn't let him near my neurological system either.

Ted Cruz woke up and says we have abandoned our allies.  Which allies?

Wait...."Straight Outta Compton" ad during GOP debate?

Social issues went fast.  Foreign policy is next.

Kasich has a gay friend.  Got it.

Trump is comparing himself to Reagan.  Oh man.  Trump is also really incoherent at this point. Maybe he's playing a GOP debate drinking game.

And now they are eager to end rape and health of the mother exemptions to abortion bans.  Sheesh.

Everyone eager to defund Planned Parenthood.

Finally a topic they agree on: Iran is evil.  Social issues are next.  Bring on the lady-hating and gay-bashing!

Ted Cruz has been sent to bed.

When candidates say "we need to repeal and replace Obamacare" I wonder what kind of replacement they envision.

And Trump gets the bankruptcy questions. Awesome. And he's just mean when challenged.  In a nutshell, he promises to use the chapter laws to declare the U.S. bankrupt.  And just like that, we fuck over our creditors and crater our economy. Bonus!

Will someone tell Huckabee that the government actually belongs to the people?

Realizing that none of these dudes is going to say that black lives matter.

Uncle M: "I listen to these questions and ask why anybody would vote for any of these guys." Checkmate.

Jeb Bush asked how he plans to get us to 4% growth.  He'll do it with "lifted spirits and high expectations."  So that's a good plan; solid on the foundations.  I'm in.

When Kasich explains that he balanced the budget is the 90s, I notice that he doesn't mention that he did it with President Bill Clinton.

Now shifting to the take-a-shot-at-Hillary Clinton round of questions.

Hey, Dr. Carson, isn't a proportional tithe-based tax system also known as a progressive tax system? Asking for a friend.

Scott Walker was on break but he's back to insult Hillary Clinton. That's the one thing they agree upon: she is the devil.

Trump says insurance companies are making a fortune so he wants a private insurance system. Whaaaaat?  Then he insults Rand Paul which is pleasing.

The ISIS answers are confusing and boring.  The 15 year olds have tapped out of the debate.

Is Ben Carson still on the stage?  Uncle M says the second round of questions is best characterized as "fight, fight, fight."

I know it's petty but I really hate Rand Paul's voice.

Christie gets bonus points for the emotional invocation of September 11.  And by bonus points, I mean cringe-worthy.

Ted Cruz, a member of the U.S. Senate, calls Congress "the Washington cartel." Awesome.

My son: "Hold up. Does Trump really want to build a wall on the border?"  When we confirm that is exactly what he wants, the 15 year olds shake their heads.

The Sassafras Family reluctantly concludes that Fox News is asking decent questions.

Bush is actually reasonably moderate on immigration, at least as his party goes.  Here comes Trump on the immigration question...he thinks that the issue has only started to matter since he started talking about it.  Which, umm, is false.  Gonna take a drink.

Since when is John Kasich the voice of reason?  This shit is scary.

Props to Huckabee for the "Supreme Court isn't a Supreme being" line.  Heartening to hear that he believes in the 5th and 14th amendments, even if he intends to use it for diminishing the rights of American women.

Christie defends the New Jersey miracle by lying about everything....taxes, job growth, balanced budget...the whole deal.

Uncle M, my brother-in-law,  feels like the first round of debate questions is based on the principle that "you guys suck."

Trump looks like a man who just sucked on a lemon while Megan Kelly is asking for his feminist creds.  Turns out Trump isn't afraid to be "politically incorrect."  Also, he just called America losers.

Jeb Bush is taking a question on dynastic politics and he says not to worry, he'll work hard to get the job.  Fine, but the way he tilts his head is tiresome.


I have a friend, C, an artist by trade and inclination, who makes the most beautiful pictures of things worn by time.  Her view of a piece of rusted metal or the surface of an aged building causes me to re-think what I see, to search for the beauty and vitality among the worn surfaces in my world.  So it is that I made this picture of the stone steps and the wall that surrounds the Pry House, a preserved building at Antietam Battlefield in Maryland.  

The Pry farmhouse was the center of a vital farm and both the family’s home and barn became a field hospital in the midst of the Antietam battle.  Here, Union forces tended their wounded and rested in the aftermath of the battle.  It was the fall of 1863 and while they mended, the troops consumed the year’s harvest.  The Pry farm went from being a relatively well-off family of Union supporters to a family literally eaten out of house and home.  They did make a claim for the Union to pay the costs incurred by the family but their request for $2500 went unanswered by federal bureaucrats.  The Pry family never did recover from the damages incurred during the war and after it concluded, the Pry family packed up and left for a farm in Tennessee, where they sought a fresh start.

The story of the Pry family is fascinating to me not because it was particularly special —— plenty of families lost everything to the Civil War —— but because their very common tale is preserved in the form a quiet farmhouse that was witness to a momentous battle and stands today to remind us of the the stories of our past.