Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May Book Report: The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

The Light Years is the first book in a series of stories known as the Cazalet Chronicles, about an upper middle class English family in the mid-20th century.  The Light Years begins on the eve of World War II and the five books in the series take the reader through the war and into the post-war.  The story in the The Light Years unfolds through more than two dozen well-drawn characters and the author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, is especially adept in her understanding of the universe of children.

I first read these books when I was in my 20s and hadn’t read them for years when I picked up the Light Years in May.  I remembered some elements of the novel, but was struck anew at the brilliance of Howard’s ability to weave a story rich with so many characters and so well-fixed in historical time.  Howard has command of the sentiments of so many people.  As the author, she is fair to them all, even those who don’t deserve our sympathy.

This is a powerful experience for me.  Of course I’m aware that people feel and act differently from me and even different from how I want them to act.  But that old adage of walking a mile in another’s person’s shoes is always a valuable lesson to remember.  Howard does a beautiful job at permitting the reader to walk that mile.  

In May, the busiest month of my year, I eagerly consumed the The Light Years and the next two books in the series (Marking Time and Confusion).  I’m saving the last two books of the collection the month of June and the relaxation of summer break.  It’s always a pleasure to read a book I enjoy, but especially pleasing to read that book again as I experience life from an all-together different vantage point.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Isn’t That Something?

A few years ago, T and I visited Fordhook Farm Gardens, when the private test garden of the Burpee Seed Company are opened for their annual August visit days.  It was crowded with people, many of whom were only casual gardeners, and on one of the tours we took, a handful of old ladies stopped at every plant they didn’t recognize (which was most of them) and loudly asked, “Is that something?”

They were wondering if the things they saw growing were “official” plants or were simply weeds.  But their queries happened so often that T and I have taken to repeating it.  To me, everything that is growing is “something.”  I realize that there are plenty of invasive species among the native plants, but beauty is beauty, wherever it’s found.

Buttercup flowers grow wild along the woods all around here; they are a native plant.  I spied these along the Delaware & Raritan Towpath near Colonial Park.  And they really are something to behold.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

New Parlor Game

The names of rose bushes are a range of images such that reading them could leave one confused.  Is that a rose bush?  The name of a cocktail?  A stripper?  I think this would make a terrific parlor game.  For each name correctly identified as a rose bush, the winner gets a drink.

This thought occurred to me after a recent walk at the Colonial Park rose garden, one of my favorite places to visit once the warm weather arrives.  The dark red leaves on the rose bushes show the new growth that will soon explode in prodigious June flowers.  A few flowers already lead the way with lovely blooms.  

We await the rest of the blooms.  

Until then, consider these names…..Bolero, Tropicana, Double Delight…..

Rosebush?  Cocktail?  Stripper?

Take a few sips of your favorite adult beverage…..these names all belong to roses.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Banana Cream Pudding

On Sunday evenings, the weekend’s relaxation gives way to chores to get ready for the work week and that often feels a little depressing to me.  Somehow, Sunday evenings are even more of a challenge in May, when the work weeks are packed with busy activities and days away from home often last more than 12 hours.  This May, we’ve endured the Sunday evenings with delicious desserts.  I like my desserts old-fashioned and a few weeks back, I made an adaptation of banana cream pudding.

It was a delicious way to ease back into the week.

That’s happy!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Wilds of New Jersey

When I first left California and moved to Tennessee, the two things that most captivated me were stormy skies and lush, green woods.  Neither of these were a part of my world in California and I found them enormously appealing.  It’s been years since I lived in Tennessee but New Jersey has some landscapes that remind me of the Volunteer state.  On Monday, in advance of a powerful storm, I went for a walk in the woods.  The sky was ominous and I could hear thunder in the distance.

The woods were abundant.

These pictures were made at Colonial Park, a pretty suburban locale to which I regularly retreat.    There are gardens, woods, and walking trails to enjoy.  Time here always feels like a refreshing retreat.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A Visit to the Rhodies

Over the winter, I read a D.E. Stevenson book set in Scotland, Celia’s House.  The descriptions of the scenery were lovely and as the Spring transitioned into Summer the characters packed up a picnic and headed out to the woods to “see the rhodies.”  Rhododendron season was a long way away when I read the novel in January but May has arrived and it’s rhodie season around here.  

These rhododendrons live on either side of my front steps, greeting the day when we leave for school in the morning.

And welcoming us home each evening.

May, you are lovely.

Monday, May 23, 2016

2016 Garden

Each year’s garden season is a much anticipated event for me and I am excited to be getting plants and seeds in the ground.  This year’s garden started in late April, with some plants from my dad.  On Friday, May 20, I took the day off to wait for my annual air conditioner service visit and plant the rest of my garden.  The weather was perfect for being outside and I enjoyed the planting and daydreaming about the veggies and flowers that will shortly come our way.

Things are in the ground and the adventure starts now.  There is still weeding and mulching to be completed, but it’s gratifying to know that the growing has begun.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016


In May, I’ve taken to making delicious Sunday evening desserts to ease our way back into the busy weeks at the end of the school year.  Last Sunday, I tried my hand at old fashioned coconut cream pie.

JT, otherwise the world’s pickiest eater, loves all things coconut, and this pie was no exception.  A slice of it while he watched Sunday night baseball briefly tamed the beast.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Prep B Champions!

As the baseball season playoffs begin, the team shrinks to the Varsity players.  JT is a 10th grader who is part of the core that remains.  He doesn’t get a lot of playing time but he is at practices and games, catching in the bullpen, warming up pitchers, serving as a loud-mouth in the dugout chatter, and at the ready should the opportunity arise.  It’s exhilarating to be here with the close-knit team and Thursday night brought home the thrill.

Though I am hard-pressed to explain the structure, athletics in this state feature a number of different play-offs, all with different value to the team.  There are county playoffs, featuring all the schools in the county: public, parochial, and independent.  There are state-wide league playoffs, featuring all of the schools in the conference (ours is the Skyland conference, which is state-wide).  Skyland has three divisions, structured by the size of the school; those playoff games start next week.  Finally, there is the Prep Championship, a tournament made up of all the independent prep schools in our region of the state.  That’s the tournament with the longest tradition at our school and it features schools we’ve been playing against for nearly 100 years, so there are long-standing rivalries.  Because of the history, winning this one is particularly sweet.  We entered the tournament last week ranked at the middling level.  Thursday night the boys won the Prep Championship in a 3-0 game against a team ranked number one in the tournament and in the top 20 state-wide.  The post-game team conference was euphoric.

As fans, JT and I have attended school baseball games for years.  We’ve seen sweet victories and team photos before.  But a team photo with him in it is a reminder of just how quickly time passes.  

It seems like it was just yesterday that I watched baseball with a little boy at my side.  

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Warning Signal

In my two years of high school sports fandom, I’ve noticed that teams are increasingly using music when they enter the home field (or wrestling matt).  Wrestling teams lower the lights in the gym and then the team runs in to the sounds of ominous music, most of it heavy metal.  The selections are designed to demonstrate that the opponent is about to receive a pounding.  

Only mothers are afraid.

Baseball teams often play music during warm up but on Tuesday, the opposing team took it to a whole new level.  For this team, each player had a walk-up song as he came up to bat.  My son thought it was great but I felt it was a tad pretentious (and since we beat the team, that made it worse).  Nonetheless, I came to school on Wednesday and announced this practice to my boss, a former baseball player and coach.   We spent the entire day plotting out our walk-up music.

Principal B is a big and imposing guy and he wants his opponents to be disarmed.  His proposes walk-up music by Barry Manilow or Whitney Houston; maybe a little Captain and Tennile.  I suggested that with those choices he’d better be hitting somewhere north of .900.  I want walk up music for my daily business.  I’ll choose something attention-grabbing before I start morning meeting, say the guitar riffs that start U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name.”  But if I’m headed down to hall to snag a guilty party, I want music that sets the tone……maybe the tolling doom of  AC/DC “Hell’s Bells."  Naturally, we’re now out of control with our walk-up options.  It’s a good way to enjoy the chaos of school in May.  

Cue the Clapton guitar.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

12 Months of Miss Read: May

Miss Read notes that May is her favorite month and I certainly share her pleasure in the month.  Around here, May tends to be mild and with trees leafed out; everywhere I look, there is beauty to be seen.  The month of May finds Miss Read contemplating the role of her school in the life of her town and, as she prepares a celebration of the school’s 100 years, she’s thinking about the school’s central place in the life of her town community:  from celebrations of the Queen Victoria’s 50th year on the throne to the school’s contributions to England’s war effort in the 20th century, the Fair Acre school has been at the center of it all.

My school is less a fixture in the community than it is the actual community; the center of the lives of the families with children enrolled in its grades.  For me, with a child in the school and a job in its hallways, the school is very much the center of our world.  At no time is this is obvious as the month of May, when school days have a frenetic pace as projects and work are completed.  Between early meetings and late baseball games, that day may very well last more than 12 hours.  I think that a school’s most essential contribution is its sense of community.  When that exists, children can take risks and push further, safe in the knowledge that a support net is in place.  For thirteen years, my school has played that role for JT and I and in May, as our school year winds down, it seems fitting to be grateful for that enormous blessing.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lush Twilight

In the Winter  months, when the branches are bare and twilight arrives early, the light quickly fades to grey as the evening chill settles in.  On these days, I miss the embrace of warner days and have to remind myself of the pleasures of Winter.  There are pleasures to be found in the shorter cold days but the older I get, the more I come to love twilight when trees are leafed out, the lawns are plush with green, and the air is mild.  I never grow weary of seeing my backyard in this light.

Twilight in this season, with the lush colors and a light that fades on the edges as if I am gazing at an impressionist painting, is my favorite scene.  It feels magical to me, filled the promise of long days and fireflies still to come.  

Friday, May 13, 2016

Springing Bunny Mews

Like all real estate developers worth their millions, I gave my neighborhood a name.  

My backyard (and my garden) has proven a friendly home to neighborhood wildlife, especially tiny bunnies that live in the green hedges, hop about at dusk, and feed on the wild onions and, it must be said, my garden.  They charm me, even when they eat my produce.  The fairy neighborhood takes its name from those bunnies and the garden stake I found to match.

It’s pretty clear that I’ve lost my mind in the world of the fairy garden, by the way, right down to the fairy’s chicken coop and the fairy bicycle.  The fairies have an outdoor grill, of course, and they enjoy a bit of time in their gardens.

This summer, I will take some time each day to sit in a comfy chair under Old Man Tree in view of Springing Bunny Mews.  I’ll bring a book of course.  I’ll enjoy the peace and quiet of my mini imaginary world.

That’s happy!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fair Acre Cottage

The final cottage in my fairy garden collection reminds me of the house Miss Read comes to call home in the Fair Acre series of novels.  It’s a small thatched-roof cottage tucked in the woods on the edge of the downs.  Miss Read’s small house is left to left to her by her dear friend Dolly Clare and is much-beloved because of its origins.  Mine is a perfectly-sized starter fairy home.

I’ve named it Fair Acre Cottage after the novels, which are among my most favorite books ever.  These days, making a visit to the fairy garden brings me the relaxation and happiness that the novels bring.

That’s happy!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Woodland Garden Cottage

If I were watching one of those HGTV log cabin shows, I would choose this cozy cottage.

It’s the fourth house in my collection and it’s a big hit with fairy families in search of a nice home.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Exotic Fairy Lifestyle

I grew up in California and for most of my time in the state I lived in a region that was growing quickly..  That meant housing developments with new houses were everywhere.  My sister and I spent plenty of weekend hours with our parents visiting the model homes in these new neighborhoods.   We loved it, which likely explains my on-going fascination with episodes of House Hunters on HGTV.

KO and I always picked our favorite house in the developments and if there was a two-story house, that was my mine  California is a land of space (not to mention earthquakes) and so the vast majority of the homes I saw and knew were single story houses.  Two story houses seemed exotic to me.  I don’t know what I imagined families would do in these homes, but I expected it was somehow different.  Non-Californians understand that two story house are much more often the norm in the nation (though perhaps not in hell-hot Arizona), but to me they still seem exotic.  

In the Miss Read books that I love so much, she describes thatched-roof homes in the English countryside.  When I saw one for my fairies, I was delighted.  It’s called Briar Thatch Cottage and it’s the third in my neighborhood.

The neighborhood is really coming along.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Cottage Number Two

I decided that my fairy houses should have charming names like all the houses do in the English novels I so enjoy reading.  The next cottage to join the development is made to look like it is slate-roofed and so it’s the Slate Rock Cottage.

It joined Flowerbox Cottage and the neighborhood began to shape up quite nicely.

That’s happy!

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Fairy Garden Developer

Last Spring I began to daydream about a fairy garden in my back yard.  I selected a location under Old Man Tree that had plenty of ivy and room for expansion and began my collection with a first house, which I named Flowerbox Cottage.  I added some outdoor furniture for the residents and my modest garden made me quite happy.   

For my birthday and Christmas, my family indulged my fantasy of a more elaborate fairy garden and now I’ve become a full-fledged fairy garden developer, with five cottages, two fairy doors, a chicken coop, outdoor furniture, a bridge, and all the makings of fairy satisfaction.  All Winter long, I thought about the fairy garden and I looked forward to Spring.  Last week, I began to set out the garden for the season.  The blue door stays out all year.

On Monday afternoon I added Flowerbox Cottage, the house that started it all.

To draw out my enjoyment, I planned to set out one cottage a day and then add the chicken coop and other accessories once all the cottages were set out.  I made pictures as each new item made its debut.  Organizing my the collection added a bright spot in the cold and dreary days that started the month of May around here.   In the week ahead, I’ll post pictures of my project as it unfolded.  

Saturday, May 07, 2016

A Reality Check for Paul Ryan

As last week’s primary results unfolded, I’ll admit that I was surprised on Tuesday evening when Ted Cruz dropped out of the race.  It felt abrupt, though I don’t know exactly why I think that.  He’d placed everything on the line in Indiana and had lost rather spectacularly.  But I assumed that Cruz would stay in it for a few more rounds of abuse.

Which is not to say that I had enthusiasm for Cruz as a candidate.  I’d never cast a ballot for him as dog catcher, let alone president, but his presence allowed me to continue the pipe dream that Donald Trump doesn’t truly have a shot at running for the White House as a major party candidate.  Then Cruz left the race; the next day, John Kasich followed and suddenly Donald F. Trump looks like the Republican nominee for president.

I can’t even.

By Thursday, some Republicans were making their peace with the fact that their primary voters have gone nuts.  While most mainstream Republicans held the line and refused to actively support Trump, some on the fringes have expressed support.  Then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan emerged to say that he’s not yet ready to endorse Trump.  Ryan’s position is that his party must stand for something and offer an affirmative policy agenda.  That’s a respectable idea.  Though I suspect that policy agenda isn’t something I will come to support, it’s at least something the nation's voters can think about and explore.  

It’s a far cry from Trump’s pledge to build a wall, torture our enemies, bring back jobs lost because of free market trade, ban Muslims, or his Friday morning suggestion that the United States simply re-structure our debts and pay cents on the dollar, as if making America great is as simple as a Chapter 13 filing.  The problem with Ryan’s policy notions is that right now such thoughts are a pipe dream; the GOP has no affirmative agenda because they have no responsible center.  Ryan’s party is fractured and angry.  Trump may have won many of the primary votes within the GOP but let’s not forget that more primary voters cast ballots for his opponents then cast ballots for him.  He’ll take a few self-congratulatory victory laps and then I expect reality to come crashing down on T-rump and the rest of his party.

Reality is that the Republican party has for years collected the support of voters for whom they were prepared to do next-to-nothing.  From the Reagan Democrats who emerged in the 1980s to the Christian conservatives who believe they represent a silent majority, the GOP has cultivated these votes with nary an effort to make a return on the voters’ investment.  Now those voters are angry and have turned to a charlatan candidate in the form of a smug, privileged millionaire who says whatever he pleases.  Your party is reaping what you’ve sown, Mr. Ryan, and it’s not just you but the nation who will have to pay for those decisions.

Thanks a lot.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Among the Hoosiers

John Kasich and Ted Cruz made a pact to leave the path clear for one another in a handful of states, including Indiana, where Kasich has held off so that Cruz could take on T-rump mano-a-mano.  So Cruz has everything on the line in the Hoosier state.

And he’s about to go down in a Texas-sized blaze of rhetorically-fueled collapse.  The T-rump Meglomaniac Train is nowhere close to shutting down and he’ll be schooling our man Ted tonight.  He’ll be doing it with the help of Hoosier favorites, former coaches Lou Holtz and Bobby Knight.  Both have endorsed T-rump in a display of stupid that is especially horrifying, given that we are looking for a national leader, not a zone defense.

T-rump will win Indiana with about 45% of the vote to Cruz’s 35% and Kasich’s 15%.  He’ll proclaim his awesomeness to anyone who will listen while the thoughtful voters of this nation throw up in their mouthes.

Over in the Democratic corner, there is some reason to believe that the demographics of Indiana favor Bernie Sanders but the polls don’t suggest it’s translating.  Expect Hillary Clinton to score the win in Indiana, with over 50% of the vote in the state.

I no longer wake up on primary day crossing my fingers that the Republican voters in these states will hand T-rump a loss that will translate to the collapse of his ego or his campaign.  That’s frustrating for me, because I actually believe in democracy.

Morning after update: Leaving aside Cruz's withdrawal from the race, the big story last night was that Sanders prevailed in Indiana's Democratic contest, with 52.5% of the vote to Clinton's 47.5%, a solid victory. The state offered demographics that helped Sanders in the form of a less racially diverse collection of Democratic voters.  Sanders prevailed among younger voters; Clinton did better with African-Americans and older whites.  Exit polls show that late-deciders broke for Sanders, casting the Clinton campaign's decision not to run ads and be a presence in Indiana to look troubling.  Clinton retains the delegate lead and the path forward for Sanders remains a challenge.  On May 10, the contest goes to West Virginia and then we head to California and New Jersey.  The roller coaster isn't over.

Monday, May 02, 2016

The Lingering Daffodil

The transition from April to May means that we are seeing the last of the tulips, which are making way for the peonies, lilies, and iris flowers that fill May.  As it happens, there is a late-blooming daffodil that I spied on campus, hidden from the sun by a tree trunk.  So it has just bloomed and is a happy surprise when I cross the campus each day.

Here's to the unexpected surprises of Spring.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

In the Backyard Neighborhood: May 1

May is the last full month of school and it is invariably hectic and busy, with less and less time for me to complete a forever growing to-do list.  But it is beautiful now that Spring has finally taken hold and in that beauty is the opportunity to take a deep breathe and live in the moment.

This year I am determined to pause in the busy days to enjoy the freshly bloomed plants and trees that surround me.  I can see this sight every morning and it is so lovely to behold.

Taking the time to enjoy it is a reminder that summer’s slow days, relaxed pace, and fresh peaches are just around the corner.

That’s happy!