Thursday, June 30, 2016

June Book Report: Two! by E.M. Forster

Some of my favorite books are books about England in the early-to-mid 20th century.   I have dozens of these kinds of stories in my collection and I read and re-read them with an anglophile fervor.  Most of them are stories with happy endings (or at least just ones).  Nearly all feature a narration voice that is droll about the human condition.  This month, as I transitioned into summer vacation, I took a break from my obsessive re-reading of the Cazalet Chronicles to re-read two books by E.M. Forster.  I read the two of them because my copy has both stories in one volume.  I picked up this Signet classic copy from a used bookstore more than 15 years ago and it’s been through it; so dog-eared now that I may very well need a replacement copy.

Be assured that a replacement copy is well-worth it.  For now, this is the copy I own and this is the copy that I read in the month of June.  The book is worth holding together because the stories in the two novels are so lovely to read.    The first, Howard’s End, is a cautionary tale of the polite clash of Victorian and Edwardian values and the importance of human connections outside the strict confines of social conventions of the day.  The novel’s heart is a woman named Margaret whose wisdom is in her genuine compassion for the people in her world.   The narrator takes snide jabs at the people in the story but Margaret never does and in that way the tale unfolds in a fashion that brings a deeper understanding of the power of a kind heart.  The story has been made into a well-adapted movie and it speaks volumes that the film’s dialogue is so faithful to the original novel.

The second story in my collection, A Room With a View is set in a similar time period, the transition to the 20th century.  The novel is more light-hearted in tone as the reader follows a young woman making her final transition to adulthood.  That girl, Lucy Honeychurch, is appealing in her naiveté and passion for the world into which she’s being introduced.  Over the course of this comedy of manners and sensibilities, she discovers what she wants from the world, a gift that she has the wisdom to appreciate.  This novel has also been filmed, by the same Merchant-Ivory team that would go on to film Howard's End, and is well worth a viewing.  

I’ve read these novels before and will read them many more times in the years ahead.  To me, a familiar story doesn’t detract from the companionship and delight I take in the characters.  Books and the stories I find within them are one of my greatest pleasures and to start summer vacation with these stories was a treat.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer’s Blessings

So many of the things that make my summer happy are simple pleasures.  

Flower blooms on the back deck welcome me when I come downstairs each morning.

This turtle stepping stone lives in my garden and has done so for years.  It’s a reminder of happy vacations spent on Cape Cod when JT was a little boy.

The prospect of these perky lines of zinnia seedlings sending forth flowers that will make bouquets for my summer table is one of summer’s greatest joys.

There are flowers everywhere come the summer and I even enjoy my messy rose bushes.  Our school year is so busy that I sometimes have to remind myself to appreciate all the blessings in my life.  Summer’s relaxed pace finds those blessings for me and lays them right at my feet to appreciate and admire.  That’s happy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

One Tough Lady Vol

The news is filled with stories about the life (and basketball victories) of Coach Pat Summitt, who died this morning.  I’ve been a fan of Tennessee basketball since I moved to the state in 1989.  Pat Summitt could do that.  For me, the reason was quite simple: she demanded that women and their athletic prowess be recognized and respected.

The second year that I lived in Nashville, some friends and I went to a high school girl’s basketball game in Sparta, Tennessee.  The trip to Sparta was driven by the desire to eat at a renowned meat and three restaurant on the town square.  We needed something else to do on that Friday night, so we went to see the local high school girl’s basketball team.

In those days in California, girl’s high school sports happened at times convenient for the boys.  But not in Tennessee, where the Lady Spartans of White County High School played in a sold-out gym at 7 pm on cold Friday night.  I had never before paid to attend a girl’s high school sporting event.  But in Tennessee in 1992, girls’s basketball was something to behold and fans paid for the privilege.

That achievement was the result of Coach Pat Summitt, then running the show at the state’s flagship university, the University of Tennessee of Knoxville, and showing off some impressively skilled basketball teams.  Her teams earned the respect of the state and the result built a girls basketball empire in Tennessee.  Her contributions to women’s sports are legendary and will remain so.  As for me, I’ll remember a rocking gym on a Friday night in rural Tennessee where the girls knew for sure that they were something else.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Mulching the Garden: A Job Complete

I had expected that it would take at least three days to finish the mulch job but Sunday afternoon found me with enough time and energy to finish the work.  The wedding chore had been finished so I started by laying out the newspapers in the rest of the garden.

Then I began to cover the area with mulch.  It was a warm afternoon but there was plenty of shade when I was ready for some iced tea and the chance to cool off.

With the mulch job complete, the garden looks terrific and is ready to weather the hot days of summer.  In flowerbeds, I like the look of full and lush plants and shrubs.  But a vegetable and flower garden  needs some order so that I can look after the plants. walk the rows to pick my produce, and ensure all the plants will flourish and grow.  The look of this neat and tidy garden rather makes me swoon.

Golly, I love summer!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mulching the Garden: Day One

Come mid-June, my garden is growing on pace.  So are the weeds.  To conserve water and prevent the weeds from choking out the desired plants, I use newspapers and mulch to protect the plants.  This solution is attractive and environmentally sound.  It’s also a lot of work, so I take care of the project in a few days.  Now that I am responsible for the care and feeding of a 16 year old, there is a ready labor supply for getting the bags of mulch from the car to the garden.

From there, it’s all on me.  The garden was plenty overgrown so I start with weed removal.  That was Saturday's first task.

Then I laid out newspapers and began to lay down the newspapers and the mulch.   The transition from overgrown to ordered is lovely to behold.

I love the work and enjoy the outcome.  I’ll be finished later this week so there will be more pictures.  

That’s happy!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Traveller’s Lament

I have written before about my increasing horror of the simple freedoms we feel inspired to give up in the name of elusive safety.  From metal detectors in shopping malls and schools to taking our shoes off at airport security, I am annoyed at these things that we seem to assume we must do.  I do understand the importance of safety and security.  But I worry at the steady way in which we give up liberty for the promise of a safety which seems elusive and, in a society so unwilling to regulate guns, probably imaginary.

Last week, T, JT, and I set off to Kansas City from Newark airport.  We got in the security line like willing sheep, surrounded by signs reminding us to take off our shoes, remove computers from our bags, and generally do as we were told.  Or else.

When we snaked our way through the line to the security conveyor belt, an actual person instructed us to empty our pockets, put everything (including computers) in our bags, and leave our shoes on  He spoke to us in the annoyed tone of man long accustomed to dealing with stupid people, an understandable attitude but a bit rough to take at 6:15 in the morning, especially when the place was filled with contradictory instructions.

JT, now a large 16 year old who needs to shave every day, toes the line in these situations, aware that teenaged boys look threatening to the world.  Sensing that I was about to speak my mind about the conflicting TSA messages, he shot me a warning look.  I stayed silent.  But honestly, I am a woman whose daily job involves moving 130 disorganized, loud, self-immersed middle schoolers.  I know better than to post instructions and then give conflicting orders.

Post and follow one set of instructions.  Require us to empty our pockets and walk through a metal detector; scan our carry-on bags.  Do it with an air of friendly efficiency.  

But we should still know that the promise of safety in this world is a guarantee that cannot be made.  I prefer liberty  because I fear our preoccupation with order and safety offers a false promise of security that leaves democracy deeply vulnerable.  So I endure airport security with no confidence that it actually makes us safe; such safety doesn’t exist.  And is sure as hell isn’t a function of shuffling people with shoes off, belts removed, or disordered instructions about why all of this matters.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Summer Tradition

Last summer, I took to making time each day to sit on my flower-filled front porch and enjoy time outdoors with a book or magazine.  This practice got me outdoors, which I love, and gave me space and time to relax, which is what makes summer lovely.  I made a series of Instagram pictures to mark the hours spent in this fashion, a practice I am continuing this year.  But there’s no reason Instagram should have all the fun.

Today dawned bright and lovely, a morning with sunshine and temperatures in the mid 60s.  Sitting outside with my coffee and book while surrounded by flowers and the morning bird chorus, I was reminded again of the power of nature and the time to enjoy it all.  Here’s to summer, y’all!  

Thursday, June 23, 2016


When he was 7, JT took up with lip balm.  From then on the boy was freed from the horrors of chapped lips.  But he goes through lip balm at an alarming pace.  These two were needed for 4 days of wrestling camp.

4 days.

If I didn’t know better, I’d conclude he was a lesbian.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Two years ago, my family made a trip to Europe to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.  We were on a cruise ship in the Baltic Sea and visited Denmark, Norway, Germany, Estonia, Russia, Finland, and Sweden just as these countries were celebrating the longest days of their year.  There was sunlight for nearly 19 hours of the day during the June solstice and I was utterly charmed by the magical length and light of those days.  As the local celebrations of the sunlight went on around us, I  felt a bit like it was cheating to enjoy those glorious days.  After all, I hadn’t been around for the long dark and cold days in December, where there was barely six hours of weak sunlight to mark the day.   I felt like I hadn’t quite earned the right to celebrate the long, lit days.

But celebrate I did, enjoying the way in which the light brought an unreal feeling to the long days.  In St. Petersburg, we saw Catherine’s Palace in the evening;  these pictures were made at nearly 10 pm.  The palace is unreal in any light, but at 10 pm it was ethereal in its beauty.

When the ship left St. Petersburg on its way to Helsinki, Finland, we sailed at night but the sky and sea held the light and I recall stepping outside my room past 1 am, when this picture was made.

In Stockholm, Sweden, the sky was cloudy that day, but it was clear that the plants had absorbed the light of the long days  My hostas never look this large in June.

The 2014 trip showed me of the power of sunlight in my life.  It reminded me to take time to get outside in every season, to enjoy Mother Nature’s sunlit offerings, appreciate the solstice, and turn my face to the light.

Monday, June 20, 2016


May is always the most hectic month of the school year.  JT’s baseball season is winding down and he’s preparing for final exams.  The days of the month are growing steadily longer with sunlight to greet even the earliest morning and we seem determined to fill each moment of light with an activity.  In my classes, the students are wound up with excitement about summer.  I embrace the busy chaos and put my all into it aware that summer break and relaxed days are just around the corner.  The year, around the corner took a little longer than usual to arrive.

Early June found me packing up and heading to Washington D.C. in the company of our 8th graders for their annual trip.  School closed on June 10.  We had graduation and final faculty meetings and then T, JT, and I packed up for a midwestern trip to see some ballgames and make some college visits (more on that later!).

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

All of this added up to some longer-than-usual stretches with no posting on my blog.  That was because I didn’t find the time to write.  I missed the time to write and reflect that a more regular posting schedule provides me.  In the midst of the chaos, I really could have used a reminder to sit down and record my thoughts, time that gives me strength in my daily existence.

Like time for a walk outside in my garden, time to write soothes my rough edges and makes the busy days seem less stressful.  I keep a file of reminders about each month in my year and this reminder about May and early June will come to the top of the list for next year: take time each day to write.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Summer on the Front Porch

In late May, I got flowers for the front porch.  JT and T gave them to me along with flower baskets for Mother’s Day.

Indoor plants came outside for the warmth and light of summer.  A cheery red and white tablecloth joined the flowers and my summer flag.

Now that school is out, I will bring my book and coffee and spent a bit of each morning sitting outside among the planet and flowers, listening to the cheerful morning birds and enjoying all that summer has to offer.  Each morning, this habit will set the tenor of my days and remind me to relax and embrace the daylight.

In June, summer feels like endless opportunity.   I intend to soak up every moment of it.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

People of Good Will

I am a card-carrying Democrat and have been one since before I could vote.  The party represents my view of the political world because I am a liberal and share those values. I value political and social equality and work to move our nation toward those principles.  I want universal healthcare, equal pay for equal work, a better system for taking care of our children, and schools that value our children and teach them ideas, not tests.  I want women to be in charge of their own bodies.  I want infrastructure that makes our lives better.  I want  a world whose paramount value is peace and all the thing that come with it.  These are cherished beliefs, well thought out and consistent over my 30 years as a voter.  They are why I vote Democratic.  I like to believe that in principle I would cast a ballot for a Republican.  I have never done so; but I like to think that I might could at some point.

I have this perspective because I believe that political disagreements must occur in a representative democracy like the United States.  For most of my political life I have believed that I can disagree with the opposition but still feel united with them by our common American identity.  This, of course, is the very core of a successful republic: the belief that people with different ideas and principles remain people of good will.  And if we are all people of good will; people who wish to do right by their fellow citizens, then we are more united than not.  As a united nation, we can thrive and succeed even as we disagree.

This belief has always guided my view of the political system and it has made me sanguine in the aftermath of elections when my preferred candidate did not prevail.  I’ve been voting for nearly 30 years and this perspective has never faltered.  Politics need not be a zero sum game.  If there is one thing that I have always believed, it is that people of good will can disagree - sometimes vehemently- but still come together as a single nation. 

Enter Donald Trump.  

I will confess that I never believed that his candidacy would make it this far.  But now he’s the presumptive Republican nominee for president and I find that try as I might, I no longer view this candidate and his supporters through my usual lens.  I do not believe that Donald Trump is a man of good will whose ideas and principles are carefully considered, though different from my own.  Fundamentally, I do not believe that Donald Trump is a man of good will.  I believe that he is a deeply flawed megalomaniac bent on his own satisfaction.  Worse yet, I don’t believe that his supporters are people of good will.  

I am no longer prepared to respectfully disagree and let the chips fall where they may, confident in the flexibility and good will of our republic.  I believe that Donald Trump and his supporters are a threat to the nation because they don’t understand the basic nature of our system of governance.  They demonstrate a willful ignorance wrapped in terrifying extremism.  That does not and will not  ever serve our national interest.

I came to this conclusion rather slowly, both because I expected Trump’s appeal to fade but also because I believe so strongly in my fellow citizens’ ability to see through the charlatan that is candidate Trump.  It’s one thing to disagree with the folks who have a Romney sign in their front yard.  It’s quite another to see the Trump sign or number sticker and be struck by anxiety and downright fear.

I want to believe that we are better than Donald Trump.  I need to believe that we are better than Donald Trump.  Fellow citizens, it’s in our hands. Don’t let us down.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Real Life Conversations with JT: Midwestern Manners edition

The backstory: Though he was born in Nebraska, JT has lived in New Jersey since he was two.  He’s made the occasional trip to the midwest, but most of his life experiences are in fast-paced, get moving, go-fuck-yourself New Jersey.  When we loaded on to the bus to get our rental car at the Kansas City airport, he was a little taken aback by the polite driver who unloaded our suitcases with a smile.

JT:  I think that the bus driver is triggered by the way people handle their luggage.  He’s taking everyone’s suitcases out for them.

T & S:  Nope.  He’s being midwest polite.

JT:  No way.  He's triggered.

We head to the rental car desk where the young man working there is also unfailingly polite, friendly, and gracious.  T and I exchange looks but say nothing.  We all climb in the car…..

JT:  Okay, you were right.  Midwesterners are really nice.

Well-mannered midwesterners for the win.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

12 Months of Miss Read: June

The backstory: At the start of 2016, I pulled out my very favorite Miss Read book, Village Centenary.  The novel is structured in months and each chapter explores a month in the year of a village school that is celebrating its 100th anniversary.  This year, my own school is celebrating its 250th anniversary and as we think of our past and look to our future, I thought that Miss Read would make a lovely companion for me.  For each month of 2016, I plan to read Miss Read’s reflection on the month.

Miss Read is a pseudonym for Dora Jessie Saint, an English author who wrote between 1955 and 1996.  Her novels were tales of every day life in small English towns.  Village Centenary is set in Fair Acre, an imaginary Cotswold community.  As is the case in nearly all of the Fair Acre novels, the novel is written in the first person and it is through our narrator, school teacher Miss Read, that the story unfolds.

Miss Read’s June was filled with flowers and sunlight.  She starts her month having returned from a late May vacation from school.  As I don’t live in England, my May was lovely but filled with the last weeks of school, each day seemingly more crammed with events than the next.  Then June arrived and the real chaos began.  

June with Miss Read

Miss Read’s June starts on a more restful note and her month meanders into July with talk of garden blooms and the summer school break that is close at hand.  As June unfolds, Miss Read settles on a plan for her school’s 100th anniversary to be held at the the end of the year in December.

At this point, with my summer break just underway, December seems a far off event.  But the older I get, the more rapidly the school year seems to pass.  JT has just finished the 10th grade and this summer he will practice driving in earnest so that come February 2017 he can get his driver’s license.  This month we will start to make college visits, a development that seems as insane as the idea of my boy driving a car.

So as Miss Read reflects on that last 100 years of her school, I am thinking about my last year and planning my summer to-do list.  First on the list is some time away from school to relax, sleep in, and enjoy some baseball.  Miss Read, from her bench in the sunny garden, would surely understand.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Niblets

When I first began teaching in the Middle School, I taught 6th graders.  The topic was medieval history and it must be said that for the first time in more than 20 years as a teacher, I was a little afraid that September.  I knew many 6th graders and had been the parent of one not that long ago; I’d talked to other teachers and read a truckload about middle school.  But this was my middle school and these 6th graders were my responsibility.  I was nervous; maybe a little terrified.

Almost at once, my 6th graders put me at ease.  They eagerly absorbed our discussions of the medieval world and then just as happily shot out the door for a recess game of tag.  Life was joyful and they were the very definition of exuberance.  Those children charmed me.

JT, then on the cusp of 14 years old and with the sanguine disrespect that is 8th grade, immediately nicknamed my 6th graders “the niblets.”  I embraced the name as quickly as the niblets had embraced me.  The niblets were my students once again as 7th graders.  This year, another history teacher had the pleasure of their company.  But I saw them every day and enjoyed that fact very much.  

Last week, I accompanied the niblets on their 8th grade trip to Washington D.C. 

At the end of the week I proudly called their names as, one-by-one, they walked across the stage at our Middle School closing.  I have watched them go from awkward 11 and 12 year old 6th graders to much taller, deeper-voiced, and maturing 13 and 14 year old 8th graders.  The last three years have passed in the blink of an eye and now they headed off to the world of high school and years that, unbelievably, will pass even faster.  But they are enthusiastically ready for all that is coming their way, which is part of their enduring charm.

There was a catch in my throat as some of niblets walked past me to shake hands with the principal and grasp their certificate.  These kids taught me as much about myself as I taught them and I will always have a soft spot for them.  After all, they’re the niblets.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016


When warm weather arrives, the things I think about and want to write about are invariably related to the blooms all around me.  It’s no secret that I have a running list of plants I’d like to have and the peony in my front yard is a plant from that wish list.  T gave it to me; I’ve had it for four years now.  Each year, the peony gets larger and sets on a few new flowers, tight balls of color just waiting to explode.

As May transitions into June, the peony blooms open up with glorious color.   It lives in the same part of  my garden as the rhododendron and as the rhododendron blooms are fading, the peony takes control of the show.

Monday, June 06, 2016

My Old School Ways

My modest charcoal grill lasted me many years before it began to rust and crack.  T, concerned that I would try to grill despite the growing hole underneath the ash tray, took it to the curb a few weeks ago.  Last weekend, I secured a replacement that looks exactly like the original.

I know it takes time to get the grill hot and ready to cook, but there is nothing to beat supper made on a charcoal grill on a Summer night.  

Saturday, June 04, 2016


My zinnia seeds have begun to send forth seedlings and I am already dreaming of the bouquets I’ll be cutting later this summer.  In the meantime, the roses in my backyard garden are sending forth dozens of lovely flowers.  I picked a few for a charming posy.

That’s happy!

Friday, June 03, 2016

Food Friday: Grasshopper Pie dessert

This week’s Sunday dessert was grasshopper ice-cream pie, with an Oreo crust, mint chocolate chip ice cream filling, a layer of chocolate, and a dollop of whip cream.

That’s delicious!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

In the Backyard Neighborhood: June 1

Twilight in my backyard is the most magical of hours.  The light is nearly luminous and the yard looks its most lovely.  Whether it’s sitting on the back deck or standing in the window to spy a bunny outside in the grass, I never tire of this view.  

The heat of summer hasn’t yet settled in to stay; the new green leaves and plants are green and lush.  The peach tree, now in it’s third summer, looks to have a few peaches for us to enjoy later this summer.  The clematis is abundant with purple flowers.

The hostas are at there most lovely.

I love the summer season in my backyard, a place that never fails to charm me and soothe my soul.  I’m looking forward to hours spent out here in the coming summer, with a glass of iced tea and a good book by my side, watching the flowers grow.