Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August Book Report: Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

In August, I treat myself to two kinds of books.  I always read a good history book to get me in the mood for the classes I will teach come September.  This year, I read a book about Eleanor of Aquitaine and I’m ready to rumble when the Plantagenet Kings are on the table in 6th grade.  The second treat is a re-reading of a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.  The Little House books were the books that most informed my childhood.  I loved them beyond measure when I was a little girl.  As an adult, I read all that I can about the Ingalls family and I always enjoy re-reading the Little House books.

This year, I picked Farmer Boy as my August read.  It’s the story of the boy who would grow up to be Laura’s husband and in this tale of 10-year old Almanzo, the reader feels the contrast to the Ingalls’ more hardscrabble existence.  Almanzo grew up on a prosperous farm in upstate New York and the descriptions in the novel are a rich collection of memories.  From the detailed set of barns to the carefully kept parlor, the Wilders enjoyed a comfortable life on the farm.  The adult Laura is clearly enamored with the white sugar and generous amounts of churned butter that the Wilders enjoyed.  But like all of the Little House novels, there is a strong current of affection for hard work and love of family.

These books never fail to remind me of time long past in my life and the life of the characters.  I love these stories like no other.  A few days spent in the company of such familiar characters sets me up for the coming school year.  That’s happy!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday Garden Update: August 30

The heat of the past few weeks has taken its toll on me and the garden is looking similarly bedraggled.

I worry that the tomato blooms seen here won’t come to fruition.  But that’s the thing with gardens —— they surprise and delight and always offer something of the unexpected.  So there is always hope.

This will be the last of my weekly garden updates for 2016.  Whether I like it or not, the growing season is coming to a close and so just as the garden turns its attention to fall, I plan to do the same thing.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Peaceful, Easy Feeling

In the coming week, the faculty will return to school for the meetings which signal the start of the school year.  In the evenings, we’ll have picnics and social events for new students and their families.  On Friday, all the new students will come to school for a half day.  They’ll bring their parents and we’ll welcome them to the community.  All week, JT will have afternoon cross country practice and he’ll be hurriedly finishing his summer reading.  The laundry will pile up and the week will have a frenzied, anticipatory feel to it.  Then we’ll have a long weekend for Labor Day.  Before we know it, Tuesday will have arrived and school will have begun.

In the pause before the frenzy, I’m making lists of things that still need to be completed.  I’m looking forward to the school year; I always do.  But I’m sorry to say goodbye to summer’s easy feel.  The pace of morning without school is much gentler than my scheduled days; there’s always time for one more cup of coffee and an extra chapter in my book.  It's hard to see those days end.

I’m sitting on the front porch this morning soaking up the last of summer’s easy feeling.  I suppose I could regret its passing but if the last five years have taught me anything, it’s to set aside regret and appreciate the blessings in my world.  

My arthritic knee is up to its old tricks and I’ve developed a lower back ache.  There are piles of laundry beckoning me.  Some of my summer to-do list remains to be done.  But the girl I love is asleep under a soft quilt, I have a fresh pedicure, and a new book to read.  T and I spent yesterday on a tiny adventure, a nice way to end a busy summer of adventures.  There is sunlight and cicadas while I rock on the front porch; cool air conditioning just beyond the front door, and fresh iced tea in a pitcher on the counter.  I am loved and I am blessed to love in return.   

I’ll take it.

Saturday, August 27, 2016


My sister and I are three years apart and between the two of us, we produced three little boys in a two year span from 1998 to 2000.  The youngest of the boys, JT and S, are just eight weeks apart.  For all of their lives, they’ve been close.  They saw each other every year during the summers.  In 2006, the year that JT and S were six and C was eight, I got my first digital camera and began to record the boys during our annual visits with one another.  That year, we took the boys to Disneyland and California Adventure.

We made a visit to California earlier this month.  Watching the boys together this summer was a little bittersweet.  For one thing, the little boys have been replaced by some rather tall young men.  JT is the smallest, but at 5’ 10”, he’s not exactly tiny.

For another, their lives are in that period of rapid change that is being a teenager.  JT and S are headed to their Junior year in high school.  In a few short weeks, my nephew C heads off to his first year of college.  Back in 2007, such a development seemed so very far away.  S and JT were constant companions that summer, taunting the big boy from the relative safety of a pool raft.

In 2008, C and S came east and we took the boys to a baseball game at Camden Yard in Baltimore.

The next year, we were back in California, the land of swimming pools.

In 2010, we visited Seattle before taking a family cruise to Alaska.

The next year found us in Yosemite National Park.

Somewhere along the way, little boys became adolescents and then teenagers.  

I hope that the affection they’ve always shown one another will last a lifetime.  

If it does, it will be among the best gifts we've given these boys.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Flower Friday

This week’s bouquet isn’t from my garden.  It was a hand-me-down from my friend K, and it was an enjoyable addition to my days.

That’s happy!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday Garden Update: August 23

This is the last full week of my summer break and though I plan to be at work every day this week, I'm still in summer vacation mode.  Next week, the faculty return for meetings and planning; things will start to feel pretty darn real.  Then we’ll have the Labor Day weekend and when that holiday is over, school is in session.

I can’t quite embrace the fact that the summer is over.  But it nearly is, as my tiring garden can attest.  There are still plenty of zinnias to bloom and I expect that more tomatoes and the occasional pepper will make it to our plates.  But the garden is growing weary.

I’m not quite ready to admit that the season is coming to a close and any produce that comes from here will help me to stretch out that summery feeling just a few more weeks.

Monday, August 22, 2016

12 Months of Miss Read: August

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.

August with Miss Read
By August, Miss Read is enjoying her summer break.  She fits in some overdue chores, works in her garden, and plans time away from home.  That’s a month a great deal like my own.  As the close of August approaches, Miss Read sees signs of the coming fall on her outdoor walks.  I read of this cooling weather with some envy, as we’ve had a sweltering hot August.  But yesterday brought an afternoon rainstorm and with the rain came cooler weather and an easing of the humidity.  When I walked out to the porch this morning, it was refreshing and lovely, with a cool morning and a breeze on the wind.

As August bends past its halfway point, my preparations for school fill my days.  I’m not ready to give up the leisurely mornings (or the flip flops!) but there is comfort in the return to our school routines.  Miss Read, who also begins school in September, certainly understands how it feels.  

I like the fact that Miss Read and I are on the same trajectory in the month of August.  In so many ways, this character is a companion to me.  We share a strong sense of the school as the center of a community of people who care about one another.  She looks for happiness and finds it.  She's content and not afraid to feel that way.  She unfailingly reminds me to stop and mark the passage of time and honor its meaning in my corner of the world.  

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sound of Summer

We’ve reached the point in August when the heat simmers in the afternoons, glasses fog up when you step outside, and the buzz of the cicadas can be heard in the evenings and early mornings, drowning out the air conditioners, and reminding me that August days pass quickly.

JT started fall sports practice, I finally cleaned off my desk, and I’ve started to organize my classroom.  I’ve cleaned off my office bulletin board and begun to sort out the things I will pin on it this year.  We’ve all got September on the mind.  I’m getting ready to welcome back students.  JT is hurriedly at work to finish his summer reading assignments.  The familiar routines of the school year are beginning, and soon we’ll be settled in.

But there is still time for a leisurely morning on the porch, for extra time with a good book, for a lazy afternoon nap.  So I am soaking up all that summer offers while it’s still here for the taking.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Flower Friday

Week by week, more zinnias are blooming.  That means more bouquets are coming my way.

That’s happy!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Green, Green Grass

Normally, August’s heat results in lawn that looks parched.  Mowing slows down to once every two weeks.  This summer, we had a period of dry heat in late June.  August has determined to make up for that and though it’s been hot, that heat has been accompanied by otherworldly humidity and frequent drenching rainstorms.  The grass isn’t parched; it’s thick and damp. The mower is earning its keep this August.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday Garden Update: August 16

Last week, I treated the tomato plants for blight, which is always of feature of my August garden.  Happily, plenty of tomato blooms are still setting and I expect plenty more tomatoes will be served at our supper table.

The zinnias have come along nicely and I’ve the privilege of picking a bouquet each week.  

That’s happy!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

On Electoral Legitimacy

While I don’t think it’s been lost in the daily attention to Trump’s latest ridiculous claims, I confess that I am increasingly concerned about his suggestions that he believes the election may be rigged.  In a democracy, that’s a dangerous charge to be throwing around, especially when it’s not born out by the facts.  I think that Trump is like a playground bully, hedging against the prospect that he will lose the election by floating the suggestion the whole process is illegitimate in the first place.  This is easy to dismiss, because it’s part of the usual Trump bluster and attack mode.  But such claims are deadly dangerous to our democracy and they must not be ignored.

Whether or not Trump actually thinks the process is rigged, the claim that it is sets up a very dangerous precedent.  It means that when he loses in November, he can derail our representative democracy and our Constitution all in an effort to assuage his outsized bruised ego.  Rather than graciously cede defeat to Hillary Clinton on November 8, he can instead announce that he was robbed, thus encouraging his followers to believe that our entire system of government is illegitimate.  His contributions to the Barack Obama birther movement suggest that he’s more than willing to derail democracy to promote himself.

A false claim that our system is “rigged” has the potential to do real and lasting damage to our republic.  The American system isn’t perfect; nothing is.  But neither is the system rigged.  We don’t have a problem with voter fraud (see this to understand just how little fraud exists).  The electoral college is peculiar and complicated, a creation of founders who worried about uncertainty as an electoral outcome.  But it is not rigged.  

Democratic systems like ours are built upon a foundation of trust and legitimacy.  Elections only work as a method for selecting leaders if all the participants fundamentally believe that a fair system is just that.  Winners of elections are seated into power; losers are free to criticize leadership and participate in other ways.  If electoral losers instead criticize the system as rigged or unfair, we all lose.  When the legitimacy of the system is in doubt, representative democracy fails.  

All of us need to call out Donald Trump on the matter of electoral legitimacy.  We cannot let him pretend that the election is rigged.  It is not an exaggeration to write that such claims can ruin our republic.  I commend the Republican leaders who have been critical of Trump on this matter.  I respect the fact that their desire for their party to hold control of government has a boundary of decency.  The rest of us, especially the media and Republican leaders in Congress, must also call out Trump on these dangerous false claims.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

August on the Front Porch

We returned from California late on Tuesday and seem to have brought sultry heat with us.  It’s good for the plants, though a little withering for me.  Even so, August is the last full month of leisurely summer days and I am out on the porch as much as possible.  I put out my weathered polka dot tablecloth.

My handmade patriotic wreath was set away for next July and the green-ribboned bow is back.

The impatiens by the rocker and in the planter by the front door are fuller at this point in the summer.

August mornings are a reminder that summer is fleeting.  I’m determined to enjoy them, heat and all.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Flower Friday

The zinnia season has arrived in my garden and each week, I can treat myself to a fresh-picked bouquet of cheery flowers.  This makes me ridiculously happy, as if summer might very well last forever.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Tuesday Garden Update: August 9

 I’ve been away for the last week, making my annual trip to visit family in my hometown.  The break from daily life was lovely but I have missed checking in on my lush garden.  This morning’s walk through my garden was exhilarating.

There are tomatoes to enjoy with our supper.  There are enough zinnias to pick my first bouquet of the season.  Better than that, is the promise of may bouquets yet to come.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Three Boys

We made our annual August visit to California last week and that meant a chance for my sister’s boys and JT to get together.  Since 2006, I have made it a tradition to take their picture together.   That year, we took a sweaty pack of boys to Disneyland.

In 2016, they’ve grown quite a bit larger but remain good friends.  

As the photo attests, my nephews come from tall stock.  On the left is C, a tall 6 foot 3.  His baby brother S is 6 foot 8.  JT, at 5 foot 9, is at the small end of this threesome.  The little boys, JT and S, are headed into the 11th grade; the big one, C, packs off for college in a few weeks.  They’ve been friends their whole lives, a very happy thing.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Good Morning, California

I haven’t always been a morning person, but for the last 10 years of my life morning has become my favorite time of day.  I love it for the quiet.  When the sun has just risen and the birds are chirping, there is a sense of promise in the day ahead.  I enjoy that potential and I especially enjoy a leisurely morning.

In the heat of summer, mornings outside are especially tempting because they are cool even as the bright sunlight takes hold. 

I’m in California this morning; tomorrow we wing our way home to New Jersey.  I am sitting with my favorite coffee mug on my parent’s back patio.  I hear the waterfall and the sound of doves, the voices of my parents and T visiting inside the house as the temperamental cat comes in and out the door.  I can see the lime and lemon trees, heavy with fruit across the green lawn.  For just a moment I wish for the time to hold still like the quiet of the morning.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

In the Land of the Big, Big Trees

A few summer’s ago, T and I made a visit to Seneca Falls, New York, the birthplace of the women’s rights movement in 1848.  While there, we visited the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.  The National Park Service ranger at the site referred to a large tree in the front yard of Stanton’s home as a “witness tree” meaning that the tree had been present when the 1848 convention was being conceived in Stanton’s home; the tree had witnessed history.  I loved the idea of “witness trees” and it came to mind when we visited the Sequoia trees at King’s Canyon National park on Wednesday.

These trees have witnessed years and years and stand tall in a forest of incredible magnitude.

They are beautiful in a way that is awe-inspiring.  Some of my best childhood memories happened in the California national parks.  

These forests are among the most beautiful places in the world, something all the generations of my family can all agree upon.