Sunday, June 25, 2017

Lifetime Limit

The backstory: As is the case with any sentient person, I spent plenty of time in the public places that feature music from the easy listening/classic rock continuum.  Over the years, some songs have lost their appeal.  To that end, T and I have compiled a list of songs which have achieved their lifetime limit, meaning we never wish to hear them again.  Over the remainder of 2017, I will post nominees for this dubious honor.  

First up, "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club.  Nothing against Boy George, but this song has used up its time.  Also having achieved maximum annoyance with a minimum of value is Ozzy Osborne's "Crazy Train."  Is it just me, or does that song last 15 minutes?  Get me off that damned train now. Foreigner's whining effort to get into somebody's pants, "I Want to Know What Love Is," has also outlived it's dubious-in-the-first-place value.  Katrina and the Waves should stop "Walking on Sunshine."  And finally, having achieved maximum ear worm status (it's playing in my head right now), I declare a lifetime ban on Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody."  

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Summer Sunlight

The light of long summer days is always welcome in my world and I love the way that my June garden looks fresh and lovely.  From hostas in the morning sun

to geraniums on the backdeck, this is a most lovely time of year.

That’s happy!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I’ve Seen the Enemy

This week’s college visit tour brought us to the western Philly suburbs, a place that has divided political loyalties.  For the last 10 years, the area has been represented by a Republican in the House.  In 2016, the district gave the edge to Hillary Clinton but in 2012, they voted for Mitt Romney.  So the neighborhood is divided and that seemed to be reflected in the hotel lobby on Wednesday morning, where I went to read and drink my morning coffee while JT slept the sleep of the teenage boy.  Someone at the hotel had turned the telly to the Fox and Friends morning news show.

I rarely watch TV news anymore, and certainly not the morning programs.  Fox and Friends was eye-opening, and not in a good way.  

As I was reading Vox and Cook Political Report analysis of Tuesday’s special elections in Georgia and South Carolina, where Republicans prevailed, the Fox crew was gloating over the Georgia victory and talking up the Trump White House.  They had a British-accented guest, whose name I never caught, give his take on America (Trump is great!), Sarah Huckabee from the White House, ostensibly on to discuss the coming communication shake-up in the White House.  That discussion got nowhere as she offered the message of the day: Trump is great.  We all chewed on that good news for a bit.  Next up was a round table discussion between the hosts about Trump’s upcoming trip to Iowa where he will rally the red-masses and talk up his #maga message.

At that point, I couldn’t take it anymore.  Though I contemplated smashing in the TV, I instead opted to return to my room.  My take away is that we are not a nation of thinkers and that’s reflected in our morning news, which is a vapid neverland.  The deeper question is whether TV news drives the useless discourse or reflects a disengaged, thoughtless citizenry.  

Neither question seems particularly hopeful.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

BBQ Fetish

A few weeks ago, T and I were at Lowes grabbing lightbulbs and charcoal, when I came across the BBQ section.  Lowes is apparently there for your grilling needs and this assortment of spice names convinced me that the BBQ crowd has a bit of a fetish.

As the saying goes: you do you, BBQ folks.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


It’s a funny development when the schoolwork of the year is complete and suddenly summer has arrived.  It always feels a bit odd to transition from 12 hour days with long, never-quite-completed to-do lists, to mornings that start later and leisurely-paced days with time enough to read an extra chapter of my book, sit in the sun, and otherwise embrace the luxury of time.

Transitions have always been a challenge for me and the close of school is no exception.  I long for the time off but then find that all that free time  leaves me at sixes and sevens.  My remedy for this is to set myself up with projects and activities to help me manage the time.  This year, with a son headed into his final year of high school, seems different, as if I am in a trial period for an even bigger transition to come.  For one thing, the combination of a pretty rigorous summer athletic training regimen, a car to drive, and a girlfriend to visit, means that JT is often not around.  I don’t miss him in the typical terms because he eventually comes home every day.  It’s nice to see him when he’s here and our catch-up time at the end of the day seems especially precious.  For the first time I can see clearly the transition that is coming to my world in a little more than a year.

That feels crazy.  In my mind, my son is still my boy.  When JT was first born, a good friend told me that the nights were long but the years were fast.  This past year has certainly demonstrated the truth of that statement.  As I manage the usual challenges of this year’s transition to summer, I’ve got my eye on the future.  So a big part of my summer plan is to set myself up for the next transition in my world.  Some days, that’s an easy and happy thought: I’m excited for JT to experience the next chapter.  Other times, the prospect seems rather daunting.  

This week, we are visiting a few more colleges on JT’s list.  That’s a chance for me to envision him in a new place.  It’s exciting and uncertain all at once.  In a way, being a parent has always been that combination and I suppose this next chapter will be no different.  So I’ll boldly step forward, knowing that’s the only path available, and we’ll see what comes next.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Garden Report, Week Three: Monday, June 19

The early garden is at an in-between stage, not yet exploding with growth, but not without changes each week.  This morning's hazy sun promises another hot day on tap.

I’m late getting the mulch in place because all of my focus since school got out has been getting the house ready for the downstairs floors to be refinished.  That project begins today and we’re out of the house while the floor crew is in the house working their magic.  I’ll be by to water the garden and otherwise attend to all my growing creatures and when the floor project is complete, the garden will have all of my attention.  Until then, growing, growing, growing is the order of the day.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Family Inheritance

It’s Father’s Day and that seems a fitting time to make a list of all the the very best things I learned from my dad:

1.  My liberal politics and the sure knowledge that Nixon was a sonfabitch, Reagan was a bastard, and Trump is profanity as-yet not invented.

2.  My love of gardening, the green thumb that came along with it, and the sure knowledge that you should always plant one more tomato plant.

3.  Baseball and the ways in which hearing a game called on the radio brings me back to hot summer days, the smell of freshly-cut grass, and iced tea drank outdoors.

4.  My dry sense of humor and a knack for timing when telling a story.

5.  Appreciation for automatic ice makers.

6.  The knowledge that nothing beats the taste of homemade popcorn.

7.  Jack Daniels served with 7-Up on ice.

8.  The desire to cook on a grill (although I try to avoid the charred food my sister calls Old West-style).

9.  To love unconditionally and with all my heart.

Grandpa & his boys - 2008

Happy Father’s Day to my dad and all the other dads who get the job done.  I love you, Dad!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Front Porch in June

With the arrival of June, the flowers and plants are all safely outside soaking up the sunlight.  June is front-porch weather at its very best and nearly every morning I pop outside to read and enjoy a few cups of coffee before the day really begins.  I sit in the rocking chair and the birds and flowers keep me company.  I find these blowzy double begonias utterly lovely.

T and JT gave me a new flag for the summer.  It’s quite cheery waving in the sunlight next to the baskets of New Guinea impatiens. 

I was lucky enough to find a bargain-priced striped tablecloth that perfectly matches the flag, which makes my matchy-matchy heart sing.  On the table, violets and impatiens bring beauty to my days.

The fuchsia is doing its best to recover from a Winter spent indoors.  The shefflura is looking to need a new pot by the end of the summer.

My June wreath is in place and ready to welcome visitors.

The porch has been especially welcoming as the inside of the house is in upheaval as we prepare for the floors to be refinished.  It’s nice to step out the door to find all the charms of Summer, ordered and ready for some much-appreciated relaxation.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Real Life Texts with M: Storage Bin Anxiety edition

The backstory: There is a large Pods storage bin in my driveway.  This weekend, the boy and some of his wrestling friends will load it full of our first floor furniture and things.  Next week, my wood floors will be refinished.  My friend M, who also lives in our town, drove by, saw the bin, and was immediately concerned.

M:  Are you moving?

Me:  Nope.  Having floors done!

Me: Oh! So you can still bail me out if/when I go to jail?

Me:  Roger that.

It’s always best to plan ahead.  

Monday, June 12, 2017

Garden Report, Week Two: June

Over the weekend, seasonal warmth blew into New Jersey with a furnace-like vengeance and the garden couldn’t be more pleased with this development.  It doesn’t look all that tidy, but things are coming along nicely.

Later this week, I’ll put some weeds in the process of getting ready for spreading mulch, which I hope to complete by the end of the month.  With the arrival of consistent warm weather and the long days of June’s sunlight, the garden is poised to take off.  That’s happy!

Pretend Grown Up

I don’t have a desk at home, I have a laptop that follows me wherever I choose to work.  Most often, that’s a corner of my sunny dining room near a cabinet that contains my craft projects, a basket for those essential things we all seem to have, and an assortment of chargers for the family electronics.  

My essentials basket has a collection of items: address labels, bookmarks, stickers, JT’s schooI pictures, and the odds-and-ends of daily life, including the few bills that I don’t receive on-line.  Essential papers like car insurance and car registration renewals are also stored in the basket, which I keep to a reasonable size so as to prevent the accumulation of crap.

Of course, crap still accumulates.  When it seems especially over-flowing, I clean out the basket to find things I’d forgotten I had and plenty of things I should never have saved.  This week, I’m finishing up a project to pack up the entire first floor of my house in preparation for my wood floors to be refinished.  This means that the whole cabinet gets cleaned out and packed up.

That process has convinced me that I am barely a grown up.  For starters, the sheer volume of stickers that I’ve found in the cabinet suggests I’m a child.  For another, I unearthed my car registration just days from its due date.  The alarming fact here is that I had completely forgotten the registration was due.

As each corner of the first floor gets tidied and then packed up, I look forward to putting the house back together when the floors are complete.  I fantasize that I’ll return a tidier and more well-organized adult.  

After all, one must live in hope.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Life with Foamy and Whiny

The wood floors on the first floor of my house are being re-finished later this month.  Among other things, that means that Tiger and Lucy, the cosseted indoor cats who rule our world, have to be boarded away from the house while the work is completed.

To be ready for kitty hotel, the dynamic duo had to have up-to-date vaccines.  That meant a trip to the vet.  The vet who is closest to home did not have any appointments this week, so they sent me to another branch, just 6 miles away.  When I made the appointment it was with the knowledge that the cats don’t like to ride in a car, but as the saying goes, “needs must.”

On Friday, I set off with two annoyed cats in a carrying case.  JT, the in-house cat-wrangler, secured them in the case and loaded them in the car.  He gave me strict instructions not to screw things up, to text him with updates, and then he set off for a track meet.

I fired up the wagon and hit the road with two very unhappy cats.  Lucy began howling at once, stopping only to catch her breath and begin foaming at the mouth.  Tiger, increasingly covered in his sister’s drool, was more resigned to his fate, occasionally issuing a pathetic meow while his sister was loading up the drool works.  This let me know that he was alive.  And annoyed.

Six miles of travel on an early Friday afternoon in New Jersey involved nearly 30 minutes of stop-and-go-traffic.  Accompany that with the howling of very troubled cats and you’ve a recipe for one woman to lose her mind.

My frazzled nerves and I made it there, secured the required vaccines (and proof of said-vaccines) and then my furry friends were stuffed back in the carrying case for the journey home.  That was slightly less-eventful, because some of the traffic had thinned out.  When we got home and inside the house, I unzipped the carrying case.  They burst out and took time to look at me in an accusing fashion before they bolted upstairs, Lucy still frothing at the mouth and Tiger covered in drool.  There they have largely remained.  

Tiger has likely forgiven me the whole experience.  But I expect that Lucy has already made contact with PETA and is drawing up the papers for a magnificent lawsuit against me.  

They head to the cat hotel next Saturday meaning that this story isn’t quite over.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Real Life Conversations with M: Historical edition

The backstory:  We are using a new (and incredibly powerful!) computer program to draft Middle School class assignments for the next school year.  As we learn how it works, the school’s tech support staff has been instrumental.  My boss and I know kids and parents; our tech guy, the very patient and clever M, knows the computer program.  Together we are sorting out what needs to happen.  Reflecting on a particular scheduling conundrum that might be a challenge to explain to a parent, I made a suggestion that I have made before:

Me:  Children should be raised by wolves.

Mike: It worked for Romulus & Remus.

Boom.  Also: new plan.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Status Update

The sun is shining.

Flip flops and toe rings are the order of the day.

The clematis provides me a splendid new flower every few days.

My book reading pace has rapidly accelerated.

My garden hostas are lush and lovely.

Summer Break, I am charmed.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Garden Report, Week One: June 5

My vegetable garden has been in the ground for a week, so the growing season has just begun.   We’ve had a long and lovely Spring, with blissfully mild weather.  The consistent heat which will bring on great growth has yet to arrive.  When it does, the garden will grow rapidly.  Until then, the changes are subtle, but there nonetheless.  The messy stages of an early garden are sometimes a garden that only a gardener can love.  But I know the difference between the desired plants and the unwanted weeds and things look good to me.

It’s exciting for me to check out the garden each day, always on the lookout for the growth that makes gardening such a pleasing part of my summer world.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Fairy Garden 2017

Last year, I acquired enough Fairy Garden cottages to be considered a bonafide real estate developer.  This year, I moved the neighborhood to a whole new location, along the fence next to my climbing clematis and peach tree.  Things are looking quite splendid.

The fairies live pretty well, complete with chicken coop, an outdoor space with a bbq, and a garden shed.

This is the grown-up equivalent of a doll house and I find it all rather pleasing.  Setting up the space last week got me really excited about the arrival of summer.  I’m looking forward to some quality time with my fairies in the month ahead.

That’s happy!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Middle School Closing

Today is our final day of school.  It will feature dressed-up, scrubbed clean Middle Schoolers participating in our closing ceremony.  It’s a sweet day, because some very deserving children will be honored.  As the 8th graders cross the stage, we’ll see the work of the four years come to fruition.  But it’s also bittersweet, because kids growing up is always little bittersweet.  

Some of these children I have known for all of their lives.  One of the girls being honored today has gone from a quiet wide-eyed toddler who clung near her mother to a lovely, accomplished, confident young woman with a kind heart that radiates in her beautiful smile.  She’s headed to our 9th grade, so I will still see her.  But it is still hard to pass her on to another’s care.  And she’s just one of the 59 eighth graders we send on today.  I will miss them all.

Part of my job today is to read the name of all the students we send onward today.  The smart parents will organize a betting pool, wondering when I will crack and cry as I read those names.  It’s a safe bet that in this room of parents and family, I will cry.  The kids have seen it before, so they’ll be unfazed.  I’m long past apologizing for being the sort of woman whose emotions show on her face.

When the ceremony is complete, we’ll smile and give out hugs.  My eighth graders will go on their way well-prepared and well-loved.  My sixth and seventh graders will go home to grow tall over the summer.  And we’ll all have some time to replenish our energy for the next year.  

So it’s a happy day ahead and when it's over, summer vacation begins. That's extra happy!

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Old Man Tree: June 1

It says a lot about the state of my existence right now that when I first began writing this post, I titled it Old Man Tree: May 1.  In fact, the month of May has blown by and though I’ve felt all the effects, I still feel like my to-do list is just getting longer and longer.  I long for a break in the madness.

What I need is some quality time on my back deck, under the watchful eye of my very patient tree.  Last night at twilight, there was a beauty to old man tree that was simply splendid to behold.  I was halfway done with the supper dishes, looking for time to grade 7th grade final projects, and trying to swap out a load of laundry, but when I saw it, I stopped everything and came outside to make a few pictures and then I sat down to soak up the last of the splendid golden light.

This morning, the light was different but my steadfast tree remains the same.

Though it may not seem like it, the ivy is slowly coming down.  

The last day of school is tomorrow and the coming weeks will provide me with time to enjoy the company of my backyard and my splendid tree.  I am looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Book Report: An Invitation Forward

Eleven years ago this June, my happy world exploded with the break-up of my then-partnership.  I’ve long since re-covered and rebuilt my family and my world in a way that brings me tremendous happiness, so this isn’t a post about that long-ago break-up.

It is a post about this book.

Thrush Green was the first solace and respite I experienced after a miserable break-up.  That break in the misery of the smash-up of my world gave me much-needed moments of peace.  For someone who had always found comfort in books, one of the worst things about the break-up was the period when even books, my nearly lifelong companion, could not calm my savage feelings.  And then, desperate for something, anything that was a distraction, I picked up Thrush Green.

It’s the first in a series of stories set in that magical English town.  The novel opens on April 30 and closes at bedtime on May 1st.  During that day, the much-anticipated Curdle Fair comes to town.  As the day unfolds, the reader is introduced to the town and the people who live there.  Their lives and concerns are both happy and sad but most especially they are ordinary.  In this, the book finds its power as a story.  Each time I read it I am reminded of the ways that our concerns, big and small, are important because we matter.  I suppose that’s an obvious conclusion, but to me it’s not always been obvious.  Thrush Green brought me that realization in an enduring fashion.

Reading the book reminds me of both the power of a good story as well as the truth of the adage that time heals most wounds.  Time and Thrush Green healed my broken-heart.  These days, the book reminds me to be gentle to both myself and others; to find a blessing in the every day; and to embrace that blessing as a sign of hope for a better future.

I needed that in my personal life in 2006.  I need it now in the realm of politics, which seems more disheartening every day.  Thrush Green reminds me to be vigilant in my caring and also to be patient in the face of distresses both big and small.  At the close of novel, the matriarch of the Curdle Fair muses that she always feels better after a visit to Thrush Green.

I feel the very same way.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Summer Quilt

It’s been a really lovely Spring around here, with nights cool enough to warrant keeping a down comforter on the bed a little later than usual, largely because I am the sort of person who like to sleep with my windows wide open to the evening chill.  I do this so that I can snuggle under the covers as I sleep and hear the birds chirping when I awake.  But nights are pretty steadily in the 50s now and so a few weeks ago, I switched my Spring duvet for my Summer quilt.

I’ve had this quilt for nearly 15 years.  It’s soft and just heavy enough to rest close around me during cool evenings.  When the Summer air conditioning season arrives to stay, the quilt will feel cool as I slip into the bed at night, but it will ward off the chill of the a/c.  This quilt says Summer to me and I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome all that the season brings, including a little extra time under the soft covers.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Headin' Out to the Back Deck

My back deck is the back yard equivalent of the front porch, an alternately sunny and shady place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.  We spend a lot of time out here in the warmer months.  But over the last few years, the large back deck has been in need of some TLC.  In mid-April, the back deck was power-washed and repaired, in preparation for staining and sealing.

Then it rained and rained and rained so it was several weeks before the job was completed.  Finally, there were enough sunny days to stain and seal the deck.

Now it’s done and the results are lovely.  The deck is back in business as relaxation central and it’s more welcoming than ever.

The months ahead will see a lot of lazy days spent out here.

That’s happy!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

May Shows Off

Inspired by the abundant rhododendron blooms, my peony is making an impressive display of its own.  Just a few weeks ago, the tight buds were seeking the sun.

This morning brings beauty in abundance.

That’s happy!

Saturday, May 27, 2017


When the milder weather comes to stay, I want to spend all my free time outdoors.  In May, when Summer is in view but the month is a busy cacophony of tasks that must be completed to close out the school year, the front porch lures me for moments of quiet relaxation.  On these days, the chance to sit in my rocking chair, smell the violets, and see all the flowers in bloom feels like a quiet sanctuary where I can rest my busy mind and re-charge for the tasks that lie ahead.

I slept nearly 11 hours last night and woke up this morning to sunlight and time to linger over my coffee and flowers on the front porch.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester Everywhere

I spend my days in the company of Middle Schoolers.  Their concerns and interests are, to some extent, mine.  In this way, I remain sympathetic to their experiences and needs without losing sight of the bigger picture.  When I think of the children at the Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, it’s very easy for me picture those adolescent fans.  They were over-the-moon excited to see someone they idolize.  12 , 13, and 14 year olds live in the moment so fully that some of them likely had no idea what was happening when trouble blew up.  

And then one craven event exploded their world.  Some children died; many more survived but will forever have memories of an experience that showed them that the world is a scary and unpredictable place.  

It seems to me that the safety of our children should surely be something that we can agree upon despite our differences.  I write this while knowing that my own national leadership is fully prepared to cut programs to ease child poverty, leave poor children without basic healthcare, deport the parents of vulnerable immigrant children, currently jails children of color at far greater rates than others, and tolerates police abuse of young men whose skin is darker than my son’s.  It’s all unconscionable. 

I know it’s not the same as exploding a bomb at an arena filled with kids, but some days that’s exactly how it feels.  The slow motion destruction of vulnerable children is no better than a single explosion intended to kill.  We need to remember that more often. 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday at Costco: Why Do I Do This to Myself? edition

Whenever possible, I make my Costco run on a weeknight, when the overcrowding potential is low.  But so far May has been too busy for that and this morning found me using the last of the half and half for my coffee, an event that could signal the apocalypse.  Needs must, as they say.  So I headed to Costco.  The parking lot was full and I abandoned my car in the first parking spot I could find, girded myself, and entered America’s favorite shopping warehouse.

The only advantage of Costco on weekend is that you will see some things that amuse.  Usually, it’s in the form of atypical sartorial choices, but today's weirdness came in the form of inexplicable shopping choices.  In list form, then:

1.  A woman with her entire cart filled to the brim with hot dog buns.  There was nothing else, including the actual hotdogs.  Surely she was there with a friend whose cart contained the requisite hotdogs and condiments?  I looked but never saw a companion cart.  I want to know the rest of this story.

2.  A woman with a case of Vienna sausages.  I’ve always assumed no one ever bought these.  Today proved my wrong.

3.  A long line of Indian people looking to try out a Costco-sized display of pre-prepared Indian food.  By the comments, I gather that the chicken tikka masala was pretty good.  This isn’t particularly odd, but there is delicious Indian food everywhere in New Jersey and it’s all available for take out.  I wouldn’t solve that problem for myself via Costco.

4.  An unfortunately detailed conversation between a long-married couple about their need to try a new brand of better-quality toilet paper.  I get it, but maybe have that convo at home and then come to Costco and make a final selection in silence?

And my favorite sighting…..two little boys, about 5 years old, daring one another to enter the cold-storage dairy section, and laughing with delight at their bravery.  They were cute as a minute and a reminder that joy can be found in the mundane.  Today, they were my joy.

In the interests of full disclosure, my cart is pictured below.  The sweet peppers and raspberries were impulse purchases.  Cream for my coffee needs are met through mid-June; thank heavens for the world of ultra-pasteurized dairy.

From start to finish, I was in the store for 30 minutes, which has to rank as impressive on a Saturday and is a testament to list-based shopping.  Parking lot extraction took 7 minutes and reminded me why back-up cameras were invented (JT’s car has one but my wagon does not).  When I started my car, the song on my randomized iPod playlist was Roxy Music’s “More Than This,” which seemed a tad over-enthusiastic about Costco.  But I made it out alive, and for a Saturday at Costco, I’ll take it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Looking All Grown Up

JT took the lovely A to the prom on Thursday evening.  Before the festivities began, the two of them put up with a significant amount of parental fussing.  Most of it happened in the form of pictures.  There’s a lot of advance preparation that goes into such a night and there were plenty of parents on hand to document it all.

JT typically doesn’t enjoy having his picture made, but he was a patient subject, perhaps because he’s quite fond of A and her wish is his command.

They looked quite dapper together and even in yesterday’s unexpected warmth, they managed not to wilt.

Oh to be young and lovely!

When I picked them up early this morning, they were happily tired and announced that JT had danced (and enjoyed himself!….thus disproving the Sassafras Family Law that dancing is only to be attempted after multiple cocktails).  The prom king and queen are sleeping off the festivities now.  Later today, they will begin studying for final exams.  But they had a lovely night to remember.  As for me, I didn’t cry when I saw my boy all dressed up and looking so grown up.  

I expect I’ll save that for another day.