Sunday, December 10, 2017

Snow Day

Yesterday it snowed.  T and I baked treats for her work, caught up on Netflix, and otherwise enjoyed the quiet.  We’ve lots to show for our efforts and the relaxation was much needed.  The first snow of the season is a treat that I never grow tired of enjoying.  That’s happy!

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Feathering My Nest

I love bedding…..cozy quilts, soft sheets, warm down comforters and pretty duvets make my heart sing.  I like variety in my bedding choices and I add or subtract options as the weather outside demands.  In the past week, the weather has turned colder, especially at night, and the forecast calls for nighttime temperatures in the teens by the middle of next week.

Time for the down comforter.

The last few nights have found me tucked under my down comforter and duvet, warm and cozy in my nest.  I love the feel of the heavy covers and the way the bed gradually warms thanks to the combination of down and body warmth.  I’ve slept deeply, snug against the cold, and well-rested come the morning.  

Thanks to some recent well-done NPR stories on homelessness in America, I’m aware that I am privileged enough to take the blessing of comfortable cozy bed for granted.  Each night as I slip into my nest, I am grateful that I have this safe and snug bed and home to enjoy.  

Friday, December 08, 2017

Food Friday: Spinach Soup

Spinach soup is one of the most delicious soups I make.  It comes together quickly on a school night and is amazingly good.  It can be served as is, or made fancier, with grilled shrimp or chicken; some roasted red pepper, or chopped fresh tomatoes.  As soon as the weather grows cold, this recipe comes to the top of my must-have list.  I made this bowl last night and I’m looking forward to enjoying the leftovers.  The recipe comes from Pioneer Woman, way back in 2010.  I don't use whole milk and it comes out just fine.  You should make it at once!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Pretty Packages

I love wrapping presents and December is the present season.  I especially enjoy wrapping little presents with tiny treats inside.

There are many more packages to be wrapped before the month is over.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Front Porch in December

The pleasure I had when I first put up outdoor Christmas lights on the porch led me to decorate the porch around the year.  Why confine the pleasure to December, I thought?  So it was that December became the inspiration for a different front porch each month, a task that I very much enjoy.  I still take extra care for Christmas.  Greenery and lights are the theme of the month; two of my very favorite things about December’s holidays. Overhead, there are mercury-globed Edison lights, which are a hard to make a picture of, but have a lovely glow come twilight.  The flower basket hooks each have a wreath.  The flag is welcoming.

On the table is a plaid tablecloth that T gave me last year, a wooden bin full of greenery and twinkling lights, a wooden snowman, and red tin house with a candle inside.

The front door wreath is splendid and smells even better than it looks, so that we come home to a lovely evergreen-scented door.

No corner of the porch is free from my attentions.

I love holiday traditions like this; they are my favorite part of the Christmas because they provide a reminder to stop and live in the moment.  That’s happy!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Blowout Sale

I already posted this photo to Instagram, but seriously, it is well-worth another round here because every single time I see the picture, I burst into laughter.  You have to wonder what the marketing team was thinking.

Joke’s on me if they sell out.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

December Mornings

I am an early riser.  Mornings are a time for me to check my e-mail and get some work done.  Whether that’s an e-mail that needs writing or an assortment of quizzes that need grading, I find that my day goes a little more smoothly if I’ve had some quiet to get started.  In the evening before I climb into bed, I set things up for my morning, with a coffee mug and a jug for cream set on a cheerful cloth napkin by the autostart coffee pot, which will finish brewing my coffee by the time I come downstairs in the morning.

In December, I move a few holiday coffee mugs to the front of the cupboard so that my morning has a little holiday cheer.  I’ve been setting out my coffee mug and creamer for at least 20 years now; the December tradition is just about 10 years old.  It’s an easy way for me to enjoy the dark December mornings, a reminder that the simple little pleasures are often the most pleasing.  That’s happy!  

Friday, December 01, 2017

Old Man Tree: December 1

As we approach the Winter Solstice, Old Man Tree is stately, with stark bare limbs, ready for the cold season.  As our daily share of sunlight fades, during the weekdays I most often see my tree in the dim light of sunrise or the darkness of twilight or beyond.  These pictures were made just after sunrise.

I’ve yet to finish all of my Fall chores; there is some leaf collection to be completed and a few more tomato cages to gather up.  The garden catalogs are pouring in and I’ve set them aside for the first snow storm of the season, when I will curl up under a blanket with a warm mug of tea and daydream of the flowers and blooms that will arrive in the Spring.  

The garden that is and the garden that will be both grow under the watchful eye of the tall limbs of Old Man Tree.  Though he’s not in the physical center of the yard, he is the spiritual center.  As I drive home each day, I can see him tall above my house before home itself comes into view.  When we look out the windows, he’s there.  He’s solid and true, Mother Nature’s witness to our lives and the world around us.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

November Book Report: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

This year, my school has a teacher’s book club.  The book list looked promising, with some books I had read before and some books that had been on my radar and so I signed up.  This month’s book was The Lone Ranger and Tonoto Fistfight in Heaven, a collection of short stories written by Sherman Alexie, a writer who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in western Washington.  

The book is a collection of short stories, some of which feature the same characters.  The stories are as much narratives as they are streams of consciousness.  The book was a quick read and some of the stories linger in their sadness, and I’ve welcomed the chance to think anew about Native American life in the United States.  Some of the stories put me in mind of the time I lived in Nebraska, where there were both Indian reservations and opportunities to experience Indian cultural events (oh, the fry bread!).  Alexie’s identity as an Indian is central to the stories and he both reflects on family life among members of his tribe and the larger social setting in which Native Americans travel, sometimes made to feel like foreigners in their own country, on their own land.

I was put in mind of an NPR series about what social service agencies have done to Indian families.  And this week, as the president used his bully pulpit to insult and demean Native tribes, Alexie’s stories felt more important than ever.  This slim volume was well-worth my time.  

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Neither Great Nor Better

I’ve taught American history for many years.  These days, I teach 7th grade students.  7th graders are at an interesting point in adolescence, at the corner of young adulthood and childhood with both experiences on their minds.  They long for independence, but aren’t always sure what to do with it.  Their brains are moving fast and are occasionally beset by strong emotions that feel new and mysterious and, sometimes, overwhelming.  As each of them sorts out their identify and place in the world, they are sometimes unkind to one another (or themselves); at the same time, they are the first to point out unkindness in others.   It’s easy to underestimate the abilities and talents of 7th graders because they are prone to underestimating themselves.  But it would be foolish to do so because 7th graders are capable of understanding and communicating in sophisticated ways about complex ideas.  In this, they are an absolute wonder to teach because they are absorbing and learning so much.  I learn from them every day and I am aware that they are learning from us all the time.

I teach my 7th graders American history, from the period of colonial settlement in 1609 all the way to the Civil War.  We take on some very difficult topics as we explore these years.  We study the founders and wrap our minds around the philosophical origins of the American movement toward independence.  Together, we read the founding documents and explore the claims made in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.  We also explore the disappointing elements of the American story, including the lives and experiences of the Native tribes that were here when colonists arrived.  We talk about the origins of the “original sin” of slavery and we go to lengths to understand both the lives of enslaved people and the lasting legacy of the institution of slavery.

It is in the inequities and injustices of the American story that 7th graders step out of themselves to see both a world that was and a world that can be.  As we wrestle with a document that claims all men are created equal even as it excludes native tribes, enslaved people, and women, we come to understand the complexities and injustices present in the human story; in the American story.

My 7th graders know that painting all native tribes with the broad brush of the name of one of the more well-known Indians is both offensive and ignorant.  In fact, my 7th graders know the real story of Pocohantas.  They understand the complexities of her experience.  They know better than to objectify or dismiss tribal people because they know better than to objectify or dismiss anyone.  Like all of us, it does not make 7th graders better to live in a world where the president’s casual racism is the accepted and tolerated order of the day.  
Greatness comes from honoring one another’s accomplishments, from making an effort to stand outside one’s cultural experience to understand the experiences of others.  It comes from tolerance and empathy and kindness.  It comes from the daily effort to be better.  It comes from the struggle to give promise to the claim that “all men are created equal.”  And it should come from leaders who help us to do these things.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Fall Chores

The Thanksgiving weekend couldn’t have come at a better time for me.  It’s been a busy fall and I was a bit overdue for a few quiet days.  There was plenty of relaxation on the agenda and the whole family enjoyed some extra time to sleep in and spend some leisurely days.  The weather was exceedingly cooperative, with cool and mostly sunny days.  Yesterday, feeling refreshed, I set out to complete some Fall chores.

One of my tasks was to organize December decorations for the front porch.  Normally I wait for the first day of the new month to swap out the porch, but I am especially excited about the holidays this year.  The older I get, the more I see December as a month-long chance to enjoy sparkling lights and the smell of evergreen; a month of memories that reflect the passage of time and the sweetness of a child who believed in Santa far longer than I could have imagined.  Planning treats and surprises for loved ones is what makes December special to me and this month I welcome a few more days to celebrate.

In the backyard, raking leaves into the big paper bags the town picks up, gave me time to think about my holiday plans and to reflect with gratitude on the blessings in my world.  At one point, I paused to look up at the limbs of Old Man Tree.  Near the top I spied a nest, as likely to be a squirrel nest as anything else, and a reminder that this yard is home to creatures other than me.  It was a nice reminder that the world is a better place when we share with one another.  

That’s happy!

Friday, November 24, 2017

Food Friday: Cranberry Brie Turkey Panini

For me, one of the nicest things about Thanksgiving is the leftovers that can be turned into delicious meals.  My absolute favorite “leftover” is made using the turkey and cranberry sauce.  Behold the turkey, cranberry, brie panini sandwich.

For each sandwich, I spread two slices of bread with a thin amount of dijon mustard.

Then I add thin slices of brie cheese.

I add minced turkey.

Then I put a thin layer of cranberry sauce on the bread.  

The sandwich gets grilled on medium low so there is time for the heat to spread and melt the brie without burning the bread.

It’s delicious!

Thursday, November 23, 2017


Supper won’t be on the table until later this afternoon and this morning finds me organizing the day’s cooking plan.  Yesterday, I set the turkey to brine, put together a sweet potato casserole, and made our pumpkin pie.

I checked to ensure that we had a good supply of leftover containers at the ready.

This morning, while my coffee was brewing, I set the rolls to rise.

I mixed the cranberries with sugar, water, and orange peel and now cranberry sauce is cooling for our supper.

Right now I have a moment to pause and enjoy a few cups of coffee before the rest of the cooking gets started in earnest.  I’ve so very much for which to be thankful and the older I get, the more I value a reminder to stop and appreciate my many blessings.  

By the time this day is done, I’ll have made a cheese and relish tray, spiced warm apple cider, roasted a turkey, made mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed green beans, stirred together cornbread dressing, and whipped some cream for our pumpkin pie.  The dishwasher will have worked overtime and even so, the sink will still be filled with dishes.  But none of that matters as much as the pleasure of sitting at the table and sharing some laughter with the people I love.  I try to always be thankful for my blessings but today is always a welcome reminder to be pause and be grateful again.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Next Season

JT started wrestling in 8th grade and I have since then come to realize that it’s as much a sport as it is a cult.  Our coaching staff is not of the old-school starve-yourself and sport-a-cauliflower ear variety, for which I’m enormously grateful.    In a state with a commitment to the sport, our team has a tradition of tough practices and an admirable team ethos.  Outside of practice, the team is closely-knit and there is a lot of laughter among the wrestlers.  It’s detracts from mat-burned faces, so I think that’s all to the good.

I’m told that there’s nothing like 6 minutes of grappling on the mat to show you what you’re made of.  As a mama who has watched her son battle through those 6 minutes, I’ve decided that I’ll let his example teach me the lesson.  Where cross country fans are a civilized cheer-everyone-on variety, wrestling has a more bloodthirsty fan base.  I’m gearing up to yell things like, “stuff the head” and looking forward to the inevitable moment of the season when T gives me a sidelong look as she sniffs the funky gym air and points out, “If you’d had a girl, we’d be watching basketball right now.”

Alas, we are wrestling moms instead.  Stuff the head!

Saturday, November 18, 2017


Last Sunday, I looked up and realized that the dogwood and Old Man Tree had dropped their remaining leaves.  There had been some windy days and that seemed to do the trick.

I took a pass through the yard with the mulching mower, a Fall chore that I always enjoy.

Elsewhere in my yard and neighborhood there are plenty of leaves yet to fall.  That means that plenty of raking remains.  The weather has been cool and this weekend a windy rainstorm is expected to pass through; that will likely set the stage for Fall to finish up its efforts.  Garden chores like this help me put the garden to rest and give me plenty of time to daydream about the next garden season.  

Bring on the seed catalogs!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Reflections on a Nicer November

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard an interview with Joe Biden.  He’s written a book about his son Bo and in the media tour, plenty of journalists are asking him questions about the current political scene.  I was struck again by how much I miss civil, articulate, and thoughtful political discourse from leaders who wish to help us to be better.  Biden pointed out the danger of silence in the face of Nazi and KKK-supporters and called it out by noting that, “silence is complicity." At one point in the interview he notes that American influence and strength in the world is less about “the example of our power” and more about “the power of our example.”  It was refreshing and honest.  It was leadership.  Vice President Biden spoke of a nation I want to be part of; one that is aspirational in search of being better together.  

In last week’s election, New Jersey elected a Democrat as our next Governor.  His name is Phil Murphy.  He comes into office with a Lt. Governor named Sheila Oliver, New Jersey’s first African American in the position.  In this morning’s news, I learned that Murphy’s transition committees are majority woman and majority people of color.  Murphy is white, a former banker, and at the start I feel like we may very well have a thoughtful woke leader on hand.  In any case, it’s a promising beginning and I feel optimistic, a far cry from the sentiments that consumed me last November.

As I think about this year of Trump, I’m struck by the realization that things have been every bit as horrifying as I feared.  Trump had no honeymoon, but in all fairness he never made a single effort to govern as a leader with a tentative hold on the position.  Rather than acknowledge the reality that winning the Electoral College without securing a majority of the national vote placed him on thin ice, he bullied forward with slippery lies (looking at you, inaugural crowd claims) and an attachment to the bully side of the pulpit that show him to be small-minded, self-absorbed, and ignorant.

At every juncture, Trump has dodged responsibility, blaming the Obama Administration for all foreign policy challenges he faces and announcing that all policy failures belong to Congress.  He doesn’t understand even the most basic principles of our system of government and he doesn’t care to try to understand.  He’s made things uglier and meaner; his only skills are in self-aggrandizement and lying.  He uses those deceptions to attack everyone, including the media, and challenge the very idea that truth exists.

At 10 months in to his leadership, his presidential approval rating is the lowest of any president in the modern era.  It shows signs of sinking further.  As a nation, we are divided and wary, some of us furiously angry and others of us disheartened and afraid.  It doesn’t feel very great.

Last week’s elections in New Jersey and Virginia offer the prospect of much-needed hope; a semblance of measured reason in a sea of ugly tweets and lies.  I find myself clinging to them as we head into 2018 and the next electoral season.  There are signs that we understand the power of our example.  For ourselves and the world I sure hope that is the case.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Race Day

JT ran his final race of his Senior year Cross Country season on Saturday.  A week before, at the second to the last race of the year, I felt emotional.  I expected that his final race in our school’s uniform would be even more emotional.  He’s been at this school for 15 years and Cross Country was the first school uniform he ever wore.  At the time, as a 7th grader, he was proud to wear the school colors.  If anything, he’s even more proud today.  T and I headed out on a cool day to cheer him on.  The course is one of the hardest in the state and he ran all out.

He’s not the kind of kid to hold back as he approaches the finish line.

I knew the kid in red was getting passed.

At the finish line, JT was all in.

I was cheering like a lunatic but I didn’t cry.  It’s not that I’m not proud or emotional; I’m very proud and I think a lot about the next part of parenting, the part that features me sending my boy out into the world.  My boy is a committed runner and a good one.  Running has been an epiphany for him; he loves every element of the sport.  Running has fed his soul as well as his muscles; it’s taught him to value hard work and train for more than tomorrow’s event.  I love the fans and the crowds at a race and I expect that I will be cheering on this runner for a while to come.  For starters, he’s registered for a race in each of the next two weekends.  His college choices are all schools where he will be able to run competitively.  Next fall, I expect to be watching my boy run in a new school’s uniform.  I expect that I’ll be excited.  I know that I’ll be proud.  But mostly I'll be glad that he's found something he loves so very much.  That's happy!

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Dogwood Wednesday: November 8

This Fall has been rather a quirky season.  After a cool start in September, warm weather settled in as if it planned to stay for a while.  Fall leaves made stately progress toward the inevitable seasonal change.  There are a good deal of leaves to be collected.

 Now that we’ve made the time change, I have the chance to see the dogwood in dim morning light.  Most of the leaves are gone; those that remain are deep red.  

It looks like the mulching mower, my rake, and I have some work to do this weekend.  But that’s the beauty of Fall, a last push of yard chores before a season of still and rest.  I expect to rake, put some bulbs in the ground, breath in the chilly air, and collect some bags of leaves for collection by my town.

I’ll also do plenty of daydreaming about next year’s garden season, because that’s how gardening goes. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Front Porch in November

Right on schedule, my porch exchanged October for November and now we are ready to be thankful.  Pumpkins and mums remain the order of the day.

There’s a new flag for the month.

The crunch of leaves , the shortening hours of sunlight, and the chill of Fall have all taken hold around here  But the porch is a cozy welcome home each day.  

That’s happy!