Friday, March 31, 2017

March Book Report: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States

Sarah Vowell is a careful historian who gets her details right and retains a wicked clever sense of humor in the process.  I first found her work on NPR’s show “This American Life.”  Her essays there were always terrific.  Her books are just as engaging, placing historical time in the context of current events.  This weaving of our history has the effect of highlighting who we were and who we have become.  It’s thoughtful and engaging.  Vowell is fond of our American ancestors without being sentimental or cloying about them.  She isn’t afraid to call them out for their bone-headed decisions.  Reading her work is like having a conversation with your most clever friend.  I never cease to enjoy that conversation.

This month, I read Vowell’s book about the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French noble who was instrumental in bringing French support to the American Revolution.  Published in 2015, the book is part history and part political commentary.  At the age of 19, Lafayette came to the American colonies in search of adventure, hooked up with George Washington and never looked back.  Vowell tells his story by tracing Lafayette’s progress through the colonies during the Revolutionary War and his return visit to the young United States in 1824-1825.  She connects the story of a divided young nation in the 1780s to the divided nation of the contemporary political world.  

And she can turn a phrase.  

Writing of the Battle of Brandywine, which occurred on Quaker-owned land in 1777, she reflects on the monument to peace that area Quakers erected at the site and writes,  “A Quaker in a straw hat is standing next to that quote, so I say hello and we start shooting the breeze about Eisenhower.  I mention that Ike also said, “All wars are stupid and they can be started stupidly.”  I’m pretty sure the last time I made someone’s face light up like that was when I told my New Deal Democrat grandfather that I got a point taken off an elementary school test for failing to capitalize the word “Republican.”

Pondering the separation with England and its consequence for slaves, Vowell notes that Parliament banned slavery in 1833, 30 years before the Emancipation Proclamation and then she writes, “You know your country has a checkered past when you find yourself sitting around pondering the humanitarian upside of sticking with the British Empire.”

Like all of Vowell’s work, I found myself laughing and thinking about her words long after the story was complete.  In my book, that's a good read.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Real Life Texts with C: Family Humor edition

The backstory: My nephew C and his friend K are on Spring Break.  They came west to see New York City and each day this week, the college boys have taken the train into the city to explore the Big Apple.  On Wednesday, they went to the Bronx Zoo and we exchanged texts.

Me:  Enjoy the zoo.  Also, bring me a bear.

C:  A stuffed bear or are K and I about to hop this fence for you?

Me:  Hop the fence!

Sass is in our gene pool.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Seasonally Affected

My house has small closets and I compensate for that fact by using my upstairs attic closet to store sweaters and out-of-season clothes.  Twice a year, I swap out the closet in my bedroom.  My declaration of the hour of seasonal change isn’t entirely random, but in all honesty it is driven by my desire to start the next season.  Once I make the swap, I am fully committed to the change.  Mother Nature doesn’t quite turn one season off in order to switch to the next and her slower seasonal transition can rather trip me up, especially in the Spring, the season I most long to enjoy.

I manage to avoid facing the snow in sandals, but I am occasionally cold in the Spring.  This is what happens when you’ve packed away cold weather tights and wool sweaters and skirts in favor of linen and cotton clothing and summery sandals and shoes.  I guess my pride will have to keep me warm.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday - Week 5

There was enough sunlight to melt much of the snow leftover from the March 14 storm, but this flowerbed looks to the East and is shaded by the house, so it always takes its time to warm up.  One corner of the beds has bulbs that get a little more sunlight.

The rest are coming along nicely and most of the snow has melted.  There’s an old-fashioned saying that Spring snow is a poor man’s fertilizer.  It’s true that snow at this time of year is quite good for the garden.  That’s reason enough to patiently await the blooms that I will shortly enjoy.

Back in the Saddle

Our lovely two week Spring Break has ended and the students return to school this morning.  I expect they will be well-rested and energetic and that’s good; I feel pretty well-rested myself.  April and May, with sunlight, blooms, and warmth tend to make us all giddy with the season.  I’m excited for the coming summer myself, so the children can certainly be excused.  I spent my break getting things done and I’m pleased with the work I’ve finished.  

From here on out the time flies.  We’ve three weeks until Easter and just seven more after that and then the school year closes out.  The chores I completed during the break are a down payment on the insanity that surrounds the close of the school year and I feel rested and ready to face the busy days.

Here we go!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Visions of Spring

It’s a well-established fact that I love bedding and enjoy a seasonal change of my quilts and duvets.  I think we should blame my childhood, when my bed had a set of trellis-patterned floral sheets.  I remember the print and how much I enjoyed following the pattern with with a race car, up and down the rows on the sheets.  I loved those sheets and their arrival on my bed always made me happy.  I don’t play with race cars anymore, but I do enjoy a change of bedding.

Spring Break occasioned the changeover of my closet (more on that later) and if Spring clothes were in the wind then I wanted Spring bedding as well.  In an uncharacteristic display of practicality, I realize that though I long for Spring’s green and warmth, what I actually have is longer days that are still quite cold and often below freezing in the evening.  So the down comforter must stay.    But I have a fern-printed duvet to provide the longed-for green.

The duvet is warm.  So I’ll tuck into a warm, Spring-like bed in the evening.  That’s happy!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Front Porch in March

On the first of the month, eager for the warmth and sunlight of Spring, I headed to the front porch, set out some warm weather decorations, and made pictures to share on my blog.

Nearly at once, the wind began to blow and much of March has found the bunny flag at a horizontal.  I spent my time looking to keep the items on the table from blowing right off the porch.  It didn't seem right to post pictures of an idyllic porch in the sunlight.  Then it snowed and it’s remained cold enough for the snow to linger in my yard.  So much for my dreams of Spring.

Mother Nature hasn’t quite gotten with the program.  But April is just around the corner and Easter is on the horizon.  

And I always live in hope.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cat in a Coat

Tiger rather enjoyed the portion of closet clean-out that landed him a collection of coats for his napping enjoyment.  He tucked right in for his afternoon snooze.

It’s hard to be a cat in Sassafras House.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Seasonal Bunnies

I have a soft spot for the furry creatures who live in my backyard, especially the squirrels and bunnies.  My affection for the rabbit world is long-standing.  Something about those fuzzy tails and perky ears charms me.  And I especially love pictures of anthropomorphized animals.  Knowing this, when T came across the illustrations of Racey Helps, she knew I would lose my mind when I saw them.

I have them on my bulletin board at school and swap them out on a seasonal basis so that I can appreciate the variety in my collection.  The illustrations are cute and sassy, with terrific attention to detail.  The bunnies headed to school have carrots and slate boards in hand; there is a chestnut roaster at the edge of a snowy field where the bunnies play; the Mama bunny wears a cheery and slightly exasperated expression as she herds her babies to get a balloon; the teacher bunny is unfailingly patient.  They are just my sort of thing and they make me ridiculously pleased when I see them. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

One More Scene of Winter

Last Tuesday’s snow forecast originally called for nearly two feet of snow.  We didn’t receive that much snow, but there were about 10 inches in my corner of the world and that was plenty enough for me.  It was a dense, wet snow packed down by sleet.  JT and I stayed inside until the storm was over.  Outside, one of the squirrels that lives in my yard hunkered down in the dogwood tree.

The backyard squirrels love this tree.  On sunny days, they chase one another up and down its trunk.  But last Tuesday was not a day for playing games.  Squirrels and humans tucked in for the storm, which is likely to be our last storm of the Winter.  Soon enough, the squirrels will scamper around the green lawn.  I’m looking forward to it!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday: Week 4

The vernal equinox starts today and I am ready to turn my face toward the sun.  I long for flowers and the lush green color of Spring.  There is sparkling sunlight today and the forecast promises temperatures nearing 50 degrees, which sounds lovely to me.  I’d guess that the flowers underneath this covering of snow are just as eager for sunlight as I am.

We’ll need several more bright, sunny days to melt the snow from last week’s storm.  Until then, the bulbs in this bed rest quietly and I learn another lesson in patience.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

On Leadership

On Friday, T and I wandered north to Hyde Park, New York, the home of President Franklin Roosevelt.  We visited the president’s home and his presidential library and had plenty of time to think about the meaning of leadership in American history.

FDR wasn’t perfect, of course, but comparisons to the current resident of the White House don’t highlight FDR’s imperfections nearly as much as they reveal the vast inadequacies of the current occupant.  To read FDR’s descriptions and plans to deal with the Great Depression is to understand that leadership requires both the capacity to develop plans to address national problems and also the ability to express compassion and sympathy that will lead to national courage as we address our shared challenges.  FDR always seemed to understand that our problems were collective; that we must look after one another.  Instead, Donald Trump is rolling out a budget of tax cuts for the wealthy, an unnecessary wall, and vast weapons increases paid for by cuts to nutritional assistance for children and elderly.  Gutting the NEH and the NEA and ignoring the ways in which our privileges demand an active presence in the world isn’t leadership.  It’s foolhardy cowardice.  Trump’s plan isn’t about compassion or understanding; instead it is a reminder of how far our nation has sunk.

As we walked through the library displays on the years of Roosevelt’s presidency, we listened to selections from his Fireside Chats. Even now, the compassion and concern in his voice is palpable.  The comparison to Mr. Trump’s  efforts to communicate with the nation is just so disheartening.  At times I wasn’t sure which of Trump’s shortfalls was worse: the lack of leadership, the incoherence of his rhetoric, or the complete lack of principles in Trump’s world view.  It’s a sorry list of deficits.

FDR’s genius was in his ability to be genuine and sympathetic as he led the nation forward.  His definition of the national interest was broad and compassionate and his ability to sustain courage in the nation made us better together.  FDR’s policies were driven by genuine concern for the people, not an interest in adulation.   

I tell myself there are leaders like FDR in our future.  I tell myself that our current divisions are temporary.  Four years isn’t such a long time, I think.  We can endure and come out the other side of Trump’s reign with a better sense of who we are and who we want to be.  I want to have confidence that our history can be a guide to our our future.  I live in hope.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

So This Happened

Internet, the boy will be driving on his own in short order.  He has hours of playlists and says he now plans to run away from home. That's as may be, but for now he's yet to get a license and doesn't even know how to pump his own gas, so he won't get far.  In the meantime, I'm driving around with his wheels, playing my music and living it up with the rear camera and the automatic transmission.  He will be licensed soon; don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Snowpocalypse in March

The forecast for truckloads of snow meant that JT and I cut short our college visits and came home last night.  This morning finds us holed up inside while the snow comes down.  As of this writing, we’ve got 6 inches on the ground and it’s blowing sleet and snow like crazy.  It’s hard to know how much more snow and ice will come our way but there is nothing like a snowstorm to remind me that I am not in charge of everything, so I  plan to relax and enjoy the madness.  It can’t last forever, right?  RIGHT?

My favorite weather source reports that this will be like shoveling concrete so I am going to bake cookies before we face the outdoors because denial of the chores at hand is more delicious when there are warm oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.  This much snow says Winter far more than it says Spring but Spring Break is exactly what we’re about right now.  I could complain but I have the day off and we are safe and snug inside.  A little Mother Nature-enforced lying around with books, cats, and cozy blankets isn’t the worst way to spend a day, so I'll count my blessings.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Playlist for Letting Go

My baby is now 17.  I see him every day and obviously I can believe that he has grown up.  At the same time, the fact that I am the mother of a high school Junior about to be a Senior who will move on to college seems distinctly unreal.  This school year has made me very aware of how quickly time is passing.  Just as the world seems to be spinning in a wild direction driven by fear of change and I’ve no idea what else, I am finding that my boy is growing up.  Rapidly, with no end in sight.  

It’s a change I work hard to embrace.  Since he entered my world, I’ve been preparing him for a life of his own.  I had no idea how quickly those first seventeen years would fly by.  But they have and I am now the mother of a high school Junior looking forward to his final year of high school.

Every once in a while, in the midst of the talk about college, academics, and planning for JT’s Senior year, I have the abrupt realization that in 2018 my son will graduate high school and then move on, living on his own.  In the past year, as my sister’s oldest child moved away to college, I’ve become more aware of the transition that is steadily taking place.

For the most part, I studiously ignore the implications of all this planning. The biggest of which is that my son and I will no longer share a residence on a full-time basis.  I am sure that there will be unexpected joys and gifts in the next stage of his life and mine but those are hard to think about.  What does occur to me is that my daily mothering will no longer be required.  That idea is overwhelming for me and when it occurs, I set those thoughts aside in favor of the chores of daily life.

But in the occasional quiet moment, I catalog the ways in which I have been preparing JT for the moment when he walks out the door to a life of his own.  I’ve done so carefully, with an eye toward traditions and experiences that will remind him how very much he is loved and carry him into independence and adulthood with a strong sense of who he is and who he can become.   For the next year and a half, as I wrap my mind around a baby boy who is shortly to be a high school graduate and then a college student, I plan to write about the traditions I built for him.  These posts will be marked Letting Go, because that is the plan, to send my boy on his way.

My 17 year old baby and I are taking to the road to visit some colleges this week.   And so it seems appropriate to begin with playlists.  For as long as he has been alive, I have made music playlists for our mutual enjoyment.  In his early years, this was music that I burned onto CDs that became our seasonal playlists.  We’d listen together in the car as we drove to school each day.  At first, he’d be in the back in his car seat and I’d look into the rear view mirror to see him keeping beat with the music.  As he learned to talk, he began to sing along with the tunes.  Eventually, he grew big enough to be my front seat co-pilot.  Our playlists came along for the ride and now the co-pilot was running the iPod wth our music.

Our annual summer vacation camping trip always meant two or three playlists for us to enjoy together.  From those adventures, certain songs are burned into my memory.  When I hear them again I think of the stretch of highway between Providence, Rhode Island and the bridge to Cape Cod, or our favorite beach on the Cape.  When T, JT, and I made our trip to Kansas City and St. Louis last summer, I made a playlist for our drive across that state.  For JT and I, road trips means playlists.

For the trip that begins today, JT took charge and he made our road trip playlist .  He says he’s chosen all the songs he remembers best from our drives together and he’s added a few more songs of his own, inspired by the music I shared with him over the years.  I can’t wait to hear what he picked.  It seems fitting that for this journey, he’ll be the driver and I will be the co-pilot.  

Let the journey begin!

Front Yard Flowers on Monday: Week 3

Since last week’s report, we’ve enjoyed a few days in the 60s and then a snowstorm.  Today is cold, below freezing, in fact, and a Nor’easter is on the horizon for later tonight.  The forecast suggests that this flowerbed with the remnants of Friday's snow is likely to be fully covered by a foot of snow by this time tomorrow.  

Spring bulbs may look delicate, but they are a hardy crew and when the snow melts, the green shoots will be there, reaching toward the sun and setting us up for some lovely blooms.

Sometimes I suspect that Mother Nature delivers Spring in fits and starts to remind us to truly appreciate the the loveliness of the season.  The coming late-Winter snow will surely have that effect on me.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


For years now, I’ve kept an annotated list of the books I have read.  The annotations are mostly thoughts about what I enjoyed about the book and the notes are often a reminder of my thoughts and experiences, especially of my first reading of a book.  I am an inevitable re-reader, often many years later, and I enjoy thinking about how a book’s influence on me changes as I age and change myself.  

I’m thinking of this because this morning I finished a book and with Spring Break at hand, I know that I will have more time to read in the coming two weeks.  At this point in the school year, I usually only have time to read in the evening when I tuck into bed.  I’m lucky to finish a few pages before I fall asleep.  I usually manage to complete one book a month and I begin to long for more time to read.  Spring Break offers that time.  I won’t be so exhausted when I climb into bed and in the coming two weeks will probably get to read two or three books.  I’m perusing lists of past reads in order to set myself up with some good books.  That’s happy!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Much-Needed Rest

The school calendar is so much a part of my work world, that I don’t really understand what it is to work outside the framework of that calendar.  For me, the prospect of regularly-scheduled breaks means that I go full-tilt in the weekend months between those longer holidays.  My work world is the business of looking after the needs of children and our relationship isn’t really give and take.  It’s more that I give and they take.  I’m not complaining, just laying out the facts.  There are adults around me to provide perspective (and much-needed humor and kindness when needed); there are terrific rewards in the form of children making impressive leaps in terms of maturity and their empathy and skills.  

But the core fact remains: my work world is one of giving and I go at it full-speed.  When breaks arrive, I embrace them in the same way that I embrace my work days.  Today starts a two week holiday, one that I very much need.  I’d like a Spring Break filled with sunlight and warmth.  The time change means that I get some longer days; the current forecast suggests that the first week will be frigid and snowy.  I will relax anyway, confident in the knowledge that the next 14 days will help me refuel for the rest of the school year.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Why, Hello Winter, Now Get the F*$% Out

Spring Break begins this afternoon and it’s not a moment to soon as my nerves are well-beyond jangled and I badly need some time off.  In the meantime, to accompany the crazy of a school day on the way into two weeks of holiday, it’s snowing, an event that always drives kids nuts.  Yesterday, it was 64 degrees.  Today, Winter is back and it has an attitude.  I am kind of over Winter and not-so-secretly have been plotting to pack up my Winter clothes in favor of Spring clothing.

I see that Mother Nature doesn’t approve.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday: Week 2

Across the street from my house, my neighbors has some daffodils in his front yard and they have begun to bloom.  The neighbor’s flowerbed faces the south east and gets plenty of western light.  Those flowers always bloom first.  My flower bed is on the eastern side of my house, but it’s more sheltered and doesn’t get nearly as much light, so blooms here will take a bit longer to show their faces.  They are always worth the wait.

In the meantime, as if to sustain me while I patiently wait, my amaryllis has brought forth three more flowers.

That’s happy!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Unwelcome Deja Vu

One of the most notable features of life lived on the Nebraska plains is the wind.  It blows often on the prairie and in the Winter the blowing wind could make a cold day downright miserable.  I though of this yesterday, which was cold and windy, with temperatures that never got above freezing and a blowing wind that made it feel much colder.

The source of my reflections was a self-induced problem.  I’ve been growing my hair out and it’s longer now than it has been since I lived in Nebraska.  Coming out of the pool after my swim, I scraped my wet hair into a ponytail.  As I walked to the car, that wet ponytail slapped against my face, a sensation I haven’t experienced since I cut my hair short nearly 20 years ago.

It reminded me of Nebraska, though not in a good way.  Note to self: on a windy day, keep that wet hair in a messy bun.  

Friday, March 03, 2017

Yo Hablo Español

Though I grew up in California and am familiar with the Spanish language, I don’t speak it.  I took French in high school, floundered around in languages in college, and am fluent in only English.  And profanity.  

JT has studied Spanish for all of his school years and can explain its value to to anyone who asks, but he’ll be explaining in English because he’s not very good at Spanish.  Moreover, he does not enjoy studying it.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve wished more and more that I knew a second language.  For one thing, teaching Roman history invariably means discussions of Latin and it doesn’t take much to begin to appreciate the origins of so many languages.  And for another, lots of smart people I know speak another language, and I like to be smart.

So this past summer, I downloaded an app called Duolingo (all the world language teachers I know use it in class and our students enjoy it), and I began to study Spanish.  I promised myself that I would complete two Spanish lessons per day.  I practice in the morning with my first cup of coffee.  Gradually I’ve begun to expand my command of Spanish and my notebook is littered with Spanish vocabulary lists that I review when I get the chance.

Duolingo teaches a practical Spanish, focusing on the building of vocabulary, with lessons that include translating words, phrases, and sentences.  There is the opportunity to practice  pronunciation of Spanish words.  It allows me to move at my own pace, with feedback to help me build skills and practice what I already know.  It’s fun and it builds in rewards.

Sometimes I practice my Spanish with JT.  Invariably, he tells me that I am not funny or that my accent is terrible (both are likely true).  But I persist.  After all, Soy la mamá y hago lo que quiero.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Old Man Tree: March 1st

Clearly, February brought no progress in my plan to tear the ivy off the trunk of my tree.  There are signs that we’ll have an early Spring, so I’d best get cracking in the next few weeks.  Happily, Spring Break is later this month and I fantasize that break will provide me some time for this chore.

I always love Spring’s arrival.  It’s a season of tempting promise, with more and more warmth and bits of verdant green that have me dreaming of the lushness that will soon follow.  I’ve garden catalogs with dog-eared pages that fuel my planting daydreams.  There are bulbs with green tips peeking out of the soil.  The amount of daylight is steadily increasing and the coming time change is means a lengthening of the twilight that is my favorite part of the day.  

Though I am anxious to get Spring started, Old Man Tree will move at a more stately pace.  For me, that’s a welcome reminder of the value of patience.  Old Man Tree reminds me that Mother Nature is powerful and enduring, an idea that I find profoundly comforting.