Sunday, April 30, 2017

April Book Review: The Invention of Wings

I picked up this Sue Monk Kidd novel because the back-of-the-book description was so compelling.  The novel is the story of Sarah Grimke, a 19th century abolitionist and feminist.  I have long admired Sarah Grimke, who, with her younger sister Angelina, became famous for their public presence amongst the most active social reformers of the 1830s.  Contemporaries of William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Theodore Weld, Lucretia Mott, and others, the Grimke sisters were important leaders in both abolition and feminism.  Moreover, they were intellectual forces to be reckoned with at a time when women were largely seen as ornaments, not intellects.  Thanks to her careful command of the real history of abolition and feminism, Kidd tells their story exceptionally well.

Sarah Grimke was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1792 and she grew up in a prosperous slave-owning household.   As a child, Sarah began to question the injustice of slavery.  An obviously bright child, her father permitted her to read the same books as her brothers.  However, as she approached adolescence, her parents made clear that her world must be the circumspect existence of a privileged Southern woman of the 1800s.  She could not receive the same education as her brothers; her aspirations to a career in law were laughed at dismissed.  

Kidd weaves the known story of Sarah Grimke with imagined conversations and an internal dialogue that adds layers to Sarah’s story and makes splendid work of it.  The story is powerful on its own; Kidd’s prose makes it exceptional.  The novel is structured as a story about Sarah and a Grimke family slave named Hetty, who lived alongside Sarah and whose experiences form the core of Sarah’s abolitionist beliefs.  

The novel is told in first person in alternate chapters by Hetty and Sarah.  Kidd’s prose is lovely and in the opening page of the novel, when Hetty says of her mother, Charlotte, “Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy,”  I knew that this book was special.  Not two paragraphs in to the story and I was hooked.  The rest of the book measured up to that first page and it was a terrific read.  Beyond that, it had me thinking about the lives of women in the 1800s.

As I read The Invention of Wings I also watched the Masterpiece Theater story about the Bronte sisters, “To Walk Invisible.” Charlotte, Emily, and Anne lived around the same historical time as Sarah and Angelina Grimke and though the women lived an ocean apart, their worlds were similarly circumspect.  All of them were brilliant and capable and all lived at a time when such women were largely excluded from the public eye.  They may not have been rare, but because opportunities for women were so limited, they seem rare.  That these amazing women wrote anyway (and Sarah also spoke out at public events), says much about the power of the ideas swirling in their minds.  As I read about all three of the Grimke women and watched the Bronte sisters, I felt again how much is lost when women’s contributions are undervalued or downright excluded.  Though they lived more than 100 years ago, in the aftermath of the Trump election, the Grimke women and the Bronte sisters seem more important than ever.  These women were warned and yet they persisted.  In 2017, we should embrace the lesson of that experience.

Dogwood Sunday: Week 4

Last week’s profusion of dogwood flowers has begun to yield to tiny green leaves.  The tree is still lovely to behold and it joins pink and white dogwoods all over New Jersey in its celebration of Spring.

Day by day, the flowers are replaced by leaves and I am reminded that Spring is lovely because it’s so ephemeral.

Soon enough, Mother Nature will provide something new for me to enjoy.  And in the meantime, there are still dogwood flowers.

That’s happy!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Real Life Conversations with 7th Graders: Priorities edition

The backstory: One of my Assistant Principal responsibilities is to be a presence at school events.  Sometimes that means cheering on the cross country runners; on other days that means sitting with the Middle School choir during the Spring Choir Concert, as I did on Thursday evening.  The event is at an old chapel on campus at Rutgers University.  Our Middle School Choir sings and also watches as various Upper School Choirs perform.  The performance is one thing and in their starched white shirts and black skirts and pants they are both cute and nervous as they sing.  Afterward, when their portion of the concert is complete, they file back into the church pews on the side of the chapel.  Then the madness really begins.  They know they should sit still, keep quiet, and be a good audience but they find it nearly impossible to do so.  On Thursday, in addition to the more-than-occasional shush, I seized a few cell phones.  After the event, 7th grader A asked if he could have his phone back.  I invited him for a conversation.

Me:  Buddy, there were students perfuming as their families watched.  It’s rude to be on your phone.  What were you doing?

A (in earnest assurance):  I was checking the NFL draft to see who the Cleveland Browns got to pick.  

In my mind, I wanted to say, “You’re a 7th grader, not the fucking president of the Cleveland Browns.”  But I know this child and I especially know the concerns of 7th grade boys.  Chief among them are their sports teams.  I know that A is not the president of the Cleveland Browns but A, all of 4’7” of him, well, he isn’t quite so sure.  So rather than shout or offer the obvious, we ended our conversation in a different fashion.

Me:  I get it, but checking your phone while students perform is rude.  You need to be a good audience and keep your fingers crossed that things go well for the Browns.

7th grade is often the the most difficult part of adolescence, a churning sea of anxiety and frustration.  Voices and bodies are rapidly changing (or they aren’t and that’s a burden of a different sort), emotions swing wildly, and insensitivity abounds.  My job is to be the steady anchor on this ship of fools, to be compassionate and empathetic, and to kindly direct them as we sail through it together.  Lucky for me, there are plenty of opportunities to laugh and smile as we navigate the storms.  As for the Cleveland Browns, well, A is on the job.  They should be just fine.  

Thursday, April 27, 2017

On Morning Light

I am an early riser and when school is in session I am typically out of the shower and headed downstairs for coffee by 5:45 in the morning.  For much of the school year I spent the start of my day in inky darkness.  But come April, the steady lengthening days ensure light in the early morning and my first cup of coffee is served with a sunrise.  These days are often crammed with busy activities.  The surface of my desk has been long lost to me; my to-do list is ridiculously long.  But each morning, I watch for that first glimpse of the sun and the day feels new.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My Hometown

I am a regular reader of Cup of Jo and this post about hometowns got me thinking about my hometown, Clovis, California.  I left Clovis for college in 1985 (!) and though I came back for a few summers, I never lived there full time again.  I visit most years and now I have fond feelings about Clovis.  The Cup of Post got me thinking about the things I miss about my hometown and so I present, in no particular order, the things I miss about Clovis:

1.  Swimming pools.  We had one growing up and thanks to the summer heat, many other people also have pools.  From an airplane, the pools are so plentiful that it looks like everyone has a tiny postage stamp of blue in their backyard.  

2.  The many months of flip flop weather.  See pools, above…

3.  Mexican food in delicious abundance.

4.  My sister, who lives and works in our hometown, always makes me laugh, and is one of the strongest women I know.  I would love to hang out with her on a Friday night after a long work week.  

5.  My parents, who love their town.

6.  The green “Clovis Gateway to the Sierras” sign that hangs in the downtown.  I always enjoy a glimpse when I visit.

Thinking about what I miss from my hometown has me thinking about the things I liked in other places I’ve lived and that’s been a pleasing stroll down memory lane.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday: Week Nine

Tulips are blooming this week and the hostas have begun their dramatic unfurl.  We’re at the point of Spring where nearly all the trees have at least a haze of green and there is something new to enjoy every day.  It’s hard not to enjoy such days and I am taking the time to enjoy every bit of the lovely that comes my way.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Dogwood Sunday: Week 3

Once a few of the dogwood flowers opened up, the warm week that followed sealed the deal and my tree is now in full and splendid bloom.

It’s a lovely sight when I come downstairs each morning.  Dogwood flowers are abundant and it’s hard to avoid a smile when Spring celebrates like this.  

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Iced Tea Season has Arrived

I love tea.  In the Fall and Winter, I drink mug after mug of hot tea when I am home.  Come warm weather, I fancy iced tea and I get down my blue spongewear pitcher and then I start making the house wine of my home  I boil the water and steep half a pitcher full with three teabags.  After 15 minutes, I fill the pitcher with ice and then I am in business.  On a hot afternoon, I can drink a whole pitcher by myself.  I’ve had this Overcast pottery pitcher since the early 1990s when I lived in Tennessee; over the years I’ve surely poured thousands of glasses of tea from my pitcher.

That’s happy!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Enchanted April Blooms

In addition to the delicate flowers on the peach tree, there are other blooms to be found in my backyard.  Among the hostas, there are some elegant pink tulips.

The trellised clematis is on its way to something splendid.

The apple and pear trees have flowers in advance of produce.

Spring blooms seem to appear overnight and with each day there is more color to enjoy.  

That's happy!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Jersey Peach

In 2013, I planted this peach tree in memory of our Miss Amy.  It’s called a Redhead Peach Tree and as Amy was a red head, it seemed fitting.  She wasn’t a fan of peaches, but she loved all things New Jersey and so she was our Jersey peach.

It’s been 4 years since I planted the tree and as it does each spring, the splendid blooms have begun.  It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 4 years since Amy left this earth.  When I watch JT play a sport, I always think of her.  She never missed a little league game and I’d dearly love to have her company at a wrestling match or cross country race.  She’d cheer our boy on (and surely offer some pointed thoughts about how a bunch of lesbians now have to watch wrestling) and we’d laugh and ponder how fast JT has grown up.

Amy was the sort of friend who said yes to even the most hare-brained scheme, who loved with abandon, and always laughed.  I miss her mightily.  Today, I’ll look at my lovely peach tree and will remember the power of her life and love.  I’ll be grateful for the blessing of having her in my world, even if it was for far-too-short a time.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday : Week Eight

Each week brings me just a bit closer to abundant blooms in this flowerbed.  We are having a mild Spring and the breezy warm days feed my soul.  

It looks like this week I will enjoy at least one tulip in this flower bed.

The hostas have also emerged in the last few days and I look forward to an abundant display later this season.

The busy April and May world of school is made easier when there are nice days at hand.  Blooms to go with those easy days makes me happy.

Spring, you enchant me.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Traditions

The Easter Bunny still delivers candy at our house and so JT’s basket was set out last night and had plenty of treats come the morning.  T also received a little something from the bunny, because treats are always happy.  

I miss the days when JT would hunt the garden for plastic eggs filled with candy, but other traditions of the holiday are still pleasing.  I love holiday cooking and Easter is no exception to that rule.  I had a three day weekend for the holiday and the extra day off was a blessing that found me with the time I needed to prepare our holiday meals in a leisurely fashion.  We had homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast, made from a recipe T has from her grandmother.  These rolls are incredibly delicious and a reminder of family.  The whole house smells amazing when they bake, a scent that reminds T of a beloved grandmother, so that’s most happy.  

For our Easter supper, there was ham, a potato casserole recipe that comes from my family (they’re called funeral potatoes because the original recipe was obtained from a funeral supper and the smell of them baking spells holiday for me), rolls, and asparagus.  We also enjoyed an embarrassing amount of deviled eggs because of course we did.

Holiday traditions like this are one of the things that I love best, a happy reminder of family and a chance to enjoy the traditions that make life rich. 

Dogwood Sunday: Week 2

It’s Easter Sunday and as if not to miss the opportunities that entails, things are in bloom all over my corner of the world.  The dogwood is eager to lead the way.  In the past week, the buds opened and this week’s warm mild weather brought flowers.  

As Spring’s warmth unfolds, the creamy white flowers will open wider and the edges of the flowers will turn a light shade of pink.  I always find that dogwood blooms are one of Spring’s most lovely achievements.  

That’s happy!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Food Friday: Crepes!

One of the reasons that I enjoy cooking is that it involves the completion of a project.  Much of my professional life is about works-in-progress and while it’s incredibly rewarding to watch adolescents mature and learn more about the world and themselves, when 8th graders walk out of my daily world and into the 9th grade, they are incomplete.  Even completion of high school is not quite the finished project whereby we can measure our success.  That measure comes later, when students succeed in college and move on to professions that they find satisfying and meaningful.  So a big part of my job requires that I make peace with the notion of works in progress.

Cooking is about completion.  From start to finish, a biscuit is mixed, baked, and then it’s complete and ready to eat.   Much of my cooking is the daily business of putting breakfast on the counter and supper on the table.  I work to vary our choices but in the end I am cooking a lot of the same things.  Days off and holidays give me a chance to make foods that require more time or are otherwise special.  I enjoy those completed projects a great deal and I’m often on the look-out for something new to cook.  

Enter a Good Friday holiday and this crepes recipe.  I saw it earlier this week and thought "I should make that someday." Someday was this morning and it came together just as the instructions said it would, a feature of the Simply Recipes website that makes it my favorite cooking website.  I mixed the batter, poured some in a buttered pan and watched it settle as the edges browned.

I flipped the crepe over (it was easy!).

And behold my new superpower.

That’s happy!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Daffodils & Peonies

I’ve been documenting the larger of my two front yard flowerbeds, the one that faces north and east.   On the other side of the front yard, there are mostly bushes.  I’ve planted a few bulbs and a Mother’s Day peony that T gave me a few years back and this side of the yard gets western light, so the blooms tend to arrive first.  Though the morning this picture was made was chilly and the daffodils were cuddling to keep warm, they have bloomed.  The second patch is close to bloom.

Early shoots of the peony are also present.  I’ll have peonies for Mother’s Day.  

That’s happy! 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Front Yard Flowers on Monday: Week Seven

We had a gloriously sunny weekend and the next few days promise more warmth and sunshine.  Blooms are on their way!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Dogwood Sunday: Week One

When I lived in the South, dogwood blooms usually opened by Easter; often in advance of Easter Sunday, and Southerners saw the blooms with the x-shaped color in the center as a symbol of Christ and his rebirth.  In my experience, Southerners often see poetry in the otherwise small details of everyday life and I always found that characteristic charming.  It was in the South that I first learned to appreciate the beauty of seasons and dogwood blooms always jog those memories.  Easter is next week and while there are a handful of dogwood trees in bloom on my daily travels, most aren’t quite there yet.  My dogwood is working toward flowering, but from a distance it retains the stark appearance of Winter.

Up close, the promise of flowers is present in the tight buds.

The week ahead has a forecast for sunshine and warmth; an explosion of blooms and blossoms are on the way.  For the next few weeks, I’ll make a picture of the dogwood each Sunday, and I’ll use the photos to track Spring’s progress.  That’s happy and lovely!

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Real Life Texts with T: Future Plans edition

The backstory: I am teaching JT how to drive and it sometimes requires the patience of Job.  He’s a careful and cautious driver, but he’s still 17 and driving in the most densely populated state in the nation.  Anxious moments happen.  After a rough go at parking, I texted T to explore my options.

Me:  Today in Peter Pan driving featured an argument over parking.  An infant is easier.  I am looking to trade.

T:  We are not trading for an infant.  We are seeing this thru with Peter Pan and we are going on vacation to Yellowstone once he is in college.  Infants don’t like Yellowstone so that’s how it has to be.

Sounds like it’s back to the parking lot for me.  

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Presidential Prospects

Over Spring Break, T and I took a day and drove a couple of hours north to Hyde Park, New York, where we visited the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and toured his home, Springwood.  At the house, we saw FDR’s tidy boyhood room.

This room came to mind when my nephew C and his friend K came to visit.  I can’t speak for his home, but the room C slept in while he was at my house suggests that his housekeeping isn’t up to presidential standards.

Of course, this is JT’s room, so I am not exactly in a position to judge.

But K’s bed making skills suggest some serious presidential prospects.

My sister KO and I clearly need some guidance.  Sara Delano Roosevelt is no longer of this earth, so KO and I will look to K’s mom, who seems to have some mad skills.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

April Front Porch

Around here, mild Winters can sometimes result in a slow arriving Spring, as has been the case for the last few years.  A big snowstorm in March, just days before the official arrival of Spring, had me nervous that this year would follow the same routine and that Spring would arrive in an agonizingly slow fashion.  

In mid-March, our Spring Break was rather cold and we’ve had a great deal of rain since then but it’s been accompanied by some sunny days in the 50s and 60s.  This week’s forecast looks quite promising for more of the mild sunlight that will set us up for verdant blooms before this month has ended.  My April front porch is ready to show the way, with plenty of fresh white flowers and a cheery purple ribbon on Flopsy, my cast iron bunny.

Easter is next week and I love the look of this wreath on my front door, so it stays for April.

The bunny flag is keeping time with the breezy days.

This month, I replaced the front porch lights with a string of Edison bulbs.  I love the look of these bulbs and in the evening they provide a warm and welcoming light for the porch.  I’ve had them for a few months and was excited to finally hang them up; they light up as lovely as I imagined.

And that is really the theme for my feelings about Spring, I think.  In the Winter, I thumb through my garden catalogs and imagine how lovely Spring will be.  Then it arrives and it’s even nicer than I imagined.  That’s happy!