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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Pretty Package

I love to wrap presents and tie on cheerful ribbons.

That’s happy!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May On the Front Porch

My front porch in May is a transitional project, awaiting the arrival of flowers on Mother’s Day, a tradition that T began and that I very much enjoy.  In the meantime, I made a posey wreath for the front door.

By Mother’s Day, there is enough warm weather to enable most of my indoor plants to travel outside for the summer warmth and sun.  The shefflura grew like gangbusters all winter; I’m hoping that my drooping fuchsia recovers this summer.

I have hanging baskets of New Guinea impatiens with vinca vines.  These are the loveliest baskets I’ve ever chosen and that T helped me pick them out in a steady, cold rain is proof of how spoiled I am.  

I’ve a planter full of double begonias.

There are pansies, impatiens, a Gerbera daisy, and a pot of ivy.

May’s beauty is a lovely salve on long, busy days and I’m looking forward to spending some relaxing summer hours in this happy patch of loveliness.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Motherhood: A Tale of Search and Rescue

This Mother’s Day finds me with a 17 year old and with 17 comes a good deal of independence.  Not so much independence that I don’t have to find all of his missing things, typically after 10 pm when I have clocked out for the day and tucked myself into bed with a book that I am reading one sentence at a time, just before I crash asleep.

He never loses his car keys, his iPad, or his phone, but for the love of god, my son loses a lot of crap.

Lip balm is chief among his missing items and I have bought gallons of lip balm over the years.  One day, I will find it all and then I’ll have a lifetime supply for all of my friends and acquaintances.  That day isn’t today.

In the time I have left after locating the lip balm, I find the sport-related clothing my son needs RIGHT NOW.  It’s typically washed, folded, and in one of the many laundry baskets we own.  They are invisible to teenagers and that’s why he passes them by in the living room, forgetting to carry them upstairs.  This is also why he can’t find his running shorts.  Pants for school also go missing in this very same fashion.  Any number of school-themed sweatshirts, all in the color of maroon or black, also fall into this black hole. I can find them all.

Remaining time is spent locating items in the pantry that my son is sure we are out off: peanut butter and granola bars, I’m looking at you.  

Someday soon, JT will head off to college and I will miss these moments when he’s desperately searching for an item that is right in front of him.  Or, at least, I will miss him.   I fantasize that I won’t miss the search and rescue portion of the job.

Until then, I am the search and rescue genius of Sassafras House.  It’s a skill I have honed over the years, all made possible because I have a uterus.  And never-ending patience when I need it most.

Happy Mother's Day to my fellow travelers, the women who always know where things can be found.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Real Life Conversations with T: Garage Sale edition

The backstory:  T and I like a garage sale but we’ve been know to pass up on items only to regret that decision.  A few years ago, at a garage sale just down the street from my house, there was a box full of urine specimen jars, like the kind available at the doctor’s office.  We didn’t buy them and T has regretted it ever since.  This morning, when we drove by the house that had the jars, she bemoaned the loss.

T:  Ohhhhh, if I only we had bought those specimen jars.

S:  Oh yeah?

T:  It would make visits to my probation officer that much faster.

T doesn’t have a probation officer but she does have endless regrets over garage sale items we should have bought: the specimen jars, a tasteless tits-and-ass mug, a giant bag of clown doll heads.  Surely the coming summer will bring more garage sale items of dubious value.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Rhododendron Report

On either side of my front steps are rhododendron bushes that come into their own when May arrives.  This month is no exception and a bit earlier than usual, purple began to show itself on the edges of the tight flower buds.

Earlier this week, I came home to discover that the first flower had burst open.  It was such a lovely welcome home.

There are many others set to follow.

The weeks ahead will bring me dozens of lovely purple flowers.  The display will be splendid and abundant and it will make come home after a long busy day that much sweeter.

Mother Nature always gets to be garish in a way that I envy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Month of May

May is always the busiest month of the school year and no matter how much I swear that this May will be different, I always end up scattered and exhausted.   Each day seems busier than the last.  When I taught in the Upper School, the month was the point at which I acknowledged that the Seniors were leaving and though it was always understood that this was the case, it was sometimes hard for me to say goodbye.  Now that I work with Middle Schoolers, I don’t really have to say goodbye; most of them will simple move to a new set of hallways on our campus.  I will continue to see them and watch them grow up.  But May is still a chaotic, busy month.

In the meantime, we’ve a series of activities that signal the closing of our year and these traditions are sustaining as the busy math unfolds.  From completing projects to selecting award winners, there is much in the month to keep me on my toes and to remind me of the ways in which the closing of the year is a happy development.  Splendid May weather will help me along and that’s a happy thing.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Not a Fan: Salsa in a Jar

The backstory: On Instagram, I follow a woman named Jen Hatmaker.  She lives in Austin, Texas and writes about her life as a wife, mother, and Christian.  On the face of it, we don’t have much in common, but I like her sensibility and her sense of humor.  From her, I’d adopted the idea of an occasional rant about the small annoyances in life.  She calls her “Not a Fan” and that rather sums it up, so my occasional rants will also arrive under that title.  Today's victim: salsa in a jar.

I am not a fan of salsa from a jar.  It tastes of the vinegar used to preserve it and it’s often weirdly chunky.  Homemade salsa is incredibly easy to make, cheaper by far, and so delicious that you will sneer at jarred salsa.  Salsa is a staple in my household and homemade salsa is the only way to go.  Lest you think this is just me being oddly snooty about homemade, I will defend myself by pointing out that homemade salsa takes less than 15 minutes to make.  I use an adapted version of this Pioneer Woman recipe, swapping out one can of Ro-tel for a can of El Pato tomato sauce and adding extra cilantro and cumin.  It’s out of this world.

Monday, May 08, 2017

Garden Report

A few weeks back, I planted asparagus.  We won’t enjoy it this Spring but we’ll have a few stalks next Spring and in coming years, there will be plenty to harvest and enjoy.  The early plants are ferny, slender stalks that are hard to distinguish among the messy garden, but things are coming along nicely.  

In the meantime, the oregano has returned and it looks good.  Tonight, I'm making mushroom tartines for supper and I will use some of the fresh oregano.

The warm weather that followed the early planting got me thinking about zinnias and so I made trenches and planted my seeds.  The first patches look promising; I’ll plant more rows later this Spring, when the tomatoes and basil go in.

For now, it takes a trained eye to see all the things that are growing.   My daily walk through the garden is pleasing because there is change to be spotted nearly every day.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Dogwood Sunday: Week 5

This week, the dogwood tree shed the rest of its white flowers to make room for lovely green leaves.  This picture was made Sunday morning just before a quick storm blew through, knocking down a few more flowers.

I’m always sorry to see the flowers go, though it must be noted that the dogwood manages to use the spent flowers in a charming fashion.  

Spring, you are always so lovely.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Run, JT, Run

Last weekend, JT ran his first half-marathon and to say that he loved it is an understatement.  Two months ago, as the school baseball season approached, JT gave some serious thought to not playing this year.  I expressed my strong opposition and some very tense weeks followed.  When I finally encouraged him to make up his own mind about baseball, he had a talk with the coach, a man whose respect and affection is important to him.  Then he walked away from the baseball team and immediately began training with a Track Club in central New Jersey.  The goal was to be well-prepared for Sunday’s 13.1 mile race.  When he rolled across the finish line with a 1:29:59 time, he was elated.

I am sad that he isn’t playing baseball.  It’s the sport that first got him thinking about being an athlete.  It’s always been my favorite season to watch.  And I know that playing on a team in this way is a limited thing —— he probably won’t play on a baseball team again.   But he’s found his passion in running.  One of his coaches jokes that “he’s drunk the koolaid,” and that’s true to an extraordinary degree.  When I watch him run, I’m reminded of the 6 year old who once informed me that running was better than walking and who ran everywhere he went.  He’s a little bigger now, but he’s still on the move.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Old Man Tree: May 1

I’ve been using Mondays to celebrate the blooms in my front yard flowerbed.  All year, I’ve set aside the first day of the month for pictures of and reflections about Old Man Tree, the stately red oak in my back yard.  Today’s May Day and it seems fitting to celebrate both my tree and my blooming flowers.  All of the tulips have emerged in the front yard flowerbed.  They are as lovely as I imagined they would be when I planted the bulbs last fall.

Now that they’ve bloomed, I’ll call an end to my flowerbed Monday postings.  Instead, I’ll turn my lens toward something else in my verdant yard.  This past month, T and I girdled the ivy creeping up the side of Old Man Tree and the ivy is finally looking raggedy.  In the coming weeks, I’ll pull as much of it down as I can.  

In the meantime, the back deck refurbishing is proceeding apace and I’m looking forward to some lazy summer days spent in a comfy chair on the back deck in the shade of Old Man Tree.  He’s doing his part to grow the leaves that will provide that shade.

On a daily basis, the view of my backyard brings me happiness and a sense of the glories of the season.  Old Man Tree is an enormous part of that enjoyment and I am thankful every day that he stands tall in my world.