Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January Book Report: The Hearth and Eagle

Since I picked up Anya Seton’s  The Winthrop Woman last year, I’ve been interested in Seton’s other works.  She writes about women, usually historical women.  I’ve read two more of her novels, including this month’s book report, a book about two women who lived in Marblehead, Massachusetts: Phebe, present at the founding of the colonial town when Massachusetts was a Puritan settlement and Hester, one of Phebe’s 19th century descendents.

The stories are intertwined as Hester’s father is proud of his family’s legacy.  The novel is powerful because of Seton’s writings about women, in this case women from an historical time in which women’s stories were often lost.  As a novelist, Seton is sometimes uneven but as an historian, she is thorough and her imagined characters are surrounded by a rich and accurate historical world.  In this respect, Seton’s musings on the lives of women lost to history is powerful.

I think of this often, teaching 7th graders early American history.  They love to step into the feet of historical people and it’s a challenge for me to ensure that they step into the shoes of a variety of historical lives.  Famous founders, of course, are easy enough to bring back to life as their works and works about them are abundant.  But the lives of working men and women who are the backbone of the American people are harder to animate.  The histories of the enslaved and the poor are often hazy, their lives lost or ignored in the stories of those with the time and the skill to write.

So a novelist like Seton helps me to feel those forgotten people.  I add them to the established social history that we know and then use it to teach my students about the lives of 1625 or 1860 and everything in between.   I’ve got a few more Seton novels in my pile of books to-be read and I look forward to filling my mind with more musings on the ordinary lives of those whose history is the foundation of our world.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Amaryllis Tuesday: January 30

Not to put any pressure on the amaryllis, but February is on the horizon, little bulb, and I’m really starting to fret.

I know its cold, but it’s time to summon your courage and get after it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Pretty Package: Tiny edition

I wrapped this tiny package last weekend. 

It's as cute as a minute and that makes me smile.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


I have always wanted a Dash & Albert rug, and for Christmas, my parents gave me one for the living room.  Dash & Albert designs tend to distinct and tidy patterns ---- with a lot of stripes, ikat, Moroccan tile, and marled designs with a huge variety of color options.  I picked stripes.

I love stripes just as much as I love polka dots.  They feel neat and stylish to me and I like that.   

The range of colors hides a variety of sins and that’s a good thing when you live with cats.  

The rug ties the living room together and makes the space cozy.   It makes me smile every time I walk into the room.  That’s happy.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Amaryllis Tuesday: January 23

Around here, there has been a temporary ceasefire in the frigid Winter temperatures.  It was 50 degrees and sunny on Saturday and JT and I were ready to pull out our shorts and flip flops.  I advised the amaryllis to soak up the sun.
It’s the start of week four for the bulb and, right on schedule, I have started to worry that it won’t ever grow.

Be patient, the bulb reminds me.  And so I wait.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

One Year In

I have a searing memory of Trump’s Inaugural address last year, which presented his dystopian view of America and, in hindsight, gave us a glimpse of the political year he would bring us: blustering lies and bold attempts to turn back every piece of progress that the Obama Administration had managed to secure from the last eight years of a begrudging and polarized Republican party.

In the days immediately after Trump’s ugly January 2017 speech, my students and I studied Jefferson’s inaugural address in 1801, the product of another election that bitterly divided the nation.  In his address, President Jefferson emphasized all the things that bound the nation together and he organized a vision of continued unity, with both political parties, the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans, working together in the national interest.  Sparks between the two sides would still fly, but with a measured, thoughtful leader at the helm, the nation didn’t just survive.  It endured.

I keep thinking of 1801 as I assess the year that was 2017 and the year that 2018 is shaping up to be.  I continue to believe that we are living in an era of party change; I think that the Republican party is in the midst of a spectacular smash-up.  But as the party crashes, the nation is experiencing collateral damage that may endure far longer than I anticipated when Trump won the presidency in 2016.  His first year was a wake-up call to the notion that though the presidency isn’t particularly powerful as conceived in the Constitution, it has become very powerful indeed.  It was a reminder that checks and balances in the form of legislative power only work when the legislature is prepared to fulfill its responsibilities.

We don’t have that kind of Congress right now.  Republicans, so polarized that the only thing that unites them is their fear of losing power, have yielded authority to a president that they know to be ill-informed, racist, and self-absorbed.  The current shutdown, an unprecedented event when one party has control of both the executive and legislative branch, is evidence that the GOP has boarded the Trump Train and won’t get off even as it derails.

A party willing to jam through a tax plan that only 30% of the nation approved of can’t pull together a budget plan.  Why?  Because they are torn apart on what to do for the Dreamers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.  This, even as DACA and CHIP enjoy the support of north of 80% of the American public.  The only thing more irrational than that sentence is today’s Republican party.  

If there is hope for a future it’s got to come from within ourselves.  In a government built upon the nation of “We the people,” it’s well-past time for the people to suit up and require our government to govern in our interests and to do it well.  It’s not easy because we are often an ill-informed citizenry, taking greater joy in name-calling and the news of Kardashians, when we should be doing the hard work of asking difficult questions and informing ourselves.  I have long believed that the people get the government that they deserve.  I believe that the current mess reflects that painful reality.  We must demand better of ourselves as citizens so that we can demand more of our government and leaders.  It won’t be easy but it is not impossible and it is the only path forward.  Greatness must lie within the people; only then can we find the leaders we deserve.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Real Life Conversations with Middle Schoolers, Bullying edition

The backstory:  We are studying George Washington’s presidency and I explained to my class the issues that drove the Jay Treaty.  Discussing British refusal to evacuate the West or stop impressment of American sailors, I characterized British actions as if they were a bully.

Me:  So it’s like England was giving a young United States a wedgie and then jamming the U.S. into a locker.

Student R:  Oh man….America needs to tell an adult.

At that, we all burst into laughter.  And, as a happy aside….we all understand the problems and perils of the Jay Treaty.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Amaryllis Tuesday: January 16

We’re at the start of the third week for the amaryllis bulb and the bulb has yet to show growth above the soil.   As I wait, I check the bulb every day.  Then I repeat the mantra of the gardener: “be patient,” I say, “good things take time.”

As I wait, I remind myself to live in the moment, to enjoy today and let tomorrow take care of itself.  Some days, that’s easier than others.  But there are flowers to come. And so I wait.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dr. King's Leadership

Like many Americans (dare I hope a majority of us?), Donald Trump's “shithole countries” comment was yet another reminder that our president is a nasty, racist, brute .  I work in a diverse school, with many children whose parents are first generation Americans.  They come to our corner of New Jersey from all over the world: Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Haiti, and more.  Since Donald Trump rose to the national stage, it’s been a daily struggle to ensure that his hateful rhetoric not tinge the world of my students at our school.  

In January, we always take the time to mark Martin Luther King’s life and accomplishments.  Last Friday, it seemed especially important to say something about Dr. King that would also serve as a counterpoint to Mr. Trump’s thoughtless leadership.  This is my announcement:

Like so many of his fellow Americans…like nearly all of us…Martin Luther King’s ancestors were immigrants to this nation.  Reverend King knew that the power and greatness of the United States lay in our diversity.  He believed that tolerance must be our destiny, the only way forward for both our country and the world.  He once said, “We must live together as brothers, or we are going to perish together as fools.”

These are wise words always, but especially now, as we prepare to celebrate Dr. King’s life, his legacy, and his dream that we fulfill the promise that, “all men are created equal.” 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

January Front Porch

I swapped the porch to its January finery on the 1st of the month, figuring that waiting for a warm day would be an exercise in futility.  It was a cold job and as frigid temps and snow shortly followed, I was glad that I hadn’t waited.  The mercury glass Edison lights stayed because lights on an automatic timer make Winter’s darkness less daunting.

The snowman flag has taken a beating in the wind and may have to be retired after this month.  But for now, it lights our way.

My wooden snowmen found a new location with some pine tree stamped decorations that T gave me.

The front door wreath is simple.

The table has greenery, pinecones, and snowflake lights to cheer us through the cold, dark month.  

We’ve reached the point in January where the sunlight is lengthening the day by a minute or two and for me, that makes the cold a little more bearable.  Porch sitting days will be here soon enough; until then, the porch is a welcome place to come home to and that’s happy!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Happy Birthday, KO!

It’s my sister’s birthday today.  She’s a rock in my family, the person whom you can always depend on, and whose sense of humor never fails to amuse me.  She’s an outspoken liberal, who lives in a town that doesn’t always enjoy outspoken liberals.  But that doesn’t stop KO and I love that about her.  

I was the sort of tiresome sister who bragged about being older when we were kids.  But these days, KO gets that last laugh; my little sister is tall, beautiful,  smart, and younger than me.  She wins, and not just because she filched money from the Monopoly game.  KO reports that her birthday card and present have already been delivered to her corner of California.   But I was thinking of here when I made a few earlier this week.  

Happy, happy birthday, KO! The world is a much better place because you are here.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Amaryllis Tuesday: January 9

We are in the early days of amaryllis season; it’s just the start of the second week since I planted the bulb.  These are the days that remind me to be patient.  That’s easier on a day like today, when temperatures are expected to (finally!), rise above freezing. 

While it quietly grows, the amaryllis is in good company here on the bench with a view of a Southern-facing window, with plants that have grown larger and larger over the years.  And so we all turn our faces toward the sun, grateful for the warmth and the light we will receive.

Monday, January 08, 2018

As Years Become Days

For much of this past Fall, conversations in my home were about college applications.  Essays were written and revised, schools were investigated and visited, and plans for college life were made.  I bought JT the bedding he’ll need for college; we discussed majors and careers.  All of it had an air of unreality to me.  I worked, I talked through plans with T, we went to cross country races all over the state, and I did the laundry.  Lots and lots of laundry.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that 2018 would bring big changes to my world.  But knowing it in my mind and believing it in my heart were two very different things.  

Cross country season ended and wrestling season began.  Holiday plans were made.  There was more and more laundry but, seemingly less and less boy as he spent big chunks of time at his girlfriend’s house.  A college acceptance arrived; we celebrated.  But still, there was an air of unreality, as if my life would remain a slowly moving cycle of daily motherhood.  And laundry, always the laundry.

For Christmas, a dear friend  gave me two beautifully embroidered handkerchiefs.  “There will be tears in June,” she said, “you can cry elegantly.”  I loved them and carried them home, neatly folded them into tidy squares and tucked them into my dresser drawer, as if they belonged to a distant future.

After the holiday, I got out my calendar and began to mark coming events: wrestling matches, JT’s 18th birthday, Spring Break, the Prom, the closing of school, graduation.  And in those minutes, 18 years of being JT’s mama flashed before my eyes.  Where there had once been years of daily parenting to envision, now there were months; soon it will simply be days.  I realized that I was now in a landscape of lasts…..the last set of high school midterms, a final wrestling match, the last batch of birthday cupcakes……..a dwindling list of things and events that were once the backbone of my days.

I’ve no earthly idea how the time passed so quickly.  But here I am on the brink of a new kind of existence.  There is much about it that is exciting.  I feel blessed to have a happy and excited son, a once-reluctant-to-try-new-things little boy who is now a young man willing to embrace the uncertainty of his future.  So I am determined to embrace and enjoy it all, without regrets and with hope and anticipation for this next chapter of our lives.

But I still wonder where the time went.  And there is no doubt I will need those handkerchiefs.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

On the Pleasures of a Warm Radiator

Outside, it was -4 degrees when I got up at 8 am this morning.  Inside, the radiators were cranking away, doing what it takes to keep us cozy.  My house was built in 1931 and it has a steam furnace.  There is much to said for steam heat, especially for those of us with crazy dry skin, because my house stays warm in the Winter, without the crackling static electricity and cracked dry skin of forced air heat.  Radiators have some other advantages as well.  There are radiator covers, which can be quite charming and are a place to have plants or photos, or, in December, my collections of wood carved snowmen. 

Radiator covers are cozy places to rest if you are a cat, though lately Lucy just prefers to go straight to the source and she sleeps on the top of the actual furnace.   Radiators are nice if you’re a human who would like a warm towel when she dries her hands or gets out of the bath. 

They are also a nice place to warm the clothes you plan to put on for the day, a discovery JT made when he was 5 and still values at the ripe old age of 17 (photo of the boy’s room redacted because none of us needs visual evidence of his disaster of a bedroom).

In the midst of our current cold snap I especially appreciate the toasty warm radiators in my home.  That’s happy!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Cold Snap

Since Christmas, we’ve been in the grip of a serious cold snap, with day after day of temperatures that don’t rise above freezing.  Lows have been in the teens and are headed to the single digits and below zero for the coming weekend.  Winter days like this are not rare, though the duration of this run of frigid temperatures is rather unusual.  Today, a blizzard is added to the mix, as if to put an exclamation mark on the enduring icy chill.  

Whereas regular weather is an afterthought (do I need a rain coat today?), cold like this has a tendency to be the focus of the day.  Stepping out on the porch demands gloves and hats, cars need time to warm up,  phones need charging before we venture out for a drive.  I check the steam radiators in the house to make sure they are chirping along and I am grateful for cozy slippers and warm down comforters.  Sunlight makes it nicer.  I am a cold-hardy kind of girl, so I get out my hats, scarves, gloves, and wool sweaters to face the chill.  I make pots of soup for supper; I drink mug after mug of steaming hot tea.  Most of all, I try to simply face up to the cold and rather than dread stepping outside, I pull on my coat and just do it.  

But even the cold-hardy can grow weary of these frigid days.  I remind myself that the bone-chilling cold days makes the warm and easy days of Spring and Summer that much sweeter.  When they arrive, they will feel earned; a reward for enduring and coping with the chill.  Each week we spend in frigid days seems like time banked for a flip flop reward of a day.

That’s happy!

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Everything is Political

Sassafras House is a land where the sports calendar matters, both in terms of playing and viewing.  These days, JT is a runner and a wrestler, and I am there to watch and cheer him on.  When it comes to watching sports, our first love is baseball, both the MLB and college baseball and softball.  But we regularly make time for college basketball, both women and men, and for years we’ve watched college football and the NFL.

I believe in the power of sport to unite people, to provide enjoyment and excitement, to teach us all lessons about human achievement.  I think that there are times when sports can transcend our individual identities to teach us universal human truths.  For my son, sports and being part of a team has taught him lifelong lessons about the power of perseverance; it’s showed him that a work ethic matters.  I encourage my middle school students to participate on teams and I go to their games.  I’m enough of a fan that this Fall I taught a Middle School course on sports statistics and when the students in the course wanted to talk all NFL, all the time, I was a good sport about it.  

My appetite for football has faded in recent years, largely as a result of the growing evidence that the sport is damaging to the brains of its players.  The more I understand brain science, the more I find football uncomfortable.  I’m glad that JT doesn’t play and in recent years I’ve watched less and less.  I did pay attention to the NFL on the weekends after President Trump decided to attack Colin Kaepernick, because I respect Kaepernick and his actions.  The spector of NFL players standing up to the president was appealing.

My respect for Kaepernick extended to the hope that he would once-again find employment in the NFL.  I may not enjoy football as much as I once did, but Kaepernick wants to play and I respect him.  The outcome of that story is well-known: no team in the NFL sought the services of Kaepernick and, as this article by Dave Zirin makes perfectly clear, the reason is obvious.

Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions.  For me, the conclusion is that NFL owners are a privileged, racist lot of men, the sort who want their fans to pay extra taxes for their stadiums, and otherwise spend our hard-earned money to line the owners’ pockets.   They aren't looking to field winning teams as much as they seek a football universe on their terms, not ours.  I am done with the NFL.  I'm still a sports fan; I'm teaching sports statistics once again this Spring.  This time, the course has a new title: "Baseball Statistics".

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Amaryllis Tuesday: January 2

As has become my happy tradition, I received an amaryllis bulb for Christmas.  I planted it on the 31st and set it in a sunny spot.

It will be a few weeks before I see growth, but in the midst of the current cold snap, the amaryllis is a lovely reminder that patience will be rewarded and that change can be a beautiful thing.  In this year that will bring changes to my world, that’s a timely and useful reminder.  

Monday, January 01, 2018

January 1: Hostas-a-Plenty

Each year, I choose something in my garden to feature at the start of the month.  It’s a way to mark the small changes that I see in the midst of the larger seasonal garden growth.  It’s also a reminder to take pleasure in the regular plants in my garden.  This year, the hosta beds get to shine.

I first remember seeing hostas when I moved to Nashville, where they grew in abundance in shady places.  It was also common to see a ring of hostas around the trunks of trees, like a fancy green collar.  I admired them from the start and pledged to grow some of my own one day.  In Nebraska, my yard got too much sun for hosts.  In my first house on New Jersey, there were some planted already.  When I moved to Sassafras House, there was a bed of hostas along the garage.

And by the back deck.

Both beds are still they and they are lush come warm weather.  Over the years, I’ve added more hostas, planting some on the front flower beds on both sides of the front yard.

And against the fence in the garden, where some seasonal clean-up chores remain to be completed.

I plant hostas whenever I get the chance.  I love them in all their varieties.  In 2018, I will post pictures of my hostas at the start of every month.  Right now, they are at rest for the Winter.  But in a few months, they’ll be ready to show off.  That’s happy!