green thoughts

February 21, 2017 @ 8:39 pm | Filed under: Gardening, Nature Study

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I lost my voice for a week, and with it my mojo. I’m better now but still tired and feeling (here at the end of the day) low in spirits, probably because I just caught up on the news. I’m not accustomed to this feeling and I don’t wear it well.

The morning was nice, though: warm sun after yet more rain (so much rain! it’s been years since I could say that!), and thyme seedlings feathering up near a volunteer pumpkin sprout. That self-sown arugula I found last month up and bolted on me, and now it’s flowering: starry white flowers, petals veined like insect wings, tangled with the yellow marguerites. I’m not complaining. I’m not sure I’ve ever grown a leafy edible that didn’t bolt. Some years back, I realized my favorite flowers of that summer were my gone-to-seed cilantro. The leaves had turned bitter but oh how lovely those small lacy blossoms all along the back fence. Maybe now that we’ve had some rain, I’ll plant a packet of cilantro seeds and let most of it run away with itself.

I was revisiting a favorite gardening book recently, Eleanor Perenyi’s Green Thoughts. For some reason I had it in my head that she was a garden writer (among whose number are some of my lifetime favorite writers, like Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White). But a rabbit trail enlightened me: Perenyi was actually a novelist and memoirist. Green Thoughts was her only garden book!

Her obituary in the New York Times describes her as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener,” which struck me as an epitaph worth having. Why, I’m a writer and an opinionated amateur gardener, I thought. Whether or not those opinions are delicious must be determined by each reader, I suppose. But the description made me laugh and I experienced one of those little mental kaleidoscope twists after which new patterns reveal themselves to you. Until now I’ve more or less rolled my eyes at my own gardening idiosyncracies: I seldom do anything by the book. I grow things in odd places and wrong seasons. I ignore what I ought to tend, and I fuss over what wants to be left alone. I’ve got lettuce and herbs and flowers all growing in the same big pot, because it sits on the front steps and I know I’m most likely to notice it wants watering, after this burst of weather is past and the baking days return.

It’s funny that while I have no qualms whatsoever about tweaking and adapting some educational resource to suit my own preferences, when I make the same kind of tweaks to proper garden methods I do so with a measure of chagrin, an internal acknowledgement that I’m ‘doing it all wrong but oh well.’ It’s possible, now I think of it, this inner critic (it isn’t a loud one) is the voice of our neighbor back in Virginia, who was positively tormented by my unconventional approach. He’d see me on our sloping lot across the street from his house, painstakingly grubbing out weeds that were absolutely going to rebound with vigor the following week, and he’d holler “helpful” recommendations of Round-Up across the road. “Can’t!” I’d yell back. “It’ll kill the milkweed!” That I planted milkweed on purpose made him sputter. We drove each other crazy, Tom and I, but only during the summer. I planted forsythia, redbuds, and dogwoods at the top of that slope, which means he had me to thank for his lovely spring view. Not to mention the enormous throng of monarch butterflies that mobbed my asters in the fall.

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(That’s a big sprig of chicory behind the asters. I left a huge patch of it wild in our yard, intermingled with Russian thistle. Both are wonderful plants for a butterfly garden, but they aren’t exactly lookers. Not by conventional standards, at least. The chicory was glorious in the mornings, like a sheet of fallen sky, but by noon the flowers had closed up and all you had was a patch of scrub. This is why Tom found me trying as a neighbor. And let’s face it: if there is one place I have never belonged, it’s a neighborhood with a homeowner’s association.)

(Well, that and high school gym class.)

Anyway, I’ve decided that being remembered as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener” would be a fine thing.

Speaking of idiosyncratic gardeners, here’s another thing that made me smile this morning. I discovered that Rilla had added a little pot to our container garden under the front window. It’s the yellow pot in the photo below—full of weeds. The grass (which is mostly weeds; see above re: no Round-Up) has turned meadowy with all this rain. Rilla knew I was going to mow soon and (she explained) she was afraid all the “beautiful weeds” would be shorn. So she dug some up and gave them a safe new home.

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Apple, tree.

2016 Cybils Winners

February 16, 2017 @ 9:45 am | Filed under: Books, Cybils

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Did you catch the announcement on Tuesday? Here’s a list of the winners—happy reading!

The YA Fiction winner was Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys, which I raved about a few weeks ago.

The judges write:

This harrowing historical novel follows the lives of three young refugees seeking freedom and safety in East Prussia as World War II nears its end: Lithuanian Joana, a nurse burdened by guilt; pregnant, Polish Emilia; and Prussian Florian, a German army deserter carrying a valuable secret. A bumbling, delusional young Nazi soldier, Alfred, also narrates from aboard the doomed ship Wilhelm Gustloff—the eventual destination of the three protagonists and their small band of traveling companions. The ship, packed far beyond capacity with thousands of desperate refugees, is struck by Soviet torpedoes in the icy Baltic Sea. Joana, Emilia, Florian and the others must draw from their nearly tapped-out resilience as they try to survive the greatest maritime disaster in history.

Meticulously researched and brilliantly written, this stunning and devastating story will captivate readers. Sepetys shines a light into the everyday life of the citizens of Nazi Germany and the occupied areas, with many parallels to the modern-day refugee crisis. Each character has secrets that unfold gradually and converge with others in unexpected ways, showing the varied effects of war on the average person. The narrative voices are distinct, well-drawn, and, with the exception of Alfred (a vile coward who fulfills a necessary role), sympathetic. Even secondary characters, such as the Shoe Poet and the young orphan boy, are vivid and compelling. Tightly paced and filled with constant peril and action, the story moves quickly, with the rotating viewpoints and short chapters aiding in the momentum. Though the setting is one of overwhelming tragedy, the growing connections between the courageous travelers render the narrative less bleak. This powerful, haunting, and immensely readable novel has wide appeal. Readers will not soon forget Sepetys’s vivid characters or the story of the Wilhelm Gustloff.

We’ll be making our way through the picture book and other shortlists in the coming months. Always a highlight of my year.

This was my first year as a Category Chair. Quite an experience! I’m so impressed with the smarts and and dedication of my two judging panels. I’m already looking forward to next year. 🙂

Valentine’s Day action items

February 14, 2017 @ 8:54 am | Filed under: Current Affairs

Pruitt confirmation vote (and others) likely this week. I’ve mentioned that special education, healthcare, and policy related to climate change are the three issues I’m focusing my energy on. Pruitt is a disastrous choice to head the EPA.

Also tops on my call list this week: pushing for bipartisan investigation of Flynn. Chaffetz and Nunes (House Oversight Committee and House Intelligence Committee chairs) both said this morning they don’t intend to investigate the circumstances that led to his resignation, which is just bananas.

Chaffetz: GOP Oversight Chair Says His Committee Won’t Investigate Flynn

Nunes: “Nunes also told reporters that he would not investigate Flynn’s discussions with Trump about his calls with the Russian ambassador.

Celeste Pewter maintains a useful website and Twitter feed for action items, if you’re having trouble keeping up. (Aren’t we all!)

It’s all a bit surreal, isn’t it? In my home this morning, there’s pink milk and chocolate hearts and big smiles. Outside our door, the world churns.

Valentine's Day

What Wonderboy saw when his bus went past the house this morning

The Scissors of Destiny, by Ty Templeton

February 12, 2017 @ 12:22 pm | Filed under: Links

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If you read nothing else today, please read the story of Ty Templeton’s scissors. Made me cry!

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Topics of discussion on the way to Trader Joe’s with an eight-year-old

February 10, 2017 @ 3:37 pm | Filed under: Huck, These People Crack Me Up

–Did it rain last night or is that condensation
–Wait, I thought “morning dew” meant poop
–Various spellings and meanings of do/dew/doo
–Ice/water/steam, water vapor, why condensation happens
–Is that guardrail crumpled from a car crashing into it
–Why are they called “action figures” instead of dolls
–Where do you think the monkey will be hidden this time
–Are peanut butter crackers sweets
–Sewing, pros and cons
–What to spend birthday money on: probably K’nex
–That bus is too long to be Steve’s
–Why does Steve ride the bus
–What does “qualifications” mean
–Qualifications for being on American Ninja Warrior
–Really nice job parking, mom

tuesday

February 7, 2017 @ 8:41 pm | Filed under: Current Affairs

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Reposted from Facebook, where I have had a lot to say, in these past weeks, about the DeVos nomination.

My objection to Betsy DeVos’s nomination was about, as I have expressed here so often, her absolute lack of public education experience and her shocking gaps in knowledge. Now that she’s been confirmed, you can bet I’ll be focusing on matters of policy. We have some serious watchdogging to do.

And you know what, I know not everyone here agrees with me on all matters of policy. Of course not. I can respect someone who takes a well-articulated, well-considered position even when I believe the position is dead wrong. But I cannot respect a Secretary of Education who doesn’t know the difference between measuring growth vs proficiency, and appears not to grasp what IDEA is and why a federal law protecting the rights of students with disabilities was necessary in the first place.

(That history is sobering. In 1970, five years before IDEA was passed, only one in five children with disabilities was educated in U.S. schools. Many states actually had laws excluding certain students from school, including students who were blind, deaf, or cognitively disabled. Today my son receives excellent, individualized instruction, adaptive physical education, speech therapy, and audiology/hearing aid services in our neighborhood middle school. The intensive physical therapy he received via Early Intervention (IDEA Part C) from age four months on is almost certainly the reason he can walk today.)

I don’t take IDEA for granted. The past two weeks have shown us how rapidly and dramatically things can change. That’s why I’ll be watching vigilantly. And speaking up, speaking out, marching, calling, mobilizing—whatever it takes.

Betsy DeVos, my eye is on you.

day 33: jamestown

February 2, 2017 @ 7:42 am | Filed under: Family, Photos, These People Crack Me Up

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I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that this is a recreation of the Jamestown fort. As my friend Lori said on Instagram, “the Ikea stepstools are a dead giveaway.”

The settlers are getting along all right so far, despite a stagnant water supply and a rather heated dispute about whether the fort should, or should not, have an anachronistic radio tower. I mean, why let a perfectly good tomato cage go unused?

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One young settler expressed consternation over the gap in the walls of the brick storehouse (due to the discovery of a brown widow at the bottom of the old brick pile), but his older compatriot pointed out the storehouse needed a doorway, after all. Crisis averted.

day 32: I didn’t see that coming

February 1, 2017 @ 7:08 am | Filed under: These People Crack Me Up

We’re in the car on the way to piano class. There’s a heavy sigh from the backseat—a bone-deep sigh full of longing.

“Sometimes,” says Rilla, “sometimes I wish I were a mantis shrimp.”

I’ll let you sit with that for a moment. I was baffled by this remark but Beanie knew at once what she meant.

“I know, right? Twelve color rods!”

And then they explained to me that human eyes have three photoreceptors, giving us sensitivity to red, blue, and green light. Mantis shrimp have twelve photoreceptors. Rilla was staring out the window, wishing she could see the world in more colors.

day 31: sandwiches and leftovers

January 31, 2017 @ 4:58 pm | Filed under: Assorted and Sundry, These People Crack Me Up

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1.

I wrote a quickie booknotes post last night in the five minutes between work and family movie time, but I took it down a short while later because it was too quick, too silent about events I actually have quite a lot of words for. Choice words. Not all of them fit for my kids’ ears. I’ve been speaking them elsewhere and seem to have annoyed a fair number of people. Well, that’s too bad. I suspect I’ll be saying more, not less, in days to come. Perhaps not always here, in this space which is a happy little retreat for me. But maybe here too. There is so very much to say.

(Deep breath, fingers twitching.) Not this minute. Right now, I need to work. So I’m going to just open a space for a family story or two. If you want my activist voice, come on over to Facebook or Twitter.

2.

A couple of days ago, a Girl Scout rang the bell. It’s cookie season, as you know. I turned her down with regrets, because, frankly, five dollars a box is too rich for my blood.

An hour later, another ring, another sweet kid, another set of regrets.

THREE MINUTES LATER, another doorbell chime. But this time it was our neighbor, Guy—who seriously is the nicest guy—holding out three boxes of cookies.

“I can’t say no to a little girl,” he said, thrusting Do-si-dos, Samoas, and Tagalongs into my arms. “But I also can’t eat these cookies.”

My children would like to raise a statue in his honor.

3.

My son wrote the following about me in an email to a friend: “She used to cook dinner or all the time until Dad [took over the meal prep] and now she only Cooks now and then. Her Specialties are sandwiches and leftovers.”

I may need to add that to my resumé.

4.

I had garden-y things to add to this post but my five twenty minutes are up. Tomorrow, maybe. And I’m going to re-post the one I took down yesterday (it’s not much of anything, trust me, just disconnected sentences about what we’re reading) now that I’ve had a chance to explain why I was quiet (here) over the (tumultuous) weekend.