Darkness arrives earlier and earlier this week. On "dull days" as they call them in Scotland, the cloud cover adds to the dreariness. But in a few days, the sun will begin rising earlier and earlier, and then setting a bit later and later. No wonder the ancients celebrated this holiday: not the darkness, but the return of light that it brings. Christmas candles in the windows light the dark sidewalks on the Solstice. Kwanzaa candles do also. And the Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah began the llightings this year, on Thanksgiving Day.
In other parts of the world, the Southern Hemisphere, they are celebrating Summer Solstice, with their longest days and shortest nights occurring this week, I cannot imagine celebrating our light-centric holidays in bright sunlight But possibly they cannot imagine why we celebrate the darkness with our bright tree decorations and lights. To each his own. Christmas is only a few days after the Solstice, whether here or there. And that is always a reason to celebrate. It brings a season of good will, of charity, of kindness and compassion and love. The differences are all relative.
Two young girls call our tree "Mama Maple." Their dad came a year or two ago to dig up a young tree spawned by her "helicopters" and took it to their home. It is growing, but it will be a long time before it grows as large and majestic as Mama Maple. The color of her leaves is extraordinary: they are small and crimson in the springtime, then grow large and turn mauve and green during the summer. In the early fall, when all of the sugar maples are showing their colors, Mama Maple stays quietly green - until we have a hard, all-night frost. The leaves then quickly return to their brilliant crimson color, and begin falling, creating a beautiful carpet beneath her. I love sitting on her bench in the summer, enjoying the cool, natural breezes that her branches catch and bring down to me.
This time of year is one that begins the soul-soothing I long for all summer. Morning dawn is a bit later, and evening twilight comes a bit earlier, and the darkness that offers quiet and sleep has more plentiful time to offer peace.
The leaves are still heavy but a few have fallen. Tree tops of the maples are showing a bit less green and a bit more yellow; the red and orange and rust will follow, and then the branches will shed their leaves. The cooler breezes will pass through bared branches more easily, delivering dry air and refreshing comfort to all below the trees.
Welcome, Autumn. You have been long missed, and will be relished once again this year.
Goodbye to summer's heat and humidity, lethargy and dust. Welcome to seventy-degree days and cooler, sleep-filled nights. The season is clearly taking a turn for the better.
Today is a sidewalk day, and Rick's goal is to sell his 18" doll furniture and rocking motorcycle for 1/3 off; a clearance of sorts, to make room for changes in the shop. His prices for quality made-in-USA wooden toys do not compete with less-expensive toys made of plastic or electronics, or imported from countries with lower labor prices.
What to do next in the space that opens? We've thought and talked for a while about opening a sewing notions/fabric/quilt supply 'department' in our shop. Clearing out the attic of the barn would also provide a separate area in which sewing classes might take place. With five sewing machines now on the premises, and a few sturdy tables and chairs, we're optimistically beginning to make plans for purchasing, wholesale, some bolts of fabric, notions, batting and other things necessary for making quilts. Since our five and ten cent store, Cressy's, closed after more than fifty years in our small town, this area has been without a local supplier of such things as stitchers need. Each person that we've mentioned this tentative plan to here in town has been very supportive of the idea, so it seems the time has come to make it happen.
So while getting accustomed to my newest acquisitions (a 1917 Singer Treadle Sewing Machine and a 2002 Bernina Artista Embroidery/Sewing Machine,) we've begun visiting a wholesaler here in Massachusetts and are making plans for a shopping spree in early October. With some elbow grease,we'll be able to clean the first floor of the shop, storing extra goods away until we're ready for a 'grand' opening of the sewing center in November. We're going to use the existing name Terry's Thoughts and Threads for this new venture. I've toyed with using Beyond Old Windows, but I prefer to keep that name for this writing site, and an eventual book title reflecting our years in the old house and barn. As we approach 64, it seems time to choose wisely how to spend our time and energy.
Rick will continue working with wood, making beautiful things that bring happiness to those who receive them. He'll focus more on the commemorative plaques and other detailed scroll saw work, as well as smaller toys for children. And he'll keep the sewing machines in good working order. l'll keep you posted.
The weather man said this is the eighth consecutive day of Heat Wave. What he didn't say is this is the third Heat Wave span since the beginning of June ... and I think we had one in May also. Today's temperature reached 100 degrees (but only 99 in Boston at Logan Airport, so that will be the recorded temperature for the records.) With the humidity in the high 80s, the heat index for today was 107. We had a strong breeze for most of the midday, but Rick said it was only blowing 100 degree air. Not much of a comfort, that.
Can we all together say "G L O B A L W A R M I N G ?"
This month has been an example of the New England Weather saying: If you don't like the weather, wait a minute: it will change. And change it has. From cold rainy weeks to hot sunny weeks, we've had it all this month. The weeds are beginning to resemble a return of the Triffids (for those who didn't read the book, or see the inevitable movie, Google it.)
But among the weeds was one perfect strawberry, missed by the little critters who ate every one except this one. And though it was hidden within the weeds, it got enough sun to turn a deep red, and enough rain to grow to a respectable, humble size. I couldn't resist taking a few pictures of it before sharing it with Rick. Mmmm.
I can't believe I didn't post anything here about our weather for the past nine months. It was an uneventful winter, with little to no snow again. This summer has begun with a cool, rainy May and now a heat wave to open the season. We're in our fourth day of 90 degrees or higher. Rick and I spent our anniversary this weekend walking through the narrow lanes of Bearskin Neck, Rockport, Massachusetts. That was the first day of the heat wave, but along the coast and in the shade, we had a fine evening, and a supper at an outdoor table at The Bistro. As for plants ~ I've started some Morning Glories in a planter, and they are ready to be transplanted, but I'm not going out there in this heat. Maybe it will cool down, as promised, with tonight's rain.
Summer has ended, and autumn begins. I'll post pictures in a few weeks, when the "trees wear their finery" for Rob's birthday in the middle of this month. Last week, my friend Mary helped me by dumping all of the dirt and brown stalks, remnants of the failed 'indoor vegetable garden' experiment. Having made room for living plants, she has begun bringing in her outdoor pots to winter over, sharing color with me for the dark months of the year. She does this each fall, and her plants are very happy in the greenhouse and offer blossoms throughout the winter. Come spring, she'll prune them back and place them back outside her doors. I have one large pot of geraniums that I've done this with for the past several years. The geraniums are very forgiving of my forgetfulness, and tolerate long periods without water. They, too, will bloom through the dark months, as long as I keep the nearby wood stove going. And if I forget that, the small gas furnace for that space will kick on, and punish me with a growing utility bill!
I will spare you the pictures, but the greenhouse/vegetable plantings were a dismal failure. Not that they started off badly - I nurtured them through the hot spring months of March and April, put poles in to help the peas and beans stretch upward, and moved the radishes into their own pots. May and June were as hot as March and April, and the bean stalks, growing bravely toward the ceiling of the greenhouse, bore no fruit. I wondered about the bees, or lack of, and I knew that their pots were too small to support a tall plant's root system. My plan was to re-pot them. But as May ended, a different adventure began.
I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, squamous, and basal carcinoma. All of those sites would have to be removed surgically, one at a time. Some had to be cut more than once before finally reaching 'clear margins' on the pathology reports. Five sites for surgery with a surgeon, and seven sites dealt with through cryosurgery by the dermatologist. Twelve sites in all to nurse back to health, slowly, methodically.
June and July were fully consumed by back and forth trips to both Brighton and Framingham - sometimes for 7:00 am appointments. We rose early, ate quickly, drove steadily. I sat patiently as a site was 'numbed' with numerous injections of a local anesthesia, then sat patiently for twenty more minutes for it to be fully numb, and then about twenty minutes of surgery, carefully taking a centimeter or so of skin at each appointment. When the good report was finally achieved, I would then sit for the sutures. Rick and I would do wound care at home for a few weeks, bathing and covering the site with a medical Vaseline, and then dry non-stick bandages. Then we would have a respite for two weeks, then back for more suture removal, and then begin all over again for the next site. The doctors were excellent, and skillful. But the process was exhausting, both mentally and physically.
It has been suggested by one doctor that I may need an oncologist to manage any future treatments, as he suspects that with two primary sites of melanoma, it may be spreading. He had a bone scan done but did not see any evidence of metastasis, but I have had his reports, and the dermatologist and surgeons reports, faxed to the Dana Farber melanoma clinic for an overview and a recommendation as to whether an oncologist is or is not indicated. If so, more trips to Boston will be ahead.
The greenhouse experiment had clearly failed by the middle of July, and I lost interest in trying to preserve the seedlings. I have more seeds, and may begin again in the fall.
The second half of the year begins today; it is also my youngest brother's birthday. Happy Birthday, Jack! The farmers old saying is that corn, if planted well and on time, would be "knee high by the Fourth of July."
For our first anniversary in our new home, Rick and I enthusiastically rotor-tilled the old garden plot and planted rows of vegetables ... we used seedlings from the nursery, and some seeds. We watered and fertilized the soil first, and by the end of the day we had lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and corn. Early the next morning, we went out to admire our garden, and found that all of the seedlings had been eaten down to their roots. Gone were our green rows. And as the corn seeds began to sprout above ground, they too were immediately disappeared by whichever animal had found the bounty.
A few weeks later, our new neighbor came over and thanked us for planting vegetables. I asked him if he had noticed that our efforts had been in vain, and that the plants were eaten. He said yes, he had ... and had noticed that his own vegetables were thereby saved from the ravaging, which is why he thanked us. He had fortified his garden fence with smaller gauge wire mesh, and rather than take that challenge on, the foragers had simply come next door, rewarded with fresh seedlings and gradual growth of planted seeds. Our neighbor shared some of his crop with us.
Seventeen years later, in my first full year of retirement, I decided to make use of the greenhouse and grow vegetables therein. We bought a starter kit: trays that held small scalloped openings and dehydrated pellets of potting soil "Just add water and seeds." I carefully re-hydrated the potting soil, which seemed to bloom before my eyes and filled the small spaces abundantly. I counted out the tiny tomato seeds, and lettuce seeds (even smaller) and distributed the beans and peas and beet and spinach seeds ... I carefully nurtured them with water and a clear plastic dome for a few weeks. When the seedlings sprouted I carefully, painstakingly moved them to individual pots ... dozens and dozens of small green pots that we inherited with the greenhouse so many years ago. I moved the vegetables from their artificial greenhouse into the real one, and continued to water and monitor them.
The beans and peas vigorously took off, and I bought some dowels to stake them. The tomatoes and beets began to show multiple leaves, and the lettuce and spinach, devilishly difficult to re pot, were showing multiple leaves as well. All was going as planned. Until one morning, Rick discovered that the entire tray of spinach and lettuce had been eaten, right down to the roots. We had a visitor in the greenhouse, just as hungry and pleased with our offerings as those planted outdoors so many years before.
We put out some enticing d-con and moved the vegetables to safer places. The tomatoes, beans and peas were not disturbed. The remaining lettuce and herbs were lifted to a different part of the greenhouse to confuse whoever had come to nibble.
But before we harvested that long-leaf lettuce, I was greeted one morning with a crash that sounded both like pottery and shattering glass... a visitor returned, apparently entering through the open panes at the top of the greenhouse ... the wooden framed screening there at the vent had warped and left a space, and a red squirrel had entered, walked across the bar, leaped to the shelf below, landing on a pottery bunny, dislodging it and causing it to fall below to an empty glass vase, shattering the glass and breaking the ears off of the bunny. When we saw him, he hesitated, then ran back and forth a bit on the upper shelf, knocking a decorative bird house over in his travels. Rather than try to capture him, we opened the back door to the outside, and closed the one between the greenhouse room and the kitchen, and left him to find his way out.The vegetables were undisturbed that day.
They are definitely stunted in their small pots. I really ought to go out and move them to larger quarters, though working in the greenhouse in 90 degree weather is not something I've been willing to tackle. We've been experiencing heat waves these last weeks of June, and if July proves kinder, I will re-pot the plants. We will figure out a way to straighten the vent screen frame, and will continue to watch the plants' growth. so far, there have been two pea-pods harvested. The bean stalks bear no beans, and I'm wondering if they would have been better off outside with bees to pollinate them. I may start more peas and lettuce (the long leaf lettuce was sprinkled with shattered glass when our visitor landed on the bunny) so we'll start that over as well. I read an article today on the BBC Latest Headlines site that said plants in pots are root-bound and stunted. Well, yes.
Today is my grandson Tristan's fifteenth birthday. I remember so well the early morning drive to Maine where I witnessed his birth, as I had witnessed his sister Zoe's two years before.
This June finds me sitting at home with my laptop computer carefully placed on top of a lap desk with built-in cooling fan, sometimes reading others' blogs, and sometimes skipping around the many pages I share at Facebook. I have no responsibilities regarding student grades, or inventorying returned textbooks, or chasing down a missing final essay. I used to dread June each year, as there was so much closure expected in a few short days.
This year, the school calendar is ending earlier than it has in the past few decades. With little to no snow, and little to no icy mornings, school hasn't been cancelled due to weather, and so days come off the June make-up schedule. I'm happy for my partners and their students. This strange weather year has at least that one good outcome.
Spring seemed to arrive in February this year, and temperatures were higher than expected. March and April continued that trend, and then May reverted to normal spring temperatures, with lots of rain and chilly breezes. The plants outside my old windows bloomed heavily and held their color for quite a while. The strawberry plants have encroached and covered the brick patio and those runners are yielding berries already.
There have been the routinely anticipated flurry of medical appointments this year, and I have taken up too many of Rick's days being chauffeured around from one to another doctors.
I sit here, and sometimes wonder, how did I get it all into my calendar when I taught full time as well? I haven't the answer ~ just the realization that we get done what needs to be done, and when we are actually done, we can just sit and reflect, admire, or dream.
I think I'll move out onto the porch now. It's June!
It's Trish's birthday, and still in the middle third of April. Yet the dogwood branches and lilacs are already blooming, the daffodils wilting yet still standing, and the grape hyacinths just opening. Our "Kids' Free Library" stands proudly among these early spring blossoms, though the school children who usually pass by are on vacation this week. The nearly snow-less winter and minimal spring drizzles rather than showers have left the ground very dry, and red flag warnings for brush fire hazards are posted nearly every day. Temperatures are ranging in the mid sixties to high seventies nearly every day.
Can everyone say together: "Global Warming" ?
It was a very long stretch from that snowstorm in late October to Leap Year Day at the end of February, 2012. We had no snow during the months of November, December, January, and almost February. If we didn't have that snow on the 29th, February 2012 would have set a new record as the February without snow.
But we did have snow, albeit only a few inches. It was skim coated with ice after sunset, and roads were slippery. Of course, that was the night I had my premier as the Inaugural Local Author's Night presentation. I had an odd sense of calm leading up to that night, making no formal plans for a speech, taking only a few notes of points I'd wanted to make, but never glancing at the notes though the evening went on.
We had a small crowd, ten or twelve at the most, but I sold and autographed a fair amount of books. The Friends of the Library asked me if I would come back again at the end of March, for an encore appearance, and of course I said yes! Time will tell whether we'll have snow again that night. We did have a few scant inches again this past weekend, but it had almost all melted by yesterday afternoon.
Rick and I walked to the bridge over the brook yesterday, and noted that the water is about two feet lower than a normal March would see. Unless we have flooding rains between now and the end of May, this summer promises to be very dry, with water bans unavoidable.
Our first spring flower, the crocus, never disappoints us. It has broken through the dead grass and is blossoming this week.
There is a fair amount of chagrin among those who bought new snow-blowers or plows this fall ... and a fair amount of sympathy for those who make their winter earnings in that way.
On a positive note: I planted two flats of vegetable seeds yesterday, and cleared a space for their eventual place in the greenhouse (no, truth be told, Rick cleared the space for me!) Spinach, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Beets, Peas and Green Beans are carefully planted in tiny little spaces with dissolved pellets of starter soil. I looked at them three or four times today, but no hints of green yet. A watched pot never boils, and a watched seed hides for a week or two. It is a sure sign that winter is over, at least on nature's calendar.
Only a few weeks after I'd written the October 8 post (below) New England lived up to her weather reputation. We had about four inches of snow a few days before Halloween! This caused some consternation for the Georgetown Historical Society, as they were holding their annual cemetery tours and the snow made finding some graves more difficult than usual. And then, predictably, Indian Summer arrived, raising temperatures from the snow covered low thirties into the high sixties within about twenty-four hours' time.
The warm air stayed with us for most of November this year, misleading our bushes which, having survived the sudden October snow, began in the warmth to push out next years buds. The nights were cool enough that they didn't actually open here, but in some places bushes blossomed offering an unusual display of whites for Thanksgiving.
We're into the second week of December now, and the temperatures are beginning to settled between thirty and fifty, a drop from last months forty to sixty-five range. How does this affect our lives? Closets are overflowing with summer/fall/winter clothes, as one never knows which will be appropriate tomorrow. The trees hung onto their leaves through the October snow, and began falling in early November as expected. Some tree limbs, weighted with heavy snow covered leaves, came down and took wires with them. Our neighborhood became the Bermuda Triangle North for a few weeks, with several fallen trees blocking the road, rescue calls in our area, a false report of an attic next door (caused by our wood stove smoke rolling across our neighbor's roof.) The weather has accommodated outdoor decorating for the holidays, and houses are looking more brightly lit this year. Foggy mornings, cloudy dark afternoons ... and it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here ... not just in our Christmas all year round shop!
Just two nights ago, the temperature here in Essex County dropped into the low forties. Warnings of a killing frost just north of here had homeowners scurrying to bring in the houseplants, and throw tarps or sheets over not-so-hardy shrubs, trying to preserve them for the rest of the fall season. And within two days, our temperatures then reached into the high seventies, and just west of us, into the low eighties. All of their efforts were worth it, as the plants were saved from the frost.
Weather here in New England is big business. Forecasters turn a storm warning into an obsessive story line that is repeated three to four times in a news cast. Pictures of reporters holding umbrellas or wearing over-the-knee rubber boots are a common site during the spring and fall flooding, and that was the image this past week when some local towns received as much as five inches of rain in a thunder burst that lasted less than an hour. The ground, having enjoyed several days of gentle rains, was so saturated that deep puddles became car-engulfing ponds on city streets. School was cancelled in a few areas where school buses could not travel through the streams forming on streets. More school days to be added to June's calendar, and the winter hasn't even begun.
We call it "Wait a minute weather" and I find it entertaining to watch Mother Nature's surprises. Of course, if I were watching damaging waters rush into my basement or my neighbors, it would not be entertainment. But watching it fill the brook down back to overflowing, when the overflowing is competently held by the wetlands we have left undisturbed - well, that is reassuring, and validating. In the spring the wetlands will become shallow vernal pools, but for now, they are simply damping down the leaves as they fall, forming a natural mulch to provide a habitat for the odd little creatures that emerge there in the spring. "Peepers," small frogs that begin life as eggs and then become polliwogs before growing legs, and salamanders, some with spots on their backs that make them a protected species ... and strange looking spiders that would be more in season at Halloween in the fall ...
Fall is definitely here ... "Indian Summer" days of warmth and sunshine will still occur now and then, and my favorite season, winter, will follow in time. But the foliage is tardy this year -the trees' leaves have not yet begun to turn, and the tourists will be disappointed this week as they seek the beautiful scenery on the Columbus Day weekend each year. Rob's birthday is this weekend as well, and when he was young I would remark on the changing colors each day as we headed out in the morning, I to school and he to "Missy's" house for day care. The colors began brightening the weekend before his birthday, and were always in full blazing color on his day and the weekend following. "Leaf Peepers" from all over would pour into New England at great expense to enjoy what we could enjoy gradually each day. I would tell him the trees were getting ready for his birthday, wearing their finest colors before dropping their leaves to prepare for winter's snow. His eyes would light up, and he would smile, as did I. To share the wonders of nature with a young child - what a privilege.
The end of August usually brings a quiet sigh, with the recognition that sleepy mornings and quiet afternoons of reading or writing will end soon. The calendar page hints at what comes next... the school bells ringing, parents and children unwrapping new plastic-encased notebooks and binders, and in this century, battery packs and chargers for cell phones, I-Pods, portable computers and tiny earbuds with wires long enough to connect the small device to the music in their cargo pockets. I'm reading messages on Facebook of friends who are outfitting their students for the approaching school year. I'm seeing the advertisements and flyers for back to school sales.
But this August, it is all happening without me. There are very few years in my life that haven't followed a school year schedule. The end of August usually finds me gathering up loose dollar bills from my jacket pockets, quarters from between the cushions of the couch, and checking the balance in the checkbook and credit union account that carries me safely through the unpaid summer of a teacher. We have always made it through the end of August without falling into the red ink, but we have always been greatly relieved to know that the first payday of the new year is just ahead.
But this August will end with a pension check, which will cover the September bills, and which will then be followed by an end of September check to cover the October bills. There will not be anything between those checks. They are not inconsequential; they are calculated on my age and my number of years of service as a public school teacher. Because I did not reach age 63 with 32 years of service, as I had planned, I will not receive the optimum amount. Multiple Sclerosis took me out of the game two years earlier than I'd wanted. My pension is lesser still because our contract remained unsettled, and so there was no raise during my last year of teaching. I had also turned the team leader position over to one of my partners as my increasing absences due to fatigue and other symptoms limited my ability to fulfill that role, and so I gave up the stipend ... all things just the opposite of what teachers expect to be able to count on in their last years of teaching. And so we are now living on a budget almost exactly 50% of the salary we lived on a few years ago.
We are not without a plan B, however; Rick and I have carefully been building up our craft shop in anticipation of needing some extra income in retirement. As the fall season approaches, I will be writing and publishing, and quilting, and marketing these things at the back page of this website. And Rick will continue making beautiful things that make people happy, and marketing them on his new webpage, WoodenToysandGifts.webs.com, and on his Facebook page.
When we bought this house seventeen years ago, we did so because we knew we would be able to generate some income in the shop in our barn. Years ago, it was a dress shop, where I bought a dress to wear after my bridal gown. And we bought it because it is near the center of town, so that when we can no long drive, we can walk to all of the things we would need. And perhaps I will be here to monitor young seedlings in the greenhouse, and begin to study and plant vegetables and fruits that may grow without bees in a greenhouse, supplementing our groceries with healthy foods grown at home. And we might gradually begin taking the deadwood out of the back acre and creating our own back up woodpile for the woodstoves, to keep the heating bills down. It is the right house for us, with all that we will need, if we can only stay well enough to use it as it was meant to be used.
This is a a new chapter in our lives, one we will write, as we've written all the others, together. We will set our own schedule, choose our own tasks, and work with our own materials. Our children have finished school classes; our grandchildren are both now in high school, and our plan is to watch them choose their paths, sharing what we can with them, and holding each others hands as we walk ours.
June: A yellow sky here; tornadoes in the western part of Massachusetts.
The shades are now drawn as the temperatures are to reach 100 degrees today.
The month of June slipped by, with hot days and cool rainy days, a bit of lingering spring weather that we hadn't seen for a few years. The heat was early in the month, followed by cool damp days, and then hot again at the end of the month. My students finished the year in comfort, and as part of their end of middle school celebration it was my honor to give each of them a sunflower in full bloom. The auditorium was rededicated and refurbished in time for the celebration, with newly finished hardwood floors replacing some of the old carpeting, and new seats installed on all the repaired seating, with new drapes and a new granite stairway at the front. This was my final day of school as well, and I enjoyed each moment.I have always had a special fondness for that auditorium, and am happy that it was restored before I left. It is a beautiful building, built during difficult economic years, to honor difficult world war years, and restored during an equally difficult economy.
The heat was building for the next few days as Rick and I finished pulling all of my belongings out of the classroom: my podium made by Rick of ash wood, my raised captain's chair with its sun rising decal in honor of Ben Franklin's observation of Hancock's chair, my microphone and amplifier that got me through many hoarse days, my projector and DVD player that I bought to facilitate power point projects, the setting of white china for Stephen's 'white table of one' for Memorial and Veteran's Day, the pantry Rick built to hold the microwave and fridge that I bought to make lunch in my room more feasible, some treasured books, the tea pots, the file cabinet that held all of my "to share" articles and PDP certificates for re-certification ... so many years of memories and stuff now almost-neatly piled in front of the fireplace at home, a place purposely chosen to be temporarily and necessarily sorted and downsized more before we can light a fire in the fall. Finishing that task will wait until cooler weather returns.
And now in July, we will move slowly through every day activities, staying inside by the AC and keeping cool. Fall will return in its time, and with it, energy. Heat is not conducive to exercise, especially so for someone with heat intolerance, which is one of the symptoms of multiple sclerosis that I experience. Friends are stopping by sporadically for iced tea and chats, and that is a lovely way to start retirement. Publishing three books and securing my sales tax certificate and town business certificate has made my new career official: freelance writer and quilter.
Following my entry into Fanstory.com, I had the confidence to gather up years of poetry scattered here and there and self-publish three books, which you can view and purchase at the new web-store page of this site, called "Terry's Books and Quilts." Please take a look at the page, and to see a description of each book go to Amazon.com, where you can also purchase (although they will charge shipping, and if you buy from me, friends and family orders are shipped free.) It's a good start for a new chapter. There will be more books arriving, and more quilts!
Some fear today's date may bring the end of the world as we know it. They believe that today will be the Rapture Day, the day when people of faith are redeemed and taken to heaven. Other's say that the Mayan Calendar will expire on the day of the winter solstice, next year. Scientists say that the planets' alignment will repeat in twenty four thousand years. All speculations of the earth's demise are just that. I've written a poem of those, and will place it here rather than at the poetry page:
In little more than just a year
The center of our Milky Way
Will line up with our sun that day
Twenty-twelve will be the year
That many groups have come to fear
The Mayan Calendar will end
But that won't be our end, my friend
Another seer from the past
Nostradamus, writing fast
Tells us earth's history and fate
Will last millennia beyond that date
Past thirty-seven ninety-seven
Still here and waiting to see heaven
For man has yet to end his age
And will remain here on the stage
April is the month of yellow: crocus, forsythias, daffodils, new budding leaves, early dandelions, tulips ... all with the cheerful color to share after the dark days of March. May will bring the pinks and purples that complete the pallet of spring.
I have spent time this month writing poetry, posting for peer feedback at a site called FanStory.com. You can visit my page at that site, and look in the right hand column for some of the poems and the reviews they have received by clicking on this link: Terry Wrote at FanStory. And, I've transferred some of the new poetry to a new page at this site on the page titled "Prose and Poetry 2011."
But much of this month has been spent indoors, as we have had a real New England spring this year ... cold windy days, rain a part of each week ... and so I haven't been able to spend as much time outside as I would like to. Nor have I been able to capture spring developing in stages as I did last year (for those photos scroll way down to the bottom sections of this page.) But while indoors, I have been enjoying a part of nature I'd never seen up close before. A nest of eagle and their eaglets, hatched at the beginning of April, has fascinated me. Both parents share parenting, feeding, nest maintenance, taking turns leaving and returning with fish from a nearby fish hatchery, or the odd furry creature or blackbird. If you'd like to join in watching this awesome site, here's the link: Visit the Decorah, Iowa Eagles.
I must warn you that you may find the site addictive, as I have. Reading the information below the live stream video will help you to distinguish between mother and father eagle. The three eaglets, now four weeks old, cannot be recognized by gender until they reach full adulthood, at 3-4 years old, when their white head feathers and tail feathers come in, and the set of their eyes will distinguish male from female. It is a whole new world that we are privileged to view via technology. A nice way to spend an indoor spring, or a too-hot summer. They are growing rapidly - don't miss the rest of their early days!
If you scroll to the bottom of this very long page, you will see that last year at this time, we were seeing signs of Spring in the budding bushes and bulbs outdoors. This year everything remains hunkered down, with a recent scant covering of snow and more due tonight. Wise little bulbs, knowing when to bloom and when to remain at rest.
This has been a season of change for me. The school that i work in has hired a permanent substitute for my classroom, as my number of medical absences has increased dramatically this year. I am greatly relieved at this offer of steady, predictable presence in my classroom, and I am able to go in on the good days, and stay at home on the fatigue days. I have enough sick time stored through thirty years of hardly taking any, and it is this stored time that makes it possible to offer this position to a new teacher; a win-win for all, in my view.
You may notice that some of the pages of my website have disappeared, and perhaps you're wondering why. I am determined that, once retired, I will seriously devote time to seeking publication of my work. I have a book in mind, several essay topics to address, and poems to write. I may use some of the topics previously posted here, but will adapt and amend them to new pieces, and be able to try to market them to paying publishers. It will help subsidize my "early" retirement due to the medical condition that limits my participation at school. I have dreamed of this for a long time, but haven't been able to sustain the time and energy for writing apart from the time and energy for my classroom. That time is now approaching, and so I'm "cleaning house" in the way of piles of writing that might have some monetary value.
I will re-establish the missing pages as time allows, re-posting what is not to be submitted elsewhere. In the meantime, I will keep this page going, as it is a place for me to stop and observe nature, and share the delights that I see beyond these old windows.
This link will take you to a new site, where I have been "blogging" with myself - a polite audience, but no responses to date. Join me there?
The first roof collapse that caught our attention early last week was in Easton, the small town where my sister Kay and her husband Kip and her sons had lived ... and it was the work place of our niece, who fortunately had taken the day off to stay home with children because she knew school would be cancelled. Everyone got out of the building safely, but while the cameras were filming the roof's demise, the entire building folded in on itself: brick walls crumbling and cracking, sheet metal door and window frames popping outward ... it was a startling sight. That same day, a few more roofs on the south shore gave way, due to the heavy wet snow that region had been receiving over the past few weeks (see previous story below.) People began looking at the snow accumulations, and the public began hearing about flat roof load bearing limits ... Flat roofs in New England are designed to hold 30 pounds per square foot. Weathermen began sharing a different sort of statistic than their usual script included: we began to understand that one cubic foot of snow that is dry and fluffy would weigh approximately 8 pounds, but a cubic foot of wet snow would weigh in at about 15 pounds. People began to realize that the three feet of snow cleared from their driveways was probably matched by three standing feet of snow on their roofs, and the longer it stood, continually replenished by recurring storms, the heavier the bottom layers became. Three vertical feet of snow (or three cubic feet of snow, with the lower level wet and the top perhaps light and fluffy) totaled a weight that would exceed engineered requirements. And the roofs continued to cave in the eastern counties of Massachusetts, both north and south of Boston.
Perley School, two doors away from our home, had a pitched roof constructed a few decades ago over an existing flat cement roof. The trusses of the pitched roof were designed to hold that thirty pound weight, and when the accumulation exceeded that, a 700 square foot section of the annex roof collapsed in onto the original cement roof, which held. No one in the school heard the collapse, but the hole was noticed by teachers in another preschool across the field, and was called in. No one knows exactly when the collapse occurred, but it was called in at noontime while the other school's students were outside in the bright sunny weather, enjoying the snow for recess time.
Perley is a Pre-K, K, and grade 1 school, and they, too, were at lunch, and not in the classrooms beneath the collapse. The fire and police chiefs ordered an immediate evacuation. The students were quickly escorted by their teachers in single file through the slushy walkway to their emergency shelter at the nearby Middle/High School. The school administration immediately used the new technology of emergency automated calls to parents. News helicopters began gathering over the school, and the satellite trucks arrived shortly after the firefighters and police responded. Within ten or fifteen minutes the students were all safely ensconced in the middle school's cafeteria, some coat-less, some without their lunches which were left behind in the evacuation. But they were all calm, all present and accounted for, and waiting patiently for their parents to arrive.
Their parents began responding to the emergency call, lining up in the high school's driveway and climbing the stairs to sign out their children, one by one. Each teacher had his or her class seated together at a table, and with lists in hand, connected parents and students and sent them on their way home. Because I had taken my own snow day off, I was there; having heard the call over the fire dispatch radio, I walked behind the last of the students to be available to help if help was needed. But all was well in hand.
Rick, meantime, had responded on foot to meet the arriving fire trucks and to take photographs from ground level of the collapse, something he routinely does for the fire department. He took this picture (above) from a point half-way along the path that leads behind the baseball bleachers and over to the high school. His pictures of fires are often used in post-event debriefings and later training discussions.
Rob responded with the fire department, and was sent to the roof of the high school, to measure the snow height on that flat roof. He measured four feet, and reported that to the building inspector. They did not dismiss high school early (given the traffic already building due to the Perley parent pick-ups).
The Georgetown Schools were closed Monday, and their roofs were all inspected. Clearing the snow began, and some grumbled that it was a chore left too late. But the storms we have had in this short new year have been like clockwork; those responsible for clearing walkways around the schools have kept up with each one. Those responsible for plowing the streets and school driveways have barely had time to sleep between storms. There is no ordinary "roof detail" in any of our town budgets, slim budgets which suffer the wrath of tax-weary citizens each year.The fire department is shoveling hydrants daily with some help from responsible citizens. The highway department is now asking folks to find the catch basins and clear those, too, as all this snow will eventually have to melt and run off...
We have, in our commonwealth, had over 150 roof collapses in the past week ... typically, there are less than half a dozen in a winter in Massachusetts. Unexpected as it was, it was handled safely in the short run. It continues to require manpower and money today ... some opportunists are overcharging people to clear their roofs, other good citizens are pitching in and helping their neighbors and community.
Parents and children are wondering how the calendar will look, how these frequent snow days will be made up. Maybe more days in June, or maybe a shorter vacation in late February, or in April ... at my school in Andover, with fall holidays and winter storms and an odd cancellation for a town election, we have not had a five day school week since Veteran's Day in November.
It is a beautiful snowy winter, but beauty bears a price. It also brings out the best in people, and in small amount the worst in some. Winter weather at times will isolate people ... some will interpret that as providing peaceful quiet and solitude, and others will want help from family and neighbors. It is a season that reminds us of the power of nature, and the strength of community. It will take more than this season to correct these collapses. And yes, it will take a whole village.
For the past several weeks, through most of January, we have had one-two punch snowstorms midweek. School schedules are sporadic; cancellations are greeted with glee by schoolchildren and glum groans from working parents who have to arrange safe coverage or drive through treacherous conditions to either get to work or drop their children off with someone who doesn't have to drive that day.
Here in town we've been averaging 7 to 8 inches per storm, and two storms per week. We have had few if any days of above freezing temperature, and so what we've received, we've kept. We have well over 24 standing inches, and drifts and piles that are more than eight feet tall in places. Piles at the end of driveways and at intersections are towering hazardously high, blocking drivers' views of oncoming traffic, and making walking along the edge of the roads outside of un-shoveled sidewalks a dangerous task. Flat roofed parking garages and some buildings are being flattened by the weight of the snow.
Even the most seasoned, weathered New Englanders are beginning to quietly echo the rowdy calls from non-native transplants for no more snow. They are even considering dumping the accumulated snow piles into Boston Harbor, for they have run out of empty fields in which they would normally place it. The EPA is watching. The conspiracy theorists are sure a foreign country is controlling our weather patterns, as they claimed happened during Hurricane Katrina a few years ago. The astrologers are asserting that the stars' rotations are altering, and that the zodiac signs we've all believed were ours are actually altered by that. I have always been a Pisces; I can't become an Aquarius at my age (though, years ago, I might have considered it)
The kids in my classes have asked, does this have something to do with global warming? Climate Change? La Nina vs El Nino patterns? Or is this just a natural cycle of stormier winter weather following milder fall weather. This is the question that I cannot answer with assurance, and so I invite them to do some research on climatology, to find charts of seasonal averages over the decades. They are too young to remember the storms of 68-69, and the blizzard of '78, and the heavy storms of '93 -94 . They were born in 1997 ... and this may be the most memorable winter of their young lives. Let them wonder about it. Let them enjoy it. Yes, they will have to pay back the snow days in JUNE, but they are making memories right now. In time, they will share those memories with another generation. I read a book years ago by Graham Hancock: Fingerprints of the Gods was the title. He wrote of palm trees beneath the ice of Antartica and at the North Pole, and credited that to the changes of the tilt of earth's axis in earlier eons ...
And tomorrow is Groundhog Day ... we are expecting another storm of eight inches to complement the eight inches we received today ... doubtful that the little critter will venture out, and if he does, he surely will not see his shadow ... will that bring us an abrupt change in weather patterns? Will we see an early spring?
The skies have been beautiful this opening month of the New Year ... high wispy cirrus clouds creating ethereal hints of angel wings ... no doubt the type of sky that invited the creation of Scotland's traditional flag, the diagonal white cross of St. Andrew against a brilliant sky blue field ... sometimes the contrails of overhead jets have the same effect today. But thousands of years ago, before there were jets, the clouds themselves foretold the success of the 832 AD Lothian battle's end; the Northumbrians fled the field as the Picts and Scots were inspired by the appearance of the symbol in the sky. Although this picture was taken on this side of the pond, nearly twelve hundred years later on Christmas Day, and resembles an angel rather than St. Andrew's cross, it comforts me to look toward the sky and see what our ancestors saw so long ago.
Today, though, the blue is hidden behind the graying cumulus cover ... the low clouds looking as though they are burdened by the snow contained within. The forecasts here are calling for ten to fifteen inches of snow in the twenty four hour period called tomorrow. No call yet on whether it will be light, dry, and fluffy snow coming in overland from the west requiring no more than a quick sweep with plastic snowshovels or snow blowers, or heavy, wet-cement-like snow that will come on a north east ocean wind and coat plows, shovels and mittens and make wonderful snowmen and snowballs and forts and sledding chutes. There are two different storms heading our way, and we will have to wait to see which one dominates the landscape tomorrow.
Update: January 12, 2011 ... Fifteen inches and counting..
We did have our white Christmas, followed by freezing temperatures and more snow, then a New Year began with fog and warming temperatures, with more cold predicted for the opening of school on Monday. 2010 did not leave quietly, but with sadness, a sense of loss, a demanding schedule and a hint of what is to come in this new decade.
There is always confusion over the end of a decade ... December 31, 2010 closed the first decade of the first century in the new millennium, and 2011 opens the second decade of this 21st century. We were taught as children to expect much from this century ... we would have shorter work weeks, more leisure time, more public transportation, smaller, electric vehicles, perhaps with hover potential ... We watched "The Jetsons" with envy ... robotic maids, instantly prepared and served food, a self operating dish washer, moving sidewalks more common than escalators ... cleaner air, fresher water, and an abundance of technology. We could expect a united earth, without wars.
While some of these things are still pending, we do have robotic vacuum cleaners, microwave ovens, hybrid vehicles and on board navigation technology. But we do not have shorter work weeks with more leisure time and abundant public transportation... and war continues, now exacerbated by random sites of terrorist attacks.
What we have, instead, is a young generation highly educated and eager to take their place in the national economy, but finding plentiful low wage jobs without health benefits ... small job shops with no vacation weeks or seniority lists ... rising gas prices meeting the continuing demand of vehicles still dependent on petroleum products. Our school calendars are still set by the agrarian seasons ... buildings stand necessarily empty in summer months due to the expense of air conditioning ... computers are still in short supply in public classrooms, and home computers are multiplying in number but cannot be connected to school networks due to fear of virus infections. Our college students are now competing with a world-wide audience for admissions, for funding assistance, and for access. And they face not only their own college loans upon graduation, but a growing national debt that will continue to force inflation/recession cycles.
And those of us fortunate enough in our generation to have secured employment in public education, (where the salaries slid behind the boom of the 1980s and continue to fall behind inflationary cost of living expenses) are experiencing continuing resentment of our labor organizations ... contractually agreed to provisions are argued, raises witheld, and benefits threatened. We are approaching retirement tentatively, some with pensions intact and some without, some with social security protections and some without, some with health insurance and some without, some with serious and chronic health conditions and some without. The leveled playing field we reached for has eluded our grasp.
Equity used to be an issue between ethnic cultures and races and genders. It was between socioeconomic lines ... Now, it seems to be the issue between generations. We had a president twenty year ago who eliminated the national debt, who put our budgets back in the black, who undid decades of prior war driven deficits. We have lost that once-gained advantage, and have returned to another cycle of recession/inflation/depression ...
I will be leaving the classroom, two years earlier than I thought I would, due to a chronic condition that has limited by energy, strength, balance and focus. There is no disability compensation to make up for those two years ... as a public school teacher in Massachusetts there are no social security safety nets such as SSDI or SSI ... for our state and several others said "No thank you" to president Roosevelt and his Social Security program ... and our union's disability coverage would assist only a younger teacher with far fewer years of service. I will get what I will get, and we will make it be enough. We are the generation of the military draft, of Vietnam, of gas rationing and rising food prices in the seventies, of stable but flat salaries in the otherwise booming eighties, of the re-certification demands of the nineties, and now of the contract-less, raise-less years in this new decade. We are teaching a more diverse population than has ever before been served by public education, and we are doing it well, with heart, with skill, and in the face of those demands that would wean our attention away from our students to enhance our own credentials over and over again. We are teaching young Americans of all backgrounds what it means to be an American citizen, and we are asking them to share what they learn with their parents. Our students are our future, and our responsibility, and our national treasure. They are not always recognized as such in our budget deliberations.
2011 opens a new decade in this first century of this millennium ... I wondered as I wandered through 2010 how it would close, and it has not surprised me ... we have much to reach for, and much to offer to the leaders we have sent to represent our wishes and needs. 2011 will be a year without federal elections. Perhaps it will be a year of governmental reflection and purposeful progression. I will watch carefully as it unfolds ... and will communicate regularly with those whom I've elected to represent what America needs. I invite you to join me in the conversations and the communications. Feel free to add your thoughts for the new year on the guestpage of this site. Happy New Year.The sky is the limit.
This week brought the first snow to our home ... barely a dusting that turned our vehicles white only for a few hours ... dry snow that blew away in the wind ... simply a gentle promise of more lasting beauty soon to arrive.
Next week will bring some long anticipated changes ... autumn will end, having dropped all the deciduous leaves and lightened tree branches in preparation of the weight of winter snows ... December 21 is just ahead, the solstice that heralds the opening of the winter season this year with a full lunar eclipse (which will begin at about 1:30 am and will be at total eclipse near 2:45 am) ... it will be visible, if good weather prevails, across the North American continent. That is the day that our earth is in its closest proximity to the sun, and that is the reason that Northern Hemisphere winters are not as bitter as Southern Hemisphere winters ... and why Northern Hemisphere summers are not as brutally hot as Southern Hemisphere summers ... our summer solstice marks the point in earth's orbit that is the farthest away from the sun.
The stars were brilliant in their December sky tonight ... Orion stood proudly to the north ... Mars and Jupiter were bright in their respective places, and Venus and the waxing gibbous moon each shone brightly ... my reliable companions on those lonely nights a decade ago as I drove home from elder care ... I rarely am out in the evenings now to see them ... I am needing sleep earlier and earlier as the cold approaches ... while I am happy to be inside on cold evenings, I miss the energy and beautiful night sky that I enjoyed so long ago. You can read about those nights at the page of fables, tales and poems of this site.
This will be my last December for dark early morning drives to school and nearly dark afternoon drives home ... after next week, the days will again begin to lengthen, imperceptibly minute by minute as we approach the new calendar year, with the daylight sometimes dulled by snow-filled storm clouds, and sometimes illuminated with blinding brilliance by the reflection of freshly fallen snow on a sunny day after a storm ... stark contrasts of black and white scenery on the winter drive to and from school ... the same road that offered a riotous foliage season not so long ago now awaits the forgiving blanket of snow that will once again hide the debris of the fallen leaves ... and the bright red stop sign at the bottom of an icy hill stands in sharp relief, reminding one to stop and realize the power of this season and the changes it has brought.
And four days after this solstice eclipse, Christmas arrives ... neighborhoods are lightening these dark pre-holiday days with ornamental lights, illuminated figures and tree branches, colorful wreaths of balsam, holly, and ivy, all evergreen and laden with scarlet red berries of their own making. Families will make what plans they can, travel arrangements and package deliveries need to be managed, secrets and surprises will be scheduled silently to fit and fill busy families' calendars.
And one week after Christmas we'll celebrate the New Year ... a year of changes, of adjustments, of leavings, of celebrations, of marked milestones and quiet reflections ... and new endeavors that will invite growth in new areas and accomplishments ... a new year, a new chapter and new experiences. So much will change in this shift of seasons. Take it all in ... although it is cyclical, it is never quite the same year to year.
Wishing all a peaceful, loving end of year, with more stored memories, and still dreams ahead.
In elementary school in South Boston, every October 31st, we would sing songs at the end of the day ...
"Jack O'Lantern, Jack O'Lantern, you are such a scary sight, as you sit there in the window looking out at the night." We had several songs printed out on orange paper charitably donated by one of the large insurance companies ...I still have some of their now fading art reproductions of historical figures in my eighth classroom today. I remember when corporate America looked after schoolchildren, and pitched in to educate them.
We had so much fun in the city on Halloween Night, or "All Hallow's Eve" as some called it, being the night before All Saints' Day on our calendar ... and for those of us in parochial school, All Saints' Day was a holy day, and one we were expected to attend church services in the morning. But the night before was ours, to run through the belatedly warm, foggy city neighborhoods with our pillow cases open, or our shopping bags gaping ... little ones carried little bags, and wore fairy princess or witch or ghost costumes made at home ... older ones often borrowed old suit coats from their dads, rubbed a little coal dust from the cellar bin onto their cheeks and the backs of their hands and knees, buttoned those coats purposely wrong, and put an old derby or fedora hat on their uncombed hair and went out as a Hobo group ... The treats we collected then were simpler, and often homemade as well ... popcorn in a small paper bag imprinted with a black and orange holiday icon, a witch, skeletons, black cats or jack o'lanterns. If we were early and lucky we would get home-made cupcakes with orange frosting wrapped in wax paper bags, or a caramel covered apple on a wooden stick.
The neighborhood streets were considered safe territory ... all of our parents knew each other and watched out for us ... but as we grew, we would dare to venture off our block, cross the boulevard (between the white lines, on red and yellow) and run through the projects, knocking on friends' doors, and collecting perhaps six or seven treats per building ... we knew if all the lights were out, they had either run out of treats, or were too elderly or ill to come to the door, and we didn't knock there, but said a quiet prayer for those inside ... to say that we did that at every dark door would be an exaggeration, but I know we meant to do so, and often made up for it the next day at church...
Our parents would sort through our collections with us, looking for spoiled apples or half-eaten and then forgotten lollipops, and those items would be discarded. There were no intentional dangers in our bags ... we'd heard stories of other cities that had to deal with razors in apples and the like, but we didn't encounter any of the sort. Sometimes we'd find pennies in the bottom of our bags, tossed in apologetically by some who had run out of treats but still opened the door to greet us and see how we had grown.
For the first hour, we would have little sisters and brothers tagging along with us, under our somewhat watchful eyes, but the second hour we would have on our own, free to shiver in the deepening evening cold and bravely knock on old man so and so's door, or the rectory itself ... as the bags grew heavier we moved more slowly, and began walking rather than running up and down stairways ... looking for the best of the best in our bags, trading when we had something we knew someone else would like better than we would ... I always traded pink and white Good 'n Plenty Candies, with their black licorice fillings, for a cellophane wrapped bulls-eye caramel with its unknown white, sweet eye ...
We'd hear the hollers of parents gathering their kids in by nine ... and we'd troop home with our heavy but delightful burdens. Time for the weekly baths, time to wash off the soot, time for one last snack and then bed, up early for church the next day ...
I don't remember tricks happening in my neighborhood during trick or treat hours ... I remember lots of fun, noise, running feet and crackling wrappers, sticky sooty fingers and laughter and energy followed by contented sleep. Halloween was always safe for kids ... things happened after we were nicely tucked into beds: cars were soaped or egged, ash barrels tipped and spilled, and candy wrappers littered the streets. Spray paint and Silly String hadn't made the scene yet, and clean up was usually the older kids job anyway...
As parents in the seventies, were were advised not to let the children roam the streets alone, and so one of our neighbors hitched up a flatbed wagon loaded with hay bales and hauled the neighborhood kids around to the doors that had a pumpkin under their porch light or on their front door ... a sign that the folks within welcomed the trick or treaters and would give out safe treats. And a decade later, we took our youngest to school parties in the evening as the street traffic was fast and the neighbors less known ... times have changed, again for the better, and trick or treaters now come to our driveway to be admired in their elaborate family costumes ... a special show for only the price of a candy bar.
Happy Halloween memories to all ... enjoy and admire this generation's children.
And the Japanese Maple tree out front - it's doing just fine, showing its crisp, fall crimson colors, so different from the mauve and green of summer ... ready to drop a scarlet carpet in a few more days, for the opening of November!
Clouds tumbling across the sky, short showers damping down the roadsides, returning all the wild growth along the edges to a bright green ...Trees that in a month will "dress for Rob's birthday" are a rich forest green this month, relieved by the come and go showers that have restored their luster and muted their once-dry rustles ...
Today is Constitution Day, 223 years since the document that stabilized our floundering infant nation was written and circulated for ratification ....long an unnoticed day on the school children's calendar ... I can picture the document, four times the size of the replication in my classroom, being carefully carried on horseback or by coach from state to state,up and down the eastern seaboard, sheltered from the glaring sun, or the pelting rain, or the reckless winds, held tight in a rider's satchel ... to be shared in town squares, by town criers, and then the original copy to be signed in Philadelphia by representatives from each of the thirteen states. September ended the hot steamy summer that held those legislatures hostage in the Philadelphia building where the Declaration itself had been written more than a decade before. Their intended task, that hot summer of 1787, was to imrove the weak Articles of Confederation, and instead, they began fresh, and created a powerful document that continues to guide our American way of governing ... the oldest still in existence and functioning today ... amended carefully and responsibly through the centuries. My favorite amendment, the 26th, the one I was finally able to vote on as a 21 year old woman, is the one that lowered the voting age to 18, enabling our young men and women to have a say in who would run the government that would willingly draft them and send them to war ... Many amendments before that had corrected other imperfections, moving us closer to that "more perfect union" that the writers proposed.
Read the Constitution - if you can read this entry, you can search and read the Constitution. The late Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia championed this document that he held daily in his breast pocket, always in mind and close to his heart ... he called it the "Users' Manual" for the American people and their government. He wanted each of us to read it, again,to know the powers assigned to which governmental entities, and the rights and responsibilities of each, and of ourselves.
As I said, Happy Constitution Day, and rest in peace, Senator Byrd, knowing that teachers all over this country are teaching and honoring and using the document well.
The brook was restored with the four inches of rain we received gradually earlier this week ... the water is again flowing at about four to six inches depth, reflecting the blue sky above, the green foliage on the banks, and inviting a return of the mallards that occasionally visit here.
And deeper in the woods, under the heavy rainsoaked foliage grow the mushrooms ... the first lesson Dad gave to his brood of city kids when we moved to the country was "Don't eat the mushrooms ... mushrooms make you die." It was an unquestionable rule ... it was the decade known as the sixties ... mushrooms were getting a bad rap everywhere, and we weren't about to try to figure which ones were safe, tasty, or psychedelic ... we followed his rules, and some of us do still today.
And as for the Japanese Maple out front, and the lawn beneath ... it will take a bit longer to finish returning to green ground cover ... having been cut just before the rain, the grass roots and soft moss will absorb the rain's bounty and put out new shoots of green with this weekend's promised sun and heat.
And August will be August again.
September will follow soon, the color scheme will change ... the purples and greens will be mellowed by the yellows, golds, and reds ... the summer mauve of the maple will return to crimson and then fall in a carpet of bright red on lush green grass, heralding the coming holiday season. Rick will scoop up the beautiful red foliage and use it to cover the front door flower beds, where the daffodils will hibernate, the tiger lilies will flatten and wait, and the peonies and roses will shed their drying leaves and be pruned and readied to hunker down in the snow... but that is still far ahead of us!
The meterologists who keep track of such things tell us that we've already had more than 30 days of temperatures above 90F this summer ... and I think we had an additional few in May, before the season opened ... It's been alternately hot and humid, then hot and dry, then rain for short spells ... the Merrimack River in Haverhill is so low that the rocks at the bottom are above the water line in places where typically river cruise boats pass... Penn Brook at the back edge of our land is no more than six inches across, and only an inch or two deep ... typically, it's about four feet across and three feet deep ...
I haven't heard a lawnmower in at least two weeks despite the single downpour we had a while ago ... the grass is hibernating ... those with green grass and clover in their back yards have working leach fields, surrounded on all four sides by dry yellow borders ... those with green grass out front must be clandestinely watering at night or adhering strictly to the two days a week presently allowed during the early morning hours ...
I took a walk with Rick and snapped a photo of the brook at it's lowest level, and will take another next spring when the water overflows its banks and nourishes the wetlands by spreading about 20 to 30 feet beyond its normal location. Without that overflow, we wouldn't hear the peepers, or see the crab apple blossoms, or sniff the sweetly scented wild woodland phlox on warm evenings in May. Right now, I'm sure the wetlands are nearly bone dry, and will watch for the burrowing bees that nest there in the dry summer conditions.
There are seasons of moderation, but Spring and Fall seem shorter each year, as Winter and Summer expand their extremes ... the monsoons and mudslides in Asia have been as remarkable as the droughts elsewhere this summer. We are fortunate not to have experienced the brushfires of California and Eastern Canada this summer. We truly have little to complain about with our wait-a-minute New England weather.
We have had so little rain this summer ... low reservoir levels in small towns are limiting outside watering ... lawns are headed into hibernation ... hues of yellow and brown dominate the once green landscape. Small apples on very dry trees blew off in the brief thunderstorm and wind the other day, and now lie dry and small along a driveway's edge.The beautiful birch trees on the banks of Penn Brook came down in one of the thunderstorms, and now await harvesting for firewood - too hot for a woodstove, but good in a mix for the holiday fireplace.
The birds are fairly quiet in the early morning, as the night air has offered no cooling clue that it is night, and so they are busier as a result in the heat of the late afternoon. A few evenings have brought comfort in the high seventies, but most of our weather has remained static ... hot, sunny, humid ... where does that humidity originate? Not in the dry cirrus clouds above, not in the downsized ponds and streams ... yet it is here, limiting our energy and enthusiasm for the warm temperatures.
This has been an inside summer so far, as evidenced by the rampant growth of weeds and volunteer saplings. The peony bore only a few blooms, which fell quickly in the dry heat. The tiger lilies have been overshadowed by the fiddle head fern that, in more forgiving temperatures, I would weed away, but in this heat, they have grown nearly three feet in height, hiding all the hosta and wild phlox beneath their abundant canopy.
It has been too hot to tend my potted geraniums and begonias outside, and so they, too, have been overtaken by wildflower growth ...I have one large pot on the front stoop, filled with perennial geraniums of red and white, and they are surviving and giving new blossoms and color because they are easy to see, and reach, and deadhead and water on the way in and out ... the favored few this year, they look happy and honored to host their small American Flag...
We have abandoned the blueberry and raspberry patches ... an invasive weed has covered all of the bushes, with the weight of the weed's foliage bending the tall blueberry bushes downward. The shade of the overgrown Norway Maples has hindered any chance of ripening berries as well. Next year's climate will determine whether we have what it takes to heavily prune or replace those patches, or simply turn the earth over, pull up the buried watering hose that hasn't been used in several years, and plant a nourishing crop of rye grass and let the land rest.
Night has been kinder than day: Venus and the Moon in its full face kept close company this past week, and it is expected that they will not be seen as close again for another hundred years or more. The skies were forgivingly clear, allowing many to appreciate my favorite evening couple... you can read that appreciation at the Fables, Tales, and Poems page of this site.
The small greenhouse, always empty and uncared for and filled with dust and spider webs in the heat of summer, will receive some attention in the cool fall evenings, with purchased plants offering color in return for attention, wood-stove-heat and water. And my favorite season, winter, will return and be celebrated once again.
Leaves of three, leave it be ... 'tis the season to be wary ... poison ivy has again broken through the unraked edges of lawns, woodland trails, and in the midst of both domestic and wild berries. Don't be fooled -it can resemble spearmint, maple leaves, the one thumbed mitten shape of the state of Michigan, and the center symbol of the Canadian flag ... but it is poison ivy. Don't rely on the "shiny leaves" part of its reputation ... a few days of pollen falling will hide the typical oily sheen. It can be red in both spring and fall. Rick will pursue it now that the leaves are in full bloom ... he will dab individual leaves with an herbicide designed to kill unwanted greens, using a half-inch paint brush ... tedious, time consuming, but oh so appreciated by those of us who have suffered the wrath of the misleadingly small plant. Better living through chemistry!
Why the paint brush? Because that will concentrate the herbicide on the unwanted growth rather than on the surrounding treasures in your garden ... patience is a virtue, one required for this job. The liquid will be absorbed through the leaves, will travel through the stem system to the roots, and will eradicate that particular plant. It will have to be done again in a week or so, to catch the new growth that hadn't yet emerged ... and it will repeat again next year as new plants find their way into your space.
One thing to remember is that, once he has traversed the territory seeking out the torturous weed, his shoes and socks and cuffs may have picked up some of the plant's surface oil ... and whoever picks those clothes up and puts them into the laundry is at risk of contamination. I've learned my lesson and handle them gingerly ... I also stay away from domestic cats who are allowed to prowl outdoors, as the oil often comes into the house on their fur. They seem to roll in it. Dogs seem to have more sense.
If there is even a hint of exposure of poison ivy, I scrub my arms with cold water and, if I have it, brown soap ... and if I unfortunately break out anyway, my love goes right to the seashore, fills up a thermos jug with the healing sea water, the steadfast solution recommended by our family doctor years ago. Better still is to jump into the sea for a leisurely swim, but taking some home for paper towel compresses will cinch the deal...
Poison Ivy, begone! And all my bird friends - people blame you for spreading the seeds ... please stop; the plant serves no useful purpose for any other living thing. ... Have you ever seen a poison ivy leaf with evidence of chewing? Nope. Me neither. Case closed.
The first calendar day of summer this past week brought 90 degree weather that has consistently returned each day since. The trees along the road to work are full of deep green leaves, offering respite from the short sudden rains and then damp, cooling drips for the aftermath's wave of returning humidity. As a young girl, i was always intrigued, on the city streets, by the light tones of dry cement sidewalk patterns beneath the few city trees, suddenly replaced by dark, shaded damp patterns following the sun's drying return ... like seeing a photograph, and then seeing it's negative (for those of us who remember negatives.)
Meteorologists refer to the first of June as the opening of summer. Calendars usually name the solstice as June 21st, and the first day of summer. But teachers and students follow the school's seasonal calendar, the same one that has existed in New England for over a hundred years ... The last day of school is the first day of summer, and the first day of school is the true New Year's Day. The season we call V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N is comprised of the weeks between those two days, and through my six decades, it has shortened. We always started the school year after Labor Day, and we usually were out in the first week of June, giving us three predictable months of summer. Novelty shops still sell mugs that say "Teachers' favorite months: June, July, and August." June is no longer a part of that, despite its beauty and rising temperatures. Snow Days occur more frequently as school children ride buses rather than walk to neighborhood schools; buses can't deliver kids over icy streets any easier than children could walk through multiple inches of snow ... ice has increased the amount of "snow" days, and each Snow Day adds a day to June's page.
An increase in the number of holidays observed has also lengthened the year; we tried one year to do without the February and April vacations and to go instead with a one week replacement in March, but found that the number of influenza cases increased that year ... it is possible that when we close for a week in February, the buildings are left cooler, and empty of human germs, and more bacteria dies. So, we returned to the February/April weeks off, pleasing many families who ski and travel to time shares in those weeks.
We've tinkered now with the New School Year's Opening Day, daring the heat of August's end vs. the heat of June's ... The heat in August can be more easily dealt with in a classroom of new, excited, enthusiastic students than the heat in a June classroom of students who have spent their maximum effort throughout the year and are ready then for a break. Athletes, who run double sessions in the weeks before school opens, will not be pleased with those practice weeks occurring earlier in August's peak heat, so this may be another exercise doomed to be an aberration defeated by tradition.
But we shall see ... change will continue to occur cyclically, generation by generation, Nature may change as well, if the upcoming generations take better care of environment and halt the glacial melt that threatens Nature's predictable cycle.
Welcome, Summer, but please forgive me if I spend less time than intended outside on your hottest days ... I am no match for humidity, and never have been. In the meantime, I will enjoy this image of ice and snow... somewhere. Happy wedding, Liz!
ps - does anyone else see a teddy bear emerging from the glacier melt?
The birdhouse, so coveted by so many sparrows in the fall and spring, sits empty, nestled in the bed of ivy where it landed after Winter's winds blew it off its post above ... I'm not sure the birds will visit it here, where squirrels and chipmunks pass through along their way to the strawberry bed ... but we shall see ...
The fading blossoms of daffodils and grape hyacinth at the flag post have been gently, quietly covered over and replaced by the clematis bush that was once intended to climb the post, but chooses instead to cover and shield from the sun the resting spring blooms. The flowers that live on and flourish in my yard are those that can exist with little attention, those that share their space within their own season, while the classroom dominates most of the month of June each year.
The temperatures do not seem to follow the calendar of the length of days ... the longest day is approaching next week; the Summer Solstice will arrive, yet the thermometer will continue to rise and rise after that day. The evenings will begin to come earlier as the temperatures continue to climb in July and August ... it is hard to make sense of that. Summer Solstice is the beginning, not the middle, of Summer. The season continues to define itself with heat until it reaches the Autumnal Equinox; after that date in September, the temperatures begin to fall to the moderate levels we enjoy through fall.
Mother Nature's calendar is not for us to question ... unless, of course, we continue to alter Nature's course with our pollution and structural changes on our planet ... former Vice President Al Gore's book, An Inconvenient Truth, is worth a second look this summer..;
June is a month of temptation for any teacher who admires the flowers, wild and domestic, beyond her porch door. But Nature is a forgiving, generous companion, offering volunteer woodland phlox, sweet-scented wild white rose, and the favorite of all toddlers, the buttercup that grows freely in unmowed grass and clover. These blossoms require no initial attention, but give of their scent and their beauty asking nothing in return. In their time, the blossoms will fade, the greenery will expand, and the thorns will remind one to prune back the extended branches.
That will have to wait, though, while the teacher finishes her year with students, packs up the papers and folders and books, rolls up the maps and the classroom posters and flag, clears the board, stows the markers or chalk, stacks the chairs, and leaves a room map for the kind custodians who will empty the room of furniture, wax the floors and clean the windows and heater vents, and then rebuild the classroom in the designed welcoming pattern.
While they are doing that in the summer heat, the teacher will be finding forgotten plants covered over with advancing wildflowers, ruefully noting the spent blossoms on lily of the valley never visited in the spring, cutting back the spent lilacs, admiring the little groundcover that imitates pansy faces, and uncovering the azaleas in time to see the last of their flowers. The welcoming committee of strawberries-about-to-bloom will soon attract the squirrels in the early morning and the bunnies in the afternoon ... with birds swooping in for mid-day pecks as well. The raspberry and blueberry bushes will wait until July to offer their fruit, when the teacher and her family and friends have time to harvest them.
But for now, for June, a quick wistful glance beyond the windows, a soft breeze of scent by the porch door, and the twittering of the birds and squirrels will soothe the teacher's heart, and reassure her that July's time will soon allow her to join Nature and companions outdoors . June will pass as a busy tease, but July is there waiting, on the calendar, as always. I looked. The berries are beginning to ripen.
Following the end of the Civil War, General Logan's Orders proclaimed that on the 30th of May of each year, Decoration Day would be observed, a day when flowers would be strewn upon the graves of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for this nation. Later, after more war involving the United States of America, the day was renamed Memorial Day. And much later, the date was altered to provide Monday holidays for working America.
The reading of General Logan's Orders is a standard at every Memorial Day ceremony in small town America, and is always accompanied by the reading of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Lincoln underestimated the profound, lasting effect his message would have on Americans for decades to come. His words are usually read by a local student, one who has practiced the phrasing carefully. When I coach my students to recite the Gettysburg Address, I asks them to first understand who the message was addressing ... we, the people ... When Lincoln said that we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground, I tell them that he most likely emphasized the pronoun we, rather than the negative verbs ... the meaning is so much more clear when it is read that way... for, as he said, it is, rather, for us, the living, to be dedicated to the task they had so far nobly advanced...that the nation, under God, would have a new birth of freedom. And when he spoke the final lines, that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people would not perish from the earth, I believe he would have emphasized the noun, people, rather than the prepositions, of, by and for.
To hear the way I coach students in reading this speech for a greater understanding of its message, listen to this audio file. He had so much to tell us, we had too little of his time.
Another president that we lost too soon has his birthday celebrated the day before Memorial Day, on May 29th. My favorite quote of John Fitzgerald Kennedy exemplifies the optimism, strength, and unity that Lincoln's efforts foreshadowed. At a commencement address shortly after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke these words, and they are words that have meaning and value to me in my classroom, and to my students and colleagues:
"What kind of a peace do we seek? I'm talking about a genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living. Not merely peace in our time, peace in all time. Our problems are man-made, therefore, they can be solved by man. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breath the same air, we all cherish our children's future, and we are all mortal." ~JFK
To hear and/or read the full text of this 26 minute commencement address, go to
As you celebrate these two holidays, one a solemn ceremony, and one a nostalgic birthday, and remember these two fine American presidents, strew those flowers liberally, literally and figuratively. Peace is achievable.
Rick and I celebrate our wedding anniversary twice each year, once on the original date of May 30th, and once on the observed calendar date of the holiday. Flowers are an important part of our lives, and sharing them with those who have passed, along with placing flags at the resting places of soldiers, firefighters and others who have made the ultimate sacrifice in providing the protection of other Americans will always be a part of our celebration. We still believe that man's problems can be solved by man's efforts and care. It is a belief worth celebrating, and sharing, with those here and those gone on ahead.
Rick and I, forty years ago, leaving the church where we'd spent five years of Sundays
providing child care with our CYO friends, Mal, Steve, Tom, Janet, Betty and a few more, during the 10:30 Mass ... and in those last three years gradually realizing we were each other's Anam Cara; for a beautiful explanation, go to:
They are still here and fragrant, but the rain today will erase it all. It's in the sixties today, with spurts of heavy rain, and predicted strong, high winds. These pictures taken just last week will be our memory for another year, as the blossoms will droop and fall in today's weather. Nature offers some consistency, but most often variability.
Our infamous "wait-a-minute-weather" that ends storms quickly takes its toll here...The winter scene captured six weeks ago and seen at the bottom of this page sharply contrasts with the early blooms of this calendar year's spring ...
The lilacs, both white and light purple, have begun opening this week, well ahead of their Mother's Day due date. After a warm weekend, the temperatures yesterday and today plummeted again to the thirties and forties, and immediately slowed the sudden bloom ... the fragrance is muted by the cold temperatures and windy gusts, but they hold potential, and will open gracefully this warm upcoming weekend.
The old fashioned azalea, which looks so much like pink tinted popcorn, opened this week as well, beneath the blooming dogwood branch that grows in the center of the fifteen-foot overgrown yew bush ... beautiful four-petaled creamy-white blossoms that will yield bright red berries in time for fall. And at the foot of the lantern that proudly holds the American Flag and the sign for Wooden Toys and Gifts the daffodils and jonquils and grape hyacinths are growing in height and multiplying in number, as they do each spring. The curb-side forsythia is slowly turning from bright yellow petals to light green leaves.
I'll make a delivery visit to the cemetery this weekend, with a pair of each of the blossoms to lay on my parents' resting place, dressing the plot with fragrance, colors, and love. As the song promises, "...and all my grave will warmer, sweeter be ..."
Today's temperature reached 73 at noon time, inviting a peaceful walk downtown on this mid-vacation-week day, gently scented by the opening crab apple tree blossoms. I snipped branches from the deep salmon flowering quince bush, and some from the abundant bright forsythia ... two young daffodil and jonquil blossoms and their little counterparts, the grape hyacinths ... together these made a humble but respectable home-grown, familiar bouquet to place at the cemetery.
It's still a bit early for the lilacs, but they will open in time for Mother's Day. I remember the May when I was married, having decided that for my bouquet I would carry the lilacs that grew outside the parlor window, so like those that grew in our back yard in the city ... my mother warned me that they would bloom earlier in the month, and might not last long enough to be fresh for my end of month wedding. She was right, and so I carried a simple white prayerbook with streamers of stephanotis and English ivy, minus the planned lilac topping ... people complimented the simple beauty of that unintended design. But each year, I bring lilacs in to enjoy their gentle scent and quiet color, and remember that my mother surely knew her lilacs, and that Mother Nature kept her own calendar, not necessarily mine.
This year will be our fortieth anniversary, and celebrated on the true Memorial Day rather than on the artificial Monday holiday created later ... we will honor both days, though the lilacs will open in advance, for Mothers' Day, scenting this old house as they always did in our childhood Mays, both in the city, and here on the North Shore. But today is Trish's day, so similar to the day she was born, warm, bright, and full of love ... and I'm sure her grandparents are smiling at her, from a distance. As are we... always.
The daffodils and jonquils have joined the crocus and forsythia, opening their buds earlier this week in time for my mother's birthday ... and the lilacs that she loved and nurtured for years are showing early promise as well. I bring each to the cemetery as they bloom in time. Temperatures reached 90 in this same week that she would have, and then fell to the more expected low 50s for the past few days. Tree pollens usually staggered over a few weeks all burst within days of each other, but today's soft rain is dampening the effects on friends' allergies, mercifully. One beautiful purple azalea has bloomed next door, very early for its type.
The birds are back in the branches, greeting us each morning with songs ... some I recognize, and some remain elusively familiar but lost in memory. Years ago, I had borrowed, from our public library, a 33 rpm record album (remember those?) that played the various calls of New England birds ... a chickadee's mating call was very different than its feeding call ... a cardinal's song seemed to change with the time of day, if I'm remembering right, singing a morning song that differed from its evening song .... twit--twit--twit chirps in the morning, birdie-birdie-birdie whistles in the evening ... and the chickadee's high pitched single note followed by the double low note when calling a mate, and its frantic "dee-dee- chick - dee-dee-dee" when threatened by a squirrel at the feeders. The blue jay's raucous calls for its mate, and the sorrowful silence of that early summer when the gypsy moths stripped the pine-needles from the trees, exposing the baby jays to direct sunlight and ending their lives early... And of course, the mourning dove's soft cooing, the final notes of which one could only hear when near enough and still enough ... I grew up in the city with only pigeons, public and domesticated, all giving a wing-ruffling sound before settling in to the overhead roof eaves with a gentle coo-hoo...homing pigeons were still in vogue in the fifties, often housed in the attics of houses in the city ... I can still remember the scent of the warm pigeon feed in the sacks near the roosts. Here in the suburbs and smaller cities these old childhood friends humbly called pigeons are proudly called rock doves and less often shooed-away from public rooftops like the libraries and town offices ... their notes are quietly harmonious, often without competition from the smaller birds. They benefit from the squirrels' escapades by feeding on the abundant spillage below each feeder.
In this century of easy access, I could probably find those sounds somewhere online, complete with annotations ... but instead of looking, I'm listening beyond my windows, believing I still know the individuals and understand their messages ...if you'd like to hear, though, go to this site: http://www.all-birds.com/favorite-birds.htm
Just over one week ago, we had temperatures in the seventies ... warm breezes helped lower the water levels on side streets, and flapped the sheets and towels hung out in the fresh, bright, spring sunshine.
But this week brought more gray days, and falling temperatures. Back to the forties and fifties, with snow returning in the north, and dormant bushes here and there reluctantly holding back their first buds. We usually have forsythia by now, to accompany the brave crocus, but not this Spring, not yet.
Some of the orange detour signs and flashing barricades warning of roads overrun by streams and ponds have reappeared, gone missing for only a few days. The ground is saturated, the frost weakened, and last week's optimistic but vulnerable green shoots have begun sensibly hunkering down again for a spell. Even the birds are quiet ... not yet accustomed to their storm-relocated feeders, they are more likely seen on the edges of the wetlands, picking at the winter debris that is beginning to yield to the thaw ... small insects may be enticing the birds to seek out a more local menu ... the robins have yet to arrive, as the worms have yet to emerge. Soon, though, everyone will be back in the picture. The calendar says it's Spring. But Nature has her own terms for determining her byline. Patience is a virtue, often rewarded.
The dramatic rains earlier this week eliminated all traces of lingering snow ... the accompanying winds broke branches and tossed limbs far and wide. Many lost power, schools closed for a day or two, and rivers overflowed and flooded many basements. The day following the storm brought an immediate sense of spring ... warming temperatures, bright sunlight, and crocus buds emerging amid the storm debris. Time for cleanup to begin. Beneath the maple leaf mulch carefully blown last fall into the flower beds, green shoots of tiger lilies and daffodils-to-be are ready to be uncovered. We lost only one picket from our fence, knocked out of its line by falling white pine branches heavily crushing the lilac limbs below... fully half of the old white lilac bush had to be pruned and removed. But those self-pruned pine tree limbs fell very neatly, again missing both our neighbors' fence and our own porch, compassionately saving us both the expense of professional, preventative pruning and that of repairs that might otherwise have been needed - we do have angels watching over us.
The bird feeders have been relocated, from the damaged lilac to the larger maple; the birds have yet to find them there. Safflower for the cardinals, thistle for the finch, mixed seed for the chickadees and sparrows ... all are waiting to be found. It won't be long before the squirrels and chipmunks find them.
The brook behind our back yard overflowed its banks, reaching a good twenty feet into the surrounding wetlands. That is, after all, why the wetlands are there, protected and valued ... In a month or so we will hear the peepers that herald new life in that vernal pond. The old apple trees will blossom, the wild woodland phlox will scent the air, and the houseplants will all move back outside. A new season is upon us ... where did Old Man Winter go?