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Children, It’s Spring

And this is the lady
Whom everyone loves,
Ms. Violet
in her purple gown

Or, on special occasions,
A dress the color
Of sunlight. She sits
In the mossy weeds and waits

To be noticed.
She loves dampness.
She loves attention.
She loves especially

To be picked by careful fingers,
Young fingers, entranced
By what has happened
To the world.

We, the older ones,
Call it Spring,
And we have been through it
Many times.

But there is still nothing
Like the children bringing home
Such happiness
In their small hands.

~Mary Oliver

Of all the wonderful things about kids, one of the best is the joy with which they approach life.  Everything is new for them, and seeing it through their eyes, the world is new for us too.  We didn’t pick any of these bluebells – so this wasn’t a case of bringing happiness home in their small hands, as Mary Oliver would say – but I know they remember these fairy bells and look forward all year long to this one day of glory.  And if there’s a chance to stomp in puddles and get covered with mud at the same time, well, so much the better.

Do you have a favorite spring memory from your childhood?

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I’ve been reading James Lees-Milne’s memoir, Another Self (in preparation for, I hope, picking up his diaries very soon) and came upon a passage near the end, which made me laugh so hard I spit out the wine I was drinking – JL-M would have been horrified.  Ordinarily I’d read it aloud to Steve, but he’s in the middle of a video game and I can’t get his attention.  So – I take to the blog.  Here’s Lees-Milne talking about his days fighting for His Majesty during World War II:

I had spent barely a month at the training barracks at Lingfield, when I was posted to Dover.  The Battle of Britain was in full swing.  Hitler’s invasion of England was expected at any moment.  We lived on the alert.  Day and night an officer was kept on duty awaiting from some higher intelligence the warning code signal, ‘Oliver Cromwell.’  When this ominous name came down the telephone the officer knew that the invasion was on the way.  He must instantly without wasting a second ring through to the Colonel and arouse the whole battalion.  At 3 o’clock one morning it was my turn to be on duty.  Rather drowsily I was reading Barchester Towers.  The telephone rang.  I picked up the receiver.  ‘This is Higher Command QE2X speaking,’ came from a rather cissy voice a long way off.  ‘I say, old boy, sorry to tell you – Oliver Cromwell!’  ‘What?’ I screamed, my heart in my boots.  ‘Are you sure?  Are you absolutely sure?’  I had no reason for questioning the man’s words beyond the utter horror of the announcement.  ‘Well, I may have got it wrong,’ the voice said affectedly.  ‘Then for dear Christ’s sake,’ I pleaded, ‘do get it right.’  There was a pause, during which I had my finger on the special telephone to the Colonel’s bedroom, as it were on the pulse of England.  ‘Sorry, old chap,’ the voice came back again.  ‘It’s only Wat Tyler.  I get so confused with these historical blokes.’  ‘Wat Tyler,’ I said sharply, ‘was a very different sort of bloke indeed.  He didn’t unleash hell and damnation like the other.  No doubt he would have liked to.  But he was strung up by the Lord Mayor before he got a chance.  You deserve no less for giving me the fright of my life.  So good night to you, or good morning, or whatever it is!’

We have James Lees-Milne to thank, largely, for the National Trust, for writing twelve volumes of witty and slightly rude diaries that I can’t wait to read, for being singularly unimpressed by Princess Margaret, and for causing me to choke on my sauvignon blanc.  That is a contribution to the arts and letters indeed.

Have you ever read Lees-Milne?  Do you happen to know if he’s related to Christopher Robin?

Notre-Dame Cathedral is the very soul of Paris but so much more — it is a touchstone for all that is the best about the world, and a monument to the highest aspirations of artistic achievement that transcends religion and time.  It has survived so much — from the French Revolution to Nazi occupation — to watch its devastation is excruciating.”

~Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters

Steve and I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in September, 2011.  Having loved ecclesiastical architecture since I studied it in Mr. Orr’s AP European History class in tenth grade, I was particularly keen to see the most iconic French Gothic cathedral in existence.  I was awed by its beauty, its grace, and its historical significance, and I was in tears watching it be engulfed by flames today.

Notre Dame was – is – so much more than mere stones and mortar.  I cherish Notre Dame as an example of the soaring heights that human ingenuity and spirit can achieve.  From the news reports I have read, it appears that not all is lost, that the statuary, the art, and even the stained glass have been or could be recovered – I hope that’s true.  But still, it breaks my heart to think that my children won’t be able to marvel at the gargoyles or at the ceiling arching high above them.  And yet I know the people of Paris, and those of us in far-flung places around the world who love art and architecture, will rebuild.

Go look at the beauty in the world.

Well.  Hello.  Sunday scaries hit hard this week; I don’t know why, exactly.  I do have a busy week ahead, with a client site visit, volunteer shift serving food at a shelter with the other kindergarten parents at Peanut’s school, lunch plans with a friend on secondment, and a long to-do list.  So I’ll be clinging to memories of this past weekend to get me through.  We had a nice one – on Saturday morning, we were out the door early for our annual hike on the Bluebell Loop Trail during blooming season.  This was the third year we’ve gone (here’s 2017 and here’s 2018) and it was as spectacular as ever, but rather muddier than usual.  We made it through the part of the trail with the heaviest concentration of bluebells, then turned back – which was plenty of time for both of the kids to get covered in mud.  ‘Tis the season, right?  On Saturday afternoon, Steve had to work so I took the kids to our favorite playground, where they ran around for almost three hours.  Once Dad joined us, we headed to the library to drop off a few books and pick up another (every weekend) and then walked home via Hank’s Oyster Bar.  Sunday dawned dreary and gloomy, so we piled into the car for a trip to the aquarium in Baltimore, which Nugget had earned by sleeping in his big boy bed two nights in a row without ending up in bed with us.  (Standards have really slipped around here.)  The rest of the afternoon was low-key; there was more playground-going, until Nugget poked something questionable and got dragged home to wash his hands repeatedly.  And I folded a pile of laundry and finished putting away the kids’ Christmas presents (better late than never) and I now have a clean bedroom to show for my efforts.  Huzzah!  And now another week dawns.  It’s a short one; the kids’ school is closed Friday and Monday and I’m going to try to take a long weekend too.  Emphasis on try, because long weekends are never guaranteed in law practice.  But we’ll do our best.

Reading.  I had a good reading week.  I polished off The Familiars in about twenty-four hours and really enjoyed it – highly recommend if you’re into historical fiction, witches, and stories about women’s lives.  I like all of those things, so The Familiars was my jam.  Next up, I was bad and reached for something on my own shelf instead of working on my absurd library stack, but Another Self was calling my name.  James Lees-Milne’s memoir of his childhood and young adult years – ending with his service during World War II, right before his famous diaries pick up the story – was a delight and I am not at all sorry I threw over the library books in Jim’s favor.  I got back to them soon enough, and read The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe over the course of Friday evening through Sunday morning, then picked up Women Heroes of World War II.  Not exactly calming bedtime reading, but that’s what I was curled up with on the couch come Sunday night.

Watching.  Snippets of whatever the kids happened to be watching, that’s all – so, some Spider-Man, some Finding Dory, and some Star Wars (Nugget is into the prequels right now, please send wine).  An eclectic mix, I know.  But what I’m most excited about is Amazon has finally announced a release date for the Good Omens miniseries!  Mark your calendars for May 31.  I think my book club is going to be reading the book to prepare.  (“We are an angel and a demon!  We have nothing whatsoever in common, I don’t even like you!”)

Listening.  All the podcasts, all the time.  I made good progress in back episodes of Speak Up for The Ocean Blue and The Crunchy Cocktail Hour, by the highlight was Robin and Bianca discussing why it is, exactly, that we all love Mr Darcy on Drunk Austen.

Making.  No food or crafts to report, but I made a clean bedroom, and that is a big achievement indeed!  I try so hard, but certain rooms seem to become dumping grounds for random miscellaneous stuff, and the master bedroom is one of the biggest offenders.  I had three baskets of laundry to fold, several bags of Christmas gifts to be put away, a pile of junk on top of my dresser, and assorted toys scattered around.  At press time, it’s almost all clean.  The dresser is tidy, the laundry is put away, the toys and Christmas presents are in their rightful places, and all that’s left is my donation bin, which lives under the window near my closet and collects the stuff that I’m planning to give away to friends, donate, or sell to the used bookstore.  It’s almost full, so that will be a project for next weekend, maybe.

Blogging.  I have a fun excerpt from Another Self that I just had to share, so that’s Wednesday for you, and on Friday, I’m continuing – as I always do – with posting a poem a week for National Poetry Month.  Pairing it with pictures of bluebells, because everyone needs more bluebell pictures in their lives.

Loving.  This week’s shout is more of a love-hate.  I know it’s cliché, but I am loving the warmer weather.  This week was the first week of 2019 that it was warm enough to go without a jacket every day; part of my commute includes walking outside several times a day, so the end of jacket weather is a big quality of life boost for me.  And it was even warm enough for a skirt-without-stockings outfit a couple of days last week.  Yippee for the approach of summer!  (Ya girl is one of the few – sometimes I think the only – Washingtonian who will never complain about our hot, muggy summers.  Bring on the heat index!)  But the hate part is – with the warmer temperatures, the pollen has finally struck.  I’ve been managing my allergies fairly well this season.  I switched to a different allergy medication and have been really good about remembering to take it every morning.  But this weekend the pollen was literally floating in Baltimore Harbor and coating the cars, and my nose was having none of it.  I am so looking forward to the end of tree pollen in a couple of weeks.

Asking.  What are you reading this week?

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

~A.E. Housman

What better poem to celebrate cherry blossom season?  We don’t go to the Tidal Basin every year because the crowds are always ridiculous, but this year – we just felt like taking in the blooms from the prime spot.  Housman’s poem is a little melancholy, it’s true, but it speaks to the fleeting glories of spring.  We all take them in when we can, don’t we?

Is there a must-do spring activity in your part of the world?

Garden Tasks: April 2019

Hurray!  It’s finally April – planting month around these parts!  According to the Old Farmers’ Almanac, the average final frost day in my region is April 2, which means anytime after that is relatively safe to put the year’s crop into pots.  Some years we get too excited and waste a crop by planting in March, and other years we end up so busy we don’t plant until May and have to wait until late summer for the tomato crop.  This year I’m determined to do it right and I’m off to a good start: we planted last weekend (first update of the season coming soon).  Here’s what’s on my to-do list for April:

  • Buy a couple of new planters (I have my eye on some purple ones with thistle decorations at the local garden center).
  • Pick up the 2019 garden crop.  I’m still sticking with transplants, because I’m not confident or organized enough to start seeds.  This year I’m thinking tomatoes (of course), herbs, salad greens, beans, and berries.  And then…
  • PLANT!
  • Mix up a squirrel repellent spray and get into the habit of applying it regularly to my pots and plants.  (Probably not necessary yet, since I won’t have tomatoes for them to steal for weeks yet, but it’s never a bad thing to be proactive.)
  • Weed my front flower bed thoroughly, and plant ground cover.
  • Buy a new bird feeder.  Mine has served me well for a few seasons, but it’s clogging on a weekly basis and the squirrels break the squirrel-proof ledge every single day.  (Literally.  It’s become my routine to fix it every evening as I walk up my front steps on my way home from work.  And the next day, it’s always broken again.)  Time to switch it up.

It’s actually a fairly short list.  Other than the burst of activity around actually getting plants into the pots, April is a fairly easy month in my little urban container garden.  There’s not much watering to do because we’re still getting spring rains.  It’s just about tending the baby plants and giving them lots of love as they take root.

What’s on your garden to-do list this month?

Another work week looms and I’m starting it out exhausted.  We had a fun weekend, lots of the usual running around – but no birthday parties to throw or attend this weekend! – but there was also a lot of bickering and backtalk and not a lot of cooperation from certain quarters.  Anyway.  Saturday morning saw us out the door bright and early to see the cherry blossoms blooming around the Tidal Basin.  We usually don’t go, because pollen and crowds, but I just felt like adding it to the agenda this year and so we went.  It was gorgeous.  And swarming with people.  At one point, I said to Steve, “I thought by going early we would miss the crowds,” and he replied, “I think this is missing the crowds.”  Later on Saturday I went by myself (!!!) to the garden center and picked up the first few plants for this year’s patio garden.  (Neither of the kids wanted to go with me, which was a first.)  I got lettuce, mint and thyme, and I’ll be going back to – I hope – pick up the rest of the plants in another week or two.  I spent the afternoon happily planting and watering the few plants I was able to get.  Sunday dawned very early – too early – as Nugget was up long before the crack of dawn to demand breakfast.  I mean, not that I don’t enjoy making eggs in the pitch dark, but the result was that I was tired and cranky all day.  I mustered up enough energy to paint Nugget’s face like a tiger cub (Peanut was supposed to be a cheetah – her request which led me to buy the face paints to begin with – but she got cold feet at the last minute) and we headed to the zoo.  The only animals we saw were the great cats and the cows, goats and donkeys at the kids’ farm, because Peanut and Nugget refused to budge from the playgrounds otherwise.  But it was fine.  We’re zoo members so we get free parking and we’re going back when Grandma visits in two weeks anyway.  And that’s about it – a busy and tiring weekend.  Nugget burned off the rest of the energy he still amazingly had (despite waking up at an ungodly hour) on the playground on Sunday afternoon, and I ended the weekend curled up on the couch with a book, as usual.  And now, somehow, I will summon what little energy I have and face the week ahead.

Reading.  I’ve been having a busy bookish week as I continue to make my way through the (still robust and ridiculous) library stack.  I finished Moon Tiger early in the week and moved on to A City of Bells, which was about as different from Moon Tiger as you can get – except that both were wonderful reads.  Next I turned to the latest Maisie Dobbs, The American Agent, and enjoyed it as much as I always enjoy a visit with Maisie.  I finished that on Sunday morning as the sun was rising (thanks, Nugget) and turned to The Familiars – I’m about 100 pages in now, and enjoying it immensely.

Watching.  No screen time for me this week, unless you count watching a video of a humpback whale doing a sounding dive in the middle of a marina way too many times (thanks, Facebook!).  But I spent a lot of time watching my munchkins run around various playgrounds, which is much nicer than any screen.

Listening.  The usual smattering of podcast episodes.  I think the highlight was listening to the hosts of Vegetarian Zen interview The Unkempt Gardener.  He was totally approachable and inspiring, and made me even more eager to break ground (well, planter) on the 2019 garden.

Making.  And break ground I did!  I made progress on the back patio and potted three starter buttercrunch lettuces (my favorite!), some thyme, and spearmint (in its own pot, naturally).  I also cleaned up the other pots and revived the chives and rosemary that survived the winter.  The garden center didn’t have much in the way of edibles yet, thanks to a cold snap we had, but hopefully there will be more in the pots soon.

Blogging.  I have some springy content for you this week.  On Wednesday, my April to-do list for the garden, and on Friday, an A.E. Housman poem that is so on point I am literally unable to even.  Check in with me then.

Loving.  This is going to sound weird, but go with it.  Of all of the many, many, many things I am self-conscious about, perhaps the strangest is… my eyebrows.  Over the past few years they have gotten lighter (while the hair on my head has gotten darker, insert shrugging emoji here) and the result is that they look thinner than they used to.  I finally got tired of cringing at them in the mirror and decided to try a brow gel.  I got this one from Thrive Causemetics, mainly because I saw an ad promising that it would permanently thicken brows in just a few weeks.  I’ve been using it almost every day for about two weeks now, and I don’t know if it is delivering on the permanent thickening thing or even if I am applying it correctly, but I definitely feel like my brows look better after I’ve applied it.  Who knew?  I am as low-maintenance and casual as it gets and I rarely wear more than a quick dash of makeup, so this is new territory for me.  Beautycounter also has a brow gel, so I might try that after I run out of the Thrive Causemetics one.  SHUT THE FRONT DOOR.  Who even am I?  (If I start raving about lip liner, send help.)

Asking.  What are you reading this week?