Violet Unicorn Jelly

The best way to pick wild violets is sitting in the grass with a granddaughter on a sunny Sunday morning.

The best reason to pick wild violets is to make violet jelly.

And the best thing to do with violet jelly is to have a fairy tea party with lady finger sandwiches.

So far, I have pulled off the first two. But if I wait too long to post this, you will run out of time to pick your own wild violets.

On a recent Sunday morning, a friend posted pictures of her violet jelly, and I said to my granddaughter Emily, who had spent the night, “Let’s do this!” While her cousins frolicked around like woodland nymphs, Emily and I sat in the sunny yard picking violets.

And we talked. About this and that and nothing whatsoever.

Picking violets was easy. Violets were all around us, so we didn’t even have to move around much.

But we needed two cups of flowers. No stems. And violet flowers are pretty tiny. It takes a lot of flowers to fill a little two cup container. And then they start to pack down, so it seems like the container is never going to fill up. Eventually Emily got tired of picking, but fortunately did not get tired of sitting with me on the grass. After a while, we had two cups of violet blossoms.

The next step toward making jelly was to make a tea with the violets. I packed the flowers into a quart mason jar and filled the jar with boiling water. As the flowers steeped, the water turned a lovely blue.

Emily went home and the violets continued to steep in the fridge. It was Wednesday before I had time to continue with the jelly. By then the tea was a stunning purple.

I strained the tea.

Into a pot on the stove, I put the tea, the juice of one lemon, and a packet of powdered Sure-Jell. I let it boil a couple of minutes and then added four cups of sugar. After it all boiled again for a couple of minutes , I skimmed and stirred the jelly for about five more minutes. Then I poured the jelly into jars and water processed them for a good jar seal.

Easy peasy.

So I had this very beautiful pinky-purply-colored jelly, perfectly jelled, and no idea if it even tasted good!

Ah, but it does.

It tastes a little like flowers. It is a little lemony. It is hard to say exactly. Some say it tastes like spring. Personally, I think it tastes like a unicorn’s lollipop. It definitely wants to be served on a light spongy lady finger to a granddaughter.

I bought some lady fingers, but they were not spongy. They were crispy, the kind you want for making a trifle or tiramisu. I need the spongy kind, so I am now on a hunt for soft spongy lady fingers.

Once I have lady fingers, we will have a fairy tea party with unicorn jelly sandwiches and fairy tea in pretty cups on the porch. The cousins can all join in.

Or frolick outside like woodland nymphs.

Three Things I Would Bottle

Three things I wish I could bottle for later: summer sunshine, the restorative powers of vacation sleep, and the energy of a child. Probably in that order.  I crave sunlight. I love sleep.  And with  every passing year, it takes more energy than I naturally have to carry me through the day.

I don’t want the constant energy of a child. I’m not really a high energy person.  I just want to bottle their non-caffeinated all natural enthusiasm so I can partake of  little sips when this dilapated body needs some.  An infusion of kid energy combined with the wisdom of years of experience would possibly enable me to complete everything that my caffeine-hyped morning self put on my to-do list.  

Yesterday, three grandkids paid a brief visit while desperate momma bought groceries.  In anticipation of their visit, I stopped my activities early to put my feet up with an iced Kahlua coffee and a couple of non-pareils.  (French note: non-pareil means “no equal” and I’m telling you there is no equal to one or two quality dark-chocolate non-pareils with a tall iced coffee laced with a splash of Kahlua.) Life got even better when hubby walked in early from work.  Back-up. 

See, the eleven-year-old has two speeds: hypnotic, technology-induced coma and hyper-adrenaline laced activity, which usually involves adult supervision and/or tickets to a theme park, but can be temporarily assuaged with a fidget spinner.  Prior to PopPop’s arrival his choice of activity was going to be a new book I bought.  He actually flipped through it and grunted tentative approval. Actual reading will likely require a sleep-over which he not so subtly hinted at.  But PopPop introduced a new level of engagement: driving lessons on the zero-turn mower. Do you want to see a fidget spinning kid toss aside the fidget spinner? Put him on a piece of heavy machinery and let him drive. He was in seventh heaven.  The trick will be to channel his enthusiasm into mowing all the grass.  I’m pretty sure money will be involved.  The kid is a mercenary when it comes to money.

Meanwhile, his three (and a half!) year old sister watched from the screen porch, dying to drive the kiddie tractor.  There was no way I was letting her out in the yard to get run over by her brother, so she had to content herself with non-stop storytelling to her captive audience (me) while  17 month old  brother busied himself removing everything from the kitchen cabinets.  His favorites: the salad spinner and crab mallets.  Lucky for me he didn’t use the crab mallets on the salad spinner.  Big brother eventually heeded sister’s sporadic cries to “Stop! Please stop! Stop now!”  Her interest in driving the battery-powered kiddie tractor lasted about three nanoseconds.

Since we were now all outside and little brother was investigating the human-powered toddler tractor, I took the talkative one over to the Big Hill so she could practice rolling down it.  Once upon a long time, her mother and aunts sledded down this hill (her mom sledding right into a tree that is no longer there). Now on a glorious sunny afternoon, the hill is cushy with thick zoysia grass.  I get her lined up perpendicular to the hill (she expected to “roll” with her feet facing downward as for sledding), I tuck her arms in, and cry, “Go!”  Silly me expected her to roll like a log down the hill.  That’s how one rolls, right?  In a sort of straight line, maybe veering off to the left or right?  

No.  This girl meanders down the hill like a child going from Point A to Point B in “Family Circus.”  It’s sort of a cross between a roll and a crab walk, limbs flapping and body flopping all over the hill in any direction but down.  I’m not going to tell her it’s wrong because she is delighted.  And if I tell her how to do it “better” I will have to demonstrate.  I am half tempted because the day is just that nice, but the fact that my knee is in a compression bandage from getting awkwardly into a car keeps my enthusiasm in check.

But oh, to have the energy of a kid!  I would sail through a teaching day with a three (and a half!) year old’s  energy and delight! I could tackle the biggest projects if I had the enthusiasm of an eleven year old on a zero-turn.  And my kitchen cabinets would look great if I tackled them with the reckless abandon of a toddler.  Add a splash of summer sun and some stored up slumber, I could take on winter.

Well, that’s not going to happen.  The best I can do is store up memories. Consider it done.  

I Took My a Grandson to a Peep Show



Yes, I did. I took my 8 year old grandson to a Peep Show. I can’t think of a better way to spend Easter Monday. Two floors of the Carroll Arts Center in Westminster were devoted to creations made of marshmallow Peeps.

(For those of you dear readers who live on the other side of The Pond, Peeps are marshmallow chicks…and bunnies…that are an essential part of any well stocked Easter Basket. They are pure sugar, guaranteed to send little ones into a sugar frenzy before breakfast.)

Entrance to the show was free but we bought ballots to vote for our favorite creations.
Life size Teenage Mutant Ninja Peep Michelangelo, submitted by Tristar Martial Arts, was my guy’s favorite. It also took first place as the audience favorite with 2807 votes and won the Sponsor’s Award from Just Born, Inc., the makers of Peeps.20140421-222233.jpg








I was impressed with a replica of VanGogh’s Starry Night by Carroll Springs School, which won the Masterpiece Award. 20140421-222614.jpg


20140421-223010.jpgA Peepcock was pretty sweet too.  It came in third place with a popular vote of 1790 and also won the Director’s Award.

In the theatre we sat down with some popcorn to watch a reel peep show…videos starring Peeps. Some videos featured live actors encountering Peeps. Others starred Peeps encountering live humans. In one horror clip the Mama Peep answered her door and got eaten by a human head! Another little film, voted the Best PEEP Film,  called Peep War 2014 involved a peep-eating turtle. I’m not too sure why the film starred a plastic turtle, but the stop-motion scene of the turtle devouring the Peep was pretty good. The videos were clever…and very homemade. The grandkid was inspired.

With visions of movie greatness in his head, the single package of yellow Peeps in Grandboy’s Easter basket was not going to suffice. We had to buy some green Peeps for his video creation.
Back at home we downloaded the free Lego Movie Maker app, and the budding film genius got to work preparing a Minecraft Peep version of the Three Little Pigs with Creeper in the role of the Big Bad Wolf. (Coincidentally, one of the Peep shows had this very same theme!)
Backdrops were made. Props gathered…wood blocks, leaves, Play-Doh. Characters prepared…3 yellow Peeps and a green Creeper assembled with toothpicks from parts of green Peeps. Then the task of learning how to use the app: how long to maintain each slide, how to sync the audio with the freeze frame, how to add the “Kerpow!”  We were doing some pretty cool editing, if I may say so myself.  The best part was that he was doing most of it.  I was…cough, cough…the technical advisor.
When it was time for The Boy to go home, he had only filmed half the story.  Ahhh…but we had filled an entire day.
Stay tuned…if he ever gets this film finished, maybe he’ll let me post it here.




How do you like your Peeps?  Fresh or stale?

How do you like your Peeps? Fresh or stale?

A Peep for everyone...even French teachers!

A Peep for everyone…even French teachers!


The Pedometer Contest

Oh, the tyranny of a tiny purple belt attachment.

State of the art pedometer....not.

State of the art pedometer….not.

The health care provider at work was so kind as to give each plan participant a pedometer recently. They also are sponsoring a contest to encourage us to be more active, become more healthy, and thereby cost the plan less to maintain us. I see their point. I personally cost them a bundle last year for my hip and I know a few of my colleagues could use new knees. Replacement parts for aging teachers add up.

So, we have these little purple pedometers to calculate every step we take throughout the day. We write down our daily totals, send them to the office, and see who gets rewarded for taking the most steps.

Here’s the first glitch: the pedometers are, shall we say, not top of the line. They are sooooo not top of the line that everyone in the contest has to use them because using a good pedometer would be unfair. Let’s compare apples to apples, okay?

One contestant has noted that you get about 10 extra steps when you go to the bathroom. This is not a bad thing. She suggested drinking lots of water so that you have to go to the bathroom a lot. That’s a healthy way to let the cheapo pedometer work for you.

Another contestant found that the pedometer wasn’t registering steps at all. She kept attaching it to different body parts to get it to work. I pointed out that putting a pedometer on her wrist was not going to measure how many steps she took. Unless she walks on her hands. Last I checked she had it clipped to her shoe.

She might have been on to something when she had it clipped to her blouse, but jiggling boobs might technically be cheating. However, the pedometer won’t stay straight clipped to a blouse and the gizmo won’t work if it gets turned sideways.
It can also easily get turned sideways when you sit down. A little pudge here, a little pudge there, and next thing you know the pedometer is crooked.

Or it completely falls off.

Pedometers don’t work at all when they are lying on the floor. I would have thought that one’s muffin top would keep the dang thing in place. But when muffin top and tummy pudge meet at the waistband, that pedometer goes flying like a popped zit. Thankfully, this has so far not resulted in any injuries–which would cost the health provider in claims. (Although the most likely victim would be a student, seated at about eye level with a flying pedometer, and they aren’t on our health plan.)

So what’s the protocol for discovering that the pedometer has fallen off? Do you shake it a few times to estimate the steps you’ve missed? Suffer the consequence of an “inaccurate” step count? Or maybe go the bathroom a couple more times to make up for it?

It is actually nice to know how much one walks in the course of the day. The cheapo pedometer says I walk about 5000 steps in the course of the school day. That’s right in line with the bare minimum requirement for being “non-sedentary.” But how far have I walked in 5000 steps? A good pedometer would calculate this for me. In theory my purple pal will too, but I don’t trust it and calculating a stride is a nuisance. One fitness website says that a mile is 2500 steps. Another one says it is 2000 steps. Yet another says it is based on your height, so for me it would be about 2600 steps. On Saturday I walked a mile with my GPS-based walking app and compared it to the pedometer. The pedometer read 3600 steps. It must think I’m Japanese.

There are times I want to press a re-set button on the day, but not while I'm counting steps!

There are times I want to press a re-set button on the day, but not while I’m counting steps!

Another problem I discovered this weekend was the device resetting itself. Gah! I had already racked up about 6000 steps walking outside and trotting around the house doing laundry when I decided to rake leaves out of the flower beds. Raking leaves doesn’t really take you anywhere but it does involve stepping. I was curious to see what it would amount to. When I checked, the blasted gadget had reset to zero. It sat on the kitchen counter for the rest of the day. And all day today.

It’s not like I’m going to win the contest. How can I compete with my colleague who does line dancing on Monday nights? She scored a crazy 18000 steps that day. My big nights out were a singing rehearsal on Tuesday and babysitting grandkids on Thursday. Both were calorie burning and exhausting but did not score me many points. Alas, swaying side to side with a 17 pound baby wailing in your ear does not register clicks on a pedometer.
That said, it is still good to have some silly competitive fun at work and I will dutifully put on my purple taskmaster the minute I get up tomorrow. I won’t want to miss the 10 steps from my bed to the bathroom.

Hmmm…I could add a hundred steps by going downstairs to get my coffee instead of letting my husband bring it to me. Nah….he needs the exercise.

The pedometer doesn't count picture taking, but we are taking steps toward spring at Maywood.

The pedometer doesn’t count picture taking, but we are taking steps toward spring at Maywood.

Hip chronicles: The bionic woman vs. the athletes

Here’s a little quiz.  You will know my correct answers by the end of this post.

 1. What does IT stand for?
     a. information technology
     b. iliotibial band
     c. idiot teenager

2. What does TFL stand for?
     a.  texting as a foreign language
     b.  Tahitian Football League
     c.  tensor fascia latae

3. What does GM stand for?
     a.  gross mismanagement
     b.  the general manager of General Motors
     c.  gluteus maximus

4. What does PT stand for?
     a.  part-time
     b.  physical therapy
     c.  post-traumatic

5. What does THP stand for?
     a.  total hip replacement
     b.  teenage halitosis problem
     c.  take your hands off my peanut butter

6. What does ACL stand for?
     a. anti-cheerleading league
     b. anterior cruciate ligament
     c. almond cocoa latte

It’s 3 pm on a Saturday and I have just migrated from p.js into sweats.  I’ve been so zoned into internet articles on my Ipad that my entire nutritional input for the day has been two cups of coffee, one of them gone cold.  I’m not even taking a walk today.  I’m stretching my IT band and feeling lazy—and smug.  I am so hip. I have the same physical woes as a triathlete.

I’m goofing off today because my IT band is hurting.  No, it does not refer to information technology.  It’s my iliotibial band, a band of muscles which stretches from the hip to the knee.  If you were a triathlete or distance runner, you would know this.  I know this.  My internet research repeatedly sent me to websites for intense athletes who are plagued by IT problems that have nothing to do with technology. Their knees hurt.  Just like mine.  The IT band is why hip problems result in knee pain.

I need to say this again, just to make me feel good: I have the same problem as a triathlete.  I feel so validated.  I’m not in the same shape as a  triathlete, but we both are referred to the same set of exercises I’ve been doing at physical therapy.  We both need to stretch the TFL (the tensor fascia latae) and strengthen the GM (gluteus maximus).  No need to get into the reality that a triathlete’s glutes are not all soft and jiggly like mine.  (In my defense, I will say that physical therapy has resulted in my slacks fitting pretty well, even if it has done nothing about the muffin top above the belt line.)  The fact is: triathletes have my same problem.  I feel so cool, although that could  be from the BioFreeze gel that the massage therapist gave me.  See, I am that cool.  I have a massage therapist as well as a physical therapist and an orthopedic surgeon.

Having a physical therapist and an orthopedist makes me cool with the athletes at school, too.  They are all falling apart on the soccer field and volleyball court.  I see high school athletes wincing in pain at the PT office while I increase the weight for my clam shell exercises.  At school, students on crutches hobble down the school hallway waiting for or recovering from ACL surgery.  I swap stories with the injured athletes about PT, surgery, and pain management.

During a fire drill at school this week, I trotted down a long flight of stairs with all the students.

“Hey, Mrs. Harp,” asked a student who has never been in my French class before,” What happened to your cane?”

“I had surgery.  I don’t need it anymore.”

“Hey, I’m taking French I next year.”  (No joke, he really said this.)

Whoa.  I’ve gone from being that old teacher with the cane to someone who has gone through orthopedic surgery.  And let me tell you, THP ain’t no walk in the park like ACL surgery.  I have earned some respect.  I won’t tell the student that my little  trot down the stairs has caused the IT to flare up.  He thinks I’m bionic.  No need to disappoint him.

Answer key for the little quiz:
Answers for normal people: 1.b 2.c 3.c 4.b 5.a 6.b
Answers for teachers: 1.c 2.a 3.a 4.a 5.b or c 6.a or c

Musings while medicated…

It’s been over a week since I traded in my last original hip for a new sleeker model. Not that anyone but an airport security officer can tell. I don’t think I weigh any less. I’m still wearing the same size pants. However, for those who have observed my gimpy gait since I got the first hip, the doc appears to have evened things out. I no longer ga-lump ga-lump with a side to side sway. I sashay with a sophisticated soft sock shuffle, gliding the walker through some indoor laps: kitchen to hallway to music room with a return to the kitchen and a victory loop around the island. The grunting with each step has been replaced by little phoo-phoo cleansing breaths. Me and my walker…the Little Engine That Could.

This morning, after two good cups of coffee,a shower, and a load of laundry spinning in the washer, I came downstairs to enjoy breakfast on the screen porch. What a good start to the day, you say. That pretty much WAS my day. Aside from some laps, the rest of the day involved resting on the glider, sometimes with my eyes open.

I thought of having some thoughts. People have been known to have creative spurts while on narcotics. Take Ethan Allen Poe, for example. Or was that Edgar Allen Poe? Yeah, so thinking was a bit of a challenge. A wisp of a thought would float by and I could almost grasp it. Or…I could stare at clouds with my eyes closed. It was a good day for that too.

I do have goals for this summer. I plan to see how many things I can accomplish without actually doing any of it myself. Yesterday was very productive. John cleaned the dryer vent AND I had the piano tuned. The piano and the dryer vent were equally overdue for attention. The dryer was potentially more dangerous, but the piano tuning was not without risk. Listening to the tuning was like being pulled into an upright position by my hair. As each string stretched its way toward proper pitch, each hair on my head felt pulled tighter and tighter upward.

Why did I think this would be a good idea while recovering from surgery? Because the piano needed to be tuned in order to have rehearsal for our singing group at our house. And why did I think I’d be in any condition to host rehearsal? Because I knew I’d be too incapacitated to drive to rehearsal.

Here’s a thought…I can almost grasp it…THE BIONIC WOMAN WAS A TV SHOW. SHE NEVER REALLY EXISTED. Last time I noticed, the actress was doing commercials for the Sleep Number Bed.

Why do I keep thinking I can do all this stuff? And then I think replacement parts will enable me to keep on doing all this stuff. Joint replacement is a lucrative field because it has a ready-made market of Superwomen who are wearing out. We need bionics. Get a new joint and be better than ever. Your employer and every one else can continue to expect you to perform beyond normal human endurance.

And the Little Engine said, “Phoo-phoo-phooey. Take a nap.” So I did. On my Sleep Number Bed. And when I woke up, I felt ready to face tomorrow’s challenge and the real reason I need replacement parts: Super MomMom will venture to the hospital tomorrow to meet her newest grand babe.

At least I’m not pregnant

Q: What does a pregnant daughter have in common with her mother who is getting a hip replacement?
A: Physical limitations, lack of sleep,  pathetic body image, and an overwhelming desire to go through torturous pain in order to be done with this!

Monday morning, bright and early, I head to the hospital to get a new hip.  Sunday, I stopped by Pregnant Daughter #1’s house to hoist the two year old grandson up in my arms for a big hug.  After surgery I’ll be on weight restrictions and will have to limit my hoisting to grandson’s baby sister.  Ah, but when Baby comes, Daughter #1 will be able to resume lifting the two year old because her belly won’t be in the way.  Trade-off.

Saturday I visited Pregnant Daughter #3 for the same reason.  She and I have been grunting our way to the finish line of the school year together.  Both of us have been tackling to-do lists with Time as our enemy.  I felt a little bad sitting around her new house on Saturday while boxes still needed unpacking, but it’s not like I could do much to help.  Still, maybe I was keeping her from doing things.  “It’s ok,” she said. “I can only work for 15 minutes before needing to sit down.”  Just like me, she’s trying to get things done in short spurts followed by longer bouts of recovery time.

Friday I tried to visit Pregnant Daughter #2, but she needed a nap. I was certainly not going to keep her from a nap.  I’ve been into serious napping myself lately.  By the end of the school year, I was needing an hour nap just to generate energy to cook dinner.  That’s when Long-Suffering Hubby took over the cooking chores.  (He was too hungry to wait  for me to wake up!) Fortunately for me, he’s good in the kitchen.

Last month the family went to Cape May for a celebratory weekend.  I was afraid that I was going to be the wet blanket in the group,  but when all three daughters announced that they needed naps before dinner, I didn’t feel so bad.  And my hobbling on a cane wasn’t much different than Daughter #3 moaning about groin pain from walking too much.  I knew exactly how she felt.  The pain of a bad hip feels just like the pain of walking too much in your third trimester.

Last week Pregnant Daughters 1 and 3 were complaining about difficulty sleeping.  I was right there with them.  Rolling over?  Oh my gosh.  It’s hardly worth the effort.  Daughter #1 decided one night that it wasn’t, so she didn’t.  But sleeping on one side all night left her with a pain in her shoulder that did not  want to go away.

Friday, as part of my get-ready for surgery, I had a massage.  The masseuse asked me to roll over.  Groan.  “It’s ok,” she said, “Take your time.”   She was really nice, but there is just no way that “take your time rolling from your back to your tummy” doesn’t make one sound like a totally pathetic loser.  This is a skill that I mastered when I was about four months old.  The only other time in my life when I couldn’t roll over was…when I was pregnant.

Pregnancy is one of those times when catching a glance at one’s reflection can be demoralizing.  Watching oneself do the old lady hobble toward the reflection in a store window is just as hideous as watching oneself do the pregnant waddle toward the window.  Of course, my daughters all look really good when they are pregnant.  Daughter #1 is still really tiny except for the huge basketball she’s carrying in front.  However, watching her from behind last week while she sat in a swing with her little guy, well…she still sat like a pregnant woman.

So Monday, after months and months and months of waiting for the school year to end, I look forward to the surgeon taking  a power saw to my hip.  Yank this thing out and let’s be done with it.  It’s bad when you would rather do that than pretty much anything else you’re doing.  It’s not unlike reaching the end of a pregnancy.  Why would anyone look forward to going into labor?  It’s because it’s a lot better than staying pregnant.

Q: So what’s the difference between having hip replacement and having a baby?

A: When it ‘s over my life will be easier than it was before.  And I will get to sleep through the night.

Sorry, girls.  ; )

Marching into spring…with my rake

Last week the clock said to spring forward,  but there is nothing about getting up an hour earlier that gets me springing anywhere.  However, an extra hour of daylight in the afternoon was a good enticement to spring home from work, grab a rake, and head out into the garden.

I love to rake.  It makes me happy.  Raking gets me outside on a sunny day.  When the temperature is in the fifties, like it often is in March, the brisk air is perfect for working without getting hot.  The heart gets pumping while the arms get working and the sunbeams do their magic.  Endorphins are flowing!  Yay, it’s so good to be outside!  When the temp is in the seventies, like it has been this week, nothing can keep me indoors!

This year it is even better than usual, because I find that I can rake without pain.  My new two-month-old hip is perfectly content to get out there and rake.  Although my smart-aleck sister tells me I now walk like Dad, I actually feel like a normal person–or at least what I think a normal person feels like.  What a change from the impossible task of raking last fall.

Raking always makes me think of our long-ago neighbor Sam.  Sam had a perfect yard.  It was a small just-inside-the-Beltway yard, bordered by a chain link fence.  It was perfectly mowed, perfectly edged, perfectly bordered with little concrete bed borders and never a leaf to be seen.  Sam policed his yard wearing what looked like a cotton picker’s sack and carrying a pole with a point on the end–the kind maintenance workers used to use to pick up trash.  He’d stab each wayward leaf and stash it in the sack.  That’s how few leaves he had–he could stab each one with a stick.

Unlimited supply of leaves

Some people, like Sam, have immaculate yards and spring just marches in for them.  Out here in the Hereford Zone, immaculate yard-keepers are either leaf-blower fanatics or they don’t have a wooded lot.   No leaf-blowing fanatics live at our house; it is an unending task and there are so many other things to do.  Sam would lose his mind trying to keep ahead of the leaves out here.   Not only are the woods full of them, but the white oaks have an annoying way of waiting until May to drop their remaining leaves.   It’s best to toss aside any idea of “immaculate.”  “Perfect” needs to go, too.  “Aesthetically pleasing” is about as good as it gets.

First periwinkle blossom of spring

Nevertheless, raking in March is immensely gratifying.  It is a mindless task that yields immediate results.  Each swipe of the rake removes the dull cloak of winter-brown to reveal the fresh green of spring.  Vinca is just waiting to be seen.  Crocus are desperately trying to pop their colors.  Daffodils are begging for a fresh new bed to wake up in.  Off go the sedum twigs.  A sweep reveals new buds ready to unfurl.  Each section that I rake pulls off more of the blanket of winter.  Spring has just been waiting for me.

With so much to rake, I  must prioritize.  Who is blooming first and what do I look at the most?  No matter when I start–and this year I feel like I’ve had a head-start–it’s always a race against Spring.  I  must get the leaves out of the way before Spring appears. Crocus and daffodils have priority.  The front of the house and views from the kitchen window get targeted first.  A close second is the herb garden.  I know the chives are beginning to peek up.  By St. Paddy’s Day, they are tall enough to snip for my morning egg.

Saturday was a glorious St. Patrick’s Day–by the end of the day the yard was definitely wearin’ o’ the green.  Almost all the  beds were raked out and the grass was blown clear.  We were  rewarded with an al fresco dinner of corned beef and cabbage and a Bailey’s Irish Cream sundae for dessert.  Does it get any better than that?

Heigh ho! Oh no! It’s back to work I go!

When the buzzards start circling, it’s a pretty good sign to get up and show some signs of life.  I’m not referring to colleagues trying to take over my job.  (Like they would want it.)  I’m being literal.  Pneumonia-stricken Shelley and I were catching sunbeams on the Café Maywood porch one balmy day this past week when dark shadows circled lazily over our closed eyelids.


Yes.  They were circling over us, waiting for all signs of life to disappear.  When I got up from my seat, they flew off to find something more dead than we.

It’s time.  Daughter Julie has finished her maternity leave.  My mother has gone off to Italy.  Shelley’s antibiotics are working their magic.  And the doctor handed me my hip-replacement airport identification card.

Ding! I am now free to roam the country.

Spring is popping.  Bees are buzzing.  Hibernation is over.  Even if Monday’s forecast does call for flurries, the sap is flowing.  It’s time to get to work.

From my musically educated readers, can I hear a nice, clear toned sol…do…?  Heigh-ho????   I’m feeling a little conflicted.  There is a little dwarf for every one of my moods.  Dopey, Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Sneezy, Bashful, and Doc.

Let’s start with Sleepy, because even though weeks of recuperation have been restful, my body will never, ever like the sound of the alarm at 5:30 a.m.  Which leads, naturally, to Grumpy, who will get grumpier after re-entering the world of school politics and drama.  (Emails were much more entertaining.)  Then there’s Dopey.  In addition to the early morning wake-up, I have completely un-learned how to multi-task.  And  there’s that little matter of the new copy machines that went in the week before I left.  I’m going to look like a complete idiot.

I’m prepared for Sneezy.  Weeks at home away from hundreds of germ-carrying teenagers have left me susceptible.  I have stocked up on Airborne and return to school with immune system fortified.  (I hope.)  But Bashful?  Oh yes.  It’s wonderful to be missed, and there’s nothing so gratifying as a good “Thank God you’re back!”  It’s just a little awkward to be fussed over.  Can I just ease back inconspicuously? Maybe?

Finally, there’s Happy and Doc.  I’m really am happy to return to my little world.  I love what I do.  And, in spite of a most incredible team filling the gap in my absence, there will be plenty to do to remedy the students who were limping along until my return.  Still…sigh… there’s a lot to be said for being Sleeping Beauty.  That is, until the buzzards start circling.

Convalescence, The Invalid Wife, and Emerging Bees

The bees know that the red maples are budding

I’m convalescing these days.  Convalescence is a great word, although we hardly use it anymore.  It conjures up images of sickly people bundled up in thick blankets and wheeled outside for a bit of sun.  Or rich sickly people doing the same thing on deck chairs of a cruise ship circa 1923.  To my stressed-out co-workers it means I’m taking the winter off.   To John it means I’m his invalid wife, with the emphasis on the second syllable.  In – val – id.

Convalescence is a great concept and it’s something we need in a world that tells us to go full speed ahead until we crash, and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.  In our society, if you are not in critical condition, you are expected to be high functioning.  There’s nothing in the middle.  You can’t just do nothing.  There’s got to be a pill or something to keep you efficient.

The problem with convalescing is that convalescents don’t look sick.  They look like they’re lying around doing nothing.  Taking naps and reading books, what a life.  It’s surprisingly hard to properly convalesce in a “do it all now” world.

Ah, but convalescing isn’t about doing nothing.  To my doctor, it means regaining my strength.  The body is working incredibly hard on the inside to recover from an ordeal.  That’s why the doctor can say, “Don’t even think about going back to work before six weeks.”  I love doctor’s orders.  Someone else is the boss telling me to stop.

The hydrangeas are more than just sticks

The end of February is a lot like the end of a convalescence.  Spring is tantalizingly close.  Yet everything still looks so brown.  The woods are full of brown sticks–big tree trunks, tiny sapling twigs, and creeping vines.  Everything is brown, but there is so much going on that we don’t see.

We see twigs but the bees see "yummy"

Using both a cane and a walking stick, I hobble behind John down to the beehives.  The two hives are active (hooray!) and bees are returning to the hives with pollen.  Pollen?  In February?  Everything looks dormant to us, but the bees know that the red maples are starting to bud.  A closer look reveals the beginnings of buds on the hydrangeas and the lilacs, too.  It will be months before they flower, but they are beginning to wake up now.

Are the daffodils doomed?

In the front of the house, daffodils are peeking up.  How many people have moaned about the early appearance of the daffodils?  Don’t the daffodils know that it is not yet time?  Don’t they know that showing up early means  they will get zapped by a hard cold snow and be pathetic little nothings when spring arrives?  The daffodils remind me to properly convalesce, to take it slow and emerge strong.

For the many of you out there who are francophile word nerds, the word convalescence comes to us (mais oui!) via late 15th century French, which morphed it from Latin.

  • con–from the intensive Latin prefix cum meaning “with, together, thoroughly”
  • valescere– (to begin to grow strong) from valere (to be strong) which is related to valiant and valor

So what I’m doing by convalescing is becoming thoroughly strong.  And maybe courageous,too, because heading back to school is going to be scary and my Joint Journey Handbook says my strength should be at 80% by twelve weeks out.  What?  Eighty percent?  For a high-achieving, A-student type person, 80% does not mean “thoroughly strong.”  It means I will still be convalescing, even while I return to work. However, it does justify the handicap parking tag I applied for.  Dang, this is going to take awhile.

Now, as for being invalid…

Hôtel des Invalides

Both invalid and invalid have the same Latin roots.  And both the noun invalid (meaning “a sick person) and the adjective invalid (meaning “of no legal force”) came sneaking into English by way of French.  And quel surprise! The noun originally referred to the old and disabled soldiers at the Hôtel des Invalides, the military hospital in Paris where Napoleon’s body now rests (but is not convalescing) I assume that the soldiers all had valid disabilities, otherwise they would be invalid invalids.

John knows that I am neither a sickly person nor his not valid wife.  He’s just trying to help my convalescence along by getting a strong reaction out of me.  I’m thinking a sunny chair on a cruise ship might work better.