Thursday, June 28, 2012


This afternoon my husband said, "Well, in winter, we'll..."

Winter, winter? I had forgotten about winter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting out of the house with a toddler - Hopewell Borough

Hopewell Borough Park

I don't have any photographs of town, just this b&w one of a field within the park and a few snapshots of what appears to be Callery pear. If only the Borough had not planted that menace as a street tree... That's not the point of this writing, but this is,

Hopewell Borough is a great place to go with children.

1. The Little Red Library - two rooms - adult downstairs, children's up. It's easy to keep an eye on the young one while browsing for children's books. The selection is wonderful. Excellent, excellent, excellent staff and volunteers.

2. Boro Bean - also friendly. The side porch has a train table and train set. Inside are toys and games. Food is tasty, affordable.

3. Post Office - also friendly (see the theme, here?). Great place to practice putting mail on the counter and putting envelopes into the slot.

4. Sidewalks and ample crosswalks - my son waved to an elderly woman who stopped for us. What a charmer. I could see her red lipsticked lips in a big smile.

5. U.S. 1 newsboxes - ok, so it's not friendly, but it's central Jersey's Village Voice for the culture starved. I'm still hungry, though. You can also find out what regional businesses have gone out of business, moved or merged. It's a curiosity of mine.

6. Playgrounds - multiple for various ages.

7. Park - trails, stream, and some native plants.

8. Fire Station - need I say more.

9. Antimo's restaurant - very friendly to families. Food is very good and affordable. Having a child priced us out of Nomad Pizza, which is also family friendly with outdoor seating.

What Hopewell Borough's lacking - a hardware store and a small market. It does have an auto store, which is also friendly, especially when you are accompanied by a well-behaved and friendly toddler.





Sunday, June 24, 2012

In a grump

The Very Spiny and Grumpy Caterpillar
American Lady caterpillar on pussytoes, June 13, 2012 

Everything about the weekend was nice. The weather, enjoyable activities, excellent meals prepared from the garden, lots of smiles from the babe. Didn't really matter that one of the jars of dilly beans blew up in the canner.

Then, a friend and her baby visited, bearing a loaner baby pool and a bag of lettuce. As we talked on the porch, I heard a wail from inside. My son had been napping, but he was not in bed. I found him in the office, tears running down his face. This is where he usually looks if he can't find me. I worked from home for several months and this habit has not been broken.

He was groggy for much of the visit but did observe the other baby teething on a rock. I know this because hours later he put a big rock in his mouth.

Then, I pulled a tick off my son's leg.

Then, we quickly changed clothes and packed snacks. My son was still edgy. I blew bubbles. Things seemed better. We - my husband, son and myself - put on our shoes. My son trailed me to the car, wailing.

Then, we drove nearly an hour to see a house for sale. I plied my son with Annie's Cheddar Bunnnies, Puppy Dog the stuffed puppy dog, toy cars, and water.

My son clung to me. He gave me multiple kisses as we stood in an empty living room with the realtor. I was stunned and charmed and not fully able to enjoy this new experience. I regretted the timing.

Then, we got back into the car. Diaper was changed. Fuss occurred on the way to the carseat. I understand.

Then, we drove to the health food store to buy Ledum palustre 10c for the tick bite. I had been holing my pee since we left the house. No bathroom at the store.

Then, we went to an unexciting 'California-style Mexican' restaurant in New Hope on the recommendation of the health food store employee. "California-style Mexican' reads 'Ominous and Inauthentic' to me. We ordered a burrito platter and an enchilada platter.

Then, we waited. My husband and son observed the New Hope & Ivyland train rolling by and ran outside to watch. They waved bye-bye to the train and turned back towards the restaurant. I caught my son's eye and he beamed.

Then, We were served unappealing food on grey styrofoam platters. My hope of leftovers for lunch tomorrow was quashed.

Then, we walked to the train station and ran up and down the boardwalk ramps and stairs, laughing.

Then, we got back in the car.

Then, we arrived at home, showered and began the bedtime routine.

Then, I got hiccoughs. My son was not interested in the routine. I became very grumpy and balanced the checkbook, declined a wedding invitation that sounded like a fun wedding to attend, sorted recycling and filing, wrote a check, sent a mildly unpleasant email, and other dreary tasks sure to end a grumpy mood.

Then, my husband changed my son's diaper. Something had been bothering him. He crawled up in my lap and fell asleep.

Then, I abandoned my exhausted husband in the living room, did a load of laundry, hardboiled three eggs and made cous cous for lunch, searched for gin and tonic, got distracted, dumped out the water, dilly beans, and broken glass from the canner, brought in my son's sandals from the side porch that had been drying outside, and took a couple sips of blackhaw tea I had made for my hiccoughs long gone.

So, I'm in a grump, but otherwise it was a great weekend. We're hitting our stride as a family. We understand each other, how to make each other happy and cheer each other up. My son finally saw a train. He gets it. I received several kisses.

In the meantime, I'll take a couple Annie's Cheddar Bunnies and kisses. I'll be plied with kisses. That would do.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


My husband reads aloud from a collection of Vincent Abraitys essays that he bought used on Amazon.com. Vincent's prose is lovely - he writes of warblers and gentians, Ringoes and the Delaware River. Things familiar in even more familiar settings.

Our son is in my lap, nursing and dozing, yet also flailing. He settles and I think he's asleep. My husband is. The book rests closed on his chest. 

This has been our new routine. Our old bedtime routine had ceased working, for all of us. The arrival of four canine teeth (the worst ones our doctor told us) and a growth spurt or two, made bedtime funereal and desperate. 

I lay my son down. He rolls and lets his body rest on my husband's, smiles, eyes still closed. His eyes open, his smile widens as he looks at me. His teeth are gappy, his mouth open and red. He's exuberant. Milky bliss, we call it. 

"He's laying down. Maybe he's still asleep," my husband says, rousing.

I tense, a little irritated that this is happening. Again. This unusual scene has happened many, many times. The end result is often my husband and I, exhausted, crawling into bed and turning off the lights.  Only then would our son whimper and give in to sleep. This, all after repeated attempts at the bedtime routine. Stories, quiet play, lights out, lights on, stories, lights out, baby wilding across the darkened floor.

"Of all nights," my husband continues. He's tired.

My son rises, not at all asleep. His white-blonde hair a halo as it is backlit against the oven light. Three loaves of fresh bread cool on the countertop. He approaches the light and the gaping, filthy oven.

"The oven is hot," I say and my son stops.

He lays down beside me and fidgets. I tense again. I see a firefly course past the window.

"Do you know what fireflies are? Have you seen a firefly?" I ask him.

In the dim light, I see him smile curiously. He understands I'm asking him a question. Does he hear the word fire? It's a familiar word.

"Let's go see the fireflies."

We exit the house, leaving my husband whose eyes have drifted closed again. I point at the meadow, the fireflies. I hum improvised country soul notes. He watches and makes no move to leave my arms. 

A couple dim stars peek through the light pollution from Hillsborough and Route 206, maybe from Montgomery High School. 

My son leans his head against my chin. I know him well enough not to coax is head to my shoulder. Even the gentlest touch is too direct for him. Sleep, my husband and I have learned, is a kingdom of wild stallions and mares, adventurous, challenging, occasionally fierce and fighting, yet sometimes placid and easy. 

His head turns to watch the fireflies. I hum and murmur, enjoying the fireflies. I had hoped to show him fireflies and could only do so if bedtime was late. And so, it is a late bedtime. 

My son shifts, letting me know he is ready to sleep. He lays in my arms and drifts to sleep. I walk to the barely lit house and in through the creaky screen door. My husband had risen. I lay our son down, and find my husband typing in the office.

"So you went to see the fireflies?" he says looking up at me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hobomok skipper on blue flag iris, Sourlands, 2009

Today I had the great joy of walking several nature preserves with an expert. This expert happened to be a butterfly expert. He was an expert of the best sort: a good teacher, companionable, and quietly celebratory. A good teacher shares knowledge, guides learning, and reinforces what is passed on.

I have learned the following today:
Little glassywing skipper
Broken dash skipper
Least skipper
Peck's skipper
Pearl crescent
Great spangled fritillary
Question mark
Clover looper moth
Tailed blue
Little wood satyr
Common wood-nymph
the markings on the leading edge of many dragonfly species' wings may be weights that assist in flight

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Plants of Water and Fire


Adirondacks lake-edge

All land returns to forest eventually. That is the reality of our temperate climate, our ample rainfall, our good soils. Much of our native flora, then, evolved in conditions dominated by trees. That is, the original flora of New Jersey is primarily comprised either of trees, or of shrubs and herbs and grasses and ferns that have learned to live alongside and primarily underneath trees. The shade-casters and the shade-tolerants, for example:

Niches small in scale our filled by our woodland herbs, the vernal wildflowers that find a toehold between the roots of a massive oak or maple, concentrating their water and sunlight use in early spring before the trees leaf out and take most of both.

Or our shade-adapted shrubs, with broad, largely horizontal leaves catching brief bursts of sun like sails catching errant winds. Spicebush, maple-leaf viburnum, wild hydrangea, witch hazel-- consider all these well adapted for life in the dapple shadows of the forest giants.

What about plants of meadow and full sun? These days, most numerous among these are the European invaders, the simples and weeds and forages and dooryard plants of yore, released into the abundance of a new continent. It is mainly these which can move into the disturbed soils left by dozer, plow and road crew.

Wherefore, then, our native plants of full sun? These are the plants of water and fire.

These are the plants that found places where tree-shade was lessened through elemental forces. The water plants lived along the edges of wide river courses, in silting-in beaver ponds, in bogs and fens and broad marshes where the reach of trees was lessened and their shade diminished.

Even today, our wet meadows are richer than our dry, as they are a refuge for the water plants: joe pye weed and swamp milkweed, spikerushes and bulrushes and woolgrass, gentians and lobelias.

Our fire plants intrigue no less, though they have found even fewer havens than our water plants. New Jersey tea, butterfly milkweed, lupine, woodland sunflower, pale corydalis, horse gentian-- these are vanishing races which depended on fire to open the sky for their growth. Some depend on fire for seed germination, having evolved seeds with impermeable coats that dwell in the soil until fire guarantees them an opening. Others are more flexible germinators, but can't compete against their shade tolerant neighbors once thicket gives way to young woods.

Corydalis sempervirens, Warren Co., NJ

When found at all, these plants are restricted mainly to bluffs and ridgetop glades, though some thrive in maintained power-line cuts especially in mountainous areas. Or, they persist in the Pine Barrens, that great expanse of sand and bog and flame-spawned conifers.

Many of our water and fire plants found their greatest expression on the midwestern prairie, that great expanse of open land maintained in equal measure by buffalo, wetness, and flame. Yet here, too, we once had rich and abundant surfacing groundwater, fire both wild and set by people, and buffalo, too.

It was in these openings that the plants of water and fire once dwelled.


Castilleja coccinea, a plant of both fire and water

Friday, June 15, 2012

We're deep into personality. My son has a personality. He had one from the start. Just hours after he was born, he let everyone her his voice, except for my in-laws. He was always sleeping when we visited them.
Pesticide treated lawn, Princeton, NJ, USA

That was then, this is personality. Foot stomping and protesting. Food preferences - leafy greens, blueberries, strawberries, chicken, cheese, fresh peas, until the cookies or chocolate appear. Clothing preferences - the aqua and white striped shirt with a yellow shark on the front. Car seat preferences - rather not. 

We're also deep into learning and listening. "That's not strawberry. That's different than what's in our garden. We eat the strawberries in our garden," I say. I watch my son brush his hands across the Indian strawberry foliage. He is a mirror image of me brushing my hands across our berry patch. He reveals a small red fruit, "Mmm."

"Not that one," I say.
Indian strawberry

I know Indian strawberries are edible, bland, but edible. I'd rather he not eat these fruits. They appear in herbicide treated lawns and other crummy places. I'd rather he not eat any red fruit, especially ones that resemble familiar red fruits. 

 Beholding the riches of the trail

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bunnies lay eggs on Easter


 Inside the house that Grandpa built, Easter day 2012

On Easter day, we visited my parents. They had hidden pastel-colored plastic eggs around the house.

They had held jellybean hunts for my brother and I. We had had fun. Much more fun than we had at the longer than usual mass with the priest sending plumes of acrid incense into the church's still air. Back at home, we whipped off our church clothes, put on jeans and began to seek the holiday's sweeter side - a basket of chocolate, marshmallow chicks, and Cadbury eggs. My parents always included one new book in the basket: Laura Ingalls Wilder books and Misty of Chincoteague and later the Nancy Drew or Sweet Valley High series.

Then began the hunt. My father always put the licorice jellybeans behind the rabbit figurines. As gourmet jellybeans became popular, the bunny figurines laying coffee or chocolate flavored jellybeans.

"Ha ha. The bunny laid an egg!" he'd laugh. Every Easter. Admittedly, it was funny. I'm smiling now.

My father, still gleeful about the holiday proceedings, coached his grandson, "Come on, Beren, do you see the egg? I see one. Over there. Come on."

Easter egg hunt

My mother pried open an egg to reveal what rattled inside: a few Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers. My son became much more focused on the hunt, passing each egg to the nearest adult.

"MMMmmm," he said. Open this. Not fast enough. OPEN THIS. Salty crackers! OPEN OPEN.

My mother stated, "I've created a monster."

"MMMMMM!!"

"Oh no, I've created a monster," moaned my mother again.

For weeks hence our morning routine went like this:

I rose each day and began breakfast by cracking eggs into a hot, oily cast iron skillet that always sits on our stovetop. My son woke with the sounds of the day beginning, and ran into the kitchen. He pointed at the eggshells, "MMM MMM!"

I picked up my wildly gesturing son and carried him on my hip as I clumsily cracked another egg on the pan's edge. A yolk and white sizzled in the pan. My son pointed.

Where's the goldfish?

He soon forgot or became used to the inferior eggs his parents cracked into the hot pan each morning. He stopped pointing at the eggs. Until:

He tried a hardboiled egg and liked it. Pointing resumed.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Looking Glass

Venus' Looking Glass (Triodanis perfoliata)

In college I listened to professors, classmates and myself talk about Sally Mann. Sally Mann is a photographer, very well known, respected, controversial, and skilled in the darkroom (or perhaps her assistants are skilled in the darkroom as it is with many famous artists. Too busy to do the work, you know. Her website doesn't say she loves darkroom work). Last I paid attention, she photographed her children, luminous in black and white. Often the images were oddly and uncomfortably erotic. They were photographs of children after all, her own children.

A couple days ago, I watched my son sit in his little chair beside a lamp and table. A magazine laid across his lap upside down. He turned the pages. I had entered the room quietly. He hadn't noticed me.

I found my camera and began to film his slow page turning. I watched the digital screen and smiled at the small image of my son. I looked away from the screen and directly at his figure, babylike, but sitting like a  small adult.

He placed the book on the floor. Stood on it. He took a few steps and noticed his chest, touched it and began to spin in slow circles.

He looked up at me. He was being watched. It was perhaps the first spell that I broke for my son.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

On the porch, Saturday, June 2, 2012

On the porch

Baby wearing a hand-me-down shirt from my mother-in-law's attic. It was husband's or sister(s)-in-law's childhood (or all their childhoods). The sleeve bears a tag with a Pepsi-like logo and the word "Absorba." Apparently, the company is still around. Basket also courtesy my mother-in-law. It's been very handy and has carried the afore mentioned baby around a few times.

New yellow and blue clothespins are courtesy my Mom and were purchased at Ollie's Bargain Outlet in Allentown. If you seek out their website, turn down your computer's volume or you will be startled by a chant of "GOOD STUFF CHEAP!" I nearly jumped out of my skin. Good thing my son doesn't wake at every noise anymore. The clothespins are held in a handmade denim bag, again by Mom. 

Bowl made by Debbie Reichard full of elderflowers from the meadow. 

Strawberries and kale from the garden. My son is reaching not for a strawberry as one might expect, but for the scissors tucked into the basket. That's the hierarchy: 1. sharp and forbidden object, 2. strawberry.


Friday, June 1, 2012

Starry Late Spring Flowers

Carrionflower (Smilax herbacea)

Some flowers are pollinated by flies. Skunk cabbage, I've heard. Wild ginger, too. Bloody, meaty looking flowers. Stinky flowers.

After a recent hike, I was disappointed that I didn't smell a carrionflower I had photographed. The following week, I found another plant in bloom. I smelled the flower. Cadaverous. I told my husband to smell it. It's very similar to the "Yuck, taste this,"command.

"Awful. Smells like a dead animal," he said.

I smelled it again. Reminded me of white-tailed deer roadkill that I smelled for weeks as I biked to my summer job during high school. I lived near the top of the Riegel Ridge in Hunterdon County. Getting to work was easy, though I rode my squeaky brakes the entire way. I pedaled uphill. After a day of janitorial work, I smelled of Green Clean and latex dish gloves. Then, the odor... I could not pedal fast enough.

"Yeah, it's bad. Amazing."

Deer eat the h*ll out of that plant. I usually see only a whorl of 3 beautiful leaves. So, I am spared the aroma and the flowers. A fly is denied her nectar or pollen.

Deer eat the h*ll out of everything these days. My mother reported they ate the foliage of garlic mustard in seed.

When we returned from an overnight at their house this afternoon, we found deer had eaten the h*ll out of, well, everything. Wild geranium, maple leaf viburnum, fringed loosestrife, sanicle, boneset, cut-leaved coneflower, currant...

"They ate this," I said pointing to a plant. "I don't even know what this is."

"It's wreath goldenrod," replied my husband.

"That's it, I'm putting up a fence. I'm going to Agway for posts. Now."

At the Belle Mead Co-op, I stood in the pesticide aisle price comparing Bonide's Slug Magic by volume. "Small, medium or large? Do I really want to have this much? Better price. I can always get more. Lots of rain in the forecast. Lots of slugs to kill." A senior to my left looked over another white container filled with poisonous juices.

I picked up Deer Off and the largest container of Slug Magic. The friendly young fellow at the counter asked how I was doing. "I'm going on a killing rampage."

"She is, too," he said pointing to the senior who had just purchased her Kool-aid.

I couldn't utter any friendly words, still outraged by the deer overpopulation. I said thank you multiple times. It was all I could do.

 Sanicle or Black Snakeroot (Sanicle marilandica)

 A modern way of taking field notes

 Solomon's plume (Smilacina racemosa)

Maple leaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium)