Working Saturday

So much to do on a Saturday. Backyard to mow, soil to “till” by hand with a shovel and rake,

grass to plant, floors to clean, lunch to prepare, flowers to plant,

wood to cut, shopping to complete, wings to season, cabbage to prepare,

fires to build, dinner to cook, children to clean, movie to watch, wine to drink,

photos to process, and post to write.

Back to School

I’ve had enough experience teaching now to realize that my worries about returning to school after spring break — potential laziness, potential mutiny, potential problems of every sort — are almost always unfounded. The first week back is almost always painless. But it’s busy, getting used to the schedule again.

This week was the last week before testing. Our school has decided to do the state-mandated testing a little differently this year, and I applaud the decision. Instead of having a week of eighth-grade testing, where we test day after day after day (math, then English, then science, then social studies), followed by a week of seventh-grade testing and a third week of sixth-grade testing (divided by grade because we still don’t have enough Chromebooks for the whole school to test at the same time), we’re testing one day a week for four weeks. Next week we begin, and once those four weeks of testing are over, the school year is almost over. Perhaps that’s what makes the transition from spring break always a bit easier: we all know we have that final push until the big break.

After talking to Babcia

It’s also the time of year that students who are at risk of failing a given class — students who throughout the whole year have usually done very little other than disrupt class — decide they might want to try to do something to save themselves. There’s always one or two who don’t, and they usually move on the ninth grade anyway through this or that administrative and summer school magic. I’m not putting down our school: it’s a phenomenon that occurs throughout the country, I suspect. But I do have mixed feelings about it.

Morning snack

On the one hand, what will keeping these students back accomplish? It’s not like they’re going to behave any differently if they repeat. Because our district — perhaps state? never cared enough to check into it — has a policy that a child cannot fail two years, they’re just going to get pushed on, and if they have already been held back, they know they can’t be held back again, which probably prompts a lot of the apathetic behavior. (Students have told me, “I’ve already failed one grade: you can’t hold me back again.”)

Getting things in the ground

On the other hand, isn’t this just teaching them a wonderful lesson for the future? “I can do nothing and still succeed!” What happens to them when they get to high school and the rules change? I’ve told several students over the years, “When you get to high school and fail freshman English, they don’t say, ‘Well, he was close. Let’s give it to him.’ They say, ‘Try again.’ And if it looks like you’re going to fail a second time, they don’t say, ‘Well, he’s already failed once. Let’s move him on.’ They say, ‘Nope. Try a third time.'” And by then, they’re old enough to drop out, and they do. What happens to them when they try to keep a job with that kind of thinking? In short, they don’t. They can’t.

Proof that it’s shaping up to be a good day

So this is the time of year all of this swirls through my head, and I find myself thinking about my own responsibilities. It’s much easier for me, regarding paperwork and the like, just to move the kid on as well. It’s much easier for me to make my class almost impossible to fail. I think to myself, “They’re still kids: they’ll grow out of it.” But I look around at some millennial young adults and find myself thinking, “Well, maybe not.”

It’s also the time when thoughts and plans for summer are solidifying. This time last year I was getting a little nervous about the huge project that was looming on the horizon. I didn’t know what all was behind the walls, what all awaited us. And now I know what’s behind the walls because I put it there, and the only thing that awaits us in the kitchen is a bright, open space now.

But plans are just that, and now it’s time to get planting, get mowing, get weeding — all the joys of spring that just leave you exhausted but strangely satisfied.

And time to play guitar with your neighbor.

Spring Saturday

Spring Saturdays have their own rhythm for years now. Almost all Saturdays begin with an eight o’clock Skype chat with Babcia. They talk about family, friends, recent events, changes in our life, changes in her life — the little changes that can accumulate in a week or that pile up unmentioned for weeks. The only thing that’s changed is the instrument. At first, it was downstairs on the main computer. After a few years of that, it shifted upstairs to the laptop in the kitchen. These days it’s via K’s cell phone.

The Boy and I head out after breakfast. We’re building a small fence to hide a now-visible, now-empty area that was once held our buggy gas pack air system hidden by Leyland cypresses. Like always, the Boy wants to help, and like always, it’s less help than one might really want in order to call it help. Instead, I think of it as helping him — helping him grow, helping him learn the value of work, helping he learn how to use tools properly. I show him how to use the square and he’s off, scoring lines all over the four-by-four that will eventually be the final two posts of our fence.

Next, it’s time to dig the holes for the posts. Here, patience is the key. I take a shovelful of dirt out, and he follows suit with his little blue shovel. But here’s the thing: he has to have a shovelful that suits him. A dab of dirt at the tip is not acceptable, so he tries again and again, frustrated as the dirt slides off the end as he tries to pull the shovel out of the growing hole. Or later, he starts kicking dirt back into the hole.

But shortly after, he’s genuinely helpful: he holds the post for me to get some measurements and check alignment. He helps shovel the concrete around the posts and smooths it once it’s in. Of course, in between, there’s time to play.

And once it’s done and the other chores are behind us, we head down to the swing and hammock for some early-evening silliness.

It’s like so many other spring Saturdays. And ritual is always comforting.

Spring Saturday

Spring Saturday

Saturday Ritual

Falling Down

There are two trees in the back corner of our lot that worry me. One worries me as a cause of a potential problem; the other is the potential problem. They’re both tulip poplars, with one having a diameter of at least five feet. The smaller of the two has succumbed to some kind of disease or infestation or both. It’s been dying for a couple of years. The bark has just about completely fallen off, and the base of it is beginning to rot. It will fall of its own accord within another year or so, but I’m worried that the enormous tulip poplar next to it — the biggest tree by far that we have in our hard — will develop the same problem. If the sick tree falls, it won’t be a big problem, especially now that the top third of it fell this week, leading to a change of Saturday plans and extensive use of the chain saw. Falling of its own accord is not always an option, though: the large tree if it were to fall, would cause some major damage. It might take out a power line that runs behind the house, and it’s tall enough that it could even damage a house behind us.

Besides the fact that I’m not really what the financial ramifications might be for a tree falling on someone else’s property (from my rough research, we might be held responsible if it was a question of negligence, which would be more of what we’re doing about it now: nothing), there’s the simple fact that I love that tree. It must be at least two hundred years old, possible older, and so it’s a history lesson right in our own backyard. It was around when Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House. It was a large tree when Somme Offensive became the largest killing field in history to that point. In a country of new things, I value the old.

But falling down is a part of life.

As a Catholic, falling down has a spiritual, metaphysical sense to it: it requires a visit to the confessional. Like with the tree, there can be collateral damage when I fall down. A lie might tell someone could have far-reaching repercussions. The angry word spoken in spite might damage more than the moment. That’s what this Lenten season is all about — thinking about that collateral damage that accompanies sin no matter how we try to compartmentalize it. Our parish priest began a Lenten homily series on the nature of sin, and the communal nature of sin is a key Catholic teaching. We are responsible for our own actions, of course, but we always seem to rise and fall together.

As a parent, falling down is something my kids just have to do. They have to learn how to fall, how to absorb the impact without breaking bones or, later, hearts. More importantly, they have to learn how to get back up. That’s a lesson many of us never learn, I’m afraid. L has learned how to take a tumble and hop back up, or perhaps even laugh about it.

The Boy is slowly learning the same. Sometimes he’ll fall with a thump and hesitate for a moment before hopping up and proclaiming, “I’m okay!”

With L finishing up fourth grade, though, K and I have begun thinking about the simple fact that we’ll soon have to start thinking about considering middle school. (We’re masters of procrastinating at times.) That will begin a whole new cycle of learning: the broken heart. I don’t necessarily mean crushes that turn sour, though that too is in the back of the mind. I simply mean the cruelty with which teenagers can treat each other: the cutting comments, the fair-weather friends, the peer pressure, and all the sundry stresses of teen life.

But for now, sometimes it’s probably best not to fall down but just let yourself down, gently, and enjoy a lazy Sunday afternoon. Those worries will wait. For a while.

Coming Storm


With the coming hurricane, which won’t necessarily affect us with wind but might dump some rain on us, I decided I needed to speed up the plan for re-treating the deck with water repellent. I didn’t really need a little helper, but that never really matters: the Boy will help. Period.


The good thing about today was that there were no worries about potential streaking or such: the bare wood drew the water sealant in as if we were applying it to sand.


Saturday Ritual

Saturday is for the house, and while we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time and money on one part of the house — namely, the kitchen, we’ve neglected other parts of the property. With all the rain of the last few weeks, the yard had gone absolutely crazy, and there was much cleaning and rearranging still to be done in our downstairs.

K started with some final painting — the baseboards in the living room. The Boy, of course, just had to help.


“Daddy, you can’t touch this paint because it will just hurt you, okay?”

I tackled the yard.

1-Starred Photos28

It was finally not all that hot, but the humidity was stifling. Despite the discomfort, the Boy came out to help mow. This means he walked beside me for a few minutes, pretending to mow the steep section near the ditch.

After a shower, I checked out our oven.


The burners work, but the oven doesn’t ignite. In the end, the Boy and I decided that we should just call the experts who sold us the equipment and let them decide if it’s something I just didn’t do or there is some defect in the appliance.


Moving In

Three, maybe three and a half weeks ago, we reached a point in our kitchen remodel project that everything more or less looked like a kitchen. The counters and tops were in, and while the floor wasn’t finished yet, it was installed and looked like a floor. And yet there was so much to do — trim around the windows and doors, baseboard trim, final plumbing (including fixing problems the sewer line in the front yard and with the newly-installed gas line), lights, and the like. So it looked like we were almost there, but we were still so far away. All the changes from that point on were so small in comparison to ripping out a window and door to rebuild the header.


Finally, we’ve reached a point that we’re almost to the point that we can say, “We’re almost done.” “Almost done” because the under-the-cabinet lighting installation has been put off for some time, as has the final venting of the microwave through the room (right now, it’s just popped into the attic). So even when the back splash gets completed next week, and we finally move in the stove — the final appliance — we still won’t be complete done. And then there’s the new dining room furniture we’ve ordered so that every little thing in the kitchen, except for the coffee maker and toaster oven, will be new.


So today we made the final little adjustments and started moving in. L and I filled all the trim nail holes with spackling while E and K cleaned all the windows. Then I set out with the caulk gun to caulk the trim before it gets a coat of paint.


K, in the meantime, prepared all the new shelves with liners and began running all our dishes through the new dishwasher. We quickly discovered the enormous difference between the old dishwasher and the new: the old sometimes cleaned; the new is so powerful that it knocked the finish off a couple of items that we’d put in the bottom.


Tomorrow, the table migrates back to the dining area, where it will stay for a few weeks until the new furniture arrives, and we begin moving food to the kitchen, reverting our basement to just that. We’ll tear down the field kitchen in the backyard, move the grill back onto the deck, and begin to forget the work of the summer and just live.