February Faces

Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

I saved a blue conversation heart from Valentine’s Day and put it on my desk, next to the erasers. It says, “Be Happy.” Some days it seems like a cheerful encouragement and I think, “Okay, I’ll try that.”  Other days it, and the thick brown mug I often use that says, “Do what you like/Like what you do” just seem to be taunting me.

February is such a challenge some years. It started with strawberries, I think.  On the first day of February, after a basketball game, Beth and June and I stopped at a grocery store to pick up a few things, and June was hungry so Beth got her a fruit cup consisting of blueberries and strawberries. She ate all the blueberries but didn’t want the strawberries.

I love strawberries, but real ones, not pale winter imitations of strawberries. In our area real, ripe, juicy red strawberries are available for about a month, which can start anywhere from late April to late May, depending on weather conditions. I probably hadn’t eaten one since some time last summer, but now last spring seemed like a distant memory and next spring like it might not ever come, so I ate the strawberries.

My main problem is that we have had too many snow days this winter, seven to be precise and three of them in February.  They fell during a period when I was swamped with work and have caused me a lot of stress.  One day—Valentine’s Day actually—when we’d had two snow days in a row and I had a noon deadline, the morning play date I’d scheduled for June fell through because the mother of the child woke up sick and I almost cried when I read her message.

In addition to the snow days and the late openings (too numerous to count), our heat has gone out three times this winter. We always got it fixed the next day but not before the temperature in the house dropped into the forties. Our oil company has not been as interested in the question of why it keeps going out as we are.

The last time it snowed (ten inches, about a week and a half ago), I hurt my back and aggravated the ongoing tendonitis I have in my right forearm shoveling snow and chipping ice off the sidewalk. Both are better now, but it has not helped me feel positive about winter.

Sometimes I do like winter, at the beginning of it usually. The cold temperatures are novel and invigorating and the snow is undeniably pretty. It’s fun getting out the flannel sheets and my sweaters and warm socks and making warm, cozy meals. Most importantly, it makes Beth happy, because winter is her season, and until we’ve had several snow days, I’m on board. Eventually, though, we get to the point where what makes her happy (a big snow) makes me unhappy, and what makes me happy (cold rain, sleet, anything that does not result in the kids staying home yet again) makes her unhappy. It’s an uncomfortable state of affairs sometimes.

I’m also sad for Noah right now, because despite a month of weekends (not to mention quite a few snow days) he spent glued to the computer working on his documentary for National History Day he didn’t make the cut to advance to the county level. He’s not very competitive and is generally very easy-going about grades and the like, but he wanted this, and although he took the bad news graciously, I still wish there was something I could do to make it better, other than offer sympathy. But sometimes that’s all there is.

So, what went right in February?

Well, we all got nice Valentines presents for each other. We bought books for the kids (one about fonts for Noah and the fourth book in the Edgar and Ellen series, Pet’s Revenge, for June). I got fancy cheese and chocolate for Beth and she bought me a Starbucks card. Beth brought home a half-dozen red roses and the kids selected chocolate truffles and chocolate-cherry bread for the whole family. And that evening we went out for heart-shaped pizza at Zpizza, which according to Noah “tastes like love.” The day that started with me nearly weeping ended sweetly.

Also, the Pandas had a few games. After the one I already blogged about, they played a double game the next weekend.  They lost the game June played in 24-18, but it was an exciting game and both teams played well. The other game might have been a win or a tie. There’s no official scorekeeping and I heard conflicting reports. Either way, it was close.

The best thing about June’s game, though, from our perspective, was that for the first time ever in three seasons of playing basketball, June took a shot at the hoop. Being the shortest player on her team, she has often lacked the confidence to try to score and instead passes to other players. She often gets assists and up to now seemed content with that role, but at practice the day before something clicked and she told us she just felt like she could do it.  So she took a shot and it almost went in, too. After the game, she told us that trying to make the basket was her favorite part of the game.

So it’s not that surprising that she tried again at the next Pandas’ game. More on that in a little bit…She and I have been playing Horse at our neighbor’s hoop once or twice a week ever since basketball started. I have a height advantage obviously and I’ve offered to handicap myself by shooting from further away or giving her two shots for every one of mine, but she has rejected these offers. As a result, I always win. There would be no point in letting her win. She’d know and she’d be mad. (The fact that I always win does not stop her from critiquing my form, however. It’s all wrong apparently.)

So on Thursday we were shooting baskets with a wet, dirty basketball (the street was slushy). My hands were gritty and tingling with cold; I was wishing I’d worn gloves and thinking I’d like to go home, but she kept asking for one more game. The scores were closer than usual and I realized we weren’t going home until she won. She finally did, on the fifth game. “We can go home now,” she said casually, after the winning basket. Later she mentioned to Beth that all four games she’d lost, she’d only lost by one point, but when she won, she won by two points.

At the game on Saturday, June took another shot at the basket. It wasn’t as close at last time, but they were playing on ten-foot hoops again and she was completely surrounded, so it was not an easy shot. I was proud of her just for trying.

It was an amazing game overall. It started off slow—both teams were handicapped by using the taller hoops.  It was not clear to any of the parents why were we using the ten-foot hoops, as we switched gyms to get one with eight-foot hoops. Maybe it was the other coach’s preference or maybe it was because we were short a player at the beginning of the game and a full-court game made more sense than two half-court games.  Anyway, at the end of the first quarter the purple team was ahead 0-2 and at halftime the score was unchanged. Then at the beginning of the third quarter the Pandas’ offense just snapped into place. They were seeing who was open and passing strategically and shooting over and over. It was a thing of beauty to watch. At first the other team seemed a bit startled and intimidated, but then they stepped up their game too. By my reckoning, the final score was 8-6, Pandas.

After the game, Beth and June and I went straight to the hardware store where we took a workshop on starting seeds. We’ve been gardening for years, mostly from seed, but we often have to start over with new seeds because they don’t germinate or the seedlings get eaten by slugs—so we thought we could use some pointers. What I took from it was that we haven’t been using a light enough grade of soil for germinating and that we might have better luck with slugs if we started seeds earlier inside, rather than waiting for warmer temperatures and starting them outside.  There was an amusing moment when I asked about slugs because the earth mother-type instructor clearly did not want to give advice about how to kill living creatures. She opined that all insects have their place in the universe and then quickly mentioned beer and eggshells, both of which we already use. June wanted to know how to grow potatoes, which is a gardening goal of hers for this year. The instructor said using seed potatoes was probably the best bet. Then we all planted tomato seeds. We choose Brandywine and Marvel Stripe. We’ve grown Brandywines before (from plant starts rather than seed) but I had never heard of the other kind.

It was an unseasonably warm day. Beth and June went on to further Saturday afternoon adventures, ice skating on slushy ice at the outdoor rink in Silver Spring and playing at a muddy, slushy playground. I mostly stayed home, supervising Noah’s homework, and reading the Washington Post magazine on the porch in shirtsleeves, then going for a short walk before dinner. It’s going to get cold again later in the week, and it might snow Wednesday and again on Friday, but today we have two pots with tomato seeds in them sitting near the study window, cheering me up more effectively than that bossy candy heart.

Sometimes February faces grimace at another snowstorm or put on an intimidating game face, but others watch attentively from the sideline at scoring teammates, or bend over a small pot, full of soil and hope.