Sunday, July 07, 2019

July Front Porch

I've been off from work this past week and have spent hours on the front porch, which is one of my favorite things to do in the summer.  There is coffee in the morning and iced tea in the afternoon; bourbon is always an option.  Out here, I read, I daydream, I write, I look after my plants, I spy the neighborhood wildlife....hours pass as easily as the breeze and I feel my body and soul relax.

My porch plants and decorations are a source of happiness that is one of the nicest constants in my daily life.  For July, there is a patriotic theme.  There’s a front door wreath made by my friend TO that is cute as a minute and a reminder that the American flag belongs to all of us.

The flag and tablecloth are blue and white.  Hints of red and my new navy blue-trimmed birdhouse make a lovely addition.

This rocker has logged plenty of hours with readers in this family.

It’s only July and there are many more hours to sit before the summer warmth slips into cooler temperatures.  

That’s happy!

Friday, July 05, 2019

Food Friday: Arugula & Tomato Salad with Burrata

This salad is the perfect warm weather dish and served with some fresh fruit and crusty bread, it’s delicious and easy.  The recipe is a riff on a burrata and peach salad I saw on Cup of Jo and it’s become a Summer staple at Sassafras House.

You’ll need a bag of arugula, a cup of cherry tomatoes sliced in half, burrata, Italian salad dressing (I use Newman’s Own when I don’t have homemade on hand), and a fourth a cup each of toasted pine nuts and pesto, either fresh pesto or pre-made from the grocery store.  Easy is the theme here, so don’t sweat the details.

Fill an 8x8 dish with the arugula and then spread the sliced cherry tomatoes along the edge of the dish.  Place the burrata in the middle and sprinkle the pine nuts over the dish.  Dollop the pesto on the burrata and the tomatoes and then add salt and pepper over the lot.  Pour a tiny bit of the Italian dressing on the arugula.  Go easy here because you can always add more.

Served alongside fresh  fruit and crusty bread, this will serve four people.  Add some grilled chicken or shrimp and it will stretch to feed six.   Yum!

Thursday, July 04, 2019

On Independence

I read the Declaration of Independence this morning, a tradition for me.  Some years, the Declaration flows smoothly through my mind and I celebrate its meaning and the better parts of our nation’s history.  I’m always aware of its imperfections, of course, and some years they seem to loom larger.  When that happens, I stick on the hypocrisy, often with a frustration born of contemporary politics.  

Every year, I remind myself that this nation took a very long time to actually recognize the equality claimed for humankind in the opening sentences of the Declaration.  Most years, I recognize that beyond the obvious hypocrisy of the claims was a powerful belief in the promise of equality and self-government, a promise that bore fruit for the patriots who became Americans but also for other citizens of this world.  We aren’t perfect, far from it, but the idea of America became an inspiration for the growth of democracy and equality in the rest of the world.  We can still be proud of that.

The more I think about the Declaration and the Constitution which eventually followed (and I think about it a great deal, thanks to the subject I teach), the more I prefer the Declaration.  Its promise, the one we celebrate today, is a powerful statement of human potential.  Even in 2019, it continues to inspire and bear fruit in the world.  Though it makes all sorts of political claims rooted in the times, at its best it transcends politics and serves as an ambitious philosophy about what humanity can and should be.  

The Constitution, on the other other hand, is more clearly a political document rooted in the desire for compromises to maintain the unity of an already disparate nation.  Those compromises enshrined slavery in our founding, a decision that becomes more divisive and troubling with each year that passes in the absence of reparations or real efforts to understand the racism upon which slavery was built.  In its preservation of state power and slavery, the federal system creates some additional quirky features.  Among them are a Senate that gives two representatives to the least populated state in the Union, Wyoming, with just 572,000 people.  The largest state, California, with nearly 40 million people, gets the same.  An obvious problem of representation follows and the Electoral College, a direct function of this system of state representation, was bound to create democratic illegitimacy in our Executive branch, rather than the political certainly the founders intended.  We live with that problem today in the form of Agent Orange.

If the Constitution has redeeming value, it’s in the document’s fear of tyranny and its (sometimes) reluctant faith in democracy.  Hard though it is to achieve, there is room to amend, a function that demonstrates a group of founders who knew that the Constitution and its compromises were likely to prove fallible.  It set up ways to check expressions of power, especially in the executive.  It also demands a citizenry that take it’s civic duties seriously, the challenge of our current polity.

It is imperfect, as all human institutions are bound to be.  But it is ours and we must take the necessary action to create a more perfect union.  After all, that was the very claim made by the Declaration of Independence.  Its an idea we should especially consider today, when we celebrate independence and would be well-served by considering what independence truly means.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

An Ode to My Back Yard

The backyard at Sassafras House is lush and green, overgrown, really, but I rather like it that way.  Though I have lived away from California for years, that state and my hometown in the arid Central Valley is my default setting of what a landscape should look like.  A yard like this feels exotic and wonderful to me.

There is a garden behind the garage.  These days, it’s a small patch with tomatoes, basil, and zinnias, looking quite hazy in this morning’s fog.

The plot back there is capable of being quite large.  This spring, I lacked the time to properly set up the whole patch because I was busy getting ready for T to move in.  But underneath the overgrown ivy are roses and hostas (always the hostas with me) and this Fall, with T moved in, I really hope there will be time to clean out the whole patch, add some Spring-blooming bulbs, fertilize it in the Winter, and plant a huge garden come the Spring.  Until then, I’m pleased with what I have.  There are some canna bulbs getting after a showy display, my turtle garden marker, the sprinkler ready for action as the heat builds.  I visit the patch daily, to check on the progress of my growing plants.

Though my apple and pear trees invariably surrender their harvest to the squirrels, the peach tree alongside the fairy garden may bring me a crop this year.  I very much hope so because I can nearly taste the peach ice cream this fruit might could flavor in a few weeks.  I’m excited about the potential but, like any sensible gardener, resigned to an outcome that is less than ideal.

I like a garden and yard that are works in progress, as this one always is.  For all its imperfections, it’s a lovely corner of my world.  Between the red oak and the dogwood, there are branches soaring high in the blue sky.

We sit on the back deck under the shade of these trees and enjoy the chitter of the squirrels as they try to help themselves to the bird feeder and peaches and then sleep off their food coma in the dogwood tree.  I welcome the cardinals, goldfinches, and robins that visit here.  Come the evening, I glory in the lightening bugs that light up the dark corners.

The backyard feels like home and that’s very happy.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Splendid Clematis

I planted my clematis in 2010 and from the start it delivered a flower or two, usually in late Spring.  I trained it to grow on the trellis and it did so, a garden success.  It was pretty but never splendid.  This year, it’s been splendid.  There's been an explosion of blowsy purple flowers blooming for more than a month now.

From the looks of the blooms, there are a few more purple flowers to still come our way.  The plant is certainly sturdier than it was in its first few years but I think this year’s thriving abundance of flowers is the result of all the rain we enjoyed in May and June.  I’ve taken note and will be sure to water it next Spring so that we can enjoy another season of prodigious, happy blooms.

Monday, July 01, 2019

July 1: Fairy Garden

The current dry air not withstanding, the last few weeks have brought on the warm and increasingly humid weather that fireflies enjoy.  Come the early evening hours, the fairy garden twinkles with fireflies.  I don’t have the photography skills or equipment to capture what it looks like but it’s magical, all the more so because the firefly season is fleeting.  A fairy garden is a perfect accompaniment for the flashes of light and I enjoy sitting on the back deck to watch my garden light up.

Things are pretty garden in the sunlight as well.

The peach tree branches are full of fruit and though the squirrels are enjoying a healthy share, I’m hopeful there will also be peaches for us to eat.  I’m already planning some homemade peach ice cream.

The arrival of July feels like summer is flying by, a development that is worrying because I have yet to reach my fill of relaxation.  For now, I’m reminding myself to live in the moment and enjoy the relaxed days.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

June Book Report: Varina

It’s no secret that I love the South despite its multiple shortcomings.  Truth be told, I think our nation has multiple shortcomings and as I love it anyway, it doesn’t bother me to have affection for the South and for Southerners.  I love the landscape of the region, the way the warm humid air settles over the day, the way that the magnolias bloom slowly into flowers so fragrant and majestic they seem unreal.   The South is where I first saw lightening bugs and to this day they are utterly magical to me, twinkling against the dark green of my Yankee backyard in the twilight.  I know that I love them so much because they remind me of Tennessee.

Novels of the South are another reason I love the region so much.  I always enjoy a story with a strong sense of place and Southern writers bring that sensibility to their writing, as if the geography is another character in the story.  Among the very best at that is Charles Frazier, who writes about the South at the turning point of the Civil War with an honesty and fondness that is powerful; neither sentiment tempered by the other and both honest.  He turns a beautiful sentence when writing about the foolishness of the human condition; he understands the war as well as the very best historians and he writes about the South in the same way I feel: honest about its weaknesses and fond of the region nonetheless.  I loved his novel Cold Mountain for that honesty and found the same sensibility alive and well in Frazier’s book Varina.

The novel is the story of Varina Howell Davis, the wife of Jefferson Davis, told from Varina’s point of view.  The book begins in 1906, when Varina, now a widow spending summer at a hotel in Saratoga, New York, has a seemingly chance meeting with a black man named James, whom she knew as Jimmie, a child who lived with her during the Civil War.  James has come in search of Varina in order to reconstruct the story of his own life and Varina tells him what she knows.  As a friendship between the two develops, he asks about her life and from there the novel unfolds, weaving together details of Varina’s life as a girl, as a young wife in Washington D.C., and then in Richmond during the Civil War and after, as her own family fled the Confederate capital as the war ended.  Separated from her husband and struggling to rebuild a life in the aftermath of a war that Varina opposed and now in the 20th century has leisure to regret, she tells the story of her long and varied life to James, who listens carefully and asks probing questions.

Frazier can turn a phrase better than most and the talent is on full-display in Varina.  Each word seems carefully chosen and woven together the story is the brilliant tale of a woman who sat up close to history and saw the horror of slavery compounded by pride and war.  From Frazier’s vantage, Varina herself is fascinating, if imperfect.  From the reader’s point of view, it’s a story well worth reading.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Cat in a Basket

This is not the same thing as a pig in a blanket but it is nearly as satisfying.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Craft Project

Paper crafts make me happy and for summer I have some paper ice cream cones to put together.  They will become bookmarks and notecards; one may turn up on my yearly bulletin board.  But most of all, I enjoy having the time to create something.

That’s happy!

Thursday, June 27, 2019

When Persistence Brings Hope

It could be the relaxation of summer.  It could be the juggernaut that is Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House.  It could certainly be the systemic and daily incompetence that is the Trump shitshow.  It is certainly the addition of young Democratic talent in the House (especially Katie Porter, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Ilyana Pressley).  But it is especially the organized and coherent policies being articulated by so many of the Democrats seeking nomination to the presidency in 2020.  

For starters, nearly all of them speak of this nation, our people, and our politics in a tone that is measured and thoughtful.  They are aware that words and ideas matter, especially now.  They don’t demean one another and they stand up for the most vulnerable among us.   To this, they add policy ideas and proposals for some of our biggest problems: inequality, reparations for slavery, healthcare, the cost of housing, immigration, student loans, climate change, GLBT issues, voting rights, and more are on their radar and subjects for real discussions and debate.

I am impressed by Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.  But my favorite candidate so far is Elizabeth Warren.  She is exciting, with policy ideas that are well thought-out and good.  Her energy on the campaign trail is impressive.  Her take downs of Fox News and her commitment to speaking to the whole nation are steady and impressive.  Her intelligence and humor are a calming balm in a nation that badly needs a healing hand.  She knows the problems we face and she is willing to face them head on.  The way she tells our nation’s sons and daughters that she’s running for president “because that’s what girls do” fills my heart with hope.

I’ve been happy to see Warren finally get traction.  Even if she isn’t the nominee, I feel like she will be on the team that helps lead us out of the disaster that is the Republican Party and Donald Trump.   And in these days when we are still more than a year away from the 2020 election, Warren and much of the Democratic field are a tangible and real alternative to the horror which has gripped me since Trump’s 2016 electoral college victory.    There is power in hope and we need to remember it.