Friday, June 29, 2007

My Best Summer Memory

As JT and I settle into our summer routine and start preparations for our camping trip to Cape Cod, I've given some thought to my best summer memory. I can't really settle on a single summer experience as my best summer memory, but I have many happy memories of camping with my family.

My family was of the rustic camp-in-a-tent variety. We slept in sleeping bags and we ate food we cooked over an open flame. We usually camped with friends and I recall those lazy summer days as wonderfully adventurous. I remember long walks in the woods. I remember eating picnic lunches (usually salami sandwiches with mustard on fresh sourdough bread) while sitting in the sun on a huge rock overlooking Billy Creek. I remember getting my sneakers sopping wet in that creek. I remember eating spaghetti on a plate resting on my knees, as we huddled under the tarp during a rare Sierra Nevada summer rain. I remember the sound of playing cards slapping against the red-checked vinyl table cloth my mom always spread over the picnic table at the campsite. And I remember the clean, fresh smell of the woods, and the feeling of independence that camping always brought to me.

I was blessed to be able to give that experience to JT last summer and I'm looking forward to doing it again in a few weeks. Something about those low-tech and high fun adventures really resounds with me. And it's nice to be able to give those memories to my son.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I Highly Recommend That You Acquire a Cousin Donna

On Tuesday, after a 4 hour delay and then an extra long flight from Sacramento to Dallas (6 hours......including the stop in Albuquerque to re-fuel), we arrived in Dallas to find that our connection to Jersey was canceled. It was 9 pm and after hours of bad weather, Dallas was done flying for the day. Thousands of people were stuck in the airport. Hotel rooms and rental cars were gone. The airport was handing out cots to stranded travelers (the picture is some of those cots). It was chaotic when we got off the plane, with very little information about what was happening. We hit the bathrooms and I scored JT some food (his first meal since he'd inhaled a plate of French toast nearly 12 hours earlier).

Then, while JT ate his Happy Meal out of a paper bag, we got in a long line to see what our options were. I called my family to give them the details. Then I used my cell to call American Airlines. And as I was on hold with the airline, my phone rang. It was my mother's cousin Donna, who lives in Dallas, calling to offer a hot shower and a bed for the night. "Stay where you are," she instructed, "I'll come to the airport and find you."

I hadn't seen Donna since I was a little girl but we exchanged details ("I'm the tired woman in the red dress with the tanned little boy," I said) and find us she did. Then she waited with us in the endless line (providing much needed good humor and patience). Via phone, American had re-booked JT and I to leave Dallas for Newark on Thursday morning. The Wednesday flights were full and we could try to fly stand-by, but I had to see an actual agent to make that happen. The long-line was the only path to an agent.

As the line slowly moved forward, we chatted and waited. The American counter was closing at 1 am and I just made it to the counter at 12:55. The tired agent booked us for stand-by on a Wednesday morning flight (and that flight did bring us home) and then we took the 15-minute drive to Donna's house. There Donna and her husband Cliff had a cozy spare bed. After some much-needed rest and yummy blueberries and toast for breakfast, Cliff gave us a ride to the airport on Wednesday morning. "Let us know what happens," he said as we left the car, "you are welcome for another night." Now that's what I call hospitality.

It seems particularly fitting that after a vacation that mainly involved visiting his grandparents and playing with his cousins, it was grandma's cousin who came to our rescue. So I write in praise of cousins everywhere, and especially cousin Donna and her husband Cliff, who rescued us and kept us sane for one more day of travel. After Cliff dropped us off on Wednesday morning, JT said to me, "well, that was a life-saver." I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Reflections on Airport Security and the Perils of Modern Travel

It is an established fact that there is an inverse relationship between airport security and size of the city. The smaller the city, the more important the airport security flunkies imagine themselves. Here in Sacramento, California, a whole bunch of us stood gape-mouthed while the TSA "officials" practically strip-searched this quiet and accommodating elderly woman. And Bob at the metal detector took one look at my Jersey license and subjected me to the 3rd degree, beginning and ending with "why do you live in New Jersey?" and tempting me to say, "because in New Jersey we eat power-hungry punks like you for lunch."

We're at the gate now..........and may I also note that henceforth I shall demand to sit in the airport "No Tuna Sandwich" section. Who thinks that it is okay to eat tuna in public? FYI: It's not okay.

At Least We Have Some Toys

JT and I arrived at the Sacramento airport this morning at 7 am. Our flight was scheduled for 8:20 am........plenty of time. I knew there was trouble the moment we got in the very long line. Most of the flights were delayed and the airline was advising us to call and re-book as we waited in line to check our luggage. That level of efficiency was a tad disturbing but I know how to follow instructions and so I got out my phone. We're leaving California 5 hours late and will catch a later flight from Dallas to Newark. So instead of getting home to NJ at 9 pm tonight, we'll be home at midnight.

We got the Sassa-grandparents to return to the airport and take us out for pancakes. Now I am enjoying the free wi-fi while JT's army dudes stage a war on the table at the airport Starbucks. All in all, not so bad.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Bring It

In previous summers, JT's swimming abilities were less than skillful. But this year he's a more confident swimmer and that led to several hotly contested pool basketball games. I took this picture yesterday......I think that JT is actually tending the goal in this photo but no foul was called. The three of them talk a lot of smack while playing. And, of course, have a whole lot of fun.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Y'all Listen Up

I recently re-read one of my favorite books, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, a collection of stories and essays – parables even – by Bailey White. White was an NPR essayist for years and I first heard these stories when she read them on the radio. The book was published in 1993 and I first read it then, when I was living in Nashville, Tennessee and was determined to be a southerner for life.

Things have changed in the 14 years since I first read the book (for starters, I live in Yankee territory these days) but the stories still charm. The full title of the book is Mama Makes Up Her Mind and Other Dangers of Southern Living and that pretty well sums up the anecdotes it contains. I'm charmed by the eccentricities White succinctly describes, and the life lessons she gleens from her daily experiences. Though there is much to be praised about life in Yankee territory, reading the book reminds me how much I miss the quirky charm of southern living.

And then there is the sweet tea..........I miss the sweet tea.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Live-Blogging with Mom and Dad

So I'm here in my hometown and it's Friday night. We've all had supper and the boys are playing games while the grown ups talk. The death penalty. Sex. Global warming. It's all come up tonight. To whit:

1. Dad doesn't believe in global warming.

2. Mom doesn't like conflict (but we knew that).

For reasons I don't completely understand, we talked about Angelina Jolie. The 'rents saw her on The Actor's Studio and they like her. When my brother-in-law suggested that people like Angelina Jolie because she's hot (true, that), my father said he didn't agree. Evidently Mom needn't fear that Dad will walk out on her for Angelina. Brad Pitt is breathing a sigh of relief.

But Dad likes Candice Bergen. So bring on the Murphy Brown re-runs.

We've moved on to the use of debit cards (Dad is opposed) and the heat on the conversation has been dialed down.

We're a happy family once again.

Post Secret

Every Sunday I check the secrets at It's an amazing collection of postcards, all anonymous, and all revealing a secret. I first learned about the webiste from an NPR story (yeah, I'm a mega-geek). I was immediately struck by the poignancy of the idea. Folks send in an illustrated postcard with a secret written on it.

I often think about a secret I might send. And then I think about who might (or worse, might not) read that secret. But that's as far as I ever get. I envy those who tell their secret and I hope that it gives them freedom and peace. I'd like that for myself.

As for me, maybe my secret isn't that much of a secret. Sometimes I think that it's only a wish that will remain unfulfilled. Maybe it's just a fear? Often I think that putting words to my secret won't make it go away but instead will make it all the more real. And therefore all the more hard to bear.

I don't know the answer to these questions but you should check out the website. It's a powerful place.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Idol Thoughts

I am in Colorado Springs airport (using their FREE go Colorado Springs), waiting to catch a flight to Los Angeles and then to Fresno, where my brown-eyed boy awaits. I know that I'm ready to get some sugar from him because I see other people's children and I feel envy. It's the curse of the Mama I guess. If he were here, he'd have his nose pressed to the window, watching the planes take off and land and chattering to me about where those folks are headed. That's what we did in Seattle on our way out west. So I watch those planes fly off over the mountains and I imagine other parents, eager to see the faces of the children who make their world perfect.

Mama's on her way, monkey boy.

Red Shoes

A few years ago, I had a student who only wore red shoes. I was impressed by both the spirit of the enterprise and the versatility that she got out of those red shoes. Sarah had a certain magic as a young woman and the shoes were simply part of the package.

I saw Sarah a few weeks ago and she still has the red shoes. This week, I've been wearing some red shoes of my own and I think there is just something about them. My feet make me happy and that feeling just propels me forward.

My workshop is over and I have many plans for next year whirling in my head. But first I will enjoy the summer and the pleasure of unscheduled days. So tomorrow the red shoes will take me back to California to see the Sassafras Boy and hang out with my family.

Let the swimming begin.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Boy Joy

While I am here in Colorado, my sweet boy is hanging out with his grandparents and the keeper of the cousins, Aunty KO. I spoke with him this afternoon while he and his cousin Spence were at Grandma and Grandpa's rounding up all the bad guys in the 'hood and he was clearly having a grand time.

I'm so glad, because my workshop is productive and I'm getting all the more done because I don't need to worry about him. But I miss him greatly and can't wait to hold him in my arms again. The day before I left I took this picture of JT and his cousins jumping in the pool and this is the picture I have in my mind. It's one of laughter and happiness and that seems to be the theme of his week.

That's a very happy thing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The View from Up Here

Today was the halfway point of my conference, and an opportunity to see the surrounding area. With some other members of the conference, I rode the bus for a hike to North Cheyenne Canyon. The bus had the festive air of a school field trip as we all chatted excitedly and ate our bag lunches.

We hiked up an empty river basin gorge and the view from up top was really spectacular. The sky was enormous and the air was clean and crisp. The quiet of the hike gave me some time to think about the past few days and the pattern of my life in the last year. It was a nice way to spend some time and enjoy the quiet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

That's Unfortunate

So I am in day 3 of a 6 day conference with 65 other teachers from independent schools. The experience has so far been great ------ I'm learning a lot and have plenty more still to think about. And there have been plenty of laughs. For example, today my colleague A and I realized that when anyone uses the bathroom in the back of the big conference room, and flushes the toilet as one is wont to do after using the bathroom, the sound of the flush can be heard throughout the room. It's not a quiet affair.

As A noted, "that's unfortunate." Indeed.

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Though I am a very particular kind of girl and like to have things just so, I've never thought of myself as eccentric. In my mind there is some boundary between my preferred way of doing things and an eccentricity.

It's not that I consider an eccentricity weird or wrong or anything, really. I guess it's just that being gay has always made me conscious of the ways that I already stand out in the world. I don't feel restricted because of my sexual orientation --- I'm out and proud and all that --- but in the back of my mind there is an awareness that this isn't okay with everyone. So I keep my other eccentricities private.

I often wonder about this. Am I being totally honest with myself and the world? Is it eccentric or weird that I like my underwear to match my clothes? Is my devotion to the color red and to pink flowers bordering on the odd? Is my need to read magazines and the newspaper cover-to-cover somehow limiting me?

When is an eccentricity quirky and charming? When is it a boundary to living a full life?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Top Ten Activities of Lucy and Tiger while the Boy and Mama are Gone

1. Eat.
2. Drink water.
3. Sleep.
4. Grind their furry backsides into the quilt on Mama's bed.
5. Put their claws in the furniture and scratch until they can scratch no more.
6. Hang out with the bad kittens in the 'hood.
7. Howl at neighborhood birds (Lucy only).
8. Stalk the squirrel on the back porch.
9. Play videogames.
10. Meow like crazy (Lucy only).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Real Life Conversations with JT

The scene: We're at a stoplight in Clovis; a gas station is on the corner.

JT: Mama, look at that.

Me: Look at what?

JT: That man. He's outside his car, pumping his gas all by himself. Where is the gas pumper guy?

Me: You're not in Jersey anymore, son.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Love the Free Wifi

So JT and I had several hours to idle away the Seattle airport yesterday. And much to my dismay, I discovered that there was no free wifi at the airport. Great views of the city, tasty clam chowder, but no free wifi. What's that about, Microsoft Corporation?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Left Coast Beckons

Early this morning JT and I will wing our way west to California for time at the pool with the cousins and general relaxation. He's excited. I'm exhausted and needing the break from single mama-hood that my family represents. Word on the street is that the Sassafras sister now has a wireless house (to go along with the solar power, I guess). No doubt I'll have some sassy comments about the marvel of air travel in 21st century America.

As my friend S would say, stay tuned........

Sunday, June 10, 2007


When I take JT to buy new sneakers, I always have him run down the aisle to check and see if his new shoes are fast. Invariably, they are fast. When he was little he was convinced that the shoes were what made him fast. These days, he knows better. But we still play the game.

I bought some new running shoes on Friday afternoon. A lot of agonizing and trying on went into the decision. I run on an eliptical trainer for 45 minutes a day and shoes make a huge difference. The hold of the heel, cushioning, and space for the toes are all important. I once had a heel spur, no laughing matter, and so I am very careful about my feet.

But all that science and precision went straight out the window once I tried out the new shoes. With their clean white lines, silver stripes, and a touch of pink, my new sneakers make me feel fast. And, as JT can tell you, that's what really matters.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


I'm headed off to a party this afternoon and need to bring something to share. I am a big believer in a well-stocked pantry and usually have a few stand-by ingredients on hand. I love Mexican and Tex-Mex food and this afternoon the pantry yielded a spicy black bean salsa.

It tastes yummy and is a good appetizer with tortilla chips. With a quesadilla, it would make a nice, light supper.

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can Ro-tel tomatoes (it must be Ro-tel substitutes)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (or substitute green onion or red onion)
4-6 radishes, finely chopped
fresh cilantro, finely chopped to make up a handful
juice of 2-3 slices of lime
1 avocado, finely chopped
salt & pepper

Drain and rinse the black beans. Drain the Ro-tel, reserving some juice. In a large bowl, combine beans, Ro-tel, onion, radish, and cilantro. Sprinkle with pepper and a teaspoon of cumin. Gently mix together. Just before serving, add the lime juice and chopped avocado and gently mix. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

I find that you can mix everything together, holding off on the avocado until just before serving. The avocado will stay green, thanks to the tomatoes and lime, but if it sits too long, it gets mushy (though it still tastes great).

Friday, June 08, 2007

A Man with Hope?

I can't believe that I'm going to write this, but I like Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas and current Republican presidential contender. He's way to conservative to get my vote, but I'm a registered Democrat so that doesn't matter. What matters is that I don't think he has a prayer at getting his party's nomination .....but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Huckabee comes from Hope, Arkansas (also the hometown of Bill Clinton) and though we share nary a single political view, I find him intriguing. His campaign by-line these days is "Proven leader. Authentic Conservative." That's a direct hit against the wishy-washy social conservatives in the GOP field (he's talking to you Romney, Giuliani, and McCain). And Huckabee is looking to remind potential primary voters that he was a two-term Governor (finishing his second term in 2007). He chaired the National Governor's Conference for the last two years of his term. Chairing the Governor's Conference is a sign that Huckabee can do the bi-partisan dance since both Democrats and Republicans choose the chair.

Huckabee is genuine religious conservative, having attended Ouachita Baptist University, where he majored in religion. He also attended seminary and was a Baptist minister before he entered politics. Huckabee's religious creds are obviously the real deal, and though he's honest about his religious faith, I've not seen him exploit it in the way that politicians often do. In the most recent Republican debate, he expressed his religious views in a genuine and honest fashion. I don't share those views, but I do respect them.

In keeping with his social conservatism, he's opposed to same sex marriage and he's pro-life. He opposes stem cell research. This is your standard social conservative profile and it's nothing distinctive.

Policy-wise, he buys into the wacky view that we need to control immigration to protect our national security. He opposes amnesty for current illegals, favoring deportation or significant penalties............both completely foolish and unrealistic proposals. He's got other nutty policy ideas, including his proposal that we eliminate all income taxes (on individuals and corporations alike) and replace it with his FairTax revenue plan. The FairTax is essentially a consumption tax and yeah, it's crazy. He pays lip service to the need to improve healthcare in the U.S., but he doesn't have a plan to actually make that happen, though he's sure that government needn't be involved. Whatever.

On the other hand, he's a big proponent of teaching art and music to school kids, which is an awfully refreshing thing to hear from any presidential candidates, especially in the era of No Child Left Behind.

While I don't like most of what he stands for, I like Huckabee because he seems to honestly hold his convictions. I think his convictions are largely out-of-touch with the American electorate as a whole, but his views are your standard GOP base pablum. So why won't he get the nod? Huckabee isn't going to be the nominee because Republicans are so obsessed with winning that these voters won't look at the second or third-tier candidates, even if those are the candidates who most honestly reflect their views.

In my view, this is the path to party trouble, because a successful party must have some convictions, something to believe in. This isn't a situation where winning for the sake of winning will do the trick. It won't do the trick because it won't lead to good governance. The winner must have some ideas that people can truly believe in. And that's turning out to be a greater challenge than anyone expected.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Limousine Liberals

So I'm in traffic today, waiting behind a limo, which I realize is a Volvo limo. I had no idea that such a thing exists. But now I know what kind of car limousine liberals ride around in.

Glad to get that mystery cleared up at last.

Note: Once the trouble with blogger is fixed, I will post a picture.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"My Friend"

Am I the only person who has noted that in debates and interviews when John McCain says "my friend" it's code for "you = ignorant; me = John McCain. Now shut up and listen to me."

Listen to him and see what you think.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


Eight years ago this week, I took a test that confirmed what I already had reason to believe: I was pregnant. From the moment that I knew a bunch of cells were furiously subdividing in the housing development that was my uterus, I was in love. I had wanted to be a mama for a long time and the promise of a baby growing inside me made my life feel complete.

I vividly remember the first thing that I bought that baby ----- a soft velour onesie and a Winnie-the-Pooh blanket. I brought home those things and Lisa and I admired them for the next few weeks, imagining the day when our baby would be wrapped in them. One of our favorite things to do when I was pregnant was to admire our growing collection of baby things. As my pregnancy neared its end, it was a familiar and comforting routine. We'd sit in the baby's room and admire his crib, his blankets, and his tiny soft clothes. We couldn't wait.

Today I was out running errands and I picked up some underwear for that baby, now a 7 year old boy. They are soft, like all the clothes that I bought when he was small. But the crab print and blue stripes can hardly be called sweet. Whether it's buying him clothes or getting the ingredients of his lunchbox, I love this part of caring for my son.

Lisa used to love it as well. She'd bring something home for him and eagerly share it with me and with him. I thought of her today. What is it like to go grocery shopping but have no need to buy food for a little boy? How does it feel to stop in the Gap and pick up a shirt for JT, knowing that it might be a week before she sees him? I think of the last months of my pregnancy, when she was so eager to meet our baby, so excited to finally hold and care for him.

And I'm sad for her that she has changed so much. He's growing up so fast and she's missing it all.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Well-Read Garden

I planted my garden a few weeks back and I've been watering and weeding and watching over my growing summer food supply. This weekend it was time to clear out the weeds, fertilize my little baby veggies, and then line the garden with newspapers and cover that with cedar mulch (my personal program for the curbing of the weeds). To be honest, parts of the garden weren't fully cleared out before the plants were put in and this weekend it was time to pay the (weedy) piper.

Between an hour of work yesterday and two hours this afternoon, things are looking pretty good. The newspapers have been laid out and the mulch spread on top. I'll need a few more bags of mulch to seal the deal, but I'm feeling pretty happy right now. This is the first garden I've planted by myself in the last nine years and I'm feeling proud of the work.

Now: show me the tomatoes and peppers!

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Love Letter to New Jersey

I have lived in four states ---- California, Tennessee, Nebraska, and New Jersey. I grew up in a smallish California town and went off to college in the big city of Los Angeles. I spent my grad school years in Nashville. When my son was born, I lived in a town in Nebraska with 5,000 people and 3 stoplights. Now I live in central New Jersey in a town of 10,000, sandwiched between other little towns. It's always been my experience that after a while I fall a little in love with the place that I am living. It's happened three times, so I think it's a dependable trait.

When I left Clovis for college at UCLA, Los Angeles and its surrounds represented excitement and opportunity beyond my wildest dreams. I learned to take the bus to new places and to love the city. I loved Westwood, the town at the foot of the university. I can still see its twinkling lights on a Friday night, and feel the freedom it represented.

In Tennessee, the first placed I moved after I left California, my love was immediate. Something about the thick sweet air and the relaxing pace just struck a chord with me. I lived there for five years and went back for a few summers after I had moved to the midwest. It's the only place I've ever been homesick for. That southern charm never faded for me and when I think of the idea of "home" it's Nashville that comes to mind.

It took me a while longer to love Nebraska, but I grew to appreciate the beauty of the wide view and the prairie sky, especially on a clear sunny day. The night sky was like my own personal IMAX experience. I never thought that the horizon could be so beautiful.

I came to New Jersey nearly 5 years ago, when my son was 2 years old. I like the small shaded towns strung together by busy highways (called routes by the locals...1, 22, 28, 206.... a seemingly endless chain). I enjoy the character of these towns, some with Italian bakeries, others with a Portuguese influence, and still more university towns. There are charming downtowns with shops and bookstores. There are deep dark woods to be found when I need them. Garden stores abound. It's the most multi-cultural place I have ever lived in.

I like the fact that my son can ride his bike in the streets of our town. I love our twice-yearly block parties and the fact that we can walk to the local theater to catch a movie. But close by are the bookstores, coffee houses, restaurants, museums, and lovely grocery stores that I loved about city-living. New Jersey has the small towns that people romanticize, without the smallness that can make those towns feel confining.

But most of all, New Jersey is the place my son knows best and it's home to him, reason enough to love it.

June 2

When it first happens, you mark the time in terms of hours and then days. 12 hours ago, she walked out the front door on her way to work. 24 hours ago, she was sleeping in this bed with me. 1 week ago, she took JT to Target for a quick errand. They bought socks and laundry soap. A month ago, we went out to breakfast for a family celebration of Mother's Day.

And then it's no longer a day or a week or a month and so you mark the time in larger chunks. I've done 48 loads of laundry since she left. I am slicing a tomato from the plants we put in the ground together just a few months ago. I've made 80 pots of coffee since she left. And then you need to buy a new package of coffee filters and you idly wonder, as you put them away, after 80 more pots of coffee, will it feel any better? Will I hurt less?

Soon the season changes and new markers appear. It's the first day of school and you take your son's picture, remembering that you did this last year with her by your side. You wake up on Christmas morning and your son is excited and happy and you think about the year before, when you played Santa together. Your 6 year old turns 7 and you remember the night he was born and how your twosome felt so complete on that night you became a threesome. You think to yourself: I still can't believe this has happened.

Today marks 365 days since she left. Most days, it hurts less than it did one year ago. But the pain is now a familiar landscape to me. Not comfortable, but present, always present. I wonder how will it feel at two years? At ten? Where will I be then? Who will I be then?

And today I hope that some day June 2nd will pass right by me with no memory of what this day means; of the chasm and loss it represents. Some day.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Real Life Conversations on the Last Day of School

Student: I just walked through the middle school and they just had Field Day.
It smells disgusting.

Me: A glimpse of your past and my future, all at once.

Student: Yuck.