Friday, February 29, 2008

Day 29: Thing-a-Day Mission Complete

My goal for the thing-a-day project was to create something every day of the month, or to spend 20-30 minutes a day working on something creative. Some of my projects were familiar things (cooking, writing, taking pictures to illustrate my blog); some were not daily events (making cards, other things with paper, and my bulletin board at school). Some days, it was hard to get in a creative place and some days it was easy. I liked the challenge of getting myself to think in a new way, though sometimes the daily requirement created anxiety.....not exactly conducive to creativity. But, as I predicted when I started out on the 1st of the month, being mindful of creativity is a very good thing for me and even without the thing-a-day element, well worth holding on to.

Check out the work of other participants in thing-a-day at And, if you're so inclined, leave a comment for one of the participants.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Day 28: Spring Break Plans

JT and I sat down for supper tonight with a sheet of paper and we made a list of the things we'd like to do for spring break. Last year, we spent a week at Disneyworld and that's hard to top. But the beauty of being 8 is well, that you are 8 and so he was full of ideas. So far, we've agreed to go see a movie at the theater in town (the one that serves pizza for the kids and beer for the mamas); invite a friend for a sleepover; spend a day playing games on the Wii (read: Mama takes a drubbing); rent a Davy Crocket movie; and a visit to the Natural History museum in New York.

It's nice to have a I just hope we can score some warm weather so I can wear my bunny t-shirt.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Days 26 & 27: Ribbons & Such

I've been thinking about some ways to creatively wrap packages, using some of the charming tags I scored from etsy. I like the slightly old-fashioned and simple look of brown paper very much. Yesterday, when I had some free time to think, I settled on what I wanted to do. After school today JT and I stopped by Michaels's to see if they had what I was looking for. Bingo.

I am a sucker for stripes and polka dots. Put them on $1 ribbon and I'm in. So tonight I made a card and wrapped up a package with my new supplies. The picture doesn't really do the package justice; I think it turned out very nicely. And everyone loves to receive a package in the mail, so I've got that in my corner.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Day 25: Get Well Soon Card

I had a crummy day today, but one of my students had a worse day because she slipped on the ice in the morning and fractured her ankle. Just writing it makes me wince.

Lately, my student K has been showing me some terrific color collage art work she's been making. So it seemed fitting that I share something I made with her. I laid out my supplies and got to work.
To combat the icy cold, I picked out some spring paper for her get-well-soon card. I went with a yellow gingham background and a second layer with a green floral print.
Then some white daisies added good cheer. Clearly, I wasn't looking to be subtle.
It's out in the mailbox waiting for the postman to deliver it to her.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Day 24: Bunny T-Shirt

There is a back story to today's project. I found this brown bunny appliqué on etsy, and I had to have it. When I asked JT if he wanted me to make him a t-shirt with the bunny on it, his response was immediate. "I will not wear it to school," he said.

As I know no boundaries of good taste, I made myself a bunny t. And I plan to wear my bunny t-shirt to school. So there.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Snow Day (a report in words and pictures)

Here in central New Jersey, we got our first decent snow of the season and JT was delighted. He'd been waiting all winter for a day such as this and he was determined to enjoy it in full. Snow boy was out the door at 9:30 for his first tour of snow play. Bad guys were slain, snowballs were made (and eaten!), and then he sledded down the hill in the front yard.

It is a universal law of winter that there are never enough dry mittens, no matter how many your Mama has washed and has at the ready.

By 12:15, with all of his mittens sopping wet, the boy was ready for a break. He brought his pink cheeks into the house and shed his snowy clothes.

While the snow gear dried and warmed in the dryer, lunch was devoured and the boy warmed up under the fuzzy blanket.

Round II found Mama joining the fun. While I shoveled the walk and the driveway, JT made snowballs for throwing. Uh oh.

The snow ball arsenal was unloaded on Mama, who reports that JT's aim is getting better.

Neighbor Tom got to work with his snow blower, helping all of us to clear the snow from our driveways.

We made a snow monster with his very own snowy mountain.

JT ate more snow.

And there was more sledding.

After hot baths and supper, cookies were made (peanut butter and snickerdoodles).

Finally, after it got dark, we had a walk in the snowy night. We call it creeping and for me it's the best part of a snowy day. I always hope that it will be a quiet stroll but JT entertained himself by throwing his body in every snowdrift along the way.

Not surprisingly after all this fun, the boy was sleepy.
It was a very good day.

All You Can Play Snow Buffet

We awakened this morning to a good 3 inches of snow, with more coming down at a steady pace. We expect a final total of 5-7 inches. It's our first major snow of the school year and therefore its bounty included a snow day. After a leisurely breakfast in his pajamas, JT took a look outdoors, exchanged the jammies for snow pants and announced, "It's an all you can play snow buffet."


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Let's Just Call it Creative Teaching

Without a doubt, the best part of teaching American Government to high school students is the three weeks we spend studying the evolution of civil rights and civil liberties. Walking our way through the incorporation of the Bill of Rights to the states is, I hope, enlightening for the students. I know that it is amusing for me.

I always find that the first amendment is chock full-o-fun for kids and grown-ups alike. I explain that students may wear black arm bands at school to protest the Vietnam War (Tinker v. Des Moines) but may not carry posters that read "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" (Morse v. Frederick) as it contravenes the school 's anti-drug policy in Juneau, Alaska. I threaten to line them all up for a mandatory urine drug test a la the ruling in Hazelton v. Kuhlmeier.

Then we move on to freedom of religion and I get to tell the story of the woman who founded a religion whereby she was a goddess and worshippers ---- all men ---- were required to pay her to have sex with her. She called it a spiritual odyssey. The state called it prostitution. High school eyes widen and then they laugh.

The prep school kids always get a great big laugh out of the idea of student-led prayer before football games in Sante Fe, Texas. The Supreme Court was not nearly as amused when they ruled against that practice in Santa Fe v. Doe.

Soon after that, I spend nearly an entire day defining obscenity as did the Supreme Court in their ruling in Miller v. California. Yesterday, one of my students announced that conversations with his little brother ALWAYS lack spiritual, literary, scientific and political value. He wondered if that made them obscene.

And today, I patiently explained to dogmatic E that cross-burning didn't qualify as symbolic speech, while the rest of the class just begged me to suspend E's 1st amendment rights. They'd read the precedent, you see, and were eager to give it a try.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Chalk Design

Today's creativity was a little chalkboard fun that JT and I designed in my classroom after school. It's a lot of color swirled together to make a wavy design that runs all the way across the chalkboard in the back of my class.

JT celebrated the creation with a lollipop while I made his picture. Day 20 is complete.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day 19

I re-arranged my bulletin board today. It's nice to have some new things to look at. I've gotten to the point that I'm now looking at things and thinking, "hmmmmm, this will look good on my bulletin board," and then setting aside the item. I've enjoyed it so much that I think that I will continue to change-up the display even when my one month creativity experiment is over.

Update: Here is a photo of the view from my desk.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Day 18: Home Style

For months now, I have been talking about getting a cabinet for my dining room to store homework supplies, plug in my laptop each night, and otherwise hide crap in a neat and easy fashion. Today, my mom and I went out looking and finally settled on the right cabinet. I bought some new knobs to fix it up and tomorrow I will clean it up and get it organized. I feel tidier just thinking about it.

I also went to website and ordered up 6 samples for the rug I want to get for my living room. I've been intrigued by flor for a while now. The carpets are module and so they can be moved and re-arranged (and cleaned!) with ease. Plus, they're all environmentally friendly, which is also pretty darn happy. My samples will wing their way to me in 72 hours and within the week I will have decided on a carpet for the living room.

On top of it all, I made a first-class supper for the family: garlic chicken cutlets, roasted brussells sprouts, garlic-smashed potatoes, and homemade biscuits.

Martha Stewart's got nothin' on me.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Best Creation (to date)

One reason that I chose to participate in the Thing-a-Day urge to creativity is that it happened in February. February is the month in which my son was born, and though it's been 8 years, I still remember the feeling of pregnant waiting in the first half of the month, the joy of his birth on the 17th, and then the trial-by-fire back half of the month, when I was a boy's mama for the very first time.

Perhaps as a result of this experience, I regard February as a transformative month: everything in my life changed in February 2000. February has been good to me and it seemed like a good idea for me to be good to February. Today's creativity is a few thoughts about my life as a parent.

When you're a kid, birthdays are great fun and so exciting. You don't really think about what the birthday means to your mama. JT's birthday means so much to me. It's a chance to celebrate my son and also to think about my first few weeks as a mama, when I was alternately joyous and anxious. I worried about EVERYTHING. These days I'm (mostly) more relaxed about things, more confident in my ability to know what my son needs, more able to trust my parenting instincts.

I think of February 17th as the best day in my life. I know that I am the person that I am today because of my son. He makes me laugh and he reminds me of what truly matters in life. I know that he keeps me strong, even when I don't want to be strong anymore. He reminds me of what matters most in this world.

Happy Birthday, sweet boy. Your mama loves you very much.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Creative Insanity

Tomorrow my boy turns 8. Tonight, there are 8 boys sleeping in my house. We're hosting a sleepover and though I'm pretty sure there are only 8 boys in the house it sounds like a thundering herd of something fast and irrational.
Which, come to think of it, is exactly what they are.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Day 15: Birthday Eve

The birthday party preparations continue at Sassafras House. We are in the full-court press to prepare for the all-boy sleepover. The ice cream cake was secured this afternoon and tonight we went out to get the party favors. When we came home, JT put the treat bags together. Getting him to fall asleep was a bit of a challenge, calling up all of my powers of creativity.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Day 14: Cupcake

Today's creativity was finishing up the projects I had gotten started earlier this week.

Grandma and Grandpa flew into town today. I made soup for supper (I had completed some of the prep work last night) and there were tiny Valentine's treats for everyone at the table.

Then, we got out the sprinkles and the chocolate icing. The cupcakes are now ready for JT to share with his classmates.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Scattered Creativity

My parents arrive in town tomorrow. They are here to help celebrate JT's 8th birthday and we're both pretty excited. The plan for this evening was to finish up some last minute preparations for the visit ---- a bit of cleaning, a load or two of laundry, washing the boy, making a few more cards, starting the prep for tomorrow night's supper.

But first we went to watch the school's last home wrestling match (that's a sport I still don't understand.....I spend the whole match experiencing one of two very distinct emotions.....Emotion 1: "oh, please don't hurt one another" or Emotion 2: "crack some bones.")

Then we came home for our chores, all of which were temporarily put on hold with the discovery of water in the basement. We had snow last night followed by rain all day today. Frozen ground is just not so good at sucking in the water and basement took on its share of the responsibility.

Happily, the water wasn't more than 60 gallons and the fill rate is pretty slow, so my 12 gallon shop vac could handle things.
And since one can't stand around all night waiting to fill the shop vac, I got to work on my list of chores. I made some more cards.
And did a little prep for tomorrow evening's supper (tortilla soup......a taste of California in New Jersey...don't want the parents to get homesick)
And there's always some laundry to fold.

All is ready, more or less. And I'm tired, so I'll tuck myself into bed with my book and my Tylenol PM.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

World View

My years living in the South imprinted one thing on my brain: all soda is called Coke. From there, one distinguishes as to what kind of Coke, as in the following conversation:
Question: "Would you like a Coke?"
Answer: "Yes."
Question: "What kind of Coke?"
Answer: "Dr. Pepper."

So it is that all soda in my home is called a Coke. And, in fact, mine is a Coca-Cola household so, when you ask for Coke, you get.......Coke. All of this was made perfectly clear as JT and I drove to school this morning.

Just past the first Dunkin Donuts on our 8 mile drive (there are 3 directly in the way to gotta love Jersey), a Pepsi truck pulled out in front of us. It was giant with PEPSI written all over it. And what did my son say?

"Mama, do you think that Pepsi truck will just drive on over to our house and drop off some Coke for us?"

"Maybe so," I responded with a smile.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Creative Supper

I made pancakes for supper tonight. That might not seem creative to most people, but it's creative for me.
Ever since I became a single mama, my sister has been steadily advising me to lower my standards. In the (obviously imaginary) ideal world of Sassafras Mama, a tasty homemade supper is put on the table each and every night. As the Sassafras Sister and any number of reasonable people have often suggested, it's perfectly acceptable to fall short of this bar.

There was a faculty meeting after school today and it ran a bit late. Then JT's homework sucked up more time than usual (geometry is kicking my bootie). It is true that I could have skipped my workout and made the planned supper (homemade pizza) but that would cause the earth to spin off its axis and so.......pancakes it was.

They were tasty and the boy was most delighted by this turn of events.

So I guess that everybody won.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Creative Machine

Today was a busy day, creatively speaking. Each year I make JT a card for his birthday and I got that completed this afternoon. I always enjoy making that card and writing him a note. I hope that the cards and the notes will be a nice memory for him when he grows up.

This evening, he and I got started on the birthday cupcakes (chocolate, of course) that he will bring to school share with his classmates on Friday. We made a lot.......because if you bring extras to the other teachers in the lower school, you get treats from them. So JT has cupcakes for all of the second grade and then some. They went into the freezer tonight and on Thursday, when Grandma comes to town, we'll frost and decorate them.

The Shape of Things

JT and I finished the geometric shapes for his school project. I had been annoyed with his other mother for not getting this done when the assignment came her way.....though not surprised that she dropped the parallelogram (as it were). But he and I had great fun finishing up the project, which he regarded as something magical. As the flat cut-out paper shapes were folded and taped and made three dimensional, he was delighted.

When we finished, I took this picture of the boy and his shapes. And when I saw that smile, I was happy that this assignment was mine.
Update, Sunday evening: Thanks to everyone for their kind comments. I'm just checking in tonight and saw all of your comments at once. Wow, do I have some terrific felt like a cavalry of very powerful women riding to my rescue. So thank you for the able rescue. That made me smile.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Card Play

Between the upcoming Valentine's Day and JT's 8th birthday, there is a great demand for homemade cards around my house. So I got started on some this afternoon and I expect to be in heavy production mode all weekend long.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Tortured by Tunes

A few weeks ago, I heard an NPR story that has stuck in my mind. It was a story about people who have a neurological disorder such that they hear music in their brains all of the time. I occasionally get a song or tune stuck in my head (I call it being tortured by tunes) but I cannot imagine hearing music all of the time. It would be your own hellish soundtrack.

I thought of that story this morning as I attended a teacher's workshop held in a large lecture hall at a local university. The speakers were using a microphone that was picking up a radio station. The music was faint but persistent. The first song I could make out was Guns and Roses singing "Sweet Child of Mine." But here was the weird part: no one else at my table acknowledged the music. We just sat there listening to the Dean of Something ramble on while Axl Rose quietly crooned.

This late in the day, I really have no idea what the speakers said. All I can hear is Guns and Roses.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


My second grader has just started a math unit on shapes and fractions. To get the children thinking spatially about shapes, they were asked to cut out some paper patterns and put the shapes together. Since the instructions specifically told us the children would need our help completing the assignment, I knew the task would be a challenge.

The assignment came home yesterday, the day that JT sees his other mom, and so I sent it off with the two of them hopeful that she would get the project started. Not surprisingly, that was a futile act of hope.

So tonight, we got started. Honestly, though I feared that it would be unpleasant it turned out to be fun. First we looked at the pattern.
Then we put our little cone shape together. We've got four more shapes to make before the project is due on Monday. Expect final pictures later this week.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bulletin Board

I'm a history and government teacher and, like most teachers, my classroom has some posters and displays. I've a poster of presidents, some bumper stickers for presidential candidates, and loads of maps. Behind my desk I have some of my seven year old's artwork and some pictures.

To the left of my desk is a bookcase with a nice flat panel on the side. Only the person sitting at my desk can see it and so that's my space. Last week I got some floral magnets and today I put some things up that I want to look at ---- a picture of JT and me, a postcard from blackapple at etsy, and some pretty scraps of paper. I plan to change the display every week this month and it's fun for me to think about the other things I will place up there.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Thinking About Voting

I live in a Super Tuesday state and for months I have been preparing to go the polls and cast my Democratic primary ballot for John Edwards. I'm a liberal Democrat, a single mama, well-educated and gay......not exactly Edwards' core demographic, so I guess my choice of him as my candidate was surprising.

In fact, for a woman whose formative teenage political experience was the selection of Geraldine Ferraro as Walter Mondale's 1984 running mate; who attended a Jesse Jackson Rainbow Coalition rally in 1988, you'd think that I'd be a firm supporter of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. In fact, I like them both a great deal and I'd be proud to call either one of them my party's nominee.

And yet, I wanted to be an Edwards voter tomorrow. Though I'm a California native and currently live on the east coast, I lived in Nashville, Tennessee for five years and that time convinced me that Southerners understand race and poverty and the intersection of the two in the United States. I guess that people who live elsewhere understand them as well, but not as innately as Southerners. And so I liked Edwards because of his advocacy for the poor, his interest in the left-behind in American society, and his track record at the two. His healthcare policy was the most flushed out of all the Democratic candidates. He understood that a jobs program is a complicated and necessary thing for those left behind by a modernizing economy. He was articulate and thoughtful; I figured he could pull along a southern state or two come the general election. He was my first choice. But it was a luxurious choice, confident with the knowledge that my back ups were also excellent candidates.

And now we come to election day and it's time for me to select a back up candidate. Public opinion data collected by the Pew research Center suggests that Edwards supports have mostly gone over the Obama camp, so I'll start there. I've been a fan of Obama since he first ran for the Illinois Senate seat he currently holds. For the last few years, I've played his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention in my political sciences classes. I played it as a sample of powerful political rhetoric and the appeal of new ideas. I like what Obama says; I like his political track record; I like his promise of a new way of conducting politics in Washington; I like the way he inspires young voters. I like the idea that my seven year old son may come of political age while an African-American occupies the White House. I think that Obama is easily electable; in fact, I think that he matches up best against John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

And yet, I'm not sure. Because the fact is that I like Hillary Clinton as well. She's got a proven track record of legislative accomplishment, especially on issues related to children. She's whip smart and she understands the political system. She's a woman in a nation in which 52% of us are women though we have never elected a woman president. I worry that a certain portion of the nation excoriates Clinton for no good reason ----- that proportion of the electorate whom I would call the "anyone but Hillary" group.

I think that Hillary Clinton has received astoundingly poor treatment by the national media and I think it's because of her gender. In 1992, when her husband ran for the presidency she was seen a first lady who would be too powerful; too influential. When her husband had a very public affair with a much younger woman, she was hectored for staying married to the man who was the father of her child. Now, as a successful and powerful elected official in her own right, the media asks if electing Hillary is just going to get us another eight years of a Bill Clinton White House.


I am reminded of the fact that women don't serve in elected office at anything close to the same rate as men. Women make 75 cents to every dollar earned by an American man. Women and their children are more likely to be poor then men. Women care for the nation's children and the nation's elderly. Yet American women are not as interested or as engaged in politics as men. A 2006 study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed that while 42% of men characterized themselves as "very interested" in government and public affairs, only 34% of women said the same. Men are demonstrably more knowledgeable about politics than women and that bothers me.

I know that the one sure way to get women more interested in their government and its policies is to elect more women to political office. In states like California, Maine, and Washington where both of their members of the U.S. Senate are women, women are more engaged in the political process. They are more interested and more knowledgeable; they are more politically effective. When girls and women see a government that includes and respects them, they expect to participate and be included.

I can't lose tomorrow: either of the Democratic candidates is an historical first for my nation and my party. Both of them will show my son that any child in America can grow up to be the president. Both of them are ready to lead and serve my nation and my world.

But in the name of sisterhood and solidarity I will cast my ballot for Hillary Clinton.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Creative Cooking

It's Sunday and I'm on a mission to be creative. Taking the afternoon to cook is one of my favorite ways to be creative. I find it relaxing and I enjoy the end product: a good meal for the people sitting at my table. Mexican food is on today's menu. I'm making refritos frijoles (refried beans), chicken tacos, and guacamole.

The chicken that I'll make for this evening's tacos is a basic chicken that I use as a base for any Mexican dish ----- tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, or taquitos can all be prepared with this chicken. Preparing it is easy, but it does take time and that makes it the perfect task for a Sunday afternoon. I begin by simmering the chicken breasts in chicken broth with some fresh ground pepper. I simmer the chicken in a saucepan for nearly an hour, then remove the chicken to cool, reserving the broth.
When the chicken has cooled, I shred it and then cook it again, this time in skillet with the reserved broth, some more black pepper, finely chopped onions, and chopped jalapeno peppers. The goal here is to simmer the shredded chicken until is absorbs the broth. This creates juicy, moist chicken and the jalapeno gives it a little heat.
For tacos, I fry up corn tortillas, and set out the tortillas with the fixings for tacos and tostadas: the chicken, of course; refried beans; shredded lettuce; salsa; shredded monterey jack cheese; and guacamole. Creativity that tastes good.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


One of the things that I most appreciate at my school is the way that the students are encouraged to be creative. From pre-K all the way until the 12th grade, the students have the opportunity to take art, music, and other classes that indulge the creative sides of their brain. My 7 year old often relaxes at the end of the day by making pictures. I love that he does that so easily. Sometimes I'm a little envious.

I don't think of myself as particularly creative, though in the last few years I have worked harder to add some creativity in my world. It's been a gradual process, and I've used a lot of different outlets (making cards, writing, arranging things in my home, gardening, cooking, taking pictures). So joining the folks over at Thing-a-Day feels exciting and a bit risky, but like a natural evolution in the process.

The goal is to spend at least 30 minutes a day being creative and then posting the results of the day's product over at thing-a-day; my creative product will also be post on my blog. I will indulge in some newly creative activities, as well as some familiar forms of creativity. As has been my habit, I will broadly define creativity.

Today's posting is today's creative act: actually thinking about creativity in my life, and organizing a plan for the projects that I will complete this month. Spontaneity is not my strong suit and, in fact, sometimes makes me uncomfortable, so my creativity this month will largely be planned. I hope to find some spontaneity as I create, but we'll just have to see what happens. Mostly, I want to take some time this month to be mindful about creativity.

Friday, February 01, 2008

February 1: The Tree

I wouldn't say that we've had a mild winter, because we have had some very cold days and nights. But as of February 1st, we haven't had any serious snow in my part of New Jersey. There have been a few days with a dusting and one day it seemed we might get some ice, but so far there hasn't been a big snow.

No sledding, no snowmen, no snow forts in the backyard. It's only February, so we're not out of the cold yet. And when I took a picture of my tree this morning, the sky looked like snow might come our way. The clouds felt close, and heavy; the air was cold. A few hours later, a cold rain began. But at 34 degrees, the rain won't turn into snow.

The big tree looks stalwart in the cold. Still and silent the tall limbs are just marking time, waiting for some snow to drift down upon it. Or maybe, it's just waiting for the start of spring.