Monday, March 31, 2008


Though I have been watching hours and hours of basketball in the last two weeks, I did manage to read some good books in the past month. The list is decent enough, when you consider that my idea of free time is to bake a batch of cookies while starting the laundry and supervising second grade homework (if second grade had been that hard when I was enrolled in school, there is no way I would have passed). Conveniently, we've reached the half point in the UNC-LSU game. So, with no further ado, here is the list of books I read this past month:

Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin: Three Cups of Tea
Lillian Jackson Braun: The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers
Frances Hodgeson Burnett: The Secret Garden
Miss Read: Farewell to Fairacre
John Mortimer: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murder
Kirby Larson: Hattie Big Sky

As the Quakers would say, Miss Read speaks my mind and I am always charmed by her tales of Fairacre, so I think that was my favorite for the month. But Rumpole was a very close second. They have in common a certain snide tone and their very British-ness. There is no comfort like a good story.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Boys Will Be Boys Edition

The backstory: A loud crashing sound is heard upstairs. Seconds later, the following conversation occurs.

JT: Mama?

Mama: Yeah?

JT: Did you hear that loud crashing sound?

Mama: Yes.

JT: Well, I just want you to know that I am okay.

Mama: Gotcha. Did you want to tell me what made that sound?

JT: Not really.

I always say: no blood, no foul. Some questions might be better left unanswered.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thoughts on a Garden

No matter the time of year, I find my garden to be a parable for the triumph of hope. The prep work of gardening in the spring is an investment of hard work and imagination; the payoff is not immediate. As I work, I picture the plants that will eventually flourish. In spring, my garden is a reminder that patience is a very good thing. The soil is dark, wet, and cold. There is plenty of waste that still needs removing, and it is sometimes hard to believe that things will not just grow, but will thrive in just a few short months.

I got a big start on my summer garden on the last weekend of spring break. In the sun, it was almost warm. I dug holes and then planted my dwarf fruit trees (it doesn't look like much now, but I'm hoping for some apples and pears next year), I turned over the soil in the patch reserved for vegetables and flowers, and I cleaned out my side flowerbed and planted bulbs for lots of summer day lilies, iris, acidanthera, freesia, anemone, and caladium blooms (75 bulbs are now in the ground, getting ready for summer).
Once I start digging in the soil, I recall the ironic dilemma of gardening: I spent hours devoted to getting some things to grow (the flowers and plants that I want, some more grass seed) and just as much time devoted to getting other things not to grow (weeds! crabgrass! dandelions!).

But the process has begun and though there is plenty of work yet ahead, there is also the contemplation of plenty to enjoy as well.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Behold Spring

Each year of my life (specifically, the years in which I have been walking), I've gotten a new pair of Keds in the spring. It's my personal celebration of the season. When I was a little girl, sometimes I would pick a color. But most often, my new Keds were white. Last year, in a sudden, bold change, I bought K-Swiss instead. But they were still white. The slight change felt good.

This year, I went all-out. The Spring sneakers are neither Keds nor are they white. I'm a rebel in (tough girl) khaki Keens.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

No Inglés

JT takes Spanish at school and he seems to enjoy it. Lately, when we practice math facts, he answers in Spanish. But his most innovative use of the language is when I ask him to do something and he'd rather not comply. When that happens, he gives me a confused look and then says, "no inglés."

So when he's instructed to brush his teeth, or wash his face, or wash his hands, or, or, or......he just says, " no inglés."

I've got trouble on my hands.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Women's Basketball: Live-Blogging Round II

On occasion, I have live-blogged political events. And tonight, for reasons that seem sensible at this very moment, JT and I have decided that we will live-blog the NCAA Women's Basketball tournament. It's the start of round II tonight.

First off, I'd just like to say a very public thank you to Orbitz, this year's sponsor of the women's tournament. I think that we all remember when Monistat brought us the women's basketball half-time report on ESPN. That was un-cool. So thanks are due to Orbitz.

And observation number two......what is the deal with the Baylor coach's BIG hair? I went to high school in the 1980s and so I know big hair when I see it. Memo to Kim Mulkey: less hair gel, sugar.

8 pm update
We're watching the LSU-Marist game. LSU is playing at home and with the inestimable Sylvia Fowles in their corner. She's impressive but even so, LSU is only leading by two points at the half.

Also, JT just showed me the crud and lint in his belly button. I say this with love: it is nasty. If he had a better mama, the child would be clean.

8:40 pm update
Operations have been moved upstairs for the basketball season treat: watching from Mama's nest. Tiger has joined us. Soon my human companion will tuck his booty into my bed and watch a bit more basketball. He'd like to stay up late to watch the Rutgers game (we are big fans of the Scarlet Knights). but first the boy has to brush his teeth....3 minutes of lost viewing time. As he put it, "that's brutal, Mama."
9:06 pm
Pitt has pulled into a winning lead over Baylor. Mulkey's hair still huge, despite 8 point loss. Lucy is in the mix.
9:31 pm
We just watched Andrea Riley deliver the win for Oklahoma State. It was an exciting moment for a team that two years ago was 0-16 and is now headed to the sweet 16......but all that adrenaline is not exactly conducive to getting your 8 year old asleep.

9:43 pm
Live-blogging is over as I require all of my attention to watch Rutgers show Iowa State how we play the game here in Jersey. That game will be starting shortly.

But it must be said as I end my live-blogging experiment that the Doris Burke, Kara Lawson, Stacey Dales, Trey Wingo combination that ESPN is running at the desk is great. I like them all and it's a huge improvement over the Mimi days.

Go Rutgers!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

An Easter report:

Between JT's excitement about the Easter egg hunt (there's much less tension in the hunt when you need not compete with a sibling),

lining up the colored eggs for one last admiring look before the deviled egg execution,

and the table ready with supper (fried chicken, funeral potatoes, fresh asparagus, deviled eggs, spring salad, homemade macaroni and cheese, hot rolls, plus cheesecake for dessert), I'd say we did Easter pretty well at Sassafras House.

Friday, March 21, 2008

March Madness

Last year, JT and I spent some quality time watching college basketball games in the NCAA tournament. This year, he's a more ferocious fan than ever. We stayed up late to watch the Bruins last night. Today, we delayed our trip to the grocery store until Western Kentucky got the job done.

It's most pleasant to have a basketball-watching companion, even if he does have an odd way of cheering while he's waiting for his team to shoot a free-throw.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Navigation Skills

In the nearly two years since I have been on my own, I've learned a lot of things about myself. But the primary lesson of the last two years is the necessity of being careful to navigate away from the prospect of pain. I've become adept at the process of avoidance.

A song comes on the ipod and reminds me of my former life. So I fast-forward through that tune. I pull out my collection of carved wooden bunnies and I remember past happy memories. Can I set those bunnies on the shelf without a daily reminder of how much things have changed? Mail addressed to her arrives in my mailbox and I remember when this was our home; a place where we once planned to grow old together. JT says or does something funny, and I want to share it with her but I know that I can't. Decisions --- small or large --- have to be made and I must do so on my own.

I try as much as possible to avoid anything that will cause me to recall past happiness. But I've grown weary of navigating life so as to avoid pain. Sometimes I wonder if the fear of an unexpected hurt is almost worse than the hurt itself. Hours in the day will pass by and I'm okay and then suddenly I am reminded of how my life has changed, and I'm not okay. I miss having a life complete with a past and a future. I miss loving and being loved in return. I wonder if I will ever achieve that again. Then I remind myself not to go down that path; because there are no answers and there are no guarantees.

And so I navigate away. I think I know where I've been. But I have no idea where I am headed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Tiger 1; Mama 0

Since the start of Spring Break, Tiger and I have enjoyed the same dispute every morning. I sit at the table, drinking my coffee, and working on my computer. Tiger sits on the floor by my chair and announces his desire to sit in my lap. If I say no, he complains loudly. If I consent, he hops onto my lap and then demands to be petted so that I can no longer use the keyboard because my hands are occupied.

I typed this entry with just one finger.

Tiger 1; Mama 0.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


The prompt at Sunday Scribblings this week is smorgasbord, by which they mean writers can choose any of the 102 prompts they've posted in the last two years. I looked at the list, let the ideas ramble about in my head, and have decided to write about my bed.

I think of my bed as my own personal nest. I've always felt that way. And my nest requirements are pretty exacting: soft sheets, lots of pillows, a good mattress that feels just cushy enough (I know it when I feel it), and the proper mix of covers. I like soft colors.....nothing too bold for me because, if it all works out, I'd like to sleep in this bed, not be energized. My current bed is pretty tall so I have to climb up on it. But I like that too: I feel like the princess and the pea (though there is no pea under my mattress).

I am a girl of exacting precision when it comes to the nest. The proper mix of covers varies with the seasons. In the very depth of winter, the proper mix is flannel sheets, a warm fleece blanket, down comforter in a flannel duvet cover, and on top of it all, my down quilt. That's the bed Lucy the cat is pictured in here.
With spring, the bed needn't be so warm, and I start scaling back the mix of covers. First to go is the extra down quilt, then the flannel sheets and flannel duvet cover get packed away. I re-mix the bed one layer at a time so that by the time summer arrives, I'll be down to poplin sheets and a nice heavy quilt (because mama likes her a/c). The picture below shows that bed.
I keep a few extra quilts on the shelf in my closet to add extra warmth as needed. As I think about it, the bed changes its mix nearly every month. And now I am wondering......perhaps what I identify as exacting precision is just being picky.

That's a post for another day.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Personal Best

JT slept in this morning until 10:30 am. Or, as he put it when he finally came downstairs, "I slept in. Are you happy?"

It would seem that well-rested = sassy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


While much of the national media (mainstream and otherwise) is chewing on the hypocrisy that ended New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's once-promising political career, I think that there is a more important lesson to be learned.

As Attorney General of the state of New York, Spitzer was a high profile enforcer of decency against corporate America. Having styled himself as a demanding reformer, he came to the state house in New York prepared to reform Albany's political system. It's a system badly in need of reform and Spitzer, a Democrat elected with a huge mandate (he won 70% of the vote in 2006), was determined to lead the change.

But he seemed to regard his electoral mandate as a license for arrogance. He deliberately alienated many of the members of the New York state legislature (on both sides of the aisle) and made no effort to build alliances with his fellow Democrats. That alienation was patently clear in the last 48 hours as the resounding silence of Spitzer's fellow Democrats was heard loud and clear: they would not put themselves on the line to defend Spitzer, a governor whom they found to be both autocratic and mean-spirited.

And who can blame them? Elected officials want to like and respect the people with whom they work; they want to work together to accomplish the goals of the organization. That's the case for all of us, I expect. In politics, a business predicated on the notion of doing better for the community, it is essential for elected officials to like and respect one another, no matter how much they disagree ideologically. From that foundation, political change can be accomplished (for example, President George H.W. Bush's 1989 budget deal, a bipartisan act of fiscal responsibility that helped usher in the prosperity of the 1990s ). Without it, there is animosity and partisanship that does not serve the public good. We may have a government, but it doesn't govern us well. I'm not saying that elected officials should not disagree. They do and they should. But they must disagree respectfully.

So in the end, sad as these circumstances must be for his family, it's a good thing for New York that Eliot Spitzer will no longer be the governor of the state. I may have liked his political views, but I did not like his style. The business of governing requires cooperation and compromise. Political officials who are liked and respected can do a lot for the people. And we should demand that level of decency in all of the people we elect.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Rice Krispie Treats

Today's Spring Break fun: Rice Krispie treats.

JT helped with the cooking.

And, he can confirm that they are tasty.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New and Improved Sin

Greed. Lust. Envy. Gluttony. Sloth. Anger. Pride.

The Seven Deadly sins. Serious business, these sins. According to the Catholic Church, commission of these sins will land your soul in mortal peril. That's hell, y'all, and I hear word that it's a rough neighborhood.

I note this because the Catholic Church is thinking of updating the Seven Deadly Sins. I heard a story about this on BBC World News and I must admit that it got me thinking. For one thing, the standard of the Seven Deadly Sins is pretty damned high. I think of myself as a fairly decent – dare I say, moral – person and I'm pretty sure that I commit one of these deadly sins on a weekly basis. Get your mind out of the gutter.........I'm speaking of anger, pride, and envy. I'd guess that most of us go down one of the seven deadly paths pretty regularly. So it strikes me that the update isn't necessarily a function of success as in, "Good news, folks. We've conquered the Seven Deadly Sins and it's time to up the ante." In other words, no one is making the argument that, having overcome the Seven Deadly Sins, we now require a new standard for good behavior. Thus the all-new, updated, Seven Deadly Sins.

But modern life demands progress and so......The new Seven Deadly sins are distinctly modern. In no particular order, they are:
- pollution
- obscene wealth
- drug abuse
- genetic modification
- experimentation on humans
- causing poverty
- causing social injustice

What is most striking about the updated Seven Deadly Sins is that they are thoroughly modern; sins not available in the 7th century world of the Seven Deadly v. 1. And whereas the original Seven Deadly Sins were largely about individual behavior, the updated sins are about community or group behavior. Because, unless I miss my mark, it's nearly impossible to cause poverty on your very own. Chances are good that no single one of us can be blamed for pollution, though we all likely contribute.

All day long as I thought about sin (and I wasn't alone.......what's the deal with Elliot Spitzer?), I wondered if the original 7 deadlies wouldn't be able to accommodate the new and improved sins. Isn't the sin of obscene wealth a function of greed, gluttony, and pride? At the same time, where does the good old-fashioned sin of lust fit in with the new list? Is lust no longer sinful?

Though I understand the impulse to update, I think that I'm just not persuaded that we need an all-new Seven Deadly sins. In fact, I think that the notion of sin may very well be the problem. So in my home we just use the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. It's timeless, covers the individual and the community, and I think that it does the trick quite nicely.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


At the moment, I have two pressing problems. Problem number one is the water in my basement, the outcome of recent torrential rains. There's not much water in the basement (say compared to last April's 3 feet), but enough to require use of the 12 gallon shop-vac every couple of hours. The rain has stopped and the sun is shining so the ground is drying, meaning the water can stay in the ground rather than my basement. It's a manageable situation, really.

Problem number two is the disgusting smell of wet cardboard. Like problem number one, this one will go away once the water departs. I am also in the process of removing all cardboard from places that might get wet, on-going project at Sassafras House......and one not particularly enjoyable for my resident inmate.

What I would most like is a basement that never gets wet. Near as I can tell, this will require either a move to high ground or thousands of dollars worth of home improvement. Neither seem likely at the moment.

So I'll settle for less of the funky smell.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Old-Fashioned Fun

Well before it was cool and people wrote best-selling books about it, I was a pretty old-fashioned mama. Old-fashioned in the sense that I believe that kids should play outside, running around powered by their imaginations and a few sticks. I have largely avoided the over-scheduling of my son's childhood and I am proud of that fact.

It was in this spirit of good old-fashioned fun that JT and I headed off to the Ringling Brothers Circus this afternoon. Though it was in a modern arena and there was plenty of the modern crap that such arenas feature, the circus remains an amazing assortment of performances that are wondrous when seen from the eyes of an 8 year old. The acrobats and the tightrope climber; the tigers and the trained elephants ; the silly clowns blowing bubbles.....all of it was perfect for an 8 year old, bringing a steady vocabulary of oohs and ahhs.
The cotton candy probably helped.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Science Fair

It's Science Fair Day in the lower school and this morning JT set up his project. There are plenty of actual scientists in the parent population at our school, so many of the projects will be impressive. While Kid X splits the atom and Kid Y is running his double-blind experiment to cure heart disease, here at Sassafras House we debated what to do.

I'm a social scientist (read: not an actual scientist) and so the assignment is not exactly my strong suit. The chance that I can clone our cats in my ample weekend hours seemed slim. So we went for the sympathy card: We studied broken bones.

We got some books and learned how bones heal and then we got copies of JT's before and after x-rays. We included some pictures of his various casts. JT is pleased with his project and it turned into a very nice remembrance of his broken leg.

Now I'll just sit back and wait for MIT to phone with the scholarship offer.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Brave Boy on a Bike

We've had a taste of spring this week and on the way home from school today JT suggested that we go bike riding. Six months ago he broke his leg while riding his bicycle, so I was thrilled to hear him make the proposal. I eagerly accepted the offer.

As it turns out, my bike had a flat tire that was beyond my repair abilities, so I promised to walk beside him as he rode. He confessed, "I'm a little scared," but then he faced that fear and rode right on down the sidewalk. I couldn't be prouder.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: College Edition

The backstory: for all of February, JT worked on his book report about Booker T. Washington. He enjoyed reading the book but he did not find the detail work of the report as engaging. Sunday night, he was finishing up the project by illustrating the front cover; drawing a picture of Booker T. Washington when the following conversation ensued.

JT: Why do I have to color a picture for my cover?

Mama: Because that's what the instructions say you should do. Plus, you like coloring.

JT: Yes, I do, when I get to choose what I make in my picture.

Mama: Well, this won't hurt you.

JT: Maybe. But it will it help prepare me for college?

When he finds out that college involves completing schoolwork – much of it without the help of your mama – that may be a deal-breaker.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

What Not to Do: Customer Service

I was out shopping this past weekend and I stopped into this store to try on some bras. Now it must be said that trying on bras is one of my least favorite shopping chores. The customer service at Store X didn't make it any better.

I was headed to the dressing room with a couple of bras in my hand when the sales woman swooped down on me, removed the bras from my hand and showed me just how they should be carried (don't collapse the cups! disaster will no doubt ensue!). I felt like an adolescent being chastised by a teacher. I said nothing and went to try on the bra. And all I can say is that the bra could have made me as firm and perky as a teenage girl and still I wouldn't have bought the damn thing from the store.

March 1st: My Tree

I was up early on Saturday morning; in time to see the sun rise. When I'd gone to bed on Friday night, snow was falling and I had expected a silent cold morning. But at sunrise, as I stood in my living room looking out at the tree in my backyard with a cup of hot coffee in my hands, I could hear birds chirping. Overnight, the snow had begun to melt. My big tree is yet still but, like me, he can hear that spring is just around the corner.