Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Spring Rain

My friend T has a parenting philosophy that goes something like this: say yes whenever possible. It's an approach that I wholeheartedly embrace. Life is just better if you get to do some things that seem like they will be fun, even if your mama thinks it's not particularly sensible. Thus it was that JT finished up his homework yesterday afternoon, pulled on his rain gear (including the pirate rain boots) and headed outside to play in the rain.

An hour later, he was a wet and muddy little boy. Sopping wet, actually. And when he'd successfully vanquished the bad guys who occasionally live in our back yard, he came back inside the house, shed his dripping clothes and muddy boots and promptly slipped into a warm (indoor) shower.
If there is one thing that a freshly washed, clean smelling little boy needs, it's freshly baked cookies. So I fired up the mixer and while the spring rain continued to fall, I stirred up a batch of cinnamon sugar butter cookies. JT helped, of course.....someone had to lick the beater.
Not a bad way to start the week.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Thanks to an NPR story, I recently discovered that Walmart sells more guns than any other gun retailer in America. Frankly, I found it pretty startling. You can see a wide-array of their guns and ammo stock on line. That smiley little low price dude is hiding a dark, dark secret.

I happen to be pretty radical on the question of guns: I don't think that we should have them. And though I wasn't shopping at Walmart very often, you can be darn sure that not a dime of my money will go to them or any of their subsidiaries now that I know about the guns.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


For a couple of years, some of the boards on my front porch have needed repair. I didn't think that we were living in squalor, exactly (though my father might disagree), but the squeak and give of the porch boards made it clear that a fix was in order. I knew that I had finally reached the repair point when I rode my bike around town and experienced envy of other people's porches.

When my parents visited in February, dad was blunt: 'This is New Jersey. If someone gets hurt, you're going to get sued." He had a point.

So the repairs have begun. JT was delighted with the emerging hole in the porch, and he sought to balance across the beams as we admired the gaping yaw of the boardless section of the porch.
I like the safe cover that has been set up as the temporary measure as the repairs move forward.
Thinking about the endgame of this process, I've been looking up porch paints and (more importantly) considering what sort of flower baskets the porch will require this year.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT

The backstory: We've just arrived at school and we're walking across the pavement to the sidewalk in front of the school. JT spots a crushed pencil in the street.

JT: Look at that, mama.

Mama: Bummer. Someone is going to be missing a pencil.

JT: Bummer? Mama, that's awesome.

He proceeds to bend over and inspect the pencil in all its crushed glory. It must be an 8 year old boy thing.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

First Cut

The combination of spring warmth and rain has left me with thick lush grass in my yard. I should have cut the grass last weekend, but I just didn't get it done. So yesterday afternoon I set myself to that task. I always enjoy the first mow of the year. Everything is lush and green and the smell is amazing. First, of course, JT had to collect his stick collection from all over the yard and store it safely away. That task accomplished, I set to work.
This early in spring, things are changing daily. My lilac is in bud, about to spread its scent so that we smell it each morning when we step onto the porch. My hydrangea bushes are covered in small green buds that look promising. The dogwood tree has its first few flowers. And the lush row of hostas lined up against the garage seem to grow larger every day. The grape arbor is old and takes its time turning green. But, as I cut the grass around each of my new fruit trees I saw that they are beginning to bud and blossom.
My garden patch is ready for planting and this weekend, I will start my vegetable garden and put out some rows of zinnia for summer enjoyment. There is still some time before fresh tomatoes will grace my table, but the promise is there.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

In Grave Danger of Becoming Laverne

I have always liked things with initials. I often sign my name using just my initials. In my notes to myself, I identify my students by their initials. Monogrammed items always make me happy. I call my son by his initials. What more can I say?

So, when I saw these letters made from vintage fabric at etsy........it was love at first sight.

The dots. The gingham. The tiny floral prints. The round font of the letters. The sweet shapes. All of it called out to me. I visited them for several days in a row, planning project after project that would require them to come and live in my home.

I wanted to make a UCLA t-shirt. Then I thought maybe one t-shirt with an S on it would be cute. And then I liked the bird in blue gingham. Every t-shirt in my closet would benefit from a little sprucing up, I decided. The hazard signs were everywhere, but I couldn't stop myself. I am 40 going on 5 and in grave danger of becoming Laverne.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

When Technology is (Temporarily) Not My Friend

Over the weekend, my elliptical trainer acted a little odd......the left pedal was loose and getting looser by the mile, reducing my workout joy and causing me all sorts of anxiety. I have an extended warranty on the machine, but if it isn't working...........there goes my sanity. It's a pretty simple formula that functions like this: daily workout = sane mama. Changes to the formula are unwelcome (and unwise).

As if that wasn't trouble enough, yesterday morning my alarm clock failed in its most essential duty: alarm. I've sensed trouble brewing on that front, so I can't say that I was surprised. Still, when the chirping birds and sunlight began to brighten my room in the morning, I knew that I would have to fit clock replacement into my already busy day. Most days, I'm one of those weirdly oriented people who can wake up when I need to, simply by thinking about it as I fall asleep, so a clock is mostly a formality. But, the Sassafras in-brain alarm has been known to fail, so a clock is a necessary formality.

During a class break, I ran to a local store and scored a shiny new clock. Among its many features, it has a dimmer switch on the light-up numbers, so I no longer need fear rolling over and being blinded by my clock. But the most important event of my day was when my friend sb came over with her tools and, within minutes, had tightened my loose screws (figuratively and literally). And so the elliptical runs smoothly again.

As will the rest of my week.......one hopes.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Several years back, my friend J introduced me to scrapbooking and I've been a convert ever since. It's an excuse to be creative (with paper and stickers! it's like I'm 8 again), with plenty of opportunity to record stories about my boy, so really, it's no surprise that I enjoy it so much.

All of my scrapbooking was about my family, and when my family got suddenly smaller, it was very difficult for me to return to the books. I'd look at pictures of the three of us and wonder, "was she getting ready to leave when this picture was made?" I'd wonder if the happiness I saw in the photos was a lie and I'd ponder when the deceptions began.

And then there was the obvious irony of the fact that I tended to scrapbook major life moments.......there just aren't any stickers to mark the day that your family falls apart. So, though my friend E suggested I take up ironic scrapbooking, instead I just stopped.

I still collected pictures, paper, and stickers. In the abstract, I thought about the things in my life with JT that was worthy of recording. I took to making cards, which didn't require me to relive painful moments. This blog was an enormously helpful creative outlet. But soon enough, JT started to ask why I wasn't making the books anymore. His missed looking at the pages as a record of his life.

So when J, who started this all, invited me to join her at a scrapbook day this weekend, it seemed like a good idea to take the plunge. JT was away for the weekend and I had last made pages in my book in February 2006; three months before everything suddenly changed. So my first task on Saturday was to record memories from 2006. I figured that it might be difficult, but the only way through it is to do it. And so I did.

Ten hours and twenty pages later (!), I've got myself to the summer of 2007. I have plans to finish up 2007 and head on into 2008. When he came home on Sunday afternoon, JT was thrilled to look at all the new pages and I was happy to see his enjoyment. Though it was sometimes a painful reminder of how much my life has changed difficult, I'm glad that I have re-claimed it.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Surreal Moment

The most surreal moment of my weekend may have been the conversation I overheard when a number of the women at the scrapbooking day I attended announced that the next time they got married, they were going to get a wife, so they could get some help around the house.

I wanted to say, "I had a wife and they aren't all they're cracked up to be." But I didn't because, hey, how do you scrapbook that sort of moment?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Night

Since I became a single parent on a Friday afternoon nearly two years ago, I've found Friday nights to be a time of loose ends for me. When there were three of us, Friday was a family night; an evening to grab a pizza and some beer for supper, relax and contemplate the weekend before us. But now that I'm on my own, come Friday night I usually find myself exhausted from my week of single parenting. It's no longer a leisurely opportunity to contemplate the weekend. More often, it's a reminder of what might have been.

So Friday, which was once my favorite evening, is now the least enjoyable night of the week for me. If I ever feel lonely and sad for my old life, it's on Friday. This spring, I've been actively trying to combat those feelings. Frankly, I haven't had much success.

But tonight the evening was warm and fragrant with the smells of spring. Just before the twilight, JT and I went for a leisurely bike ride with his friend from across the street. And then I came inside to relax while the boys played basketball.

It's a start.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Bitter, Party of One

There's a Tim McGraw song from a few years back called "Drugs or Jesus." The song is about life in rural America, where opportunity is hard to find and hope is even more scarce. McGraw sings that in the end the choice is often "drugs or Jesus." I wasn't living in the rural midwest when the song came out. But I had lived there, for 8 years, and the song struck a nerve with me. I liked my years in small-town America, and there is much to be said for such places. But the reality is that for many people in rural communities, life is hard and the prospect of a change for the good isn't on the horizon.

When Barack Obama, speaking at a fund raiser in San Francisco, said of people in small town America, “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations," I thought it was an interesting characterization of a world he honestly doesn't know very well. I thought of the Tim McGraw song, which was a much more accurate and sympathetic understanding of the world Obama was trying to describe. There was an immediate media furor about Obama's remarks, but I figured that it would go away. Wow, was I wrong. I think that the national news media has suddenly realized they might reasonably be accused of drinking the Obama Kool-aid. So the endless media loop in the last 10 days has been Obama's comment, and accusations that it was insensitive and elitist, and, and, and..... The media hasn't been alone, of course. Senator Clinton, who never received kid glove treatment by the media, is happy to pile on as well.

And that's a shame. Because while we can debate what Obama said and what Obama meant, we are ignoring the real issue that he was trying to address: anxiety and hopelessness amongst rural Americans, the folks who have been left behind by a global world.

Honestly, I think that Obama's remark was heavy-handed and a bit elitist. Well-educated, liberal, suburban Americans consider themselves tolerant and sophisticated and they enjoy looking down on rural America. They make bumpkin jokes and laugh at a world they don't understand. It's mean-spirited and it's inaccurate.

Sure, rural America is more religious than the rest of America. And, yes, those folks own guns, often for hunting. These are not new trends, they are practices as old as the towns that populate the rural world. Reality is that rural America, which has been on the decline for the last sixty years, has good cause to be bitter. While well-off suburbanites romanticize the life of small-town America, they don't actually go to small-town America, let alone live there. They have no idea what it's like to live in a place that has been left behind in virtually every economic surge in the second half of the 20th century. But that is the reality in rural America. Their populations are aging, their towns are shrinking, their job opportunities are getting slimmer and slimmer, poverty is wide-spread, many of their young people want out or have left, and the technological wave that the rest of us enjoy and take for granted (180 cable channels, cell phone reception; internet access) isn't a guarantee for them. They feel left out and left behind. If they are bitter, maybe it's because they should be.

Though I like him a great deal and will happily cast a ballot for him, I haven't drunk the Obama Kool-aid. I don't expect that a man raised in Hawaii and Indonesia, who has lived in New York City and Chicago, has any idea what life is like in rural America. Though his comments were heavy-handed and couldn't have sounded sympathetic to the people whom he described, the fact of the matter is that rural America does feel left out. In the end, I think that is exactly what Obama was trying to say. I commend him for bringing up the subject. And when the national media has finished with the blandishments and the hand-wringing about Obama's remarks, I hope that we can return to the real question: what happened to the American dream in rural America?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: The Apple Didn't Fall Far from the Tree edition

The backstory; I am repairing a picture frame that holds a photo of JT taken when he was a sweet-faced three year old. He's helping me as I put the photo back in the frame.

Mama: Dang, that is a picture of one ugly kid.

JT: Really? Because people say I look just like you.

Game, set, match to the boy. ....who seems to be like his mama in more than one way.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Appropriately Enough

Google mail, which I use fairly often these days, pays the bills by targeting its advertising to the text of the messages.

At first, this sort of creeped me out: Big Brother Google was watching. Soon I was amused by this computer-generated advertising, which sometimes made odd suggestions. And today, as I exchanged e-mails with my ex about her "parenting time" (a phrase I find meaningless....but I digress), Google attempted to direct me to websites with information for people who had abandoned their children.

How rich is that? Thanks, Google. I needed that.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Actuarial Club

I get the weekly activity update from a local university, mostly so that I am aware of the different speakers who will be on campus.

This week, I saw a notice to inform me that on Thursday evening the university is organizing an Actuarial Club. Pizza will be served at the first meeting.

Is this what college has come to? Actuarial club meetings on Thursday night? Back when I was in college, Thursday was the party night. But now it's an evening reserved for calculating your risk of heart disease. Can you hook up at an actuarial meeting? What are the odds on that? I figure these folks will know.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Forewarned is Forearmed

I lived in Tennessee for 5 years and it remains my favorite place in the U.S. Quite naturally, my boy has been exposed to my affections for the Volunteer state. He recognizes Smoky, the Tennessee mascot; he knows the words to "Rocky Top", and has generally drunk the pro-Volunteer Koolaid served up by his mama. So we are big fans of the Lady Vols (the winningest team in women's basketball!).

In the championship game of the women's Final Four, the Lady Vols were facing off against the Cardinal (Stan to those of you on a first-name basis). JT wore his new Tennessee t-shirt to school yesterday and discovered that his beloved teacher, Mrs. W, would be rooting for Stan. Troubling.
The boy was allowed to stay up and watch the women's championship game last night (though he did fall asleep for most of the second half). I nudged him awake for the last minute of the game and he watched the victory, then announced, "Take that, Mrs. W" before stumbling to his bed with his blankies.

This morning we will have a discussion about being a sportsmanlike fan. But I suspect that Mrs. W may have a long day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Free Prayer

I see from their newsletter that the local university is hosting a free prayer day later this week. What a refreshing break from those costly, over-priced prayer vigils. Nice of God and his crew to be listening for free on one day this week.

Monday, April 07, 2008

On a First-Name Basis

JT and I have been watching a whole lot of basketball in the past few weeks. Last night, while watching the Stanford – UConn game, he repeatedly referred to Stanford as Stan. When I asked why, he pointed out that on the ESPN scoreboard, Stanford was identified as Stan, and the boy was just calling it as he saw it.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Adding Injury to Insult

It's a grading day here at Sassafras House and Tiger is unhappy that I won't let him sit on my lap. Since mega-grading days aren't exactly my favorite way to spend Sunday, I can sympathize. But it's difficult to grade while petting a cat, so a cat-on-the-lap ban was issued. Tiger was insulted and after a few minutes of plaintive meowing at my feet, he decided to fight the ban. So he attempted to jump into my lap. When it was clear that the table was in the way of my lap, he grabbed hold of me with his claws.

I screamed, he yeowed, Lucy cleared out. So now I am grading ----- sans the company of cats ---- but with some lovely claw marks on my chest. Grading + cat scratches = not so much fun.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


I've been reading about flor rugs for a while. Finally, I ordered some samples and then I took the plunge. My new rug is a style called Home Movie, in a color called salsa. It looks great, is made for high traffic areas, is environmentally friendly, was amazingly easy to put together, and it can be easily cleaned. For a woman with two cats and one very messy little boy, this is as close to a miracle as it gets.

Check them out at their website. You'll be impressed by the rugs, though I am honor-bound to point out that you can only get a carpet there. You'll have to supply your own little kid.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Aphrodite Pink

That would be the name of the color my toes are sporting for the first toenail polish of the season.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April 1st

We had ourselves a warm April Fool's Day here in our corner of New Jersey. For most of the day, it was a bit damp (even humid) and then the sky cleared in the afternoon. JT and I hurried home to take advantage of the opportunity to be outside under the blue sky. After the boy conquered all of the bad guys in our yard, we went for a bike ride. During that ride we saw plenty of other kids riding bikes, playing basketball, and hitting some baseballs. It seemed like everyone was outside to turn a face up for the warmth.

And my backyard tree is also turning its branches up to the sun, just starting to bloom.

It seems that Spring has arrived.