Thursday, July 31, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Wasted Youth edition

The backstory: Driving back to Clovis from the San Francisco airport on Tuesday afternoon tried the patience of a certain young man who was eager to play with his cousins. While stuck in some slowed traffic on Highway 99, the boy had a look around and sighted a truck on the Highway. The back of the truck read "Young's."

JT: Mama, do you see that truck?

Mama: Yes.

JT: Well none of us will be young by the time we finally get to Clovis.

Though the car erupted with laughter, JT still scowled. Getting a good laugh is only so much comfort when a boy is seeking to jump in the pool with his cousins.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Real Life Conversations with the Sassafras Dad

The backstory: Last Sunday afternoon, because Mother Nature was thwarting my plans to paint the porch, I turned on the telly to find a baseball game to watch while I folded laundry. The Mets were playing the Cardinals, Sassafras Dad's favorite team. The Mets were winning. So I gave my Dad a call to harass him.

Me: I see that your Cardinals are struggling this afternoon.

Dad: Don't talk to me about that.

Me: Gee Dad, why so sensitive?

Dad: I can't watch the game out here. Whenever I turn on the television to watch a game it's ether the damned Yankees or the freakin' Red Sox. Yesterday the only game I could see was the Yankees playing the Red Sox. Screw that.

I know from long experience how the Sassafras Dad feels about the Yankees and the Red Sox, so caution is called for, lest he explode in a diatribe about the multiple reasons that the Yankees and the Red Sox suck. But before I could say anything, Dad offered up one more thought:

Dad: The only good thing about the Yankees playing the Red Sox is that you are guaranteed one of those bastard teams will lose.

Me: Well okay. So Dad, how's the weather out your way?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hell Hot

I grew up in California's Central Valley, in a town called Clovis. Clovis is located snug at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and my memory is that the seasons are mostly gentle there. It rarely froze in the winter (and when it did, my mother regarded it as a decorative opportunity, persuading my father to water the wire fence so she could enjoy the resulting icicles). But the summers were hot. For days on end, we'd have temperatures in the low 100s. There was little humidity and we had a swimming pool, so it was manageable. But come August you could expect several days of 100 degree plus temperatures.

We head west for a visit today, and so I have lately been checking the Clovis forecast. Someone at the National Weather Service clearly has a sense of humor. When I check the forecast for Clovis, if a hot day is in the offing, the NWS features a tiny photo of a burning orange horizon, with a hazy flaming sun high in the sky. It looks so hot that the pale-skinned will immediately crisp up. Those of us unwise enough to go outdoors with barefoot feet will painfully discover that our feet have been instantly seared to the ground. That picture looks like the surface of hell.

Though I was afflicted with the chronic teenage desire to get the hell out of Clovis, I like to visit these days, largely because of the abundance of good Mexican food and because I expect to spend the next two weeks dozing in the shade of Auntie KO's pool. As the forecast suggests, I will be packing a great deal of summer clothing. It would seem that no sweater is required.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No Shirt; Big Problem

I first noticed this phenomena when I moved to New Jersey six years ago: A lot of men around here seem to feel that shirts are optional clothing in the summer.

I'm not talking about young men swimming at the local pool, either. I'm talking about men in their 50s, cutting the grass in their front yard, sitting on their front porch, or visiting with their neighbors, sweating profusely and showing the whole world that they enjoy a 6-pack of Bud (and not Bud Lite, either, if you get my drift).

I understand that we can't all of us have a perfect body. And I understand that the summer months can be warm. But there is no earthly explanation for the desire of these yankees to show off their hairy, white bellies.

Nowhere was this regional obsession more clearly evident than at camp. Each morning, as I took a walk to the indoor plumbing, I would be greeted by shirtless men of a certain age. There are a lot of Canadians at camp, but none of them felt the need to be semi-nude. Instead, it was always the dudes from New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New Jersey.

It's a bit disconcerting to see this sight. And all I can say is please, for the love of God, put on a damned shirt.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Indoor/Outdoor Mama

When JT was first born and I had been home with the baby for a couple of weeks, there was a day when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the parenting task at hand. I looked at this tiny baby and thought: I have to teach him to sleep by himself, to give up diapers, to drink from a cup, to read, to ride a bike, to drive a car, to hold down a job.....The list in my head was endless. I was momentarily overwhelmed and paralyzed by the task at hand.

Then I relaxed. At less than 10 pounds and still snuggled in a blanket, it seemed to me that I had some time to get a plan for these things and the zillions more that would surely occur between that moment and some point in the infinite future when then-baby Taylor would be an adult. Plus, I had the benefit of a partner in parenting in the form of JT's other mom. Having a partner in this venture was an enormous comfort.

These days I've been a single parent for more than two years. And in the midst of daily living, I know better than to borrow trouble in the form of worries about the future. Since I was suddenly handed the job of parent, party of one, I have overseen a successful campaign to teach JT to read; I taught him to ride his bike and to swim; to start the washer and dryer; to make his own bed; to get into (and out of!) the shower on his own (without several gallons of water ending up on the bathroom floor). If I put my mind to it, I could create a much longer list. I don't borrow future worries, though I miss having a partner in the parenting venture.
When we were camping, I realized that I have come to think of myself as a multiple-skill parent. The world is JT's oyster and it's my job to make sure that he can manage as much of it as possible. I do that by showing him that I can make things happen for our family of two. I'm proud that I can load the bikes on to the back of the car, drive us 330 miles to camp in the woods, set up our tent, blow up the air mattress, and make some room for fun.

While in those woods, I teach him to respect the beauty and diversity of nature, enjoy a romp in the ocean with his buddy D, relish a meal made at camp, climb to the top of the nearby lighthouse, and to appreciate the serenity of waking up in a tent in the woods each morning.

We've just completed our third summer camping trip and it would be unthinkable without the help and companionship of our good friends the R-K family. They first gave me the courage to try this trip and they are the backbone of my efforts. I couldn't get it done without them.
On the way home from our camping trip, I realized that I now think of myself as an Indoor/Outdoor Mama. I can keep a comfortable and orderly household featuring home-cooked meals and clean laundry. I can also show JT the joys of the outdoor world: our garden, camp in the woods, the feel of washing up with an ocean wave; and even the beauty (and increasingly funky smell) of days without bathing.
I haven't done this all by myself. I have had the help of friends and family who graciously understand my nearly paralyzing inability to ask for help, and then help me anyway. I am a multi-purpose Mama, doing her level best to see that JT masters all the skills needed to have a happy life. I miss the help and quiet support of having a fellow parent. I expect that I always will. But I am getting the job done on a daily basis. And that is a comfort as I face the uncertainties of the future.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT, Bunny o' Clock edition

The backstory: It's Day 2 of our camping trip and after several hours of riding his bike around and around camp, JT decides to ride the Bunny o' Clock trail with me. It's 4:50 pm and we are riding westward on the trail, counting the bunnies as we pass them by. There is some shade, but mostly it's hot.

JT: Mama, I finally realized why I am so tired.

Mama: Oh, yeah?

JT: Yeah. I'm tired because I am so sleepy.

Well, that will do it every time.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Blame Game

Over the next few weeks, I will post pictures and reflections from my camping trip at Cape Cod. Below is the first of those postings.

There is a lot of bike riding at camp, and often we ride our bikes down the hill to the indoor plumbing. We are not alone in riding bikes through camp, and many kids ride around camp at all hours of the day and evening (especially the young teen crowd).

JT and D don't ride their bikes in the dark. For one thing, they are 8 and 6, and don't ride without parental permission. For another, because they are 8 and 6, they aren't caught up in the idea of impressing their fellow kids by demonstrating how little they care for their parents' opinions. The upshot: no bike riding at night for the boys.

One evening, as JT and I were walking down the hill for our final toothbrushing of the day, several kids on bikes passed us. It was dark and we were carrying a light. They had no lights on their bikes and were clearly having trouble seeing the road (let alone one another). As they passed, JT and I exchanged a look, the kind of look that said, "those kids aren't so smart."

About 45 minutes later, we were in our tent, quietly reading books. We heard some more kids bike by in the dark, and from their conversation, they were a little confused about where they were going. JT looked at me and said, "I blame the parents."

I snorted with laughter.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The House Wine Around Here

There is a joke in the South that the house wine of a southern household is iced tea. And, in fact, I never have been in a southern household that didn't feature iced tea. The years I lived in the south taught me a fondness for sweet iced tea (known simply as sweet tea) as well as the unsweetened stand-by that my mother made when I was growing up.

In the summer, I always have at least one fresh pitcher of iced tea on my counter. It's the first thing that I offer a guest in my home. I make it southern-style, by steeping three tea bags in 3 cups of boiling water for 15 minutes. Then I remove the tea bags and add ice and cold water to fill the pitcher to the rim. If it's sweet tea that you want, dissolve a half cup of white sugar in the boiling water before you add the tea bags.

A pitcher of iced tea was the very first thing I made when I returned from camping on Wednesday evening. It's the house wine of Sassafras House.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


One of the best parts of camping is the sheer volume of reading and writing that I get done. I started an amazingly long (1474 page) book at the start of July and I finished it just before departure for camp. I keep track of all the books I read for pleasure's sake, and since this is the mid-point of the summer, it seemed like a good time to review what I have read so far this year:

Dai Sijie - Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
L.M. Montgomery - Anne of Green Gables
L.M. Montgomery - Anne of Avonlea
Kazuo Ishiguro - Never Let Me Go
Elizabeth Birkelund Oberbeck - The Dressmaker
L.M. Montgomery - Anne of the Island
Laura Ingalls Wilder - The Long Winter
Jon Krakauer - Into the Wild

L.M. Montgomery - Anne of Windy Poplars
Jane Rule - The Young in One Another's Arms
Roddy Doyle - The Woman Who Walked Into Doors
L.M. Montgomery - Anne's House of Dreams
Jon Krakauer - Into Thin Air

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

Willa Cather - O Pioneers!
Maggie O'Fallon - The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox
Blanche Wiesen Cook - Eleanor Roosevelt, volume I, 1884-1933

Sara Gruen - Water for Elephants
Doris Kearns Goodwin - No Ordinary Time

Sarah Graves - Nail Biter
Bill Bryson - Notes from a Small Island
Bill Bryson - I'm a Stranger Here Myself
David Guterson - Snow Falling on Cedars
Jon Katz - Death by Station Wagon
Tim Brookes - The Driveway Diaries

Vikram Seth - A Suitable Boy

I thought about nominating some standouts from this list (the books I'd highly recommend) but that list is nearly as long as the list of books that I did read......which I think suggests that I only read books that strongly appeal to me. So, I recommend most of them, depending on your mood. Want to remind yourself why you love books? Try Balzac and the Chinese Seamstress. Need a good laugh? Try the Bryson books from this list (or any other that he's written). Interested in a book with a strong sense of place and time? Give Snow Falling on Cedars a look. Like to immerse yourself in a multi-layered story of family, political change, and the meaning of love (and have a lot of time on your hands)? Try A Suitable Boy.

I could go on and on in the vein......which is probably the number one reason that I love books so very much.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Thoughts on Camping

For me, camping is about the experience of a modified return to nature (and I mean a good and benevolent nature.....Rousseau's nature; not Hobbes). Though I am a big fan of electricity and the internet, I enjoy the break from my technological life that camping represents. I write in a regular paper diary while I am away and I read and read and read. We go to bed when the dark settles over camp and we wake up when the sun rises over the shady pine trees. Experience tells me that I will return to my daily life with greater enthusiasm for the ease of daily living in the 21st century as well as a respect for the simple things that are more timeless in their appeal.

JT brings some toys when we head off to camp, but usually the things that become most valuable are the sticks and special trees that he and his buddy D find in the pine forest where we camp. The boys dig in the sand on the beach and collect treasures from the ocean. They ride their bikes for miles and miles and miles, fueled by games from their imagination.

JT has never complained about the lack of television or things to do when we camp. Camping teaches him that a strong body and an imaginative mind are the two things we need the most in life. And that's what I value the most about our retreat to nature.

Friday, July 18, 2008


My nephew C, son of the Sassafras Sister, is a sleepy guy (that's him, sleeping while the Yankees play). Actually, it's not that's he's sleepy, it's more that he loves his sleep. In fact, were it not for the fact that he's a product of the Sassafras Sister, I'd think he was the only child to ever welcome going to bed. But I know he's not unique in this regard, because my sister was (is?) the same way. First as a child and now as an adult, KO has always loved her sleep.
As a child, I fought sleep, because it seemed a valuable waste of reading time. The idea of going to bed when there was still light outside was a complete anathema for me. I saw it as the ultimate injustice of childhood and I would not do it. As a teenager, I came to appreciate the joy of sleep. And for most of my adult life, I have been a happy and untroubled sleeper. Especially after I joined my life with another person, I slept well. Then she took up sleeping elsewhere and sleeping became a huge problem for me.

It took me a while to figure out what was happening. I could fall asleep but would wake up, usually around 2 am, and then my mind would fill with anxieties and concerns. Within 20 minutes, I would be fully awake, awash in my misery. A long night would follow until around sunrise when I'd fall fitfully back to sleep. Within an hour or two, I'd be up for the day to try and manage daily life with a child.

I was so overwhelmed anyway that the sleep deprivation just seemed like the icing on the misery cake. To combat the anxiety and sadness that the break-up brought on, in hopes that exhaustion would lend itself to sleep, I took to working out twice a day. That helped to exhaust my body and I'd gratefully fall asleep at the end of the day. But with clockwork precision, I'd wake up at 2 am to anxieties on parade. My mind was apparently not yet tired enough to let me be.

After two weeks, I was utterly overwhelmed. I took to taking Tylenol PM at bedtime. I would fall asleep like a brick. And, blissfully, I'd sleep through the night. There would be some morning haze from the remnants of the TPM, but it was worth it because with actual rest I was better able to cope with my newly re-arranged life. Two years later, and after trying a host of other options, TPM is still my nighttime drug of choice. In this aided fashion, I generally sleep through the night. Every once in a while, I try to break the habit. I have not yet succeeded.

The experience has made me much more aware of sleep. I no longer take an easy rest for granted. I am careful to ensure that JT gets all the sleep he needs. If a student falls asleep in my class or in a study hall, I let them be, in the belief that exhaustion is the master who must be first served. I am a big believer in the power of a 20 minute nap.

And I admire the necessary rest of my nephew C., who knows that sleep is the master of us all.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Advance Planning

Inspired by some photos of last year's black cat costume, JT has sketched designs for this year's Halloween costume. Sure, Trick-or-Treat is more than three months away. But advance planning is the hallmark of costume success here at Sassafras House, and unlike aliens in their spaceships, alien costumes don't appear overnight.
The plan is to deliver these sketches to his personal costumer, Grandma, out on the left coast. She has assisted in any number of previous costumes. From black cat, to cowboy, to pirate, Grandma always delivers. We'll see her in a few weeks and we wouldn't want her to suffer from idle hands. So plans have been drawn up, materials will be secured, and we'll likely be sporting an Alien costume for Trick-or-Treat practice well in advance of October 31st.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cape Cod Bound

Today, JT and I set off for Cape Cod and our third annual camping trip with the R-K family. The car is loaded with our tent, sleeping bags (and air mattresses.....we like a comfy camp bed), bicycles, the camp stove, toys for the beach, and other camping necessities like potato chips and cookies (Lewis and Clarke wish they had camped with us).
I love the quiet pace of life at camp: the long, lazy days; bike rides on the trail; trips to the beach to walk out on the sand bar at low tide; and the pages and pages of reading that I will complete. Though we'll be away for a few days, I've arranged for a few postings that will appear while I take a break from my daily life. And, if I can find a wireless signal, I plan to post from the Cape.

The fabulous K has promised to check in on our home and the kittens, so things in Jersey are in the most capable of hands. Cape Cod, here we come!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Magical Park

There are times when I see in my son a glimpse of myself as a child. A few days ago, our friends the C Family showed us a new playground and as soon as I saw it, I just knew that JT would be thrilled. If I were an eight year old, I would love this playground. And predictably my own eight year old was enchanted.
The playground is a little village with secret passages, places to climb, and alcoves galore. It is filled with every possible thing a child could want in a playground: sand boxes, zip lines, wooden cars, an airplane, a train, a pirate ship, turrets and even a jail. It's a place where a child's imagination can take flight.
JT and I are two different people, but one of the wonders of parenthood is finding an experience that you just know your child will love. It's lovely to find such an opportunity and then give him the time and the space to explore and enjoy himself.
Every parent should know this feeling. For me, a day like this reminds me why I wanted to be a mama in the first place.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Nation of Whiners?

I can't believe that I am about to say this, but here goes: Phil Gramm may have a legitimate point.

Texan Phil Gramm is a former member of the U.S. Senate who has been an informal economics advisor to John McCain's presidential campaign. That fact alone shows colossally bad judgment on the part of McCain. Gramm's economic views are neither mainstream nor helpful. In a recent interview he was asked about the current state of the economy. He told the Washington Times that he felt that the United States was in "a mental recession" significantly motivated by the fact that we are “a nation of whiners.”

I think that Gramm is wrong about one important point --- we are in a recession. Recessions sometimes happen as a natural consequence of economic cycles. In the midst of an economic downturn, elected officials can only do so much to move the economy and may not be able immediately remedy a recession. And though I can hardly believe that I am writing these words: I think that in one respect Phil Gramm is right. We have become a nation of whiners, whiners in this case because all we are doing is complaining about our economic problems without any sense that we ----- the people in this government of and by the people ----- must participate in the drafting of the solutions. And we need to do that by thinking about our national interests, not simply our individual interests.

That doesn't mean that the president and Congress are blame-free for our current economic woes. From better regulation of corporate finance schemes and machinations to responsible financing of the war in Iraq, our current federal government has pretty well dropped the ball when it comes to its economic responsibilities. Don't even get me started on the current fracas that is Medicare reimbursements. But, that noted, it's a regrettable fact of economic life that recessions happen. What government can do (and should have been doing) is engage in the reasonable protections that help to make recessions (or downturns or slumps or whatever else you want to call them) less painful and perhaps less likely. Our government hasn't done that because we (the people) haven't asked it to do so. And we're currently feeling the effects of our joint irresponsibility. An example should help.

The rising cost of fuel and groceries are two factors in our current economic crunch. They happen to be two factors that influence virtually every American household, no matter how secure their job. In my household of just two people, I've watched my average grocery bill tick up about 20% in the last year. Add to that the $4 per gallon gas I'm putting in my car (and it's a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon in town driving) and the increased cost of heating and cooling my home and my disposable income has shrunk a good 15 - 20% in the last year. Clearly, I'm not alone in this regard.

Our government (the one by and for the people) has made this worse. Paying out billions to corn growers in the form of ethanol subsidies when we need that corn for the food we eat has caused the price of groceries to rise without significantly improving our fuel prospects. Rising world demand for fuel has caused the price of oil to go up. It's a simple supply and demand curve. At the same time, for years now auto manufacturers have strenuously objected to any notion of greater fuel efficiency in automobiles. And how did consumers respond? Hint: check out the gas-guzzling cars in your neighborhood. We didn't say or do a thing; we didn't demand that our government engage in some long-term planning for our oil-dependent economy. Instead, we acted like cheap oil was our national right.

I could go on and on.

But the media's constant discussions of just how bad off we are doesn't help. It's one thing to report on the reality of home foreclosures and declining real estate values. It's quite another to adopt a chicken little attitude about it all. I consider myself a reasonably well-educated and careful consumer of news and I think that the news media likes to stoke the fires of our economic fears.

But we don't exist in a historical (economic) vacuum and many of these problems were the predictable consequence of poor political decisions. And clutching our heads and crying about our misery doesn't find us solutions. It doesn't move us any closer to a national conversation about the steps we need to take to place our economy on a firmer foundation moving forward. Responsible citizens should demand that the media help us to better understand the situation in which we have found ourselves so that we can be educated voters who elect representatives prepared to engage in economically responsible policy-making. We got ourselves into this mess and we must get ourselves out: it's OUR government after all.

I'm taking that step by demanding it here and now. When I hear (or read) economic stories that don't help, I'll be writing a quick note to that media outlet demanding more responsible reporting.

I hope that I'm not the only one.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Nighttime Entertainment

Twice last month I went to a baseball game at night. I know that diehard fans often prefer daytime games and that pleasure isn't lost on me. But sitting outside on a beautiful June night has its numerous charms. Apostasy though it might be, I really love a night game.

For the first night game, we watched the Orioles beat the Astros, 2-1 in the 10th inning. Two nights later we saw the Yankees lose to the Reds, 4-1 (breaking a 7 game winning streak for the Yanks).

The evening at Camden Yards was simply splendid. The ballpark is a glorious setting and, thanks to a former student of Auntie KO who is an Oriole, we had amazing seats just behind the home plate. Friday night at Yankee Stadium was also fun, though Uncle M and I are in agreement that the Yankees need a new stadium (everything smells like a hot dog that has been left around a little too long).

Baseball in a ballpark is a reminder of the beauty of the game. It's a game of slow repetition followed by fast moments. The ball is pitched; batters swing; this pleasant routine repeats itself for pitch after pitch and for a bit nothing seems to happen. Then the bases are loaded up; the catcher and pitcher confer on the mound; hits are made and the crowd watches as the ball swells out in the night sky. I like the rhythm of the game. This summer, JT is old enough to watch and appreciate baseball, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
Too often my life is filled with memories that I'd rather not have; of a life and identity that no longer belong to me. I find that memories from those years feel tainted. But baseball belongs to my childhood and me and this summer I've been happy to share the game with my boy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

High Tide

Thursday morning, as I was grabbing up our things to leave the house for JT's swimming lesson, JT called to me from the bathroom. "Something's wrong with the toilet," he said.

I entered the bathroom just in time to see the water rise over the rim and run down the side of the bowl. It was 9:50 am and high tide had unexpectedly arrived. As JT, the cats, and I stood in silent horror, the toilet overflowed. Though it all happened in a matter of seconds, it moved in slow motion. I snapped into action.

First, I turned off the water. Then, because water removal has become one of my leading home maintenance skills, I fetched my shop-vac and the plunger from the basement. I shop-vacced up the water and detritus (yes, to shop-vac is a verb, at least in my life it is). Then I plunged the clogged drain and watched in satisfaction as the water went back down from whence it had been coming up. I thoroughly cleaned the entire bathroom (the least said about that the better). Finally, I turned the water back on and nervously gave the toilet a sample flush. All was well.

By 10:15 we were headed to swimming lessons. We spent the rest of our day at the park. I figured that the house would be safer without us in it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Park Edition

The backstory: We're at the park; it has recently rained and some things are a bit damp. I am sitting on a bench reading a book when JT approaches with a very wet pair of shorts.

Mama: What happened to you?

JT: My bootie is wet.

Mama: I can see that. How did it happen?

JT: Apparently the tire swing was a no-go.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

First Harvest

It's been somewhat dry in my corner of New Jersey, and cautious water-user that I am, that means that while I have continued to water my garden, the lawn has gotten a bit dry. Like most people, I generally prefer a lush, green lawn. Unlike most people, I accept what Mother Nature offers. And M Nature hooked me up with a mowing holiday here in the middle of summer.

The grass-cutting vacation came to an end yesterday afternoon, the consequence of 6 inches of rain last weekend. And as I cut the grass in the backyard, my eye spied the first produce from my garden ----- a yellow squash.
The squash was the foundation of last night's supper. As this second photo demonstrates, tomatoes will soon join the harvest. And that can only mean one thing: BLTs are just around the corner.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Miracle Worker

In 1988, the year I cast my first presidential ballot, my college roommate M joined me and Michael Dukakis as the only people who actually cast a ballot for Michael Dukakis. It's possible that Mrs. Dukakis may count herself in this company, though I wouldn't bet on it.

But I digress.

The real purpose of this post is to point out that M recently hooked me up with two life-improving goods.

This sticker, which clearly was made for me:
I immediately slapped it on my car to confirm that I remain a Democrat in good standing. I think that I can speak for both of us when I say how happy we are to live in blue states and, we expect, a blue nation come November 4.

She also sent under eye concealer that, because it works on me, must be characterized as a miracle product. It's like I am no longer an old woman with dark circles under my eyes.

Of course, I remain a middle-aged mama with a smart mouth.

Only so many miracles can be worked.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


As a child, I always loved to watch the Olympics. I have succeeded in passing on that pleasure to JT. Two years ago, during the 2006 Winter Olympics, he'd stay up late tucked in my bed to watch the events. Afterward, in the snow and ice on the sidewalk outside, he pretended to be Apollo Ono.

We're getting ready for Beijing by watching lots of Olympic Trials in the past week. From gymnastics to track and field to swimming, he's excited about it all. I'm reminded of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, where Rumanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci stole the show. I was 9 that year, just one year older than JT, and when ABC showed a story of the training of gymnasts in Communist Rumania, I was impressed by the lock-step dedication and devotion. I remember asking my Dad why Americans didn't train that way. He bravely tried to explain the limits of a communist system of governance but all I could see was that they turned out a great gymnastics team. In later years, when I was in college enrolled in a class called "Problems in Communism," I would remember those 1976 Olympics with some amusement.

JT's not thinking of moving to any other country, foreign training regimens not withstanding. But the swimming trials have convinced him that maybe some swimming lessons are worth his time. Tomorrow morning he'll start those lessons and, I'm guessing, that in his imagination JT will be Michael Phelps gliding across the Middlesex pool and turning in record times.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

In Which I Drink the Koolaid

In the last week, I've had the opportunity to see up close and personal the grassroots organization of the Obama campaign. Impressive doesn't begin to describe it. In fact, it's amazingly organized and efficient and, at every meeting that I have attended, the participants have been advised that the movement is theirs, and that the purpose is to organize local communities to take charge of their own destiny; to be the change that they desire. Yes, the Obama folks want these people to vote for their man in November, but that is only one part of the meetings. The bigger part is a message that making change happens one step at a time; empowerment of citizens for the long haul is the goal.

I have seen grassroots movements before; I've joined some of them. But these movements have always been about the cause in question and the organizers invariably seek to own the groups they've organized; the requests for money and loyalty coming seconds after the inspiring rhetoric.

There was none of this at the Obama events I attended. Instead, people were advised that this movement was theirs. The change they wanted? Well, that was theirs as well. And they should go right out and get it.

Those of you who know me, know that I am a realist's realist when it comes to politics. But I'm impressed at the systematic organization of the Obama campaign. They offer a combination of exciting rhetoric followed by real-world advice: it won't happen over night; we must work together; national movements start from the ground up and require organization. I've drunk the Obama koolaid, my friends, and I couldn't be more excited about what we can accomplish.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I love Independence Day fireworks. But when you live in the most densely populated state in the nation, you quickly discover that getting to a fireworks venue on the actual 4th of July could make you love fireworks a lot less. And, in my less charitable moments, stuck in a traffic jam with thousands of my fellow New Jerseyans, I find myself wishing that I could use the fireworks against them.

I think this violates the spirit of civility that I usually try to employ when dealing with my fellow man.

So I have resigned myself to not always seeing a fireworks display as part of my summer rituals.

Enter providence and a bit of good luck.

Last night found JT and me in Princeton, to visit our friend D and his mama. By happy coincidence, it was the night of the town fireworks display so when we left their house I asked JT, "wanna go see the fireworks?" He happily nodded yes. We moved our car around to park in a spot featuring a quick escape from town, pulled out the portable chairs I always keep in the car during warm months, and walked over to the field for some fun.

We found a perfect spot as the twilight settled over the field. As we waited, we watched people, counted fireflies, talked about the dude who wrote the Declaration of Independence (we're very fond of Jefferson at Sassafras House), experimented with taking our own picture (longer arms would be very helpful in this regard), and played chopsticks (when will I ever learn to win a match of this game?). Then, just around 9:20, the display began.

It was a perfect way to end the day.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


When JT was a baby, the frequent visits to the pediatrician were a source of both anxiety and reassurance. They caused me anxiety as I worried about my baby getting a shot (ouch!) or I fretted about whether or not he was meeting his developmental milestones. In the end, as my baby got bigger and became a toddler and then a little boy, and the monthly visits became quarterly and then yearly visits, I quit fretting and took the visits as one more piece of evidence that I had myself a healthy boy.

At the ripe old age of 8, JT takes a visit to Dr. Y in stride. He had his yearly check-up yesterday, and despite the promise of a vaccine (his last in the Hep A series), he was all casual and relaxed as he read his book (Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary) and awaited the doc.
Everything is on track and my boy is growing ----- he grew 4 ½ inches last year and is now 54 ½ inches tall. As usual, he was tickled to have his reflexes checked. He proudly explained that the broken leg from last fall doesn't cause him a speck of trouble.

Immunizations up to date. Growing like a weed. Talking a mile a minute. Looks like we've been recertified for another year of boyhood.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

July 1st

It's the 1st of the month, which means that it's time to think about my tree. In the summer, the back deck under the big tree is like an extra living room. I sit outside nearly every day. I'm outside in the morning if it's not too hot; in the evening I enjoy being under the shady branches of the tree.

This is my favorite place to sit:

And this photo is the view above that chair:

By July, the backyard becomes my personal green oasis, all of it under the benevolent watch of old man tree.