Monday, September 29, 2008

Congressional Elections

As November 4 gets ever-closer, the nation is caught up in the presidential elections. Certainly that contest is important, but there are also some critical congressional elections coming our way. Today and Wednesday I'll feature profiles of some of the key House and Senate races.

First up is the House of Representatives. There are 435 seats in the House. Democrats currently control 235 seats; the GOP controls 199 seats. 1 seat is currently vacant, the result of the death of Representative Stephanie Tubbs-Jones in late August. All 435 of these seats are up for grabs this fall. Of the seats open because of retirement or folks seeking higher office, there are 7 open Democratic seats and 29 open Republican seats, so the odds tip in favor of the Democratic party continuing to hold the majority in the House. Below are profiles of some of the key races.

1. Alaska - AL: The Land of the Midnight Sun has only one seat in the House so election to it means running statewide. That's one of many reasons that Republican Don Young has been in the seat since winning a special election in 1973. This year, he's caught up in the Stevens scandal (see below) and he's vulnerable to Democratic challenger Ethan Berkowitz, the State Senate Minority Leader. A recent Research 2000 poll shows Berkowitz leading the race with 53% of likely voter support to Young's 39%. Can Berkowitz hold his lead?

2. Alabama – 02: Alabama Republican Representative Terry Everett is retiring from the House this year. He hopes to turn over his seat to Republican Jay Love, a state representative and ex-restaurant owner. Popular Montgomery Mayor and attorney, Democrat Bobby Bright, is hoping for a big Democratic turnout in south Alabama. That won't deliver the state to Obama, but it may deliver Bright to the House of Representatives.

3. Alabama – 05: Democratic incumbent Bud Cramer is retiring from Congress. Republican businessman Wayne Parker, the 1994 and 1996 nominee for this race is hoping that 2008 will prove his lucky year. Democrat Parker Griffith, a state senator, local physician, and veteran is banking on holding the seat for the Democratic party.

4. Colorado – 04: Marilyn Musgrave has been a cultural warrior in Colorado politics; a proudly outspoken Republican social conservative. But in her most recent television ad, asking for a 4th term in the House, Musgrave doesn't mention that she's a Republican. More than anything else, that's a sign that Colorado-04 may be up for grabs this year. Democrat Betsy Markey, who served as Democratic Senator Ken Salazar's regional director in the district and has business connections in northern and eastern Colorado, is thinking that this district can be plucked on behalf of the Democrats. She may be right about that.

5. Florida – 21: GOP Representative Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American representative for this Miami-area district, has been in the U.S. House since 1993. A lawyer and state legislator before he won the seat, Diaz-Balart has always gathered the support of the local Cuban-American community. But the Cubanos may find themselves divided this year as another of their own, Democrat Raul Martinez, the mayor of Hialeah and publisher of the Spanish newspaper El Sol de Hialeah, gives Diaz-Balart a run for his money.

6. Florida – 25: The news isn't much better for another member of the Diaz-Balart family, Mario Diaz-Balart, who is in his third term representing this Miami-area district. After serving for 14 years in the Florida state legislature, Diaz-Balart was elected to the House in 2002. His challenger is Democrat Joe Garcia, the Miami-Dade Democratic chair and former head of Exodus Project, a successful refugee resettlement program. Garcia is a formidable opponent. Can the younger Diaz-Balart brother do his part to secure the family's political dynasty?

7. Kansas – 02: Frosh Representative Nancy Boyden was first elected to the House in 2006, with a wave of new Democrats who arrived that year. She represents most of eastern Kansas, including Topeka, Leavenworth, and Manhattan. She is well-liked in the state but Democrats never get an easy run is eastern Kansas and Republican Lynn Jenkins, a two-term Kansas State Treasurer ad ex-state representative, is hoping to send Boyden home. Cook Political report currently rates this race a toss-up.

8. Louisiana – 06: This race features a good-old-fashioned Southern wrestling match of partisan politics. The incumbent Democrat, Don Cazayoux, served in the Louisiana state house for three terms before he won election to the House in a May '08 special election held after the retirement of incumbent Representative Richard Baker. Cazayox's win was a bit of surprise – LA-06 has been held by the Republican party for years. Enter GOP state senator and physician Bill Cassidy, campaigning on a platform of keeping the GOP in charge of LA-06. Will raising the Republican flag be a mistake this election year? Cazayoux sure hopes so as he fights to hold on to the seat.

9. New Hampshire – 01: Democrat Carol Shea-Porter is a frosh member of the House seeking re-election. Shea-Porter is the first woman the Granite State has sent to federal office. And the man she beat in 2006? That would be GOP-nominee Jeb Bradley, who is seeking a re-match this year. The race has been a tense affair, as you might imagine. Will southeastern New Hampshire return Shea-Porter for a second term or will Bradley get his old job back?

10. New Mexico – 01: New Mexico found all three of its House members seeking to be their party's nominee for the open Senate seat. So this seat, which currently belongs to Republican Heather Wilson, is open. Two young, dynamic, and popular leaders are vying to get the seat. Republican Darren White is the current Bernalilo County Sheriff and a former Secretary of Public Safety. He's also a veteran. Democrat Martin Heinrich is a former director of an environmental non-profit, an appointee to the New Mexico Natural Resources Board, and a current member of the Albuquerque City Council. This race is expected to be close.

11. Ohio – 01: Republican Steve Chabot has represented Ohio-01 since 1994. The district, in southern Ohio, includes Cincinnati and has been reliably Republican for the last 15 years. But the GOP has some troubles in Ohio this year and Democrat Steve Driehaus, a Peace Corp veteran, the state house minority whip, and a community development consultant, is under the impression that Chabot is vulnerable. Ohio is also a presidential swing state this year. The race could be a barn-burner.

12. Ohio – 15: Republican Deb Pryce has run in tight races for most of her career in the House. This year she's retiring and the seat is up for grabs. Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy, who ran against Pryce in 2006, is in the race this year. Kilroy has name recognition in the district as a result of her previous run and her service as Franklin County Commissioner and on the Columbus School Board. Republican Steve Stivers, a state senator and Desert Storm War veteran, is hoping to hold the 15th for his party. Ohio-15 is a classical swing district. Which way will it swing this year?

13. Pennsylvania – 10: Frosh representative Chris Carney won this district in 2006, one of a number of Democrats who swept into the House that year. Carney is a Navy Reservist and was a professor at Penn State at Scranton before he went to D.C. His opponent this year is businessman Chris Hackett. Pennsylvania-10 is a classical swing district in a swing state. Will Carney hold on?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Apples of My Eye

How 'bout them apples?

Sure, it's the obvious joke, but I couldn't resist. Last Saturday, JT and I went apple picking with our friend Amy and now we have 20 pounds of Macintosh, Golden Delicious, Courtland, and Red Delicious apples. JT ate several as we strolled the rows of trees and he was eager to pick the apples in hard-to-reach places.

I made some little apple turnovers for the 3rd graders. There will be a few big bowls of fried apples, a southern dish that is a fall staple in my home. Apple crisp. Apple cobbler. An apple pie, of course. Apple cake.

I'll be the apple queen.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Debate Night: Live Blogging

The plan tonight is live blogging the debate. But first a history lesson: 45 years ago, the nation watched as Ole Miss hurled invective and insults at African-Americans seeking to enroll as students at the university. Tonight, an African-American presidential candidate is warmly welcomed at Ole Miss.

I wonder if James Meredith ever envisioned this?

Okay, it seems fair to point out that snide comments will likely outnumber sincerity in tonight's posting. But I am truly serious when I say it makes me very proud of my nation to see Barack Obama as a presidential candidate on the stage tonight.

On the night when Republicans are asking us to spend $700 billion to save the national economy, John McCain is calling for fiscal responsibility. Seriously, I don't ever want to hear another Republican talk to me about fiscal responsibility. GOP: Kiss my heinie.

Earmarks are a red herring. Anyone who took American Gov't 101 knows that they are less than 1% of the national budget; getting rid of them actually changes nothing.

In the current economic situation, ain't none of us gonna get a tax cut. Move it along boys.

Obama is spot-on when he talks about our need to build infrastructure, the electricity grid, broadband access nationwide. Yes.

McCain: I oppose ethanol. I couldn't agree more but you just lost Iowa for the GOP pal.

OMG, McCain just called Sarah Palin a maverick. Dimwit, yes. Maverick, no.

Why does McCain think that Obama has to go to Iraq to know what's going on? That's just bullshit.

Foreign policy now. I think that I speak for all of America when I say: Yawn.

McCain is spot on about his vote on the Marines in Beirut in '83, but where is he headed with all of this? I guarantee you that the viewing public has no idea what he's talking about. I do know and he's lost me.

Main reason McCain will not meet with Ahmadinejad of Iran? Can't pronounce his name.

Obama just totally trumped McCain on this whole "meeting without preconditions" question.

McCain did not rise to meeting with Spain bait. Bummer.

McCain about to lose his cool. Bring it on, baby.

Asked about risk of another terror attack, McCain just plays the 9/11 drumbeat. And then wanders all over the place. WTF?

About to close up shop. In summary, the debate was a serious discussion. Obama was far more articulate than McCain and totally collected under pressure. McCain less organized, frequently retreated to scripted lines rather than answer questions. But no major screw-ups for him.

Obama sum up on American standing in the world: full-on homerun there. Can't invoke being a POW like McCain, but he's got a vision and he explained it.

Finest Compliment Ever

Yesterday, a student said to me, "In a debate, I think you'd make John McCain cry."

Hands down, that's the best compliment I've ever received. That kid totally makes an A+*.

*I never actually assign A+ grades; also grades are "earned" not given.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Crying Wolf

Lately, as Congress wrestles with its many questions about the proposed bailout of Wall Street, I keep coming back to that old fable about the boy who cried wolf.

Both Ben Bernacke, the head of the Federal Reserve, and Henry Paulson, the Secretary of the Treasury, are smart guys. Bernacke wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on the causes of the Great Depression and he's indisputably knowledgeable about what a worldwide depression would look like, not to mention how it can be prevented. Paulson is similarly capable and folks who've work with him over the years have characterized him as impressively calm and level-headed in the midst of big decisions. The current panic on Wall Street certainly qualifies as a crisis. I respect both of these guys and I think that they are right to ask Congress for a 700 billion dollar bail out. The United States must do its level best to keep our economy on level footing. We owe it to the world.

I think that the problem here isn't that Congress doubts Bernacke and Paulson as much as the fact that Congress has been burned twice by the administration for whom these men work. The Patriot Act and the Iraq War authorization were also presented as pieces of legislation that must be authorized NOW. Congress was actively discouraged from thinking or asking critical questions. In the midst of the legislative furor that surrounded those events, those who suggested that a little time to think might be a good idea were advised by the Bush folks that THE SKY WAS FALLING. NOW. Delay might be deadly, we were warned.

And so Congress acted in haste. They have repented in leisure. Twice burned by an unwise and dishonest administration, this Congress wants some time to think. I can't fault them their instinct. They are right to engage in debate and discussion; they should ask the hard questions. That is their job and we must demand it of them. I am confident that Congress will authorize a regulated bailout. It's the right thing to do. But, understandably, they want time to understand the problem and structure an appropriate solution.

In the aftermath, I hope that Congress and the nation sits down to a serious discussion of what happens to use when our president is no longer considered trustworthy. Simply put, it's not good for the republic. The Bush Administration cried wolf one too many times and now, when a real wolf is at the door, they have no credibility with the Congress, with the American public, and most likely with the rest of the world. The next president has his work cut out for him. I keep asking myself if eight years is enough time to undo the damage that the Bush Administration has done to our world.

For the sake of my son and the many other children whom I love, I hope that it is.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Training Him Young

On Saturday night, with my many dysfunctional anxieties on high alert, I opted to try on clothes to wear for Back to School night, which occurs this week. So, as JT drowned monsters and soaked in his bubble bath, I appeared in the doorway over and over again checking out some clothing options in the full-length mirror.

JT learned early that this particular behavior on the part of his mama demands a steady stream of innocuous compliments and advice. "That color is nice on you"; "I like those shoes"; "that skirt fits well" and so on and so forth. He steadily offers these platitudes up in the appropriate tone of voice: concern tinged with sincerity, so that I actually believe him. He's gotten so good at it that when he suggested that he didn't like the neckline cut of a particular sweater (a turned v-neck), I actually stopped and looked more closely: maybe it did make my short neck look even shorter?

It may be said of me that though I try my best, I am not a perfect mother. No doubt I've screwed up my kid on any number of fronts. But one day, when he is someone's husband, and that someone asks "does this make my butt look big?" my son will hear that question and instinctively know to answer in his most reassuring, steady voice, "No, honey. It makes your butt look great."

I'm telling you right now: that life skill is worth its weight in gold.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Let me begin by noting that all the occupants of Sassafras House are alive and well; none of us worse for the wear.

Those of you who grow faint of heart when hearing of blood should stop reading now.

Still reading? It was a busy day at our house yesterday. I had a full morning of working out, house cleaning, laundry and yard work. At 3:00, my chores complete, I headed up to the shower to clean up for a trip to my local grocery store.

And it was in the shower that trouble reared its head. Like many women of a certain age who have given birth, I've got my own pet varicose vein. I've had it for years and it's never been even a bit of problem. It's unsightly, but as a long time opponent of cosmetic surgery, I can live with it. Yesterday, it gave me trouble for the first time. I was shaving my legs, an activity that I do every day, when I nicked the varicose vein.

Let's just say that when you nick a vein like that, bleeding doesn't even begin to describe the unfolding drama in your shower. The vein literally spurted blood. Pools of it, everywhere I turned, gushing out with an impressive degree of pressure. It didn't hurt at all but it made a notable mess, like a slasher movie had just been made in my shower. And the application of pressure had no effect, as I immediately bled through layer after layer of thick, heavy towels.

My friend sb, who arrived just in the nick of time, agreed with me: a 9-1-1 call was in order. The emergency crew responded with speed and soon my bathroom and hallway was filled with local law enforcement and paramedics. They couldn't stem the tide either......and seemed suitably impressed that I hadn't yet passed out. To be fair, the combination of adrenaline and boundless horror of being found naked by strangers certainly took care of that. I was calm, cool, collected, and clothed by the time they arrived.

But I was bleeding like a stuck pig.

And so I took my first trip ever in an ambulance. I persuaded the EMTs to permit me to walk out of the house, but I was then loaded onto the gurney and got a ride with all the bells and whistles. An anxious JT stayed behind with sb and they did a terrific clean-up job while I was at the ER.

Within the hour, a magical clotting medicine was applied to my gusher of a leg, I got a tetanus shot, signed on the dotted line and was cut loose. JT and sb picked me up and carried me and my impressive new bandage home.

All I can say about the day is that I fittingly waited until all of my chores were complete before I staged my bloody drama. And when you think about it, that's just like me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Supper edition

The back story: We're at the supper table, engaging in our usual conversation, discussing our favorite part of the day. We talk about that every night at supper. Then JT shifts gears and asks me what my favorite supper of all time would be.

Mama: I'm not sure.

JT: Really?

Mama: Well, when I was a little girl my favorite thing to eat was split pea soup. My mama also wrapped a hot dog in a tortilla and we ate it with guacamole and I really liked that. What's your favorite supper?

JT: I don't know.

Mama: Really? You can't think of anything?

JT: Gee, Mama. I'm just a little boy. I'm only 8. I haven't had enough experiences yet to have a favorite of all time.

Fair enough. I'll stop with all that pressure to grow up.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Third grade has brought us a new weekly homework assignment: looking up the week's spelling words in the dictionary. It's a student dictionary, with plenty of photos and the like. But the book is also large and imposing and when he hauls it out to complete the assignment, I can tell that JT is rather proud to be working in such an important-looking book.

I have to confess that I'm somewhat surprised that he hasn't yet begun to engage in that time-honored school-kid homework dodge: using the dictionary to look up the naughty words. Sure, it's a parent-approved student dictionary, but surely it contains a few inappropriate words? No actual four-letter words, of course. You'd think that school yard favorite 'butt' must be worth a laugh or two. I looked and it's there, just waiting for my son to look it up.

But not my scholar. No messing around for him. On Tuesday, when I tentatively suggested that he use the dictionary for some messing around, he looked at me, scandalized, shook his head no and then got back to work.

Apparently, I am a bad influence in this household.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

It's Not About the Fun

When my son returns from his visits with my ex-partner, there's an awkward exchange that happens at my front door. From the moment that he returns, he's ready to immerse himself in his home world. She stands at the door and says goodbye and tells JT, "I had fun with you." Her script for each return varies only slightly.

"I had fun with you today."

"I had fun with you this weekend."

"I had fun with you this week."

He nods and then turns away. His home is not her home; she removed herself from this part of his world.

I understand that she's seeking some continuity in her relationship with him. I respect the fact that he has a relationship with her that I am not privy to. I realize that having brought an end to our life as a threesome, there is virtually nothing she can do to satisfy me.

Even so, there is something deeply troubling about the idea that her time with JT, what was called her "parenting time" in the legal agreement we drew up, is boiled down to having "fun."

Though JT and I have plenty of fun together, for me being a mama is not just about the fun. I'm in the business of raising a little boy who will someday need to be a confident, engaged, responsible and independent man. I want him to be happy in his life today and tomorrow and I know that fun plays a role in that happiness. But I also know that fun isn't nearly enough. Fun doesn't get the bills paid; fun doesn't get the laundry washed, or the supper on the table. I do my best to make everyday living enjoyable. As a parent for whom happiness has sometimes been in short supply these past few years, I struggle to make sure that JT knows that life can be rich and rewarding; meaningful and happy. Fun is part of that, but it isn't the whole thing.

Last year, for Mother's Day, JT made me a little sign. It spells out M-O-T-H-E-R vertically and for each letter in the word, he identifies something about me. So in his neat second grade handwriting it reads:

M is for Magnificent Muffins

O is for Organizing my playroom

T is for Taking me to Fuddruckers

H is for Helping me with my homework

E is for Everytime we make cookies

R is for Riding bikes with me

I love this little sign; it's a snapshot of our life together. It's a nice list of the things I do for him and things that we enjoy together. In one way, those things are about having fun. But it's not just about the fun. For me, being a parent is about love and affection, independence and resilience. It's about life in total, with joy, with sadness and with everything in between.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cookie Report

As I wrote last week, the return of lunchbox packing has led to a full cookie jar at my house. This week's cookie is one of my favorites (though if you know me, you know that no cookie has ever escaped my enjoyment). It's a recipe from my sister KO: cinnamon sugar butter cookies.

Go ahead and head on into the kitchen. You know that you want some.

2 ½ cups of flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup dark brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
1 cup soft butter
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons white sugar

Heat the oven to 300 degrees. Mix the 1 tablespoon cinnamon and 3 tablespoons white sugar in a shallow bowl. Set aside.

Blend dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mix sugars and butter for 1 minute; add eggs and vanilla and mix until light and fluffy (about two more minutes on my mixer). Add flour mixture and blend at low speed until just combined. Do not overmix.

Shape into 1 inch balls (dough will be wet) and roll in cinnamon sugar mix. Bake at 300 for 18-20 minutes; cool on a flat surface. Makes 3 dozen......or a few short of that if your little boy talks you into giving him some cookie dough.

You are baking up a guaranteed lunchbox hit. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Iced Tea

In the warm months, a pitcher of iced tea can always be found in my kitchen. As befits a cat that lives with me, Tiger has a great fondness for a fresh glass of iced tea. On a regular basis, he expects to join me when I enjoy a refreshing glass of tea. And by join me, I mean he expects to drink from my glass.
He prefers unsweetened tea and no lemon.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Garden Bounty

Despite the occasional splashes of fall color on the leaves and the smell of fall in the evening air, the past few days have been both wet and quite warm. It's like a last-blast of summer. That warmth means that my tomato and squash plants just can't stop themselves from producing.

The resulting bounty will grace the supper table every day this week. I plan my cooking in advance and I try to make enough so that I can have leftovers for lunch the next day. This week's menu features pesto pasta with grilled chicken, tomatoes, and roasted squash; gorgonzola pasta with tomatoes and spinach; tomato-feta salad and spaghetti squash; and mushroom chicken with tomato salad.

I'm sensing a theme.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Of Books and Imaginations

I learned to read rather late, at the age of 8 and in the third grade. My mother reports that I came home from Ms. N's class and announced, "She told me I HAD to learn to read. Nobody told before that I HAD to read." My mother confirmed that it was a must-do situation so I went ahead and learned to read.

I've not stopped since.

I can still remember the joy of finding a whole new series of books by an author whose work I admired. The libraries of my childhood were truly magical places. I would look at all those books and feel that a whole new world was just waiting for me to open the cover and slip inside. I was a quiet little girl, sometimes struggling to make friends; desperately afraid of rejection and unsure of myself. But in the world of books, why, I could do anything; I could be anyone. And books became my very best friends, feeding my wild imagination.

For some years, I actively believed that if I found the right portal, I could slip back in time and go to the places in my books. I'd dream myself to sleep at night imagining myself inserted into the worlds of the stories I read. I almost always preferred books about places and times different from my own (no wonder I'm a history teacher living a coast away from the place where I grew up).

No books brought me as much happy reading as Laura Ingalls Wilder's books about life as a pioneer girl. I read those stories over and over. Within 48 hours of moving to Nebraska, at the age of 26, I made a trip to DeSmet, South Dakota, where Laura lived as a girl and young woman. In the years that I lived in Nebraska, I came to admire the prairie because of Laura's descriptions of the beauty of the sky and her appreciation for the feeling of the endless space.

Laura wrote one book about the childhood of her husband. It takes place in Malone, New York, in 1866, the year that Almanzo Wilder turns nine. Next week I will start reading Farmer Boy to JT's 3rd grade class, a room of children who will also turn nine this year. The world of woolen underwear, training your own yoke of oxen, and teachers who board with the families of the school is foreign to 3rd graders living in 2008. But Almanzo's joy in a ride on a sled, his satisfaction when he gets to do the things that his older brother is permitted, his admiration of his mother's homemade donuts; those experiences are timeless.

Each week I'll read a chapter to the 3rd grade. I hope that they find themselves caught up in the story and glad to hear about Almanzo's life. I know that I will.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Left Behind

The other evening, as I was getting supper on the table and thinking about the yard work I must get done this weekend, I heard an NPR story that made me stop in my tracks. It was a story about schools and the ways they try to help homeless students that attend them.

I'll write that again: homeless children just trying to get to school. When I think of homeless people, I usually think of veterans; the mentally ill; truly troubled people. But I picture adults. That doesn't make it okay, of course, but somehow the idea of homeless children trying to attend school is so much worse.

We can talk about test scores, and reading readiness, and No Child Left Behind all we like, but the real problems in American schools are not that simple. The real problems are hungry children from families with parents who are struggling to get by. Children without clean clothes and lunch boxes; with no place to do their homework at night; with anxieties and fears that no child should ever have to live with. Homeless children. The very phrase makes you catch your breath. How could this happen in our country?

In this nation, with our prosperity and accomplishments, it should be unthinkable that we have homeless people, let alone homeless children. How in the world can we educate children to succeed in this word if we can't find them a bed to sleep in or a steady source of nutrition to get their brains ready to learn?

This weekend, the cleaning, the laundry and the yard work are going to seem a whole lot easier to get done. And those beds that need to be made and the lunch boxes that must be filled? Well, those are a blessing as well, because I have them to take care of.

We must do better as a nation.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Just for Decoration

When my nephews came to visit this summer, C checked out the cookie jar on my kitchen counter. It was empty that day and he said to me, "Grandma has a cookie jar for decoration just like you."


I'm usually quite reliable about filling the cookie jar, but with summer I fell down on the job. Full-time lunchbox packing returns this week and so the cookie jar must be filled. And filled it was on Sunday evening. C is in California and unable to take advantage of the bounty. But JT and I will eat a cookie or two in his honor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


We have some new neighbors and they are working on their house. JT watched with great interest as they hauled new kitchen cabinets through the side door. I've met the new family and I told him so.

"They have a little girl," I said, "she's two years old."

The neighbors on the other side also have a two year old little girl and JT knows this because on occasion she has admired him with great intensity. He endures this admiration with a brave front. But to the announcement that yet another two year old girl has joined us here in suburbia, he heaved a great sigh.

"You know what this means, don't you?" he asked.

"Well, no, I'm not sure what this means," I answered.

So JT cleared it up for me, "It means that we are surrounded by the enemy, Mama. The enemy."

Good to know.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Freddie Who?

On Monday the 8th, at 8:30 am in the morning, my colleague S laid down a challenge: I would hear the names Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae at least ten times on that day. I took the challenge and began to keep track of just how often I heard (or read) those words. I applied a stringent standard: each story I heard or read counted as a single mention. In the context of those stories, I'm pretty sure that I heard the words Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae well over 40 times.

Here is my Freddie and Fannie journal for yesterday.

10:16 am, mention #1:
NYT e-mail alert that the federal takeover of Fannie and Frieddie has lifted the opening markets.

1:27 pm, mention #2:
Kevin Drum blog over at Mother Jones mentions the FMs.

4:45 pm, mention #3:
John McCain says the magic words on All Things Considered.

5:31 pm, mention#4:
Not to be outdone, Barack Obama weighs in on All Things Considered.

5:37 pm, mention #5:
Actual story on the bailout details and likely long-term meaning of the bailout; All Things Considered.

5:40 pm, mention #6:
Story on Fannie & Freddie and their boundless lobbying skills on All Things Considered. Turns out Fannie & Freddie were shameless lobbying whores.

5:59 pm, mention #7:
NPR bridge announcement: coming up a story on your favorite party guests, Fannie & Freddie.

6:00 pm, mention #8:
NPR bridge announcement: coming up on Marketplace at 6:30, a story....well, go ahead and guess.

6:01 pm, mention #9:
Headlines on NPR: White House weighs in on the Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bailout.

6:30 pm, mention #10:
Marketplace headlines: Guess who's coming to dinner?

6:32 pm, mentions #11, 12, & 13:
Three different stories on Marketplace.

6:45 pm mention #14:
Stock Market report on Marketplace......Fannie & Freddie stock prices are included.

7:29 pm, mention #15:
Sarah Palin gaffe report on Kevin Drum's blog at Mother Jones. Palin says, " The fact is, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, they've gotten too big and too expensive to the taxpayers," demonstrating a colossal misunderstanding of just what's going on because it was just yesterday that Fannie and Freddie belonged to the taxpayers. Also, I notice she never complains that oil companies are too big. Or insurance companies are too big. Size matters to the Republicans in a weird, weird way.

Obviously, the 6pm hour was the low (or high?) point of Freddie and Fannie in my day. Happily, I am fully versed on this particular economic governance disaster.

And I would just like to say this: when some hard-working family doesn't have enough money left over for groceries; when they can't fathom how they'll fill their gas tank and pay the winter heating bill; when they can't afford healthcare for their children, how is it that they are left to their own devices and made to feel shame about their circumstance while Fannie and Freddie stumble and get a zillion dollar bailout?

I don't oppose the bailout; I know that it must be done. But if we can make Freddie and Fannie solvent, then I think we owe the same consideration to hardworking families struggling to get by.

That view (and my promiscuously slavish devotion to the liberal media as noted above), is just one more reason that I'll be voting for Barack Obama in November.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Today I start my 7th year of teaching classes at my school. I love everything about my job: my students, the subjects that I explore, my colleagues. One of the reasons that I find it so rewarding is because of the community that exists here. It truly feels like we are a group of people seeking to better ourselves as a collective. For the most part, we're not trying to get better at the expense of one another. We share this goal and we work toward it as a community.

Six years ago on the first day of school, everywhere I turned there were faces that were new to me. I felt nervous; close to overwhelmed by the prospect of a new job in a new place. That morning as the school came together for our first daily meeting, the principal reminded the student body that there were new faces amongst us and he requested of everyone, "Make them feel at home. Say hello," he said.

And as I proceeded upstairs to teach my first class, that's what everyone did. There I was in a hallway filled with teenagers who were making eye contact with me and saying hello. I've never forgotten that day because, suddenly, I felt welcomed and a part of the mix. It's amazing the power that a simple hello can hold. After that day, I was a convert, taking care to greet the folks in my path each morning.

I always remember that lesson on the first day of school. But perhaps it resonates more this year. Last June, at graduation, as they do every year, the graduating class gave out an award to a teacher. Awards are a matter of some pride in the school and there usually is a surprise element involved. The person receiving the award is described and, at the very end, their name is announced. The suspense makes it fun for the listeners and certainly surprises the winner.

I know this because last June I received that award. I wasn't sure that the award was mine until the presenter said, "...she always says 'Good Morning' with a bright smile in the hallway." At that moment, I knew that the presenter was talking about me. And I was reminded again of the power of civility and the many things large and small that create a strong community here in my school and out in the larger world.

I'll do my part to make everyone feel welcome today and for the school year that follows. I'll be the woman with the smile and a good morning for the folks who cross my path. And this year I'll think with more gratitude about what it means to be a member of a community that brings me such pride.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Animal Control Edition

The backstory: I'm in the dining room, working on my computer and from the living room sofa I hear a question.

JT: Mama, would I be in trouble of I tied Lucy to the the table?

Mama: (panic creeping into my voice) You didn't do that, did you?

JT: No. I thought it would be best to ask permission first.

Mama: Well, I don't think that Lucy would enjoy it at all.

JT: So no permission, huh? There goes my future as an animal control agent.

What exactly goes on in the child's head?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

3rd Grade

Thursday was the first day of 3rd grade for a certain young man. He dressed for the occasion, with some fabulous stripey shorts and a big smile. He has been blessed with another year in the hands of the amazing Mrs. W, who will teach third grade this year. To have her twice in a row is a great joy in this house; we think she hung the moon.

The last two days have been filled with excited chatter about school: his new desk, the annoyance of a tucked-in shirt, the classroom jobs, singing in the choir, and the beauty of 3rd grade gym (they get to walk part of the way themselves!).....there are so many details that he is eager to share.

But I can't help myself. I still think of the year he started pre-K as a 3 year old, clutching his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle lunchbox in one hand while he held mine in the other.

I have no idea where the time has gone.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Convention Edition

The backstory: We're driving to school, listening to NPR. There is a lead-in to an upcoming story in which the announcer intones, "Next, we'll check on the state of the Republican Party as their convention prepares for Senator McCain to accept the Presidential nomination."

JT: I'll tell you the state of the Republican party. Stupid.

Me: Laughter.

JT: Or dumb. The Republicans are often dumb.

Obviously, the boy has drunk the family Koolaid.

I did think to bring up the need to express our political disagreements in a diplomatic fashion. But the child was channeling his Great Grandma Dorothy and it seemed best to let that sleeping dog lie.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Stuff Uncle M Doesn't Get

As part of a semi-regular feature on the 4th of each month, I have decided to write up a little posting I'm calling, "Stuff Uncle M Doesn't Get." These are things that Uncle M knows he should appreciate; things in society that other people of Uncle M's age and education enjoy. But Uncle M doesn't get them.

This month: Broadway. Uncle M knows that other people appreciate these productions, but not Uncle M. He offers no excuses. He just doesn't get Broadway.

On the basis of this information, I think that we can conclude Uncle M is straight.

No doubt his wife, the Sassafras Sister, appreciates confirmation of this fact.

Happy Birthday, Uncle M!
(Uncle M with Murphy the lap dog)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Get Me the IOC

Last week, JT and I re-watched some of our favorite moments from the Olympics. The other night, Lucy joined us. She's a big fan of Nastia Liukin, though she's a bit bent out of shape that there are no Cat Olympics. With her jumping and balancing skills, Lucy would be a sure-bet for a gold medal.

Monday, September 01, 2008

September 1: The Tree

For the past year, I've been taking a picture of the tree in my backyard on the 1st day of each month. I started the project on September 1, 2007 with the idea that I'd photograph and write about the tree for a year. By rights, the last photo should have been loaded up on August 1st, 2008. That would have made for 12 months of tree photos.

But I was in California on August 1st, so I took a picture of my Dad's lime tree and wrote about that instead.

Happily, this blog is mine and I can do whatever I damn well please, so I've decided to devote one more entry to my backyard tree. Though I only write about it once a month, I enjoy that tree every day that I live in this house. Lately, I've been sitting under it as the sun sets. As the darkness settles I turn on my outdoor lights and enjoy the evening. I've taken a picture of the tree and the outside lights to mark today, the 1st of September. As summer rapidly slips away, I feel the need to enjoy these warm days. Sitting under the tree at night lets me grab what's left of the long days, like extra nourishment for the short days and cold nights that will soon enough swallow me up.