Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving Food: Corn Bread Dressing

Though a turkey filled with stuffing is the center of many Thanksgiving meals, I can't say that I am a fan. The very idea of stuffing served out of the bird's carcass makes me queasy.

So if you come to Thanksgiving at my house, you won't be getting any stuffing from the bird. Instead, I make cornbread dressing. It's simple to prepare but tastes amazingly good. And it doesn't come out of the bird's backside, a big plus as far as I am concerned.

Corn Bread Dressing
corn bread (see below) ---- you only need two-thirds of the recipe so you will have leftover cornbread for your 8-year-boy *
½ cup onion, chopped finely
½ cup celery, chopped finely
2 tablespoons pickled jalapeno, finely chopped, plus a teaspoon of juice from the bottle
2 cups chicken broth, warmed
2 teaspoons black pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees; grease 8x8 baking dish.

Using two-thirds the baking of corn bread, crumble it into a bowl. Mix in the chopped veggies. Stir in black pepper. Stir jalapeno juice into the chicken broth. Pour over cornbread mixture and mix well. Cornbread will absorb much of the broth but should remain wet. Pour into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, until top is browned.

* If you don't have an 8-year-old boy, I'd highly recommend that you get one. They are loads of fun.

I should have taken an up-close picture of the cornbread dressing when it was fresh from the oven, but we ate it instead. So I am re-producing a picture of my Thanksgiving table......corn bread dressing is in front, to the right. It's golden brown and all sorts of yummy.

Corn Bread
You can make your favorite corn bread for use in the dressing. I use this recipe, which is unbeatably tasty and a staple in Sassafras House.

1 ¼ cup flour
¾ cup cornmeal (I prefer yellow, but white also works fine)
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten well.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare 8x8 baking dish or muffin tin (this recipe makes 6 large corn muffins).

Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in milk, oil, and egg, mixing well until dry ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm (JT recommends plenty of honey and butter).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Traditions: Cranberry Sauce

I am a fan of tradition and no meal features more tradition than Thanksgiving. I happen to have my own way of getting those food traditions to the table. Today and tomorrow I plan to write about two of my favorite Thanksgiving foods.

First up: cranberry sauce. Growing up, my family actually served the stuff that came from a can. Perhaps because of that, I never enjoyed the cranberry portion of the meal. It looked dreadful.

Living in Tennessee taught me the beauty of homemade cranberry sauce. It's so good, that it's hard to believe that it only take 15 minutes to prepare. Sure, that's more time than it takes to open a can. But I guarantee that it's worth the effort.

The recipe is simple:
½ cup water
½ cup orange juice
1 cup sugar
1 bag of fresh cranberries

In a saucepan, mix the water, juice, and sugar. Bring to a boil. Add cranberries and stir. Watch the pot carefully; when it returns to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. The cranberries will sizzle and pop in this stage. It's quite satisfying to watch the pot as it bubbles.
Pour into a serving bowl and let it cool. Cranberries have a natural pectin and the sauce will gel up as it cools. Serve with your supper and feel incredibly smug about how much better it looks (and tastes) than that nonsense from a can.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


One of the things that I enjoy most about holiday cooking is the process of planning a special meal. Selecting the menu, organizing the day's cooking, chopping, measuring, and stirring together the food, getting out the serving dishes, and setting the table are all details that must be planned out. For me, it is this process that helps to make a holiday meal special. I enjoy planning all of it.

What I love about the process is the way that it combines my appetite for organization and details with my sense of history and family.
When I plan for holiday cooking, I organize all of the food to be prepared before I get started. It takes a lot of practice to set an entire meal on the table at once. I wash and chop, measure and plan so that once I start the actual cooking it's a seamless process of moving things into and out of the oven and the stove and then setting food out on the table to be enjoyed in one big meal.

But cooking is only half of the process. For me, good food is made better by the way it is set out on the table.
I have a collection of antique dishes that I like to use for special meals. The core of the collection is a few large bowls that belonged to my grandmother. She used them everyday and I can still see (and taste) the green salad with red wine vinegar dressing that she would set on the table when our family came together for supper at her home. She gave me some of her bowls; auctions and antique stores rounded out my collection. Now I have a set of dishes worthy of serving a feast.

And if any meal should be a feast, it's Thanksgiving.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

In Which Our Heroine is Reminded that She Lives in New Jersey

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the union, a fact that I frequently forget. My morning commute doesn't feature too much traffic. And I usually drive home at 3:30, well before the roads are busy. I work on a wooded school campus along the banks of a river that is under the protection of the state's historical commission. I do live on a sometimes busy street in a small town; but sometimes busy is a relative term here....we're talking about maybe a dozen cars passing by at the commuter witching hour. And my house is set back on from the road, with a lovely secluded backyard.

For all of these reasons, it's easy for me to forget that the state is jam-packed with people. And these aren't just regular people: they are New Jerseyans.

I was reminded of this fact when I turned up at my local Wegmans Market this afternoon. I needed some groceries for the Thanksgiving feast. It would seem I wasn't alone in this need. Wegmans is my regular market and it's frequently busy. But busy doesn't even begin to describe it today. The aisles were filled with people who were apparently unaware of the universal imperative to stay to the right. At one point, when yet another fellow shopper left their cart in the middle of the aisle while wondering in search of mini-marshmallows, I threatened to have them vaporized. And I must have been loud in my announcement, because JT looked shocked at my bad manners.

I believe that I had released my inner New Jerseyan. Though I've grown quite fond of the state, it's certainly fair to say that Garden Staters are a loud and impatient crew, prone to creative and loud swearing; telling you exactly how they feel and, at times, what they intend to do about it. Traffic brings out their worst.

I can usually zip out of the Wegman's parking lot in 1 minute or less. This afternoon, it took us 20 minutes to get out of the lot and back to the highway. It would be fair to say that my fellow drivers were an aggressively dissatisfied lot of people, most of us armed with tiny frozen cranberries that could reasonably serve as impromptu bullets if it came to that.

I made it home, obviously. JT has retreated upstairs to the playroom where a large-scale Viking invasion is underway. The groceries have been unpacked into the cupboard. And I have settled down with a large glass of wine to soothe my frayed nerves.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fine Dining

As a result of spending far too much time watching those dreadful twins Zach and Cody on the Disney Channel, JT has been after me to order room service when we stay in a hotel. We don't actually stay in very many hotels, so it's been easy to resist this campaign. But Friday night, as the students were at their Model Congress sessions and I was gripped by my chronic end-of-the-week exhaustion, I caved in and said we could have supper from the room service menu.

JT ordered a hot dog and fries, not exactly the most elegant of dining options, but one of the essential ingredients in the JT food trifecta of hot dog, chicken fingers and pizza.

As he admired the fancy glass for his ice water and the miniature bottle of ketchup he announced, "this is the life."

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Return of the Big Daddy

Last Christmas, there was a large package under the tree that JT dubbed "the Big Daddy." The Big Daddy came from his cousins in California and after it was wrapped and placed under the tree, JT admired it so much that the wrapping was worn at the corners from being much-handled.

He's allowed to open one package on Christmas Eve; the Big Daddy was the obvious choice. And the Big Daddy certainly delivered.

Auntie KO has determined to continue the tradition and this year's Big Daddy arrived on Wednesday. JT spotted the box on the porch as soon as we got home. I distracted him so that he couldn't see the brand on the box and when he went to his attic playroom, I snuck Big Daddy II into an undisclosed hiding place. Soon enough we'll have a Christmas tree and one morning when JT comes downstairs he'll find Big Daddy II, stacked behind the tree and taunting him with its promise of toy joy.
In the last few years, Christmas has been hard for me. But I still love this part, with its secrets and temptations. For me, JT's joy and excitement is the real magic of the season. And I love the fact that the Big Daddy has become one of our family traditions.

Thanks, Auntie KO.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Adrenaline Surge

JT and I are in Washington D.C. for the weekend. I'm supervising my school's Model Congress team. JT is helping Congress with the Bailout.

The hotel is nice and all, but at 5:30 am, JT leaned out of his bed to fetch his blankets and whacked his head on the very pointy corner of the nightstand. I awakened to his announcement that, "Mama, I'm bleeding."

Way to get the Mama adrenaline surging.

We headed to the bathroom to staunch the flow. He has a nice wound on his head and I'd forgotten just how impressively heads can bleed. But we're basically no worse for the wear, and now have a handy head wound to attract all sorts of interest.
Please note that the chin is not bloody, but does carry the remnants of a few bites of pumpkin gingerbread cake.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fiscal Stimulus

Like many Americans, J.T. has been deeply concerned about the economic recession. He has determined that the appropriate course of action is some massive public spending. To that end, he has created his own currency.

J.T. currency is colored green and will be familiar to those of you used to trading in U.S. dollars. What may prove unfamiliar is the face value of the money. The boy deals exclusively in million dollar bills and two million dollar coins.

As you can see, production has been limited. Still, that's several million sitting on the dining room table with the pirate-costumed boy and Tiger the cat.
Major corporations in need of a J.T. bailout should drop us a line.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The English Language Can Kiss JT's Bootie

Last night's 3rd grade homework featured a grammar worksheet. The task: convert words from the singular to the plural. But not just any words. Instead he was working with the likes of leaf (leaves), volcano (volcanoes), and that classic Dan Quayle conundrum: potato (potatoes).

The discovery that there was no hard and fast rule for this practice just set the boy off. How is it that chef converts to chefs but calf becomes calves?

The mind boggles and if one is eight years old, the mind eventually concludes that the grammar homework can kiss one's bootie.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fresh Roasted

Once the weather turns cold, JT and the cats find many uses for the steam radiators that heat our home. A warm radiator is a popular place for a cat nap and JT uses the radiator in his room to warm his clothes for the morning. He sets his clothes out on the radiator the night before and because I am a full service Mama, when I wake up in the morning I flip everything over so that both sides are warm.

This morning as he pulled on his toasted socks and warm pants, JT announced, "Just what I like on a cold morning: fresh roasted clothes."


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mama's Baked Pasta

I am a sucker for those baked pasta dishes at Italian restaurants. Alas, I can't go out to supper every night. So I went for the next best alternative: a baked pasta dish of my own.

The major advantage of Mama's Baked Pasta? Easy-to-prepare hot supper at home and leftovers for the next day's lunchbox. Yummy. It's perfect for a cold rainy day and it's fairly inexpensive. Gee, the more I write, the more smug I feel about this recipe.

This recipe makes four generous servings and is baked in an 8x8" square baking dish. If you have more mouths to feed, double it and use a 9x11" baking dish.

½ pound penne pasta
½ red pepper, chopped
½ onion, chopped finely
1 small can sliced olives, drained
1 small can sliced mushrooms, drained
2 cups of your favorite tomato pasta sauce
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (less if you like less spice)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated

You can also add some pepperoni, if you're feeling so inclined.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare baking dish with a little cooking spray.

Prepare pasta according to the package directions (and don't skip the salt!). While pasta is cooking, chop the veggies and open and drain the olive and mushroom cans. Grate the cheese. Set aside. Pour the pasta sauce into a large bowl and mix in the red pepper flakes.

When the pasta is cooked and well-drained (but still hot), add it to the bowl with the pasta sauce. Mix well; the pasta should be cooked and a little saucy (add more sauce if you like). Then add in the red pepper, onion, olives, and mushrooms. Mix well and add the grated mozzarella, reserving a handful. Mix everything one last time and then scoop it into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the reserved mozzarella over the top.

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes, or until cheese on top is browned and bubbly. Serve with salad and warm bread (that's what the hot oven is for)....and I must insist upon a large glass of wine. Now aren't you fancy?

In addition to the fact that the dish comes together quickly, you can make all sorts of additions or changes. If you prefer fresh mushrooms to canned, you can substitute those. Add a little green pepper with the red pepper. Add some cooked Italian sausage or some pepperoni. Substitute farfalle for the penne, because that's what you have on hand. Skip the red pepper flakes. You make the call.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Morning Edition

I woke up yesterday morning just a few minutes before my alarm clock, as is my habit. As I lay in the dark, there were several moments when I couldn't recall what day it was.

More disturbing was the fact that I was just too bone-tired to care. It's been a long week; one of those weeks when work demands your every spare moment and when being the only adult in the household takes its toll. The thing about having a partner is that it allows you to hold on to the hope --- however futile --- that your other half might wash a load of laundry, clean the bathroom, or even lend an ear.

But there is no other half in this house, and these days I'm the sort of hard-core realist who has grown weary of the business of false hopes. The whole of me will instead settle for a slow weekend morning with the prospect of an extra cup of coffee, time with a good book, and a nap.

And, lest I forget, there is all that exciting cleaning to look forward to.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Comfort Food

The last of the leaves are falling and the weather has turned cold again this week. My cardigan sweaters have been out in full force. Something about wearing a wool cable knit cardigan makes me feel old-fashioned. And feeling old-fashioned made me think about tapioca pudding, a treat my grandmother used to make for me when I was in college.

So I made some tapioca the other day, using a simple recipe that Grandma would recognize:

¼ cup granulated tapioca
1 ½ cups milk
a pinch of salt
1 egg
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla

Combine tapioca, milk and the pinch of salt in a saucepan. Place on medium high heat and stir until boiling. Simmer for 2 minutes over the lowest possible heat. While the tapioca and milk simmer, beat the egg with the sugar in a separate bowl. After 2 minutes of simmer, add some of the tapioca and milk mixture to the egg and sugar to equalize the temperature (so the egg won't curdle). Return all to the saucepan and continue to cook on the lowest heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat; add vanilla when the pudding has cooled about 10 minutes. Chill or serve warm.

Comfort in a bowl.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sleeper Cells and Peer Pressure

Two weeks ago, my neighbors were out in full force, virtuously raking leaves and tidying their yards. I didn't exactly lay about eating bon bons, but there wasn't a lot of leaf raking at Sassafras House, largely because my big backyard tree was still holding on to its leaves and I decided there was no point starting the raking with so many more leaves yet to fall.

Over the course of the following week, the leaves came down. We were suddenly awash in fall detritus. No worry, I told myself. I'd rake on Saturday.

On Saturday it rained.

So it was that my leaves were now abundant and wet. Because that makes the chore a lot more fun. I deferred on Sunday and got to work on Monday after school.

The backyard leaves will mostly be raked into my garden patch and left to rot over the winter. By spring, they will be a lovely organic mulch for my spring planting.

But that leaves (pun intended) a lot of work yet to be done. The driveway was particularly awash in leaves and it's gotten difficult to play basketball, so I raked together piles to be moved into bags and hauled to the curb. In an hour, I filled two bags on Monday afternoon and, as you can see, there are plenty more to go. I think of these piles as sleeper cells, just waiting for a breeze to re-arrange them.
I've got a few leaf bags at the curb now, not exactly measuring up to the neighborhood standard, but probably enough to keep the neighbors from turning on me and burying me under the leaves that remain in my backyard.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


The election got me a bit off-track, so my Halloween 2008 posting is a little late. But this posting is about more than Halloween; it's about a friendship that thrives on Halloween and all the days in between. So in that respect it's one of those postings that is always timely.

For several years now, JT has gone Halloween trick-or-treating with his friend D. The boys have been buddies since JT was just three and D was a year and a half years old. They are now eight and seven respectively and it is one of the blessings of their young lives that these boys just get one another. Blessed with a similar ability to suspend reality and live entirely in their imaginations, they can play together for hours and hours at a time, chattering and having fun.

In the last year, as JT has grown more self-aware, he's thought about his friendship with D and told me that they can always play together because of their willingness to believe in one another's make –believe games. JT recently told me, "It's okay with me if D wants to be an alien from the future because D lets me be a pirate from the past."

Well said, I think.

These boys have a happy Halloween past:



And a present:

It seems a pretty safe bet to count on their Halloween future.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: Cleanliness is Next to Something Edition

The backstory: the rug on in my living room floor has just been vacuumed. Soon after, JT has enjoyed a helping of potato chips, his most favorite snack ever. As I am walking upstairs with a load of laundry, I see two large crumbs on the living room floor.

Me: I'm sure that I don't see two potato chips on my freshly-vacuumed rug.

JT (looking at the items in question on the rug): Really? Because if that's true, then you need to get your eyes checked.

I believe that this sort of sass is called reaping what you've sown.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

My Laundry Woes

When you are the mother of a boy, it's understood that your laundry and stain-removal skills will be put to the test. In fact, JT plays outside so much that I've come to really welcome the summer because it's a break from the business of removing grass stains from his pants. Summer means shorts and grass stains on skinny knees are de riguer when one is 8 years old.

And they'll eventually be bleached out by the pool anyway.

Alas the warm weather has come to a close and pants are now required. When JT heads outside to play each afternoon, he switches from school clothes to play clothes. Near as I can tell, this simply buys me two sets of grass stains to remove each day.


My friend J has just recommended Oxy Clean. I think I'll buy the large size.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Real Life Conversations with JT: World Domination Edition

The backstory: JT is playing outside, running about with sticks and deeply involved with some sort of game. He comes inside to ask me a question.

JT: Mama, is Greece a country?

Mama: Yes. Why do you ask?

JT: Because France and England need someone to invade and I think they should invade Greece. They already conquered Italy.

Mama: Well I'm sure that Greece is sorry to hear that. Carry on with your invasion, son.

The kid has lived too long in George W. Bush's America. It's a good thing that has changed.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


One of the pleasures of being a parent is listening to your child as he develops language. Inevitably, there are mispronunciations that come to mark a moment in your child's life and when you hear those words you remember that time. As JT has grown older, I've been amused at certain words he uses, not because of mispronunciations but because they are his own words.

One of those words is goodly.

Don't bother to look for it in your dictionary, because what you find there isn't quite what he means.

When JT declares something goodly, he means something happy, excellent, good. Goodly makes your heart sing. I suppose that a responsible parent might explain that goodly isn't really a word, but don't look for me to do that. I'm a big fan of goodly.

Since Barack Obama was declared the winner of the election on Tuesday night, I've been feeling goodly. I am incredibly proud of my nation. For the first time in several years, I am hopeful that my government will be a force for good in my nation and the world.

That's a goodly thing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

All Politics, All the Time: Prediction Edition

JT and I have already cast our ballot. That's my boy's finger on the Barack Obama button in my local voting booth early this morning. I want him to remember the pride of that moment for the rest of his life. I know that I will.

Read on for my predictions for the outcome of today's election, including some of the key congressional races of the day.

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. I predict a final balance of 260 Democrats and 175 Republicans in the House.

In the Senate, with 100 seats, the margin is slimmer. Technically speaking, both parties control 49 seats. Independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut currently caucuses with the Democrats, as does Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. That gives the Democrats the edge in terms of committee chairs, with a functional 51-49 split. There are 35 seats up for election in the Senate this fall (both seats in Mississippi are up....see below for details). Of those races, 10 looked competitive as of September. As the election neared, 2 more became competitive, for a total of 12 critical races. And here the odds are intriguing: 11 of those at-risk seats belong to incumbent Republicans; only 1 incumbent Democrat is similarly uncomfortable. I predict a net Democratic gain of 9 seats, with final totals of 59 Democrats (including Bernie Sanders) and 40 Republicans, plus Joe Lieberman of Connecticut as the lonely Independent.

As it turns out, there is also a presidential race tomorrow. Who knew? I predict an Obama victory and I'll put our money where my (big) mouth is. The Electoral College will see Obama with 364 votes to McCain's 174. As to national vote percentages, there I expect to see the depth of the Obama victory with Obama scoring 51.5% of the national popular vote to McCain's 45.5%; the remaining 3% will be split by the third party candidates.


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. It's a Democratic year in Alaska and Democrat Berkowitz will win. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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. But popular Montgomery Mayor and attorney, Democrat Bobby Bright, will ride the tail of high African-American turnout in south Alabama and he will win. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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. It's not to be. Democrat Parker Griffith, a state senator, local physician, and veteran will hold 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 ads asking the voters 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 is 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. And Markey is correct about that. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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 this year the Cubanos in Florida - 21 may select another of their own, Democrat Raul Martinez, the mayor of Hialeah and publisher of the Spanish newspaper El Sol de Hialeah. Democrat Martinez will prevail. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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 and will do his part to unseat the Diaz-Balart family, prevailing in Florida – 25. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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. But 2008 is another good year for Democrats and Boyden will prevail. But it will be close.

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? It will indeed. Cazayoux will hold in this close contest.

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 but New Hampshire voters are feeling Democratic and they will return Shea-Porter to the House.

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. Democrat Heinrich will prevail. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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 but that won't hurt Chabot, who will hold in a very close contest.

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. This isn't his year and Kilroy will be headed to Washington, D.C. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

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 and Carney has served the district well. He will win the race.


1. Alaska: Who knew that Alaska would become the focus of national politics in this year's election? Incumbent Republican Senator Ted Stevens has been serving Alaska in the Senate since 1968, when he was appointed to serve the remaining term of his deceased predecessor. Since then, Stevens has been elected to 6 full terms on his own. This year, Stevens began the campaign under suspicion of a federal indictment for influence peddling. Stevens' ethical troubles made the race attractive to Democrats, who don't often win state-wide office in Alaska. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich is hoping to change that. The jury convicted Stevens on all seven charges. Ouch. Begich is headed to Washington D.C. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

2. Colorado: Incumbent Republican Senator Wayne Allard is retiring. Two well-known Coloradons are facing off to replace him. The Democrat is Mark Udall, a former member of the State House, a current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the son of Mo Udall, who served in the Colorado House delegation for 30 years. Udall is running against Republican Bob Schaffer, a former member of the Colorado State Senate, a 3-term ex-member of Congress, a current member of the Colorado State Board of Education and an '04 candidate for the Senate. Udall will prevail quite handily. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

3. Louisiana: Incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu is the only incumbent Democratic Senator expected to face a tough contest this fall. For a while it seemed that Landrieu might lose to Republican John Kennedy, the state's current Treasurer and a former Democrat. But things have evened out lately and Democrat Landrieu will prevail.

4. Minnesota: Republican Senator Norm Coleman is near the end of his first term in the Senate and he's struggled to remain popular in the state. Helping to pound the nails in his coffin is Democrat Al Franken, a native Minnesotan and former SNL actor, with a long-standing interest in politics. Franken has been campaigning for the seat for nearly two years. Gumming up the works is former U.S. Senator Dean Barkley, running as an Independent. Polls show this race to be tight, and both Coleman and Franken have taken a turn as the leader. A.P. Gov't expects this to be a very close race, but we give the narrow edge to Democrat Franken. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

5. Mississippi: Republican Trent Lott retired from the Senate last year and Republican Governor Haley Barbour appointed Republican Roger Wicker to serve until an election could be held. Wicker is seeking to hold the seat, facing off against Democrat Ronnie Musgrove, a former Mississippi Governor. Wicker and Musgrove are seeking to earn the seat for two more years. In the other Mississippi seat, incumbent Senator Thad Cochrane is expected to coast to victory. And the GOP will hold both Mississippi seats; Wicker will prevail.

6. New Hampshire: This year, the Granite State is being touted as a swing state for the presidential race. That prospect, a function of the state's increasing friendliness to Democrats, has placed incumbent Republican Senator John Sununu in a tough spot. Democrat Jeanne Shaheen was the first woman to be elected Governor in the Granite State; she served for two terms and was well-liked. New Hampshire is Obama territory this year and Shaheen will benefit from that and her own track record of Granite State popularity. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

7. North Carolina: Incumbent Republican Elizabeth Dole is seeking a second term as a Tarheel Senator and she started the race with a lead. But she's facing a tough challenger in the form of Democrat Kay Hagan, who has served in the state Senate for 10 years. Hagan is well-respected and well-liked in the state and Dole made some serious miscalculations in the last few weeks. Democrat Hagen will be headed to the Senate tonight. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

8. New Mexico: The retirement of incumbent Republican senator Pete Domenici has opened up an opportunity for another member of the Udall family, Democrat Tom Udall, son of conservationist Stewart Udall. Udall is facing off against Republican Tom Pearce. Both Udall and Pearce currently represent New Mexico in the U.S. House and both are well-liked. But it's a Democratic night and the Udalls can go ahead and plan a family reunion for Washington D.C. as Democrat Tom Udall joins his cousin Mark in the Senate.

9. Oregon: Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith is a centrist who is well-respected in his home state. In any other year, that would be enough to get him re-elected. But this isn't any other year and Oregon is expected to go big for Obama tonight. That makes the Senate race much more competitive and Democratic candidate and Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkely has taken advantage of the surge in his party's favor. Look for Merkely to oust Smith from the Senate tonight. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

10. Virginia: Republican incumbent Senator John Warner is retiring from office, leaving this seat up for grabs. One reason that Virginia has made a lot of presidential swing state lists has been the success of Democrat Mark Warner (no relation) in the Old Dominion. Warner was a popular Governor; these days he's seeking the Senate running against Republican Jim Gilmore, also a former Governor. Democrat Warner will coast to victory in the Old Dominion. This race is a Democratic pick-up.

Late-Breaking states:

Kentucky: The Blue Grass state has been electing Republican Mitch McConnell to the U.S. Senate for nearly as long as they've been growing blue grass (okay, only since 1984). He is the Senate Minority Leader and was widely expected to coast to an easy re-election victory. Enter Democrat Bruce Lunsford, a zillionaire healthcare executive who has deep pockets from which he happily funded his campaign. It's been a costly race and McConnell has found it to be far more competitive than he expected. The Democrats would dearly love to oust McConnell, if only for the symbolic value of kicking Republican leadership to the curb. Lunsford is a good candidate but he won't be good enough. Look for McConnell to score a slim victory tonight.

Georgia: Six years ago, Republican Saxby Chambliss won election to the Senate by arguing that the Democratic incumbent, Vietnam vet and triple amputee Max Cleland, wasn't patriotic. The Chambliss victory was a bitter pill for Democrats nation-wide because Cleland was such a decent man. Those very same Democrats are hoping that karma comes calling tonight, in the form of Democrat Jim Martin, a former state representative who has suddenly come within striking distance of Chambliss. High Obama turnout will be the swing factor in Georgia tonight and it will propel Democrat Martin to a first place finish. Georgia law requires him to win 50% + 1 to claim the seat. With a Libertarian on the ballot, that's a little more difficult to predict. This race will be a Democratic pick-up, though it may not be until the December runoff that Martin is the confirmed victor.

Monday, November 03, 2008

All Politics, All the Time: The Change I Believe In

Over the course of the past year I've pointed out many, many reasons that I think its time for a new leader in this country. By now, it's fundamentally clear that I support the election of a Democrat to the White House. But as the election has come to a close and poll after poll has suggested that Barack Obama is truly headed to the White House, I've been startled about just how good I feel about his potential election.

I spend my days teaching history and politics to a group of highly motivated and racially diverse young men and women. I believe in the power of the American dream and when I teach about the revolution and the claims to liberty made by our founding fathers and the unique structures of our representative democracy, I am always a proud of my country.

Of course, I never lose sight of the downside to the American story. The 1776 revolution did bring liberty to more people than any other nation in history. Even so, we still permitted slavery for vast numbers of men, women, and children. Women did not receive the franchise until 1920. It wasn't until 1965 that we truly guaranteed the right of African Americans to vote everywhere in this nation. And even since then, our record of improving race relations is not always worthy of praise or pride. For all the stories of American accomplishment when it comes to freedom and equality, there are times we have fallen badly short of the promise of our revolution.

When Barack Obama tells his life-story, he points out that his is a quintessential American story. It truly is. For the bi-racial son of an African immigrant father and a young, white Kansan mother to achieve election to the highest office in the land is a distinctly American story. It's proof of just how far the dream has come.

In the last few years, I haven't been very proud of my country's behavior in the world. I've wondered if we can undo the damage of the Bush White House at home and abroad. When Barack Obama promises change, I believe him. I respect the way he tells us it won't be an easy fix and promises to lead the way; to help us move ourselves forward. For the first time in a while, I expect to be proud of my president, proud of my government, and proud of my country. I can look at my son and at the diverse faces at my school and promise these young people that the American dream is alive and well; that our nation does stand for something great and grand in this world; something more than the sum of our parts.

That's the change I want and it's change that I can believe in. And tomorrow morning, when JT and I go to cast our ballot for Barack Obama, I'm going to feel incredibly proud to be an American. I'm going to stand in that voting booth with Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and countless others by my side. I'm going to do my part to make them proud of the United States.

Tomorrow, I'm going to feel like I am handing my son and other people's children a country that will once again delivers on its promises. I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

All Politics, All the Time: Preconditions

One of the most trying elements of the presidential campaign has been John McCain's accusations that Barack Obama is willing to meet with foreign leaders without preconditions.

The accusation has a history. It dates back to the Democratic primary, when Hillary Clinton suggested that Obama lacked the foreign policy experience to deal with so-called rogue nations. She said he demonstrated a naive willingness to meet with dangerous world leaders.

The accusation was silly then. In the last few months, it's become down-right irresponsible.

At the moment, the world's impression of the United States is that WE are a rogue nation, willing to invade other countries and throw our weight around in pursuit of our own self-interest. In fact, one of the most irresponsible policies of the Bush Administration has been its own intractability when it comes to talking with the world. From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, and Somalia in between, the last eight years have hardly been a demonstration of American leadership in the world. At best, we can hope that the world blames George W. Bush and not the American people for the colossal arrogance we have brought to international relations of late.

That's hardly the strongest hook on which to hang our hopes of a more peaceful and stable world. When Barack Obama says he's willing to meet with the world's leaders without preconditions, he simply means that American diplomatic channels are open, and he'd like to talk out the world's problems. It's not as if he's planning a White House slumber party with the likes of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro (or his brother Raul, if Fidel is feeling poorly), Mahmud Ahmadinejad, Robert Mugabe, and the Janjaweed. He's saying: I have a State Department and a corp of diplomatic agents and so do you. Let's get them together and start talking.

Taking the initiative and talking out the world's problems. That's neither radical nor irresponsible. That's real leadership.

Despite Bush's efforts to the contrary, we remain the most powerful nation in the world. With power comes responsibility. And if we want to occupy the moral high ground in relations with the world, we must show ourselves to be a nation of reason and restraint, a nation with innovative ideas and a willingness to do the hard work of leading by being willing to talk.

Let the diplomacy begin.