Friday, July 31, 2009

My Brain has Turned to Jelly

A brief review of this week's postings reveals that I am a shallow and not very creative girl.

I like to believe that is not a true reflection of my skills and talents (or skill and talent?) but I've spent so much time thinking this week (I really have; the workshop presenters have been most amazing) that my tiny brain has turned to jelly. Or mush. Or something.

And that's a bit embarrassing because here I am, sitting around in Mark Twain's house, using up his internet, setting my feet on the furniture, and drinking him out of house and home. For heaven's sake, at least I could find something clever to say.

But I've got nothing.

I do know that Samuel Clemens was a fascinating and complicated man. He was funny and good and thoughtful. And he was often disappointed by his fellow Americans, though it would seem that he never gave up hope we could fix the mash-up we'd made of things.

To whit: In 1885, Clemens received a letter from Walter P. McGuinn, a student at Yale Law School. McGuinn was struggling to pay tuition for school and was working three jobs while he attended classes. McGuinn had heard of Clemens' good deeds on behalf of young blacks and so, out of the blue, he wrote Clemens and asked for help.

Clemens quietly arranged to pay tuition and board for McGuinn. Clemens wrote to the Dean of the Law School at Yale: "I do not believe I would very cheerfully help a white student who would ask a benevolence of a stranger, but I do not feel so about the other color. We have ground the manhood out of them, & the shame is ours, not theirs; & we should pay for it."

McGuinn was a graduate of Lincoln University. He would be the first African-American to graduate from Yale Law School. Some years later, lawyer McGuinn was working for the NAACP, where he mentored another young, black lawyer. That lawyer was Thurgood Marshall, who would later appear before the Supreme Court to argue Brown v. Board of Education. And then Marshall joined that Court himself, as the first African-American Justice.

Though it's just one story, it's not an isolated example. So I must admit that I'm rather in awe of Mr. Clemens.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Subtlety Lost on Me

One week from today, I will be in my hometown, Clovis. When I checked the forecast today (because, yes, I am a glutton for punishment), the National Weather Service gave me this.

And here's what I want to know....why is it that a forecast of 96 degrees warrants a picture of the sun's surface searing my eyes while a forecast of 94 degrees is a lovely blue and green warmed earth?

What's that about?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Toe Nail Polish

I know that I claimed to be developing my mind this week and so y'all can be excused for thinking WTF, she's writing about her toenails?

But, yeah, WTF, I am writing about my toenails.

Specifically, my love of a pedicure.

During the winter months, my feet take a beating. I do my best to treat them nicely but all that running on the elliptical machine and the dry, cold weather wreaks some havoc. Come sandal season, my feet are in need of help. Enter the nice people at Sunny Nails, who do their very best to avoid recoiling in horror when they see my feet. Then they roll up their sleeves, take command of my callous-laden hooves, and make my toes lovely.

For most of the summer, I take an hour every other Saturday(the weekends that the boy is away) to relax and treat my feet to a pedicure. I feel like this is a luxury of the highest order and I enjoy it. I especially like picking out the toe nail polish. I try to vary the colors but this week I picked my favorite color EVER: Hoodoo Voodoo. If OPI ever stops making it, that will be a tiny life crisis for me.

In the meantime, I'll continue to think happy thoughts about tanned feet and shiny toenails.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tom, Huck, and Me

For the last few summers, I've taken a week out of my summer sloth to go somewhere and learn something new. This summer's something new is a week spent at the Mark Twain House in Hartford, Connecticut, where I will learn about, well, forgive my keen command of the obvious, but what I will learn about is Mark Twain and his world.

The workshop is part of a National Endowment for the Humanities series of summer classes for teachers. I chose Mark Twain because I've always loved his books and essays and because I really enjoy teaching about the Gilded Age of American history. And I figured that this class would offer something new to feed my fact hump.

While JT spends some time with what's-her-bucket, I am spending some time with Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Postings may be light until I return, because I am unsure of the internet situation in the wilds of Connecticut. But if the workshop readings are any indication, I'll have plenty of ideas to keep me busy in the next few days.

Carry on.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Camp Report

As we pulled out of the campground on Wednesday afternoon, JT made it official. "This was the best camping trip ever," he announced.

I couldn't agree more.

Given the cool and rainy summer we've had so far, the weather on Cape Cod was surprisingly cooperative, with plenty of blue skies and breezy sunshine on offer.
The beach, as always, provided hours of hole-digging fun.
Those same shovels are also quite handy should you be called upon to play air guitar.
The very dangerous shark who declared the ocean her own proved a thrilling challenge for the smack-talking invaders. Note: if the laughter was any indication, her bark was far worse than her bite.

We ended our annual tidal walk with a bit of impromptu dancing by certain young men.
Riding the 6 mile round trip bike trail to Herring Cove Beach was an awesomely enjoyable challenge.
Hanging around the camp site was pretty fun as well.
D's Auntie C drove on over from Boston and taught us how to make our very own silk-screened t-shirts. This batch, which combined a picture drawn by two very happy boys, will serve as a lasting reminder of the '09 trip to Cape Cod.
The jaunty shirts drying on the line say it best: we had a happy 10 days in the woods and at the beach, riding our bikes downhill, and basking in the glory of being with two very happy boys.

To answer Nichole's question: Hell yes, we slept in that tent for the whole trip (full disclosure: on an air mattress). And that was fine right up until the night it rained buckets and we discovered the waterproof limitations of our 12 year old tent. Now on my To-Do list: a new tent for family campouts.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Bookish Girl

In preparation for our annual camping trip, I organize a big stack of books to bring on the trip. I always have a book by my side and during the school year I regularly read three or four books each month. My tastes are diverse: I read histories and biographies, books about politics, but mostly I escape the world via loads and loads of fiction. My tastes encompass both serious novels and fluff (I love a good mystery). Reading is my respite and retreat.

My reading pace picks up in the summer and I've been known to finish two or three books a week. The camping trip offers me hours and hours of reading time; sometimes I can spend an entire day reading a book. Below is a list of every book I've read this year:

January '09
Clare Boylan Emma Brown
Linda Bruckheimer The Southern Belles of Honeysuckle Way
Miss Read Farther Afield

February '09
Jonathan Lethem Motherless Brooklyn
Margaret Peterson Haddix Uprising
Anne Tyler Breathing Lessons
Kent Haruf Plainsong

March '09
Jennifer Donnelly A Northern Light
Diana Gabaldon Lord John and the Private Matter
Kent Haruf Eventide
Kate Furnivall The Russian Concubine
Michael Pollan The Omnivore's Dilemma

April '09
James D. Houston Snow Mountain Passage
Russell Banks The Reserve
Erik Larson Thunderstruck
Brian Keith Jackson The View From Here

May '09
Rick Bragg All Over but the Shoutin'
Kim Edwards The Memory Keeper's Daughter
Rick Bragg Ava's Man
Michael Pollan In Defense of Food
Hazel Holt Mrs Malory and a Time to Die

June '09
Heather B. Armstrong It Sucked and Then I Cried
Miss Read Village School
Miss Read Village Diary
Miss Read Storm in the Village
Miss Read Over the Gate
Miss Read The Fairacre Festival
Miss Read Village Centenary
Tim Cockey The Hearse You Came In On
Tim Cockey Hearse of a Different Color
Dambisa Moyo Dead Aid

July '09
Anthony Trollope The Way We Live Now
Tim Cockey The Hearse You Came In On
Tim Cockey Murder in the Hearse Degree

And here is the list of books I read while I was at Cape Cod:
Mark Twain The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces
Alice Taylor To School Through the Fields
Miss Read Thrush Green


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Life List

My last posting was about day dreaming and making a life list. And today, I'm posting a life list that I've been working on for the last few months. It's fun to think about and I have to admit that my list is getting longer and longer. But I'll start with a good sound number: twenty-five. In no particular order, here are twenty-five things on my life list:

1. Have my own hot tub. 2. Hold my grandchild. 3. Take a cruise. 4. Visit all 50 states; current total: 42. 5. Find the perfect quilt for my bed. 6. Drive across country.....with JT behind the wheel. 7. Take JT to Europe. 8. Get a new bicycle. 9. Share my love of the Little House books with my child. 10. Have a front porch so incredible it could be on the cover of Country Living magazine. 11. Live in the South (again). 12. Throw terrific parties again. 13. Train a vining plant to grow on a trellis in my backyard. 14. Learn to make a tasty white wine sangria. 15. Take a class in experimental philosophy at Rutgers University. 16. Finish the upgrade of the upstairs hallway....and then put up a cool wall decal from an etsy shop. 17. Teach JT to appreciate eating a variety of fresh fruits & vegetables. 18. Teach a course in American Foreign Policy (again....I taught it years ago, when I was a college professor). 19. Own a kick-ass black cashmere cardigan sweater. 20. Find the perfect dress. Wear it someplace special. Feel amazing. 21. Make (and eat!) a fruit pie made from apples and pears I grew myself. 22. Endow a scholarship at my alma mater, UCLA. 23. Clean up the boxes in the basement. 24. Visit Montreal. 25. Re-furbish the wood Adirondack chairs in the back yard.

As I cross things off my list (see number 9 above, finished before I was ready to share my life list with the world), I plan on writing about the experience. It's really nice for me to look toward the future. Thanks to Maggie for the inspiration.

What's on your life list?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Daydreaming of the Future

One of the inadvertent effects of the break-up of my family 3 years ago was my sudden inability to imagine (or plan) for my future. I had once devoted a significant part of my inner life to thinking about the future she and I would have together. That thinking and planning of these daydreams was often just the stuff of fantasies (wouldn't it be nice to see Mt. McKinley in Alaska together?). But those fantasies were enjoyable ideas to entertain; the sorts that could comfortably carry me off to sleep at night. And every once in a while, the daydreams would spark some very powerful dreams of mine to fruition. First among those was the conception and birth of my son.

In fact, one of the things that I loved the most about my now-ex partner was the way that she helped me to believe in myself. I felt like I led a charmed life. With her by my side, I felt like I could do anything. In my son, was the real life realization of just how amazing anything could be.

But with her departure, the charm was broken. My life was suddenly one of uncertainty. And not just some tiny day-to-day uncertainties (e.g., what will I make for supper tonight? How will we handle back-to-school night?) but also great, gaping, chasms of uncertainty (how will I survive until next week? how do I prepare to grow old alone? what of that dream of a bed and breakfast in the woods?). Of those uncertainties, there was an endless list; far too many to bear. And it was more painful than I could have ever imagined.

So I shut down the rich inner life that was my dreams of the future and concentrated my thoughts on the reality of the present. The dream canvas didn't go completely blank of course; my mind would sometimes wander back to that familiar territory. But when it happened it was extraordinarily painful. So I became very talented at avoidance.

I began to concentrate on the day-to-day and then, when absolutely necessary, the week-to-week. By the time I returned to school in September of 2006, I could plan a lesson for the classes I taught; I could arrange for a Halloween costume to be pulled together; I even organized my first Christmas as a single mama.

But where I once would have enjoyed such planning, in many respects, it was now painful. So as much as possible, I relied on my already naturally organized life to just continue to execute itself with little additional advance planning. In this way, things got done and we functioned. I didn't have to think about the new way that we were functioning (and I didn't want to). And I certainly didn't anticipate the future. At some level, of course, I knew it was on the horizon. But with a present that was painful, I didn't want to think about the future.

Three years later, I'm still here. And I've realized how much I miss the world of a future-imagined. Perhaps nothing brought home this point as poignantly as Maggie Mason's life list, a set of wildly diverse goals that she's posted on her Mighty Girl blog. I don't recall when she first articulated it; I just know that I've admired it for a while. Often, I've read it and idly thought (yeah, I'd like to do that.....her goal to try 1,000 fruits) or hey! I do do that (lemonade on the front porch) and sometimes, oh-my-god, I don't think so (visit the church made of bones).....Whether the goals are big or small, Maggie's life list is fun to think about.

But I only know Maggie from her blog and in the meantime, I have this life of my own that I must live. Sometimes I even think of it as the life I am living. Will live. And so, with the understanding that the future is on its way, and likely much sooner than I would otherwise like, I've decided to take Maggie up on her challenge. I'm organizing a life list and I'm posting it for the world to see. Because I can. And because I owe it to myself to dream again.

Look for the list in a posting later this week. Right now, it's mostly a list of things, not really a plan of action. Soon enough, I might even go one step better and make some plans to execute this life list.

Hey, a girl can dream.

Friday, July 17, 2009

House Specialty: Garlic Toast

I devised this recipe to deal with leftover baguettes, which have a tendency to grow a little tough a day or two after they come home from the market. You can also use other hearty breads to make garlic toasts; for example, sometimes I use leftover sourdough. Other than the bread, the rest of the ingredients are things that I always have on hand.
Garlic toasts are good for all sorts of tasty uses. Broken up, they make a great crouton. They can be eaten with dips. Or served with cheese. They are great with hearty soups. By now, you should be getting the idea: there are plenty of uses for garlic toast. And one final word of caution: you can never have enough of these on hand (especially those of you who live with a 9 year old boy).

baguette bread, sliced thin
melted butter (about 3 tablespoons for half a baguette)
garlic powder

Heat the oven to 425 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil. Lay the sliced bread out on the cookie sheet; don't overlap any slices.
Using a pastry brush (mine is this silicone number from Crate & Barrel; handy because it can go in the dishwasher), brush the toasts with the melted butter. Then, using a light hand, sprinkle the toasts with garlic powder, oregano, and then salt & pepper. Here's where the foil comes in just sprinkle the tray.
Put the cookie sheet in the oven for 7-10 minutes; thinner toasts will cook more quickly, so check often. I like mine crunchy, but not too browned.
I served these with spinach dip and carrots for the 4th of July block party on my street. They were gone within the hour.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Household Style: Back Deck Stained Glass

There is a large southern-facing back deck at my house, with plenty of room for a table with chairs, the grill, and some flower pots. The deck sits next to the big tree and there is often plenty of shade. It's one of my favorite places to sit and read. Most days, I enjoy at least one cup of morning coffee sitting out on that deck. We eat supper outside most nights of the week.
The people who owned the house before me kept their hot tub in a corner on the back deck and to provide privacy, there is a lovely stained glass window in the deck wall. I haven't quite determined what to do with this feature of the house, but I enjoy the many prospects it offers. I like the fact that the window is a bit of a secret, tucked in a corner and doing its part to make life in my home just a little more beautiful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Taking a Break from Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

This morning, the boy and I head north for our 4th annual Cape Cod camping trip. JT looks forward to this trip all year long; its arrival on the calendar is a source of great happiness. This trip is one of the best things I do as a parent and I am so grateful to the R-K family, who first invited us along on the adventure and will be with us this year as well. Last summer, when we arrived at camp, my friend S said to me, "the boys will always have these memories." In the low points of the year, when I feel tired and overwhelmed; when I wonder if I'm a good enough mama, I think of those words. And then I look at my assortment of camping pictures and memories they spark and I know that I'm for sure getting it right for at least these two weeks.

The equipment has been organized and packed. Like Lewis and Clark, we've laid in a supply of hardtack and jerky (ahem, in our case, that would be potato chips and Velveeta shells n' cheese), and we're ready to hit the road for some time at the sea. And in the woods.

These photos are from last year but the ingredients for this year's trip are the same (though the boys involved....they are bigger. And louder.)
Tonight we'll play cards at twilight. We'll sleep in our tent in the woods and awake to the sounds of the outdoors. JT will plan adventures a lot like the adventures I recall from my own childhood camping. In the days ahead, we'll enjoy outdoor suppers, the leisure of an afternoon nap in the woods, daily bike rides on the bunny trail, plotting the morning coffee run, and hours of relaxation. One of us will enjoy infrequent bathing.......and we'll return home with a whole new set of memories to sustain us in the year ahead.
Postings will be light for the next two weeks, as we enjoy the low-tech pleasures of life at camp.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


There is an old southern phrase and I can't even recall when I first heard it: You can't fence time. It means that life marches on; things change; and to struggle against it is futile. You can't fence time.

As this summer seems to be flying by, I watch my boy and it seems that he is just growing up before my eyes. In a glancing look, I can still see a glimpse of his lovely baby face. But those moments are less frequent. He still loves to play outside and would rather do that than play video games. He doesn't know how to send a text message on a phone (and he doesn't care to learn). Every once in a while, he climbs in my lap to give me a bone-crushing hug. Better yet, he casually calls "I love you, Mama," as he heads upstairs to play in his playroom. He cheerfully helps with household chores. He still believes in Santa Claus and fervently avoids any intrusion of reality on that fantasy.

He's nine and though my nine year old is still a boy, he's not really a little boy anymore. I know that being nine can't last forever. I see other moms with their bigger boys and I am sure there is much about the coming years that I will enjoy. We'll still laugh together. We'll still be a team marching through life. But on these lovely summer days when the future stretches before me, and change is in the air, on these days, I'd like to hold on to these moments a little longer.

I'd like to fence time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Cat Blogging: The View From Here

Most summer mornings, I sit in the dining room, drinking coffee, listening to NPR, and working on my laptop. I sit at one end of the dining room, and it affords me a view of the living room, where JT sits on the sofa and the kittens enjoy some quality lap time with a certain young man.

When I look up, I see the three of them relaxed and cozy. It reminds me how much Tiger and Lucy mean to our family and it is one of the best parts of the summer.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


One of the very best things about summer is that we don't have a schedule driving our every move. During the school year, the clock is always ticking. I get up at 5:30 am and I'm in nearly constant motion until 9:30 pm, when I pause to consider how much more I need to finish before I can call it a day.

I'm a teacher and a single mama and a lot of my days are about looking out for the needs of others. I'm not complaining (in fact, I dearly love what I do), but sometimes it takes its toll and there are days when I am beyond exhaustion. On a daily basis, I have two tools to keep my sanity: reading and working out. The third tool in my bag of tricks is summer vacation. Summer offers nearly 3 months to rest and restore. That prospect keeps me going when I get over-whelmed during the school year.

Come June, I'm ready for some down time. I feel that I've earned it. Though I consider it essential to my well-being, I am also aware that it's a luxury. And I'm always amazed at how quickly our active and busy lives slide into hours and hours of inertia. Though I get up at 8 am, last week I was hard-pressed to get out of the house in time for JT's swimming lesson (a five-minute drive for a lesson that doesn't begin until 10:45). Some days, getting my workout in during the morning means starting to run just seconds before noon; it's not at all rare for me shower in the afternoon.

I am okay with that.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

New and Improved!

The other day, seized by the spirit of cleanliness and order, I emptied out the linen closet on the second floor of my home, culled the weaklings, organized and folded the lot, and presto! A much-improved, well-organized linen closet.

The top shelf: beach towels, swimsuits, and some white bath towels.

The middle shelf: more bath towels, hand towels, and washrags

Down below: sheets and pillowcases. Lots and lots of incredibly-soft pillowcases. I am a pillowcase softness artist. And, of course, a side of makeup and my corner of the pink ghetto.

There are no 'before' photos because my shame was great. The job took a smidge more than 30 minutes to complete. The feeling of ordered virtue will likely last a whole lot longer than that.

JT, generally unimpressed by such order, did allow that it "looks nice." Then he recommended that I re-organize his dresser.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Ironic Slacker Edition

The backstory: Summer's relaxed schedule has taken hold around here but the other day I decided to get in my workout before heading off to swimming lessons. We leave for swimming lessons at 10:30, so that wasn't exactly a tall order. Around 9 am, just as a certain young man in pajamas was ready to consider his breakfast options, I headed upstairs to put on my workout clothes. When I came back downstairs, we had a conversation as the boy slouched in front of the telly, armed with a Pop Tart (yes, I'm one of those mamas):

Mama: I'm working out now.

JT: It's 9:15; you'd better hop to it. No slacking, Mama.

Who's the slacker now?

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day: Can't Never Does Edition

The backstory: For all of my life, when I would announce that I couldn't do something, my father would respond, "can't never does." For years, I found this Dad-ism tiresome and annoying. But grudgingly, I came to understand that it was also true. As a parent, I have repeated the "can't never does" lesson to my son. JT knows the phrase well.

At the community pool to which we belong, there is a slide. It's no water park, but it's a pretty impressive looking slide, and JT has been fascinated with it since we joined the pool. The catch is that potential-sliders must demonstrate swimming competence. If you want to slide, you must be able to swim the length of the pool. You must swim on your belly, demonstrate some command of a stroke, and you may not touch the bottom of the pool as you swim those 50 yards.

It's a high standard and JT has never met it. In fact, in previous summers he's never even tried. Though he's had plenty of lessons, swimming never came very easy to him. His skills have steadily improved but he's not always been confident about what he can accomplish.

Last summer, when his California cousins visited, we took them to our pool and they passed the swim test in seconds. JT was impressed, but he still wouldn't try the test himself. I let it be, hoping that he would grow more confident.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the pool with his buddy B. JT and B have been friends for years; earlier that day they had completed their two-week swimming lesson class.
In the afternoon, they announced that they were going to practice and see if they could pass the test. And then they set out to swim the length of the pool, cheering one another on. B's mom and I watched and speculated about this process. JT doesn't much care to take risks and his fear of failure is sometimes greater than his willingness to take a chance. I know exactly how this feels so though I wanted to provide him encouragement, I also wanted him to own his potential success.

Within the hour, JT decided that he could pass the test. He sat on his towel, nervously resting and plotting his next move. Then he hopped up, found an off-duty lifeguard and asked her to supervise him as he swam the length of the pool. He jumped in the pool and started swimming. I watched with my heart in my throat, thrilled that he was willing to try, willing him to keep on swimming, and crossing my fingers that he would succeed.

He did.

With a new confidence in his step, he took his pool card to the front desk, got it stamped for slide privileges and then had a fingernail painted so that the lifeguard at the top of the slide would know he was good-to-go.
And then he enjoyed his new privilege.
At the end of the day, as I tucked him into bed, we admired that painted fingernail one more time. I told him how proud of him I was. I said I was pleased that he had passed the test and that I was incredibly proud that he had been willing to take the risk; that he bravely handled the whole process like a pro. He smiled and said, "The whole time I was swimming that lap, I kept thinking about how great it would feel when I succeeded. Can't never does I thought.....but this time.....can did it, Mama."


Friday, July 03, 2009

Blatant Plagiarism: Cat Blogging

On Fridays, one of my favorite political writers, Kevin Drum, takes a break from the usual political blog postings for a little cat blogging. It's a dose of sensible feline philosophy in the midst of the political discussions. Tiger and Lucy are smarter than the average cat and they read the cat blog every week. They are demanding equal time. So I have decided to blatantly copy the idea.

Here's Tiger, hoping that someone will bring him the remote-control so that he can watch Animal Planet on the TV.
And that would be Lucy enjoying some quality cuddling time (and Spongebob) with a certain young man of our mutual acquaintance.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

First Pickings

This little bowl of lilies represents the first floral harvest from my garden. They are lovely and they smell great. And, perhaps most importantly, they grew in my garden because I planted them. That makes me happy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

July 1st: Hosta Day

All of the hosta patches in my garden are literally days from blooming. The garage hostas are prepared to play their role in the garden show.
This point in the summer is always gratifying; nearly every plant in the garden is at its verdant best. Thus far, the garden season has been incredibly wet (though not particularly hot). The hostas have flourished and provide a spectacular display when I sit on the back deck to admire the green.