Saturday, February 28, 2009

Creativity Reviewed

For the past month, I have been participating in Thing-a-Day, a website to encourage daily creativity. I basically learned two things as I participated in the project. The first is that my blog is a huge creative outlet for me. And the second is that I felt slightly fraudulent if my Thing-a-Day project wasn't something tangible: cards, or food, or something like that.

It's just like me to think that there are rules for creativity.

What I liked about Thing-a-Day is that it cemented my interest in some new blog writings that I plan to make regular features: the 1st of the month hosta photo (this year's version of the 1st of the month tree photos), the monthly feature on household style, and Food Friday, which will become an occasional feature in the months ahead.

Thing-a-Day reminded me to enjoy the creativity that is a regular part of my life: wrapping packages, making cards, and writing notes. And, finally, it reminded me how much I love politics.

I deliberately chose not to write about politics for the month of February; an effort to give my political brain a chance to rest and reformulate. And I've missed writing about the thing that consumes so much of my cognitive time. So there will be more political writing next month. Because I've got a few things to get off my chest.

Republican party: I'm looking at you.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Food Friday: Pollo con Jalapeno

The beauty of this recipe for Mexican-style chicken is the fact that once made, it can be used in any number of recipes. Use the chicken for chicken tacos or taquitos, in enchiladas (with green or red sauce), in tortilla soup, or make some refried beans and have yourself an amazing chicken burrito.

This recipe is for 2 chicken breasts; it can be doubled or tripled for whatever needs you have in mind.

2 chicken breasts (I use boneless, but breasts on the bone can also be used)
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
pickled jalapenos, 1-2 jalapenos finely chopped
1 teaspoon of reserved jalapeno liquid
4-5 cubes chicken bouillon

The goal in this recipe is to cook moist and tender chicken. That will be accomplished by cooking it slowly and allowing the chicken to absorb all of the chicken broth. Though the actual cooking is not demanding, you'll need 1 1/2 to 3 hours to really get this chicken as tender as it should be. More time is better.

Start by bringing 2-3 cups of water to boil and then add bouillon cubes. When the cubes are dissolved, add the chicken breasts. Bring broth back to boil and then turn heat low to simmer for 20-30 minutes. When breasts are cooked through, remove from the broth and set to cool.
Reserve the broth and add chopped onion, the jalapeno, and the jalapeno juice. Add 2 more cups of water and 2 more cubes of bouillon and bring to a boil. While broth and onions are coming to a boil, shred the cooled chicken. I use a fork and pull against the grain of the meat. The goal is to shred finely and create more surface area for the chicken to absorb the broth (remember: this chicken is headed back to the pot).
Add the shredded chicken back to the both and bring to a boil. Then, turn the heat low and simmer. Your chicken should look like this at the outset:
The goal is to have that chicken absorb all of the broth. After an hour of simmering, your chicken will look like this:
Check the simmering chicken every 20 minutes or so. When nearly all of the broth has been absorbed by the chicken, it will look like this:
Now it's ready to be served.

The chicken you see here went on the table for making chicken tacos.

Happy eating!

Thursday, February 26, 2009


I get up early in the morning, so as to leave me plenty of time to consume the 6 cups of coffee that I require to face the day. I also grade papers and do other schoolwork in the quiet of the morning. It's just me, my big mug of coffee, the familiar voices of Morning Edition, and Tiger and Lucy. The kittens play rock, paper, scissors to determine who will win the prime radiator spot next to me in the dining room. It was Tiger's turn today and I took this picture as he luxuriated in the warmth.
If that's not the very picture of relaxation and comfort, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hoppy Spring!

It has been said of my people that we cannot resist a bad pun. And today I'm wishing y'all a hoppy spring in order to show off a pretty pink package that I wrapped. Inside is some of the artwork from Blue Dog Rose, an etsy shop with bunny art that always makes me smile. I wrapped up some bunny things as a surprise package for a fellow bunny-o-phile. I slipped the package into her mailbox yesterday and felt all pleased with myself for thinking of it.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Still Life

When I was in college, I took an extra-curricular art class using pastels. I was a decidedly below average artist but I've never forgotten the pleasure I got from the experience, especially the time I spent arranging items to make a still life picture. Though my drawing wasn't very good, in the arranging I could get just the picture that I wanted. I liked that.

I still like to arrange fruit. There is a bowl in my kitchen that I fill each week with the fruit that will serve as breakfast and lunch for JT and me. I like to eat fruit that is fresh and seasonal and so the contents of the bowl change with the seasons. It's my weekly still life project.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Joys of Irregular Verbs

JT decided that last weekend's homework should be completed on Friday night, so as to free up his weekend for the non-stop party that is a sleepover with six 9 year old boys.

I will let you briefly digest what that meant for my weekend.

Friday's assignment: Irregular verbs. The task: change verbs from the present to past tense and then back again. It was all sorts of fun.

Never mind that part of the assignment asked me to think in a fashion I simply could not master (going from past back to present tense was more than I could handle at the end of the week). Never mind that I am not a big fan of grammar even in my finest moments. Never mind that it was Friday, traditionally the point in the week when I'm lucky to make it up the stairs before I pass out from exhaustion.

We would complete this assignment. We completed this assignment.

In fact, we were doing quite nicely until we came to this sentence: "They went to the library." We needed to convert it to present tense. We were stuck and finally agreed upon "They go to the library." I knew it was wrong, but I was way past giving a damn. And it would certainly be much better than the option JT selected for a different part of the page, one that required making present tense words into past tense words. To convert "bring" to the past tense, JT recommended "brang."

You, of course might have brought something. We brang it, suggesting a certain ghetto style here at Sassafras House.

Are you feeling critical of our verb usage practices? Two words for you: Bring it.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Live Blogging the Sleepover: The Morning After

Though it's now south of 7 am, the boys were awake at 6:15. The night before I had instructed them to lie in bed until at least 7.


They have a pathological need for privacy in the bathroom and I have an old home. The bathroom door upstairs can be firmly shut. But, once shut it's a little difficult for a 9 year old to open. So they go to the bathroom in pairs, one holding the door shut while the other attends to business. And they do not have a quiet setting. The bathroom is 5 steps from my bed and so......I was also awake at zero dark thirty.

I dozed to the sounds of my home being destroyed and then came downstairs for coffee.

Lucy spent a weary night in bed with me. Tiger remains in stealth mode and we have yet to see him.

Soon, I shall commence to make pancakes.

8:02 am
Bacon is cooking; pancake production has begun.

9:11 am
Pancakes have been eaten; the table has been cleared; the dishwasher is running. Final pancake tally: 16 pancakes, 1 quart of milk, half-pound of bacon. God save me when these boys become teenagers.
Tiger the cat has turned up to expressively complain about the continuing boy-related noise. The boys are upstairs playing with the Wii. Tiger is on my lap and I am about to read the paper. Estimated time of boy departure: 10 am.

Estimated time for Mama's morning nap: 10:30 am.

10:50 am
I am down to one boy and I believe it to be the one I started with. Headed for a hot bath with some chai tea and then a nap.

The party can be considered a success.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Live Blogging the Sleepover

JT has recently turned 9 and no birthday would be complete without a party. And 9 year old boys like sleepover parties. And so it is that tonight I am the proud host of 5 extra boys, who joined the regular inmate for an extremely loud celebration.

They arrived at 5 pm. I haven't seen the cats since.

At 6:45, they ate some snacks and played Uno as they waited for the pizza to arrive.
Looks downright civil, no? Perhaps the aftermath will provide a more accurate perspective.
At 9ish, I've promised to light the candles on some homemade chocolate cake. Guest V, a long-standing fan of my baked goods ( he once told the 2nd grade that I made the best cookies in the world), has already requested that I save a piece to bring home to his big sister, thus confirming V's place in my heart.

8:08 pm
There is an odd quiet upstairs. And then a shout: who left the toilet open? Perhaps I should check on things.

8:30 pm
I have just confiscated the remote control fart machine.

9:00 pm
2 of the boys just came downstairs for a drink of water. They had the following conversation:
N: Good sleepover, huh?
E: Yeah.
They were like two old men discussing the Monday night game.

9:30 pm
Cake! I used sparkler candles...makes for quite the fiery demonstration.
Brief quiet while they crammed cake and ice cream into their mouths. It won't last.
10:08 pm
That would be the children all tucked in their sleeping bag beds to watch Indiana Jones (restful, those movies). Notice that the birthday boy scored himself the spot on the futon. E seems to have disappeared all together in this photo, but I hear him talking so it would seem that he's alive and well.

Any chance I'm asleep before midnight?

10:55 pm
Heading upstairs to quiet the beasts and tuck myself into bed. Still hoping to sleep before midnight.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Food Friday: Guacamole

Though he is an otherwise completely constrained eater with no interest in experimentation, JT loves guacamole. He loves it so much that he asked for guacamole tacos for his birthday supper. Guacamole tacos are a Mama innovation made with a fried corn tortilla filled with guacamole and grated cheese.

I made that dish for his birthday on Tuesday and took pictures along the way so that I could write up my recipe for guacamole. I make a traditional guacamole; it's incredibly simple to create.

2-3 ripe avocados (slightly soft to the touch, but with a hint of firmness to hand)
fresh lemon juice
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper
red pepper flakes
salt to taste
fresh tomato, seeded and finely chopped (Note: a fresh, home-grown tomato is best....mine came from Chile and probably consumed all sorts of greenhouse gases to make it's way north. Normally I would not buy a tomato in February....but it was for celebratory guacamole, so I felt my values could be compromised).

Slice the avocado in half, taking care of the pit in the center.
Separate the halves (scoop out the pit and reserve it) and then use your knife to cube the avocado while it's still in the shell. Your avocado halves should look like this:
Once all the avocado halves have been cubed, scoop the cubes into a bowl. Once completed, your shells will the empty of avocado; they will look like this:
The cubes in the bowl, look like this:
Add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper, the juice of a lemon slice or two (start with less and add as much lemon as you like), and the minced garlic. Using a fork, mash the avocado and mix it with the salt, pepper, lemon juice, and garlic. I prefer a smooth texture, but you may wish for some chunks to remain.
Mix well and sprinkle with red pepper flakes; mix well again. If you have fresh tomato, stir that in now. Serve immediately; keep a pit or two in the center of your bowl as it will help the avocado to stay fresh green (the tomato and lemon will also help).
You'll need to eat it all.....guacamole doesn't keep in the fridge very well (it will taste fine, but the color darkens and looks yucky). But don't worry about that because the Iron Law of Guacamole states: there are never any leftovers.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


For his birthday, I gave JT tickets to see the circus. That's not an easy gift to wrap, so I made a circus ticket for him. I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. And he is happy to be going to the circus in a few weeks. So I'm feeling happy about the whole enterprise.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Very Happy Birthday

Nine candles burning all at once is an impressive sight. Many happy returns of the day, sweet boy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Boy Who Hung the Moon

Today is JT's birthday. At 12:29 AM on a snowy Nebraska night 9 years ago, he came into the world. In that moment, my world became complete. It is the most remarkable event of my life and I cherish memories of the day. The moment that I hold most dear happened just a few hours after he was born. As the sun rose, I sat in the quiet of my hospital room and held and rocked my new baby boy while I quietly told him about the wonderful life he would have.

That life hasn't quite been what I promised and, though I do my best to make up for it, sometimes I feel the loss quite keenly. So as much as I celebrate this day, JT's birthday is also bittersweet for me. I conceal that feeling from him; there is time enough for him to learn that life brings sadness as well as joy. One of the brilliant things about being nine years old is that the world is a place of fresh opportunities, not one of losses and regrets. I want that feeling to last for my son.

On his birthday, I feel gratitude for the gift of my boy. I will celebrate today and every day that he lights my world with his sense of humor, his winning smile, his quirky imagination, his kind heart and his sweet voice.

I will tell him that he is an amazing boy, more amazing than I could have imagined nine years ago. And it will be the truth, sometimes the only truth that I know. For me, he is the boy who hung the moon.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Big Vocabulary Edition

The backstory: JT has taken to singing made up songs with words he likes just randomly strung together. It's tiresome (and then some). The other day, I'd heard about enough.

Mama: OH MY GOD. I don't think that song could be any louder or any more annoying.

JT: Oh but it can be. Would you like me to demonstrate?

Mama: No thank you.

I know when I'm beaten.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Household Happiness: Summer Lights poster

The items that hang on the walls in my home are chosen for their value to my life. There are prints by artists whose work I enjoy, there are photographs that I appreciate, there are graphic Americana propaganda posters. And then there is my Summer Lights poster.
In the early 1990s, I lived in Nashville, Tennessee. I loved everything about Nashville: the humidity, the verdant neighborhoods, the people, and the abundant Southern culture. Then (and now), Nashville was called Music City USA. Much of that music was country & western recorded in Nashville's historic music studios. But for every time I heard an old Loretta Lynn song in Nashville, there was also the music of a large and vibrant music community beyond the world of country & western. There was an abundance of talent and really great sound.

Each summer, there was a three-day downtown festival called Summer Lights. For less than $10 you could hear live music all day and into the night. It was a fantastic weekend and I went every summer that I lived in Nashville. This poster is from 1995, one of the last summers that I lived in the city. Lots of things in my life changed after that summer, but I still remember the heady feel of the city at the festival, one of my best memories of Nashville.
The poster is framed in a deep red thin metal frame with non-glare glass (that's a little hard to tell because of the light the morning I took the photos). It hangs in my dining room, on a yellow wall over a table where we store homework supplies. I see the poster every day and it always reminds of some of the happiest memories I have of a place that I still love very much.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Pretty Packages

Today's creative things are some packages that I wrapped up to set on the table for our Saturday morning's Valentine's Day celebration. French toast with maple syrup, bacon, lots of warm coffee, and a present. What's not to love?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Food Friday: Mama's Biscuits

I write this with some pride: I make an amazing hot biscuit. And today, I'm going to teach you how to do the same. I think that these biscuits on the supper table make life a little nicer. And once you make them, I'm guessing that you will feel the same way.

The Recipe
2 cups flour
1 T baking powder
3 tsp sugar
½ tsp cream of tartar
¼ tsp salt
½ cup shortening
2/3 cup milk

Heat oven to 450 degrees.
In a bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, cream of tartar, and salt. Your next task is to cut in the shortening, a task that requires a pastry cutter.
Cut in shortening until the mixture resembles course crumbs. It's hard to see in this photo, but basically, that will look like a flour mixture with lumps.
Make a well in the center, add milk all at once and stir just until the dough clings together.

Take the dough out of the bowl and prepare to knead it on a lightly floured surface. It will look messy at this point.
But it will quickly come together into a smooth dough when you knead gently for 10 to 12 strokes. Roll or pat dough to ½ inch thickness.
Cut with 2 ½ inch biscuit cutter dipped into flour between cuts.
Transfer biscuits to a baking sheet. Lay them down so that the sides of the biscuits barely touch. Indent the center of each biscuit gently with your thumb. Don't skip this step, as it will help your biscuits to rise and remain light as a feather.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges are golden. Makes 10-12 biscuits.
Set the biscuits on the table and wait for the applause from your little boy.
Happy Eating!

Update for Jason: Those Bisquick biscuits may look the same (and I doubt that), but they will taste like hockey pucks :0.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Windswept Sky

After yesterday's taste of spring, the wind swept in this morning, chasing off the warmth and bringing cold air in its wake.

The sky just before sunrise was beautiful and so I stepped outside to take some pictures.

A half hour later, as the sun rose over the horizon, there was more color in the piles of clouds and so I took some more photos.

Mother Nature did all the work, I just snapped the pictures.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Liners

Every once in a while I come across an article about 1 paragraph stories or 1 sentence novels. I am always bemused by these tales though they don't play to my strong suit --- I usually like my words in abundance. But they do appeal to my preference for the use of precision in expression.

I have lately realized that I hear a number of one line pronouncements (mostly from students and my friends) that make me laugh in the moment and then linger in my mind as I idly wonder what the rest of that tale might tell. I decided to save a few of those one-liners and I'm re-producing them below, in the hope that other readers will also wonder how stories that begin with these lines might play themselves out.

"My mom can't make pasta. We're Indian."

"When I do shots, I only drink Southern Comfort."

"This poem is killing me."

"There is no Boy Scout badge in not being afraid of the woods. I think they just hope that you will sort that out for yourself."

"Look, there's a Wendy's. I feel safe now."

"How old do you want me to be?"

I can't promise you that these stories will appear anywhere any time soon. But I can promise that if they did appear, I would read on.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

That's Happy

I have a metal book shelf in my classroom that is perfectly positioned to be my own private bulletin board. I got some magnets (from etsy, of course) and presto, I have a lovely place for all sorts of things that have just one purpose: to brighten my view when I sit at my desk. I re-arranged it this morning and all day long it made me happy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Creativity Support

Each February, a group of ceramics students from my school travels north to the artist's community at Peter's Valley. Here they spend the weekend learning to use all sorts of kilns to fire the pots and other projects they have made in ceramics class at school. And now it must be admitted that my knowledge about all of this is exceedingly limited...and I've pretty much told you everything that I knew about making pottery.

So I was happy to wrangle an invitation to go along on the ceramics trip this past weekend. I went to help chaperone the kids and to learn some more about the making of ceramics and also to see this fabulous place in New Jersey.
Among other things, going on the trip gave me the opportunity to cook and feed just over 20 hungry teenagers. There is nothing I find more satisfying than feeding a hungry crowd and that's what I did this past weekend.

For their part, the students kindly included my boy in their fun; demonstrated their talents in pottery-production, ping pong, and Guitar Hero; and then ate heartily of all the things I set on the table for them. I now know with certainty that when called upon, 22 teenagers can easily consume 100 pancakes, 2 dozen scrambled eggs and 3 pounds of bacon in a little less than an hour.
Peter's Valley was utterly beautiful in the snow and with walks in the snowy woods, watching the ceramics projects come out of the kilns, and the pleasure I get cooking for a crowd, it was a most lovely way to spend the weekend.