Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Daffodil Tuesday

It's week 3 of daffodil watch here in central Jersey and we are incredibly close to a bloom. We're at the moment of early spring when things are just about to burst forth. The grass is suddenly greener and all sorts of bulbs are pushing through the soil. The trees are still stark with the look of winter but you can feel that's about to change. The air is – literally – filled with the promise of spring.
Which might very well explain all the sneezing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The State of my Garden

The soil has been warmed up over the last few weeks and a recent rainstorm meant that things were good and wet. It was the perfect weekend to get outside and do some work on the garden. There is a reason that New Jersey is known as the Garden State, and it has a lot to do with the lovely growing conditions and rich soil in our corner of the mid-Atlantic coast.
I do my best to further enrich my garden. Over the winter, I use the garden patch as a nice big compost pile, mixing kitchen waste layered with soil and leaves to create a nice rich nourishing mix for the garden patch. This past weekend, with the aid of my friend T and the garden tiller my father sent me as a surprise gift, I set to work getting the garden patch ready for the spring planting season.

In previous years, I have turned the soil by hand. It's a tough chore and not the best way to get the garden ready. A tiller is much more effective. My knowledge of machinery of this sort is best characterized as limited, so T's help was needed; both to get the machine running and to keep me equipped with 10 fingers and 10 toes (not to mention take the pictures!).
Next week, I'll give the patch another once-over with the tiller and then I will plant the seeds for my early crops ---- lettuce, radishes, carrots, and cilantro. It will be several more weeks before I have any goods to harvest. But a patient gardener is always rewarded for her time. I can wait.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


Tiger and Lucy are indoor cats. Their only acquaintance with the outdoor world comes from time spent in the windowsills (and one dreadful escape). I sometimes worry that they are missing out on the pleasures of nature, but the risk that they would get hurt outdoors, while probably not great, is more than our hearts can endure. So they live in an indoor world.

There is a large cat with outdoor privileges in our neighborhood and he is fond of paying us a visit. We call this cat The Imposter (we once mistook him for Tiger and nearly escorted him indoors before we realized our mistake). Last weekend, The Imposter sunned himself on our back deck (he's there by the steps and the Christmas tree stand...don't ask) and it like to kill Tiger and Lucy, who stood at the back door and meowed up a storm.
We re-assured them of their hold on the iron kibble bowl and soft laps in our home and they relaxed their vigilance. The Imposter finally strutted off to torture someone else's pets.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Food Friday: Oven-Toasted Sandwiches

All those food ads that air during basketball games can provide a creative cooking girl with some inspiration. And that is the case for today's offering, an oven-toasted sandwich. This sandwich can compete with any sandwich you'll find out there. And mine will taste better and be less expensive. So take that, un-named corporate sandwich maker.

The ingredient list here is a rough approximation. You could add or subtract additional ingredients as dictated by what's hanging out in your pantry or whatever you crave.

1 loaf of crusty bread, preferably fresh (I used a loaf of Italian from Wegmans)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ pound Genoa Salami (you could use something different, according to your preference....or go meatless)
½ cup each finely slice red pepper, green pepper, & onion
½ cup coursely chopped mushrooms
oregano, salt, & pepper to taste
1 clove of garlic

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Slice the bread in half through the center and then decide how many sandwiches you will make. My loaf of from Wegmans made 5 generous sandwiches. Lay the halves side-by-side on a baking sheet lined with foil (for easier clean-up). Lightly rub the bread with the clove of garlic and then place a layer of salami on each side. Layer on the rest of your ingredients so that each side is roughly even. Sprinkle mozzarella on top. Add a dash of oregano, salt, and pepper.
Place the sandwiches in the oven for 12 minutes or so, until the cheese is melted and a little broiled. Place the halves of the sandwich together, put in on a plate, sit down in front of a basketball game and open wide. Tasty!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Foul Trouble

Last year, a very kind neighbor gave us a basketball hoop. We placed it in the driveway and it got a good deal of use. I liked to play because, though I was cut from the 5th grade basketball team, I had a little game when it came to playing an 8 year old.
Fast forward to a year later (and several inches taller), and JT's game has improved. Mine is sadly the same and so I've started to lose in our match-ups. He's got plenty of smack talk and an aggressive style that might be seen as foul-rich by a less lenient playmate.
Fortunately, he plays with his Mama and she's a notorious soft-touch for 9 year old boys.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sign of the Apocalypse

For the big sporting weekend, I stocked up on the sort of nourishment one requires to watch endless hours of basketball: Cherry 7-Up. I grabbed a big bottle off the shelf at Target, brought it home to chill, and then served up a glass on Saturday night.

At which point I realized that it did not taste like the fizzy sweet concoction that I had come to expect. It would seem that the nice people at 7-Up loaded up my soda with anti-oxidants, in a bold attempt to make my tasty non-nutritional soda less non-nutritional. And, sadly, less tasty as well.
Memo to 7-Up: When I want antioxidants, I will eat the fruits and vegetables that naturally provide them. And if I am turning to soda for my antioxidants, then let's be completely honest: I'm screwed.

My friends, this is a sign of the Apocalypse.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Daffodil Tuesday: week 2

We've had a few warm days in the last week, though we've also had some cold (including below freezing temps for the past two nights). There's no question that the daffodils and I much prefer the warmth.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Spring Finery

It is either a function of my resourcefulness (or perhaps my obsession with lots of quality bed linens) that the bedding in my home changes on a seasonal basis. The very depth of winter finds JT and I sleeping in flannel-sheeted nests with thick blankets and down comforters encased in flannel duvets. I usually have another down quilt on top of my down comforter (which I refer to as doubling down....a pun of a phrase that always reminds me of the grandma who taught me to play Blackjack....but I digress). This bedding combination allows us to survive the frosty temperatures of the Jersey winter (temperatures made even more frosty by the fact that I set the furnace to 55 degrees over night). It also makes for some very soft and comfy beds.

With the coming of spring, we gradually peel back the layers of bedding. Last week, JT's down comforter and flannel duvet were washed and placed in the attic for the next few seasons. He still has his flannel sheets and a blanket to go with his spring quilt.
Because I am not JT the human heater, I still have my down comforter on the bed, but I got out a yellow poplin duvet and a less heavy quilt so that my bed is ready for the warmer weather.
The guest bedroom also gave up the flannel in exchange for a spring quilt. The beds look comfy and fresh all dressed in their spring finery.
Reviewing all of this rather makes me wish for a nap. There seem to be plenty of cozy options available.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

One Tough Cookie

Last August, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop for teachers taught by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. O'Connor, the first woman on the Supreme Court, is a hero of mine from my high school days. Her politics are not nearly as liberal as mine, but her pragmatic, no-nonsense approach and Western outlook were incredibly appealing to me then (and now). When O'Connor joined the Court, I was a high school student and a young woman increasingly aware of the boundaries and limits society set for its girls and women. As the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, I saw her appointment as a much-needed change and a sign of the progress girls and women would enjoy in my lifetime.

O'Connor is fiercely independent and though she doesn't call herself a feminist, she is keenly aware of the need for justice. In my view, her most important Supreme Court opinions (among them, Lawrence v. Texas and the University of Michigan affirmative action decision, Grutter v. Bollinger) have demonstrated her support for the powerful ideal of equal protection under the law. She puts it well in this interview in the New York Times magazine. I am unabashedly a feminist and I would guess that my willingness to embrace the title has to do with my age and generational identity; O'Connor may not call herself a feminist but she and I share a very similar worldview.

These days, as an active retired judge, O'Connor is at work on civics education, a subject dear to my heart as well. When I studied with her last summer, the focus of the workshop was to deepen our understanding of the importance of an independent Judiciary in the American federal system of checks and balances. She has since unveiled a website on that same topic. O'Connor's no-nonsense work on behalf of lasting ideas is a powerful testament to the very power of those ideas. I encourage y'all to check out her newest project, Ourcourts.org.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Disfunction Edition

The backstory: The arrival of March Madness has meant that we've been watching a lot of basketball on the television. And sporting events on the television means advertising. Lots of advertising; much of it directed toward basketball viewers of the XY chromosome persuasion. So we've seen plenty of ads for cars, beer, and pharmaceuticals of particular value to men. Among them was the Viagra ad we saw late on Thursday night, after which the following conversation ensued.

JT: I don't even know what that's for.

Mama: Do you want me to tell you?

JT: Is it for peeing too much?

Mama: No.

JT: Is it for needing to poop?

Mama: No.

JT: Well, what, then?

Mama: You know how I've explained to you about sex? (Note to readers: he once asked how babies are born and I provided a brief, age-appropriate explanation).

JT: Say no more, Mama, I don't want to know.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness

In 1995, after a few years away from the winner's circle, the UCLA Bruins won the NCAA tournament. It was my first year in Nebraska and I remember watching my alma mater's championship game by my self.

I wasn't lonely; I enjoyed watching the game as much as I always did. But the picture remained fresh in my mind because a few years later I fell in love and now had a fellow basketball fan with whom to share the excitement. And often, as we watched games together, I would think of that solitary game. In those moments I would be incredibly happy for the love that had since come rushing into my world, overwhelming me with a promising happiness that I had never expected to experience. I was incredibly grateful to the universe.

In June of 2006, that happiness came to an end. No one was more surprised than me to discover that "forever" actually meant 9 years and some change. Cue the misery. By the following spring, with the March Madness season upon me, I was still looking for some equilibrium in my life. Of course, it wasn't just me who had experienced the upheaval of our family falling apart, there was also my boy to consider.

Together that spring, JT and I watched a lot of basketball. Often, my memory would return to the 1995 scene in Nebraska. I would replay it in my mind and it was almost as if I was watching my old self. Reliving it, I felt terribly sad for the girl who hadn't yet had her heart broken.

Basketball had been mine before my life with a partner and I was determined to make it mine again. The men's and women's games were a happy distraction in the spring of 2006. I was incredibly glad to share it with JT. In the years since, he has turned into quite the basketball fan. We watch the men's and women's tournament and we compare stats and facts about our favorite teams and players. We talk smack when our teams win and we lie low when they don't. I'm incredibly glad to share the madness with him.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Here at the Farm

Reading Michael Pollan's amazing book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, inspired me to get outside and start work on my garden. It's too early to plant things just yet, but the soil is starting to warm up and it's not to early to give my garden an organic hand or two. Between Pollan's book and two sunny 60 degree days in a row, I'm ready to be outside getting the growing process started.

I grow food to feed people who eat at my table. In addition to that, JT and I live and play in this garden, so I am careful about what I put on the soil or grass. I was raised by a man who was a longtime reader of Organic Gardening magazine (he called it Orgasmic Gardening, of course, though it took me years to realize what that meant). As Pollan points out, that makes Grandpa quite the gardening hippie. I'm aware of the things I need to do to bolster my soil naturally.

I do some natural composting (and, thanks to Pollan, I'm about to do a lot more of it). In the past two days I've layered the compost I have on to my garden plot soil. Thanks to my Dad's generous gift of a tiny garden tiller, within two weeks my soil will be easily tilled (no more hand-turning for me) and by early April, I'll get down the frost-hardy seeds for some early spring crops of radishes and carrots.

I always look forward to starting gardening in the spring, but I can't remember a year when I've been more excited. That's the combination of a cold winter and reading the Pollan work. And all that energy will bear fruit soon enough. Literally.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March one-liners

More one-liners, offered in he same spirit as last month's entry. There's not more to these stories, but if there was you can bet that I'd read on.

"That's worth getting a migraine over."

"Okay. Now I'm going to stop being such a frigid bitch."

"Yes, I was picking my nose."

"He has a Masters in Divinity. Can you get a Masters degree in Immortality?"

"She looks like a skank whore in that dress."

"I wanted war, not Thanksgiving."

"I'm going outside to do war. Dora the Explorer will never own this land."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Each day since spring break began, I take a stroll through my garden, looking out for signs of spring. This cluster of daffodils is actually in my neighbor's yard. But I get to admire them every day and they seem to literally grow before my eyes. I figured that I could easily share my enjoyment of these harbingers of spring by snapping a photo of them each week and sharing the picture with y'all.

Thus I present a new spring feature: Tuesday daffodils.


Monday, March 16, 2009

Quiet Lives

I am under the equivalent of a book fatwah these days. It was issued by my friend E, who wants me to participate in Goodreads, a website for book lovers. I think that the site is great but I can't seem to find the time to be there very often. And when I said this to E, she responded with the obvious accusation, "but what about your blog?"

And thus the book fatwah, whereby I cannot blog about books because if I have time to write about books, I should be over at Goodreads.

The fact is, I am a relentless reader and I literally consume books. But between my penchant for cardigan sweaters and clogs (not to mention my mom car and mom haircut), I figured maybe I should lie low about my bookishness, lest I appear to be a complete loser.

Ahem. Moving on.

But I have lately read two books that really spoke to me. So I am totally about to risk the ire of E to write about books on my blog. The people in these books linger in my mind far after the last words about them have been read. It started with Plainsong, by Kent Haruf. Conveniently, this book was a gift from E.

Plainsong is the story of a few residents in a small ranching town of Holt in eastern Colorado. These folks lead ordinary lives; lives of routine with moments of happiness and moments of sadness. The town reminded me of my years in Nebraska; so did the people. And it was the people of Plainsong, especially the kind-hearted McPherson brothers, whom I simply loved.

Usually, I value books because they take me to new places and times; places and times not routinely available to me. Neither Plainsong nor the sequel story, Eventide, took me someplace especially new. But they did remind me of the immense power of actions and the meaning that can be found in quiet lives.

The stories show that the measure of our mark in this world is in our actions; in the choices we make on a daily basis. There is a power and dignity in the quiet lives of Raymond and his brother Harold; Victoria, Maggie, Rose, and the children who populate the stories. Their story reminded me that actions do matter; that it is in the little moments of our lives that we make our lasting mark on this world.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Household Happiness: Prairie Bunnies

One of the charms of the time I spent in Nebraska was my discovery of the surprising talents and abilities that were hidden out there on the wide-open prairie. One of those treasures was hand-carved wooden bunnies that were made by the wife of a fellow faculty member at the school where I taught. Her carvings were incredibly popular and the opportunity to buy one of these lovelies was always welcomed.

Whenever a box of Betty carvings came around, I would snap some up. My little collection of wooden bunnies is among my most favorite things. I have less than a dozen of these carvings but when I set them out in the Spring, they always make me smile. The careful details of the carvings are just perfect. I'm reminded of a very happy time in my life when I look at them.

This bunny with his basket of patriotic eggs is the very first carving I bought:
I chose the two tiny bunnies in the middle of the row the year that my baby was born:
And this proud Mama bunny with her baby was given to me that same year:
It was the gift a fellow faculty member who sometimes seemed gruff but had an incredibly good heart; he was perhaps the kindest person I met out on that prairie. Like me, he was an outsider who had come to love our little space under the big sky.

When JT was a busy two year old, I let him carry this bunny in his pocket during the day:
At the end of each day, he would gently return her to me for safekeeping in the night.

JT and I set out the bunnies in the month before Easter. They mean the world to me and are a lovely reminder of a small town that was a place I once loved a great deal.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Moral Ambiguity

On the heels of his indictment by the International Criminal Court, Sudanese dictator President Omar al-Bashir has decided to eject thirteen of the international assistance organizations that have been providing real help to refugees in Darfur. Bashir has no intention of standing trial for his alleged crimes; he figures that shutting down Darfur's access to outside help will distract attention from his indictment and will make it harder for the ICC to collect the necessary evidence against him. So Bashir is once-again making life miserable in Darfur.

The situation in Darfur is a convoluted mess. It's probably not the genocide that some critics allege (I count myself among those who feel genocide is a systematic effort by a group of one ethnicity or religion to wipe out a different one; that's not what's going on in Darfur), but it's no less horrific for what has occurred there. Since 2003, more 200,000 people who live in the Darfur region have been killed by the Janjaweed, marauding Darfurians hired by the Bashir government in Khartoum. Two million people have been displaced and are living in refugee camps. Another one million are still living at home, but in terror for their lives. With a total population estimated at five million before all broke loose in 2003, it's clear that nearly everyone in Darfur has been affected by the civil war.

The chaos is unimaginable. International groups like Doctors Without Borders and the UN Refugee Assistance program have been providing assistance ranging from food to medical intervention and sanitation to control for the diseases that run rampant in refugee camps. Their help is essential to stem the tide of misery. Now they have been ejected from Darfur.

Make no mistake: Bashir richly deserves the indictment handed down by the ICC. But holding leaders accountable for their crimes has generally been a national responsibility, not an international one. Until the rest of Sudan agrees to stop the horror in Darfur, Bashir can hold Darfuris hostage while he invokes national sovereignty to defend his own actions. And the people who are desperate for help will find themselves more alone than ever.

In a recent interview with NPR, Gemma Davies of Doctors Without Borders talks about her organization's forced evacuation of Darfur. She says that among the people she had to leave behind is a 6 month old orphan living in a refugee camp plagued with meningitus. I keep thinking about that baby. In my mind I see her as emblematic of all the suffering in Darfur. And I can't help but think that indicting Bashir has made that baby's already unhappy life demonstrably more miserable.

I don't have any answers here. Bashir is a bad, bad man. The problems of Darfur are exceedingly complicated. But it seems to me that in organizing our international response, we must be governed by the ancient Greek principle that Doctors Without Borders also invokes: first, do no harm.

Update: Jason is correct when he writes in comments, "the international community needs strong mechanisms to charge, detain, prosecute and punish for crimes against humanity." I agree. But can we actually do that without hurting more innocent people along the way? And if the answer to that question is no, how much more damage should the innocent bear for the good of the international community? These are questions that we must explore.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Which our Heroine Goes Shopping

Some of you may have heard that I have a son. Specifically, a nine-year-old son; one about to undertake his first season of Little League. We've gotten the cleats and scored some new baseballs to go with his well-oiled baseball glove. We've secured some impressive looking batting gloves; gloves that will clearly make him an amazing hitter.

We're waiting until his age hits the double digits before we start the steroids.

All that remained was the acquisition of an athletic supporter. And here, it must be noted, my skill-set is sadly lacking. I know how to buy sports bras of course, but, ahem.....not the same thing.

So it was that I found myself on a rainy night staring at this impressive display:
And thinking to myself: WTF?

So many choices; so little knowledge. I guess I could have asked one of the college-age boys working at Modells for help, but, honestly, they disappeared as soon as I hit the athletic supporter aisle. I pictured them ducking down in the backroom, fervently praying that I didn't seek them out to ask any questions. I am a careful consumer and reviewed all the options for protecting the family jewels before I made my final selection.

Given all that hangs in the balance, let's hope I didn't screw it up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Daniel Boone

JT has a collection of more than 50 episodes from Daniel Boone, the 1960s-era TV show starring Fess Parker. He loves these episodes and when the spirit moves him, he stages a Daniel Boone-a-thon, watching several episodes in a row. Then, for days on end, he's involved in his own personal re-enactment as he becomes a modern-day Daniel Boone, stalking bad guys in the yard and generally delivering a stoic, upright, moral, good-guy performance.

I was worried about the old shows but they are surprisingly inoffensive: there is a strong sense of community, violence is considered undesirable, honesty is valued, the Indians are almost all of them portrayed in a sympathetic, if stereotypical, fashion. The 1960s production values are amusing; I especially like the dramatic music as it accompanies my routine household chores.

But the arrival of JT's Daniel Boone season means I hear things like this coming from the mouth of my 9 year old:

"He will be shot and you and friend will go free."

" I never did like that Aaron Burr."

"You make a fine venison stew, Mama."

And more than once, JT has had the following conversation with assorted imaginary friends:

X: Are you threatening me?

JT: I prefer to consider it a warning.

Now it's time for me to put on my coonskin cap and check my traps. The youngin' is hungry and I need to get some victuals on the table here at the homestead.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ordering Spring Around

I don't like to wear pants.

Get your mind out of the gutter.

I wear skirts instead. As long as I can remember, I have preferred skirts to pants. It is the rare occasion when I wear pants and then it's mostly for convenience's sake and nearly always a casual circumstance. I have only one pair of pants suitable for work and (I think this was established earlier): I never wear them.

Seriously, I don't know when I wore them last.

In the summer, I wear skirts and an assortment of sandals and flip flops. I'm not above wearing sneakers with skirts and I don't care if that makes me a fashion loser. In the winter, I wear tights with my skirts so as to keep warm. I don't wear stockings. Ever. Because they are clearly the dreadful invention of people who are not women.

Between-season periods can be a bit of a challenge for a girl like me as I'm at risk for excessive warmth or goose bumps, both conditions I don't favor. I employ the following rule of thumb: Under 55 degrees = tights; over 55 degrees = bare legs. It's not a perfect rule, but in my experience life is an imperfect business.

I enjoy my winter tights but at some point in February, I start to blame them for all the troubles in my life, minor or otherwise. And temperatures be damned, as far as I am concerned, the start of Spring Break means the changeover to spring clothes. First and foremost, that means saying good bye to winter tights, to be replaced by my pale mottled legs out for a spring spin.

Yesterday, seized by the spirit of spring cleaning, I cleaned out my tights; washed and folded the keepers and tossed out the old and otherwise rejected tights. They have been stored in the upstairs closet with a bin of winter sweaters. So if you see someone looking foolish in the next few weeks, with cold blue legs, I recommend that you remember that my willpower and I have declared it's spring. Keep your sassy remarks to yourself.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Things I Sometimes Imagine Against My Will

I've seen this meme in a few places and it has a way of lingering in one's mind. There is simply no reason we can't all be tortured together, so here goes..........

Scabs; gobs of them on my arms. For some reason, I'm always wearing short sleeves so strangers can witness the horror.

Driving off a bridge. I usually imagine this when I am on a bridge.

Falling through the grate when I walk down a city block. Pretty sure this will one day happen; just hope to survive it without icky stuff landing in my hair.

Having to teach JT to drive.

My elliptical machine breaking. This actually did happen once. I got a new one. Would probably employ that same method of dealing with disaster if it happened again. But still.

Being unable to read.

Car trouble.

What the ER personnel will think of me when they discover that my panties don't exactly match my bra. Will they stop life support? Tell other patients?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Spring in the Air

Spring is just around the corner here, a fact identifiable by the chirping birds we heard as we awakened this morning. Just a week ago, it was quite frigid, with temperatures in the teens and snow. But later in the week, the sun outside had the promise of actual warmth to go with the light. The days are lasting longer; longer still after this weekend's time change.

Though we haven't had a great deal of snow, this winter has been quite cold. Sometimes it's been so bone-chillingly frigid that I've been tempted to say some very nasty things to old man winter, some things about his mother being a cheap, cold whore.

I usually enjoy winter but something about this year's relentless cold, with its icy winds and more than 8 weeks worth of bloody noses prompted by dry, indoor heat, has worn out my good will toward the season. I'm ready for the warmth, or, at minimum, the ability to wear less than three layers when I venture outside my home to fetch the newspaper.

Clearly I'm not alone. This weekend's warmth has pulled people outside. We headed to one of our favorite parks yesterday and though it was not technically open for the season, that didn't stop anyone. More warmth is forecast for today and though I'm sure winter hasn't quite finished with us, smart money says spring will prevail.
The boy is counting on that.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

What He Said

After the snowstorm earlier this week, one of my neighbors made a snow man that nicely sums up my attitude toward winter:

Friday, March 06, 2009

Thank Heavens I've Got a Dental Plan

There was a math carnival at school Wednesday ---- the kids played all sorts of math games and by all reports, lots of fun was had. Yesterday, JT came home with a prize from the carnival. It would seem he is the king of the estimation jar.
He guessed 153; the jar contained 154 lollipops.

He plans to give one to his teacher Mrs. W. I've been invited to help myself to one.

Using my impressive math skills, I have concluded that leaves 152 opportunities to get a cavity.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Cagey Veteran of Modern Parenting Techniques Plans His Next Move

Several of JT's pre-school years featured various systems of positive reinforcement. If he had a good day at school, he'd earn a sticker. Bad days meant no sticker. When he accumulated a set number of stickers he'd earn an additional prize.

With lightening quick speed, my boy quickly figured out how to game the system. Any time positive reinforcement was on the table, JT responded like the true competitive champion he was bred to be, behaving himself in order to win the prize. His behavior always improved when a reward option presented itself.

At the ripe old age of 9, there aren't many sticker rewards on the table these days. 9 year olds are expected to behave themselves because that's the right thing to do. It is perhaps the appropriate system for 3rd graders, but it means less prizes, which JT finds disappointing. His report card came home on Tuesday and his teacher noted that he sometimes has a difficult time listening (no surprise there: given the opportunity, the boy goes for the easy joke lay-up). He's funny and he knows that he's funny; sometimes he feels the need to share.

On Tuesday evening, we talked about the good parts of his report card and then I pointed out the need to improve his listening skills (e.g., shut your mouth). And then my boy, canny to the opportunity to get a little reward system going, proposed a plan:

"Every time I keep a smarty-pants remark to myself, I'll make a mark in my notebook, and when I get 30 marks, you can give me a treat," he proposed.

"And what would that treat be?" I asked, probing for the meat of this 9 year old plan.

"Well, you could take me out to supper," he said, generously adding, "you can pick the restaurant."

Having learned the old Ronald Reagan adage, "trust but verify," I suggested we look to his teacher Mrs. W for confirmation of his improved behavior. JT dodged and weaved, trying to get me to accept self-reporting, but finally agreed that Mrs. W could serve as our version of the IAEA. I accepted the proposal.

And I expect that the next few weeks of school will bring a focused and quieter JT; one carefully considering just how many good reports he'll need to win the prize. And he will win the prize, of that there is no doubt.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Outside, Mama, Outside?

Until JT was two and a half years old, we lived in a house with a screened in front porch located just across the street from a park. The boy loved that park and spent a lot of time on the porch, looking out the windows and calling to me, "outside, mama, outside?"

We were often to be found at the park. And when we moved to New Jersey, the first thing JT and I explored were neighborhood parks. Within a few weeks of arriving in New Jersey, I had identified a half dozen parks for our enjoyment. In New Jersey, we've found parks with trails, parks with climbing equipment, parks with swings, and parks with sandboxes. We love them all. Because I am the sort of mama who will stay at a park for hours at a time, over the years we've explored them completely. That's good, because my boy loves to play outside. At school, JT is most happy when he gets "outside recess." And if outside recess is combined with outdoor gym class, that's the JT money-shot.

For hours at a time, he also plays outside in our yard, running back and forth engaged in imaginary games. He keeps a cache of stick weaponry to facilitate these games. Bad guys are always vanquished at Sassafras House.

In the winter, JT continues to play outside whenever possible. Gym and recess are more often held indoors (because most children—not to mention their teachers --- don't find freezing temperatures enjoyable). And the weeks of early sunset make it difficult for him to get enough outdoor daylight playtime. And so it is that by this time of year JT is absolutely yearning to be outdoors. On a sunny day, he experiences the triumph of hope over good sense and heads outside, convinced that appearances are not deceiving.

These pictures were taken last Saturday morning, which looked lovely, though the bright sky was deceptive as it was only 30 degrees outside and there was a bit of a breeze. He lasted an hour, my outdoor boy, and then he came inside with cold cheeks and a bright smile. He was triumphantly optimistic as he explained to me, "Spring is coming, Mama, I can just tell."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Opposition to What?

As the Obama Administration shepherded a stimulus package through the Congress and then followed up with a budget plan identifying priorities for the next few years, I have to confess that I've been shocked at the degree to which Republicans seem to actively wish for him to fail.

I understand the idea of being a loyal opposition; of supporting an alternative solution to our national problems and advocating for that view. I can certainly respect Republicans who cast a vote against the stimulus package because it does not represent their preferred solution to the recession. But that is not what the GOP is doing. They are opposed to the Obama plan primarily because it's not their plan. But they have offered little in the form of an alternative solution, instead trotting out tired and failed policies.

On top of that, more than one Republican in Congress and the chattering classes has actively expressed the desire to see Obama's plan fail. As if that failure would have no costs. As if that failure doesn't represent the failure of our nation. It's one thing to believe that Obama's plan is not a solution; to believe that there are better options to explore. But to actively wish for his plan to fail? That's just perverse.

And it's not just perverse. It's wrong. As President Obama is reminding Americans of their strength and their durability, as he is busy reminding us that we can succeed; that we can overcome this challenge, the GOP is hoping that we don't.

They aren't offering any actual solutions to the recession; they are just saying no to the ideas on the table. Memo to the GOP: more of the same failed policies (I'm talking to you, tax cuts for the rich, off-budget wars, and stimulus checks) is NOT a solution. It's just recycling of failed ideas. The kind of recycling we must reject.

I am loath to invoke 9/11 because I am tired of the many ways that George W. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress beat us down with that idea anytime we dared to question them. But in the aftermath of September 11, we came together as a nation and we sought to support one another through the darkness. Democrats didn't actively wish for George Bush to fail as our commander in chief because they knew that if he failed, we failed as a nation.

And I wish that Republicans would understand that lesson today. If President Obama's solutions to our problems fail, our nation will suffer. And that suffering isn't abstract: its effects will be seen in real people's lives. The same real people who voted for Obama because they found something profoundly meaningful in the idea of hope.

Failure will not bring redemption to the Republican party. It will bring disaster to the nation. And I hope that's something that none of us wants.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Snow Day

The backstory: We are getting a substantial snowstorm in the Northeast today. The snow started last night, though we only had a trace when JT crawled into his flannel nest last night. The boy was worried: would Mother Nature deliver? The snow day phone call came at 11:30 pm last night. JT was well asleep but I turned off the alarm clock and took the opportunity to read my book a little while longer. At 7:45 this morning, as we lay in our respective beds, the boy and I had the following conversation:

JT: Mama?

Mama: Yes?

JT (tentatively): Do we have a snow day?

Mama: Oh yeah.

JT: Yee Haw!

As of this writing, he's getting on his snow gear. Large flakes are falling and he's eager to get out there and have some fun.
While I shoveled the front steps, it would seem that marauders came to the yard and attacked the boy. So sad.
Then my friend P came over and we went sledding. JT and I took some screaming trips down the hill together. Memo to self: don't let the kid steer the sled.
JT went down the hill dozens of times, trying every possible position so as to achieve maximum speed while (mostly) avoiding the dreaded snow face plant.
In the final analysis, speed rules.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

March 1st: Hostas

Earlier this week, as I was contemplating this entry to my blog, I looked out the window and thought I saw a spot of green in the corner of the hosta bed. I got all excited: my first sight of Spring! Though I wanted to rush right out and admire that bloom, I decided to wait until the morning of the 1st for my monthly picture of the hosta bed.

It would be a little weekend treat.

So this morning, despite the cold and the scattered snowflakes (not to mention the forecast calling for 6-8 inches of snow tonight), I grabbed my camera and rushed right outside when I woke up. I didn't even wait for my first cup of coffee.

As I approached the hosta bed I realized that I had been deceived: that's not the first sign of spring, that's a green tennis ball.
Sigh. Though I am impatient for some spring warmth, Mother Nature will not be rushed.

My spring break starts in a week and one of my vacation projects is to finish up the winter garden chores. I will throw out some grass seed and put some fertilizer into the garden patch; do some trimming and imagine the surge of growth that will soon take over the garden. All of this will move me that much closer to April 1st and some green.
I hope.