Sunday, May 31, 2009

Identity Politics

At first I was amused but now I've grown downright annoyed at the attention paid to Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor's comment about being a Latina. Specifically, in a speech delivered in 2001 at U.C. Berkeley, she said, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Immediately, the chattering classes began to debate what this meant. Though I'll admit that her comment was inelegant and imprecise, something that happens to regular people when they speak, I suspect that what she meant is that her identity and her experiences inform her life and her viewpoint; her way of understanding the world.

Well, of course it does.

My life is shaped by my identity. In things big and small, the way I understand the world is shaped by the identities in which I find meaning. The list is long and it changes. I'm a woman, a mother, a teacher, I'm a 41 year old, I grew up in California but live in New Jersey now, I've lived in the Midwest and the South, I'm a political scientist and an historian, I'm a white protestant; I'm gay, I'm a single parent. I'm a cook, a gardener and a reader.

And now I will stop because that's a long list and nowhere close to complete. The political scientist in me remembers a phrase used to understand bureaucracies and the ways in which institutions shape our world view. That phrase is "where you sit is where you stand." In short, it means that the identities you have shape your view. I explain it to my students by noting that if they came to class one day as a teacher instead of a student, they would act as the teacher (or how they believe the teacher would act). And that behavior would be shaped by the teachers they know, especially those who have influenced them the most.

In so many ways, as my identity has grown and changed, I have become a different person. I was a teacher before I was a mother, and that transition made me see things from a whole other viewpoint. I'm a better teacher for becoming a mama. Does that mean that teachers who aren't parents aren't as understanding and as capable? Of course not. That means what it means: being a parent changed my identity and consequently changed my world view. I think it's made me a better teacher. I know it's made me a different teacher.

At the founding of our nation, James Madison recommended that our government officials have "an intimate sympathy" with the people whom they represented and governed. Thoughtful people, and that includes Judge Sotomayor, understand that the ways in which we view the world are a function of our experiences and the ways in which we have come to understand those experiences. That doesn't make her biased. It makes her human. And in my estimation, thinking humans with a diversity of experiences are exactly what we need on the Supreme Court.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Saturday, May 30: This Week in Supper

Yesterday was the end of classes for me and so this past week was plenty busy. But I still managed to do some cooking.

Monday was Memorial Day and that can only mean one thing: cook-out. A friend came over and I grilled veggies and Halloumi (more on that soon) and made cream-cheese bacon-wrapped jalopeno poppers from this recipe. Yummy.
On Tuesday, I tried out a panini sandwich I dreamed up: sharp cheddar, deli ham, and grilled red onion. I served it with a green salad and sliced strawberries and bananas. Winning combination, that. It will be making another appearance soon.
On Thursday, I made some guacamole (there had been complaints from the inmate who felt deprived of guacamole). JT enjoyed guacamole tacos while I ate a tostada with refried beans and saffron rice.
On Friday, I fell for that well-known boy plot: take me to Subway, please, Mama. Judge me if you must, but I'd had a long week.

Friday, May 29, 2009


The weather has been mostly lovely lately and we've slept with the windows open for the last two weeks. I like the sound of chirping birds when I get up each morning. But on Sunday morning, at 5:30 AM I awoke to a loud thunk and the unearthly sound of a cat yelling and crying. I found my glasses and headed downstairs to check things out, convinced that one of the cats had endured a mortal wound. My heart was pounding with fear.

I came downstairs to find Lucy screaming her tiny cat head off at another cat on the back deck of the house. It was not the Tiger Imposter (also known as Fat Tiger), but a black and white cat I didn't recognize. As he quietly walked the length of the back deck and peered in the window, Lucy screeched at him. Tiger stood nearby, calmly supervising the security crisis, confident that Lucy had things under control. The Cat Invader finally turned tail and left and we all returned to our beds, secure in the knowledge that Lucy is watching over the joint.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Second Opinion edition

On more than one occasion, I have conversations with JT whereby I urge him to incorporate more fruits and vegetables in the list of food that he will consent to eat. He treats this as the advice of a mad woman. The other day, I was yet again preaching the virtue of veggies we had the following conversation.

Mama: Veggies are good for you and they taste good. How about you try one?

JT: I'll eat a potato chip. That's made of potatoes.

Mama: Well (hemming and hawing to escape the logic conundrum)....potato chips don't really count as a vegetable.

JT: Why?

Mama: Because there's not much potato in them and they are fried.

JT: But they are still made of potatoes. That's a vegetable. I want a second opinion.

Clearly, my expertise is suspect.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Nearly three years ago, JT and I adopted our cats Tiger and Lucy. It was the sound recommendation of my friend E that we get two cats. So on the day we went to the animal shelter we selected two litter-mate kittens to move into Sassafras House. In JT's mind, the boy kitten was his and so he named him: Tiger. I am a girl and the girl cat was my responsibility and so I named Lucy.

Tiger is a boy. He's big and sort of pushy when he wants something. If he needs a space on your lap, he shoves on in. If the food bowl runs short, he insistently follows you around the house until you get the hint. He doesn't truck with nonsense and when he needs something, he lets you know.

Lucy is a girl. She wants to talk about her feelings. Endlessly. If Lucy is unhappy the entire household is made to know about it as she meows her dissatisfaction chorus. And Lucy is very particular girl. Lately, she has decided that she would like to be petted while I'm in the downstairs bathroom combing my hair. She rolls around on the lid of the toilet and if that fails to capture my attention, she stands in the sink and meows at me endlessly while she shakes her tail at me. It is not a gentle meow. It's an insistent "pet me now or else" meow that can be heard throughout the house.

I must say I admire Lucy's commitment to getting her way, though on some mornings I am sorely tempted to turn on the tap and see how she likes it. Not much, I expect. And then I would certainly hear about it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Season Opener

For many of us, Memorial Day marks the start of summer. That's well and good for the adults, but if you are a boy the summer season is officially opened when your Mama consents to a run in the sprinkler. Conveniently, these two days coincided yesterday. After I cut the grass in the backyard (this time I took action before it resembled a pasture!), I set up the backyard sprinkler and turned the boy loose to face its wrath.
The sprinkler game involves a practice lacrosse stick, drafted into temporary use as a sword.
Our hero valiantly faces down the exploding water.
He emerges unscathed on the other side of the sprinkler. But can he return alive?
How dare you doubt our hero! The sprinkler put up a valiant battle, but JT was finally able to declare victory.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Western Civilization

In case you can't read things in reverse, the title of this textbook is Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment, volume B: 1300-1815.

I don't know about you, but I found this to be all sorts of amusing. Continuing Experiment? As in, the jury's still out on whether or not Western Civilization is a good idea? On how we should hard wire this thing we call civilization? On whether or not we can call western civilization a success? Warning: it could still go either way people, so now's the time to straighten up and fly right.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

This Week in Supper

I've decided that my occasional This Week in Supper posts are only useful if they have a link to a new recipe or to a new kind of food. And as excuses to cook and post pictures of food that I have cooked goes, I think it's a pretty sound one. Between Little League games JT played in and a baseball game we went to watch, the week was busy and some suppers were not homemade or not worthy of being shared (hangs her head in shame). But those I did make were quite tasty.

On Monday, I made zucchini pancakes and served them with a green salad with blue cheese dressing (homemade, of course), a sour dough roll, and fresh strawberries and bananas.
Later in the week, I turned to my old favorite, cranberry-feta-pecan salad and enjoyed it with bread cheese, and another sour dough roll (my new favorite discovery at Wegmans).
Bread cheese is a cheese with a high melting point (so high, that it basically won't melt). It's dry and on the salty side; really quite yummy. I warm it in a pan and then serve it with a bit of creamed honey or raspberry preserves on top. I get mine from Wegmans; the brand I buy is made by a Wisconsin cheese producer called the Carr cheese company. You can also cook this cheese on an outdoor grill. It's fast, easy, and delicious. And who doesn't love a supper like that?

Update: Nichole points out the obvious weakness of these posts about suppers: JT eats a slim subset of the food I put on the table. The bread, mostly. This Week in Supper, JT-style would feature a parade of chicken, hot dogs, and pasta punctuated by the occasional serving of pizza and sneering looks at veggies and fruits.

I am in denial about this.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Childhood off the Grid

As summer approaches, I have a lot of conversations with my fellow moms and they go something like this:

Other Mom: What is JT going to do this summer?

Me: A whole lot of nothing.

I am a teacher and I don't work over the summer. I do get a lot of schoolwork done during that period because lessons don't write themselves. But I get that work done at home and on a relaxed schedule (read: no showers before noon), while my child hangs out and does the sort of things I did when I was a kid in the summer: he plays outside, he reads, he plays with his toys, he goes swimming, we spend hours at the local parks. And yes, he watches television. It's a kind of lather, rinse, and repeat method of relaxation that reaps all kinds of rewards.

Other Mom's response at this point falls into one of two categories: envy or horror at that many enrichment opportunities lost to my child as he skips Art Critic/Unusual-Sport-That-Will-Result-in-a-College-Scholarship/Post-Modern Literature Camp in favor of time spent doing nothing. That's right: Nothing. Horror mom isn't my kind of mom and so I ignore her while she feels smug, convinced that her kid won't have to worry about competition from mine when the time comes to apply for college.

Envious mom is envious either because of the money I save on camps (money I don't make in the first place because, duh, I'm a teacher) or she's envious because she'd like her kids to have a camp-free existence but that's not an option because she must work.

I know of many camps and summer activities for kids that are terrific, offering a combination of enrichment and relaxation that is good for the children. They are well-planned and staffed by caring folks who want to see the kids flourish. But those camps are mostly not available to families who lack upper-middle class incomes.

And they aren't on my agenda because I don't need them (which is good, because mostly I can't afford them). I find myself wondering about other kids, those whose parents can't afford costly camps. Will they get outside time in the summer? Will they have an opportunity to lie in the grass and stare at the sky? Or run in the sprinklers? How can this nation, a nation dependent on the creative labor our children must one day supply so that we can collect Social Security, give those children the experiences that will make them happy and healthy adults?

I don't have any answers here, but as summer beckons, I'll have plenty of time to think about what we can do for those children. For me, it's an incredible luxury to hang out at home with my boy. I know that the relaxed unplanned time will lend itself to all sorts of creativity and some interesting conversations. And that's a most happy development.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fear Factor

A few weeks ago, JT and I were listening to NPR and a reporter made mention of American detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. JT said to me, "Wait, I thought that President Obama closed that place. That's a bad place."

In January, I had explained to my son why it was necessary to close Gitmo. Things like our Constitution, its pledge of habeus corpus, our need to stand for the rule of law....all of them figured prominently in my explanation of why President Obama's pledge to close American facility at Guantanamo was a very good idea. I'm not alone in understanding this reality. But I might as well be, if the U.S. Senate is any indication.

Nearly every day for the past month, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has made a speech on the Senate floor, complaining about President's Obama's intention to shut down the American detention facility at Guantanamo. McConnell makes the same dubious argument each day: Gitmo keeps us safe. It's a simply ridiculous argument. For one thing, we don't actually know how dangerous the folks at Gitmo are because we haven't had trials for most of them. In the absence of clearly stated legal charges and application of the rule of law, we don't know. I suspect that most of the 241 people being detained at Guantanamo are probably bad guys. But the only way to be certain about that is to have trials and let the sun shine on their deeds. If the evidence points to guilt, we can lock them up in any one of the many high security federal prisons we currently maintain. Those places hold scary prisoners now and will hold them in the future. They can certainly accommodate additional bad guys. And if there is not enough evidence to convict Gitmo detainees of crimes, then we should set them free. Because that's how we treat those found non-guilty: we let them go.

I wish I could point the finger at Republicans alone, but they aren't the only party guilty of foolish thinking on this issue. Tuesday, Democrats removed funding to close Gitmo from a military budget bill. The Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, pledges that once the Obama Administration presents a plan for closing the base, the Congress will debate the provision and, presumably, allocate the funds. This act constitutes a Democratic party willing to yield to Republican fear-mongering about Guantanamo. I am disappointed in their shortage of courage and their lack of leadership.

I believe in the promise of the American constitution and its pledge of equal treatment under the law. I believe that being confined to a prison without counsel or knowledge of the charges against you is a violation of human rights. I know it's a violation of the U.S. Constitution. I believe that my nation must stand for a handful of principles. Foremost among them is the rule of law. And the law on this issue is clear. Startlingly clear. So clear that my 9 year old understands that what's gone on at Gitmo is wrong; he understands that we must close this shining example of American hubris.

Americans have long held dear the principle that protection of our freedom and liberty is worth dying for. Every day that we hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without presenting charges and scheduling trials for them, we make a mockery of that principle and those who died defending it. And in doing so, we demonstrate a stunning degree of hypocrisy to the rest of the world. It is that hypocrisy which places us at risk in this world. And I, for one, refuse to be governed by fear.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Welcome Home

Last spring, a significant portion of my front porch was replaced. When that work was completed, I primed and painted the entire porch. I've been pleased with the renovated porch. But over the past weekend, I started to think about doing more with the porch. I was inspired to do some updates when my next-door-neighbors offered me the old iron table from their front porch (they're moving to Florida and their new home doesn't have a front porch). Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I quickly snapped up the table.

And so my porch is getting an update. Here is the front of the house:
And are a few photos of the porch as it looks pre-update:
And here is a picture of the table that inspired the changes:
The surface is some kind of laminate (I've got some ideas for covering it up) but the pedestal is a terrific cast-iron that looks perfectly rustic.

The plan: There will be some paint touch-up work (especially on the roof trim); the flower pots currently hanging from the pillars will be sent out back to hang over the hostas by the garage and new fuller pots will be prepared for out front. The rhododendrens will be trimmed up, as will the evergreens. The porch will get some more things: maybe an outdoor rug and a couple of chairs for the table? The table and the front eaves will benefit from something ----- I've had my eye on an oilcloth banner and tablecloth. I'll add some additional flowerpots on the porch and a basket for the damp shoes that inevitably get left out front. There will be a new doormat.

Ever since I hatched the plan, I've been full of ideas. And even with my limited renovation budget, it's really nice for me to have a project that finds me looking forward, especially at this time of the year. Within a few weeks, right about the time that school lets out for the year, my porch will be ready for the summer, a very welcoming entrance to my home.

Pictures soon!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Hope Effect

Last week, the Seniors at my school finished up their classes. There are still plenty of events that must happen before they walk off into the sunset. But their absence from daily class is noticeable and the transition is cause for me to reflect on our year together.

I have been teaching at least one section of Intro to American Government since 1992. That means that I've had the opportunity to witness plenty of American elections through the eyes of students. In 1992, when I was 25 years old, my students and I were basically of the same generation. But I turned 41 just a few days after the 2008 election; some of my students weren't even 18. A generation of experiences (and interests) divides us now.

I spend a good deal of my life in the company of teenagers. And while I don't always think like them (well, most of the time, anyway), I do think that I have a pretty good understanding of their concerns and interests. In Madison's words, I think that I have an "intimate sympathy" with these folks. I like them and make it a point to treat their opinions seriously.

Elections are always interesting when you're teaching a government class but this past fall they were truly inspiring. My students were consumed with the people and the issues of the day; they felt a kind of pride in their nation that I hadn't experienced in the company of teenagers before. I truly do believe that it was an Obama Effect. As a candidate, Barack Obama treated their concerns seriously. They responded as serious citizens should respond, learning more about their world. It made me incredibly proud to spend my days with these young people, talking about how our nation could be a better place and a better leader in our sometimes frightening world.

They are about to go out into the world; to take up the mantle of learning that will send them on their way to be the next generation of leaders. And my days with them have convinced me of at least one certainty: they are ready for the tasks that lie ahead of them. In them, I have seen our future. And it looks most hopeful.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Interview with a Nine Year Old

I didn't get the idea for this little project on my own. In fact, I read it at Amalah and she had read it at over at Linda's blog, All and Sundry. Amy and Linda interviewed their little boys --- three year olds --- and I no longer have a three year old. I do have a nine year old, however, and when he saw me reading these interviews, he was intrigued. The next morning, he demanded some media time of his own. I figured that it would be interesting (well, at least to me, and as you might recall, this is my blog). And, it turns out that it was also amusing. I asked the questions and then wrote down JT's answers verbatim.

What is something I often say to you?
Stop talking about those inappropriate jokes.

What is something I say to you that makes you laugh?
Hmmmmmmmm. When you pretend to be someone else. It always makes me laugh when you pretend to be me.

What is something that makes me sad?
When I get hurt.

What do you think I was like when I was a little girl?
I think you were funny. I would have wanted to play with you....even though you are a girl.

Who is the politician who annoys me the most?
That's easy. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

What is my favorite thing to eat?
Chilaquiles! And speaking of that, I need you to make me some guacamole soon. It's been more than two weeks since you made me guacamole tacos.

What is my favorite thing to drink?

What is my favorite thing to do?
Go places with me. Examples: carnivals, Hurricane Harbor, baseball games. That sort of stuff.

When you go away for a weekend, what do you think I do?
Miss me and watch Jeopardy, the Daily Show, and My Name is Earl.

Where is my favorite place in the world?
Yosemite and Tennessee (and why haven't you ever taken me to these places?).

What am I good at?
Cooking, talking about history and government. Other tasty stuff.

What do you like to do with me?
Play and talk with you; ride bikes.

How do you know that I am proud of you?
Because you tell me when you are proud of me.

I love you, JT.
I love you, Mama.
(please note Tiger's tail in the corner of this photo.....he was on the table, hoping that JT would protect him from the wrath of Mama and her squirt bottle).

Friday, May 15, 2009

Household Happiness: Margaret Hudson figurines

When I was in the 4th grade, my mother developed a fondness for dark clay sculptures made by a local artist named Margaret Hudson. The sculptures mom liked the best were animals, especially raccoons, which reminded us of the fearless raccoons that came to see us on the porch of the cabin when we visited my grandparents at Foresta in Yosemite.

Mothers are notoriously hard to buy for, and my mother is the poster mom for that reality. So she received A LOT of Margaret Hudson figurines. The animals and their happy expressions became a hallmark of my childhood and early adolescence. When I see them, I think of home. They always make me smile.

In 2001, when my folks moved into a new house, my mom set out some of her figurines, but not all of them. She stored away many of the figures on a shelf. Soon after, my sister and I began to liberate them for display in our own homes. I have several at my house and I enjoy seeing them every day. I like that we three have the sculptures set out in our homes, a connection with family that unfailingly brightens my day.
This squirrel is much friendlier than Pesky, who lives in the backyard. Plus, he doesn't taunt the cats.
The baby in this picture dropped the raccoon in this picture on its nose one day.
I like the fact that these three tiny creatures sit together on the mantel in the living room.
The only mouse who can evade me and my sticky traps.
A quail sits on my bedroom dresser. He sleeps well at night.
This happy bear reminds me of my nephew C, whose mommy used to call him her little bear.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Pox On Us All

As a result of the recent flu hysteria, JT and his classmates have been practicing their handwashing skills. I'm down with that because 9 year old boys are a notoriously unclean class of people. But then someone's doctor parent came to school and distributed hand sanitizer.

I'm not down with that because of my completely unsubstantiated belief that the profusion of hand sanitizers in our germ-o-phobic world has led to an abundance of anti-biotic resistant germs. And in the case of this particular hand sanitizer, its clinical smell is all-encompassing, searing your nose hairs just seconds after the bottle has been opened.

JT, a child who must be reminded to utilize soap when showering, seems to adore this bottle of hand sanitizer. He particularly enjoys using it when we are in the car together. As soon as he opens the bottle, the smell of obsessive-compulsive clean pervades the car. As we rocket down the interstate, my lungs begin to seize up in an instant asthma-attack.

Mr. Clean is unpersuaded by my ranting that hand sanitizer is the work of the devil. In the meantime, the child regularly lives life with dirty knees that are permanently stained by grass, dirt, and who knows what else. I wait in vain for a knee sanitizer to hit the shelves of the local market.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Everything's Coming Up Tulips

Though these tulips were late bloomers, their timing was perfect for the brilliant azaleas behind them. The tall flowers with their pink buds look elegant. The transplanted hostas are also doing well; everything looks quite lush. This is the flower bed by the driveway in front of the house and I'm very pleased with the way that it looks this spring.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Promise of Modern Advertising

While I was strolling the laundry aisle over at my local Target this weekend, I discovered that there is a brand of Gain detergent called Joyful Expressions. I kid you not. Now I like the smell of clean laundry as much as the next person, but Joyful Expressions? Really? I can't say for sure, because I haven't tried it, but I think the people over at Gain may be smoking a little crack.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cut Hay While the Sun Shines

On the last weekend in April, in an unusual warm spell, I cut the front lawn for the first time this season. As is often the case in the early spring, the grass was lush and thick. But my mower did the trick quite nicely. I debated cutting the back lawn, which was also thick and in need of a mowing. But I ultimately opted to play with the boy instead, figuring that I'd get the job done on some upcoming sunny day.

That sunny day never really materialized. And Saturday, after nearly two weeks of steady rain, the mower and I faced off against the back lawn. There are no before pictures because I was so ashamed of how things looked. My backyard had become a pasture, more suited to a couple of goats than a middle-aged suburban mama and her mower. I don't have any goats. So I set forth to conquer the field.

In the thickest section of the pasture, things were touch and go for the mower. I ended up cutting the grass in thin lines, doubling back over the entire lawn so as to more evenly chop the hay and keep the motor on my mower from being overwhelmed. It usually takes me less than 30 minutes to cut the back lawn. But Saturday's cutting was an hour-long affair. For most of it, I was in fear that my mower would just give up the ghost.

As a consequence, I am prepared to make this vow: Never again will I miss a sunny-day opportunity to cut the grass. The photo below is an after picture:
Please distract your attention from the giant piles of fresh cut grass by admiring the blooms on the dwarf apple trees in the back.

Gratuitous picture of the lovely dogwood in the backyard:
And our old friend, Mr. Tree:
The backyard is shaping up for yet another hanging around outside season. I can't wait.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Everyday Mama

I lead a strange double life. Most of the time, I am the on-duty mama, the only parent in my household, and I am responsible for taking care of my son. If I don't get it done, it doesn't happen. Then, on a Saturday morning twice a month, my son leaves with my ex and there is no child in the house. Though I know that I need the occasional break, I sometimes don't recognize my life in this in-between-zone. I've gone from being the parent who always has a child around to the parent of an absent child, a Mama with no immediate parenting chore to complete. It's a strange pattern and I don't reckon that I will ever get completely used to it.

He'll be home early this afternoon so we can share some time on Mother's Day. We've planned to plant some flowerpots together and maybe go for a walk in the woods. Tonight, he'll be tucked in his bed as usual. And I will be immensely grateful for the blessing that is my boy. In the nine years I've been a parent and especially the three years that I've been a Mama on my own, I've come to realize that it's the little moments that build a life.

And just one day, even Mother's Day, doesn't compare much with a lifetime. Though I enjoy a celebration as much as the next person, for me the happiness of motherhood is in the very ordinary state of daily life with my child. It's in the sound of his laughter. It's in the way we share stories about Tiger and Lucy. It's in the suppers we eat together, in a lazy Saturday morning spent hanging out, in the books I read to him at night, our laughter as we brush our teeth side-by-side, the afternoon bike rides we take, the pleasure I get when we walk through the garden together, in the way my heart swells with love when he smiles and says, "hi, Mama," when I see him at the end of each school day. It's in the everything and the nothing. It just is.

My baby. My child. My boy. Without a doubt, the daily presence of my son is the best gift I ever received from the universe. I love him with all my heart, so fully and so completely that I can't even imagine how it would be if he was not in this world by my side. And so that's what Mother's Day means to me. Being JT's Mama, everyday.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

This week in supper

This week's secret ingredient is something that has become a staple in my home: pesto. On Monday, I made tomato-pesto pizza for supper and served it with a green salad with buttermilk dressing.
On Tuesday, the pesto was called into service for a grilled portobello mushroom with red pepper and provolone. I served that with couscous, and garlic spinach.
On Thursday, I left the pesto playbook behind and made butter & garlic noodles, a steamed artichoke, and a pecan & goat cheese green salad from Simply Food, a recipe that I have been making at least once a week since I first discovered it.
It seems that my creative streak in the kitchen is still going strong.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Subliminal Message edition

The backstory:. With the arrival of spring, JT has grown accustomed to a few after-school bike rides each week. But not this week, which has been rainy and wet. When the sun came out around 6:00 pm last night, he shot outside to play. Within a few minutes, he came inside and circled around me.

JT: Mama, can I ask you a question?

Mama: Sure.

JT: When do you think we'll be able to go bike riding again?

Mama (a woman who can take a hint): Would you like to go for a bike ride right now?

JT (restraining his enthusiasm, so as to convince me that this was all my idea in the first place): Yes.

And so we took a ride in the fading twilight and admired everyone's very green gardens. And just in case I haven't said it enough: I highly recommend that everyone go out and get themselves a 9 year old boy.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tulip Wednesday

Last fall, JT and I planted a couple dozen tulip bulbs in the front yard. New bulbs around my place are always tricky because you have to account for the clever squirrels, who eagerly search for fresh produce of that variety. We're past tulip season around here and I had given up hope that the bulbs would produce. But last week, I realized that my tulip luck had not run out.
Happily, a few tulips managed to escape the cunning squirrels. The flowers should open by next week and the rest of the flower bed, filled with hostas, azaleas, and a rose of Sharon, is prepared to provide a lush background for the flowers.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Gardening 101: Time to Plant

You've developed a plan, you've prepared the site of your garden, you've planted the early seeds. Now it's time to plant the rest of your garden. For me, that's tomatoes, bell peppers, some herbs, a fava bean plant, the various squash seeds I chose for the year, some cosmos flowers and zinnias. Lots and lots of zinnias.

I usually aim to get my planting completed by early May, once the danger of a frost has passed. This year, I went a bit earlier and planted the rest of my garden on the last weekend of April. We had a spot of unusual warmth with temps north of 90 degrees that weekend and I took it as a sign and planted. The basic layout had already been organized and I can't stress enough the importance of having a layout plan. Don't overcrowd the space. The tiny tomato that measures just an inch right now will grow to be nearly 3 feet tall, with spreading branches. If you want tomatoes, it will want space.

At the garden shop, you should choose healthy-looking dead leaves, no suspicious spots, nothing dried out. If the plants look crummy, take your business elsewhere. Be judicious about how much you can plant. You may want 6 types of tomatoes, but if the plants are sold in sets of 6, that's either 36 plants in your garden OR the purposive wasting of plants. So pick a few (or, better yet, go shopping with a fellow gardener and split the plants).

Once you get the plants home, it's time to plant. Seedlings can stay outside for a day or two before you plant, but not much more than that. Keep them well-watered if you're waiting to plant. In terms of the garden plot itself, the soil shouldn't be too wet, but it should be moist. I count my plants and dig all my holes and prepare my furrows before I put anything in the ground; that way I can be sure that there is a place for everything. That's oregano in the picture below.
And here's a close-up of a tomato plant:
I plant mini pumpkins and squash in a separate row located just to the east of my dwarf fruit trees. Here's squash alley:
JT helped put those seeds in the hills (I like to pretend that he will also be willing to eat the produce of his efforts):
A note on mint: plant it in a separate, large pot. Keep it well away from the rest of your garden. Mint grows mighty quickly and will take root in your garden with a vengeance. The smell is lovely and a few mint leaves in some iced tea or lemonade is heavenly, but the stuff will commence to take over your entire garden if you let it. Don't fall victim to its wily ways.

The week after planting, I check to make sure the new plants are getting the water they need (about an inch of rain every 4 days or so....3 days if temps are warmer). I placed an old garden tile around a few of the more vulnerable looking plants but that won't last for too long. Gardens demand survival of the fittest. Next weekend, I will weed and add some organic fertilizer that I picked up at the garden shop. I will also set out tomato cages. I call this the waiting season and I check my garden nearly every day, looking for any sign that a new plant has taken root and started growing.
Though it doesn't look like much right now, it won't be long before I have flowers for my vases and a freshly-picked tomato for my supper.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Starting Off on the Right Foot

From the moment I stepped out of bed last Monday morning, I was behind. This is often the case as the end of the school year draws near, though I have yet to make my peace with this reality. So it was that last week, for the first time all year long, JT did not have any homemade desserts for his lunchbox. I scrambled to make up for my errant mothering. On Monday, I gave him a $2 to buy dessert in the school cafeteria, a treat he very much enjoys. On Tuesday, I talked him into believing that graham crackers were dessert. On Wednesday, I slipped him a piece of chocolate after I read a chapter of Farmer Boy to his class. For Thursday and Friday, I packed fresh strawberries and some chocolate for dipping in his lunchbox. In this way, I managed to stay just a half step ahead of Child Protective Services in the state of New Jersey.

This week, I was determined to start on better footing. Yesterday, I baked peanut butter cookies and triple chocolate brownies for lunchbox desserts.
I will share some of the largesse with my 15 A.P. students who will take their test today. Science has yet to weigh in, but I'm pretty sure that the sight of a homemade cookie on your desk helps to clear up any residual confusion about federalism, selective incorporation, and the role of interest groups and political parties in American politics.

If not, they will at least know how much I care. And for now, that's plenty good enough.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Real Life Conversations with JT: Patience is a Virtue edition

The backstory: When I was a kid, my father was the parent assigned wake up duty and, as I recollect, most mornings he would burst into my bedroom with a great deal of enthusiasm. I did not enjoy this. I can vividly recall one cold morning that he brought me a cup of hot cocoa and then placed the steaming mug on the other side of the room, thus forcing me to get up. I was not amused. Most mornings when I go to wake up the boy it's 7 am and I have been awake (and consuming coffee) for the past hour and a half. So it would be fair to say that I'm fully awake. I usually climb the stairs calling his name and generally serving as an annoying mama. And so it was on Thursday morning that I climbed the stairs to find the entire boy buried under the quilt on his bed.

Mama: Wakey-wakey, Taylor McBakey.

The lump in the bed is silent.

Mama: It's time to get up sleepy head.

Continued silence.

Mama: Up, up, up.

Finally, he speaks, in a voice that implied he was the grown up and I was the tiresome overly enthusiastic child in the household.

JT: I have a very small patience for you this morning, Mama.


Friday, May 01, 2009

May 1st: Hosta-rific

It's the 1st of the month and that means hostas. This month, I have lots of them to show off.

The patch regularly featured here on the 1st is filling in quite nicely.
This patch is the largest in my yard. But it is just one of six hosta patches to be found in my yard. Here is another one, by the steps to the back deck:
And this one, at the edge of the garden:
And thanks to the transplants I received from my friend Jaxter, there's this patch, in the back by the grape arbor:
And this one in the side yard to the west of the house:
And this one in the front yard, facing east.
It may be that I have a problem. I prefer to think that it's just that my hosta bases are covered.