Tuesday, August 31, 2010

First Day of School, Take Eight

JT started school at the age of 3, with a Ninja Turtles lunchbox and his blankie stuffed in his backpack for nap time.
As you can see, a few things have changed.  Today, I'm delivering a truckload of books and school supplies to middle school.  I'll be damned if I'm not the mama of a 5th grader.  I have no earthly idea how this happened.  But the proof is in the pudding, as it were.  Happy 1st day of school!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A Boy and His Team

 Early in the 2010 baseball season, JT managed to come across an entire Major League Baseball schedule.  Since then, most of my days have begun with a review of which teams are playing that day.  I quickly learned that the last chore of each summer night was to check the scores of everyone playing, especially his favorite team.

That team is the St. Louis Cardinals, an inheritance from a grandfather similarly engrossed by the game.  Like his grandfather, JT has become a veritable font of baseball wisdom.  There are frequent calls to Grandpa to review the stats of of the day and the prospects of their team.  And the Cardinals' daily fortune has a direct influence on the level of the happiness in our home.
All of this came together on Saturday, when we made the journey to Washington D.C. to watch the Cardinals play the Nationals.  We had great hopes for the game - not only because we'd get to see JT's heroes Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina - but because the Nationals are last in their division.  We figured on a Cardinals victory.
As it turned out, we figured wrong.  But the excitement of the ballpark itself and seeing his heroes at work was pretty terrific.  He called his grandfather in California to share his excitement.
We were at the field in time for Cardinals' batting practice.  From the outfield, Skip Schumacher threw a ball to the boy in the stands wearing a Cardinals t-shirt and cap.  JT had his glove on hand for just such a moment.  That excitement certainly helped to make up for the Cardinals' defeat at the hands of the Nationals.
Like any true baseball fan, JT has learned to be stoic about the wins and losses of his team.   If things don't work out this year, there's always the next season.  Smart money says that the boy is already working out his plans for a return engagement.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Back to What?

I was in Washington D.C. for the weekend (more on that later).  Coincidental to my visit was the opportunity to experience the Glenn Beck crowd in their glowing, smug, aging, white splendor.

After some consideration, I've decided I prefer my Beck-Heads in cargo shorts and camo. That subset of the crowd appears far more hardy then the much more common denim-shorted, matching t-shirts, phone clipped to the belt, practically-sneakered attire that mostly characterizes the extremely white and aging Becksters.  Many of those matching shirts vowed to TAKE. AMERICA. BACK.  Others paid tribute to the founders with the Obama hope-styled graphically designed pictures of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. 

I'm a known fan of George and Tom and the promise of their ideas, but, as I recall, their America featured a rather limited citizenship for those of us who weren't white male landowners.  You'll pardon me for liking the America of the 13th, 14th, and 19th amendments to the Constitution just a little better.

And I guess that was my most overwhelming impression of the Beck crowd: they are people at a loss in a changing world.  Eager to stem the tide of hope and promise suddenly applying to all of us, they are going to dig in their practical shoes and cling to the past.  A past where they cautioned Martin Luther King to be patient while they unleashed their dogs on the children in Birmingham.  A past when gays were demonized and stonewalled in the closet.  A past where women were expected to happily embrace unequal pay for equal work. 

I understand that change is scary and that the Beck crowd is afraid.  I can't say that I bear them no ill-will because I've grown fed up with their smug, self-righteous nonsense.  Seeing them in action this weekend, it is clear that their time has passed.  I take comfort from the fact that Glenn Beck's America,  the oldest, whitest crowd I've seen in a very long time, is not the America I saw at the Nationals' ballpark.  Or on the train home to New Jersey.  Or at the school where my child is learning to lead the world.  That's the real America; the nation I believe in.  And we're going to take ourselves further than even Thomas Jefferson could have ever imagined.

Count on it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Life List Update

According to the calendar, summer isn't quite over.  But school starts next week.  This morning, JT and I head off for our last summer 2010 adventure.  So seasonal change is upon us and that always gets me thinking.  I spent a good portion of my summer thinking about my life list and doing some of the things on that list (completed items are in bold).  And in June, I added some things to my list.  While I am by no means close to completing the whole list (and that's the point, actually), I am still very proud of myself for thinking ahead. 

1. Have my own hot tub.
2. Hold my grandchild.
3. Take a cruise.
4. Visit all 50 states; current total: 43.
5. Find the perfect quilt for my bed.
6. Drive across country.....with JT behind the wheel.
7. Take JT to Europe.
8. Get a new bicycle.
9. Share my love of the Little House books with my child.
10. Have a front porch so incredible it could be on the cover of Country Living magazine.
11. Live in the South (again).
12. Throw terrific parties again…..I've gotten a start with dinner parties.
13. Train a vining plant to grow on a trellis in my backyard.
14. Learn to make a tasty white wine sangria.
15. Take a class in experimental philosophy at Rutgers University.
16. Finish the upgrade of the upstairs hallway....and then put up a cool wall decal from an etsy shop.
17. Teach JT to appreciate eating a variety of fresh fruits & vegetables.
18. Teach a course in American Foreign Policy (again....I taught it years ago, when I was a college professor).
19. Own a kick-ass black cashmere cardigan sweater.  Thanks KO!
20. Find the perfect dress. Wear it someplace special. Feel amazing.
21. Make (and eat!) a fruit pie made from apples and pears I grew myself.
22. Endow a scholarship at my alma mater, UCLA.
23. Clean up the boxes in the basement.
24. Visit Montreal, Canada.
25. Re-furbish the wood Adirondack chairs in the back yard.
26.  Acquire more plants for the back deck and then…..
27.  Clean out the useless computer in the study and turn the desk there into a place to winter over weather-sensitive plants.
28.  Re-model the bathroom.

29.  Take a new set of photos of JT to join the two black and white trios that hang in the stairway.
30.  Acquire a new sofa and chair for the living room.
31.  And while I'm at it, finding new comfortable chairs for the dining room would also come in most handy.
32.  All ceiling, all the time: Paint the kitchen, dining room, and bathroom ceilings.

It's been really nice to daydream about some things that might could really happen; things that would be very happy indeed.  And with that in mind, I'm adding a lot more items to my list. 

33.  Hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail.
34.  See more of Alaska……Denali, the Northern Lights…..you're on my list.
35.  Throw an old-fashioned English tea party.
36.  Truly heal my broken heart.
37.  Visit St. Petersburg, Russia
38.  Take JT to visit every ballpark in America.
39.  Index and organize my recipes.
40.  Take a weekend trip to New England in the fall.
41.  Wear some boots and feel stylish, not foolish.
42.  Replace the kitchen windows.
43.  Show JT Yosemite National Park.
44.  Visit Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri
45.  Eat at Eno Terra restaurant in Kingston, New Jersey.
46.  See the Grand Teton Mountains.
47.  Visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
48.  Eat she-crab soup and then tour historical houses in Charleston, South Carolina.
49.  Choose my next car, get it bought, drive someplace fun.
50.  Plan and take a trip to Savannah, Georgia.
51.  Take JT to visit UCLA.
52.  Get caught up in my scrapbooks.
53.  Meet Smoky the Bear.
54.  Go to Williamsport to watch some College World Series games.
55.  Visit Cooperstown with the boy.
56.  Now that the elliptical is dead, turn the study into an actual study (so that all of JT's homework dreams can come true....ha).
57.  Wear a tank top to the gym without feeling dreadfully self-conscious.
58.  And on that note, live with less fear in my life.
59.  Find a way to enjoy Friday evenings again.
60.  Drive a Porsche on a very fast driving course.
61.  Attend a Country Living antiques fair.
62.  Find the perfect dresser for my bedroom.

Whew! This ought to keep me busy for a while.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Food Friday: Tomato, Basil, Provolone Sandwich

At this point in the garden season, nearly every meal at my house features fresh tomatoes.  I especially like grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches and  I devised this version to use some of the basil also growing in my garden.  It's become my new go-to sandwich because it is yummy.
The ingredients are simple:
- sourdough bread
- sliced fresh tomato
- a pile of freshly washed basil leaves
- provolone cheese, thinly sliced
- salt, pepper, and dried oregano
- soft butter for grilling

I use a heavy duty grill pan for all of my grilling.  To make this sandwich, heat the pan on medium heat, toward the low end of medium.  You don't want the bread to toast so quickly that the cheese fails to melt.

Assemble the sandwich as follows:

On one slice of bread, layer a couple slices of cheese.  Then add the sliced tomatoes in a single layer and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and oregano.
Add a layer of the basil leaves; be generous with these so that you'll have the taste of fresh basil in every bite.
Add two more slices of provolone and the second slice of bread. 
 Butter both sides of the sandwich and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side; remember to keep the heat on the low side, so that the cheese has time to melt without burning the bread.
When the sandwich has been removed from the grill, let it set for about 1 minute.  Then slice it in half and enjoy!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My Walter Mitty Fantasy

At the first back-to-school meeting of the faculty and the staff at my school, there is an opportunity for people to make announcements.  I'll admit that in my first year at the school, I found these personal announcements  rather charming.  Nine years in, I still know that this sharing is very nice.  But as much as I like my job and my colleagues, I find my thoughts begin to wonder when announcement hour arrives. 

Almost all of the announcements fall into one of three categories.  Category 1: Someone got married.  Mostly, people are announcing their own weddings or the weddings of their children.  Perhaps related to that, is Category 2: Somebody had a baby or is expecting a baby; a subset of this category features people announcing the births of their grandchildren.  And then there is Category 3: Wedding anniversaries. There seems to be an unspoken rule about the anniversaries in that you need to be married at least 20 years to pony up for the announcement.

And that's it.   One of my colleagues who did have a legitimate non-birth or wedding announcement opted to stay seated yesterday, largely because she feared that if she stood up to make an announcement people would just be craning their necks to see if she was pregnant. 

I totally get this sentiment.

I've never had an announcement that fits into the established categories so I am a silent observer to the ritual.  And let's face it,  there is no actual danger of either a wedding or a birth in my immediate future.  Even if there was, I'm not sure that I'd announce it at a meeting.  Though I am a compulsive over-sharer, I prefer to do my over-sharing via the anonymity of the Internet.

Instead, I listen to the announcements and find myself silently wishing that things could take a turn for the more interesting.  I don't want people to stand up and report the mundane.  No, I want something meaningful and interesting. 

Maybe someone will stand up and announce that over the summer they kicked their 10 year crack habit?

Perhaps someone will rise with a simple report: the jury found me not-guilty on all of the charges.

Or maybe they'll proudly proclaim that the statute of limitations on a possible homicide charge against them finally expired this summer?

Won't someone please stand up and point put that they've completed their probation and are no longer on the New Jersey sex offender registry?

Is there any chance someone unrecognizable will stand up and announce that they had a sex change over the summer? 

For the love of God, give me something people.

Update: Looks like I needed to get Ken Mehlman to make an announcement at the meeting.

Update II: I am now collecting more potentially thrilling announcements.  For instance, my sister KO, who assures me she does not speak from personal experience, wants to hear this announcement: "I know that they say herpes can't ever be cured, but this summer, I felt cured."  I concur.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

August 25th

Mama's Home Improvement Summer Camp ends this morning, when I return to work for the meetings which proceed the actual teaching.  I won't have students in the clutches of my classroom until right after Labor Day, but the meetings signal the start of the academic cycle.  Not to mention the end of flip flop season.

Though I'm sorry to have to set the alarm clock again, part of me is relieved to exchange my paintbrush for a piece of chalk.  Once I'm back at work then I will have neither the time nor (hopefully) the inclination to invent house projects for myself.  And after my home improvement summer, that's a welcome change.

Plus, when I do come home from work, it will be to my well-ordered house, the outcome of all my summer labors.  Earlier this year, I could sit in one spot in the living room and see the half-stripped hallway, the cracks in the dining room ceiling, and the repaired kitchen ceiling in need of paint.  Now I can sit in that same spot and see all the work I've completed.  I'm proud of everything I got done this summer and not a little relieved that seasonal change is at hand.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I've had this pennant banner, an Etsy shop find for the last two summers.  I hung it up last week to welcome my boy home and I'll likely leave it up until Labor Day.  School may be starting soon, but that's no reason we can't celebrate the final days of summer.  Every time I walk up the front steps, the bright pennant flags make me smile.  And that's happy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rednecks: Jersey Style

When I lived in Nebraska there was no shortage of pickups making a statement.  NRA membership proclamations, gun racks, anti-abortion bumper stickers, the Stars and Bars….all found themselves a very happy home in the Cornhusker state and, in defiance of stereotypes, far more then I ever saw when I lived in Tennessee.

I've been in New Jersey for 8 years and I've only rarely seen similar pronouncements.  But I saw a redneck pickup this weekend in the Target parking lot.  And in keeping with the In-Your-Face New Jersey attitude, the statements on this pickup were so far beyond the boundaries of good taste that I was startled into making pictures of them for the purposes of deriding the character of the pickup's owner right here on the Internet.
In case the words aren't clear, the back of the pickup has a short treatise in favor of hunting, the second amendment, gun ownership and a parting line which reads, "have you eaten a fawn lately?"  Why no, sir, I don't believe I have.

Lest that not offend, the gas tank cover reads, "diesel-only, towel head."
New Jersey is a state in which pump-your-own gas isn't an option; all fuel stations here are full-serve.  And lots of gas stations employ hard-working, first generation immigrants, many of whom are unlikely to speak English at home.  I can't imagine what it must be like to be one of those men confronted by that sign when pumping gas on a hot afternoon.  That they don't instantly fill the tank with sugar is an indication that some people attend to their karma with a lot more care than the driver of this pickup.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thrill Seekers

For the last three years, we've marked the end of the summer by heading to a local water park with B and his mom J.  Our boys have been friends since they were 3 years old.  In fact, the first time they met they played in some water at a park, so it is fitting that their summer is not complete unless they have engaged in some water-related thrills.

Here they are in 2008, ready to hit the slides.
And in 2009, tired out at the end of the day.
For the first two years of our adventures, the boys mostly preferred to ride on tubes with their moms (those same moms hauled those tubes up the steps), only occasionally traveling down the slide on their own.   But in the last year, they've grown far more daring (J and I fear they are growing up…we're not quite ready for this development).  Time marches on even if your mama isn't ready and the boys are big and getting bigger.
This year, they treated the lines and the slides as a competition.  Who could get down first? (Hint: mostly the moms, as our ability to assess line length is a tad better than the 10 year old crowd).  They rode one slide that I refused to try.  It was called the Tornado and featured a steep drop and then a spin down the drain into a pool.  I didn't see this ending well for me.  It must be noted that J is much braver than I am; she would have gone down the Tornado in a heartbeat.  And while I watched as the boys waited in the Tornado line, she blithely shot down the steepest slides in the park.
At the end of our day in the sun, both boys had tan lines on their feet. 
And smiles on their faces. 
In a few weeks, these boys will head into the 5th grade.  Though I can't quite wrap my mind around it, it will be their eighth year in school together.  They have eight more years to go.  And I'm so glad that they have one another for the journey.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mutant Produce

In keeping with my granola image, I use compost to help keep my garden happily growing.  In the summer, I turn a hole in the garden into a compost pit and then I have plenty of fertilizer for my plants, easily accessible for enriching the garden right next to the pit.

This summer, some volunteer squash vines emerged from the pit and I let them grow just to see what they would turn out to be.  I think of compost pile-generated produce as a sort of garden catfish….clearly, these are bottom-feeder veggies.
And they look it.  I'm happy to report that my hybrid squash tastes just fine, a mutant combination of zucchini and mild yellow squash guaranteed to satisfy mamas and horrify children who refuse to eat their veggies.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Open for Business

Pictured below is a table in my dining room.  This is the place where we store JT's artwork supplies and homework materials.  And it had also become the depository for every spare piece of crap my packrat son wanted to keep. 
Perhaps not coincidentally, this colossal pile of junk made it nearly impossible to find a pencil and paper to get homework easily done.  But no more.  I removed the crap. 
And I've organized the table and its supplies.  We are ready for the homework season.  As you might imagine, the boy is delighted.  Simply thrilled.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Pictured here is my elliptical machine, just before it was released from service due to exhaustion. Not my exhaustion, mind you. 

I've been using an elliptical to workout for a while.  For the last 7 years, I've had one at home.  The advantage of this arrangement is that I could workout whenever I liked.  The disadvantage was that my workouts were never quite perfect.  For one thing, I could be interrupted by a number of domestic issues (from snack provision to bootie-wiping and homework assistance; there was always something).  For another, at-home machines simply cannot generate the same range of workout options as gym-grade machines.  But it was a mandatory compromise: I needed to workout to keep my psyche on an even keel and I needed to do it at home so I could keep an eye on the boy.

Though I longed for a gym membership, I set it aside as a pipe dream.  Then my machine broke, just when I needed it most because JT was scheduled to be at Camp Ex for a week.  As a temporary measure, I scored a free 10 day pass at a local gym.  And I continued the search for a replacement home elliptical.

That didn't go all that well once I realized the range of options at the gym: weights, spin classes, a variety of ellipticals and other cardio machines……..all the features of workout fantasies, should you suffer from this particular affliction.  Shopping for home ellipticals after working out on gym ellipticals was a bit like driving a BMW one day and a Yugo the next.  And I was hooked on the Beamer.

Though I am by no means a selfless person, much of my day-to-day existence is devoted to taking care of other people's needs.  Every once in a while I have a meltdown related to this fact.  A quality workout is a way to care for myself so that I remain capable of caring for others.  It's a way of ensuring my own marginal sanity in a life that I still find difficult. 

So even though JT's detention at Camp Parenting Time has ended for the year, I've still got my gym pass.  JT and I will have to work out the logistics of a workout plan which will now take me out of the house.  No doubt it won't go as smoothly as I would wish.  But it's not a luxury for me to work out and it's long-overdue for me to come first for a few of hours each week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Running on Empty

In gearing up to write a post about my deceased elliptical (I know…it was dreadful), I jotted down some notes about why I work out in the first place. 

Though my motivational level has varied, I started to work out regularly a few years before I got pregnant with JT.  I liked the way it made me feel and so I continued after he was born.  I don't work out so that I have a svelte figure (and if you could see my backside, you'd vigorously agree).  I don't work out to lose weight.  That would be nice, I guess, but it's not why I run.  I work out to feel good.  It's as simple and as complicated as that.

When my life shattered four years ago, working out went from being desirable to being essential.  For starters, it helped tire out my mind and body and therefore to combat the insomnia that plagued me.  By providing a routine, it gave some meaningful structure to my summer days.  It allowed me to forget the moment-to-moment hell in which my mind felt trapped.  It also helped to keep depression at bay.

As a side effect, I lost some weight (I have no idea how much but none of my clothes fit anymore).  I began to feel stronger; more durable and more tough, both physically and emotionally.  For the first time in my life, I came to regard my body not as an enemy to be conquered but as an ally.  The intensity and duration of my workouts increased.  I went from a 20 minute jog on the elliptical to a 55 minute run.  I used the time to relax and let my thoughts wander.  My daily workout became an opportunity to think creatively; to brace for life's difficulties.  And at the moments of greatest stress, running ensured that I could keep going.

In short, I was hooked.  I still am.  So the death of my elliptical was bad news, for both my mental and physical health.   And that's a story for tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Thoughts on Tolerance

My school is a diverse place, with students whose families represent faiths far and wide, including Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, and probably a few other faiths I've forgotten. The students are comfortable in their diversity in ways that always impress me.

By and large the young men and women debating the issues in my class discuss questions of race and religion in ways underlined by a fundamental ethic of tolerance. Some of them are first or second-generation Americans; many are students who speak one language at school and another at home.  They are proud to be Americans, and they certainly understand the importance of historic American liberties.  In my history and government classes, they read their copy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and I encourage them to take comfort from the notion that their culture and beliefs are respected and protected by our nation.

Current politics are a cornerstone of my government classes and the issues of the day always receive a dissection in my classroom.  It is with some regret that I approach a school year as our nation is immersed in a debate about the Cordoba Initiative's proposal to build a Muslim cultural institute and mosque in Lower Manhattan.

My concern isn't with the folks at Cordoba, which is led by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, a man who has repeatedly condemned Al Qaeda and terrorism and is committed to a peaceful dialogue.  My frustration is with the dubious public discussion that has emerged.  Republican critics such as Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani are far too eager to engage in demagoguery than they are willing to actually lead.  Witness the firestorm of ignorant condemnation of the building of the cultural center in lower Manhattan.  The willingness of the professional right's naysayers to paint American Muslims with the broad brush of intolerance isn't just fool-hardy.  It's dangerous and offensive.

More to the point, it violates the very cornerstone of our founding and our Constitution.  We are a nation with a proud historic tradition of religious tolerance and diversity. As a distinguishing characteristic it may be the most important thing that we demonstrated to the world: that people of different faiths can live together in peace and cooperation.  To take such a history for granted and to condemn other faiths in the name of our so-called "Christian" nation is to abandon all that we have ever stood for.  I want to hand my students the world that they deserve: one of fundamental tolerance.  The mean-spirited invective against the cultural center is making that awfully difficult.

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's On

I was down to just one apple on the trees, a perfectly reasonable development for my young fruit trees.  Though I figured I'd have to share with JT, I was looking forward to eating the apple come harvest season.  Then Pesky the Squirrel beat me to the punch.  I probably could have stood losing the apple to the garden wildlife staff; these things happen.  Bet Pesky didn't just eat the apple.  He ate it and then left the core where he could be sure that I would find it. 
Hear me now, Pesky:  You may have won this round but I have opposable thumbs and  I'm looking into weaponry.  Don't rest too comfortably.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Household Happiness: Jackson Prints

One of the reasons that I was so pleased to finish my upstairs hallway was so that I could once again hang up two of my favorite photographs.  I bought the prints, made by Tennessee artist Barry Jackson, when I was living in Nashville.  I came across his work at a summer craft show in Centennial Park and I loved them instantly.

Jackson lives near a plain-living community in central Tennessee and his long-term acquaintance with the families persuaded them to authorize the making of the photographs.  I love the way he's recorded scenes of people living their everyday lives in a way that isn't everyday for most of us. 

Jackson printed limited lots of the photographs; typically no more than 300 for each picture.  Mine all number in the first 100 of the series.  All together I have six of the prints, bought over the five years when I lived in Nashville in the early 1990s and saw Jackson's work at craft shows.  Each one was purchased on a graduate student's budget; for a while I didn't even have the money to frame them.   I love the prints both for the happy scenes they depict as much as the memories of Tennessee that they invoke.  For this positing, I've taken pictures of the prints I own but much better reproductions are available at Jackson's website.
The very first print that I purchased is the top photograph, six sisters sitting in a row on their front porch, braiding one another's hair.  The other photograph which hangs in my hallway (and my second Jackson purchase) shows the community's children in their schoolyard.  The yard is dusted with snow and while the girls are patiently lined up, the boys are doing their best to throw some snowballs. The little girl at the very front of the braiding line has a flower tucked in her toe and I know her to be named Mariyah.  That same little girl is sitting in her father's wheelbarrow in another photo; this one hangs in the powder room downstairs.
Mariyah is also the small little girl kneeling at the foot of the bed in this photograph, which also hangs in the powder room.
Two of her sisters sit in the doorway of their home in this print, which hangs in my bedroom.  The girls are looking at Jackson's initial developments of the photos he made of them. 
The final photograph in my collection hangs in the playroom stairwell.  It's a picture of children with their mothers, pausing in the woods so the children can jump on some mattresses left there. 
Though I'm not naive enough to believe that these photographs invoke a simpler time, for me they do invoke simple pleasures.  And when life is crazy it's very nice to pause and enjoy the happy charm of a little girl with a flower stuck between her toes.  We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tiger at Rest

Tiger's favorite time of the week is that moment when I change the sheets on the beds.  He especially enjoys tucking under the sheets and quilts at the foot of the bed and then reaching out a long paw to grab the unsuspecting passer-by.  He'll stay tucked under the sheets for a while, looking forward to catching his victim unawares.
Cunning as he is, I usually avoid getting scratched in this game.  Last week when I changed my sheets, I tucked him in as usual.  He consented to a  few photos before he demanded that I bring him a pillow and the remote control so he could enjoy kibble in my bed.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Food Friday: Lemonade Pie

This icebox pie, which is sweet and tart all at once, is perfect for a hot summer day.  It's also so easy to make that I'm always a bit embarrassed when folks rave about it.  And rave they will.  Stir up one for yourself and you'll see why.

- 1 prepared graham cracker crust
- 1/2 can frozen lemonade, defrosted in the fridge
- 1 small can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 small tub Cool Whip

optional: 2-3 tablespoons lemon zest

In a large bowl, using a whisk, mix the lemonade, sweetened condensed milk, and Cool Whip.  Pour the mix into the prepared graham cracker crust.  Sprinkle lemon zest over the top.  Freeze for 8 hours and then serve.
As JT would say: easy-peasy, lemon-squeezey.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dream House

When I was a kid, my parents liked to look at houses for sale.  So I grew up daydreaming about where we might move next.  Even as an adult, I never visit a home I admire without spending some time thinking about what I would do if that house were mine.  I like this kind of daydreaming and it often serves the purpose of getting me motivated to take on my own house projects. 

The downside of my house obsession is that with some regularity I awaken from a dream in which I am living in a house that is new to me and requires A LOT of work.  The dreams are always a mixture of good and bad and some familiar patterns emerge.  I have one dream where I awaken in a airy, spacious white farmhouse in the middle of a forest (good) but it has a basement that is packed to the rafters with crap (bad).  I've dreamt of houses with large, light-filled kitchens (good) that also have cracked flooring and virulent aqua cabinets (bad).  Sometimes I dream of a perfect little house with a lovely living room fireplace (good) but through the back door it's attached to a whole other very imperfect house, one chock-a-block with 1970s-era floral wallpaper (bad).  One of my most familiar house dreams finds me in my perfect home (good) but still living in Nebraska (bad).

No doubt a skilled therapist could work through these dreams and find an obvious explanation.  Lately, I think that the explanation is that I am finally closing in on the final of my big home improvement projects for the summer.  Internet, it's time to paint the ceiling.

Voting for the new ceiling paint overwhelmingly favored bright white.  I'd joke and claim that I'll go back to the original color if I don't like the white…..but that's a huge lie.  Painting ceilings is hot, exhausting work.  Two coats of paint were applied last night; touch-ups will happen this morning.  I will clean up the cabinets and reconstruct the kitchen.  Then I shall rest on my laurels.

Update:  The job is done and I am relieved as painting kitchen ceilings is not for the faint of heart.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Go, Girls

The 1992 elections were proclaimed the "year of the woman" and, for the first time in history, the number of women in the U.S. Senate began to creep upward.  Four women were elected in 1992; that brought the total of women in the U.S. Senate to six.

For years, the path of career advancement for women in the political world was to join the Democratic party.  Women tend to be more liberal than men and so this made sense; of course they would find an ideological home in the the more progressive of the two political parties.  At the same time, the Democratic party made a much greater effort to funnel talented women into the leadership pipeline, supporting their ambitions and advancing the issues which mattered to women.

There were exceptions, of course.  For example, in 1978 Kansas elected a Republican woman to the U.S. Senate in the form of Nancy Kassebaum.  Kassebaum came from a Republican political dynasty of sorts (her father was Alf Landon) and she was an exception.  Most women in American politics were Democrats.

Though their numbers were slim at the national level, many more women served in state legislatures, where party representation was more equal, though the Democrats still enjoyed an edge when it came to female candidates.  A number of political scientists identified this as the talent pipeline and they were confident that the number of women seeking (and winning election) to national office would continue to rise.

I've been thinking about all this because this year, 2010, may actually be the year of the woman.  There are plenty of Democratic women in races big and small and that's good.  But the main reason that 2010 is breaking ground in terms of gender is that there are a host of races with Republican women facing off against Democrats, a sign that both parties are now hospitable to female candidates.

Most of these Republican women are not candidates I find impressive, at least when it comes to the issues which matter to me.  But I am heartened to see so many women seeking office.  In terms of Senate candidates, the GOP has Sharron Angle in Nevada; Linda McMahon in Connecticut, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, and Carly Fiorina in California (she's running against Democrat Barbara Boxer). The Democrats, long the leader when it comes to women candidates, are in the mix as well.  In North Carolina, Elaine Marshall is seeking to win a Senate seat.  Robin Carnahan of Missouri is looking to translate her state-wide popularity into a Senate victory.  Incumbent Democrats Patty Murray from Washington, Kirsten Gillibrand from New York, Barbara Boxer from California, and Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas are seeking to stay in Washington D.C.

The upshot is the 2010 election cycle might see the number of women in the U.S. Senate rise from sixteen to twenty-one.   For my personal politics, it will be no great victory should these GOP women win their races.  But from a demographic point of view, the prospect of one-fifth of the Senate finally being women is awfully exciting, especially for prospect of gender equality that it represents for today's boys and girls.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Familiar Friend

Years ago, when I lived in Nashville, I picked up a copy of Pam Houston's Cowboys are My Weakness.  The stories spoke to me then; they still do.  Every few years, I sit down to re-read them.  It's like having a chat with a comfortable friend; one who understands the feelings that I never want to acknowledge, let alone put in to words.  Who simply knows.

For a long time, Houston didn't have other books; now she does.  I've been reluctant to pick them up because the bar is so high.  But I made the jump this summer and her follow-up to Cowboys, Waltzing the Cat measures up quite nicely.  The narrator, Lucy, is another one of those people who resounds with me.  When she says, "I mean if I saw me coming down the street with all my stuff hanging out I'm not so sure I'd pick myself up and go trailing after,"  I get it.

When another character, Leo, says of Californians: "The great thing about Californians…is that they think it's perfectly okay to exhibit all their neuroses in public as long as they apologize for them first," I laugh.

And toward the end of the book, when Lucy says, "…home might be…a place that could forgive you all your years of expectations, a place that could allow you - in time - to forgive yourself," I hope to hell that she's correct.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Headed Back to the Minors

Early last week, a surprise package arrived for JT.  Inside the box was a catcher's glove sent by his grandparents.  He was thrilled. 
Within seconds, the glove was on his hand and he was in search of the lanolin we use to condition gloves.  Soon after that, I agreed to throw some practice pitches so that he could catch with his new glove.  That evening, I threw him 50 pitches and all was right with the world.

The next night, as we went outside for 50 pitches (the new glove apparently came with draft papers for the Mama), the catcher got a bit sassy.  He began to throw signals to the Mama pitcher, requesting knuckleballs, curveballs, sliders and the like.  A few pitches were so bad as to require that the catcher come over to the mound for a little confab with the pitcher.  He'd raise his glove over his mouth and speak words of instruction and encouragement.  Then I'd get a pat on the shoulder from his new glove and he'd head back to home plate. 

By night three, he was calling my pitches strikes or balls (more often the latter), announcing the pitch count, and explaining to the imaginary TV audience that the pitcher was known to have an attitude problem.  When I disagreed, I was ejected from the game and replaced by my mysterious identical twin.

My twin also had an attitude problem.  Eventually, a call to the bullpen was placed and I was sent down to the minors.  Baseball ain't for sissies.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Hallway Update

This morning, I went ahead and hung some photos at the landing in the newly painted hallway.
I've had these photographs since I lived in Nashville; these two are the first in what would become a collection of six.   I'll write about them later this month, when I put up a Household Style post.  But for now I'm very happy to have these two back up again.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Upstairs Hallway: Week Two

I've been steadily at work on my upstairs hallway project and the past week's labors were plenty rewarding, if sometimes exhausting.  Working at an hour a day for one solid week, I stripped wallpaper until Monday, when that messy, sticky, tiresome job was finally complete.
On Tuesday, I went to work repairing holes in the plaster, cleaning the woodwork and sanding out the chips and cracks so that the woodwork was ready for a new coat of paint.
On Wednesday, after issuing stern warnings to all life forms in the house that they weren't to touch anything, I set out to paint the woodwork.  Armed with my stepladder, a small bowl of paint, and my brush, I painted all six of the upstairs doors and doorways as well as the woodwork trim. 
On Thursday, I took a much-deserved break from painting.  JT and I devoted ourselves to selecting a final paint color for the hallway and stairwell.  We settled on a shade that is just a little lighter than the living room's.  The color is called sandstone cove, which seems like the perfect name for a hallway meant to be a restful place. 
On Friday, I finished setting down the painter's tape and got organized to apply the first coat of actual paint.  A quick look at the back wall in the living room; the one that runs upstairs, revealed that it was awash in handprints and the like.  I decided that it deserved a fresh coat of paint.  So that wall came first.  I followed up with the first coat of paint in the upstairs hallway.  Four hours later, I manned up for coat number two in the hallway.   
And now the job is done.  Later today, Sharkbutt, who gets credit for project motivation, is coming for supper.  I plan to solicit her help hanging up some pictures.  In the next few months, I plan to put up some wall decals from Elephannie's Etsy shop.  Then the job will be fully complete.  But things look pretty awesome right now.
In terms of doing most of the work myself, this hall is by far the most involved project I've taken on in my house.  Though it was sometimes frustrating, I am  proud of myself for seeing the project through to completion.   More than two years ago, when I first took after the wallpaper, I quickly removed the switch plate in the hall, a sure-sign of a work in progress.  Then as a combination of gentle rebuke and motivation, we lived switch plate-free while the project was waiting for completion.  Last night, I screwed on a new switch plate, the final act of the renovation.  I'm not sure that I'll ever turn the light on up here without thinking about this project and the fact that I got the job done.
It's a very happy thing.