Friday, September 30, 2011

Unsolicited Advice

In the past few weeks, I've had some very sudden reminders of the fragility of life.  Everyone in my family is fine, so no worries on that front, but in the larger community of my school some folks I know are hurting because of the loss of loved ones.

That these events have happened at a time when I couldn't be happier is not lost on me.  These reminders that we must love and cherish one another while we can seems worthy of note.  And really, that's all I've got to say.  Get off the computer and go tell your family that you love them.  Do it now, while you can.  You'll be glad that you said it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Genetic Condition

In the past three years, JT has become a veritable encyclopedia of baseball facts.  He watches ESPN's Baseball Tonight and reads baseball news with a hunger tinged by obsession.  He's told me more than once that his dream job is to be a team General Manager some day.

He's got a complicated system of fan loyalties that reads like a genetic inheritance.  His favorite team is the Cardinals, because that's Grandpa's team.  He likes the Giants and the A's because those are also his Grandpa's teams, and we're a Nor Cal family.  He hates the Dodgers (see above: Nor Cal family).  Locally, he prefers the Phillies, and sniffs with disdain at the big money Yanks and Red Sox (thanks, Grandpa).

Last night's games, which likely shortened the lives of baseball fans all over America, found my boy simply thrilled.  The Cards clinched the National League Wildcard spot after the Phillies beat the Braves in the 13th inning.  The Red Sox were eliminated in a heart break of a game for Sox fans.  As ESPN showed film of the Cards celebrating their Wildcard win, JT called Grandpa for a final consult.  Their Cardinals start the playoffs with the Phillies on Saturday but they re-assured themselves that there's no cause for concern here ---- the Cards beat the Phillies six times in nine meet-ups this season.  As JT settled into his bed (the one with National League-themed sheets) my tired, happy boy smiled up at me and announced, "I love baseball."


Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I've been of a mind to write up a post about the GOP field of presidential contenders and what seems to be the split personality tone of GOP supporters.  Then Kevin Drum summed it all up quite nicely.  Read this and then you don't have to put up with my nonsense.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


JT refuses to drink milk.  Though Baby JT  once loved a glass of "nuk" he's been on the wagon for years. He won't even try it, which drives me stone cold crazy.  When I get the most frustrated with his unwillingness to even try milk, I entertain myself by serving his supper glass of ice water in one of a handful of replica label milk glasses that live in my cabinet.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Dogwood Monday

Though the thick humidity and warm days don't quite reflect it, fall has arrived in my corner of the world.  It shows in the trees and leaves around the Garden State, which have started the process of turning the colors of autumn.  The days are getting shorter and Pesky the backyard squirrel is busy getting things together for winter.  The dogwood has begun to turn.
As I did last year, I plan to make a picture of the changing tree each week.
Happy Fall, y'all!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Real Life Conversations with JT: Hierarchy edition

The backstory:  When he feeds the cats their daily allotment of kibble, JT hauls the kibble bucket over and announces that "King JT is here to feed you."  Tiger and Lucy come running, of course.  Who doesn't love a full kibble bowl?

Mama:  If you are feeding them, are you really the King?

JT:  I hadn't thought of that.

Mama:  Maybe Tiger and Lucy are the royalty.  You feed them; I clean their litter box.

JT:  We're their servants, aren't we?

Mama:  Indeed we are.

At least we know where we stand.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Home Improvement Weekend

The charming T, who seems to be a glutton for Sassafras-style nonsense, was a home improvement machine last weekend.  She installed a new front porch light fixture.
The old one was well beyond repair, not to mention modern electrical safety standards.
The new fixture features clean glass, less bugs, and both light sockets work!  Fancy.  Also: not a fire hazard. Ahem.

She replaced some window screens torn by certain feline attackers.
Let the record reflect that I wasn't completely useless.  Home improvement efforts always earns a Sunday supper.
And a tasty one, at that.  We plan to take it easy this weekend.  T has earned a rest.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And Justice for All?

I've been a long-standing opponent of the death penalty and for most of my  life that's been an uphill battle.   Though American support for the death penalty has declined in the last ten years, something like 70% of the American public still supports its use.  We're a nation who likes our executions.

By happenstance, application of the death penalty has been in the news for the last few weeks, just as I've begun teaching American Government to a new crop of Seniors.  I don't seek to convert students to my point of view - that would be unethical - but I do introduce them to politics from a political scientist's point of view.  Right now, we are studying the Constitution.  The death penalty is a question of constitutionality on a number of fronts.  The Constitution prevents cruel and unusual punishment.  The Supreme Court has found that execution is neither cruel nor unusual.  The Constitution also requires due process and justice under the law.  In my mind, those were the fundamental issues on the table in the state of Georgia's bid to execute Troy Davis.

Twenty-two years ago, Troy Davis was accused of the shooting off an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail.  The crime happened in Savannah, Georgia, and there's no question that Davis was in the parking lot where MacPhail's murder occurred.  The police never recovered the gun; there was never any physical evidence connecting Davis to the crime.  In the original police investigation a number of eyewitnesses identified Davis as the shooter.  A jury found Davis guilty of the crime and the judge sentenced him to death.  In subsequent years, nearly all of the eyewitnesses recanted their testimony against Davis, telling the courts that police investigators at the time had pressured them to identify Davis as the shooter.  Davis steadfastly maintained his innocence at trial and while in prison.  The police never found any physical evidence to connect Davis to the crime. 

For years, I've followed Troy Davis's case.  He'd dodged execution dates before, though rarely with any hope that another execution date would be avoided.  Yesterday, as another execution hour loomed, Davis's supporters and lawyers tried in vain to stop his execution.  My students and I listened to a news story about the situation and we talked about the issues of justice and Constitutionality at play.  When they left class yesterday, I encouraged them to pay attention to events in Georgia.  My classes have both death penalty supporters and opponents.  Both were sobered by the case.

I don't know if Troy Davis was guilty in the shooting of Mark MacPhail.  I know that there was no physical evidence to connect him to the crime.  I know that eyewitness testimony is notoriously suspect.  I know that our criminal justice system makes mistakes and that people serve time for crimes they didn't commit.  I know that the police are not always trust-worthy, especially when the rights of poor black men are at stake.  And I know that the state should not be executing people - taking their lives - unless we are damned sure that they are guilty. 

I know that Davis's execution won't be the last injustice in this nation.  I know that The Innocence Project and others are hard at work trying to correct those injustices.  I know that change can only happen when citizens like me stand up for the principles they believe in.  I know my nation is imperfect, but I believe in the promises of the Constitution.  I believe in the power of liberty and justice for all.  I will teach my students that this is true.  But they will also know about injustice; about Troy Davis and the state of Georgia.  In my darker moments, I wonder which message will resound most loudly.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Real Life Conversations at School: Reality Check edition

The backstory: I teach high school and there is almost no moment in high school as important as that day when a 17 year old secures a driver's license.  Its power is validated when the newly minted driver has access to a car.  Such realities were revealed when I overheard this conversation in the hall.

Student Y:  Whose white mini van is parked in the student parking lot?

Student X:  I don't know.  Why?

Student Y:  Because mini vans are pathetic.  They are loser-mobiles.

Student X:  Wait….do you have a car?

Student Y:  (pause) No.

Student X:  Who's the loser now?

Touche, Student X.  Touche.

In high school, I spent some time behind the wheel of a white El Camino known as the Elk.  So I'm not judging.  I just report the facts.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I headed out into the garden this weekend, to pick some of the rosemary I grew.  I used it to season some yeast rolls.
Turns out the Possum did leave me something (other than rosemary…..he's not a fan of herbs): I found one Roma tomato.
Thanks for sharing your garden bounty, Possum.

P.S.: You're still doomed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Garden Confessional

In early August, I took a stroll out to my garden, intent on showing off my tomatoes to T.  I realize this sounds like some sort of euphemism, but it's not.  I had some green tomatoes that were mere days from ripeness and I really wanted to admire them on the vines.

They were gone. 

Every single tomato was just gone, as if I had imagined them in the first place.  We walked around the garden patch and quickly discovered tracks.  From the look of the tracks, there was an incredibly well-fed possum enjoying my produce.  It's not an exaggeration to say that I was crushed. 

My garden is within a fenced-in yard and though I've had a squirrel and bunnies in the yard, I'd never had deer or any of the other wildlife that regularly threaten New Jersey gardens.  So the possum wasn't just unwelcome, he was surprising.

Catching the elusive possum proved beyond my abilities and so he had his run of my produce.  I've had plenty of basil, oregano, and rosemary, but other than that my garden has been a bust.  There was a chance for some late peppers and squash and a few zinnias but those were utterly destroyed by Hurricane Irene and the backyard floods which followed.

For the first time in more than 15 years, I didn't slice into a warm summer tomato grown by my hand.  There were no zinnia bouquets for my home.  I haven't been trying to persuade friends to relieve me of excess squash. 

I miss the abundance of it all.    I've always said that gardens are a lesson in patience and this year my patience has been sorely tested.  But I'll plant again next spring.  And if the possum is reading, I'd strongly advise that he consider relocation.  Because I've got it in for him.

Big time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Not Quite Ready to Lose Summer

My friends T and S got me this Playmobil toy and now it's sitting on my desk, reminding me of my beach bag, my summer flip flops, and languid days in the sun.
 Though there is a taste of fall in the air, I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to summer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Day of School: 6th Grade

Last week, JT gave tours of our school campus to some new students.  I heard him explain to a new parent that this year would mark his 9th year at the school.

Nine years.

It's hard for me to wrap my mind around that much time.  Like it was yesterday, I remember the walk to pre-K 3.  He held my hand and seemed so small when I kissed him goodbye.  These days, nap time has been replaced by break.  Cubbies have been replaced by lockers.  There's a stack of notebooks and school supplies that's nearly taller than JT was at the age of 3.  I feel the march of time.  Today, he headed to 6th grade under his own power.  But I still got a hug and heard, "I love you, Mama" before he walked away. 

I'll take it. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Matters of the Heart

In the first years after the break-up of my relationship with JT's other mom, I floundered and struggled to find and like myself; to find meaning in this new life that was thrust upon me.  There were landmines everywhere, often when I least expected them, and I learned to be on guard against new ways of being hurt.  It was a game of sorts, one I had to play whether I wanted to or not.    I longed for a share of happiness in the love of another.  In equal measure I feared taking a chance to find it.  Such fears are pernicious and hard; they make no room for taking a risk to find joy.  So I built a life that walled off the prospect of a great love; a life that pretended such a love didn't matter to me.  It was a happy enough life, if not a fulfilled one.  I was managing.

Deep in my heart, I never gave up hope that love could find me.  I kept that wish under cover.  I'd experience a longing for it at such funny moments.   I'd see something and wish I had a sweetie to give such a token.  I'd ignore memories of places I loved because there was no one to share the laughter and joy of the place.  I'd avoid favorite stories of my past because they featured a jarring reminder of a life now gone.  I'd fill my own Christmas stocking with great care, knowing that I really wanted to fill one for a sweetie.  I'd plan out my childless weekend hours and have fun with friends.  I'd think that I had this new life mastered.  But then I'd come home to a quiet house and wonder if I could ever really master the emptiness.  I hoped to find a connection that clicked; the one that would allow me to the freedom to love back unrestrained, whole-heartedly, and with abandon.  I knew such things rarely fall into one's hands; I'd have to go looking.  But that was a scary prospect, one filled with risk I wasn't sure I could endure.  How much more happiness could I expect from life? 

Earlier this year, as spring made its annual claims on my heart's longings, I took the plunge and gave meeting people a try.  It would be fair to say that I was terrified and elated in equal measure.  And now I'm so very glad that I took that risk.  I've found her, the girl who makes my heart full.  She's amazing….funny, kind-hearted, happy, handy and with an amazing smile and a capacity to love back that leaves me breathless.  She brings me more joy than I ever imagined could exist for me.  And the biggest wonder of it all is that she loves me right back.   Her name is T and she'll be around life at Sassafras House a lot more often as fall arrives.  I'm looking forward to more laughter, more happiness, and a life that feels full and complete.

That's very, very happy.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Live Blogging the President's Economic Speech

I have to confess that I really debated whether or not to live-blog this speech.  It's not that I don't care what the president has to say.  I do.  It's not that I fear he won't have good ideas.  I am confident that he will have some good policy proposals to ease the unemployment crisis in our nation.  My frustration here ----- and it is colossal frustration ----- is that the Republican party and the media have decided that our biggest problem is debt.  In fact, all this fuming about debt is making the recovery slower and is putting us on target for a double dip recession.  I blame Republicans and Republican leadership.  I blame a news media unwilling to explain the costs of GOP obstructionism.  And I fear that the political crisis in this nation, a crisis of our own making, is not something that Republicans care to fix.

7:10 pm
The president starts with the facts on the table: the political process and Washington are failing us.  President Obama says "we must stop the political circus and help the economy." Amen.

7:15 pm
The president's plan is called "The American Jobs Act."  Sounds about right.  Mitch McConnell looks like he's constipated.  Perhaps he doesn't understand that it's his bullshit that's placed the nation in danger?

7:16 pm
Fixing the transportation system is the first defined element.  Folks are standing. Well, folks who want to take action, anyway.  Hint: They aren't Republicans.

7:20 pm
He's talking about programs that have had GOP support in the past. Any chance the current GOP will be there still?

7:25 pm
The president promotes a middle class tax cut (namely, extending the payroll tax cuts)'s not Romney's tax cuts on stock dividends, so it actually will benefit the middle class.  President Obama is also promising to cover the costs and not deficit spend.  I could actually care less about this and object to paying lip service to this ridiculous notion.  But it is sot to the GOP nonsense and he does need their votes.  Sigh.

7:27 pm
And now to the tax code...applause from the Democrats.  GOP sitting on their hands. Boehner seems to be in some sort of personal private space. It's like he's not even listening. God knows he's capable of emotion.  What gives, Mr. Speaker?

7:30 pm
And he's taken on the contract payment issue for small businesses.  I hope that mortgage help really happens this time.  Call me a skeptic but sure, let's try.  Nods to manufacturing are also promising.

7:35 pm
He's taking on the anti-regulation, anti-spending dolts and calling out the canards.   Eric Cantor, chief canard, is equipped with a pen and pad of paper, should be taking notes now. I suspect he's about to get schooled.  Obama's defense of good government and the power of community, rooted in the accomplishments of Republican Lincoln, is making my heart sing.

7:40 pm
"The people who hired us don't have the luxury of waiting 14 months" for action.  Yes, yes, yes.  This is a strong speech and he's got a good plan.  Per the president's request.  I'm going to lift my voice for this plan.  I want to be hopeful, I really do.


JT, his cousin S, and his grandfather have recently taken to Skyping one another.  Once they got over the technical hurdles, the chatter quickly went to the land of sports.  And now it's all sports, all the time.  Most nights they contemplate trades in the family fantasy football league.  The boys, confident 11 year olds, try to pull fast ones on their Gramps, who may not be 11, but who has been around the block a few times.  My father, who logged a lot of years as the father of girls, is now reaping the ultimate boy reward.

Though I sometimes worry that the land of technology will result in less human contact, the reality of Skype is that Grandpa can see JT virtually every night of the week.  From 2000 miles away, he can watch a cherished grandson grow up.  And that's a priceless gift of technology.

Thank you, Skype.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Labor Day

Middle income America is working more and earning less.  Dear Republican Party: Check out these Mother Jones charts and then tell me again why I should ever vote for you.

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Friday, September 02, 2011

At Play

Several years ago, when he was in the 1st grade, JT and I were having one of those rambling talks that parents have with 6 year olds.  School was in session and we were driving home and talking about the afternoon and evening that lie ahead.

That year, homework got serious and getting homework done each afternoon was both our biggest priority and our biggest challenge.  JT, an active six year old who had sat in a classroom all day, was not inspired to sit still for even a minute longer.  Homework became the most dreaded element of our daily life. On the afternoon in question, he was looking to dodge the homework and go outside to play.  But homework was in the way. 

"Once I finish prep school, can I play?" he asked me.

I told the truth, "After you finish prep school, you'll go to college."

He persisted, "But after college, I can play, right?"

I could hear the panic in his voice and so I hedged my bets, "After college, you get a job, and if it's the right job for you, it feels like play."

JT cut to the heart of the matter, "When do I get to play?"

That day, we ditched homework in favor of playing outside on a beautiful day.  I vowed then that we'd do our best to spend no more than 30 minutes a day completing homework.  My resolution was a success that year and for the 2nd and 3rd grade, but it faltered in the 4th grade.  And don't get me started on last year's homework.

This year, as I look down the line at the expectations of 6th grade, I'm determined to keep homework manageable.  With that in mind, I'm drawing a line at 60 minutes.  

After that, my son will be playing.  He'll run around outside, he'll make pictures, he'll invent games in his playroom.  And he'll be a happier kid for it.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

September 1: Some Final Thoughts on Irene

Usually, I post a picture of my clematis vine on the 1st of each month.  But the vine didn't flourish this summer, and it seems rather pointless to post a photo of a dead vine.  Plus, the hurricane's actions in my yard rather eclipses the vine.   With a nod to tradition, I'm posting a last picture of the vine and organizing some final thoughts about Hurricane Irene.
Until we lost power, I live-blogged the hurricane, while my friend T and I waited it out and JT slept.  As I re-read what I wrote, what doesn't come through is the way the storm sounded.  It would simply be easy to say that I can confirm that a hurricane is much scarier in the dark, but that doesn't really sum up how it felt.  As the rain grew stronger and the wind came up, the storm was a howler.  With the sounds of the rain and wind were the sounds of tree branches coming down, of power lines collapsing and trees falling over.  Amidst it all were the sounds of sirens.  The darkness made the sounds even more menacing: we could hear the destruction but couldn't always tell what was happening.  I didn't feel we were alone in the storm; all night long, township authorities drove the streets, on the lookout for trouble and careful to ensure our collective safety.  Even so, it was abundantly clear that Mother Nature was running this show.

JT was a trooper.  When the storm began, we tied him on the porch to pretend that he was a Weather Channel reporter. 
Before the storm really took hold, he played outside.  Once the darkness and driving rain arrived, he was happy to be indoors.  He went to sleep with little anxiety, leaving T and I to man the ship.  We watched the telly to check the weather report.  We also kept one ear on the sounds outside.  When the National Weather Service issued tornado watches, we organized our supplies should a quick run to the basement be in order. 

At 1 am, we tried to get some shut eye.  It was uneasy rest, frequently interrupted by the sounds outside (including the siren used to call the volunteer fire force; it rang endlessly).  Around 3 am, water begin to seep into my basement.  As I debated what to do (I don't have an installed sump pump and can't pump the water out until some of it has risen up), the electricity went out, thus sealing the deal on that question.  We grabbed some sleep around then, but it was the anxious kind, frequently interrupted by events outside.  Our best rest came in the early morning hours, as the storm began to wind down and the light came up.  I was so glad to be with a capable friend as the storm blew itself out.

Come the morning, there was faint sun to accompany the last of the blowing winds.  There was water in the basement, a lake in the back yard, and branches came down all over the yard and neighborhood.  At my house, we didn't get damage so much as we got a mess. 
Pesky the backyard squirrel had holed up in the dogwood tree.  I missed a photo of him all curled up, but did catch this morning yawn.  I think Pesky had a rough night.
 The same can be said of other streets in my neighborhood.  Trees fell over.
Cars were crushed.
 The town Little League field flooded and the picnic tables and a few cars floated out with the water onto a main street in town.  This street remained flooded until Monday.
We took a walk around mid-day on Sunday and though the rain had stopped, the wind still exerted itself.  This branch fell just after we walked away from the sidewalk. 
In my yard, after the first round of cleanup, the wind blew down another branch that came down like a jousting stick, puncturing a 4 inch hole in the yard. 
Another large branch from old man tree came down the next day. 
The electricity came back on Tuesday.  The basement is cleared of water and drying out.  We re-stocked the fridge yesterday.  Today, it looks like the hot water heater will be back in business.  Later in the week, I'll see how the washer and dryer fared.  Post-storm, the weather has been lovely and serene, luring me back into a kind of complacency.  But in the quiet of the evenings since the storm, if I still myself, I can still hear that roar of stormy certainty: Mother Nature runs the show, my friends, and we'd best take care of her Earth.