Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The (Ironic) Happy Homemaker

When I first became a single parent, I quickly realized that saving all the household chores for the weekend was not going to be a successful strategy.  So I divided up my weekly chores and planned to get a little done every day.  Most days, I come home from work, start a load of clothes, hit the gym, make supper, complete some chore, and then get some school work done.  But Wednesday is different in that I take a break from the gym and have a little more afternoon time on my hands.  So most Wednesday afternoons find me washing a load of clothes (see: mother of a boy), collecting the trash (so that the boy can carry it outside for the Thursday morning pick up) and cleaning the bathrooms.   I follow up this festival of cleanliness by making supper.  Though I fear it makes me sound like some sort of throwback to the 1950s, I really do find the entire routine of cleaning followed by cooking to be satisfying.  I listen to NPR and let my thoughts drift.  I enjoy the combination of starting and completing a task in one afternoon.

It could also be that I'm peculiar. 

In any case, this afternoon's cleaning festival featured the smell of carrot soup simmering on my stove as I got things spic-and-span.  The recipe was from Pioneer Woman and it's worth your time.
I served it with homemade biscuits.
After supper I sat down to draft a lesson on women's liberation for a class I'll be teaching soon.  Sometimes life's little ironies are just a little unbelievable, huh?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What's the Matter with Mitt?

A few weeks ago, Nate Silver wrote an unsettling article that looked at the electoral numbers and then predicted that President Barack Obama would surely lose his re-election bid to GOP candidate Mitt Romney.  The foundation of Silver's prediction was his conclusion that an incumbent president with moderate approval ratings and slow (or non-existent) economic growth was electorally vulnerable if his opponent was a moderate.  Fair enough, as far as it goes.  It's certainly reasonable to conclude that an incumbent president confronted by economic difficulties is in a tough spot.  But Silver's argument depends on his understanding that of course Republican primary voters will suit up and do what they always do: choose the most electable candidate.

Enter Mitt Romney.  He's tan, rested, and ready.  And Silver surmised what many other observers on both the left and right have concluded…..surely, the GOP nomination will go to Romney. 


At the time the Silver article was published, Texas Governor Rick Perry was coming to the end of his tour as the Republican chosen one.  Since then, Herman Cain has done a few laps as the GOP leader.  In the last few weeks, Newt Gingrich is ascendant.  Mitt Romney has yet to do his star turn.  I'm wondering if he ever will.

There is a combination of peculiar factors at work here.  First, is the degree of dissatisfaction among Republican primary voters.  They agree that they don't like Obama, but after that there doesn't seem to be a consistent narrative about what they'd like instead.  The Tea Party Republican voters seem to prefer new, inexperienced candidates.  Fiscal conservative Republicans (a la former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson) haven't been at home in the party for years; they're not really active players in the primary process.  Social conservatives are as coherent as ever, but they viscerally reject any degree of seeming moderation on their favored trifecta of anti-abortion, anti-gay, overtly religious positions. 

Though the fiscal conservatives might could muster a half-hearted cheer on behalf of Romney, the other groups of GOP primary voters just aren't enthusiastic.  So Mitt Romney is not yet able to seal the deal.  As of this writing, Herman Cain has suspended his campaign, largely due to questions about sexual impropriety and the attendant fund-raising difficulties he's experiencing.  But the candidate benefitting from Cain's collapse isn't family-man Romney.  Nope, it's the thrice-married, perennially unfaithful, scandal-ridden former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.


I suppose that Romney and his folks will patiently wait this mess out, hopeful that a solid showing in the Iowa Caucus, followed by a victory in the New Hampshire primary, will give his campaign the boost it desperately needs.  But I'm not inclined to agree.  I look at Romney's opposition for the GOP nomination and can only conclude that if Mitt hasn't yet managed to dispatch Perry, Cain, or Gingrich because of his own obvious skill and strength as a candidate, then I'm not inclined to believe that he ever will.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Falling Behind

At Thanksgiving supper, we all took a turn saying what we were thankful for.  My boy said that he was thankful for having food and shelter.  Luckily, he's never been in danger of not having those things.  The same cannot be said for children everywhere.

Last spring, I posted a link to a 60 Minutes story about homeless families in Florida.  Yesterday, 60 Minutes did a follow-up story on the persistence of homeless children in central Florida.  JT and I watched the story together.  At one point, he turned to me and said, "I don't want to know about this because it makes my heart hurt."  We talked about how we can help and why it's important for all of us to care about this problem.  And then we finished watching the story.  It's not an easy story to watch, though it's well-worth your time.

Help for these children and their families can be directed here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


Among my favorite things to do in the kitchen is holiday cooking for the people I love.  This year's Thanksgiving was no exception; I even got out the roaster and made a turkey.
The turkey was joined by the usual Thanksgiving fare: dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries, fresh rolls and the like.  Along with the people I love, of course.
I am as thankful for these blessings as I have ever been.  And so very, very happy.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

And Yet

While we were in Washington D.C. last week, we went to see the Franklin D. Roosevelt monument.  Though I'd seen some pictures, I'd specifically avoided too much advance looking.  I'm a Roosevelt admirer of the first order and I wanted to see the monument in real time.
It didn't disappoint.
In addition to statues and waterfalls, the monument features  Roosevelt's words.  They are powerful ideas.
This wall reads: "In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice, the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man."

FDR looked for solutions to poverty and inequality, problems we still struggle to solve.
The words next to the men waiting in line for food read, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

As Congress refuses to address the unemployment problem in this nation, we can look to FDR for condemnation of our failure to take action, "No country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.  Demoralization caused by vast unemployment is our greatest extravagance.  Morally, it is the greatest menace to our social order."
As we keep open the prison at Guantanamo Bay and evict Occupy Wall Street protesters, President Roosevelt reminds us of the importance of civil rights: "We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred, is a wedge designed to attack civilization."
He reminds us of the horrors of war, "I have seen war on land and sea.  I have seen blood running from the wounder.  I have seen the dead in the mud.  I have seen cities destroyed.  I have seen children starving.  I have seen the agony of mother's and wives.  I HATE WAR."
President Roosevelt knew that we need to steward our natural world, "men and nature must work hand in hand.  The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance the lives of men."
Everywhere you turn in this memorial is a reminder of the ideas that saved our nation in the Great Depression and WWII.  The ideas are as powerful as they are timeless.  I wish I could say that I found this all hopeful, but I didn't.  I found it frustrating.  There was a time when our challenges were great, greater than they are today.  As a nation, we organized and took action; we looked after one another.  We were better for it.  Today, we know the answers to our problems; history and Roosevelt could be our guide. And yet we refuse to act.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


When I first started work in New Jersey, I struck up a friendship with J, the Spanish teacher who taught across the hall from me.  Many mornings, JT and I would stop in to say hi and JT, then age 3, would hop on the desks in J's classroom.  It's one of JT's fondest memories of his early years at school.

A few years have passed.  J has married M and they moved to two other continents before arriving in Washington D.C., where they've settled for a time.  And this summer, they had M, a baby as cute, charming and easy-going as his parents. 
Some day soon I hope that M will come visit my classroom and jump on the desks.  I think that JT could show him the ropes.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Real Life Observations of JT: Extinct edition

The backstory:  We were at the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C., strolling through the dinosaur display, when JT observed, "Look, Mama.  There's your cell phone."
The kid is two steps ahead of me now and he's only 11. Internet, I'm screwed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Real Life Observations of JT: Security edition

The backstory: Strolling the Capitol with his new extra long pencil, JT declared it was a wand and he attempted magic everywhere.  He was largely unsuccessful.  Then we came alongside the Capitol police, with their very scary automatic rifle. 
JT looked at L and I and announced, "I don't think that my wand would stand a chance against that guy."


Friday, November 18, 2011

Meanwhile, at the Supreme Court Gift Shop

On Friday afternoon we headed on over to the Supreme Court to check out the fate of justice.  Spoiler alert: Roberts and Scalia are still corporate whores of the first order.  As we strolled through the gift shop, I came across the following board game for kids:
Is this really a good idea? I think not.  Tomorrow I plan to go out and see if there is an Insurance Fraud for Kids! game to be found. 

Fellow traveler L discovered his very own souvenir of American justice: a miniature Supreme Court gavel.
Made in Canada.

Oh, America.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

By and For the People

I'm in Washington D.C for the annual Model Congress trip and we took an afternoon walk over to the the real Congress.  After a rainy morning, it was a rather splendid afternoon and as we walked the grounds of the Capitol I was struck again by the splendor of this building and the powerful ideas that created our government.
Deservedly, Congress is at an all-time low in terms of public approval.  They seem to lack both the direction and the will to do right by the nation.  I wonder if they walk the grounds of this magnificent place and think about the privilege and power of self-government.  I fear not; I suspect they've lost sight of their obligations and responsibilities. 
I tell my government students that needn't matter; that the power is in the hands of the people.  I've read the Constitution and I know how this system works.  We have the ability to demand a better government.  But do we have the willpower?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


One of the things that T and I have in common is that we both lived in the midwest.  While I have just 8 years of heartland experience on my resume, she's a native, who's done some serious time in a small midwest town.  When we first met, we quickly discovered that we had in common a knowledge of the Village Inn, a respect for Dairy Queen, and general amusement at the inevitable small town business which combines shoe repair, gasoline, oil changes, and a liquor store.

And no small town would be complete without a grocery store.  In the tiny towns of the midwest, these stores often feature dusty shelves with expired cans of Dinty Moore stew alongside bags of off-brand potato chips.  In the small New Jersey town where T lives these days, there is a small market that would seem to resemble the midwest's local food emporiums.  But there the comparison ends.  T had mentioned before that in terms of space and range of choice available, this place is unbelievable.  When I finally visited this weekend, it did not disappoint.  Once you open the door it's like you've just stepped into the grocery store equivalent of Hermione Granger's magic purse.   

In narrow aisles, with shelves stocked to the (sagging) roof, is row after row of dream-come-true items.  My personal favorite is the row featuring cans of spray paint right next to an impressive assortment of potato chips.  Juices and spices are in the next aisle down.  The liquor section ranges along the back, along with kids' toys, plenty of toiletries, and god-only-knows what else. 

Suffice it to note that in the deli case there is a sign advertising the fact that you can order a whole pig (though it takes a week, so you'll have to cool your heels before that bacon is in your belly). 
Oh, the possibilities.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Dogwood Monday: Week 7

As predicted, the dogwood tree lost the last of its leaves last week.
All over my corner of New Jersey the fall leaves are now officially past their prime but the evening and morning sky seems determined to make up for the missing foliage.  I made some pictures, but they hardly do the sky justice.  For the last few evenings, the setting sun has been bathed in a beautiful orange glow, with a pinkish blue at the margins.

The morning sunrise has been a paler version, with more lavender in the horizon.   
We've had some warm days to go with the lovely light and so I've made time to be outside and enjoy the show.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Fall Bouquet

T doesn't like hothouse flowers but she does like fall leaves, especially those with a mix of colors.  In a recent walk in the woods, I collected a few of them for her.
That's happy, what else?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Real Life Conversations with JT: Rated R edition

The backstory:  Friday morning, during our drive to school, JT and I heard a review of a movie just out, the story of J. Edgar Hoover. 

Mama:  That sounds interesting.  Would you like to see it?

JT:  It's rated R.  So no, Mama.  I'm not old enough.

Thank goodness someone in the household is a grown up.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Food Friday: Black Bean Soup

A cool weekend is on tap around here and that has me thinking about soup.  I've got a bunch of soup recipes but this black bean soup stands out as one of my favorites.  It's a cold weather mainstay in my house.  My recipe comes together quickly, keeps well, and the taste is beyond compare.    Make some today!

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 medium carrots, peeled & sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 cans (15.5 ounces each) black beans
1 ¾ cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon lime juice
sour cream

    In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat.  Add carrot, onion, garlic and cumin.  Saute until lightly softened; about 5 to 7 minutes.

    Stir in black beans (with liquid) and the broth.  Heat to boiling; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.

    Working in batches, puree soup in blender (or use a stick blender, if you have one).  Remove to the saucepan and reheat on low; stir in lime juice.  Serve with a dollop of sour cream on top.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Electricity, E-lec-tri-city

Between Hurricane Irene and Snowtober, 2011 has been a year to make the folks around here appreciate the local utility (that is, when we aren't cursing them because we don't have electricity).  It's not a bad thing to be aware of utilities (and our dependence on them), but it strikes me that the immediate crises have allowed us to ignore the long-term troubles on our electrical horizon.

I'm referring to the national electric grid, one that was modern back in the mid-1950s but has been permitted to deteriorate since then.  As our reliance on the electricity has grown greater, we've shown little national will to update the grid, let alone explore electricity that isn't generated by the burning of our shrinking supply of fossil fuels.  Perhaps I'm naive, but I hope that our recent flirtation with no electricity will create greater political will for looking after our electric infrastructure. 

At the very least, we should encourage Congress to allocate some national attention (and resources) to updating the grid.  It would create jobs, encourage more efficient and responsible energy management, and is just the sort of thing a national government should take on.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Short Years

At my school, there is a tape measure where the faculty kids can measure their height and mark the passage of time.  The other day, after more than a few people had observed that my baby is nearly taller than I am,  JT and I stopped by to measure his height.  At 5 foot 2 inches, he's an inch away from being my height.  He can hardly wait for that moment when he tops me.   As for me, I'm not so sure about what all that height means.

There are some students in this year's senior class, 17 year olds whom I have known since they were 7.  These tall, capable, bright, young men are in my classroom this year, towering over me, and examples of the sort of maturity that is just around the corner in my house. 

At 5 foot 2 inches last week, JT was the same height as those Senior boys were in 2006.  When I realized that,  I was struck by the fact that five years has just flown by for those once-little boys who are now in my classroom on the cusp of adulthood.  Meanwhile, things are changing in my house far faster than I could have imagined.  Poof, and my baby is a boy.  And then my boy is a tween.  And my tween is on his way to full-sized teenage status.  When I first became a mama, a friend said to me that the nights are long but the years are fast.  These days, that truth is really staring me in the face.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Fiddling While Rome Burns

When JT was a baby, I learned the importance of getting sleep as soon as he was resting so that I had a fighting chance to retain my sanity.  But sometimes, in the quiet of a baby asleep I would choose to do something other than sleep ----- usually to read a book.  In those moments I would characterize that behavior as "fiddling while Rome burns."  But the allure of a good book was sometimes too great resist.  And so I fiddled.

Today, with essays to grade and letters of recommendation to complete, I took a brief walk outside and then I threw caution to the wind.  So I took a lovely book outside and read, soaking in the warmth and the amazing sunlight of the lovely fall day.  The work could wait just one more day, I decided.  I would fiddle while Rome burned.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Dogwood Monday: Week 6

Over the weekend, T helped me to rake up some of the leaves in my yard.  My town hands out free leaf bags (wherein free = thousands of dollars in property taxes enable me to enjoy "free" leaf bags) and last month T and I popped over to grab some up.  We took three packages because…..1. Property taxes are not a bargain around here; 2. I figured I will always have use for leaf bags; and 3. they looked like packs of 10.

Or so we thought.

Turns out they come in packs of 20.

We easily filled 10 bags up this weekend and the dogwood and Old Man Tree are not quite finished with their seasonal work. 
Snowstorms excepted, it's been a lovely fall, complete with beautiful leaves and cool mornings followed by mellow days.  I know that shorter days, cold, and snow are just around the corner.  So I plan to enjoy fall's bounty while it lasts.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Ingredients for a Happy Birthday

Homemade French toast breakfast.
Walk in the woods with the people I love.
New coffee pot.
With all the happiness that my last year brought me, I'm feeling like next has some pretty good prospects.  I'm looking forward to it.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Sound of Home

My school has a small program for international students and there are a number of Chinese students enrolled in our classes.  These students are far from home, enmeshed in a world that is utterly foreign to them.  In U.S. History, this fact is abundantly clear and they work hard to make sense of such ideas as the Founding Fathers and New England…..ideas that make innate sense to native Americans but which require a bit more explanation when you are from another country.  The students work hard and do succeed, but I am always aware of how often they have to pause to make sense of our corner of the world.

Today, after lunch, my U.S. History class had a quiz.  It was a nice day and I opened the windows to the breeze and the fresh air.  As the students took the quiz, we could hear the sounds of a string quartet playing outside.  The music wasn't familiar to me, but it sounded lovely.  As the students handed in their quizzes, we talked about the music we were hearing.  None of the Americans recognized the tune, but all three Chinese girls did and with broad, happy smiles, they explained that the song they knew well; the story of a girl and boy in love.  A universal story, really.  It was the sound of home, one of the girls said, and then all three grinned as they enjoyed the comfort of a little familiar territory.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011


Last weekend, we carved up some pumpkins for Halloween.
Mine is the cat on the moon in the center.  JT went with the goofy-faced pumpkin on the right and T carved up the scary pumpkin on the left.  For the actual Halloween, JT hit the mean streets with his buddy D, his long-time trick-or-treating buddy.  JT went as Albert Pujols (a costume planned well-before his beloved Cardinals won the World Series).  D always goes out as something scary and this year he unzipped his face.
He's induced some bloody Halloween wounds before but this one set the bar higher than ever before.
The injury must have been well worth it, as the 2011 candy haul may very well be the best to date.