Monday, December 31, 2012

Vocabulary with T: Unlikely Event

There's an old joke about Congress which compares lawmaking to the production of sausage and argues of both that it's best not to see either being made.  As the nation prepares for the self-induced wound that is the fiscal cliff, it seems apt to review the notion.  Congress has landed us in this situation and its their responsibility to get us out.  That they seem determined to do it in a fashion that will leave the national electorate both exhausted and disgusted is no surprise to me.

I could add my voice to the chorus of Congressional critics blaming the Republicans for this mess.  I could wring my hands and wonder why it is that Grover Norquist and the Tea Party Republicans feel that compromise, a principle at the very core of our Constitution and government, is suddenly a dirty word and unthinkable concept.

But human relations are messy at best and these days politics are a mirror of the worst of human relations, so I am not surprised at the painful ordeal Congress has constructed for the nation.  And since crying about it won't change things, I am inclined to find some ways to laugh instead.

Here, T has a phrase that's useful.  Time and time again, I have heard her say it of an unlikely event.   When she says it, the image is always quite clear in my mind.  And these days, as Congress haltingly considers doing the job they were elected to complete, it's a pretty useful notion.  And so I turn to T's phrase and suggest that the specter of Republican members of Congress cooperating and compromising to get their work done will be like seeing a "leprechaun riding a unicorn."

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mother Nature

I am a girl who loves her traditions.  Among my favorites is setting up a Christmas tree.  Each December I enjoy the magic of a Christmas tree with its sparkling lights and its collection of ornaments guaranteed to trigger some happy memories and at least a few good stories.  Even so, once Christmas day has passed, the tree and my holiday decorations are on borrowed time.  This year, our early return from winter vacation (thanks, Sandy) made it all the more urgent that the tree come down in a timely fashion.  With my mother on hand to help out, the tree came down on Friday.  Then I had JT remove it to the back deck in preparation for hauling it to the curb for the recycling truck pick-up.
At that point I realized that Saturday's snow would be a terrific chance to enjoy the tree for a few more days.  So we left the tree on the deck and the piney boughs collected some snow.  It was a lovely sight as the snow fell all afternoon, a welcome reminder that Mother Nature's powers also include great beauty.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


I love wrapping paper and ribbon and have a collection of Christmas gift tags that represents a wealth of Etsy dysfunction.  So it should come as no surprise that one of my favorite holiday traditions is wrapping up packages.
So, before I pack away the last of the holiday decorations, I'm admiring some more pictures of Christmas packages.
And, yes, I've got a thing for stripes and polka dots.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Squirrel Action Shot

My old friend Pesky is seen here helping himself to a holiday treat in the form of tulip and daffodil bulbs that I planted in the month of December.  It's a lucky for him that I find him charming and that I employ a tolerant policy toward garden pests because this is the sort of behavior that could cause a squirrel some real trouble.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

No Longer Welcome at Hobby Lobby

Though we try to be decent people in the public space, T and I are sometimes challenged by the opportunities made available by retail establishments.
Note: This is Jersey, so we could hear other shoppers laugh as they walked by the altered display.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Merry, Merry

I had worried that his newfound knowledge that Santa was really me would leave JT less excited on Christmas Eve.  It turns out that I needn't have worried.  The boy was all spun up with holiday excitement on the 24th.  That night, there was a bit of snow.  My California-bred mother was delighted by this development and so we took Grandma for a walk outside to admire the town luminarias and catch a flake of snow on her tongue.
We came back inside and received our marching orders from JT: we would be awake no later than 7:30 am to check out Santa's largesse.  The next morning, we complied with the boy's orders and hit the living room right on schedule for Christmas morning.
JT was very happy with the contents of his Christmas stocking.
We enjoyed a relaxed day with a mid-afternoon Christmas feast of ham, potato casserole, roasted parsnips, green beans, and hot rolls.
It's nice to have a houseful of loved ones and many blessings in my life, not to mention a day to marvel at my good luck.  Here's to hoping that y'all enjoyed your holiday as well.  Cheers!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Planner

I especially enjoy organizing the details that go into getting ready for the holidays.  So I got up early this morning to bake a pumpkin pie and get things in order for our coming celebration.  The cookies are baked and the Christmas ham is awaiting my attention.  I've a few more Christmas packages to wrap, though many are already safely deposited under the tree.

Later tonight, we'll set out paper bag luminaries, a tradition in our town.  Then we'll take a walk in the cold to admire holiday lights and decorations.

JT has unfolded the Santa story for most of the month, asking for details of the secrets that went into the mystery.  He's been delighted to learn the truth.  But I'm betting that this evening we'll still watch the NORAD Santa-tracker and set out a generous snack (and whiskey!) for the man in red.  It's a happy day for a planner like me.  I intend to enjoy every bit of it.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Mama, this is Bad"

Every parent recognizes a special tone of urgency in her child's voice.  It's a sound which indicates trouble beyond the usual garden-variety level of concern.  That's the sound I heard last Thursday, at 10 pm, when JT summoned me by saying, "Mama, this is bad."  The boy spoke the truth.
My first thought when I realized that the cracked bathroom sink had finally given up the ghost was, "I don't have time for this."  That rather says a lot about how my December played out.  Though I didn't have time, I do have the phone number of a good plumber.  Within a few days, we were back in business with a new sink that looks a lot like the old one, albeit one that doesn't have a giant missing piece..

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rest & Relaxation

I am long-accustomed to being a very tired Mama when the holiday break rolls around.  But this fall has been one hell of a semester (see: Sandy, Hurricane) and as winter break finally loomed on Monday, I found myself struggling mightily to reach the finish line.  December is usually a crazy, busy month in my life and this year is no exception.  Each day this past week I got up to a long list of tasks that must be accomplished before I could crawl back in bed and I moved through the day attempting to succeed.  At one point, JT asked what we planned to do on Friday and I replied that we'd deal with Friday when it arrived.  Until then, I was on a day-to-day plan.  Quite frankly, sometimes it was just hour-to-hour.  Break arrived on Thursday evening and it is most welcome.

I still have plenty of small details to wrap up before Christmas Eve but I am closing in on getting those tasks done.  Most of them are actually things I look forward to and now that alarm clocks have been turned off and daily lessons set aside, it is a  happy prospect to have packages to wrap and holiday food to prepare.

Yesterday, we went to the market to secure the holiday feast.  Today is set aside for making some (more!) cookies and wrapping some packages.  If I play my cards right, I may even find time to read a book and have a nap.  That's happy!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Real Life Observations of T

The backstory:  On Sunday afternoon, T, JT, and I went to the movies to see "Lincoln."  We chose our seats and then watched as the theater filled.  After a few minutes, it became clear that we were the youngest people in the theater by a distance.  You could add up the ages of all three of us and were were still younger than the rest of the viewers.  At which point, T wryly observed, "If you voted for the man, please have a seat down in front."

And that's why she's the girl for me.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cookie Day

One of my weekly reads is "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" and their Sandwich Monday report.  Last week, Sandwich Monday led me in the direction of a story on latkes and holiday cooking traditions by writer Rob Eshman.   When he wrote, "If you want your grandchildren to remember you fondly, learn a good cookie recipe," I was in earnest agreement with the sentiment.

I don't have any grandchildren and with any luck Baby-Think-It-Over has ensured that I remain some years away from that set of problems.  But I do love a good cookie recipe and the power of a nice batch of cookies is not lost on me.  Each year, as December approaches I get started baking up a collection of cookies to be shared with my students.  Cookie Day is my annual holiday treat for my classes; my way of thanking them for the enjoyment I receive from working with them.  As the name suggests, it features a whole lot of cookie goodness.

I make enough cookies for each student to eat three and I like to have a bunch of choices on hand.  This year, that meant that I needed about 15 dozen cookies.  JT and T were drafted to help out and we made sugar cookies, molasses cookies, Tollhouse bars, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, almond biscotti, cream cheese pecan shortbread, and peppermint chocolate chip cookies.   My cookie sack was plenty full.
Each class got its own plate of cookies a tasty thank you for making my days so bright.  That's happy.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Haven't We Had Enough?

In the aftermath of the Colorado "Batman" shooting, I wrote a blog posting urging that yes, it's time to politicize this horrible event in the hopes that we can engage in some gun control policies that might help us to curb the violence.  I wasn't the only person to make this suggestion, of course, but it should be noted that our plea fell on the usual deaf ears.  Which is not to say that we don't have an established problem with mass shootings in this nation.  As this Mother Jones article ably proves, this nation has a problem.  It's made worse by our unwillingness to take action.

Earlier this month, when Bob Costas had the temerity to suggest that easy-access to guns might have contributed to the violent shooting by Kansas City Chiefs linemen Jovan Belcher, a furor ensued.  How dare he politicize a tragedy?  Sunday Night football halftime isn't the time to discuss gun control, critics shouted.  I don't happen to agree, of course.  I think we are long-overdue for a discussion about guns and violence in our nation.  But I had resigned myself to the fact that changes were unlikely.  Now I'm ashamed.  If people like me don't demand change, who will?  

Less then two weeks later, 26 people, 20 of them school children, are dead at a school in Connecticut.  When mass shootings happen, I think about the victims and their families. As a teacher and a mother, this time around, I'm overwhelmed.  Tears and hand-wringing are not enough.  How do we absorb and move on from a tragedy like this?  I lay in bed last night, sure in the knowledge that my own son was safe for the evening, and feeling acute misery for the parents who don't get to make that assumption any more.  What has gone wrong in our nation?

This morning, I'm not just filled with sadness about the tragedy.  Now I'm red-hot mad.  As news of the Connecticut shooting filled my e-mail and consumed the headline of the NY Times yesterday afternoon, I sat in a class with a room full of 17 year olds taking a test.  As they quietly filled pages with their thoughts and ideas and, dare I say, their brilliance, I was ashamed of the world we are handing them.

It is time to take action.  If it were up to me, we'd amend the Constitution to change the second amendment: Individuals don't need to own weapons and we should collect them all.  I would permit hunters to keep their rifles at established hunt clubs where gun safety is the rule of order.  It's not up to me, of course.  But these problems aren't going away and we can certainly agree on some real changes in our laws and our policies.

1.  Rigorous gun registration laws, longer purchase waiting periods, and detailed background checks in every state, at every venue, including private gun sales and gun shows.

2.  An end to private ownership of certain types of guns: no assault weapons, no semi-automatic weapons.  None.  

3.  If we decide we will continue to permit private ownership of guns, then let's require gun owners to attend gun safety classes and regularly certify that their guns are being safely stored.

4.  Ban internet and by-mail sale of ammunition. Limit ammo sales at gun shops; regulate the kinds of ammunition available for purchase and set a fixed limit on those purchases.  

5.  Let's agree that we need quality mental health help more readily available in this nation.  Let's remove the stigma from getting help, and let's commit to our community obligations on this front.  This will require money and resources and yes, we can afford both, largely because the alternative has cost far too many lives.

Tell your members of Congress they must act now.  Don't know who your Senators and Representatives are?  Find out hereCheck Open Secrets to see if those members received campaign funds from the NRA in 2012.  Join the Brady Campaign's "We are better than this movement" and combat the power of the NRA.  

Make this issue your priority.  Go to a rally.  Vote only for officials who will take action.  Tell President Obama that he has your support for changes to our laws.  He said yesterday that, "these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."  I agree.  For the love of God and our children, let's make sure that we mean it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Political Context edition

The backstory:  It's Friday morning and NPR has yet another story on the so-called fiscal cliff.  This one features Speaker of the House John Boehner announcing that talks are going nowhere; he's headed home to Ohio for the weekend.  But, Boehner says, President Obama can fly to Ohio or give Boehner a call if he wants to talk.  I am annoyed.

Me: Look, Boehner, the president won re-election last month.  He isn't going to fly to Ohio to talk to you.  You aren't in the driver's seat here, pal.  You're a fucking idiot.

JT:  Whoa, there, Mama.  All love, no hate.

Me:  I wasn't hating on Boehner.

JT:  You called him a "fucking idiot."  That's not love.

He may have a point.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sign of Our Continuing Decline

I have borrowed the title of this post from "News of the Weird" a weekly collection of real-life news.  Chuck Shepherd, the curator of the collection, often groups together stories and one of his favorite categories is "Signs of Our Continuing Decline."  It's a fitting designation for so many features of modern living.  Today's tale is case in point.

On Monday, JT and I headed over to the local mall to hear the school's Madrigal choir sing holiday songs.  As we were getting out of the car, a family pushed their stroller past us.  None of this was remarkable but when the family was out of earshot, JT said to me, "Those people had a dog in their stroller.  Either that, or that's the hairiest baby I've ever seen."

It was dark and I figured that JT hadn't seen things clearly.  I suggested that the stroller didn't have a hairy baby.  "Maybe the baby had on a snow suit with a furry hat," I cheerily announced.  But when we got inside the mall, there were several dogs in strollers.  Even more in purses.  Dozens on leashes.  It was "Take Your Pet to Visit Santa" night.  I turned to JT to confirm that I hadn't gone mad.  People are waiting in line to take their pets to see Santa.  Then we texted T to share our horror.

Me: Just saw a dog in a stroller.  I worry about our nation.

T:  Are you worried our dogs are getting soft?

Me:  Dogs are soft and people are worse.  The decline has begun.

I don't know much, but I do know this: a nation who encourages people to bring their dogs to the mall to visit Santa probably deserves to lose its status as a world super-power.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I've found some time to start wrapping packages, one of my favorite parts of the holiday season.
Each day this week, I plan to find time to wrap a package or two.  That's happy!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

We Believe

I learned the truth about Santa's existence when I was 9 years old and in the 4th grade.  In so many respects, I was an immature 9 year old but in one respect I was 9 going on 39 and that had to do with reading material.  So it was that I was reading my mother's McCall's magazine and I came across an article entitled "How to tell your child the truth about Santa Claus."  The truth?  Horrified, I read on.  Turns out that my parents had been playing Santa.   Though I surely must have had some inkling, what I most remember from the experience was the crushing sense that Santa wasn't real.  I wasn't disheartened by the lie so much as terribly sad to say good bye to Santa's mystery and the excitement that believing had brought me.

As a parent, I found the notion of Santa powerfully real again.  I relished the role and cherished JT's sense of Santa's magical charm.  In some of my darker moments as a mama on her own, it was the satisfaction of playing Santa that saw me through.  JT's belief in Santa was powerful and real.  I remember one year when he announced that he didn't need to make a Christmas list "because Santa knows my brain."  Each year, I'd acquire a collection of items just perfect for my boy and his imagination.  I'd plan every detail and relish the late-night Christmas Eve set-up.  I'd love the excitement of Christmas morning viewed from my boy's thrilled vantage point.  So I encouraged him to believe.  I didn't go of of my way to develop elaborate scenarios, instead relying on his own own fanciful imagination to sustain the magic.  And sustain it he did.  Year after year, JT believed.  

After awhile, I began to worry about how to let him know the truth about Santa.  I remembered how sad I was to learn that Santa wasn't real.  I was hoping for JT to have a more gentle realization about the man in red.  But I was unsure how to get there and I wasn't quite ready to give up the magic a second time.

Earlier this year, at the ripe old age of nearly 12, JT tentatively admitted to me that he no longer believes in Santa Claus.  He seemed almost afraid to tell me, as if he didn't want to shatter my belief.  Then he asked if we could still pretend that Santa was real.   "Because it's so exciting," he said.  "Yes," I answered though I have to admit that I was a little sad to let go of this vestige of childhood.

As the holiday season neared, JT began to ask questions about how I played Santa.  And so I have unravelled for him stories of secret gifts and late-night construction of Playmobil wonders.  

I've had the chance to tell him how much I enjoyed planning surprises and watching his Christmas morning excitement.  We've laughed about some moments, especially the year we were driving home from singing carols on Christmas Eve and heard a radio story that Santa was already in New Jersey.  In the backseat of the car, JT began to panic that Santa would skip our house.  But if Santa was in New Jersey early that year, he waited until JT was asleep to stop by our home.

Last week, JT told me that a friend of his who hasn't believed in Santa for several years frequently tried to get my boy to see the truth.  However, instead of accepting the logic of the friend's arguments, JT opted for the richness of his imagination, steadfast in his confidence that Santa existed.  

While I feared that our first post-Santa Christmas season would be a little bittersweet, it has instead been one filled with rich and happy memories of Santa, of the joy of giving, and the magic in believing.  In an interview I read a few weeks back, Ken Noda, thinking about the power of imagination in children, said something that has lingered with me as JT and I have been talking about the power of Santa in our lives.  To paraphrase a bit, Noda says that a child's imagination must be replenished with experience as he matures into adulthood.  

This year's post-believing Christmas proves the truth of Noda's lesson, as JT explores the ways in which he loved believing in Santa.  He's finding that Christmas traditions can still be magical and fun; that Santa is as much an ideal as a real person.  Together, we're finding new and wonderful ways to believe.

Note: In order, the pictures above come from Christmas morning in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.  The final two come from Christmas tree shopping and setting up in 2012.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Crime Spree

My cats love Christmas tree season and for the first few days after the tree is set up, they bask in its presence, lolling about under the tree and sniffing its needles.  Then, having grown accustomed to its presence, the assaults begin.  The other day, we came home to find the most recent victim.

The accused wasn't talking.

The injustice was righted (and hung a little higher in the branches for her own safety).

If history is any guide, this won't be the last of the crimes.

Friday, December 07, 2012


After a brief hiatus of warmth and sunlight, a gloomy and cold winter sky has returned.   But don't worry, Internet.   My hot cocoa-making skills are solid.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Holiday Sweets

Last year, T and I made cookie kits in mason jars and we gave them away as Christmas treats.  This year, we decided to dial it up a bit and we are planning to give away little collections of homemade goods.  We started our preparations in the summer, when we made homemade jam.  Over Thanksgiving, we found some glass jars at Hobby Lobby and organized ourselves to make vanilla sugar.  
We plan to make additional treats later this month and then we will have an assortment of holiday treats to give away.  It's becoming our holiday tradition and that's most happy.

Monday, December 03, 2012

The Things We Don't Discuss

In my work with young women, I spend a lot of time treating their minds as equal to the minds of the young men in my classroom.  In other words, I hold boys and girls to the same standards, as well I should.  However, this Mother Jones graphic representation of gender equality in the social world drawn from a recent UN Report conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media suggests that I am living in a dream world.

In conducting my classroom as an egalitarian place, I may be doing the girls in my care a disservice.  I am certainly not preparing them for the real world.  Because the real world is a place where young women will be judged by the quality of their backsides and not their ideas, where they will find that their minds are sometimes not as valuable as their cleavage, a place where they will be required to work twice as hard for half the professional rewards that will more easily accrue to their male peers.  Those are the hard and real facts of life in 2012.

As a feminist of long-standing, I've been thinking about this for quite some time.  My largely unsuccessful campaign against "you guys" is part of my effort to combat stereotypes of girls.  But my careful decision to never gender my expectations of leadership or status seems almost quaint in light of the UN report.  And I find myself feeling disheartened and less willing to think in terms of how far we've come but more in terms of how far we must still travel.


Sunday, December 02, 2012


Last year, Hurricane Irene uprooted my neighbor's tree and when they had the tree cut down, the stump remained.  Soon after that, they obtained a yard sculpture that sits on the stump and watches over their garden.  It's a gold lion and we immediately named it Simba.
Then we commenced to joking about it.  T started things by looking out the window, shaking her head and saying, "oh, Simba."  This brought JT and me rushing to the window to see what was up.  Nothing, of course.  We'd been bamboozled.  But the Simba jokes have continued.  This year, while moving stones in her garden for Hurricane Sandy preparation, T found our very own Simba.
He's admittedly a bit worse of the wear.  Between the cracked head and missing leg which causes him to lurch a bit, we think he fits in quite nicely at Sassafras House.  So now he watches over our backyard.  This month, he's tucked in some ivy at the base of the back deck stairs.  But's he's mobile, our crummy Simba.  Who knows where he'll turn up next?

Saturday, December 01, 2012

December 1: Front Yard Flowerbed

For some time now, I have declared the first of the month a day for garden photos and reflections.  My 2012 plan was to make a picture of the front yard flowerbed on the first.  For 9 months, I was a success at this modest goal.  But things de-railed in October and I am just now getting back on track.

On October 1st, the house was in the midst of being painted and I totally forgot to post pictures of the front yard flowerbed.  I made so many photos of the house in those weeks that I have pictures of the flowerbed from that day, I just didn't get them posted.  When I realized this, I made plans to simply post them up on the 1st of November, along with a November 1 picture.  That didn't work out either.  Thanks, Sandy.  Before 2012 comes to a close, I figure that I'd better get my act together and do right by the front yard flowerbed.

It's worth having a look at this flowerbed in September, before T and I had taken the trimmers to the yard in preparation for painting.  To get ready for the house painting, October found a much-trimmed flowerbed, one still enjoying our lovely fall.

November found a flowerbed sorting out the aftermath of a hurricane and preparing for winter.

As for December, well, the cold weather has begun to make its claims upon us.  But there are new bulbs in the ground and the winter always ends with spring, so there won't be any complaints from me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hurricane Journal: Final Thoughts

Hurricane Sandy descended upon New Jersey one month ago today.  Weeks later, reading over my hurricane journal from the benefit of a warm, well-lit house, it seems like our experience was rather a penny crisis.  No one in my family was hurt and the damage to my house was both cosmetic and minor.  My friends also fared well.  Though my county was among the hardest hit, people in nearby areas like the Jersey Shore and Staten Island had far greater damage.  The state of New Jersey estimates that the storm caused more than 30 billion dollars worth of damage but I don't need that number to factor the devastation caused by the storm.   Every day I see stands of once-familiar woods rendered permanently changed by the sheer volume of trees felled.  Every street in my neighborhood features houses with damage, piles of branches, or trees chopped into firewood and stacked neatly.  My 8 cold dark days are more toward the long end of the electricity-free spectrum but on November 11, when I first started preparing these notes to post on my blog, more than 1,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey remained without power, not counting the homes on the shore that are destroyed for good or will remain inaccessible for months to come.  We were lucky and we are blessed.

Even so, I'm struck by the number of conversations about the storm that I still hear.  I am aware of the way some of the fear and anxiety of a week spent in the darkness and cold can linger.  When I finally took the plunge and drove to get heat and a semblance of normalcy on day six after the storm, I was still seriously concerned about the gasoline shortages.  My car was the only way I could charge my phone and our only sure way of getting warm, not to mention get out of the state should it come to that.  To let the gas tank get below half seemed risky.  Even six days after the storm, dozens of traffic lights remained down and most of my regular routes out of town were blocked off.  

For days after the storm, I would see power crews from other states and the sight of these fleets of trucks would bring sudden tears to my eyes.  I've written their names down, these strangers from states far away from New Jersey.  I saw trucks from Ohio, Connecticut, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Iowa.  A crew from Nebraska was responsible for re-connecting the wires at T's house.  I'm not sure I can express how much hope the sight of these crews inspired in me.  They were a welcome reminder that we weren't alone and that help was on the job.  I know it sounds corny, but I wrote the names of the companies down and I've sent every one of them a note to say thank you.   

I am more convinced than ever that extreme weather conditions like Sandy will be more common as we move forward.  I have enduring hope that as New Jersey and the area resumes its new normal, we will take action to prepare ourselves for our changing planet.  Updating the power grid, disaster preparedness, and responsible policies to curb global warming seem like such obvious policies to adopt.  I've long-favored them, of course, but these days the issue has risen to the top of my political priorities.  I suspect that I'm not alone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vocab with T: Pig on Ice

This month's vocabulary lesson isn't so much a word as it is an idea.  And, as the snow and ice season begins to embrace us, it's a very fitting one: pig on ice.

I first heard T use it to describe a wonky grocery cart.  Pushing a cart with wheels that wouldn't operate properly, she described it as a "pig on ice."  I was amused and recognized it for a very useful description.  These days, most any unwieldy item is likely to get accused of being a pig on ice.  

Cars on yesterday's slushy roads?  Pig on ice.  The lumber cart at your local home improvement store?  Pig on ice.  My plastic wheelbarrow, laden with garden waste?  That's a pig on ice.

It's a handout description for all the annoys you and refuses to move forward.  That being the case, I think we have a new name for the Republicans in Congress: With John Boehner and Mitch McConnell at the helm, those folks are like pigs on ice.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

In Praise of Freedom

My school has a diverse student body, with nearly half of the students in the Upper School coming from families of color.  This comfort with diversity is a tradition at the school and I suspect it informed a decision to enroll a small population of international students three years ago.  Though we also have students from other nations, most of our current international students come from China.

The introduction of foreign students into my American Government and U.S. History courses has added a rich layer of diversity to class discussions.  From matters as simple as explaining why the northeastern states are known as New England (not to mention helping a student to locate said "New England" on a traditional map!) to matters as complex as explaining individual libraries and political freedoms to students from a nation which recognizes neither of those ideas as essential to the human experience, my own teaching has been happily altered by the presence of these students in my classroom.

Last year, I made the decision to encourage two of the international students to participate in the Model Congress team that I coach.  I settled on two because it's a steeper climb to prepare non-native students for a Model Congress.  First, students with evolving English language skills must practice their English for a political debate environment, one that moves quickly and requires a new level of communication skills.  And then they have to be taught about the American political system and how the Congress works.  They have to understand the idea of an elected, representative body seeking to make laws for the nation while being accountable to the people.  They have to understand the constraints of political action when a Constitution effectively protects individual rights.  These notions can sometimes be difficult for American students to fully comprehend.  They are even more challenging for students who come from a nation where ideas such as freedom and participatory democracy have some very distinct boundaries.

Last year, two international students took me up on the invitation and gave Model Congress a try.  Both were bright and engaged and worked mighty hard to benefit from the experience.  Though neither won an award, I was proud of their efforts and thrilled by the way their own experiences and questions influenced the ideas and understanding of their native-born teammates.

This year, one of last year's students joined the team again.  I added another two international students, 10th grade girls who were outspoken and capable.  Then we set to work, drafting bills and talking through arguments in favor of their proposals.  Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, we lost two weeks of debate preparation and I felt it most keenly when it came to the international students.  But the students were excited to participate and I had always thought of their membership on our team in terms of how it would shape their understanding of the American political system, so there was no downside to competing.  Veteran B, one of last year's international participants, was a great help in getting rookies A and C up to speed.  And so we set off for the competition in Washington D.C.

At the close of the competition, awards are made to the participants who rank among the very best.  My team usually earns a few of those awards and as we sit together to hear the award announcements, I am always proud when my students earn recognition for their efforts.  But I don't know that I have ever felt the thrill I experienced when B, a Chinese student, won an American Model Congress award.  B is passionate about freedom and democracy; he's always eager to explore such ideas.  His contributions to our practice debates and discussions are rich and thoughtful.  He earned that award through hard work, enthusiasm, and faith in American freedom.  I was thrilled for him.

In a happy coincidence of timing, his contributions to free debate at Model Congress earned him an award on the same weekend that his native country had a closed-door meeting to select the leader of the Communist Party.  Every teacher has a collection of memories of days when it all clicks, when she can venture to hope that her work with students has made the world a better place.  I added one more event to that handful on that Sunday afternoon, when a kid born in an authoritarian state exercised his natural rights, freely expressed his opinions, and demonstrated the enduring power of freedom and liberty.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Showing Some Skin

This morning I hit upon the brilliant idea that I should wax my eyebrows.  Somewhere between consuming my first cup of coffee and unloading the dishwasher, I fired up the microwave to heat up the wax.  Experienced readers (hi, KO) are now getting excited, thinking that yet another story about me waxing off my eyebrow is about to unfold.  Alas, this incident of personal stupidity does not find me sans eyebrow.

It does find me with a burn on my left hand.
Instead of setting the microwave time for 2 minutes, I accidentally hit 4 minutes and only realized that was the case when I came back into the kitchen wondering why the wax wasn't finished heating up.  The sensible among you would have been careful with the wax, realizing that by now it is incredibly hot.  But I am not sensible and while removing the wax from the microwave, I managed to spill liquid wax all over my left hand.  The searing pain of that moment was only briefly offset by the realization that now I would have to find a way to remove wickedly hot wax from my skin.  I contemplated the ways and means of that task while holding my burned hand under the cold water and castigating myself for my incredible stupidity.

Once the wax was cooled, most of it could be pealed off with the help of some warm oil.  Much of my original skin remains.  The same cannot be said for my dignity.  Sometimes it's a wonder I've kept myself alive for 45 whole years.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Hurricane Journal: In Search of Warmth

Early after the storm, my sister tried to persuade me to get in the car and drive to a hotel room in Philadelphia.  I resisted, worried about the cats and my home.  As word of gas shortages spread, I also fretted about keeping my gas tank full, since starting the car was one surefire way to charge my cell phone and get warm.  In hindsight, my anxiety about keeping the car fueled was unwarranted.  The tank never got below half and I can drive 400 miles on a single tank of gas.  But at the time, we saw gas station lines that had more than 100 cars and dozens of folks with gas cans in hand also waiting.  The concern didn't seem unreasonable.

On Saturday night, tired of the cold (the house hovered at just below 50 degrees) and fearing the arrival of early darkness (we turned back the clocks that evening), I had a melt-down on the phone with T.  She over-ruled my gas concern and persuaded me to pack up our electronics and laundry and hit the road in search of warmth and electricity come the morning.  That's exactly what we did on Sunday, November 4th.

On that late date, five days after the storm, I still couldn't drive any of my regular routes because of downed power lines and fallen trees blocking the roads.  When I finally got to the R-K family, who live in a county without gas rationing, I was able to easily fill my gas tank.  That experience renewed my confidence that it would all be okay.  The combination of adult companionship, electricity, warmth, and laundry facilities made for a lovely day.  Realizing that cold nights at home were much more bearable when accompanied by more normalized days, I immediately made plans to seek warmth for the Monday, .

JT and I waited until well after dark to head home on Sunday evening and as we drove into our neighborhood, we could see that electricity had been restored for some of the blocks in town, though our street was still electricity-free.  We would repeat that experience the next night as well and it was excruciating to get ever closer to home only to find our block bathed in darkness.  

On Tuesday, our third day on the road for warmth and our eighth day without electricity, JT and I went out to breakfast in the morning.  It was my birthday and I was determined to celebrate.  I voted and then we scored a birthday cake and headed to friends for the afternoon.  We had plans to make supper together, eat birthday cake, and watch election returns.  That evening, as Barack Obama moved closer to re-election, I got text messages from friends in town: We had electricity!  I called my answering machine to be sure (it's old-fashioned and operates with electricity) and when I heard my voice on the 4th ring, I was thrilled.  I didn't tell JT, figuring that he would welcome the surprise.  That evening, as we drove home, still more blocks in our town had electricity.  Just a few blocks from our house, well after 9 pm, we saw a half-dozen trucks from an Ohio power company still at work on the power lines.  JT, determined not to be disappointed, announced, "we probably still don't have power."

As we pulled onto our street, front-porch lights and street lamps seemed brighter than usual.  I looked over at JT and could see that he was in disbelief.  As we pulled into the driveway, we could see the cats in the front window.  Behind them was the light from the lamp I  leave on a timer.  JT said, "Oh, Mama," and we hurried inside to light.  We turned on the furnace and soon the radiators were creaking with warmth.  We settled on the sofa with mugs of hot chocolate and stayed up late into the night, bathed in light, warmth, and electoral victory.  For a day that began rather bleak and cold, it ended on a high note.  The next day would give me the opportunity to assess the past eight days.  And that's a story for later this week.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Seasonally Prepared

Yesterday was a warm sunny day with temps in the mid 50s.  I headed outside for some fall clean up chores.  Though Sandy blew away many of my fall leaves, plenty remained and those needed to be raked into the garden.  From there, they will be used by the handful whenever I make an addition to my compost bin.  The rest will decompose into the garden soil and by spring I'll never know they were there.

The day was so lovely that I wore short sleeves and tackled a few other chores.  The driveway needed cleaning up after the neighbor's newly constructed fence was installed and that meant that a lot of dirt and detritus needed to be raked away.  The front lawn also needed its final mow of the season.

Those chores complete, I came inside for a shower and considered tackling bulb planting and Christmas lights later this weekend.  Though Sassafras House rules prevent the turning on of Christmas lights before December 1st, I like to get ready before then.  Hanging lights is sometimes an occasion for cursing and it's a less taxing chore when I have sun and warmth on my side.  Yesterday was so nice, I hoped that today would also be lovely.

Ha.  Cloudy, windy and with temps in the 40s does not exactly qualify as nice.   But I am well-rested and after a trip to Home Depot, I was in possession of 60 half-price daffodil and tulip bulbs.  That calls for planting and as of this writing they are all happily in the ground in the front yard, ready to winter over and bloom come the spring.

Filled with inspiration, I hung the Christmas lights on the front porch and made some plans for decorating the iron table that lives on the porch.  Next week, I will add holiday greenery.  In the meantime, it's nice to have the hard parts completed.  That's happy!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mother Nature at Work

Last weekend, I was in Washington D.C. with my school's Model Congress team.  While the students were busy showing Congress how to get things done (by passing bills to legalize marijuana and forgive student loans), we got to explore the city.  Among the places we explored was the U.S. Botanic Garden.  I'd never been there before and all I can say is that it will now be a regular part of any trip I take to the capitol.
Located in a corner between the Grant Memorial the Rayburn and Longworth House Office Buildings, the garden is a building filled with beauty.  From the moment you enter the main hall, it smells amazing.  I've a feeling that the many orchids growing under the glass ceiling have helped with that.  This one was especially lovely.
Throughout the main room are replicas of famous D.C. landmarks made out of organic materials and set among the plants and flowers.  I liked this version of Congress a great deal and I bet the folks who work in there have learned to cooperate.  
The plants are accompanied by explanations of where they grow and how they can be used.  I didn't need that explanation for the coffee beans, which may have been my favorite plant in the building. 
JT gave the nod to the cocoa plant and later reported to me that in his imagination, you could just crack open one of these seeds and it would be filled with ganache.  Mother Nature, if you're reading, that's not a bad idea.
The hostas that grow around my house could take a lesson from these giant tropical versions.
I've decided that when I win the lottery I will build myself a glass greenhouse.  Inside it I will grow all sorts of amazing-smelling tropical plants including a whole bunch of ferns like these.
I'm thinking that I will drop a note to the Members of Congress to advise them to take a break and have a stroll around the Botanic Garden.  It's right near their offices, after all.  And it's free.  It gave me a sense of wonder and peace that might be just the sort of thing they need to work out their differences.