Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vocabulary with T: Ramshackle

Strictly speaking, this month's vocabulary with T features a word that is not unique to her.  Ramshackle was an already established dictionary word-in-good-standing when T got hold of it.  So it's not the word itself we're interested in here.  It's T's use of the word.

When something has been jimmy-jangled together in a confusing fashion, it's ramshackle.  When an idea is about to be executed in a half-assed manner, that's ramshackle.  Anything falling apart or otherwise is in disrepair is ramshackle.  If someone just did something stupid, that's a ramshackle action.

I think that what she likes about ramshackle is that it sounds like what it is: rickety and dilapidated.  What I like about ramshackle is the drawn-out, ramshackle way T says it, declaring the facts as she sees 'em, ma'am.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sassafras Ivy

When I showed JT the poison ivy rash I've acquired in the crook of my elbow, his response pretty well summed it up, "It sucks to be you."
As any mother would be, I'm touched by his level of concern.  The rash seems to be confined to one spot and is just the sort of reward I should have expected for my efforts to remove weeds from the overgrown flower bed in the backyard.  Someone pass me the cortisone.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

You May Be Seated

After 10 years of wrangling a bunch of half-assed repairs, my chair at school finally gave up the ghost.  Luckily, the final collapse didn't happen when students were in the room.
 I can't say that I am disappointed as the replacement chair is all sorts of awesome.  I jokingly refer to my desk as "the bench" and now I've a chair worthy of that joke.  If it grades final exams for me, it will be damn near perfect.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Warren

JT loves to play outside in the backyard.  He plays there all year long, but especially loves the backyard in the summer, when the trees are full of green leaves and he has more places to hide for his games.  His favorite secret spot is in the corner of the yard, tucked behind a maple tree and an abundance of climbing ivy.  I call it his warren.
For his birthday, he received a gnome door and last weekend, T and I placed it on the maple tree.  JT figured that the gnomes will like his secret corner as much as he does.
I figure that his gnome door will help along the already impressive imagination of my boy.  That's happy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Food Friday: Chevre Toast

Like any good liberal, I often listen to The Splendid Table on NPR.  There is a feature of the show in which listeners call in to seek cooking advice for dinner parties and the host, Lynne Rosetto Kasper, provides advice.  A few weeks ago, Rosetto Kasper helped a caller plan an outdoor, Italian-themed party and mentioned a twist on the usual bruschetta.  My ears perked up and this week I gave the recipe a try.  It was very simple to make and you should try it.

- 1 baguette, thinly sliced
- thinly sliced and diced radish
- thinly sliced green onion
- chevre
- olive oil
- course salt

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line the baguette slices up on a cookie sheet and lightly brush olive oil on each slice.  Toast the bread for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool.

On each slice, spread a bit of chevre, top with a few radish bits and a few green onions.  Put a smidge of salt on each slice.  Serve immediately.  I served mine with a pasta dish but they would also make a terrific accompaniment to a hearty green salad, a fresh spring soup, or something from the grill.  They could also serve as an appetizer.
Bread, cheese, and veggies.....that there is my happy food trifecta.  They are tasty and easy to make and can be served with virtually any warm weather food.  Make some today!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Will it help me to time travel?

At some point last fall, T and I were in the car when I spotted a sign for a place called 1800 Mattress.  I was amused, pointed it out to T, and then began to make the kind of jokes that only a history teacher makes: "Is the mattress filled with fresh straw?" and "Do they let you pluck your own geese for the down in your 19th century mattress?"  That sort of thing.  I was just winding up for some quality humor when I realized that T looked confused.  She then patiently explained that it wasn't 1800 Mattress, it was 1-800 Mattress.


From an historical point of view, that's not nearly so thrilling.  However, it does come in handy when you finally admit you need a new mattress.  Which I desperately did, as poor T's back can attest.  A few weeks ago, I fired up the computer and headed over to 1-800 Mattress to order up a replacement mattress.  Within 24 hours, it arrived at my door and seconds after that, T and I scored ourselves a Saturday afternoon nap.  That there is called modern convenience.

Each night, I climb into bed eager to sleep on my new, soft, straw tick.  It's a glorious, glorious thing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

May Flowers

In addition to having an early spring, this year's spring has brought us truckloads of nearly perfect weather: mild sunny days, cool nights and loads of sun.  My garden is coming along nicely and there are tomato blooms (blooms! in May!).  But it's the flowers which have truly outdone themselves.  The daffodils, tulips, azaleas, and lilacs have passed.  I've already noted that the rhododendron is lovely
After volumes of angst, the clematis vine, now in its second year, is doing well.
In the backyard, the lily and gladiola bulbs are coming along nicely. 
 The fuchsia in my Mother's Day tea cup has bloomed its lavish flower.
I potted some geraniums for the pot in front of the house.
This year's front porch hanging pots are vivid dark pink New Guinea impatiens.
These flowers greet me every day and with just a few weeks of school remaining, I am looking forward to more time in the garden.   In pursuit of that goal, I've got a few more zinnia seeds to place in the ground. 
With any luck, I'll have fresh cut flowers for August.  That's happy!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Carnival Approved

On Saturday, JT and I brought T to one of our favorite Jersey traditions: a local carnival. Beforehand, JT drew up a release for T to sign.  Via this legal document, she was duly warned that we are, in his words, "hardcore carnivalers."  I don't know about that, but we do like a little old-fashioned fun.
 JT enjoyed his annual run through the fun house.
 The three of us went on the big ferris wheel together.
I made an exception to my "no games of chance" rule because T is a genuine shark at these things.  JT was duly impressed.
Between the two of them, they walked away with an impressive assortment of carnival prizes.
We had plenty of carnival food and plenty of laughs.  At one point, JT turned to me and said of T, "You picked wisely, Mama."
I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Belittling the League

The world of Little League is a world of little boys.  I am not simply referring to the teams here, though by and large the players themselves are boys.  The League is run by men and though I like men and boys just fine, I am sometimes incredulous at the haphazard, half-assed management style they employ.

To be clear, I know some terrific dads.  I have on many occasions voted men into political power and been comfortable with their leadership.  I have assumed that men can serve as Senators and Presidents and do just fine.  They can govern states and run corporations and often manage quite nicely.  At least I've always believed this to be true.

And then my son joined Little League, a world of dads and testosterone.  And nonsense.  Oh the nonsense.  This list is long, and I shall confine myself to just a few observations.

There are five fields and though they have lights and carefully groomed grass, the bathrooms consist of two porta-johns well past their freshness date.  Hidden behind the snack bar is one tiny bathroom with indoor plumbing, a flush toilet and a sink.  There is a sign confining use of the facilities to "League Directors and Ladies."  I assume I qualify.  Sometimes I wish I didn't.  Despite instructions to keep the room clean, it's a biohazard, just waiting for Superfund to come in and shut the place down. 

The coaches always start the year with the rhetoric of teamwork and joy of the game.  They talk of teaching the kids how to play baseball and enjoy our national pastime.  Then the season starts and all the diplomacy and rhetoric goes right out the bullpen in a flurry of shouting and stomping.  From their attitudes, you'd think that every damned kid on the field is just one second away from inking a generous Major League Ball contract or a full ride at Stanford.  To which I say: they are kids.  And it's just a fucking game.

I'm headed over to Little League this morning.  Saturday morning games start at 9 am and the coaches want the kids there at the patently ridiculous hour of 8 am.  On a Saturday.  After a week of work.  The other mothers and I, many of them women who work outside the home, will be there.  We'll be confined to the stands and assigned roles like "Team Mom."  This morning we'll nod quietly at one another and cheer on all of our kids.  But I am sorely tempted to lead a revolution.  I am utterly confident that the boys who run Little League would never see it coming. 

Update: It was a beautiful morning for a game and JT's team won a convincing, well-played 9-1 victory, despite the fact that his mama is a churlish whiner.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: self-sufficient edition

The backstory: We were watching a baseball game in which our team was winning handily.  The score was 6-0 at the bottom of the 5th.  The other team was up to bat and  JT opted for a quick bathroom break. 

JT:  What did I miss? Did they get any hits? I'll answer that…..No.

Mama: Happy to help, son.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

So Much More

Right at the start of mile two on my Saturday morning run, my favorite song of all time floated through the ear buds.  Not that long ago, when the familiar first beat of that Roxy Music song began to play, I would reach for my iPod and press the arrow to move on.  Something about hearing "More Than This" wouldn't feel right to me, a woman who once felt like she had it all, only to have it all disappear, leaving me longing for something more.

Over the years since my ex and I split, I came to terms with what the breakup meant in terms of my past, my present, and certainly my future.  In my son and family, my friends, my cats, and my life,  I finally found a measure of peace.  And from that peace, I gathered the confidence to take the risk to seek just a little bit more from life.  So it is that I found T and a happiness deeper and greater than I could have ever imagined. 

When "More Than This" came over the headphones on Saturday morning, I sighed a happy sigh, turned it up and gloried in all that is and all that will be. 

That's happy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Last summer, when the possums ate my garden, I began to actively hope for bad things to happen to all of possum-kind.  Despite volumes of scientific evidence to the contrary, I decided that Hurricane Irene and the floods that followed would drown the rodents.

Alas, not.  In February, we saw not one but two possums cross the road in front of my car on a full-mooned night.

Horrifying.  In the aftermath, I began to wish that I had sped up and taken the possums down.  Alas, I have neither the speed nor the heart for such an adventure.  But I live in Jersey, and someone else was bound to do the dirty deed.
I can't say that I will grieve.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mama's Day 2012

On his first Mother's Day, at not yet three months old, JT laughed for the very first time.  The moment, which ranks among my most cherished memories, is awfully hard to top.  But the boy tries every year and this year, with the help of T, he did very well for himself.  Last week, he and T made me a tea cup of flowers, featuring lavender, ivy, and a fuchsia.  It sits happily on the front porch table and brings a smile every time I pass it by.
This weekend, T spoiled me with some rounds of putt putt, supper out, a camp fire, and Sunday morning muffins.  And this afternoon, JT helped me to grill some outdoor supper and then we played cards and laughed.
Happy Mother's Day, y'all!

Saturday, May 12, 2012


One of the the things I enjoy most about gardening is the way that the plants I grow will occasionally surprise me.  The bulb that I forgot I placed in the fall ground will provide a lovely surprise come the spring.  That plant that I least expected to succeed, not only succeeds but thrives in the soil.  This spring, the rhododendron bushes that grow on either side of my front porch steps qualify as that kind of surprise.
The plants are always lovely, of course, but last year's winter was rather rough for them and come last spring they didn't bounce back as much as I would have liked.  I did some garden research to diagnose the problem and trimmed off some dead branches early this year.  hen I promptly forgot about the rhododendrons.  Or at least I did until this past week when the bushes exploded in color, with a lavish display of deep purple flowers.
What a lovely surprise.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cleanliness is Next to Godliness

I clean my bathrooms once a week.  So it is that every 7 days, I scrub down the facilities.  Somewhere at the half way point of each week, I give the toilet a scrub and a wipe down because I live with a boy.  I trust that I needn't say more on that matter.

I write that as if I somehow have standards of decency; as if this isn't a blog entry about the state of my bathrooms and the joys of cleaning the toilet.


Each week, as day 7 approaches I have a look at the bathroom and think, "hmmmm…..maybe this can go an extra day."  The thought typically enters my mind on day 5.  On day 6, I doubt that notion.  Then day 7 dawns and it's as if during the overnight hours a truckload of filthy farm animals has stopped by to use the facilities, washing and brushing their coats and urinating freely in the vicinity of the toilet.

You know how this story ends, yes?  I clean on day 7. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Yes, We Can!

On Sunday afternoon, some friends and I were talking about same sex marriage recognition and I said that I thought it would be another 20 years before the issue was just moot. Or maybe just 3 days, huh?

This afternoon, President Obama told ABC news that he didn't see why same sex couples shouldn't be permitted to get married just like every other American.  There are dozens a terrific news accounts of the President's announcement; I rather like David Corn's take on the whole thing if you wish for another read.

In the meantime, I found the whole afternoon rather thrilling.  I know that there's a long way to go; plenty of states are still far, far away from doing right by their citizens.  I still think that ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell was a more important act.  But, damn, I was proud of my country and my President today.

The End of Compromise?

Though you would be hard-pressed to know this if all you consumed was a steady diet of Tea Party political rhetoric, the American Congress was constructed by the Founders to be a legislative body oriented toward cooperation and compromise.  Only by working with one another could legislators govern.  By the early 1800s, with the formation of political parties, this meant that the parties reached across the aisle to build legislation to serve the national interest.  By definition, this means that neither party gets all of what they want.  The hope is that if both receive a little and compromise further on what's left, our deliberative legislative process will govern in the national interest.

When the ability to compromise breaks down, the nation suffers as a consequence.  The Civil War is typically cited as the most extreme example of a failure to compromise.  It's not a perfect example, because there were some very good reasons to refuse a compromise that would permit the continuation of slavery, a morally repugnant institution in a nation claiming to favor liberty above all other values.  Even so, we should be profoundly reluctant to reject compromise these days, when the issues on the table don't approach the gravity of slavery's threat to American values.

In the last twenty years, it's gotten harder and harder to build compromise between the two parties in Congress.  Both parties are guilty, though the lion's share of the blame goes to the Republican party, as political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein argue in their new book about congressional gridlock, It's Even Worse Than It Looks.  You can see evidence of this everywhere, but especially in last night's primary election defeat of Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, who was seeking re-election to the seat he's held since 1976.

Lugar, a Republican, has long been the kind of Senator willing to reach across the aisle, committed to the idea of finding a moderate compromise in order to govern well.  This morning, the New York Times called Lugar "a collegial moderate" and the characteristic is perfect.  But it was that moderation that served as the primary  explanation for his loss to Republican challenger Richard Mourdock, whose Tea Party-fueled campaign thrived on a steady stream of invective directed at Lugar because of the Senator's long-standing record of compromise.

Democrats were not expected to devote a lot of resources to this race in the fall, feeling that the well-respected Lugar would likely be re-elected by his moderate state come November.  The Mourdock primary victory changes that calculation and Indiana is now very much in the running for the Democrats, who suddenly have a chance to pick up this Senate seat.  I'm a Democrat and I should celebrate that.  And yet I can't help but feel this is a hollow victory.  It puts us one step further away from the compromise that is essential for our nation to govern itself.  That's not good for any of us.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Not Okay

I am a liberal but not really an idealist; I understand that compromises must be made to move things forward.  I don't let my ideal political goals get in the way of good enough.

But in the 12 years since I became a mama there are moments where I feel a blistering anger about some injustice and I want to demand that we make things better.  I know that this request is unreasonable.  I know that life isn't always black and white.  Still, I don't want injustice to persist and I want to right at least some of the wrongs I see.

Case in point: these pictures of the effects of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.   The photos were made at the time of the 2010 spill but thanks to the machinations of British Petroleum were withheld from the public for nearly two years.  This week, Greenpeace succeeded in a Freedom of Information Act request to get the pictures out.

They will make you incredibly angry and then incredibly disappointed in your government.  But you should know what happened and you should know that on this issue and many others,  Greenpeace is hard at work to make it right.

I understand that it's a very small consolation.  But it may be all that we've got.

Friday, May 04, 2012


In the 6th grade, JT is studying feudalism, learning about serfs and Lords, the Manor life, Squires, Knights, and the chivalric code.  This afternoon, he came home with an assignment called "A Squire's Challenge."  It's a quest to seek promotion from Squire to Knight.  To accomplish this goal, he's required to:

    - be honorable and trustworthy
    - be courteous and considerate
    - be honest
    - redress any wrong he sees
    - give help to those in need

He needs the signature of an adult to confirm he has met this code.

It's not yet 8 pm, and he's learned to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer and to aid in the folding of the laundry.  He carried groceries in from the car and then brought the cat food and laundry soap to the basement.  He cleared the supper table and took out the recycling.  Then he vacuumed the living room carpet.

I know that I've expressed skepticism about the value of homework, but praise God, let's have more of these kinds of assignments.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Pro Tip

Yes, you can cut the grass in less than one hour, just before the Little League game, providing you run behind the mower.  It's a gardening-workout recommended for all time-challenged working moms.

In other words, when the hell will this infernal week come to a blessed end?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

In the Woods

Some of the prettiest sites at the Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve weren't flowers at all, they were trees.  When I lived in Nashville, red bud trees were everywhere.  Around here, they are less common.  But there's one in the corner of these pictures.
I checked out another up close and personal.
There was an iron tree (T recognized it from pictures she'd seen in books...that was happy).
What remains of this tree has clearly been put to work on behalf of the woodpecker population in the forest.
I could look all day at views like this.
And I wouldn't mind a little cabin in the woods with a view like this one.
I keep coming back to the dozens of pictures I made at Bowman's Hill.  They're a daydreamy respite from the crazy pace of the last month of school.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

May 1st: Front Yard Flowerbed

The careful observer will note that I like a lush and full garden.  In the case of this frontyard flowerbed, that means planting with an awareness of the timing of blooms.  Tulips and daffodils bloom early (the last of them are finishing up this week) and that's a good thing because the hostas at the front of the flowerbed have grown full and lush.
The rose of Sharon tree is starting to fill in and the azalea bushes are in their full glory this week. Things are lovely.
When we get home each afternoon, this is the first flowerbed that I see.  Often, there's a cat in the windowsill above to welcome us.  And life doesn't get much better than that.