Saturday, June 30, 2012

Icy Hot

It's hot.  Hell-hot. Africa-hot. Hotter than a cat's ass (this is T's phrase and I rather like it).  The point is,  it's sweltering around here.  But no matter, as we've got our California fridge all fired up and ready to ice us down. 
The boy is ready to serve you an icy drink, should you need one.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ten Other Things

Adam Serwer at Mother Jones has a terrific article with a listing of the big changes that will come about thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  Some of the reforms were immediately available, others will be fully adapted by 2014.  Individually, most of them are popular with Americans, though plenty of us still don't like Obamacare.  Liberals needs to start talking about these individual changes and explaining, over and over again that this is Obamacare.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Supremely Pleased

Yesterday, I got ready to write a post for today's Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act, and I sat before my computer with quiet fingers.  My heart hoped that the Court, the last institution of the federal government to enjoy the confidence of a majority of Americans, would do the right thing.  For me, the right thing was recognition of the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.  There were two paths to that conclusion and both looked good to me.  The first path meant recognition that Congress had the power to mandate the purchase of healthcare because of the commerce clause.  The second entailed affirmation that the Congressional power to tax is clearly constitutional and that the mandate wasn't a mandate so much as a fine (or tax) on those who fail to purchase healthcare coverage.  Either way, we get a lot closer to healthcare for everyone in this nation and that is a desirable goal, even if the logistics to get there are mighty confounding.

And yet, Justice Roberts has invariably been such a disappointment to me that I had little hope he would side with Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor.  Though I have great respect for Justice Kennedy, the usual swing vote on the Court, I was convinced that his long-established preference for state's rights would be essential in this case and not good news for ACA.  I had no expectation that the triumvirate of Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas would be the least bit helpful.  These men would've sided with the Confederacy on questions of state's rights.  They weren't about to affirm the ACA on any grounds.  So I had to pin my hopes on Roberts and by golly, that was nerve-wracking.

I did a lot of re-reading yesterday, including a good deal of the oral arguments from the case.  I recalled Justice Ginsburg's cryptic statement a few weeks ago, when she said that the pundits had no idea what the Court planned to do.  I took hope from that.   But I went to bed last night still confused.  This morning, as we came down to the wire, I tweeted what my gut told me: the Court would rule ACA constitutional.   Then I waited with my fingers and toes crossed.  Seconds after the opinion came down, I gave my dad a call.  He was watching CNN screw it up, so I got to tell him that ACA was upheld.  And we were both emotional, which pretty much says it all.

I was raised by the kind of good, old-fashioned liberals who believe that they have an obligation to make the world a better place.  In his dotage retirement, my dad spends a good deal of time working at the local senior center helping the elderly poor to get access to decent healthcare and the prescription drugs they need.  That's an expensive prospect in this nation, even with Medicare, and helping little old ladies find a way to live on $800 a month has turned my dad into a radical.  He's not voting for himself when he casts a ballot, he's voting for the poor, the underprivileged, the folks who have been let down by society.  He wants universal healthcare (so do I) and he hopes that ACA gets us on that road. 

Voting outside your own narrow interests is an important thing; the very definition of a just citizen.  Today, Justice Roberts recognized that.  And I am supremely thankful.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Vocabulary with T: Crazytown

Since January, I've written a monthly feature of T's words, some of which are made up. Others are words she uses in her own charming way.  This month's word is part dictionary, part made-up, and 100% useful.  The word: crazytown.

Crazytown is either a destination or a location.  As in, you've crossed the line of reason and are now in crazytown.  You got there by doing or saying something ridiculous and irrational.  Perhaps some examples will help?

Everything uttered by Republican Eric Cantor, House Majority Whip, is coo-coo le crazy, thus we can be confident that he represents crazytown in Congress.  The current GOP mantra that Obama's immigration executive order will keep real immigration reform from happening is also an utterance straight out of downtown crazytown.  Those clowns weren't willing to talk immigration before Obama took action and since he took action, they remain unwilling.  Maybe because they live in crazytown?  Like everything else, I have no idea what the Supreme Court will say about healthcare tomorrow.  But I do know that Scalia, Alito, and Thomas live on a cul-de-sac in crazytown.

I trust you get the picture.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Calling it as He Sees it edition

The backstory:  Last week, JT and I were driving a rather winding road when a car made a left turn into the lane in front of me, causing me to hit the brakes rather quickly.  The car had a license plate which read "I Read."

JT: Well I don't know what you read, but it's not the rules of the road, is it?

Internet, my work here is done.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Flower Update

The daffodils, tulips, and iris are long gone.  The clematis is no longer news.  The zinnias aren't yet ready to produce bouquets for the house.  But there's no call to worry, because the stargazer lilies look lovely.
The hydrangea display is looking to be quite impressive. 
And the canna bulbs are coming along nicely.
That's happy!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mano e Mano

On Wednesday afternoon, I took a stroll out to the garden to visit my growing produce and discovered that nearly all of my ripening apples and pears were gone from the trees.


Picture me, standing in the middle of the yard, shaking my fist to the heavens and shouting "possum."  Because that's how it played out.

A have-a-heart trap has been ordered but won't arrive for a few days.  In the meantime, I have undertaken emergency measures to protect the rest of my produce. 
The hot pepper spray is the usual granola-girl, organically minded solution.  The fox urine is also claims to be organic, though I have no earthly idea how the hell the fox's urine was collected.  For $5, I don't care.  The wine is for me, the stressed out gardener.

I'm not sure this animal control arsenal will be sufficient.  I will also leave a backyard motion sensor light on all night long to see if that scares the little fucker.  Then the trap will arrive and I will either catch my arm in it or promptly catch every stray cat and sweet bunny in the hood.  Worse yet?  I'll catch the possum and feel bad about it.

Updates as warranted.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Favorite Places: Jockey Hollow

T and I had our first date at a place called Jockey Hollow.  The park, which is on the spine of the Watchung Mountains in New Jersey, was the site of George Washington's winter encampment in 1779, during the American Revolution. 
These days, it's a little preserve of woods and trails, with a colonial-era garden thrown in for good measure.  It's long been one of my favorite places in New Jersey and it turns out that T has always loved it as well.  A few weeks back, we headed back to the scene of the first date crime, to walk through the colonial garden, hold hands, and generally laugh at how nervous we both were on the day of our first date.
When we saw this bed, T pointed out that it really is an 1800 mattress. It didn't look as comfy as my new bed.
We strolled out to the apple trees (and this time, I got a kiss under the shade of the trees) and got ourselves a National Parks passport.  We've plans to visit a lot more places together.  That's happy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Well Read

Thanks to T's help, this year's garden was in the ground in mid-April.  But for the fact that I jumped the gun with the zinnia seeds (they prefer more warmth than our early spring could deliver), it was a successful strategy.  We've got peas and tomatoes well on their way to ripening.  I've picked chives and basil for cooking.  The artichoke, peppers, lima beans, and blueberry bush are looking great.  Four extra packets of zinnia seeds later, I'm even looking forward to some cut flowers.  The only downside to the early planting was the extra weeding required.  Thanks to the warm, wet spring, the plants weren't the only things that grew like gangbusters.

I usually cope with weeds by laying down newspapers and mulch.  However, it takes planning and a few hours to get the job done and there just wasn't enough time to do that in May.  With the arrival of summer vacation, mulching the garden was a priority.  Sunday afternoon, T helped me to get the mulch and set the bags into place for the work ahead.
On Monday afternoon, in advance of the hell-hot heatwave we are currently sweating through, I got the mulch on the ground.  As usual, I cleared out the weeds, spread newspapers between the plants, and then laid out a thick layer of wood mulch to control the weeds and help the plants survive the hot weather.
I took great care to protect my tiny zinnia seedlings, of course.
I've got my eyes on a rosebush and few more herbs for the garden and there is some space to plant them.  In the meantime, when I take my daily walk out to check on my plants, I'll be happy to see the tidy, ordered garden. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Just off my kitchen lies a small butler's pantry.  There are narrow shelves in the closed-door cabinet above and below are four open shelves that I use to store a variety of things: extra garden seeds, hand towels and extra toilet paper for the powder room just across the hall, plastic plates and cups for eating outdoors, paper napkins, cookbooks, bug spray, super glue, cookie cutters……the diverse list is endless.

For that reason, of course, these shelves are awfully easy to clutter up.  I use baskets and have tried to maintain some organization but over time the shelves had become a disorganized heap.  It would be one thing if I didn't see that heap every day, but I did.  Worse yet, so did most visitors to my home.  The shelves were a natural first target for the summer clean-up season.  The before picture, which I remembered to make after I had cleared off the first shelf, tells the horrifying story.
Two hours and one trash bag later, things are ordered and tidy.  I'll be able to find what I need and I won't be overwhelmed by the clutter. 
I am particularly pleased to have the water bottles organized.
It's nearly always a defcon 4 crisis when we need one of these bottles for some sort of sporting event.  The new method of organization means that I can tell at a glance that the bottle supply has been depleted (i.e., it's time to check JT's baseball bag, backpack, locker, and goodness know where else, to liberate some bottles now filled with brackish water).  Something about organization makes me feel empowered...I am neat and tidy, hear me roar!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

All Jammed Up

 On and off, I have engaged in food preservation efforts.  I am a whiz at freezing but though I have helped others to do some canning and (of course!) read about it all the time, I've never canned on my own.  T is equally interested and about as experienced so….you see where this is headed, I hope.

This weekend, T and I decided to put all that book learning to work.  We canned 10 pints of strawberry jam and then, because we still had some strawberries, we made 6 pints of freezer jam.  We used a very simple recipe from Pioneer Woman, but the real help came from Ball Canning's amazing website.  The stove hasn't had this many burners lit since Thanksgiving.
The jam smelled amazing while it was bubbling on the stove.
All 10 pints fit nicely into the giant canning bath pot.
And here's the finished jam, jars properly sealed, and stacked up to fulfill my Laura Ingalls fantasies.
The jars came with labels and we slapped on a few of those. 
There's volumes more of these to be found at etsy, I see.  I think that we all know what that means.

On Sunday morning, T and I awakened to discover that we both dreamt about canning the night before.  We're hooked, I suspect.  There's more jam on the horizon and we're thinking of trying our hand at pickles, zucchini relish, and dilled green beans.   It's a very good thing there is a root cellar in the basement of Sassafras House.

Monday, June 18, 2012


At a fruit stand last weekend, I found a strawberry that had crossed the line to hang out with the fresh cherries.  It made me smile.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


I like the sounds of early morning.  In warm weather, the quiet of the night is replaced with the sounds of chirping birds but by 6 am, as the sun completes its rise, the birds have settled into their routines and I can listen to the stillness and plan my day.  On workdays, I'm usually up by 5:30 am.  I like it this way. 

Though I use an alarm for backup, most days I come awake on my own.  Typically, those slow moments when I am first awake are refreshing.  I'm alive and awake and the day is ahead of me.  For me, the sign I am ready for a break comes in those early mornings when the first minutes I am awake are filled with a slowness.  I know that I must get up to face the day, but I'd rather burrow back under the covers for more rest.  On those days, it's the sound of my  coffee pot gurgling to life that gets me up.  If it weren't for that auto-brew setting, I'd likely be late to work for the whole of the month of May.

Summer vacation allows the mornings to stretch out.  I come awake with reading, gardening, and cooking on my mind.  I walk downstairs in the stillness, pour myself some coffee and sit down to write for a few minutes.  JT is still fast asleep but Tiger and Lucy join me in the windowsills, sunning themselves and sniffing the great outdoors.  The familiar sounds of NPR narrate these leisurely mornings, the day stretches before me, and all seems right in my world.

Golly, summer vacation, what took you so long?

Thursday, June 14, 2012


The mild weather continues around here and it's given Tiger and Lucy the chance to enjoy their favorite morning activity: sitting in windowsills.  This morning, Lucy has opted for the window in the butler's pantry… gives her a nice view of the dogwood and squirrels and birds in the back yard.
Just a few feet away, Tiger has gone for the tighter quarters in the downstair's powder room window.  He's got a view of old man tree.
Though they look rather sullen in these pictures, these relaxed cats are my summer vacation inspiration.  If you need me, I'll be lying about.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Crossing the Finish Line

This morning I awakened as a girl officially on summer vacation.  For most of the last month, I've been crossing off the days to get to this moment.  I'm an early riser even when work isn't involved and there is nothing quite like waking up to chirping birds and the realization that there is not a single pressing item on my to-do list.  I run at full-speed for most of the school year, aware that I will always have the summer to replenish my reserves.  Around mid-May this practice catches up with me and I'm a tired mama.  Happily, we've made it to vacation.

Iron-only clothes have been set away.  Work-appropriate shoes have been replaced by a mess of flip flops.  My stack of to-be-read books has grown perilously high.  Now when I look at it I won't feel longing; instead I've a gleeful sense that I've plenty of time to linger an extra hour over a good book.  The garden has tiny green tomatoes already and this week I'll have the time to weed and mulch the plants.  Morning workouts are back on the calendar.  This weekend, T and I plan to make a batch of strawberry jam.

Last night, JT and I went out for our annual end-of-the-year celebratory supper.  We talked about the best parts of our year and the things we'd like to do better the next time around.  We're both tired and ready for some unscheduled days.  With the luxury of summer ahead, I feel like we've won the relaxation lottery.  

That's happy.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Boy Logic edition

The backstory: School finished on Friday, followed by graduation on Sunday and meetings today and tomorrow.  The last month of school usually succeeds in kicking my backside and this year was no exception.  The month's busy nature, our unusual end-of-the-year schedule, and the leprosy-like poison ivy creeping across my body didn't help.  By this morning, I was just glad that I made it to the meeting on time.  As we walked into school, I took a look at JT's feet and realized he was wearing two different socks.

Mama:  Those socks don't match.

JT:  They're both white.

Mama:  Yes, but one has a Nike swish and the other has an Addidas stripe.

JT:  I know.  When I can't find a matched set, I just grab two of my favorite socks.  So that's what I am wearing.

Mama:  I see.  Carry on, son.

Internet, please note the quality parenting I provide.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Pretty Sweet

I'm a long time mommy blog reader and on my list of regular check-ins is Sweetney.  She's written quite a bit about divorce and her thoughts, and the conversations among readers that ensued, helped me to think about my post-break-up life in some valuable ways.  Over the years, as it's gotten easier for me, I've never lost sight of the pain and challenges brought on by my family's explosion.  Reading and thinking about how others have handled it has helped me to find my way through the hurt.

This spring, Sweetney invited guest bloggers to weigh in with their own stories.  The series is called "Through the Fire" and this week my story was part of the conversation.  You can find my post for Sweetney here; the whole series is available here.

The challenge to write about my break-up experience ended up being a really good thing for me.  It offered me the chance to think about an event that once consumed my world and defined my sense of my self.  These days, it's a part of my history but not the defining moment of my life.  I'm glad of how far I've come and realize that it wouldn't have been possible without good friends, a supportive family, and this blog. 

Thanks, y'all.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

In My Native Dress

It's been a crazy week for me, featuring attendance at a variety of school events and the wrangling and feeding of other folks' children (as well as my own).  Through it all, the single constant has been the fact that I get to wear flip flops.
Though this last week of school is ridiculously busy, and I am pretty worn out, summer beckons.  I just need to look at my toes to be sure of it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Real Life Conversations with T: Corn Dog edition

The backstory:  On Saturday evening, we had a reprise of last fall's corn dog feast.  This time, I got to try my hand at dipping little hot dogs in the batter before we tossed them in the fryer.  It's not as easy as it looks, by the way, which led to the following conversation.

Me:   I don't know about this one, it has a little too much batter on the end (and then I tossed it in the hot oil anyway, because that's how I am).

T (shaking her head): Well, you'll have to eat your failures.  That's how you learn.

Failure has never tasted so good.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Consolation Prize

Today, the 9th graders at my school packed up for a camp out.   The kids were told a mountain was our destination and technically speaking, it is called a mountain.  But let's just say that these East Coast "mountains" fail to impress a girl who grew up in the shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  They are camping on a hill.  A lovely hill, mind you, but a hill nonetheless.
Alas, I digress……the camping lasts for three days and though I can't stay the night (see: single mama), I did go up for the day to hang out with my homeroom.  The rainy ride north took longer than expected and my group was ready for lunch when the grumbling school bus disgorged them at 11:30.  Two hours later, after making a steep climb up a rocky hill, they were gnawing their fists off.  At a hungry 2:30, I declared it every-woman-for-herself-hour up on the hill and I cleared out in order to fulfill my mama responsibilities.   I got back to school by 4, fetched the boy, and headed home for a well-earned supper.

The lesson of the day is that I prefer to be in control of my schedule.  Also, I make one hell of a smothered burrito.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Summer Vacation edition

The backstory:  Last week, the Upper School had final exams.  That resulted in a relaxed mode for me, as my only obligation was to give my exams and then grade them.  On the other hand, JT's Middle School exams and other end-of-the-year projects did not require a special schedule and by the end of the week he was feeling rather worn out.  We've just one more week to go but the boy is over it as the following Thursday night conversation revealed.

JT:  No teacher can teach me anything now.  I'm in off-mode.

Mama:  Oh yeah?

JT:  Yup.  There's a switch and I am done.

At least we were warned.

Friday, June 01, 2012

June 1st: Front Yard Flowerbed

Spring started early around here and it's been a season of lovely warm days; the best spring in my memory, in fact.  I had my vegetable garden planted by the middle of April, which means that I am actively watching the rain totals and that too has been right on target.  The result is that everything in the yard has the fresh color and texture of new green.  The front yard flowerbed is no exception.
 The azaleas have finished blooming.  A few weeks ago, I put some gladioli bulbs down and those flowers will be the next color in the bed.  Come August, the rose-of-Sharon tree will bloom.  Making a picture of this patch of garden each month has made me mindful of how it changes, a nice metaphor for the progress of the calendar year.