Thursday, August 30, 2012

Skill Set

In 1979, at the age of 11, I enrolled in the 7th grade at Clark Intermediate School.  At that time, junior high was a sort of puberty holding cell.  To this day, I credit Clark Intermediate School with the sort of life skills that would have served me more effectively in moderate security detention than they served me in the overly-educated upper middle class prep school teacher lifestyle that I instead selected.

Chief among those skills was the business of coping in a locker room.  In the 7th grade, we were required to wear ridiculously old-fashioned, blue, one-piece romper-style gym uniforms.  We changed into them under the watchful eye of Miss Rich, endured PE class, and filed back into the locker room for the daily torture that was the post-gym "shower."  We were instructed to change out of the rompers and take a shower with only a thin, postage-stamp sized towel to cover us from the watchful eyes of our adolescent peers.

It was hell.

In the 8th grade, the school joined the modern era and we were assigned shorts and t-shirts for gym uniforms.  Changing out of our street clothes into the gym uniform allowed some modest protection.  We all learned the adolescent shimmy-shake, pulling our shirt half-way off while tugging on the gym shirt over our head, confident that we were shielding our breasts from prying adolescent eyes.  That was a useful skill but it isn't the one I most remember.  What I most remember was the day al  the girls filed into the hot still gym with our stylish new gym clothes in hand.  We sat in neat rows while Miss Rich taught us how to fold them up.  We were instructed to fold the shorts in half and place them on top of the shirt, which we laid open on the floor of the gym.  Then we rolled the items together, leaving the sleeves exposed.
Once a tube was created, we folder one sleeve over the edge, to hold the tube of clothes secure.
Then we folded the other sleeve over the edge, like so.
Now carefully wrapped, we could take our clothes home each Friday and then bring them back, freshly laundered (and properly wrapped!) on the following Monday morning.   We practiced this act several times that day in the gym while Miss Rich and the other gym teachers strolled up and down the rows to ensure we knew what the hell we were doing.

Unless enduring affection for the music of Journey and AC/DC and the ability to swear like a sailor count, this was the only useful skill I got out of junior high.  I tried to teach the method to JT when he needed to bring gym clothes to school.  He rejected it as "lame."  I am forced to use it myself only infrequently, as I did the other day when I was packing things up for our trip to the water park.  

Miss Rich would be so very proud.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Reset Button

Though classes don't start until September 10, back-to-school meetings start this morning.  When school ended in June, I was as exhausted as I have ever been at the end of the year.  Though the transition from the routine of school to summer's lack of scheduling is usually difficult for me, that wasn't the case this year.  When I turned off the morning alarm clock 11 weeks ago, my sigh of relief could be heard throughout the town.  I was so ready to be off schedule; to relax and let things go.

I spent my summer in the combination of relaxation (lots of reading) and industry (some overdue cleaning projects, cooking, working out, canning, gardening, and plenty of other activities) that makes my summer enjoyable and so essential to my success as a teacher.    I completed a list of things to help organize for the coming school year, of course, because that's always a summer goal.  But I also let my mind and imagination drift to re-charge for the coming year.

We have several days of meetings before students arrive on September 10.   I like my job, so I'm happy to get back into the swing of things though I suspect 6 hours of sitting won't go down easy today.  My teaching materials are already organized and I'm ready for students.  More importantly, the summer has allowed me to pause and refresh for the demands of the classroom.  That's happy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Real Life Conversations with T: GOP Convention edition

The backstory: When I read that New Jersey's loud and belligerent governor, Chris Christie, had been selected to give the keynote address at the Republican National Convention, I was eager to share the news with T.

Me:  Chris Christie is going to be the….

T:  Head jackass?

Me:  Yes, that's exactly what they call the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention.  He's going to talk about the New Jersey economic miracle…..rising unemployment and the highest property taxes in the nation.

T: Oh, to be a rich bastard in New Jersey.  The living is easy.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Vocab with T: Useful edition

This month's vocabulary with T isn't a single word, it's a phrase.  It's a fitting choice for this month because I first heard it last August when we were coping with last August's post-Hurricane clean-up.  The loss of electricity had rendered my refrigerators useless (it had actually killed the one sitting in 4 inches of water in the basement) and T helped me to clean them out.  That job mostly entailed throwing out food.  Thankfully, we took on the job before the food had really commenced to spoil.  Still, it was an unpleasant task and T's sense of humor made it more manageable.

At one point, she removed the lazy susan I keep on the top shelf of the kitchen fridge.  Typically, the lazy susan has relish, pickles, mustard, mayo, and ketchup sitting on its spinning shelf.  T removed it and declared that it was the "wheel of condiments."  She said it just like the announcer on "Wheel of Fortune."  Never has ketchup and relish seemed so grand.

I laughed.  A lot. Under the circumstances, that alone was quite handy.  The name stuck, of course.  T's wry sense of humor and her way with words make everything better.  And that's happy. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Backyard Oasis

One of the things I like best about my home is the back deck.  Shaded by old man tree, the deck is just off the living room and offers a lovely view of the lush, green backyard.
My idea of a perfect afternoon is to sit on the back deck with a cold glass of iced tea and a good book.  If my neighbors had stopped their mowers, I'd enjoy the quiet.  If I'm lucky, a light breeze would swing through, Pesky the squirrel would stop by to say hey, and the brown bunny who lives in hedges will hop out for a little munch of grass.
School is starting in a few weeks (meetings start Wednesday!) and that pretty much rules out long afternoons on the deck.  But the pictures of this space will feed my soul in the weeks ahead.  I'm still picking garden tomatoes and I've got carrot and beets planted for a fall garden harvest.  But I know it won't be long before leaves are changing and I'm awakening in the mornings to check out the backyard snowfall.  That's all the more reason to enjoy the back deck while the sun still shines.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Real Life Conversations with JT: Jaded edition

The backstory: Sports are a family obsession and we talk about them a lot in our home.  But our greatest energy is reserved for the national pastime, which JT follows in great detail.  In this, he is working through a genetic inheritance from his grandfather, with whom he has frequent conversations about the travails and joys of baseball players.  One of their favorite teams, the San Francisco Giants,, is currently struggling through a painful 50 game suspension for Melky Cabrera, who got caught using banned substances. Neither JT nor his grandfather defend drug users but they have a joint soft spot for Cabrera, and they are annoyed by his drug use.

JT:  Bartolo Colon is suspended for 50 days.  
Note: Colon is a player for another of Grandpa's teams, the hard-luck Oakland A's, who are were actually having a pretty good season, in part thanks to Colon.

Mama:  Jeez, what did he do?

JT (in a tone of knowing disappointment): Drugs.  What else is there?

Hey ballplayers, kids are watching.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Food Friday: California Dreamin'

If I have my way, I'm in California less than 24 hours before I score a cheese enchilada.  I love good Mexican food and no place has more of it than the Golden State.  Alas, I make my home in the Garden State and while there is some good food here, there is no homestyle Mexican food that can hope to compete with California.  So I improvise and make my own.

The arrival of garden tomato abundance has really helped me along on that front.  The other day I took a look at all those fresh tomatoes and decided it was time for some salsa fresca.  It's a friendly recipe because you can make as much (or as little) as you need.  I made enough for about one and a half cups of chopped salsa.  I used mine to season a quesadilla, which is standard fare around Sassafras House.  

The salsa ingredients were easily collected. Note: if I were in California, that lime would have been home-grown.
Here's what you need:
1 cup tomato, chopped fine and seeded (this removes excess liquid)
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon salt
squirt of lime
After you've placed all the ingredients in a bowl, stir them together.  
The salsa is tasty with chips on its own but is also a nice addition to a basic quesadilla.  For that you need a large flour tortilla and some freshly grated Monterey Jack cheese.   I make mine by briefly heating both sides of the tortilla on medium heat.  For this version, I layered in some cheese, a spread of the salsa fresca I had just stirred up, and then a bit more cheese.  
Fold it in half and cook until the cheese is melted around the salsa (it should take about 3 minutes on medium heat).  
Flip it over and cook the other side for about 2 minutes.
Let it sit for a minute then slice it in half and serve up the melted goodness.
Quesadillas and salsa are comfort food in my world and the next best thing to being in my home state.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Speaking My Mind

Rebecca Solnit has an awesome piece up at Mother Jones and I'm linking to it here both to encourage y'all to read it and also to keep it handy for those times when a man explains to me that "you guys" includes us all.  Or maybe I'll re-read it when a man patiently explains to me that I don't understand something.  Perhaps I'll print up a copy for emphasis the next time I have to explain why equal pay for equal work is important to our daughters and our sons.

Quite honestly, I expect this essay to come in very handy almost every week of my life.  And I"ll be damned if that isn't one of the most depressing facts of 21st century life.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Well Prepared

In the event that work with the ax goes sideways, it's good to know that medical help is immediately available.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Letting Their Freak Flag Fly

It's one thing for Republicans to disagree with Democrats on the issues.  When expressed rationally and sincerely, I respect those disagreements.  After all, free exchange of ideas is the cornerstone of democracy.  But disagreement is one thing.  Misogyny and racism are a whole different kettle of fish.  This weekend, the GOP seemed determined to show just how far off the rails they've gone.

Take this example from the GOP's Senate nominee in Missouri, explaining that women can't get pregnant when they are legitimately being raped.  Seems unbelievable, no?   Read the article and watch  Representative Todd Akin say it

It was a busy weekend for Republicans seeking to stick their foot in their mouths.  Case-in-point: Franklin County, Ohio, Republican Party Chair Doug Preisse.  Mr. Preisse explained that he opposes early voting in his county because it may increase African American turnout.  He really said that.  Read it here.  

I've always suspected that the GOP was the party of heartless cruelty.  These days they seem happy to admit it.

Update: Akin is now claiming he misspoke.  He didn't seem confused in the interview I watched.  This morning, the Romney campaign has taken pains to "distance" themselves from Akin's remarks.  Distance, of course, is not the same as repudiation.  

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Last year's garden failed to deliver flowers and it was a big bummer.  This year, I planted extra zinnia seeds to ensure that come I'd always have a fresh-cut bouquet my table.  So far, that's a lovely success.  My first bouquets arrived early, in late July.

I picked the next bunch of zinnias when I returned from California.

By now, there are enough zinnias that I no longer feel excited enough to make a picture of every bunch that I pick.  That's happy!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Finding Home

August has always signaled moving season for me.  In August of 1989, I left California to move to Tennessee.  I stayed there five years before I took a job that moved me to rural Nebraska.  That was in 1994.  Eight years later, in 2002, I packed up my two year old and my then-partner and I made the transition to suburban New Jersey.  This weekend is the 10th anniversary of that move and it seems fitting that I reflect on the passage of time.

I loved the adventure that was Tennessee and it's the only place for which I've ever been homesick.  I moved to Nebraska for a job and stayed longer than I should have.  These days, when I'm feeling charitable I consider my years in the rural midwest a bit of a lark.  When I'm feeling less kind, I think of rural Nebraska as the place where I wasted my late 20s.  Still, the years there landed me my boy, some good friends, and a truckload of jokes about the midwest, so it wasn't all bad.  I've been back to Nebraska exactly once since I left and though I wouldn't mind seeing the big sky and the amazing sunsets that sweep the prairie, I'm quite glad that I'm not living in rural Nebraska any more.  

I find New Jersey two parts charming and one part difficult.  I love the amazing scenery and the sense of history in my corner of state.   In weather terms, it's the most temperate and balanced place I have ever lived.  The seasonal changes are always lovely and come just in time.  I love the layers of comfortable multiculturalism present in the state.  I do not love the grating accents, the traffic, or the high cost of living.  

I've met some terrific people here and it's home for JT, who was two when he left Nebraska.  It's also a place that has offered him the opportunity for a first-rate education and exposure to a diverse world that would not have been an option in rural Nebraska.  I am forever grateful for that.  New Jersey has gotten the blame for a lot of heartache in my life, but it's also the place where I found T, so that's at least a few points in its favor.

Even so, August always finds me thinking about moving on.  I've lived in the west, the south, the midwest and the east.  Having tasted all four, I'm not sure what will be next.  I do know that New Jersey is home for now and over the years I've grown incredibly happy here; happier than I've been in the other places I've lived.  That counts for a lot, Garden State.  Here's to a few more happy years together.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Ongoing Laura Ingalls Fantasy

One of the the things that T and I have in common is an interest in canning and food preservation.  Earlier this summer, we made strawberry jam.  It was delicious and we were hooked.  Soon after that, I bought some jar labels from Etsy and added mastery of home canning to my life list.  This past weekend, T and I made up a batch of peach jam.
Then we tried our hand at dilled green beans.

Jars of dill pickles followed.

Apricot jam was next.
If this commitment to homemade continues, it won't be long before I'm building my own log cabin and driving my horse and buggy to teach school in a one-room schoolhouse.  Somewhere in the attic, I can surely find the sunbonnet my mom made me for Halloween in the third grade.  Basically, I'm good to go.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In the Family Gardens

My interest in gardening comes from my dad, who has always planted a garden.   My own garden planting always features lots of planting conversations with him.   I enjoy seeing what he has planted every year.
Though I probably didn't appreciate it enough when I lived there, my annual California visits these day feature me quizzing my dad about the plants that grow in the central valley.  My Dad's garden has some things that I can only dream of planting, like this lime tree.
Dad's garden also makes clear where I come by my fondness for trailing ivy.
Dad's got a lot more tomatoes that I have (perhaps he'd welcome my possum?).
And the peppers look terrific.
Though he's always got one growing complaint or another (I've never met a gardener who is perfectly satisfied), my dad's garden is really impressive this year.
A few blocks away, my brother-in-law, Uncle M, opted for flowers in his yard. He's got some lovely rosebushes along the back wall of his garden.

He's also trained peach trees to grow against the fence, making the best of his limited growing space.  It's really an ingenious solution.
I came home inspired to get back into my garden.  Today, I'm planting another rosemary plant, which will come in handy for fall cooking (and eating!) projects.  I'm also pulling out the sugar snap peas, which have finished their growing season.  I'll replace them with beets and carrots for a late fall harvest.  There are plenty of tomatoes still to come.  There is more gardening to enjoy before fall frosts arrive and that's a most happy thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stairmaster General

On Sunday, T and I headed over to Pennsylvania to visit Bushkill Falls.  I'd heard lots about the falls and their beauty but I reserved judgment, convinced that no east coast waterfall could measure up to the waterfalls in Yosemite.  Turns out I was wrong.
Amazingly, beautifully wrong.

Bushkill Falls is a privately owned park and the falls can be found at the end of a rather steep walk down lingering trails of wooden stairs.
There are several vantage points to view the falls.  Perches, walkways - and stairs - abound.  It felt a bit like the Swiss Family Robinson Tree at Disneyland.

As the pictures illustrate, we are not suffering from the drought plaguing the rest of the nation.  Things remain lush and green around here and this amazing walk in the woods was well worth the sore calves that followed.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Grand and Great

When I went away to college, my grandmother and I began to exchange letters.  We wrote often and I have a box full of those letters.  My favorite one of those was written in April 2000, just after my nephew S was born.  I had my own small baby by then and in the course of just 8 weeks, my grandmother had tripled her number of great-grandsons.  In her letter that April, my grandmother wrote that she had seen the new baby and that he was healthy and lovely.  At that point, with three great-grandsons, she was a very proud great-grandmother and she wrote to me, "my cup overfloweth with little boys."

She wasn't the overly sentimental type and it was such a sweet thought that I saved the letter.  In subsequent years, the letter has been doubly special to me because later that year, and quite unexpectedly, my grandmother passed away.  So she never got to meet great-grandchild number four, a girl born to my cousin and his wife nearly six years ago.  They came to visit while JT and I were in California so I got a picture of the great-grandkids together.
I think that my grandmother would have been most proud of these four.  

Friday, August 10, 2012

Real Life Texts with T: Offensive Jersey Stereotypes edition

The backstory: On Wednesday, JT and I boarded our plane to New Jersey and it was immediately clear that my fellow passengers were a microcosm of the Garden State.  If you've been here, you know what that means.  If you haven't, I can't explain it without listing a range of stereotypes that will surely be found offensive by someone.  So you're going to have to trust me, Internet: this plane was all Jerseyed up.  I texted T with a report of conditions.

Me:  Plane is chock-full of Jersey trash so I will have a story or two to tell, I am sure.

T:  Say hi to Snooki & wash your hands twice.

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

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Matched Set

Twelve years ago, just eight weeks apart, my sister and I each gave birth to a baby boy.  That summer, we took them to get their picture made together.
This summer, just steps way from the place on the wall where that picture hangs, they lay on the floor at their grandparent's house and played a game with one another.
As for me, I wonder how it is that 10 pounds of baby has become faster, louder, and taller than me.  Wherever the time has gone?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012


This morning finds us winging our way back East.  The good news is that we will escape the heat (my hometown is forecast to be 110 degrees by Friday….roughly the temperature of hell).  The bad news is that we'll miss out on more scenes like these.
S likes to mug for the camera, but I caught a a few shots of his winning smile.
Pool basketball seems to regularly feature the two 12 year olds making a valiant effort against C, who deals them defeat nearly every time.
Murphy the dog is no fool; he knows how to escape the heat.
There's always next summer.  See you around, California.