Monday, August 21, 2017

Garden Report, Week 12: August 21

Usually, this point in the summer finds the garden looking weary from the heat.  But this year’s lush rains have really kept the garden green and lush.  I’m grateful because that helps me to maintain the illusion that Summer isn’t over quite yet.

Fresh tomatoes served warm off the vine certainly help with that notion.  Keep it coming, Summer.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Muddy Man-Child

Yesterday, JT and some of his cross country teammates, including his coach and some assorted friends of the team, joined one another for a local mud run.  He’s never participated in an event like this, but for a boy who grew up logging countless hours at local parks and playing in puddles, it was a fitting start to his final high school cross country season.  The race was a 5k, punctuated by 21 muddy obstacles.  The team started off clean but ended rather muddy.  JT ran the race with his buddies L and E.

At the final obstacle, there was no avoiding the mess.

They got right in it and triumphed.

After a wash in the outdoor showers, the racers celebrated their finish.

I was a spectator to the muddy spectacle, marveling at how much my kid loves a messy challenge and reflecting on the places I will travel to watch him race.

Senior season, here we come.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Timely Reminder

The flower pots on my backpack are a source of daily happiness to me.  They are lush and bright and as the August days slip past I am yet again aware of how fleeting this summer has been.

School starts in a few weeks; JT has already begun practice for his last high school cross country season.  The amount of sunlight in our days is slowly shrinking.  While the summer lasts, I’m determined to enjoy the time to relax and lift my face to the light.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Garden Report, Week Eleven: Monday, August 14

We’ve had a nice, wet summer and all around the backyard things remain green and lush.  

The garden has reached the abundant harvest point in the season and that’s really quite lovely to behold.

We’ve enough tomatoes for BLT sandwiches, caprese salads, fresh chopped salsa, and bruschetta whenever we please.  

That’s happy!

Monday, August 14, 2017

August 14 in My America

It’s Monday, the day I usually post a few pictures of my garden and reflect upon the growing season to date.  But today, a garden post can wait in favor of a more serious discussion about race in America.  I have been teaching U.S. history for more than 20 years, so it’s fair to say I have spent a good deal of time thinking about racism in this nation.  It’s part of the very fabric of our founding and cannot be ignored if you wish to understand who were were in 1607, let alone 2017.

As any historian can tell you, this nation has made progress on inclusion and equality, but not so much progress that racism is gone.  Our progress is well short of perfection.  We may have elected an African-American president in 2008, but we’re not in post-racial America.  There can be no such animal in a country founded upon the original sin of slavery.   Which is not to say that we can’t get better, that we can’t work to fulfill Martin Luther King’s dream.  We can and we must.  But neither can we pretend that more than 250 years of legal slavery founded upon racist principles can be wiped out in a century and half.  Some problems take longer to correct than they took to create.  And this is one hell of a problem.

Since the events in Charlottesville over the weekend, I’ve seen plenty of people of color reject the sentiment of well-meaning whites who saw the weekend’s white supremacist rally and claim, “This isn’t America.”  In fact, this is very much America.  We are a place that incarcerates blacks at a greater rate than whites.  We are a place that memorializes Confederate history as if it is a benign story of disagreements instead of an ugly tale of gross racial inequality and injustice.  The North may have won the Civil War but the South won Reconstruction.  We can’t even acknowledge that fact.  We are a place where opportunities are not equally available.  We are a nation founded in slavery, often unwilling to own up to all that implies about the truth of our origins.

That is our America.  

But it needn’t continue to be our America.  It’s not mine; not the country I want for my fellow Americans; not the country I think we can be.  Martin Luther King told us that the arc of history is long but that it always bends toward justice.  I would add that the bend toward justice happens more rapidly when we push it in that direction.  That means speaking out, especially when it is uncomfortable to do so. That means acknowledging the ways in which privileges for some of us has meant exclusion for others.  That means demanding that we live up to the promises of equality and justice in our founding documents.  We didn’t do it at our founding.  We don’t do it now. 

But this is our America and we can be better than we are.  In point of fact, we must be better.  We must make this the nation we want it to be; an America for everyone.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

An Open Note to the GOP

You pride yourself on being the party of Ronald Reagan, the grand old party of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.  None of those leaders were perfect, though Lincoln may have come close.  But please understand in the coming years that your continued willingness to tolerate Donald Trump will wipe out all those other distinctions and forever brand you the party of Donald Trump.

Whether or not you truly understood that Trump’s rhetoric would normalize the kind of white nationalists who marched in Virginia over the weekend, the fact is that he has done that.  You’ve had plenty of time to see Donald Trump for the bigot and nationalist that he is.  When he ran a campaign promising to make America great again, you knew that meant he longed for a world of unquestioned privilege and power for men like himself.  You put up with it because you hated the Clintons and you wanted a Republican Supreme Court nominee.  It was a craven political calculation.

On Saturday, you reaped the reward for those decisions when your president couldn’t summon the character or the will to stand up and reject white nationalist fascists and Nazi sympathizers. This president is yours now.  In the coming days if you don’t condemn Donald Trump and seek to remove him from office for his obvious abdication of leadership then his stink will taint your party forever.   You will be the party of Trump.  Generations to follow will know that first when the name Republican is invoked.  You will stand for bigotry, intolerance, racism, and exclusion.

Your move, GOP.  One of you must show some courage and take the lead.  The nation is watching.  The clock is ticking.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Value of a Green Thumb

Last summer, I got myself a small fuchsia plant.  It thrived on the front porch.  It came indoors for the winter and at first seemed to do fine.  Then it hit an unhappy patch and has looked peaked every since.  It came back outside in May and all summer long I’ve nursed it along.  In the past few weeks, it’s finally started to look better.  There are nearly a dozen flower blooms in the process of making an appearance.

It has tiny leaves looking like they are set in to stay.

Amongst the other front porch plants, it still looks a bit anemic, but it’s coming along nicely.  Flowers and plants provide me with a satisfaction and happiness that endures long after a hard day.  They are my reminder to be patient, to live in the moment, and to invest time and care in the world even when results seem elusive.  

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Harvest News

I’ve reached the point in the garden season that I can pop into the backyard for a tomato whenever I please.  This is a very happy development.

There are enough tomatoes to have one with supper nearly every night.  I serve them in salads, made into bruschetta, or even freshly sliced on a plate with some salt and pepper.  But we love them best piled high into a BLT.

That’s happy!

Monday, August 07, 2017

Garden Report, Week Ten: Monday, August 7

I have had a few cherry tomatoes in the previous weeks, one at a time.  There were plenty more on the plants, so I knew those one tomato days were just a beginning.  Early last week, there were four cherry tomatoes one day, a teasing promise of a harvest to come.

This week is looking very promising.

We’ll have plenty for supper this week and Im already thinking about how delicious that will be.  

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Water Lily

There is a small ornamental pond at the Colonial Park flower garden and when I visit the garden I always stop to admire the water lilies.  

I’ve not ever seen a lily in this shade of pink and the reflection of the clouds above on the placid water was lovely.  I wasn’t sure how the picture would turn out, but I am pleased with the results.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Front Porch in August

When I lived in Nebraska, there was a house by a local bridge over the Missouri River with a row of plastic ducks in the front yard.  The ducks were always dressed in seasonal clothing.  From red, white and blue capes for the 4th of July to Halloween costumes, these ducks were on target each time I saw them.  I was regularly bemused by the duck project and sometimes think of that house as I plan the display that decorates my front porch for each month of the year.  I enjoy organizing the wreaths, flags, lights, and table items that I set out.   I think they make my porch a welcoming place.
Just as I imagine that the duck lady planned ahead, I keep my eye out for items that will look good on the porch.  Over the years, I’ve accumulated a nice collection of things to set out; I enjoy the variety.  From polka dot pots to plant stakes, the collection of porch ephemera makes me smile.  In the summer, there are plants and flowers outside, soaking up the sun. My shefflura plant has had a splendid growing season and now towers over the other plants on the table.  It will need a new pot before it comes inside for the the cold season.  

Each morning, I take my coffee and book out to the porch and enjoy them as I plot the course of my day. These hopeful begonias have been putting on a splendid display all Summer and I like the way they welcome the day.  Flowers can be over-the-top without seeming garish and I admire that trait.

The summertime popsicle flag will enjoy one more happy month.

My purple violets seem to be past their prime, but the New Guinea Impatien baskets that T gave me are still looking quite lovely.  I gave the trailing vinca a bit of a haircut to keep things in order and think I’ll have these baskets through September, a cheerful thought.

This striped wreath is my go-to for the summer months.  

I sit out on my cheerful porch a great deal in the Summer.  I listen to the birds chirp, I read and daydream, and I admire the blooms.  In warm weather, it’s my favorite room in the house, a visible reminder to stop and enjoy all the happy things in my world.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Happy Gardener

I’m not working this week and the extra relaxed days gave me time to visit the Colonial Park flower garden, one of the nearby places I love.  

Flowers abound here, and that made for a nice afternoon of sitting on a bench in the shade of the wisteria-covered trellis, reading and daydreaming with no worry about time.

Gardens always feed my planting daydreams.  

That’s happy!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Real Life Texts with KO: Vegas edition

The backstory: Something about my sister being in Las Vegas inspires especially amusing text message exchanges.  Last weekend, she was there with her tall offspring for a mega basketball tournament and sent me a picture of a dogwood tree, likely because she knows how I like a dogwood.  Naturally, she sent a thought as well.

KO:  Dogwood in full bloom at the Peppermill. And yes, those are mirrors on the ceiling.

Me:  Somehow that makes me feel dirty.

KO:  I think that’s the idea.

Me:  In which case, well done Vegas.  

KO:  Exactly.

And now you know where to travel for all your tarted up dogwood needs.  Internet, you're welcome.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Old Man Tree: August 1

It’s been a relatively mild and wet summer around here and that’s been nice for Old Man Tree, who did not enjoy last year’s drought conditions.  His tall and broad limbs have plenty of green leaves but even as I pause to admire them, I am aware that Mother Nature is slowly turning us toward the next season.

By September 1, my mind will be on the coming school year and Old Man Tree will be getting ready for Fall.  

Until then, we’ll together enjoy the sunny August days, sure that the passage of time need not be rushed along.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Garden Report Week Nine: Monday, July 31

It’s rather hard to believe that we’ve reached the August portion of summer.  The growing garden suggests it’s true…

…though the recent mild days suggest otherwise.  I’m off work for the rest of this week and plan to enjoy some quality time in my garden.  If I get extra-lucky, there will be tomatoes for me to enjoy.  That’s happy!

July Book Report: News of the World

I picked up News of The World, by Paulette Jiles, on a Friday afternoon at the library.  The cover was intriguing and a quick read of the inside leaf suggested that it was my kind of story.  Set in post-Civil War Texas, the story opens in 1870.  Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a veteran of Jackson’s Indian campaigns and the Mexican-American wars, is a circuit rider who visits northern Texas towns and reads newspapers to the townspeople who pay a dime to hear the news.

Too old to fight in the Civil War, Captain Kidd is still a victim of that war, which cost him his printing press and his land. Now a widower whose adult daughters live in Georgia, he travels land that borders Indian territory and enjoys the travels.  He avoids local political news, sure to cause conflict in lawless post-Civil War Texas, in favor of news from places from far away.  The nomadic life suits him but also lands him in an awkward situation, the recipient of a ten year girl who had been captured by Kiowa Indians at the age of six.  Raised by the tribe since then, she looks German-American but only speaks Kiowa and has embraced their sensibilities.  The tribe has reluctantly turned her over to an Indian agent thanks to U.S. policy which sent military troops after tribes with white captives.  Johanna, like most child-captives, is the unfortunate victim of the policy.  Having been embraced by the Kiowa tribe, she is fully a part of them, and the handover to Captain Kidd finds her culturally isolated and mourning the only family she can remember.

Kidd’s task is to return Johanna to her Aunt and Uncle, who farm south of San Antonio.  It’s a dangerous three-week journey and he undertakes it with profound reluctance, less concerned about their safety than he is annoyed by the responsibilities of the girl and his regular recollection that he has already raised two daughters.  The story which follows is a lyrical and lovely reflection on the nature of life and family, with vivid descriptions of the Texas landscape and richly imagined characters.  As Kidd and Johanna come to know one another, their definition of family expands.  The fullness of life they find from one another is lovely but not sentimental.  Page after page in this book is filled with sweetly powerful reflections on the human condition.

Regarding his plan to read the news from far away, the narrator tells us Captain Kidd’s thinking, “If people had true knowledge of the world perhaps they would not take up arms and so perhaps he could be an aggregator of information from distant places and then the world would be a more peaceful place.  He had been perfectly serious.  That illusion had lasted from age forty-nine to age sixty-five.”

Kidd is a Union man in divided Texas, but he’s not without sense of the cost of the war, as the narrator explains, “No matter what side you were on, if you had survived Gettysburg, you were to be congratulated.” 

When their journey south is threatened, Captain Kidd finds that he’s not alone as he mounts a defense.  The narrator explains it to the reader,  “The girl sat in the wagon bed behind wrapped in the thick red and black jorongo.  There was no method by which he could explain anything to her but she did not need explanations.  Her family and her tribe had fought with the Utes, their ancient enemies, and the Caldos.  They had conducted long guerrilla warfare with Texas settlers and Texas Rangers and then with the U.S. Army.  Often enough they had faced the howling, striving demons of the open plains: hunger, tornadoes, scarlet fever. She didn’t need to be told anything except that there were enemies in pursuit and she had already figured that out.”  

After an attack is repelled, the Captain finds himself needing to explain the culture Johanna must now join.  She wishes to exult over the vanquished but the Captain responds, “No. Absolutely not.  No. No scalping. He lifted her up and swung her over the ledges of stone and then followed.  He said, It is considered very impolite.” 

As the journey to San Antonio unfolds, the Captain has time to reflect on life and the passage of time.  The narrator explains his thoughts, “Maybe we have just one message, and it is delivered to us when we are born and we are never sure what it says; it may have nothing to do with us personally but it must be carried by hand through a life, all the way, and at the end handed over, sealed.” 

In a reflection on his growing fondness for Johanna, Captain Kidd finds a wisdom that applies to circumstances well beyond his situation at the moment when he considers that,  “He would have liked to kiss her on the cheek but he had no idea if the Kiowa kissed one another or if so, did grandfathers kiss granddaughters.  You never knew.  Cultures were mine fields.” 

This book was a powerful journey through an historical time and place different from my own, though both are twisted with uncertainties.  I read the novel in a weekend because it was nearly impossible to set aside.  The timeless reflections on the human condition were a comfort to read.  I expect that I will come back to this story again and again.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


Birds are chirping and for a few brief moments, no one in town is operating their yardwork power tools.

Summer, you are so very lovely.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Lifetime Limit, Edition 2

The backstory: As is the case with any sentient person, I spend plenty of time in the public places that feature music from the easy listening/classic rock continuum.  Over the years, some songs have lost their appeal.  To that end, T and I have compiled a list of songs which have achieved their lifetime limit, meaning that we never wish to hear them again.  Over the remainder of 2017, I will post nominees for this dubious honor.  

This edition is concerned with rock ballads, a genre that has a great deal for which to answer.  For starters, the tunes whine in your head long after the song has been heard.  Moreover, they all have horrifying videos that still come to mind when I hear them, even though it’s been a solid 20-plus years since I watched any of these videos. Or perhaps any music videos?  Do music videos still exist? But I digress…..the following songs are tiresome and I have reached my lifetime limit.  

1.  All songs by Whitesnake, but especially “Here I Go Again on My Own.” Just fucking go, already.

2.  Poison’s “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn,” which is both an appallingly trite sentiment and frightfully likely to linger in your brain long after the first thorn-related damage has healed.  

3.  I’m a bit reluctant to place Journey’s “Open Arms” on the list because if I never hear it again, I will never have the chance to share a timely laugh with my sister about the time my mother claimed the song was named “Velvet Arms.”  However, in the interests of the common good, I feel obligated to declare I’ve reached a lifetime limit on this damned song.  While I’m at it, I’m also declaring that we’re done with “Faithfully.” 

May your weekend be pleasant and ear-worm free.

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Power of Powerlessness

As I plan my Harriet Tubman lessons for the 7th grade, my mind continues to whirl with the story of Tubman’s life.  Born to the Ross family, as a child she was known as Araminta.  She chose a new name when she escaped to freedom in 1849, calling herself Harriet after her mother.  It was a reinvention that led to freedom for more than 300 other people, all at the hands of a woman once enslaved. It’s a story with lessons that resonate today.

When Araminta Ross was six,  her father Ben had to stay behind while his wife and children when were sent to work 15 miles away, at a farm belonging to Edmond Brodess in Dorchester County, on the eastern side of the Choptank River.  There, Araminta looked after children, worked in the fields,  hunted muskrats, and found that she was a good observer of the outdoor world.  Her father had taught her to identify the North star so that she could navigate home after dark and as she grew up, she cultivated more knowledge of the outdoor world.  As a teenager, contracted out to work for slavemasters in Cambridge, a harbor town, she mingled with free black men who worked the Chesapeake waters and taught her about the river and the tributaries and creeks along the Eastern shore.  They also told her about life in the North, where freedom beckoned.  The presence of Quakers in the region ensured that those who sought freedom from slavery might find help.  

Free and enslaved African-Americans in the world of Chesapeake, Maryland, moved amongst one another.  They intermarried, with freemen sometimes having children by their enslaved wives. Araminta Ross became Araminta Tubman when she married John Tubman, a freeman.  Children born to enslaved mothers were themselves enslaved and families of this kind faced the constant risk of separation.  White slave owners in the region treated their slaves as an investment and when debts needed settling, they didn’t hesitate to sell their enslaved property to slave traders at the wharves in Cambridge, who would arrange for the human property to be shipped off as cargo to plantation owners in the deep South.  If this occurred, families would likely be separated for good, unable to communicate with one another because they could neither read nor write.  This fate befell two of Araminta Ross’s sisters and it was the threat of being sold away from her family that finally inspired Araminta to try her hand at freedom in 1849.  As she explained to the author of an 1886 biography about her life, "I had reasoned this out in my mind; there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other; for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”

When the details stack out, I can see how it was that Harriet Tubman could escape to freedom: she knew the landscape well, the river led north, as did most the creeks, marshes were good places to hide tracks, Quaker settlements in the area were known to oppose slavery, it was less than 75 miles to Philadelphia and freedom.  But she still travelled with the risk of death or a punishment for escaping that might be worse than death, there were still great unknowns,  and she had to repeatedly rely on the kindness of strangers.  To make the journey once was courageous in a way modern life never demands of us.  And to go back repeatedly over a 10 year period to rescue both family and strangers….well that is simply splendid heroism, from a woman born to a world that underestimated her mightily.  

It’s common to claim that the underestimation of her strength is what empowered Harriet Tubman.  But that claim undermines both her bravery and her brilliance.  Vaclav Havel wrote that the power of powerlessness can be found in the refusal to yield to fear.  Araminta found that power and it made her rebirth as Harriet Tubman something to behold.  There is a lesson there for all of us and I look forward to sharing it with the 7th grade.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Only Child

There is a hydrangea bush in my backyard.  It’s large and grows in a spot that receives morning sun and afternoon shade.  It looks vibrant but in the twelve years I have lived here, it has never bloomed a flower.  Each Spring, I look for blooms but Summer has never delivered me flowers.  For the last few years, I’ve read up on hydrangea pruning and tried to prune it in late Winter with hopes of Spring blooms.  Just when I had given up hope of success, I have a hydrangea flower.  And not just any flower; a splendid purple flower.

It’s the only flower I’ve got but I’m thrilled to see it.  Gardens surprises are always so very lovely.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

Garden Report, Week Eight: Monday, July 24

This point in the summer often signals the start of a transition to comes, as things that have been furiously growing began to look weary from their efforts.  My basil plants have clearly been a snack bush for some creatures.

The tomatoes are still looking pretty good, though some of the heavy from the past week's storms was rough on some of the bushes.  I've re-staked and I am hopeful the plants will cope nicely.

The zinnia patch is in a hurry to bring me blooms and bouquets.

The sunlight that shines here has a special quality to me because it brings reward for my efforts and the prospect of a fresh-picked tomato on the supper table.