Thursday, August 31, 2017

August Book Report: Pride and Prejudice

I’m a bit loathe to see the end of August.   For starters, the weather was simply glorious and such mild days in August seem like a treat to savor.  The close of August also marks the start of the school year and with full-time school days, the time I am able to devote to reading will be much reduced.  In the Summer, I can read a book every week or so.  Once school starts, I won’t be able to find such time.   For someone who loves books as much as I do, that’s a transition I don’t enjoy.

I read some good books this past month, including a re-read of Pride and Prejudice.  I’ve read the book dozens of times and always enjoy it.  

From the sparkling dialogue to the time spent with the thoughts of the very clever Elizabeth Bennet, this book never disappoints.  I fear that I love it so much because of the irksome characters.  Lizzy’s sister Lydia and her insipid mother, Mrs Bennet, could be enough entertainment for any reader longing to feel superior.  But then Mr. Collins and Catherine de Burgh turn up with their smug self-importance and the reader is treated to some of the most caustic commentary a narrator could offer.

It’s lovely.

There is much else in the novel to warrant its status as a classic but I’ll save the serious commentary for the English majors.  I love Pride and Prejudice for its commentary on the world of 1800 England, its clever dialogue, and its tidy happy ending.  It’s a re-read that always delivers.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


The pace of bad news out of the Trump Administration is such that more bad news has arrived well before I’ve had the chance to process the last injustice.  This new reality takes its toll, but it’s not an excuse for failure to truly think about what is going on and why it matters.  To that end, I’ve been thinking about monuments.

New York State Monument in Gettysburg National Cemetery
As we engage in a national debate about Confederate monuments and what to do about them, I am reminded that it’s not just the existence of monuments, it’s whose achievements we choose to honor.  And even when we honor achievements, it may very well be that we are marking contributions that did not make our nation a better place.  We have two obligations here: to understand our history in its complexity and to leave the world better than we found.  Doing both means thinking clearly about who - and what - we honor.  This doesn’t have to be difficult if a handful of key questions guide our thinking.  As discussion of monument removal emerges, consider the following questions:

1.  What is the primary accomplishment of the person being praised?  The answer to this question alone will insist on the removal of nearly every Confederate memorial.  Consider Jefferson Davis.  He was a senator from Mississippi, not a particularly thoughtful one, though he was respected and influential in his time.  But his primary accomplishment is as president of the Confederacy, a doomed government founded upon the principal that blacks were inferior to whites and deserved to be enslaved.  That is who Jeff Davis is and we do not need monuments to this achievement.  We should preserve his plantation and mark his words and works; he should certainly have a headstone at his grave.  But we don’t need public monuments of Jefferson Davis.

2.  When was the monument erected?  Was it placed in the immediate aftermath of an event in which the person it praises participated?  Or is it marking those accomplishments 20, 30, 50 or more years later, when erecting such a monument is a dog whistle for racist whites and a not-so-subtle reminder to subjugated groups that they should stay in their place?  Monuments to Confederate generals erected in the 1880s, as Jim Crow laws were being made and strengthened or in the 1890s, after the Supreme Court enshrined the unjust principle of separate but equal in Please v. Ferguson are involved in a not-so-subtle message.  Those built the 1920s, in Southern states that forbid blacks to leave, forcing the Great Migration to occur in fear and secrecy are not marking achievements, were erected to stoke fear.  Monuments built in the 1950s after Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate is inherently unequal were meant to challenge the rule of law and subjugate people of color.  The majority of Confederate memorials were erected in a time different from the event or person they purport to honor.  These “monuments” were not-so-subtle reminders that blacks were and would remain unequal.  The context matters.

3.  Where is the monument erected?  Is the site itself a place where an important historical event occurred?  Or is the monument making a mark on a place known for something all together different?  If a tree was used to lynch African Americans, a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest at such a site has a specific message.  It’s not a good one.

4.  Consider who is there now. At minimum, we should be uncomfortable with the notion of children filing into school named after a segregationist.  That is no message for any child and to a child of color it is alienating.  Is there any reason for a highway to be named after a Confederate general?  What message to do we send about our society when this history is marked in a tone that implies honor?

The answer to these questions can guide both the building and removal of monuments.  In all instances, we must be sure to mark a complete history of our past.  Founders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison pass scrutiny and we can build monuments to them.  As always, we must tell the whole of their story; the good and the troubling.  Folks like Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson will be in the cross-hairs; monuments to them should likely be removed and a more complete contextualized history marked.  Exceptions might be made for monuments erected in the years immediately after the Civil War; the Gettysburg battlefield is a good example.  There are figures who occupy some awkward territory.  Woodrow Wilson comes to mind.  He did lead the nation through WWI and provided a philosophical foundation for the idea of the League of Nations.  These are important accomplishments.  At the same time, Wilson was an unapologetic racist who subjugated segregated armed forces; he stood in the way of women’s suffrage.  I’ve a mixed mind about Wilson; at the least, I wouldn’t build new monuments to him.

Our past is real and present in our lives today.  We must understand it in all of its complexities.  Monuments bear a big responsibility in this process and should receive careful consideration  They must mark who we are and help lead us toward the nation we want to become.  They are not the only history we have and shouldn’t be the only way in which we understand our selves and our past.   Where they exist they should be of people, places, and accomplishments that are worth our praise because these people made us better.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

Garden Report, Week 13: Monday, August 28

Yesterday, for the first time in two weeks, I turned on the sprinkler to water the garden.  We’re in the midst of some lovely mild days and while that is slowing down the growth of my tomatoes and zinnias,  it’s made for the sorts of days that make me wish for an endless summer.

It’s still August and so tomatoes are setting on; I’ve hope of zinnia bouquets in the weeks ahead.  I counted the days on the calendar and there are nearly 100 days between now and the average first frost.  For a gardener, that news is balm for the soul.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017


I didn’t learn to read until I was in the third grade and had turned 8 years old.  By today’s standards, that makes me hopelessly behind the curve.  By my standard, it’s a reason to make up for lost time.  I’ve been doing that since I began reading.  As a child, I read on the bus and during the walk home from the bus stop.  I read by the streetlight after bedtime. I read books during the school day when the teacher’s plans didn’t interest me.  As an adult, I rarely go anywhere without a book.  I read new stories and never tire of re-reading my favorites.  I read both fiction and non-fiction, though fiction is more often in my hands.  For the most part, I read serious books.  My favorite are well-written stories that have human happiness at their core and that kind of story makes up the bulk of what I choose to read.

For the coming school year, a few teachers at my school have organized a book club, with a book to discuss each month of the year.  I’ve read a few of the books on the list and picked up some more with plans to participate.  So it was that earlier this week I found myself reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowlands.  It’s a technically brilliant book, written well and with a compelling story and fascinating characters.  Lahiri can turn a phrase when it comes to the human condition and I enjoyed reading the book.  But it his by no means a happy story and in that respect it wasn’t the escape I like my books to be.  In aftermath of the read, I needed something happy to restore my equilibrium.  And so I turned to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books.

These stories were the very first books I can recall truly reading on my own. I loved them and re-read them so often that to this day I have certain passages memorized.  I read them to JT when he was old enough to appreciate the stories and cherish those memories.  Each August, I pick up one of my Laura books and re-read it.  This year, I chose On the Banks of Plum Creek and it was just the anecdote to the melancholy of the book that proceeded it.  Ingalls Wilder may have been writing for children, but her loving descriptions of the places and things Laura knew is the gold standard of descriptive writing.  From the prairie sunlight to the feel of a cold creek on a hot summer day, her books remind me of the simple pleasures of being.  These books have meant the world to me and I love them beyond measure and description, in a way that I expect Laura would certainly understand.

Friday, August 25, 2017


Last weekend, T and I made a batch of lemonberry jam, our favorite.  The smell of these berries being rinsed off in preparation to make jam is just lovely.  That’s happy!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Morning Light

I love the mornings, especially a leisurely morning with time to read and relax.  During the school year, I’m up at at 5:30 in the morning so that I don’t have to rush to be ready for school.  I listen to NPR, take time to read e-mail, and generally gird myself for a busy day to come.  I work seven-day weeks in the school year, rarely completely setting aside work on the weekend.  I’ve always been that way, knowing that I’d have a whole Summer to renew and refresh.   

I work a 12 month calendar since I took the job in the Middle School.  To combat my tendency to work at full tilt in the Summer months as well, a few years back  I instituted my own set of Summer rules.  I wake up a little later, at 6 instead f 5:30 am.  For the most part, I don’t read work e-mail in the morning, on the weekends, or in the evenings.  I take every spare moment to be outside in the light and warmth.  I read book after book.  I spend my Summer mornings on the front porch or the back deck, reading, drinking coffee, and enjoying my garden.  

When Summer first begins, it’s light when I rise and by the time I’m downstairs to pour my coffee, the sun has risen.  With the arrival of August, the morning light begins to fade and when I come downstairs for coffee, the sun is still short of the horizon. The light is golden but not bright and it’s lovely outside.

I’m always sorry to see the Summer come to an end.  This year, I’m a little sorrier than usual.  That’s the case both because it’s been a mild and lovely Summer and because when school starts, JT begins his Senior year.  This will be our 15th year at school together, it's also our last year  together.  Next year, he’ll be packed off for college and I’ll be driving off to school on my own.  More than usual, I’m aware of the bittersweet passage of time.

Part of me would like to hold on to this light forever.  I know this isn't possible.  So I plan to embrace it while it lasts.

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.